"She's dead, then," Bob said. "Goddam. The rumor was right. Cole had a rocket. Maybe it was alive, once."
"For all the good it does us," Sherrine said bitterly. "Oh bloody hell, I'm, sorry. I'm really sorry."
"Don't look now," Bob said. He jerked his thumb
toward the entrance. The homeless pair who had claimed the corridor were now in the room, still wearing their blankets. Sherrine wondered if they had clothes on under them. The pair seemed to be hustling a girl in her teens. The girl tried to move away from them, but the pair followed, evidently begging.
The pantomime dance was curving them toward the rocket. Cole eyed the three warily and took a tentative step to place himself between them and it.
One of the blanketed figures began to sing, very softly. The other joined in, then the girl they had been begging from. Even as close as they were, they could barely be heard.
"Star fire! Star fire!
It's singing in my blood, I know it well!
We can know the promise of the stars.
Star fire! Star fire!
The promise of the universe is ours-—"
"Harry?" Bob said quietly.
"Nobody else," Harry said. "Been waiting for you. 'Lo, Ron."
" 'Lo, Harry," Cole said. "Wade send you?"
"Yup. Says it's getting on for time to move on."
Some of the mad glint faded from Cole's eyes.
"Harry, what are you doing here?" Bob demanded.
"Better yet, what are you talking about?" Sherrine said.
"Shh," Jenny said. "Come on where we can talk." She eyed the two spacemen. "Huh. You're walking now! You had me fooled."
"Not me," Harry said. "I guessed in Minneapolis. Come on-—"
Thor looked at Harry and shook his head. "Same old bullshit. Like hell you guessed." He looked suspiciously at the girl who had come in with Harry and Jenny. "Who's this?"
She had dark hair, soft brown eyes, exotic features. Sherrine thought that with a little makeup and some attention to her hair she would be beautiful. As it was, she seemed to want to look plain: no makeup at all, not even lipstick, hair brushed severely back and tied in a bun. She wore a skirt and sweater, both drab brown, with black leggings and ugly leg warmers over those.
"Who's this?" Thor demanded again.
"Violetta Brown," Harry said. He looked around the room, saw no one, and lowered his voice. "Oliver Brown's daughter."
"Oh," Sherrine said. "Pleased to meet you, Violetta. Is your father-—"
"Waiting for us," Violetta said. "Come on. Harry has a lot to tell you."
"That I do," Harry said. He turned to Cole. "You, too, Ron. Wade says it's time. Said you'd know what I meant."
Ron Cole nodded slowly. "And past time. You'll be back?"
"Tomorrow," Harry promised. "Maybe tonight."
"Let's get out of here," Thor said. Outside he turned to Harry, "You get picked up as homeless-—"
"Lots," Harry said.
"But you're no crazier than you ever were. Why?" He stabbed an arm back toward the dim lit space center. "Why the hell did they do that to Ron? And not you."
Harry shrugged. "He was interesting."
"Yeah," Jenny said. "The last thing you want to be is different. Those mental health centers are filled up with graduate students, all just alike, no future, unless they can find an interesting case to write a thesis about."
"Ron couldn't be ordinary, no matter how hard he tried," Thor said. "Yeah. I see."
Harry said, "Some of us hide it better than others."
* * *
Captain Lee Arteria opened the folder and removed the single sheet of paper it contained. Do allfiles start asinnocuously as this? One sheet; but destined to multiply, like a bacterial colony. Trees die so that we may keep dossiers.
Arteria looked up and caught the eye of Captain Machtley, the North Dakota liaison. The State Police agencies, fearful of being left out in the cold in the pursuit of the spacemen, had agreed to be coordinated through Arteria's Air Police.
"Why don't you fill us in on what this says, Captain?"
Machtley cleared her throat. "Her name is Sherrine Hartley. She lives in Minneapolis, but her grandparents live near the crash site; and the telephone company's records show that she called them the night of the crash."
"Well. That certainly sounds suspicious. Calling your grandparents."
"In the middle of the night? Besides, there's more," Machtley said happily.
Arteria replaced the sheet in the folder and closed it. "Tell me."
Machtley looked around the table at the others. That's right, thought Arteria. Share and share alike.
"Dakota Bell's data banks were scrambled the next day. If the off-line backup hadn't been done first thing in the morning, there would have been no record of Hartley contacting her grandparents. We suspect that the Legion of Doom was involved."
Lee was unconvinced. "The Legion of Doom has been sparring with the phone company since Day One. It might not be related."
"We would never have found the grandparents," Machtley insisted, "if we hadn't gone door to door. It was a neighbor who told us about the granddaughter in Minneapolis."
Arteria smiled. "I've always said that good old-fashioned police legwork beats these computerize searches for useful results. Moorkith and his Green Police are going nuts trying to straighten out their records. They're too damn lazy to hit the bricks."
"Don't forget the Motor Vehicle data banks," said Captain Conte, the Minnesota liaison. "They were scrambled, too. Remember when we tried to ID the maroon van?"
Machtley nodded. "That's an interesting point. Hartley's grandparents would have been on Moorkith's un-Green list, too; if it hadn't been hacked up. They are not the milk and cookie type at all. The old lady is a former gene-tamperer."
There was a general stirring around the table. "You're right," Arteria said. "Gene tampering does not sound good at all."
"It violates God's law," put in Captain Traxler, the Wisconsin liaison. "And it harms the ecology. Satan's work."
"We've started checking up on the Hartley woman," said Conte. "She was once reported as active in the science fiction underground."
Aha. "By whom?"
"Ex-husband. Was the report substantiated, or was it just a messy divorce?"
Conte shook his head. "Nothing was proven; and the records say she's kept her nose clean the last few years. But still, where there's smoke, there's usually fire."
Oh, well, thought Lee Artena, we never needed a Fourth Amendment, anyway. Start making exceptions in the need for probable cause and where did you stop? Not at sobriety checkpoints. "Does anyone else have anything concrete to add?"
Nobody spoke. After a moment, Arteria nodded. "Very well, Captains. Scrambling three separate databases relating to Hartley, her grandparents and the van. Machtley, that was good work. It would be one hell of a thick coincidence." And there is a definite whiff of fannishness about Hartley. Gafiated years ago, but still has connections. "Hartley may have been the woman in the van at Fargo Gap. It's worth following up. Captain Conte?"
"I think we should pay this Sherrine Hartley a visit, don't you? And . . ." Arteria leaned back in the chair and contemplated the ceiling. "I don't think there is any reason to let the Green Police or the INS into this quite yet. Let's wait until we have more to show before we let them share the credit."
The grins of the other captains showed that they knew quite well how to share credit.
* * *
Oliver Brown had the entire fourth floor of an older apartment building. There was no elevator. They carried the Angels up the stairs using sheets for hammocks.
The building looked old and run down, but the apartment was light and clean. Books were stacked everywhere, in book cases, in piles on the floor, on every flat surface.
Violetta introduced her father. He was a little taller than Sherrine, portly, with dark hair and a distracted expression. He tend to mutter to himself when he wasn't talking. Like Samuel Johnson, Sherrine thought. He ushered them through the living room to another room piled high with even more books.
Bruce and Mike were there.
"I see Harry found you," Bruce said.
"Yes. He said Wade Curtis sent him," Bob said.
"I work for Wade," Harry said.
"Gopher. Booklegger. Postman. Whatever needs doing." Harry grinned. "He said go hang around Ron Cole and see if anyone from Minicon shows up."
"He guessed?" Sherrine asked.
"Suspected," Jenny said. "He said maybe someone would come looking for a rocket ship."
"If somebody from Minicon comes looking for a rocket ship, tell 'em where to find one. That's what he told me to do. So here you are," said Harry.
"It doesn't work!" Sherrine said. She was near tears. "It never would have worked!"
"That pile of junk? Naw."
"Until we got here you didn't know that any better than the rest of us," Jenny said sharp.
Harry gave Jenny a pained look. "I knew it wouldn't work. Anyway, we got here just ahead of Bruce and Mike, and they said you were coming. Only you didn't come, and they couldn't wait for you at the museum."
Mike patted his ample bulk. "Too conspicuous."
"What happened to you?" Bruce asked.
"Long story," Fang said.
"So Jenny and I moved in," Harry said. He fished into his pockets and held out a handful of change and a couple of bills. "Not too bad a location. Some people still care. A little."
They heard footsteps outside. Violetta opened the apartment door. "Hi, Mom."
Mrs. Brown was bundled up against the cold so that she looked larger than her husband. She looked at the crowd sprawled around her living room and smiled thinly. "More of your godfather's friends?" she asked Violetta. "Glad to meet you, but I'm afraid I can't feed you all. We-—!" She hesitated.
"Helga works at the university clinic," Oliver Brown said. "And I write science fiction. She doesn't get paid much but it's more than I make. What she's too embarrassed to say is that we can't afford to feed you."
"Will this help?" Sherrine handed her bag of cheese to Helga Brown.
"Cheese? Wisconsin cheese? Ollie! It's real, the real thing-But there's too much! I can trade this for a lot-—"
"Go see what you can get for half of it," Oliver said. "Violetta, go with your mother."
"Maybe I better go, too," Harry said. "Tough neighborhood-—"
"You have to tell your story," Violetta said. "IT get Roland. My boyfriend, he lives next door. He'll come with us."
"Fan?" Bob asked.
Violetta laughed. "My father is Oliver Brown, my mother is Helga Brown, my godfather is Wade Curtis. You figure it out."
"All right," Thor said. "Just what the hell is going on? We've chased all across Wisconsin. Lived through a blizzard, almost got enslaved by a crazy alderman, damn near caught by the cops, just so we can find out that Ron Cole is mad as a hatter and his rocket never was any good. Now you tell us-—what in hell is it you want to tell us, Harry Czescu?"
"If you'll shut up for a minute, maybe he can say it," Jenny said.
Thor glared at her.
"Wade says," Thor said. "Look, Wade Curtis hasn't been sober in ten years. Maybe he's not raving like Cole, but he sent us here! He believed in Cole's rocket, just like you did, and I did and-—Oh, God, Damn, It."
"Got a letter," Harry said.
Bruce asked, "Letter for whom?"
"Maybe you." Harry took off his left boot. "Wade said I should give it to-—I should give it to somebody I thought he'd trust." The inner lining wasn't properly sewn to the boot shell. Harry reached between the two leathers and took out a dirty envelope.
"What does it say."
Harry said, "It's sealed." The hurt barely showed. "Wade said I should burn this if nobody from Minicon showed up looking for Cole, but if anybody did, give it to somebody with judgment." He looked around the group. Finally he held the paper out to Oliver Brown. "Reckon he trusts you."
Oliver took the paper. "What Harry is carefully not saying is that Wade and I are still collaborating on a book. Harry brought me two new chapters yesterday."
He went over to his desk and got a letter opener. He was maddeningly slow, and Sherrine wanted to scream as he smoothed out the envelope's wrinkles, then carefully inserted the letter opener and slit the paper. There was a single sheet inside, and he took it out slowly.
I haven't seen Wade, haven't seen Wade for years," Oliver muttered. "Afraid it will cost Helga her job. If they knew. But they do know. They have to. May be they don't, though." He spread the paper out and began to read. "Ah. Hmm. Mmmh hmmmh. Yes. Yes."
"For God's sake!" Bob shouted. "What?"
"I'll read it," Oliver said. He cleared his throat. " 'King David is in the high desert. It's a Doherty project. My wings are made of tungsten, my flesh of glass and steel.
"That's a song," Sherrine said.
Brown looked up. In the silence Harry sang, "I am the joy of Terra for the power that I wield-—"
Sherrine and Jenny were with him. "Once upon a lifetime, I died a pioneer. Now I sing within a space-ships's heart, does anybody hear?"
" 'The Phoenix,' " Harry said with just the trace of a bow. "Julia Ecklar."
"Damn drunk," Thor said. "Told you he's just a drunk. Doesn't make any sense at all."
" 'Explorers in the desert keep bottle shops,' " Roland read. " 'Skim milk masquerades as cream. It is time for the merry soul to move on, to see what free men can do. What man has done, man can aspire to. Love and plenty kisses. W. ' "
"That's it?" Sherrine asked.
Oliver nodded. "I hope it means something to you."
"We were hoping it would mean something to you," Mike said. "Harry, he thought we'd understand this"
"Thought it was important enough to send me here with it," Harry said.
Which might mean he wanted you out of the way? Sherrine rejected that with a violent headshake. "Start with what we know. He thought someone from the Con would be here. Why? Nobody's come here for years. Because-—because he'd talked about Ron Cole's Titan at the Con."
Mike: "Someone might have overheard-—"
Bruce: "-—and told the Angels!"
"So it's a message for us," Sherrine said. "Why in code?"
"Drunk," Thor said.
"What if Harry got picked up?" Fang suggested.
"No, I was carrying a manuscript for Oliver," Harry said. His big shoulders rolled, free of that weight. "They'd have sent me to mental health for that, letter or no."
"He wasn't protecting Harry and me," Jenny said. "What, then?"
"Who the hell cares what he thinks?" Thor demanded. He looked to Fang. "Maybe it's time to move on."
"No, it's time for the merry soul to move on," Mike said. "That's Cole, of course. Not that it would be so obvious if we hadn't just seen him."
"Skim milk-—Cole said that, too," Sherrine said. "Harry, you had a message for Cole!"
"And what were you supposed to do once you'd found us all and delivered the messages?" Bruce asked.
"I can tell you exactly what he said," Harry said. He looked uncomfortable.
"What?" Bruce said.
Harry looked out the window.
"Want me to tell them?" Jenny asked.
"No. No, I'll do it." Harry stuffed his hands deep into his jeans pockets. "Wade said, 'Harry, I trust your honor with my life, but I don't trust your judgment to go buy the beer. If nobody shows up, forget all this and meet me in-—well, where we meet, next month. If anybody from Minicon shows up, go tell Oliver Brown, then deliver the messages, and stand by to help people. I think they'll want help.' "
"And that's all?"
Harry shrugged. "That's all."
"Where is Curtis now?" Mike asked.
Harry shook his head. "I don't know, and I guess I wouldn't tell you if I did."
"Great," Thor said. "So we have this nonsense from a drunk writer, and a messenger he doesn't trust with his drunken ravings, and we're supposed to get all excited."
Fang said, "Thor, it's a puzzle."
"Wade always did drink a lot," Oliver Brown said. "But he turned out the stories. He used to be in the space program you know. Other things. Were you ever in his study before they burned it down? Big place. Books. And a signed picture of Voyager-—Hey!"
"What?" Bruce demanded.
" 'See what free men can do.' That was the inscription on the photo. By, by the man who built it-Dick Rhutan! Who flew Voyager around the world on one tank of gas. That Voyager."
"Rhutan. Voyager. King David in the desert!" Mike said.
"King David's Spaceship! It's a book title. And the Rhutan brothers were working on a spaceship. A spaceship called-—" He paused dramatically, holding a wide grin. "Wait for it. It was called Phoenix. They were working on it in the Mojave desert."
"Be damned," Bruce muttered. "That was that thing that looked like an inverted styrofoam cup-—"
"Single stage to orbit, vertical take off and landing," Oliver Brown said. "SSTO VTOL."
Mike was frowning. "Sure, we all saw the briefing at a Worldcon. Long time ago. Nolacon? Somewhere in there. Wait a minute and I'll come up with the name of the guy who was in charge of the Phoenix project."
"Hudson," Oliver Brown said. "An old friend of Wade's."
"Hudson. An explorer in the desert," Mike said. "Yup. Well, there's no question what Wade was talking about. Phoenix."
"A spaceship. Where have I heard this before?" asked Alex. But his blood was beginning to sing . Again.
"Yes, I know," Sherrine said. "But-—but Phoenix was real! They spent tens of millions of dollars on it. And Voyager was real, it flew around the world!"
Steve got up from the floor. As usual he seemed to float up, as if-he could turn off the gravity. "Phoenix isreal, all right," he said. "I've seen it. It's in a museum in Mojave."
"Another museum," Gordon said. "I think perhaps this time we do not bother?"
"Suit yourself," Steve said. "But Phoenix flew once. I saw it."
"Flew!" Alex tried to stand. Fang noticed and helped him. "Flew?"
"Not to orbit," Steve said. "The Phoenix wasjust too heavy. Hudson had to make too many compromises. But it could have gone around the world, like Voyager, if NASA hadn't stopped him."
Thor said, "Like the Spruce Goose? There's always a reason why it didn't work."
Steve's muscles were bunching. Thor was getting to him, though he may not have been aware of it. "NASA said it had to do with flight safety. Gary Hudson got to take the Phoenix straight up fifty miles and dump most of his fuel and come straight back down. Then the budget cuts came, and the Green Initiatives passed, and the Greens got in control."
"So where is this Phoenix now?" Alex demanded.
"In a hangar on what used to be Edwards Air Force Base in California. It's been preserved as a reminder of Big Bad Science, just like the Space Center here. Actually, I think the military may have had ideas they could use it. They didn't have the money to fix it, but they never throw anything away either. It's out there 'as a monument.' People are supposed to go out and be scandalized; but . . . When I was there, a lot of the tourists had tears in their eyes."
"Probably for all the money that was wasted," said Fang sarcastically.
Steve nodded. "Truer than you think. I shed a few myself at the waste. That's where I met Hudson. They've got him conducting the tour."
Bruce jumped. "Himself? Why-—"
"I thought the Single Stage Experimental Lifter was never finished," Thor said belligerently. "They proxmired the whole space program. They even outlawed private ventures, like Hudson's."
"That's what Gary said when I took the tour," Steve agreed. "SSX Phoenix was never finished. Just flew the once. Never fly again, he said. Over and over. One thing, though."
"What's that?" asked Bob.
Steve sighed and smiled dreamily. "It seats ten."
Sherrine felt her heart begin to pound. Seats ten, she thought. Seats ten. "Never finished," she said. "Phoenix is too big to hide. Hah!"
"Hah?" Mike said.
"Bottle shop," she said. " 'Explorers in the high desert keep bottle shops.' "
Smiles began to form. Bruce said, "Ah. A bottle shop sells miracles, and is not what it seems . . ."
"And the proprietor of a bottle shop usually lies. So what do we have? A rocket ship, in plain sight, and Gary Hudson who helped design the bird makes sure he tells everyone that it can never fly again." And it seats ten! It seats ten!
"I do not believe it," Gordon said. "It is one more goose to chase. A chimera."
"Me, either," Thor said. "People, it's been fun, but I am not chasing off to California after another rocket ship."
"So what do we do with the Angels?" Bruce asked.
Thor shrugged. "Not my problem. The Con's over. You're Chairman. You take care of the pass-on. You don't need Fang and me for that. Time for us to move on-—"
Fang said, "Guests are my responsibility."
Thor shrugged. "Suit yourself."
"We all have places to be," Bruce said. "Except you and Fang. Steve, how are you getting back to California?"
"Amtrack. I have a ticket. Don't think I can get anymore. Maybe they'll be watching the stations anyway."
Harry had been uncharacteristically quiet. "Jenny and me, were headed that way. Maybe we could steal another bike-—"
"We have a little money," Bruce said.
"Yeah, but-—" Harry shook his head. "It's a rough trip, riding double. Don't think the Angels would make it."
Gordon laughed. "Nor do I, Harry!"
"It's all crazy anyway," Alex said. "You know where there is a ship. Single stage to orbit, seats ten. Assume it works, that unlike that ancient Titan, it has been well maintained. I don't believe it, but assume that. It will need-I'm guessing-half a million pounds of fuel? Liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen. They don't leave that stuff lying around."
There was no answer.
"Fine. You don't have the foggiest notion of how to get the fuel, or how to move it if you did-—"
"Details," Mike said.
"Dreams," Gordon said.
"I'm with Gordon," Alex said. "Look, we are very grateful, but it is time to give up the dreams. We have to look for ways we can hide. Forever, I guess."
Silence descended within the Brown household. Presently Mike Glider said, "We can get you ID, I think. Permanent convention guests. God knows fans will help."
"Given ID," Bruce said. "Sherrine?"
"If I lose my job-—and I will if I'm not back tomorrow morning-—there won't be anything I can do." It's just a dream. A dream that seats ten. Oh, damn-—
"Then we have to get you back to Minneapolis. Fast," Bruce said. "That needs working on. Meanwhile, can they hide here? Oliver?"
Brown nodded eagerly. "I would be honored. I suppose you won't mind telling me about life in space?"
"OK," Bruce said.
But what if I don't want to go back? Oh, that's crazy. Let them find a way. I go home, I go back to my job. I get Ted on-line and we work out the ID. And I go back to work, doing what I always did, my neat career and I have some memories.
"Sherrine's not the only hacker in fandom," Steve said conversationally.
They all looked at her. "Yes, of course," she said. "There's Ted Marshall. And-—"
"And?" Mike demanded.
"RMS himself," Sherrine said. "Nobody knows anything but his initials. Ever hear of emacs?"
"The programmer's editor? Sure, I use it," Bob said.
"He wrote it."
"Could he arrange fake ID for the Angels?" Bruce asked.
Sherrine nodded. "If it can be hacked, he can hack it."
"For space pilots? Oh, yes."
"Why don't we know him?" Mike asked.
"Oh, RMS has been wanted forever," Sherrine said. "Since before the Greens took over! He used to come to Worldcons, but-—well, he doesn't stand out in a crowd. Doesn't want to."
"So how do you contact this RMS?" Bruce asked.
Sherrine shrugged. "A million ways. It's just a question of getting the word out on the net. The Legion of Doom will see it and-—"
"I used to think I understood you people," Alex said. "Legion of Doom-—"
"Super hackers. They-—well, they're pretty good, and not always responsible. Some are fans, some aren't. But they listen to RMS, and he's a fan-—they'll let him know we want him. The question is, will he believe us? Everyone's after RMS. Pick his brains, jail him, reeducate him, study him in psych labs, he's an odd fish and-—"
"Easy," Bob said.
She tried to smile. "Yes, we could get him to do it. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. RMS and Marshall, they can do it if anyone can." It doesn't have to be me. I don't have to sticky myneck out. I can crawl back under my covers.
"So what do we do now?" Bruce said.
"Don't know about you," Harry said. "I've got a message for the merry soul."
"Then what?" Alex demanded. "Why should we care what that crazy man says?"
"He was one hell of a man, once," Thor said.
"A hell of a man who got his brains burned out," Alex said. Strain in his muscles was making him irritable. "So what happens? He tells us another story, and we end up in another stupid chase across the country, more crazy aldermen, cheese trucks, people with guns-—"
"Alex, it was not so bad," Gordon said.
Gordon shook his head. "Was not fun, then; but think of the stories we tell now. Bed races. Dancing on ice."
Oliver Brown chuckled. "Sure you're not a writer?"
"I wish to be. I have written . . . minor things. But it was not survival-oriented task, so . . ."
Harry shrugged. "I don't know what will happen. Not my job to know what will happen. I know what I was told to do."
"Resent what Wade said, don't you?" Jenny said.
Harry glared at her.
"True, though," she said. "Everybody knows it. Deep down, you do."
Harry tried to grin. "You didn't have to say it."
"Sure we did. I'm still with you, eh? You must do something right-—" She caught herself. "Anyway, we got our job straight. Go tell Cole it's time to see what free men can do-—oops."
"Yes?" Bruce prompted.
"Without the Angels, why is it time?"
Bruce nodded to himself. "All right, we should all go see Cole."
"Not me," Thor said. "You guys carry them. I'm not going back there."
"That does present a problem," Mike said.
"Maybe not," Bruce said. "Harry-—Harry, go find Cole, and bring him here. Make sure you re not followed."
"Maybe he won't come," Harry said.
"He'll come," Oliver Brown said. "He knows the way."
"Oh. Yeah, of course he would," Mike said.
And that would be that, Sherrine thought. They'd take the Angels to California, either to hide them or to try again with Phoenix. But that wouldn't matter to her. By tomorrow she would be back home in Minneapolis, safe and snug and not quite warm.
* * *
The wind blew cold sleet into Captain Lee Arteria's face, stinging her exposed skin with a thousand tiny needles. The Minnesota troopers and the Minneapolis police formed a cordon around the small, one-bedroom house. Neighboring houses winked in the dusk as their inhabitants pulled window shades aside for a glimpse of the goings on. One or two neighbors had bundled up and come out onto their porches. They stood there with their arms thrust under their armpits, bouncing up and down in nervous anticipation.
Lee Arteria had never liked spectators.
A glance into the pulpy sky showed that the storm had hours yet to run. Arteria called to the squad on the Hartley porch. "No answer?"
A pantomime shake of the head.
"Then break the door in, Sergeant Pyle." The policeman hesitated, and Arteria shouted, "Its fucking cold out here."
Pyle nodded and raised a boot. Two well-aimed kicks broke the latch and the door swung in and banged against the back wall. Arteria crowded into the hallway with the others.
"Shit," said one of the state troopers. "It ain't that much warmer in here."
Conte stood by Arteria's elbow. "Are you criticizing the thermostat law, Trooper?"
"Uh, no, Captain."
"All right. Spread out and search the place."
"What are we looking for?"
Arteria threw back the military parka's enormous, furlined cowl and gave the trooper a grim smile. "You'll know when you find it."
A search did not turn up much. One of the city police located a photograph of Hartley and handed it to Pyle, who showed it to Conte and Arteria. "Horsey looking, ain't she? You'd want to brown bag a date like that."
"That will be all, Sergeant," Arteria said in severe tones. "Homeliness isn't a crime." Besides, it isn't true. She's attractive enough.
"Good thing, or she'd be doing hard time." Pyle barked at his own joke and resumed supervision of the search.
Conte studied the picture over Arteria's shoulder. "What do you think, Captain? Is it her?"
Arteria passed the photograph to him. "Probably. Show it to some of those nosy neighbors hanging around out there. Verify her identity. Find out if they know the name of the man in the picture, too."
Conte called to a trooper and gave him the instructions.
"Wait," said Arteria as the man turned to go. "If it is Hartley, have him get copies of the photograph made for distribution."
Lee went from room to room looking for inspiration. Nothing was conspicuously missing from the closet. The toothbrush still hung in its rack above the sink. One toothbrush only. An ice-coated pool of water stood in the sink. A housecoat thrown across the bed. Wherever Sherrine Hartley had gone, she had left in a hurry and had expected to return soon.
That fits. Angels down. Fans to the rescue. She picked up the housecoat. It was quilted; down-filled. Whatever happened to flimsy negligees? Arteria had always liked those. Now you couldn't find them anywhere. Victims of the new, chillier age. Besides, judging from her picture, Hartley had never been the type to wear risqué nighties.
Or was she? Aah, who ever knew? Lee dropped the housecoat onto the unmade bed. What are we doing here, pawing through some poor woman's personal things and laughing? The people at the University had described her as a loner, a misfit. A talented programmer, they granted, but, really, a nerdette, lacking in the social graces.
And didn't I know a lot of those, boys and girls both, once upon a time? This could be my room, if I'd stayed where-—Bit late for that, now. Or is it? How long before one of the searchers found-—
The thought was hardly born when a city policewoman, her hands trust deep underneath the mattress, shouted in triumph. She pulled out three tattered, dog-eared paperback books, looked at the covers, and handed them over to Pyle with a smirk. "She's one of them, all right."
The books were The Sixth Winter, The Man Who Awoke, and Fahrenheit 451.
"Look at this crap, would you," Conte said in disgust. "With all the problems here on Earth, why would anybody waste their time with this escapist stuff? We oughta take these and throw them right into the trash can."
"What're the stories about, anyway?" Arteria took the dry, brittle volumes from Conte and read the back covers. Won't do to let them know I know already . . . "Getthis. It says here that The Sixth Winter isabout the sudden onset of an ice age; and The Man Who Awoke isabout a scientist in 1933 who goes to sleep and wakes up in a future of depleted resources and ruined environments."
Conte took the books back. He scowled at them. "Yeah? What's the third one about?"
Conte looked uncomfortable and opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted by the arrival of Jheri Moorkith and the Green Police.
"Bureaucracy," said Moorkith, shaking his head. "Would you believe it? I never received your memo announcing this raid."
Arteria shrugged. Okay, let's play head games. First you dribble crane around the floor; then I'll dribble yours. "It's probably lost somewhere in the interdepartmental mail. The courier will find it stuck in the bottom of his pouch tomorrow."
"Well, no matter." Moorkith dismissed the breach of protocol with a wave of the hand. "I'm here now. What's going down?"
Arteria hated civilians who tried to talk like cops. They always got it wrong anyway. Conte flashed a sympathetic smirk. I'm glad he's your problem.
"We're checking on a possible lead. The details were in the memo-—"
Arteria was interrupted by the return of the state trooper with the photograph. "Good news, Captain," he said, reporting to Conte. "We've got a definite make on Hartley. Neighbor lady on the west says the fellow in the picture with her is an ex-boyfriend named Robert Needle-—or something like that. A university prof. Get this: he's a materialist scientist. He used to hang out with her a lot. We're running a make on him now. But, get this, the neighbor says he drives a maroon van. And he showed up here about two in the morning the night the air thieves went down."
Moorkith sucked in his breath and traded triumphant looks with Conte and Arteria. "I think we're onto something here." He took the photograph from the trooper and studied it.
We? "Howcan the witness be sure about that early morning business?" Arteria asked.
"She says she sleeps light and the noise of the van woke her up. Me, I think she's a nosy old biddy who likes to spy on her neighbors. But what the hell, a lead's a lead, night?"
Right. And the University said Hartley called in later that morning and took an unscheduled week's vacation. She's supposed to be back tomorrow. When she does, we'll be waiting for her. And then what do I do?