Fallen angels larry Niven Jerry Pournelle Michael Flynn



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CHAPTER TEN

" . . . . One of the Forces of Nature"


Sherrine held the door of the van open while Bob rolled the tub of powdered chlorine inside. He put it in place against the wall and mopped his head with a kerchief, glancing back over his shoulder at the tarp-shrouded swimming pool. "This is stupid."

"Tremont said we could take as much as we wanted. He doesn't think it will ever be warm enough to use the pool again." She followed his gaze to the pool. A layer of ice encrusted the tarp. One day soon, it would never melt. It was sad, knowing that the pool was doomed, that no one would ever laugh and splash in it again.

"That wasn't what I meant."

Sherrine folded her arms against the chill. "So?"

"Lugging this crap all the way to Chicago. It's the kind of thing Crazy Eddie would come up with."

"Alex told us that the Angels need all sorts of chemicals. The space stations aren't perfectly closed systems. You know that. They were never designed for permanent, isolated habitation-—and there's no chlorine on the moon. You're just jealous because you weren't there and you didn't think of it." And why did Bob have to throw cold water on her idea? He himself had pulled her into this.

He leaned back against the van and stuffed his hands in his jacket dockets. "We don't know yet if Cole even has a rocket," he said. "And if he does, we can't just climb aboard and take off from downtown Chicago with a bucket of chlorine powder aboard. So, we don't have to load up-—on chlorine or anything else-—right now."

She shrugged. "Where's the harm?"

Bob rubbed his shoulders. "It's heavy."

She didn't answer him. She huddled deeper in her coat, squinting at the snow flurries stirred up by the wind. The breeze hummed like a tenor pipe where it blew across the archway between the main building and the garage and parking apron. Like a ghost, she thought. The Ghost of Minneapolis Past.

"Cold?" asked Bob.

"No," she said.

His mouth twitched and he stuck his hand back in his pocket. "Me neither." After a few beats, he spoke again. "Is Bruce going to tell the rest of the Con what's going on? I had to teach a thermo class this morning, so I missed whatever you decided at the meeting. The traffic was tied up around the fraternity houses. They're getting ready for some sort of Greekfest."

"Call in sick, like I did."

He shook his head. "I owe them."

"Who, the University?"

"No, my students. It takes a lot of guts to sign up for a science course these days. To put up with the taunts and harassment. As long as they show up, I'll show up."

"I'm glad I'm staff, not faculty."

"The Dean insists that we add creationism and crystal theory and spiritualism to the curriculum."

"They already have those-—"

"Not as equal time in the physics and chemistry departments."

Sherrine whistled low.

"Yep," Bob said. "The science departments are resisting-—we had a meeting after my class-—but it's a question of marketing and sales. Of putting warm bodies behind desks. We told the Dean that there was no objective evidence for any of that crap. You know what he said?"

The sky was a slate gray; the cloud deck, low and oppressive. Sherrine stared up into the gloom. "No. What?"

"He said that the alleged objectivity of materialist science was an invention of heterosexual, white males, so we shouldn't use that as a basis for judgment."

She looked sharply into his face. For a change, he was not laughing. "What did you tell him?"

"Nothing."

All the fire had done out of him, even the anger. Ominous. She said, "And?"

"I said nothing. It was like I'd been caught explaining something to a door, or a telephone recording. I felt like such a fool."

"That's why I love working with computers. They're logical. Rational. They do exactly what you program them to do. And that forces you to be logical, too." She shook her head. "But the anthropomorphic nonsense I have to put up with from users . . ."

"I thought you were happy in your little niche."

She gave him a fierce look. "I was, damn you. I was happy! Thank you, Robert K. Needleton, for prying me out into this cold, mean, miserable world."

"Do you want to go back?"

She shook her head. "You can never go back. As long as you keep your eyes shut tight, you can pretend whatever you like. But once you open them, all your pretenses are gone. Even if you shut them again, you know. I was getting along, day by day. Nothing was too right; but nothing was too wrong, either. Now, you and your Angels and-—" She waved an arm at the Tre-house. "—all this. It's reminded me how gray and awful things have become. People ask me what my 'sign' is. It used to be a joke; but they're serious. We have a Supreme Court justice now who consults the stars instead of the Constitution. And the Luddites. Anytime someone suggests doing anything, it's 'this might happen' and 'that might happen' and 'think of the risks involved.' But you can't do nothing, either. Oh, sometimes I just want to shuck it all. Go somewhere else."

"Where?"

She looked back up into the sky and hummed softly. "And that was one small step, and afire in the sky . . . "

"Sorry, all those trains have been cancelled."

"Except one."

"Maybe." He placed one mittened hand on her shoulder. "Sherrine. People like us, we should stay here and fight."

"And lose."

"Losing is better than running."

She jerked her shoulder away from him. "I wasn't talking about running." Yes, you were. "I'm not like you. I can't laugh about it. I can't make jokes. It depresses me. You'll be making wisecracks about crystal-heads and proxmires until the day they hang you for technophilia-—"

"They don't hang you for that. They send you to reeducation camps."

"Whatever. But, for me . . . I can't go back; so I've got to go on."

He nudged her with his elbow. "Here comes Chuck. You never did tell me what you guys decided this morning. What do we tell the others?"

"Oh. It's still a secret. Just us and the Ghost. What they don't know can't get them in trouble." She straightened and stepped away from the van. "Hi, Chuck."

Chuck Umber was agitated. His beard jutted out. "The Con is busted," he said. "The cops are on their way."

Sherrine stiffened. The police were coming? They would catch her here, among fans. She would lose her job. She would . . . "How do you know?" she asked.

"Secret source."

A closet fan in the police department. She remembered a civilian analyst who'd been active before. Probably a secret Hocus subscriber-

"Look, you've got to leave now," Umber said. "There's still time before they get here."

She turned to climb in the van. Bob grabbed her arm."Wait! Gabe and Rafe!" She looked into his eyes. "We've got to find them," he said.

"They're with Thor and Steve," she told him. "They'll get them out."

"Gabe and Rafe," Chuck said. "Dell 'Angelo. A pair of angels?"

"Chuck-—"

"Don't worry," Chuck said. "I didn't hear a thing. We'll get them out. Now go! The fewer people in your van, the less suspicious you'll look at the roadblocks."

"Roadblocks?"

"Yeah. This isn't any ordinary bust. The 'danes are out in force. They're looking for something. This isn't just the cops, the Air Force is in it."

Again she traded looks with Bob.

"But I still don't know how the Air Force knew where to look," Umber said. "Hey, get going! Now. And get the badge off, Bob!"

The Rotsler cartoon badge. Bob dropped it in a pocket. "Don't have it on you," Chuck said.

Sherrine said, "How will we find our friends?"

"I said don't worry," Chuck told her. "I've got it all scoped out. Always map escape routes first thing. Head for River Road just south of the big curve near the Bell Museum. Your friends will meet you there."

"Can you get them out in time?"

Chuck grinned. "Did I ever fail to get Hocus out on time? Then I won't fail to get this issue out, either."

She climbed into the passenger seat and Chuck slammed the door on her. Bob started the van and they pulled out of the parking apron. "Sherrine, where's your badge?"

"My-—? Back at the apartment."

"Good thing," Bob said. He pulled on the radio panel. It opened, and he dropped his badge into the cluttered cavity.

SHERRINE HARTLEY, her badge said, and the little William Rotsler figure looked fondly up at the letters, thinking, "Infatuation Object." It wasn't hidden in her apartment. She'd thought it too dangerous. She'd thrown it away.

The chlorine buckets in back rolled and thumped.

Sherrine twisted in her seat and looked out the back window at Chuck. He was already running back toward the Tre-house. She straightened and stare through the windshield. Her hands were clenched in her lap.

"What is it?" Bob asked.

"Nothing," she said. She was thinking of all the times her issue of Hocus had come late.

* * *

The Tre-house was in confusion. Fans grasping duffel bags and knapsacks scampered up one corridor and down another. Tremont J. Fielding stood in the tiled foyer giving directions, dividing the flow of fannish refugees so that they did not bottleneck at any one exit. He wore a long, flowing cape-—his trademark-—and indicated one corridor or another with his malacca walking stick. Wolfson was at the far end of the west hallway, near the carport entrance, hustling them along. Some of the fans were still in their hall costumes: elves, warriors, ancient gods, aliens and spacemen.

3MJ allowed himself a moment to appreciate Pat Davis's mermaid. The tail was split so she could walk. She seemed to swim along the corridor. Much skin was showing, and much more implied. Her fine blond hair bobbed and waved almost as if she were underwater.

Priorities. Who had to run, who could stay? The nature people were safe. The Greens didn't hate them, except for their association with technophiles. The kids were all right, too young to worry the cops. Students would get lectures, maybe some remedial reading on Ecodisasters, but students could get away with a lot.

People with mundane jobs were in trouble. Get them out first, since even if they weren't arrested, they could lose their jobs. And the pros. Most of them had judgments hanging over their heads. They could be sentenced to "community service" for not paying their debts.

Wolfson raised a circled thumb and forefinger. Good. All the pros were hidden in the vaults below. So far no one had ever found those. Of course, there's a first time for anything.

OK. The people are safe. Now our treasures. Most of the high tech posters were already gone, leaving the paintings of wizards and elves and witches and fairies. Over there! A medal, stamped in aluminum from the original Apollo 11 capsule and given to people who had worked on the program! Priceless. He plucked it and put it in his pocket. None of this stuff was worth dying for, but this-—The bell rang insistently. 3MJ took a deep breath and opened it.

There were at least a dozen cops, eight blues and several greens. Behind them was a squad of Air Police at parade rest, and behind them were more airmen with rifles. An Air Force captain was pointing to a group of students who had run away. "Catch them and check their ID. You know what we're looking for." The sergeant nodded grimly and led four men at double time.

Tremont pretended not to notice the Air Force and Greens and turned to the leader of the local police. "Yes, Officer?" he said politely. The name badge read Sergeant Pyle.

"Sorry to bother you, sir. Are you the householder?"

Tremont smiled grimly. "You know who I am, Sergeant. Yes, I'm Tremont Fielding."

"Yes, sir. Mr. Fielding, we're serving a complaint."

He pulled a warrant from his jacket pocket and handed it over. "Public nuisance. One of your neighbors complained about the noise from the party."

Tremont studied the warrant. "I see. Yes, this is all in order. But, Sergeant, I know the noise wasn't loud enough to disturb my neighbors."

Pyle exchanged looks with his Green partner, a Sergeant Zaftig. ` And how do you 'know' that, sir?" asked Zaftig.

3MJ spread his hands guilelessly. "I throw a great many parties, officer. Charity affairs. All those bodies, it's an easy way to warm the house. As you know, I'm a firm supporter of the Patrolman's Benevolent Association. Hope you liked the party last month-—"

"Yes, sir." Pyle frowned. "So?"

"Like everyone else, I am concerned about pollution; especially noise pollution from my many affairs. So the edge of my property is ringed with sound meters that record the noise levels. I checked them earlier tonight, and the decibel readings have been no higher than normal background noise. Certainly not as high as they were during the PBA benefit last month."

"Sound meters," said Zaftig. The Green looked triumphant.

"Yes. I rent them from the EPA through the local Nader franchise. I have them calibrated there every two months." He turned to Pyle. "I'll be glad to apologize to any neighbor who has been offended, but really, any disturbance must have come from somewhere else. Is there anything else, Sergeant?"

Pyle sighed. "Yes, sir-—" He fished in his uniform pocket and pulled out a second warrant and unfolded it carefully, then held it out for Tremont to read. "All right, then. Suspicion of harboring dangerous fugitives."

"Fugitives. May I ask who these fugitives are?"

"Read it."

Tremont adjusted his glasses. He took hold of the warrant in one hand but the policeman refused to relinquish it. Tremont raised an eyebrow, Spock-fashion.

"Sorry, Mr. Fielding," Pyle muttered. "I've got to show it to you, but I can't let you have it."

"I see." Tremont took his time reading the warrant. The longer he stalled, the better for everyone. "There's nothing about who the fugitives are."

"Classified."

"Oh. And the space for the judge's signature is blank," he observed. "Just an X."

"The judge's name is classified, too." Zaftig looked triumphant. "The mark on the warrant is witnessed," the Green sergeant said, "and the signature is on file at the courthouse."

"I knew we had literacy problems-—"

Pyle looked uncomfortable. "There's precedent," he explained.

Tremont nodded. "The Steve Jackson affair. Yes, I understand." Jackson's game company had been seized by the Secret Service under just such an unsigned warrant. His computers, modems, files. Even his printers. Suspicion of hacking. And private ownership of unregistered modems had been legal back then.

"Move aside," Zaftig said. "We'll be searching this place."

Pyle looked at him. "He knows that."

Tremont knew he had stalled long enough. He stepped away from the door. "Very well, Officers. But please be careful. As you know, I have a number of valuable and fragile objects d'art about the house."

Zaftig smirked. "Yeah. I heard."

Tremont sighed and resigned himself. There would certainly be vandalism and pilferage. It was grand larceny that worried him. Fortunately, most of the things he considered valuable would be thought trash by the Greens.

The Greens never had liked him, but then they didn't like anybody; they reserved their affection for animals and birds and plants, constituencies that couldn't vote them out of office. They'd steal what they could, and destroy other stuff on general principles. The local police would try not to cause much damage unless they found something truly criminal going on. Tremont J. Fielding had worked for years to raise his standing in the community. His charity balls and fund-raisers helped a lot. Still, he was a known technophile. So were some of the police. But not the Greens, and they had seized control of much of the bureaucracy.

It was the Air Force that worried him. Why were they here? Just who were these fugitives they wanted? He had a pretty good guess. The dell 'Angelo brothers. Wheel chairs, neofans made into instant guests: it had to be them. What were they wanted for? He edged closer to the Air Force people.

It was clear that they were really in charge. They'd let the local cops speak for them, but when it came to giving orders-—The Air Force captain stepped forward.

The name tag said ARTERIA. The officer was tall, thin, with long muscles. The helmet strap was buckled, hiding part of the face. The hands were gloved. The grips on the holstered pistol had been customized, and the weapon seemed well worn.

Arteria faced the troops. "We'll conduct this search systematically." The voice was a slightly fruity contralto. "Start on the third floor and work your way down. Remember what the description flyer says: 'spectrally tall supermen.' So be careful." Arteria handed out sketches which Tremont recognized from the television broadcast the night before. "And remember, the Government wants them intact and unharmed."

Spacemen. Dell 'Angelo. Angels. Of course. For a moment Tremont felt hurt that the Con Committee hadn't told him. What difference would it have made? They were welcome here, whatever the cost.

The soldiers clattered up the stairs and fanned down the three wings. Tremont could hear them stamping about overhead. He sighed, but did not leave the foyer. The head cops-—Air Force blue, darker police blue, and green-—huddled together and argued in fierce whispers. Tremont shook his head as he watched them. Probably arguing about jurisdiction. He could not overhear and did not want to appear nosy.

Wolfson approached and, tugging at his sleeve, drew him aside. Tremont bowed his head so Wolfson could whisper into his ear. "They're all gone or in the hideaway, except, for the Lunarians and the two neos in the wheelchairs. There wasn't enough room down below."

Tremont raised his head and blinked rapidly. "Oh, dear." The Angels! And no one had known to put them below first.

"Shew and Curtis volunteered to give up their slots in the vault; but, hell, Tremont, those guys are published. The cops have their names and pictures on their list."

Tremont touched his arm. "Don't worry. Tell the Lunarians to execute Plan Two. They'll know what to do. Chuck Umber laid it all out before he left."

Wolfson licked his lips. He watched the police barking into their wrist coms. "All right," he said. "I won't worry."

* * *

When they hauled out the Pierson's puppeteer skeleton, Tremont kept his face stoically composed; but inwardly his heart cracked as he wondered what he would say to Will Waxman. The puppeteer was his prize possession. Tremont pulled his cape closed and changed his grip on his walking stick. Will knew the risks involved in attending a con. He would buy Doc a drink the next time their paths crossed and they would both shake their heads over their losses.

"Look at that crap," said one of the cops, pointing to the puppeteer.

And that really was too much. He turned to the policeman. "Crap, sir? Crap? Do you comprehend the creativity and art that went into the fashioning of that artifact? An anatomically correct and self-consistent realization of an imaginary beast." Careful, he told himself. It's a Monster, not an Alien. Fantasy was still marginally acceptable; but just barely so. He hoped the policeman would not read the provenance plaque. Maybe Will had managed to pocket it.

"Art," the cop grunted. "I don't see no NEA sticker."

"It was made before-—before NEA approval was necessary. Even today not all art is government subsidized." And the National Endowment for the Arts had never given a grant to fantasy or science fiction art.

"Some of the stuff you got here glorifies technology," the Green cop insisted. As if Tremont did not already know it. "You don't want to glorify technology, do you?"

"Maybe he needs some education," another Green said. "Community service."

"Mr. Fielding is all right," a policeman said. "Good law and order man. Come on, lay off."

And I should leave it at that-—He couldn't. "Do you dislike all technology? Such as the technology that made the cloth for your uniforms, or developed the electric cars you drove here?"

The Green looked surprised. "That's appropriate technology," he said.

* * *

The foyer was empty again, except for the three head cops, when the Lunarians made their move. Most of the searchers were still scattered across the two upper floors, but Arteria and the two sergeants stood in a cluster at the foot of the grand staircase taking reports from their squads over their wrist coms. Those, too, were "appropriate." As were the guns they carried.

The rumble of casters caught their attention, and they turned just as Hal Blandings and three other Lunarians emerged from the north wing pushing a handcart with a large cardboard box on it. They headed straight across the-—foyer toward the front door. Tremont was stunned. The sheer audacity of it! Lunarian fanac always inspired a certain amount of awe among the more circumspect fen. But this . . . He realized that his fingers were crossed and quickly uncrossed them. When he saw the tip of the snorkel protruding from the styrofoam, he held his breath. Did they have both Angels in there?

The three cops stared for a moment, then Zaftig shouted. "Hey, you four!"

The Lunarians halted just at the front door. Zaftig grabbed Hal by the arm. "Got you, you technomaniac." He pointed at the cardboard box. "That there's styrofoam," he announced. "You know better than that. Wasting valuable resources." He grinned. "Or maybe you don't know better. You will, though."

"Sergeant Zaftig," said Arteria, "that is not why we are here."The Green turned to the Air Force captain. "You stay out of this, Captain. Environmental laws are my jurisdiction. Anyplace, anytime." He faced Blandings. "What've you got to say for yourself, techie?"

The west hallway door opened on cue. Pat Davis emerged into the foyer crossed to the east hallway. Since she was still wearing her mermaid costume, every male eye in the foyer followed her progress-—except Zaftig, who was reading the Lunarians their rights, and Arteria, who evidently did not care for that sort of thing. Pyle took after her.

"Sergeant Pyle!" Arteria snapped.

Pyle muttered something about the Helms Law and kept going. Tremont smiled thinly. Enforcing the obscenity statutes was tricky business. The courts had imposed intricate guidelines. Pyle would no doubt have to study the costume for a considerable time and from many angles before he could decide what to do.

Meanwhile, back at the front door, one of the Lunarians was showing Zaftig a certificate proclaiming that the styrofoam in the box was 100 percent recycled material. So was the box. "Recycling! It's important! The paper they use in some of those fast-food places, that's from trees! They cut down trees for that! And we can recycle styrofoam. You know how much energy it takes to recycle styrofoam? Not much. But trees, it takes a long time to grow trees! Owls roost in trees! Trees are important. Sergeant, aren't you for ecology?"

The tip of the snorkel sank deeper into the chips.

Zaftig sprang. "There's someone hiding in this box."

Arteria stiffened and looked at Tremont. "Smuggling out a fugitive, are you? That was a pretty clumsy maneuver."

The way the AP captain said it, it sounded almost like a rebuke and Tremont wanted to apologize. We didn't have time to be particularly clever. Arteria walked to the carton just as Zaftig grabbed the end of the snorkel.

Wolfson tapped his arm and pointed silently to the top of the staircase. Tremont looked and saw Anthony Horowitz tiptoeing down. He scowled. If there was no room in the cellars for Harry and Jenny, there sure wasn't for a neopro like Horowitz. He'd been left to take his chances-—but Tony might just make it. He must have evaded the AP's on the second floor. The two cops in the foyer had their backs to the stairs and the west wing.

Harry and Jenny. Where were they? Jenny was sure the police were after her. She never quite said what for. Tremont didn't know about Harry. No room for them in the hiding holes, and their bike wouldn't start. They'd gone toward the kitchen . . .

Horowitz made it to the bottom of the stairs. No one had noticed. He'd never have a better chance. Tremont shook his head. It was a helluva con. Better than Nycon I.

Zaftig yanked on the snorkel and its wearer emerged dripping plastic chips, a fish hoisted from the styrofoamy sea. The burly bushy-haired Seth looked around the foyer, wide-eyed. He took the snorkel from his mouth. "Is the book auction over already?"

Zaftig grabbed him by the wrist. "Is this one of them?" he asked Arteria.

The AP captain scowled. "Does this look like a 'spectrally thin superman' to you?" A grunt of disgust, but before Arteria could turn away, Horowitz had blocked the way.

Horowitz stuck out his hand. "Hi, do you do interviews? I'm Tony Horowitz. I'm an up-and-coming pro science fiction writer. I've got several books out already, but I need to boost my circulation."

"A sci-fi pro?" said Zaftig. He grinned. "I think your circulation just dropped to zero. His eyes dropped then, and the grin went away.

Horowitz smiled beatifically. "Yes, but think of the notoriety. Jailed writers always sell more."

Zaftig's eyes were locked on Horowitz's badge. A sly and dissolute cartoon face, and HAVE SEX OUTSIDE MY SPECIES. The cop was unlikely to recognize a literary reference and if he took it at face value . . . the law wouldn't permit him to take it into consideration.

With visible effort Zaftig wrenched his eyes off the badge. "You ain't no writer. You do sci-fi."

"We'll let The New York Times decide."

Jenny and Harry came in from the kitchen. Jenny had found the maid's uniform. When Tremont's wife was still alive he'd employed a housekeeper who liked wearing uniforms because that way Tremont paid for her work clothes. Now Jenny was wearing it, a conventional black and white pinafore that looked ridiculous on someone of Jenny's age and bearing. She'd even put on the silly bonnet.

Harry was wearing his own clothes, except they were dirtier and more torn than Tremont remembered.

"I'm sorry, sir," Jenny said. "I'd let this poor man out the back door, but the soldiers won't let me. Here, it's this way-—" She led Harry toward the front door.

"Where the hell are you going?" one of the soldiers demanded. "Who is this dude?"

"He's homeless," Jenny said. "I gave him a hot meal."

"A bum, you mean," the corporal said.

"Homeless! Are you a monster?" Jenny demanded. She turned to Arteria. "Sir, how can you let your men talk that way? I think there are laws. Don't the racism laws cover this? They can't say such things-—"

Pyle was off chasing mermaids. Arteria was buttonholed by Horowitz. Jenny was screaming at the Greens. Zaftig was encumbered with Seth and the Lunarians. Everyone was shouting at the top of their voices—and everyone but Tremont had their backs to the foyer. The north wing door opened, and two wheelchairs rolled swiftly and silently down the ramp. Thor and Fang pushed them into the west wing.

Toward the carport.

3MJ saluted with his walking stick. Fang waved back and vanished out the door with the others. Then Tremont swung his stick up and rested it jauntingly across his shoulder. He turned a military about-face and watched the ruckus by the door. He smiled at the back of Arteria's head. We had just enough time to be just clever enough.

* * *

Sherrine rolled down the passenger window of the van and looked behind, up River Road. From where the van was parked she could see the Bell Museum of Natural History. The University buildings lined the left side of the road, while the Mississippi-—this far upstream, a human-scale river-—curved past on the right in a gentle crescent. Directly upstream, she could see St. Anthony Falls. University students, bundled against the chill, stood in knots along the roadside laughing and talking and swigging beer. Ice patches glistened in the afternoon sun.

"Roll the window up," said Bob. "You're wasting heat."

"I don't see them yet." She faced forward and rolled the window back up. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stuck her hands under her armpits. Bob had turned the motor off; there was no heat. "It's not that cold, anyway," she said.

"Cold enough."

"Where I was, it was so cold our breath turned colors." She cocked her head and watched the side mirror. No one. The students were waiting for something, but what? Not the Angels, surely.

"Sherrine, someone had to stay with the van. We thought it would just be a short run on and off the Ice. So-—"

"You don't have to make excuses."

"I'm not making excuses, dammit!"

"What if they can't find us?"

He paused and groped for the conversational tennis ball. "They'll find us. Chuck arranged everything."

She turned and looked at him. "And who is Chuck Umber that we should put our faith in him?"

Bob draped one arm across the steering wheel and half turned in the seat. "What's bothering you, Sherrine?"

"Nothing. I just don't know if this fanac is going to come off."

"You don't like running off and leaving the Angels behind."

"I noticed you jumped into the van mighty quick." But it wasn't that way at all, she remembered. Not at all. Chuck had come running out with the news and her first thoughts had been for herself; and for her job; and that she mustn't be found here, among fans. It was Bob who had asked about the Angels, when she was already halfway into the passenger's seat. And now . . . What if she'd lost them? What if she'd lost them?

Bob shrugged. "I trust Chuck. It's that convoluted, intricate mind of his. He knew there wouldn't be time to find Alex and Gordon and load them and their wheelchairs in the van and leave before the police arrived. It was a near thing as it was. The roadblock on University Avenue would have had them." He shook his head and looked stubborn. "No, we could not and should not have taken them with us. Chuck has something else in mind. Something to disguise the Angels' feeble condition in a way the police won't question."

"It's not that. It's . . ."

"What?"

She closed up. "Never mind." But it doesn't matter what I could have done or should have done. It's what I didn't even think of doing. Damn it all, when Bob had called that night, she should have stayed in bed.

Like those students coming down River Road.

She blinked and hunched forward, staring into the side-view mirror. What the hell? She cranked down the window once more.

"What is it?" asked Bob.

"Look behind us." She popped the passenger door and jumped out. The students who had been waiting along the roadside were lined up now, cheering and clapping. Some of them were waving pennants with gophers and Greek letters on them. Farther up the road she saw a fleet of beds, a flotilla of four-posters and brass rails weaving toward her, white sheets flapping like spinnakers.

She went to the rear of the van for a better view. Bob joined her there. "It's a bed race," he said.

The student crowd was growing thicker. Spectators were running alongside the street to keep abreast of the racers. They were yelling and shouting encouragement. She could see now that each bed had a passenger and was being pushed by a crew of three. Did that make them triremes, she wondered? The bedsheets flaunted more Greek letters than a math convention.

"It must be a fraternity event," Bob decided.

"Why, Holmes, how clever of you!"

"Alimentary, my dear Watson. I had a gut feeling."

She stamped her feet. How would the Angels find them in this crowd, local guide or no local guide? Chuck was from the Bay Area, he wouldn't have known about this. So, should she go looking for them or should she stay put?

One of the beds hit an icy spot and skidded, forcing the bed next to it to swerve. The other racers shouted epithets and laughed as they sprinted by. Sherrine imagined the beds cartwheeling and bursting into flame like stock cars going out of control. Then she realized that the two stray beds were headed straight toward her. The students around her parted and fled.

"Hey!" She grabbed Bob by the sleeve and yanked him aside. They tumbled to the frosted grass together, rolling tipsy-topsy in a snarl of arms and legs, and Bob naturally contrived to wind up on top. There was a crash of metal and a few shouts. Plastic crunched and Bob leapt up, leaving her prone.

"That's my van!" he cried. "They smashed the tail light!"

"Thanks for helping me up, Bob," she said.

"What? Oh. Sorry." He hoisted her to her feet and watched while she brushed herself off. "I always said I wanted to die jumping into bed with you; but this wasn't quite what I had in mind. Damn, that light's broken. Hey, you bloody vandals!"

She laughed. When he gave her a look, she said, "I'm sorry. A hit-and-run accident with a brass bed? What'll your insurance company say?"

The race had passed by, with most of the spectators; but the two wrecked beds and their crews remained. They were hunched over the beds, tending to the occupants. "All right," Bob said to them, "what do you think you're up to?"

One of them turned around. It was Bruce. "We think we're making a getaway. What do you think?"

Sherrine's knees almost gave way. Alex grinned up from his place in one of the beds. "Hi, pretty girl," he said. "Is that the way fraternity kids talk?"

"We are all droogs here," Gordon said.

"Yep," Mike said. "We didn't have enough money to bribe the cops. But droogs will get you through times of no money much better than money will get you through . . ."



They loaded the Angels into the van. "I was sure they'd caught you," Sherrine said.

"Not a chance," said Bruce. "Chuck had it all scoped out. I don't know how he knew about the race-—"

"Fans are everywhere," Crazy Eddie said. "Actually, it was fun. How'd you guys like the race?"

Gordon smiled weakly. "I wish I was back in the scoopship, where it is safer."

Alex grimaced. "We crashed that one, too, remember?"

Gordon's smile flickered. "Third time lucky?"

"Come on," said Bruce. "Thor, Steve, Mike. Help me load them into the van before someone comes back to find out what's going on."

"You should have seen it," said Thor, as he and Mike lifted Gordon into the side door. Fang and Eddie were inside, helping. "It was the slickest fanac you'd ever hopemto see. Dick Wolfson and 3MJ orchestrated it like a goddam ballet. With a little help from the Lunarians and Tony Horowitz and Jenny."

Mike chuckled as he helped Alex into the van. "It's like 3MJ always says. "You've got to use your Imagi-Nation.' "

Bruce nodded. "Or like Wallace Stevens wrote. 'In the world of words the imagination is one of the forces of nature.' "

Fang and Eddie hopped out of the van. "All secure," said Fang. "We figure to stay here and dismantle the beds. Shlep the stuff back to the frat house. You guys can put the Angels up for the night. Tomorrow we'll head for Chi-town."

Bob shook his head. "Whatever. You know you could have hurt Sherri and me, ramming into the van eke that."

"Yeah," said Mike. "Didn't you see us coming?"

"Not until you were headed right for us."

"No. You mean you didn't read the frat logo on our sail?"

Bob's eyes went round in horror, even as he whipped around toward the beds.

Mike grabbed the edge of a sheet. He flapped it ("Olé!") and the breeze lifted it from the bed and spread it out like a flag. Sherrine read the letters and laughed. Of course, she should have known. Who else would belong to the Psi Phi fraternity?

??


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