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Mother of Stormsby John Barnes
This is the good part. Hassan Sulari loves this one. When the magnetic catapult on the mothership throws his little spaceplane forward and he kicks in his scramjets, somewhere over Afghanistan, he’ll sail upland away into a high suborbital trajectory over the pole. Hassan has never gotten authorized for orbit, but this is pretty close.
It’s his first real mission. He’s carrying four cram bombs—“Compressing Radiation Antimatter” is what it stands for, and when they talk to the media they are supposed to stress that they are
“mass-to-energy, not really nuclear” weapons, because for all practical purposes they are baby nukes and that’s bad PR.
The catch is that damned jack in the back of his head. He accepted a lot of extra money from Passionet to have it installed and to fly with it, it’s going to make him rich—and in UNSOO that’s not common—but there is still the nagging feeling of showing off. After all, he’s a pilot, not an actor.
“We’re getting ready to go plugged with you,” the voice from Passionet says. “If you’ve got any embarrassing thoughts to get out of the way, think them now.”
“None I know of. I’m at orbital injection minus four minutes.” Hassan does his best to sound bored.
“We know—timing’s perfect Give our folks a ride.”
Just as they click off and it goes live, he does have the range thought that there really don’t have to be human crews for UN Space Ops like this—a machine could do a prohibited-weapons interdict just as well. He finds himself wondering why he does this—no, to his shame, why he is fearing doing it.
That makes his stomach knot hard during the last instants of countdown. Then he hears the word “inject” and the mothership catapult flings him forward over the nose of the big airplane; watching his stability gauge, he sees it’s all go, waits a few more seconds till the navigation computer has a fix, and then flips the scramjet lever.
He is slammed into his seat again, and the brown-and-white mountains of early spring morning fall away below him. The vibration is heavy, and the pressure is intense; he sees the West Siberian plain open out beneath him, wrapped in its canopy of blue air. He is as high up as weather satellites go. His heart is pounding and despite the military reason for the mission he is mentally lost in the scenery.
By the time die scramjets cut out, there is polar ice on the horizon, and his hands automatically begin their ritual of arming and readying the shots.
He arcs higher still, coasting upward on inertia, and now the Earth begins to return toward him. He is weightless—not because there is no gravity but because he is moving with
it—and he has an intense recollection of his childhood fantasies about space travel He hopes they won’t mind having that in the wedge they are recording—
Over the pole now, falling nose-down across the ice cap ninety miles below, and the countdown begins; his weapons lock on target and he need only pull the trigger on cue to turn over control to the missiles themselves. He receives the go-ahead and initiates.
There are four hard shoves on the little spaceplane, and he sees his missiles falling away tike sparklers thrown down a dark canyon. He will miss their impact off the North Slope, but the pleasure of launching them was exquisite.
And from the jack in his head, he is informed that 750 million people shared the experience.
There’s a cherry-red glow around the bottom of the spaceplane, and weight begins to return as the plane once again resists gravity rather than rides with it. It was more like a training flight than he expected. He’s never seen Pacificanada, but he’s told the new, struggling nation loves UN Peacekeeping Forces credits, and he will have plenty.
As he falls back toward home, life seems pretty sweet when it can include things like this.
* * *
Randy Householder is cruising I-80 out of Sacramento in a car so old it had to be retrofitted to drive itself. It runs and it’s what he can afford, and he doesn’t worry about it.
But he’s trying to get onto the net, and that is unbelievably slow and frustrating tonight. After fourteen years he’s learned that this always means the same thing—some damn crisis tying things up. Back in ’16 when the Flash happened, it was six days before he could get on and get his messages. At least this time he can get them, but they’re slow.
It’s been a long time since he’s been impressed by getting a hundred messages. That’s normal traffic. About half of it will be some small-town police chiefs, sheriffs, magistrates, proconsuls, ombudsmen, whatever they call them around, the world, mostly letting him know they’re still looking for evidence and that nothing has come in. A few will be new ones, taking over, some will be old ones leaving and letting him know their successors may not be helpful.
The other half will be people like Randy, mostly just passing along support notes. There are seven others Randy hears from most
nights—all the ones who had children killed in a way similar to what happened to Kimbie Dee. They’re always there. Sometimes he talks with them live; they’ve traded pictures and such over the years.
There will almost always be at least one reporter. Randy does not talk to reporters anymore. The damn media take up too much of the bandwidth on the net—like they’re doing tonight. And they’re no help.
Last time he talked to one, she kept wanting to know about how he lives fair life. Shit, Randy told her, he didn’t have a life. He stopped having a life fourteen years ago when the cops came to the door of his mobile home, and made him and his then-wife Terry sit down, and told them that Kimbie Dee had been murdered, and it looked like a sex murder. Life stopped when they told him they had the man who did it and no clues about motive, but they knew damned well from the jack driven into her skull why she’d been murdered and raped—Christ, Christ, the coroner had said she’d been jammed with a mop handle hard enough to rupture her intestines, and then raped while she hemorrhaged, but she’d still been conscious when the man hanged her.
Randy’s clutching at his keyboard with his fists and that does no good. Stay relaxed, stay calm, keep hunting. It’s going to be a long one, you’ve always known that.
Kimbie Dee was killed to make an XV wedge. There’s a big underground market in those things. Once or twice a year, someone is arrested for selling the one that features her death. Sometimes they arrest the guy he bought it from; sometimes Randy is able to hack the files about one of the suspects, and find more people who might be involved. Now and then—the last time was three years ago—something cross-correlates, and Randy’s datarodents bring him back one more piece of information, move aim another step up one of the distribution chains.
When that happens, there’s an arrest, Randy gets reward money. Like he cares crap about that But Randy and the world’s cops get one step closer to the guy who paid for it; somewhere out there, some big shot, someone with more income to spend on his “fun” than Randy ever made in any year of his life, is still at large and unsuspected. He’s the man who handed all that money to a man and said, “Here’s what I want you to do to a pert little blonde girl.”
The man who killed and raped Kimbie Dee Householder has been in his grave for eleven years. Randy was there to see him strapped into the chair. The man who hired it done is still out there.
Randy’s going to see him dead, too.
Just as soon as all this damned noise gets off the net. He checks the text news channels and finds it’s some stupid thing about Alaska, Siberia, the UN, and atomic bombs. He vaguely remembers Alaska got independent right after the Flash—the UN made the U.S. give it up, or something.
President Hardshaw is going to talk about it to the media later; Randy will tune in to that on the TV—he votes for her every time and he never misses one of her speeches. She was Idaho Attorney General back a little before the murder. If she’d still been in office—she and the guy they now pall the President’s Shadow, Harris Diem—instead of the liberal “concerned” homo Democrat that was—they’d’ve tracked down the bastards and nailed them while the crime was still hot Randy’s sure of it. So he doesn’t need to think about World War Three; he can let the President sort that one out. Everyone has their little job.
Back to Randy’s. Just keep plugging away. “We’ll get him yet, Kimbie Dee, even if the whole world has to come apart,” he says. He tells the car to head east, toward Salt Lake City, because the satellite connections will be better and cheaper. Then he climbs into the back, opens the fridge, gets himself a beer, calls up the file of messages, and starts sorting through his mail.
* * *
Some perverse spirit, somewhere out there, has decided that this is the big year for Ed Porter to work with amateurs. Probably some woman, some upper-level bitch who doesn’t like the way the wedges he edits sell like crazy, or the shows he assembles dominate the net. But he’s; the main reason Passionet is XV of choice for female experiencers, and third among males. A romance net, for god’s sake, at the top even among men, and Porter is one of three senior editors there, and they still persecute him. They still give him shit assignments like this.
It’s gotta be some woman.
Anyway, at least he’s away from Boring Bill and Cotton-Brains Candy, as he” calls them. A whole two-day vacation from “Dream Honeymoon” to work on this breaking story.
But this guy Hassan, this pilot, is a stiff. He’s pure military. Gets excited but holds it in. His pulse rises but not enough. What comes in through the jack is a smart guy doing a job he’s good at. Even when he fires the bombs off, there’s just a minor thrill. And of course the silly bombs are just going through the ice, into the mud of the North Slope; through Hassan’s eyes, all Porter sees is some bright sparks plunging down toward the night-darkened ice. Nobody down there to burn, or to scream with pain; nobody up here in Hassan’s brain to exult in the destruction or laugh mania; catty at people dying; no agony, no passion, nothing. Nothing to experience but the
smooth working of a machine, according to a perfect plan.
As XV goes, it’s a zero.
* * *
Jesse knows Naomi wants him to be more interested, and she is right, and it u a big deal—if he wants any confirmation he only has to listen to the hundreds of students milling around in the PolAc Room. Even for U of the Az, this is a big crowd, but then you don’t get to see a UN Space Ops bombing raid in real time every day.
Of course instead of the
old-fashioned television, he could just as easily be back at the dorm—Passionet has wired one of the pilots—and be there for all practical purposes. Maybe catch it on replay? No, Naomi calls that warporn.
What he’d really rather be is home with Naomi, no TV, no XV, no clothes—he shoves the thought back, hard. If he even hints in the next hour it’ll be another fight with Naomi, and he doesn’t want that, not right now. It’s been a week since they’ve more than kissed.
On the other hand Molecular Design Economics, Which he’s got to pass with a Significant Achievement or better, this term, if he’s going to stay on track for his Realization Engineering degree, is at eight A.M., it’s already almost ten, and though his homework is done he hasn’t reviewed it or read the supplementary chapter.
Still, Naomi’s back—tiny and soft to the touch but with rock-hard muscle underneath—is against his chest, and therefore the nicest tight round butt in the Az is a quarter inch from him.
There’s a lot of noise and Jesse looks up to see what it is. Something big, anyway, a lot of flickery movement on the screen. Everyone is arguing about that; nowadays you don’t see an image flicker like that, not with packetized digital signal.
It’s not coming in well, he realizes, because UN Information Control is toying to slap their logo across it and it’s not quite working. People are booing and hissing, some of them at the UNIC insignia, some at what’s behind it, some on general principles.
Like every college assembly room built in the last century, this place wasn’t made to meet in, it was made to be easy to clean, so it has plenty of hard, flat surfaces and the whole thing is echoing and ringing.
Call it midnight before they get home, and she’ll want to talk for an hour…there goes the homework even if there’s no sex. And getting a Significant Achievement is no piece of cake; sure, it’s the lowest of the academic grades, but it’s still
light-years in effort beyond Probable Comprehension, Positive Attitude, or Open Mind—and employers nowadays really do read your transcript. It’s got to be Significant Achievement, Demonstrated Competence, or Mastery…and he thinks by now the top two are out of his reach.
Absent Naomi in his life, Mastery would be in his reach in most subjects. There’s a lot of easier ass in the world-
He has no idea why he can’t concentrate these days. He forces his eyes back to the screen, notices a dark bar across it, realizes what he’s looking at is Naomi’s hand, palm down, in the gesture for “quiet” that they used in grade school when you were a kid.
The room is so noisy, between boos, catcalls, people loudly explaining things to each other, and other people shushing and shouting “Quiet, please, quiet!,” all echoing off all those hard, flat surfaces, that he can’t think anyway. He wants to just turn into a caveman, drag Naomi out of here bodily, heave her into his old Lectrajeep, drive out to someplace in the desert, and just stare up at the stars until the sun comes up.
After he has hours of intense sex with a completely willing Naomi.
The image on the screen, when he can see it through all the waving hands and fingers, is now stuttering rapidly, because the source of the signal is switching protocols and channels a few times per second, and the UNIC tracker-suppressor software is right on its tail. Jesse knows that because for Realization Engineering you have to take a ton of cryptography (the important part of RE from the standpoint of los corporados is keeping everything you do from instantly being run through an AIRE—an Artificially Intelligent Reverse Engineer—and winding up in public domain). God, engineering is more interesting and fun than politics.
What would Naomi think of the way he’s thinking? It’s bad enough he can only seem to think of her as a sex bunny, but when he gets his mind out of his crotch all he can think about is the technical stuff, not about the political side. Why won’t his mind stay on track?
Naomi leans back farther, that angel’s butt brushes the front of his pants, and at least he isn’t thinking of homework anymore. For just a second the screen swims clear, and it looks like the Siberian comware is beating UNIC’s hounds—you can hear the nationals in the room cheering, the uniters booing, and it occurs to him it’s not that different from a football game—
Back to the stutter. Naomi is still making the “quiet” signal. The crowd is getting rowdier, not quieter, so she’s shrinking back against him. Tentatively he lets his hand rest on her waist, hoping it will read as support and not as what she calls “groping me all the time,” and he’s rewarded with a quick flash of a smile from under the thick mop of walnut-stain-colored hair. Her big wet brown eyes and high freckled cheekbones make his heart skip again; it feels like a love simulator on XV, and most of the complaints he’s been working up for the night’s fight go away.
He lets his arm slide a little farther into her back, and, amazingly, she leans into it and brushes his face with that marvelous hair, her warm sweet breath on his neck. “This so stupid, Jesse. Half of these people don’t want, to hear Abdulkashim and are cheering for UNIC, half of them do and arc cheering for Abdulkashim. How are they going to get a sense of the meeting if they don’t at least start trying to want the same things?”
“They didn’t come here for a meeting,” Jesse reminds her. “They’re here to catch the news or see the bombs go off or because they saw the crowd on their way back from dinner, or something.”
She gives him the little smile that always reminds him how unplugged he was before she got into his life. “But what matters is they’re here and they’re talking to each other. So it’s a meeting—but no one is seeking unity.”
The babble of voices in the PolAc Room rises rapidly and then dies, leaving only a faint ring in the air; it looks like the sense of the meeting is that they want to hear whatever is on. It looks like UNIC has given up. There’s a clear image of Abdulkashim, and the flattened translator voice comes through: “—completely unprovoked and utterly outside the Charter or the Second Covenant to issue such threats to a free, sovereign, and independent state, let alone to claim to be carrying out such actions against military installations whose existence is wholly unproven—”
The image flickers and vanishes. Pandemonium breaks loose. Jesse hears the telltale thud of punches or kicks connecting.
There are not very many pro-Siberian students here at U of the Az, since the Siberian quarrel is with the Alaska Free State and a lot of people still feel sentimental about the fact that the Ak was once an American state.
The big quarrel is between the waiters, who back whatever the SecGen does, and the nationalists, who wish the United States had gotten into it directly—the sort of people who complain about “President Grandma,” as if Hardshaw could fart into her own sofa cushions without UN permission these days.
Then there’s an isolated handful booing because they oppose all censorship, there’s six or seven people who really are pro-Siberian, and probably a few guys who just showed up for a fight. In Jesse’s small-town redneck opinion, it is about to get rough around here, and he’d just as soon Naomi was out of it before anyone sets in to real asskicking.
He also knows perfectly well that she won’t believe him or take any steps for self-protection. She’s a second-generation Deeper, and “we aren’t raised that way, we’re gentle in our anger,” she has said to him many times. He’s never had the nerve to say that he wasn’t raised that way and knows what a fist or foot does on flesh.
There’s another shriek of everyone hurrying to finish whatever they were trying to say. It cuts off instantly when Rivera, the SecGen, a handsome young guy from the Dominican Republic, appears on the screen.
Rivera has that serious expression everyone has seen so many times these past few years—it’s bad news and he’s counting on you to be calm.
Like most Deepers, Naomi is a uniter, so she cheers along with that side, and Jesse cheers because he’s with her Besides, Rivera has a way of making you trust him, and Abdulkashim could play Stalin without makeup.
It seems as if Rivera is waiting for quiet in the Student Union, but crowds calm down about die same speed anywhere in the world, Jesse supposes, so possibly the SecGen is in front of another crowd, somewhere else. More likely, knowing that about half of the world still has to share screens in public places, there is a crowd simulator coming in through his earphone to let him know.
Just as it becomes possible to hear, Rivera begins, “My friends and citizens of our planet…it is with a sad heart I tell you that tonight the United Nations is forced, for the eighth time, to intervene militarily to preserve and enforce Article Fourteen of its Second Covenant. I quote it to you in full: ‘No nation, whether or not signatory to this covenant, which did not possess and declare itself to be in possession of explosive weapons yielding more than one trillion ergs per gram delivered whether of any current or not yet invented type, by the first minute, of June 1, 2008, GMT, shall be permitted to manufacture, possess, purchase, transfer or in any way exercise direct or indirect control over the detonation of such weapons. The Secretary-General shall have power at his sole discretion to enforce this article.’
“Now, for ten years since the Alaska Free State peacefully separated from the United States, the Siberian Commonwealth has pursued a claim to Alaska based on alleged treaty irregularities in the agreements between the United States and the former Russian Empire. These claims have been found—in four different international fora—to be wholly without merit.
“Not only has the present Siberian regime reiterated and pressed these claims, it has also pursued an annexation of Alaska by covert violence and overt threat.”
The screen flashes once, and shadowy shapes, too regular to be natural, show as dark blue on light blue. There are a dozen or so, all roughly proportioned like a pencil, with one end flared like the head of a flashlight and the other rounded and snub. Rivera explains. “Six clusters like this one have been located on the seabed of the Arctic Ocean. These are suppressed trajectory missiles, made by MitsDoug Defense, but microsensors dropped close to them have revealed two critical modifications, both in violation of arms-control agreements. First of all, the range has been extended tremendously by fitting a MitsDoug Cobra air-to-surface missile as a second stage, inside the warhead compartment. Secondly, the Cobra stage has been fitted with a laser-ignited fusion warhead, with a yield far in excess of what is permitted by Article Fourteen.
“We have also established through Open Data agreements that these weapons do not belong to any power permitted to own them under the Covenant. In any case they he outside any national territory and are thus de facto illegal under Article Seventeen of the Second UN Covenant.
“Their positioning within a two-minute flight of Denali, and my description of past bad relations between Alaska and Siberia, should be placed in this context: earlier this evening I notified all three hundred and twenty-four signatory and non-signatory nations that the UN Space Operations Office would destroy those missiles at the first sign of launch, or at 0830 GMT, whichever came first. I have received the explicit assent of two hundred and eighty-four nations, and no response from the others—except for the Siberian Commonwealth, which has lodged a strong protest at what President Abdulkashim calls a hasty and unwarranted action.
“This screen is displaying a brief report from General Jamil of UNSOO, showing target configuration before strike. At exactly 0830 GMT, a flight of twenty-five UNSOO space planes fired over one hundred missiles into impact trajectories for those sites. The missiles penetrated the Arctic ice, and delivered antineutron-beryllium warheads—or ‘cram bombs’—onto the sites you see here.”
Jesse would love to know how anything can go through hundreds of meters of ice at Mach 20 and still come out working on the other side, but he’d have to work for UNSOO a long time before they told him that. If you can trust Scuttlebytes, then maybe each warhead puts out a thin mist of antiprotons from its nose that then flows back around it, but you can’t trust Scuttlebytes much more than you can the Famous People Channel. Look at how many times in the last twelve years Scuttlebytes has claimed to finally know who set off the Flash.
Then it cuts to some kind of undersea remote sensing. Long white streaks arrow into the seabed missiles, so fast that it’s as if the lines of superheated steam plunging into the Arctic Ocean appear all at once, like the particle paths in a cloud chamber. Where the missile was, at the head of each streak, there’s a bright white ball.
The view jumps back to Rivera. He nods, as if to say, Powerful, eh? Frightening? There is no trace of a smile.
He ticks his tips once before he speaks. “An attempted launch of the seabed missiles was detected by our monitors a bit under a second before impact. Authorized UN data-trace reveals that signal’s origin to be the Commandant’s palace in Novokuznetsk, Siberia. On the basis of-this evidence, I am issuing an interdict and arrest order, effective now, for the seizure of Commandant Abdulkashim and fifty-one other Siberian officials. They are to be taken into UN detention for examination and trial. All armed forces around the world are reminded that armed resistance to UN arrest—or taking military advantage of any situation caused by a UN arrest—is a capital offense at all levels.”
The SecGen’s eyes suddenly seem harrowed and frightened. When Rivera speaks again, it is very softly. “This has not been an easy decision, but so far as I have vision it has been a just, measured, and appropriate one. Let us all hope it brings us nearer global peace and justice. Good day to you all.”
The blue and white flag billowing in a soft breeze flashes on the screen, and then the UNIC logo. The screen pops back to a replay of I Love Lucy. There’s an uproar in the room about what to watch next. Jesse gave up on TV back when they stopped making new shows.
At least ten people are shouting above the crowd, announcing various meetings to support, protest, or discuss; the SecGen’s actions.
Naomi leans back and breathes in his ear. “Oh mighty engineer, this uninitiated one craves to ken your technical wisdom, for damn all if she can understand what just happened. Besides, if there’s any meeting or rally I ought to make, I can find out and join up later: Can we go be alone?”
Her arm slides around him and he feels the heavy, soft push of her breast against his elbow as he pulls his own arm out to drape over her shoulder.
It still takes ten minutes to get out of the Student Center, because anyone as active as Naomi has at least twenty people to say hello to. Jesse does as well, but for once he’s glad that most of her friends think he’s a big dumb piece of attractive meat, because that means his part of the ritual can be confined to exchanges of head nods and saying each other’s names. Naomi has to go through a comparison of analyses with everyone.
Right now she’s explaining it to Gwendy, the girlfriend that Jesse has always privately thought of as “a blonde mop with protruding hardware.” Naomi’s getting very serious, and the tone of passion is drawing more people toward her. This doesn’t look good for an escape.
The thing we can’t lose sight of,” Naomi is saying, delicate little hands churning and chopping at the air in front of her, “is that whether Rivera had any options in the situation, or not, isn’t relevant. It’s not our job to make him have options, after all. The point is that of course he had to get rid of the missiles and of course it was wrong to blow them Up. They’re just trying to confuse the issue when they ask what else he could have done about it. If he had been doing his job, he would have had a better option. That’s what it’s all about. If he’s willing to live in a situation with only unacceptable options and then willing to take one, well, then, there you have it. We need to get some feelings expressed about all this.”
Inwardly Jesse groans. Feelings are seldom properly expressed until there’s been a march and a conference at least.
She goes on, and by now Sibby (who tends to agree with both Gwendy and Naomi about everything, especially when they disagree with each other) is listening intently as well, and clearly the conversation can’t end till she has a chance to agree. The apartment and the homework are looking farther and farther away every minute.
Gwendy’s guy, a tall skinny bad case of acne whom Jesse normally would remember the name of, tries to get an Objection in, but Naomi mows it down before he can open his mouth. “No, listen,” she says. “The point is, people have to take charge of wherever life puts them, and I don’t care if he is the SecGen, he’s still responsible. If you allow your situation to be one where there are no moral options, and then you go and choose between them, you’re still choosing to do something wrong. I mean, otherwise there’s nobody to blame.”
Sibby tentatively ventures that maybe this applies, top, to Abdulkashim.
“Oh, sure, right,” Gwendy barks, turning on Sibby. “Blame a guy whose country just lost most of its weapons, a guy who’s probably being thrown into jail right now if the UN cops haven’t already killed him, like he really wanted to have all this happen. That is so simplistic.” Gwendy’s jaw is sticking far enough forward to protrude beyond the heavy blonde curtains of her hair, she’s glaring into Sibby’s eyes (as much as anyone can tell from the side), and she’s doing what old guys like Jesse’s dad call “invading personal space”—standing close to Sibby and moving closer.
All this is putting a nasty
want-to-fight gleam in Naomi’s eye. Jesse knows many people find her obnoxious when she’s like this, but it’s also exactly what gets him horny.
The first thing he noticed about her in Values and Self class, the one required course at the U of the Az, was that gleam when she started picking on the three bewildered Afropean guys for not being feminist-ecoconscious.
The second thing was that under all the baggy clothing she had a wonderful body.
Jesse’s roommate Brian, who moved out when it became clear that Jesse was getting serious about her, had rather casually suggested that since what turned Jesse on was all that fury wrapped up in that male-fantasy body, maybe he should “just rape her and get over it, Jess, wouldn’t that be simpler? It would confirm everything she thinks about you and you’d still get to find out what it’s like.”
Jesse had been shocked. The next several times he had sex with Naomi he couldn’t stop fantasizing that he was raping her. If there was a Diem Act for fantasies like there is for wedges, he’d be facing the death penalty.
Does he really like her? He doesn’t know—it seems irrelevant
He’s not listening, which is probably just as well, but Gwendy and Sibby are both in tears and Gwendy’s guy seems to be trying to get them pulled out of there. They beat some kind of retreat, and by now anyone who was waiting to talk to Naomi seems to have vanished, so Jesse has her outside almost at once. They, walk together quietly in the cool desert dark before Jesse ventures to speak, “listen,” he says, “don’t give me a speech about it, but I’d really like to take the Lectrajeep out into the desert tonight. We could sit back and look at the stars and I’d listen to whatever you want to talk about.”
He knows this is likely to start a fight. She doesn’t like the Lectrajeep. Deepers don’t want to disturb the wilderness, so they get it on XV instead. Never mind that with the big soft balloon tires and the QuaDirecDrive, the Lectrajeep doesn’t eave as much track as a hiker in lightweight boots; Naomi’s parents have filled her full of horror stories about what the old four-wheelers of fifty years before did, and that’s what she sees when she looks at Jesse’s Lectrajeep.
The one time he tried taking her out into the desert, she didn’t know her way around without the XV team there. In XV, the body you ride on is some highly trained athlete, so that you move easily through the wild country, and you have constant back-of-the-mind contact with a wilderness poet, a naturalist, an activist, and a shaman. Without them there to whisper into her mind, she didn’t know what the plants were, she had no phrases to remember or key into the experience with, she didn’t know what the major threats to this part of the ecosystem were or who was responsible for them, and there wasn’t any spiritual significance to anything. Worse yet, she got sweaty and dirty-she’d never gone more than a day unshowered in her life, probably.
So by suggesting the Lectrajeep, he’s looking for a fight, maybe, if he admits the truth to himself, because if they fight and then fuck to make up, it will be what he really wanted all along, and if they just fight, it will make him that much crazier for the next time. He’s beginning to wonder, a little, just how much crazier he can get.
He’s stunned numb when she takes his hand and says, “Let’s give it a try. I’ve been thinking maybe I don’t bend enough or try to see anyone else’s point of view.”
Jesse’s heart is thumping to be let out of his chest. “Great,” he says. “It’s about an hour’s drive out to my favorite spot if we go at a reasonably responsible speed. I’ll call my brother on the way and see if he knows anything about environmental effects yet.”
She kisses him then, right out where anyone might see it happening. He’s crazier. Definitely crazier.
* * *
In the seabed off the North Slope, things have been happening. There was a lot of kinetic energy in the warheads to begin with, and because Scuttlebytes got it right for once, there was also a plume of antiprotons spraying in ahead of them, and that added some energy as well.
All that was nothing compared to the warheads themselves. When an antineutron collides with a beryllium nucleus, it annihilates one neutron, and the mutual annihilation releases around nine times the energy of a fissioning uranium atom. It also converts that nucleus to two alpha particles about as dose together as you’ll ever; see them, Having the same charge, they repel each other, and take off in opposite directions, adding a percentage point or so to the total energy. The alpha particles, highly charged, readily “hand over” their energy to the matter they pass through, as heat, as electromagnetic radiation, and as mechanical motion caused by the heat and radiation.
It is the destiny of all energy, eventually, to end up as heat; that’s the principle of entropy. The energy of the bomb explosions ended up as heat in the ocean bed, much of which is ice, not very far below freezing—in fact if it weren’t at ocean-bottom pressure it wouldn’t be frozen at all.
This is ice with something more.
One strange fact about ice, when you think about it, is that it floats. Solid butter sinks to the bottom of liquid butter, solid iron sinks to the bottom of liquid iron solid nitrogen sinks to the bottom of liquid nitrogen…but solid water floats on liquid water.
Imagine a microscope fine enough to show you why. The water molecule is bent at an angle and try as you like, it doesn’t pack neatly. Freeze water, so that the molecules start to line up into crystals, and that sloppy packing leaves
a lot of empty space—more empty space than when they were just rolling around on each other.
Freeze water another way, and there’s so much extra space you can trap other molecules between the water molecules. That’s called a
clathrate—Latin for a “cage, trellis, or grating”—and all kinds of things can be held in there.
As when twenty-three water molecules make a cage around four methane molecules.
There is lots of methane in the seabed. Everything that sinks down there rots, and there’s not much free oxygen. Many anaerobic decay processes release methane. Dead Stuff has been rotting on the seabed for a long
time-and since the last few ice ages, it’s been cold enough down there to trap the methane in clathrates. On the Arctic Ocean floor many clathrate beds are tens of meters thick and hundreds of kilometers across.
So energy from the cram bombs goes into the seabed and warms up ice that’s just below the freezing point, releasing methane. Moreover, as the clathrates dissolve they trigger landslides and collapses under the sea.
Now, clathrates are delicate molecules: They’re big but there are no strong bonds in them, and it doesn’t take much more than a hard rap to break them up, letting the water molecules regroup into plain ice…and the methane escape.
Tonight the seabed is alive with avalanches, collapses, and pressure waves. Methane deposited across thousands of years is bubbling up from all over, making its way up to the surface of the Arctic Ocean, finding the countless rents and breaks in the ice. Within eighteen hours, the
fifty-foot-deep clathrate beds stretching along the outer edge of the North Slope, about sixty-five miles wide and running more than four hundred miles under the sea, are in collapse.
Methane is a greenhouse gas, and the quantity of methane released, in a matter of a few days, is 173 billion metric tons. That’s just about nineteen times what’s in the atmosphere in 2028, or thirty-seven times what’s in the atmosphere in 1992.
* * *
Diogenes Callare gets Jesse’s call and has to say he doesn’t know anything yet. He’s glad to see, via the little screen, that the kid is driving a Lectrajeep out into the Arizona desert, and that there’s a cute little brown-haired chick beside him.
They chat, a little, and Jesse says hi to the kids as he always does; Jesse is six-year-old Mark’s favorite uncle, but Nahum, who is three, doesn’t always remember who he is.
When Di has talked with Jesse and assured him that no one yet knows what the detectable consequences of the cram bombs in the Arctic seabed might be, he takes some time to look around his living room, at the kids and in through the lighted doorway to where Lori is still working.
Copyright © 1994 by John Barnes
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