"Shut up. Look, with all great respect, how do you propose to do this? As far as I know, the only rockets left on Earth are military missiles." And I can't see sticking one up my arse and riding it out-—
"Exactly! We hide out until we build strength and take over in Sacramento. Then-—"
"There's a Saturn Five in Houston." Fang asked, "Will that do?"
Alex blinked and tried to sit up. "Saturn? Damn right." With a Saturn we could reach the moon. But-—I didn't know there were any left."
"There aren't," Bruce said. "NASA took a full man-rated Saturn and laid it down as a monument. Alex, that bird will never fly again."
"It's right in front of the old Manned Space Center," Mike said. "Leetle hard to work on without attracting attention."
"Could steal it," Crazy Eddie said.
Bruce closed his eyes. "Steal it, Eddie? Do you know how big those suckers were?"
"Three hundred and sixty three feet high. Weighed three kilotons."
Bruce spoke patiently. "And you say we should steal it?"
"If we could round up enough pickup trucks," Eddie Two Bats said thoughtfully. "Of course it will be hard to stand it up again. I think we need an engineer."
"It's Crazy Eddie's job to come up with nutty ideas, and Bruce's job to chop him down. Do any of Eddie's notions ever work?"
"I could cry."
She frowned. "Over Crazy Eddie?"
"No, the rocket. The Saturn Five was the most powerful rocket ever built-—Sherrine, it was the most powerful machine ever made!"
"A fire in the sky," she said. "I know the song."
"And now it's a lawn ornament."
"I'm sorry," she said. "Monument! They didn't want competition for the shuttle. They even tried to burn the blueprints-—"
"It wasn't your fault."
"I know that, but I'm sorry. Sorry that anyone could ever have been so stupid. And that was NASA! We gave the space program to NASA, and they, and . . . Damn."
"Does anyone else have an idea?" Bruce asked. "No? Then we carry on as before. The fewer who know about the Angels, the safer they'll be. Don't tell anyone without consulting me. The cover is that they're closet fans from North Dakota, people Fang and Thor have known for years. All agreed? Good. So ordered. Do I hear a motion to adjourn? Meeting is adjourned. Next meeting is in Hawkeye's room about nine. Now it's time to enjoy the convention."
* * *
The room had perhaps been a small ballroom when the house was new. Now it looked crowded despite its size. There were windows along one wall, with couches under them. The window sills were covered with brick-a-brack, photos of people in odd costumes, strangely painted coffee mugs, vases that held improbable plants. That fur rug, patterned in yellow and orange, was neither the shape nor the colors of any of Earth's life forms. A grand piano stood down at one end of the room. It was covered with photographs and paintings and drawings and plastic objects. Books lined two of the walls, and the spaces between the large archways set into the fourth wall.
A large bear of a man with a sunburst of hair encircling his face stood next to the grand piano, one hand resting on it. He was making a speech, and his free hand waved in time with his words. Other people were talking, too, which seemed impolite.
The man stopped in midsentence when Sherrine and Thor wheeled the Angels into the room. People looked around and opened a path, some of those on the floor moving aside, some standing to move chairs, until Alex and Gordon were moved right up front near the speaker. The others moved back again. It looked choreographed.
"See you," Thor said. He seemed in a hurry to leave.
The speaker was in no hurry at all. He struck a pose, as if waiting for something.
Ritual? Alex wondered. Whatever. Pavana mukthvsan could be practiced as easily in a wheelchair as elsewhere. Alex used both hands to bend his right leg and tuck it into his crotch against the pubic bone. Then he folded his left leg and laid it atop the right. He made circles of his thumbs and index fingers and rested his hands on his knees. He breathed in slowly through his left nostril, repeating the syllable yam six times. He wondered when Steve would graduate him to siddhasan, or even padmasan. Anything was better than the savasam "corpse position" he had practiced in the van during the ride across Minnesota. He hadn't known that relaxing was such hard work; but according to Steve, the first order of business was to make his muscles stop fighting the gravity.
Gregor Lutenist cleared his throat. "The Thirty-Sixth Ice Age," he said formally. His voice was strong, easily heard throughout the room.
Alex breathed in. Yam, he thought to himself. Yammm.
"We live in an ice age-—" began Gregory Lutenist. When he got to the words "ice age" three people had joined him, speaking in unison with him. Then came a voice from the crowd: "No shit!"
"-—and we always have," he continued, imperturbably adjusting his glasses. "During the last seven hundred thousand years there have been eight cycles of cooling and warming. The glaciers retreat, but always they come back; and the warm, interglacial interludes last for only about ten thousand years. Since Ice Age Thirty-Five ended fourteen thousand years ago, the next one must have started four thousand years ago. Most of human history has been lived in an ice age. So why did no one notice?"
"It was too warm!" someone suggested.
Lutenist beamed at him. "Just so. It's hard to convince a man in Bermuda shorts that he's living in an ice age. But consider the halcyon, interglacial world of 4500 BC!" He waved a forefinger in the air.
"In Scandinavia the tree line was above 8000 feet." Three voices again joined him, speaking in unison, as Lutenist continued. "And deciduous trees grew all the way to the Arctic circle. The Sahara was a rain-watered, grassy savannah crossed by mighty rivers and even mightier hunters. We remember that age dimly as a Garden in Eden." Lutenist paused and removed his glasses. He polished the lenses and set them back upon his nose. He paused, sighed, and said, slowly, so that everyone in the room could join in, "But then the sun went out."
Gordon looked to Alex. "Shto govorit"? The man is mad, the sun has not gone out."
Lutenist beamed at Gordon. "Ah-—"
"Fresh meat!" someone yelled.
"Tell me, my young friend," Lutenist said. "What lights up the sun?"
"Is trick? Fusion. Hydrogen to helium."
"And when the fusion ends, what then?" Lutenist asked.
"Uh-—but how can fusion end? There is plenty of hydrogen."
"But it did end," Lutenist said. "And no one noticed." Bob Needleton stuck his head in between Alex and Gordon. "Where have all the neutrinos gone? Long time passing . . ." He gave Sherrine a quick kiss on the neck.
"Hi, Pins," Alex said. "Welcome back."
"I didn't want to miss Greg's spiel." Bob cupped his hands around his mouth. "There'll be a neutrino scavenger hunt tonight after the program," he announced. "Bring your snipe bags and your Chlorine-37 tanks." The audience responded with boos and catcalls. Lutenist waved to him and Bob waved back. "Hi, Greg. Still thumping the same old drum, I see."
"Excuse me," Gordon said, "but what means spiel about neutrinos?"
Bob pulled a chair up and set it beside Sherrine between the two wheelchairs. He straddled it backwards. "It's simple really."
Alex braced himself. When a physicist says, "it's simple," it usually meant it was time to duck.
"You see, when two protons fuse into a deuterium nucleus they yield a neutrino. There are two ways that can happen, but. . . Well, the details don't matter. Sometimes the deuterium hip-hops through beryllium into lithium and spits out another neutrino, and there are a couple of other reactions that also produce neutrinos; but that's about the gist of it. Fusion spits neutrinos. Get it?"
Gordon looked puzzled. "I get. So?"
Bob held his hands out palms up. "The problem is we never found the neutrinos. A Chlorine-37 detector should register a neutrino flux of eight snew, but all they ever get is two snew."
Gordon's frown deepened. "What's 'snew'?"
Sherrine hid her face in her hands. Bob said, "I dunno, not much. What's snew with you?"
"Thank you for sharing that with us-—"
"Sorry, I've never been able to resist that one. Snew is SNU, Solar Neutrino Units. One snew is one neutrino event per 1036 atoms per second."
There was a commotion at the other end of the room. A dozen fans, maybe more, came in. "Is this the pro party?"
Lutenist said. "I'm not through."
A large man in a bush jacket waved a salute with a bottle beer. "Go right ahead, Greg. Don't mind us."
"What's up?" Lutenist demanded.
The man shruged "Con Committee said to come here, this will be the 'Meet the Pros' party."
"Aw crap," Lutenist said. "This is my lecture!"
"What's to lecture?" Needleton demanded. "It was all simple, and known before 1980. The sun is not producing enough neutrinos. Ergo, it is not fusing. Yet, according to the technetium levels in deep molybdenum mines there were plenty of neutrinos passing through the Earth during interglacial and preglacial periods."
Bob waved a hand. "Sorry, Greg. Go ahead." In a near-whisper, "Gordon, it's a cycle. Fusion stops, the sun cools a bit, shrinks a bit, the core gets denser and hotter, fusion starts again, the new warmth inflates the sun. See? Is that a relief, or what?"
"Maunder Minimum!" someone shouted.
Lutenist beamed. "The sun goes through sunspot cycles. Lots of sunspots, it gets warm here. Few sunspots, colder weather. An astronomer named Maunder recorded sunspots and found that the last time there weren't any the planet went through what was known as the Little Ice Age, the Maunder Minimum." He paused dramatically. "And in the 1980s it became certain that the planet was going into a new Maunder Minimum period."
"Yes, yes, we know this," Gordon said. "Sunspots are important to us. But if so important to Earth, why do they not know cold is coming?"
"Bastards did," the man in the bush jacket growled. "But they said Global Warming."
"Grants," Bob said. "There's money in climate studies. All the Ph.D. theses. All that would go if things were so simple-—"
A short blond woman, slender by local standards, came in with a large tray. She carried it up to the piano as if thinking to set it down there, looked at the clutter, turned helplessly-— "Ah. You're Gabe?"
He smiled and nodded. She said, "Laurie. Hold this while we get a table." She set the tray across the arms of his wheelchair and was gone.
It was covered with small dishes, each with a couple of slices of vegetables. Cucumber, carrot, a bit of lettuce, some cabbage. A stalk of broccoli. Alex felt his mouth begin to water. Fresh vegetables! Of course the people here would be used to them-—
Bob Needleton stopped talking about neutrinos and stared at the tray. He gave a long, low whistle. "Dibs on a carrot stick!"
Gregory Lutenist said, "Broccoli for me. Now. It is important to realize that the sun has always burned hotter or cooler during different eras of our planet's history. Greenhouse or Icehouse."
A fan spoke up. "Carrot for me, too. The dinosaurs lived during a greenhouse era, didn't they?"
A voice spoke from the doorway. "Pros get first choice. This is the Meet the Readers Party, right?"
Lutenist nodded as if there had been no interruption. "Dinosaurs, and the Great Mammals, too. In fact, prior to the Pleistocene the world was quite warm. Hippopotami wallowed in the Thames."
He paused a moment. When he continued, half a dozen voices spoke in unison with him. "Then, in the blink of a geological eye, they were replaced by polar bears."
Alex looked to Sherrine. "What-—"
She laughed. "Some of us have heard Gregory before."
Cucumbers, celery, carrots, luxuries beyond his wildest dreams were cradled in Alex's arms. He couldn't eat; he had to share this with the whole room; and he couldn't get his hands on any of it without dropping the tray. Little dark red spheres, little bright red spheres with white inside, were displayed on big green leaves. Where were they with that damn table?
Badges were showing on various chests. Here were tiny oil paintings of alien creatures and landscapes and starscapes, or wheel-shaped and band-shaped artificial habitats infinitely more sophisticated than Mir and Freedom. A few badges bore angular cartoon faces and elegant calligraphy: CLOSET MUNDANE. KNOWS HARLAN ELLISON (evil smirk. HAS READ MUCH OF DHALGREN (bewilderment).
Lutenist continued. "Human history is so short that, living between the hippopotamus and the polar bear, we thought those conditions were 'normal.'
"After the sun went out, the interglacial ended and the world grew colder and drier. The Saraha rivers dried up, one by one, until only the Nile was left. By 1500 BC, the Scandinavian tree line had dropped to six thousand feet, and broad-leaf trees had disappeared from the Arctic.
"The weather changed. The North African coast was the breadbasket of the Roman Empire. It began to dry up. Great migrations began, Huns, Arabs, Navajos, Mongols. There were Viking colonies on Greenland, but the Greenland Glacier began to move south, until it covered them all."
"Tell you another one," the man in the bush jacket said.
"Go ahead, Wade," Lutenist said.
Sherrine looked around. "Wade Curtis. A pro."
"Writer?" Gordon asked. She nodded.
Curtis's voice boomed even in the large room. "In the American Revolutionary War, Colonel Alexander Hamilton brought cannon captured by Ethan Allen at Ticonderoga down to assist General Washington in Haarlem Heights. He brought them across the ice on the frozen Hudson River. By the twentieth century, the Hudson didn't freeze at all, let alone hard enough to carry cannon on!"
Lutenist smiled agreement. "Right! The Little Ice Age was coming to an end! In fact, a warming trend had started around 1200, and lasted for eight centuries. Anyone know why?"
"Hey, let's eat!" someone called.
"Let him finish," Curtis growled. He drained his beer. A bearded man behind him silently handed him another.
Lutenist stabbed a hand into the air. "Why?"
Someone in the audience responded. "Because a farmer doesn't give uphis land."
"That's right, Beth. Farmers! Hunters run, which is what our ancestors did during the Thirty-Fifth Ice Age. But the five hundred million settled and civilized humans of the thirteenth century were not going to pull up stakes and move elsewhere. London, Copenhagen, even Moscow were too valuable to abandon. So what did they do?" He used and stared around the audience.
Several responded in unison. "They threw another log on the fire!"
Lutenist beamed. "Exactly! They fought the cold with heat, soot and CO2. Air pollution!"
Alex painfully twisted around to see. The two people who came in through the archway were matched in clothes and height, but in nothing else. The man was enormous, broad of shoulders, large of chest, and much larger of belly. He wore a battered slouch hat, and an oil-stained denim jacket. His boots clumped on the floor. Over one shoulder was slung a huge guitar case. In his hands he carried two nylon bags that clinked as he walked. He set the bags down and opened one, took out a jar, opened it and sipped at the clear liquid. "Finest corn squeezin's Kansas ever produced!" He handed the jar to Curtis.
The woman called Jenny was as tall as Harry, but thin. Her skin might have been leather. Her hair was long and straight, and dead silver-gray. The eyes burned brightly out of the wrinkles. She carried a guitar, but she wasn't playing it. "Don't drink the water, and don't breathe the air!" she sang.
Mike got upfrom his place on the floor. "We'd given upon you two," he said.
"Bike broke down in Wyoming," Jenny said. "Had to sing for our suppers. Some things you can't sing, though . . ."
Harry struck a chord. "It's minus ten and counting, and time is passing fast, it's minus ten and counting-—"
"O God, don't," Curtis said. The room was still for a moment.
"Yeah," Jenny said. "And you can't sing 'A Fire in the Sky'-—"
An older man went over to her and eyed her belligerently. "I know you. Jenny Trout."
He was interrupted by Wade Curtis, who roared with laughter. "Adams, you know Jenny! Sure, the feminists won, they're running the government along with-—God almighty. But think about it, she's too damn much anarchist to be inside the government! Any government. Even a Green-Feminist government."
". . . and in the midst of the Thirty-Sixth Ice Age, we were lighting global smudge pots. Wood-burning during the Middle Ages was so intensive that the forests of Europe were actually smaller than in the twentieth century. Coalburning, which began in the fifteenth century, saved the forests and put even more gunk into the air. By the late nineteenth century, most homes were heated by coal furnaces." Lutenist paused and rubbed his hands together, as if imagining heat vents and radiators.
A line had formed. Veggies disappeared as they moved past Alex. Almost everyone who passed put something in Alex's mouth. Dark red was miniature tomatoes; Alex feared the implications. The red-and-white spheroid burned.
"Wanted fan for mining coal and wanted fan for drilling oil, I went very fast through Portland, hunted hard like Gully Foyle. Built reactors in Seattle against every man's advice, Couldn't do that in Alaska, Fonda says it isn't nice."
"Nice touch, Jenny. They'll be expecting you to rhyme it with 'ice.' "
"You don't really think the nukes could have saved Alaska, do you Jenny?"
Alaska had been beneath the Ice for fifteen years.
". . . Then, beginning in the 1950s, we began to clean up our environment. Household coal furnaces gave way to centralized electric heating; and pollution was confined to the power plant areas, instead of belching from every chimney in the city. The famous pea-soup fogs of London disappeared."
Lutenist smiled wanly. "But so did the warm, rainy British winters. Heavy winters became the norm. In 1984 and '85 several campers froze to death when a blizzard struck the Riviera. Atlanta, Georgia, had a week of zero temperatures. Winter snow became common in the southlands. Meanwhile, the Sahara resumed its southward march and Ukrainian grain harvests became less and less reliable. Raindrops need tiny particles around which to condense. So, when you eliminate air pollution, what happens?"
"Less rain!" cried the audience.
"And less cloud cover means the ground loses heat faster. And that means?"
"The Great Ice!"
"Ice day is a'comin',"Jenny and Harry sang softly. "Hey sinner man, where you gonna run to-—"It made a nice background, now, for Gregory's litany.
"Yes, my friends." Lutenist was walking back and forth in front of the piano. "The elimination of air pollution did not start with the Greens. It started with the Big Power Companies back in the fifties-—as a by-product of their program of clean, centralized electrical power generation. But it accelerated with the environmentalist movement. Soon, we were not allowed to burn the leaves we raked off our yards. We had to bag them, in plastic bags, of course! And have them hauled away by trucks to landfills hundreds of miles away. The Green Laws became more and more stringent at the same time that interest in and support for science was waning-—not a coincidence, I might add. Even today, with the Great Ice and the Sahara both sliding south, we are not allowed to throw another log on the fire!"
"Damned good thing!" Jenny Trout shouted.
Everyone looked at her.
"It's got to fall," she said. "All the way. We don't like this world we made! Bring it down! Bring it down!"
Harry had taken out his guitar. He struck a chord.
"Black powder and alcohol, when your states and cities fall, when your back's against the wall-—"