Fallen angels larry Niven Jerry Pournelle Michael Flynn



Download 3,27 Mb.
Page15/22
Date conversion08.12.2018
Size3,27 Mb.
1   ...   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   ...   22

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

"The Sister of Misfortune . . ."


"We'll get him," Harry said. "It may take a while. Ron gets spooked easy."

Oliver Brown nodded. "Well he might. I'm not overly anxious to have him seen here, for that matter."

"We'll be careful." Harry and Jenny left, and Oliver barred the door.

"Do authorities watch this house?" Gordon asked.

"We don't think so," Oliver said. "Helga and I are better known for fantasy. And the SCA."

Alex shook his head. "SCA?"

"Sorry. Society for Creative Anachronism. The Current Middle Ages. I was king, once."

"I think I will let Alex explain later," Gordon said. "May I read now?"

"Certainly," Oliver said. "What would you like?"

Gordon grinned and swept his hand to indicate the disorderly piles of books everywhere. "I think I will find something-—I will remember where, and put back there."

"Thank you. Use my big chair if you like, the light's good there; very good, it's a comfortable place. Alex, you look tired."

"Heh. Considering that I weigh almost a hundred kilos-—"

Oliver patted his ample bunk. "Alas, so do I. So do I, but I am more accustomed to it. Perhaps you would like to rest in the spare room?"

"Yes, please."

Oliver led the way. "I'm afraid it will be a bit cold," he said. "We don't heat this room. Hydrogen is scarce." He ushered Alex through the door.

"Hydrogen?"

"Yes, the Greens like to use hydrogen. They pipe it through the old natural gas lines. Alas, much leaks, and is wasted, and since they shut down most of the power plants there is little electricity to make hydrogen."

"But they do make it?"

"Oh, yes. Here we are. As I said, the room is cold. I'll get you a blanket."

The room was cluttered as well as cold. In the habitats, a space this cluttered would be a death trap: masses could crush a man from any direction. Here, gravity . . . then again, gravity was part of the problem. Loose objects had to rest all against the same surface.

There were the inevitable book cases, but here odd tapestries hung on one wall. They showed scenes of dogs chasing deer. Two large steel swords hung in the corner, and below them were two almost identical swords made of wood. A day couch near the window was piled high with-—"Costumes?" Alex asked. "Armor?"

"Yes. I mentioned the SCA? We still meet, we still hold tournaments. It is an allowable activity. Indeed, many of the Greens come."

"But what do they-—you-—do?"

Oliver Brown grinned. "Why, we dress up in medieval costumes and pretend we live in the Middle Ages," he said. "What else? It used to be fun to learn medieval skills, how to live on common, cheap food, fight with swords and spears, and run a civilization with low technology. Now-—"

"Yeah. I see."

Oliver piled the stuff from the couch onto a chair. "We don't go often now," he said. "I am afraid someone will get drunk and forget that the Greens are listening." He handed Alex a heavy wool cloak. "Use this as a blanket. I'll call you for dinner."

The window looked out onto gray, mean streets. Other apartment buildings, identical save for their graffiti, lined both sides of the block. The cars were old and in disrepair. One was up on blocks; another, stripped. Street lights flickered uncertainly, then brightened in the growing dusk. Alex looked to the sky, but found it overcast with low-hung, gray clouds. A solitary figure, heavily bundled, walked quickly down the street on the opposite side. He-—or she-—clutched a cane not needed for walking, and glanced warily left, right, behind.

Get used to it, Alex, my boy. From now on this is home.

Maybe not. Phoenix! He remembered the program. A low-cost system, not merely reusable but savable. It could get to orbit even with one engine out. Ran on liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen.

They make hydrogen. If they make hydrogen, they must have oxygen as well. But-—

There was a tap at the door. "Come in."

Gordon came in, frowned at the costumes, swords, and tapestries. "I thought perhaps you might want company."

Gordon found a pair of cushions and lowered himself to the floor, slowly, carefully. "It is tiring, standing upright so long. But, every day grows easier. Perhaps I will like it here. The people are . . . interesting."

Alex smiled and sat on the bed beside Gordon. "Remember what they do to interesting people."

"Is criminal. Alex, is no objective evidence for the effectiveness of psychoanalysis. Just replaces conscience, original sin and confessor with superego, id and analyst. In Stalinist times, was used in same way to deal with dissidents. Our way is so obviously right and good that if you disagree you must be crazy."

"I never heard you talk this way before, Gordo."

"I sound angry? I am angry. I like these people, Alex. I am half-Russian. Mental health clinics . . . I know what they are risking to help us. You saw Cole. I don't wish that to happen to Sherrine, or any of our friends."

"Neither do I. It's simple enough. We let them go home, and we keep moving. No more dreams."

"You must always have dreams." Gordon craned his neck and looked at him. "You do not wish to remain down here, do you?"

Alex rose and walked to the window. He studied the shrouded sky once more. "No."

"Yet, you were born here. This was your home."

A shrug. "That was a long time ago."

"And if we go back? Colonies are doomed. We all know this."

Alex looked around the room.

"You think they listen?"

"No. If these people are listening without permission it would be more than-—no. But don't say that where they can hear, Gordon."

"Is pravda, though. More than pravda. Is true."

Alex nodded slowly. "Yeah, I suppose it is, over the long haul. We're running out of everything. The resource base is too small." He laughed bitterly. "Ninety percent of the resources available to the human race, easily available, aren't on Earth, and we have them. But the resource base is too small. Not enough people, not enough chlorine, nitrogen-—"

"Dr. Lichinsky says give him few more years, he will make chlorine and nitrogen."

"Fusion synthesis. Yeah. And his people have been saying they'd have that Real Soon Now since before you were born, Gordo. Face it, even with chlorine and nitrogen and more genetic materials, there are just too damn few of us!"

"Yet you are eager to return."

"Hell yes! I fought to make Freedom a home. Home is the place you would die to save. And that's not the bottom of the Well. Not that it matters. We can't go back."

"I think this, too," Gordon said. "But-—is not so bad."

"Yeah, yeah," Alex said. "But dammit, the Downers are on a downward spiral, too. They turned their back on the future, and now they've got no more chance than the habitats! Every decade, every year, they're less able to cope. It won't be long before conditions will be like that song, 'Black powder and alcohol. When your states and cities fall-—' "

"Orbital decay."

"Eh?"

"Is like Mir and Freedom, nye pravda? Spiralling downward. Every decade atmosphere drag eats velocity. But perhaps a timely boost can still save them."

Alex scowled and looked away from him. "It's not that easy. We're not talking about a space habitat you can strap booster rockets to."

"No, trajectory of people is harder to change. So. What do we do now? Do you believe in this Phoenix?"

Alex worked his lips. "No, but-—if there's even the slightest chance."

"Why?"

"Why not? We have to go somewhere. Steve said California was our best chance for going underground, anyway."

"And when Phoenix fails to rise from her ashes, you will chase after the next rumor and the next."

"At least I'll still be trying. What else is there to do?"

* * *

Ron Cole sat in a large stuffed chair in the oversized living room. He looked somehow out of place, and kept casting nervous glances left and right. Jerky movements, like a bird's. Then he sprang from the chair and shoved it into a corner of the wall. After that he sat slightly more at ease, though he still seemed to twitch nervously.

"Is it still paranoia," Thor whispered to Alex, "when they really are out to get you?"

Cole's eyes danced from face to face around the room, lingering briefly on each. He frowned slightly when he locked gazes with Alex; and nibbled on his lower lip over Harry. "Oliver," he said plaintively, "there are too many."

Helga and Violetta had already returned with several bags of snack foods that they had bartered from the grocery store for the Wisconsin cheese. They broke open bags of chips and trail mix into large bowls and hand them out. Alex raised his eyebrows.

"So much in trade?" he asked her.

"Oh, people will pay far more for the cheese than it is worth," Helga explained. "I suppose that, as long as a single slice can make it out of 'America's Dairyland,' people can tell themselves that things, aren't all that bad and they'll return to normal someday."

"Nostalgia has value, doesn't it?" said Sherrine. "Don't we have our own nostalgia? For the way the future was."

" 'A Fire in the Sky'. . ." said Bob.

"And we all want a slice of that future, too," said Mike with a grin.

"The Phoenix," said Bruce.

Cole jerked and looked at him. "You're not supposed to know about that. What do you know about Phoenix? Oliver, I don't know these people."

"Take it easy, Ron. Nobody here but us chickens. Alex and Gordon here are . . ."

"Angels. Yes, yes. That's obvious. Bone structure. Height. Anyone can see that. And Thor. I know Thor. I think. It's so hard to remember sometimes."

Alex exchanged looks with Gordon. Was their origin that obvious? If so, how could they ever hope to maintain a false ID? Or was it-—remembering the other people they had encountered along the way-obvious only to someone like Cole?

"You know Harry," said Oliver.

Cole made a face. "Yes. I knew Harry. Know Harry. Oh, thank you."

Violetta had come by with a tray of glasses. Cole took one and sipped it. "Oh my, yes. What is it?"

"Dandelion wine."

Cole licked his lips. He looked sly. "I know where you can get some peach brandy."

"Yes, Ron," said Helga from the kitchen door. "We know. You sell it to us. Harry?"

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Could you help me out in the kitchen for a minute. I'm cutting up the rest of the cheese for hors d'oeuvres."

Harry looked briefly angry, then looked sidelong at Ron Cole. "Yeah, sure."

Jenny took his arm. "Come on. They don't need us here." She led him from the room. At the doorway, she turned. "It really does hurt his feelings, you know. He's not as tough as he likes to act."

Oliver shifted in his seat. "Sure. But, Christ, Jenny, you know him better than any of us. I sent him out for beer once and . . ."

"And the store was closed, so Harry broke a window. I know. He likes to tell that story."

Alex frowned. "He smashed a store window to steal some beer? That doesn't sound-—"

"No, he left money for it."

Thor was sitting on the floor with his back to the opposite wall. He rose smoothly and dusted himself. "I guess I'll take a long walk."

Steve said, "Hey, Thor . . ." And Fang reached out and touched the golden giant's arm.

"Sorry, Steve. Fang. But I haven't stayed loose this long by hanging around a bull's-eye. Neither have you."

Fang shook his head. "I'm seeing it through. I finish what I start."

"Let me know what you decide."

When Thor had gone, Cole peered at the group from Minneapolis. Oliver held out a hand. "I'll vouch for them, Ron. You trust my judgment, don't you?"

Cole sucked in his lips and nodded.

"Harry delivered the message?"

"Oh, yes. It's time to move on and see what free men can do."

Silence lengthened. Faintly from the kitchen came song:



"Nader's Raiders want my freedom, OSHA wants my

scalp and hair,

If I'm wanted in Wisconsin, be damned sure I

won't be there!

If the E-P-A still wants me, I'll avoid them if I

can.

They're burning down the cities, so I'll be a

wanted fan."



It twitched nerves. Oliver said, "Whatever happened to escapist literature? Ron, tell us about Phoenix!"

"Phoenix. A fire in the sky," Ron Cole said. "It flew once, you know. I was there. Gary was sure it could circle the Earth. They wouldn't let it fly all the way, though. They kept her chained. Not everyone wanted her chained, though." His voice had become nearly normal, and Oliver leaned back, more relaxed now.

"It was politics. NASA and the military," Cole said. "The cost per pound of payload to low earth orbit was five to ten kilobucks. Those were the official numbers. The real cost-well! NASA got five billion a year and they were lucky to get a launch every two months. If Gary could fly to orbit for a few million dollars instead of billions, NASA would look ridiculous."

"I remember," Alex said.

"But the Air Force was going to build it, part of the strategic defense system, but then the Russians gave up their empire, and the Air Force wasn't worried anymore that someone would seize the high ground on them. So they killed the program, but they hate to throw anything away. Pack rats, they are. So they decommissioned her and set her up on a public part of Edwards, so technically they still have some jurisdiction."

Alex leaned forward. "How did they decommission her?"

Cole chuckled. "They unplugged her. Heh, heh."

Bruce frowned. "What does that mean?"

Cole looked uncertain. "You're sure I can-—"

"You can tell us," Oliver assured him.

"They took her ROMs." Cole perked his head up and beamed at them.

Steve cocked his head. "They took her ROMs?"

"It means," said Alex, "that they pulled all the computer chips with the flight programming and internal controls. Engines, life support. Everything that made the bird alive."

Sherrine sat up straight. "Programming? Why, we should be able to replace that! Bob and Gary can work out the physics. And Tom Marshall and I can do the coding."

Alex smiled thinly. "About 200,000 lines of code, to judge by the birds I've flown? That's 100,000 lines apiece. At 100 lines a day, that would be three years' work."

"That's right," said Mike. "ROM wasn't built in a day."

Sherrine slumped. "Oh."

"Strike one," said Alex, holding up a finger. "Is there anything else, Dr. Cole?"

"There's the IMU, of course. They took that out. Couldn't leave that in."

"What's an IMU?" asked Fang.

"It's an inertial platform," Bob explained. "It would be about so big . . . His hands cut a figure in the air. "Maybe a little bigger than a shoebox."

"I don't suppose you have one on you?" Alex asked Cole.

Cole looked at his hands, as if he expected to find an IMU there. "No. That I don't have."

"Strike two." Alex held up a second finger.

"And of course," Cole continued, "there's no fuel."

"Strike three, and we're out." He turned to Gordon. "All I asked for was a chance. But there's no chance here."

Cole blinked rapidly. "Oh, but none of those are insuperable obstacles. No, indeed. Not insuperable, at all."

Oliver Brown nodded slowly. "You don't have the IMU. What is it you have, Ron?"

Cole looked sly. "Well-—"

"ROMs. He gave you a copy. For safekeeping," Oliver insisted.

"Yes, yes, you know us both, of course you know that. Yes. I have them, back at the museum. Wrapped in foil. I have them, safe, safe. We thought we thought once I would go with Gary, but not now, not now. Now I would be a burden."

"Unstrike," Mike Glider said. He held up three fingers, and folded one down. "Now what about the-—IMU?"

"Oh, we know where that is. They put it in a safe place." Cole nodded happily.

They waited while Cole continued to nod. A pained look crossed Oliver's face. "Where is it, Ron?"

Cole became suddenly wary. "A very safe place." His eyes slid left and right and he leaned forward and whispered. "It's in the military security area at Edwards AFB."

"Military security area. A safe?" Oliver asked.

"Something like that," Bob said. "We've got security containers at the University. Surplus-——"

"That sounds simple enough," said Fang. "Just straightforward B&E and a little burglary. Harry!" he called.

Harry stuck his head in from the kitchen. "Yo."

"You know those things at Bob's university?"

"Look like file cabinets with a big combination lock," Needleton said.

"Sure," Harry said.

"Can you open one?"

"Take about half an hour if you don't mind noise.

Couple of hours if any body's listening."

Mike Glider folded down another finger. Two." "And the fuel?" Alex demanded. "Where are we going to find a half million pounds of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen?"

They quieted down. Sherrine seemed crestfallen. Bob and Oliver, somber and thoughtful. Steve, folded into a lotus on the floor, vibrated with nervous energy. "Shit," said Fang. "That's a stopper all right."

Cole looked puzzled. "But that's the easy part," he said. "You make the fuel."



Alex strained to hear Cole through the resulting babble. The man kept talking in the same low tone of voice despite the noise around him. Finally Bruce put two fingers in his mouth and whistled.

" . . hydrogenation of fats; and of course, there's the TV industry."

Silence.

"Would you mind, repeating that, Ron?" said Oliver. "We didn't get it all."

Cole squeezed up his face. "I was simply explaining why, in spite of government craziness and propaganda, there are still plants making hydrogen. The Greens may not like industry, especially the chemical industry; but hydrogen is politically correct. When you burn it, the ash is water vapor. There are things that they want to have-—that they need to have. Like television. You can't make television sets without hydrogen."

"Heating, too," Oliver said. "We have hydrogen pipes in this building. It's not very pure, but it's hydrogen."

All true, Alex thought. And the more Cole talked, the saner he became, probably because in talking science he was orbiting in his home module . . .

"Yes, indeed," Cole said. "All you need is methane and electricity. And steam. Methane-CH4-is everywhere. Natural gas. Swamp gas. You get some when you crack petroleum or pyrolysize coal. And cow farts."

Mike's jaw dropped. "You're going to make rocket fuel from cow farts?"

"No, of course not. I only meant . . . methane is common. There is hydrogen in the pipelines. There will be a pipe to Phoenix."

"Wait a minute, " Alex said. "A hydrogen pipe? Liquid hydrogen?"

"No, no," Cole said. "Just hydrogen. But you compress it, and it will liquify. It is not that difficult."

"And the oxygen? LOX?"

Cole shrugged. "Liquify air, and boil off everything else. It is really very simple." He spread his hang smiled at them. "And there you have it."

In spreading his hands, Cole revealed two bright glassy marbles. Go on pointed at them. "Shto eto?" he asked.

"Hmm? Oh, my family jewels. I made them. A long time ago-—carbon-12 diamonds." Cole stared at them morosely. "It was my idea, but the big companies took the idea away from me. They make good lasers, you know; but I kept these because they were beautiful."

"All right," said Alex, still not quite believing it. "There are chemical plants operating that make hydrogen-—"

"They're small, too. Ten to twenty people."

"And pipe it through the desert. And the LOX you get by compressing air and letting the 02 boil off. Fine. But a half million pounds-—"

Cole shook his head emphatically. "That's the total, not all of that is hydrogen. What you need is 66,500 pounds of hydrogen. It's bulky, but well, there are ways."

"And the oxygen?" Gordon asked.

"Most of the ship is oxygen," Alex said.

"All right, I bite," Fang said. "How do you liquify air?"

"Turbo expander," Cole said. "Four hundred thousand pounds of oxygen, make it on the spot."

"Where do we get a-—turbo expander?" Bruce asked.

Cole shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't cared since they-—since they ruined my ship. But Gary will know. Oh yes, Gary will know."

Mike Glider folded his index forger halfway. "Only half a strike left."

Alex found himself nodding, nodding. Half a strike. "Now I'm lost. A-—turbo expander. What powers that?"

"It's like a jet engine," Cole said. "Very like, a jet engine. In fact, it is a jet engine, but it won't fly-—"

"So it needs-—"

"JP-4. Kerosene," Cole said.

"A lot of kerosene, I expect," Oliver Brown said.

Mike Glider held up one finger again. "Strike-—"

"Yes, a lot," Cole said. "But not more than we have."

"What?" Bruce demanded.

Cole grinned widely. "Larry and Curly. You must meet them. Alas, I sold Moe . . ."



The door on the abandoned warehouse bore a stenciled sign reading Private Property-Museum of Science and Appropriate Technology. Rust speckled the metal siding; grass and weeds had punched through the cracks and edges of the concrete truck apron. The shattered windows had been boarded over and covered with graffiti boasting of long-vanished gangs. The cold wind blew off the lake and crystal patches of gray frost nestled unmelted in the shadows.

Cole bent over the padlock and worried it with a key. "This leads back into the bluff underneath the museum. It forms a subbasement where they used to bring exhibits in and out. Hardly used anymore. No sir. Hardly used."

Alex, Bob, Sherrine and Oliver stood behind him, casting occasional wary glances around the open area by the lake and at the museum.

"Ah." Cole grunted in satisfaction and the chain fell away. The doors pulled smoothly up and clicked into place with a satisfying snap. Behind them, two gleaming Peterbilt tractors reared high and proud. The headlights and grillwork had been polished to a sparkle that coruscated from the quiet sun overhead.

"There they are," Cole announced. "Larry and Curly."

Alex stepped into the warehouse. He ran his hand along the bright, cold grillwork. Each tractor was hitched to a long, silver, cylindrical tanker. The logo painted on the side read:



MILKHEIM

LOW-FAT MILK



"These will hold liquid gasses?"

Cole's head bobbed. "Twelve thousand gallons each. I got them war surplus for practically nothing. For peaches . . ." He laughed. "They are filled with RP-4. Enough to power the air converters. Now all you must do is get them to Thunder Ridge."

"Thunder Ridge."

"Edwards Air Force Base," Cole said. "The rocket test stand. Get them there. Gary Hudson will do the rest."

Cole approached the nearest truck-—Larry? -—and laid his cheek against it. "I've been waiting for this day forever." There were tears in his eyes.

"I don't get it," said Bob. "You've got the ship and you've got Gary to pilot it. You've got the backup ROMs-—maybe-—and know where to get the IMU. You know where to find fuel and you've got the trucks to move it. So, tell me one thing, Ron. Why didn't Phoenix fly a long time ago?"

Good question, thought Alex.

Cole pointed to Alex. "Because we were waiting for him."

"What?"

"How could you know our scoopship would-—"

"Wait!" Oliver held up his hands. "Wait. Ron? Ron, it's all right. It's been years and years. Most of us forgot Phoenix ever existed. How did you know Alex was coming?"

"Know Alex was coming? No, that's silly. Alex? Couldn't know. Couldn't know. But we needed Angels to make it fly. Angels to bear her up into heaven, lest she dash her foot upon a stone."

Alex rubbed a hand over his face. Oh, dear God . . .

"You see, she won't reach orbit on her own. Gary told me that. Long ago. Before. She's a heavy-duty ship, designed for flight tests. And maybe Gary cut the design too close. She can get to elliptical orbit, but it won't be stable." He turned watery eyes on Alex. "And up to now there's been no way to change that. But you can."



"What in the world is this?" asked Sherrine. She called from the back of the cavernous garage. Alex and the others followed her voice to a dark corner behind the trucks where an immense and convoluted structure of piping stood hissing. Out of one end, small dark droplets of liquid fell into a holding tank. Oliver started to laugh.

"So this is it!" he said.

Cole bounced up and down from his knees, holding a finger over his lips. "Shhhh!"

"What is it?" Sherrine repeated.

Bob frowned at the structure. "It looks familiar. I've seen it somewhere." He started to hold his finger under the dripping liquid, but pulled back. Who knew what that stuff was?

"It's the regenerative cooling system from the old Titan up in the museum," Oliver explained. "Ron stripped it out and used it to make his still. He distills fruit brandies." He placed a finger under the drip and stuck it in his mouth. "Blackberry. Very tasty. The museum doesn't pay Ron squat."

"I pay them," Cole said. "Heh. Apple is best. The trucks were bought with apples and peaches."

Bob started giggling. "Moonshining in the basement of the Museum of Science and Industry? I love it!"

Alex smiled. "Yes, but back to the trucks. Is there fuel? Can we get to California? Or is that another detail?"

"Some details are important," Cole said. He pointed to stacks of 55-gallon drums racked against the far wall opposite the still. "Shemp."

Alex blinked. "Shemp?"

"Fourth truck," Cole told him. "Sold it before I sold Moe. Full of JP-4. Kerosene. Heating oil-—"

Oliver nodded. "People pay a lot for heating oil and they don't ask questions."

Alex blew a cloud of breath into the chill air. "No, I don't suppose they do." He had a sudden, wild image of Cole, his eyes glowing crazy, careening Moe around the streets of Chicago, making clandestine midnight deliveries of black market heating oil. It was a hell of a planet.

* * *

Bruce was a SMOF. He made a list. SMOFs always make lists.

Sherrine sat on the floor next to Steve, with her knees drawn up under her chin and wondered if she would ever see Gordon and Alex again. She pictured Phoenix soaring skyward on a pillar of fire. God, to be there! But she would be back home, and would hear about it only on the news (if they dared run it on the news) and she would smile a secret smile that her coworkers would never understand.

"First," said Bruce, "we need identity papers for the Angels, in case Phoenix doesn't work out. Sherrine, Mike, Bob and I will be returning to Minneapolis. Sherrine, you'll link up with Tom Marshall and get that ball rolling. Okay?"

Back to Minneapolis. Sherrie nodded. "Sure." Back to the old terminal. It would be tricky, working things out of the University computer center, setting it up so they couldn't trace back to her.

Bruce checked off something on his list. "Good. I'll have The Ghost set up the Great Scavenger Hunt." He looked at Alex. "Fans will come up with stuff we never thought of. You'll have your cornucopia."

Bruce checked off another item on the list. "Mike."

Mike came to abrupt attention-—hard to do while slumped in a chair-—and snapped a salute. "Oui, mon capitan!"

You find out about the plastic corn at Iowa State."

"Yes, mon capitan!" He looked at Sherrine. "I'll need a name," he said.

Sherrine rose. "I can call my grandmother right now. Oliver, can I use your phone?'

"Use a public phone," said Thor. "Always use public phones. Its a rule."

Fang looked at him. "I thought you were quitting this."

Thor shrugged and looked away. "Last reflex twitch of a dying brain."

"Don't do it now," said Bruce. "Wait till we're done here." He studied his list and licked the point of his pencil. "Steve. You've got to get back to California, right?"

Steve, meditating in a full lotus on the floor, answered without opening his eyes. "Right."

"Could you be our point man for the first option? Head up to Edwards and talk to Gary. Get the full picture. Fill him in on what's happening. Find out if he'll volunteer his bird."

"He'll volunteer, all right. I only met him the once; but the one thing in life he wants more than anything else is to fly that bucket."

Harry popped the lid of a beer can. "Odds are that Wade has already filled him in."

"Sure, but Wade doesn't know everything. Steve, it can't hurt to make sure."

Steve opened his eyes. "I know that. My dojo can stay closed another few days."

"We're not asking you to go underground," said Bruce, checking another item off the list. "Oliver will hide the Angels until everything is ready."

Oliver bowed. "My honor."

"Especially Gordon," added Violetta, giving the younger Angel a broad smile. "You can make Roland jealous."

Gordon said, "Well, uh . . ."

"Check," said Bruce. "Next item is to get the trucks-—"

"Larry and Curly," said Cole.

"-—to California. We need drivers." He looked at Thor, Fang and Harry.

"I told you already," Thor said. "Count me out."

Harry shrugged. "I can take one, but the bike will be more useful. You'll need scouts, and Jenny and I do that best."

Fang raised his hand and waved it back and forth. "I want Larry."

Bruce blinked. "Why Larry in particular?"

"Because I always liked him. The Forgotten Stooge. He never got the credit he deserved."

Bruce made a note on his pad. "Fine. Jenny can ride the bike-—or can you drive this rig?"

Bob said "She doesn't have to. I'll drive."

Bruce frowned. "Bob? Don't you have to be back at the University?"

"I took care of that. I'm not going back."

Sherrine looked at him. "What happens to your students? I thought you told me you owed it to your students to teach them."

He met her eyes. "I will be teaching them. This will be a lesson they never forget."

"Are you contemplating going to orbit?" Alex asked.

"Sure. I'm in good shape, I have a Ph.D in physics, and the rocket seats-—what? More than two."

"More than two, da," Gordon said. "But-—"

"He's saying don't burn your bridges," Alex said. "Commander Hopkins may not want another physicist. Even if this Phoenix works, which isn't all that damn clear to me."

"I know that," Bob said. "I didn't quit. On the way here I called the University and told them I have typhus.

"Typhus?" Thor said.

"Why not?"

Damn you, Sherrine thought. And I'll be back at my computer console-—

Bruce tugged on his beard. "Okay, then. Bob and Fang drive. Harry and Jenny scout ahead. Steve takes the train to coordinate with Hudson. Now what about Dr. Cole? Ron, what do you want to do? Stay here?"

"It may not be safe," Cole said. "It has been getting worse every year. Another year, two at most No, there is no reason for me to stay here now."

"Want to go to California?"

"No. It would be too painful," Cole said. "You may have the tank trucks. I have another, a six-wheeler. If you will help me load my still on it, I will be all right."

"I'll help," Thor said. "Ron, if you like, I'll go with you. "

Cole looked at him. "I remember you. Yes, I would like that. Thank you."

Sherrine took a deep breath. "I'm going, too," she announced.

"What?" said Bob. "Now, wait. You can't take that chance."

"You are."

Bruce brandished his list. "You've got to go back to Minneapolis to coordinate the Angels' new IDs," he said.

She shook her head. She had been wondering for days whether she was risking her job-—whatever security she could count on in poor, doomed Minneapolis-—or whether she was leaving it behind. Now she knew. Damn Bob, anyway. "You don't need me. The Legion of Doom can handle this. So I guess it's not so important that I get back to my job tomorrow-—"

"What you're saying," Bob said, "is that you don't want to go back to your job."

She took another deep breath. "I guess that is what I said, isn't it?"



Sherrine called her grandmother from a phone booth in the candy store on the corner. She used a few tricks to shunt the call through four other trunks just to humor Thor. After she had talked to Gram, she was glad she had.

She must have looked badly shaken up when she left the phone booth because Harry, who had escorted her there, looked concerned. "What's wrong, Sherry?"

"I-—" She shook her head. "Take me back, Harry."

Back in the Brown apartment, she handed Mike a slip of paper with a name and phone number. Then she turned to Bob and fell into his arms. "Oh, Bob. We made the right choice, after all." Tears ran down her cheeks. When had she started crying, for Ghu's sake? She didn't like to cry.

"What do you mean?" Bob asked.

"I mean they know about us!"

"Who?"

Bruce rose from his chair. "Who knows what?"

"The police. Gram said they came to her house asking questions. About me. About a maroon van. I-—I-—" She paused, took a deep breath. "I made some other calls. Tremont says they've got my house staked out and they're asking about Bob around the University."

Bob stepped away from her. He looked a little gray.

Sherrine touched his arm. "We'd both already decided we weren't going back."

"I know. It's just . . ."

"What?"

"Now we can't go back. It's different when somebody's following you around burning bridges."

Bruce and Mike exchanged glances. "What about the rest of us? Doc Waxman?"

She shook her head. "I don't know. But why would they have any clues that point to you guys?"

Mike let out his breath and Sherrine knew that she should be relieved for his sake, as well; but she was simply angry that he was happy to be off the hook.

"Oh, dammit. Dammit." She made fists of her hands. "I never had much; but it's gone now. My house. My car. All my clothes, except what I packed for this 'two-day' excursion. Everything."

Bob shook his head and said, yeah, he was sorry for her, too. And that made her cry even more, because, hell, Bob had lost as much or more as she had, and somehow he could smile. She felt a hand on her shoulder and turned and stared into Ron Cole's crazy eyes.

"Don't worry, dear," he said. "Don't worry. You can always stay in my Titan. The sister of misfortune is hope."

"Oh, Ron Cole. That's the kindest thing anyone has ever said to me."



"Gather round," Bruce said. He sat in front of Oliver Brown's fireplace and tapped the paper against his hand. "I've got a list."

"Why am I not surprised?" Mike asked.

"List?" Harry asked.

"Things we have to do. First thing: Mike, you're the only one who has any right to be at that research place, the one with the bacteria."

"Well, yes . . ."

"It's not far out of our way," Bruce said. "We go there, make sure everything's all right, and Belinda Jenks will meet us in her car and get us back to Minneapolis. The rest of you will go on to St. Louis. The St. Louis people will get you aimed west."

"Right. We're off then," Harry said. "We'll be sure everything's all right."

"What if it isn't?" Mike asked. "What can you do?"

"We can warn you," Harry said.

"How? Telephone?"

Jenny sniffed. "We'll get you the word. If we have to make enough noise that everyone in the country knows-—" She patted her oversized handbag.

"Yeah, well that makes sense," Mike said. "But-—" He took Harry aside. "Harry, take this. It's a thousand."

"I don't need-—"

Mike's voice was low but intense. "Harry, you never ask until you need it right now. This time-—just take the money, Harry. Think of it as default option money. It's your last gasp. When you run low on funds and Jenny's ready to rob some poor schlub at gunpoint, use the damn money instead."

Harry hadn't taken it. Mike said, "You know her, Harry. Any excuse. "Bring it down, bring it down-—"

"Yeah." Harry took the money and had it in his boot with a minimum of motion.
1   ...   11   12   13   14   15   16   17   18   ...   22


The database is protected by copyright ©sckool.org 2016
send message

    Main page