Storm Cloud Rising by J. Richard Jacobs

EXTRACT FOR
Storm Cloud Rising

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Prologue

Space; frigid, silent darkness punctuated by a multitude of points of piercing light—light generated by the fury of hydrogen fusing to helium and other, heavier elements. Among all those brilliant pinpricks, more than half huddle inside vast girdles of gas, ice, mineral dust, and metal. In time these materials coalesce through a horrifying, violent and whirling dance into rocky planets, huge balls of gases, and globes of frozen gases, water ice, stone, and nickel-iron crystals. Some of the solid, stony-iron masses are pulverized into chunks that continue the ballet of the bullies, while others, out in the frozen fringe, wait quietly for something to come along that will jostle them enough to send them dashing headlong to join the fray, and the random violence erupts anew.
Some of these events are cyclical. Here, in our quiet little solar system, there appears to be one such cycle that occurs every thirty-two to thirty-five million years as we pass through the galactic plane, a transition we are now making, but other episodes can be triggered by the random, close passing of any massive object; dense clouds of dust and gas, blazars, planets ejected from their home systems with enough speed to wander free until they are trapped or forced to change direction by the cold grip of gravity, stars, or the burned out cinders of dead stars, and the list goes on.
That this cosmic clutter exists within our galaxy, indeed between the galaxies, too, is known with a high degree of surety. That these things make an occasional pass by or through our solar system is also well understood, but when they will come calling or when they have visited us and gone on their way, no one can say, with the notable exception of stellar data collected by the Hipparcos mission. It has to be mentioned also that the Hipparcos data only include information on selected visible stars coming our way or those that have already gone by—not the things that remain unseen, hidden from us. All that can be said is, it has happened in the past with devastating results. It will happen again. The passing of objects we know has occurred in the dimness of years past, but it often requires millions, even billions of years for the evidence of any such visitation to appear. When the signs of a chaos producing incident do make themselves known...it is too late, the chaos arrives full grown and the time of death follows not far behind—the Reaper spurs a silent, black steed into our midst and in his wake comes...THE RAIN...the hard rain.
Although what follows is a speculative fiction, it is rooted firmly in the soil of past, present, and future realities. It is a fiction that could easily become a living nightmare of hell while you are reading this, or it may not manifest itself for millennia. The only thing that can be said with certainty is, it will happen. The storm cloud will rise and the rain will fall. Are you ready? Should it arrive during your lifetime, do you have the information, the knowledge and the will you need to survive the advancing storm of hard, deadly rain that gouges out huge holes in our little planet/spaceship and pulverizes entire regions of Earth? Will you be prepared to face the long, cold Winter that follows, one that lasts for years, perhaps centuries? Will your ancestors, should any of your progeny survive the Winter, be ready for the dangers of acid precipitation, deadly radiation, and the fierce, merciless storms that come with the Spring?
So, curl up in your favorite reading spot and get a preview of things to come. If you pay attention you will soon realize that this, though it is speculative fiction, is really a tale of things to come that are far from an imaginary flight to other worlds and that it can and will happen. Sorry, we have no idea of when. The dates given here in STORM CLOUD RISING are merely there to give the reader a sense for time-line. Perhaps sometime in the next few days the storm cloud will be seen rising. In the meantime, relax, but not too much, and do begin to prepare for THE RAIN.


Chapter 1

10 January 2054: 0130 MST

In the back yard of a large, rambling ranch house just north of highway 60 between Soccoro and Magdalena, New Mexico, Jeremy Stone, shivering in the sub-zero weather, presses his eye against the cup of the ocular, his pulse quickens and breathing becomes difficult. There can be no mistake, but what he is seeing is...is impossible. All his life, well, up until today, he has wanted to find one, but...but this sight is unreal, incredible, unbelievable. He steps back from the eyepiece and closes his eyes for a few minutes, then leans down to take another look. No, there is no mistake. It is no illusion. They are there. Tough to see, yes, but they are there.
I sure hope they’re bright enough for my gear to track, he thinks.
Jeremy taps a series of numbers into the keypad he holds in his gloved hand and the system gives the signal that it has locked on the target and tracking has begun. Out in the computer shed, data recording and automated orbital reduction processing for later transmission to the International Astronomical Union also begins.
“Dad,” he shouts at the intercom. “Dad, dad, come on out here...quick. Hurry.”
Jeremy’s father, Wendell Stone, pushes at the sliding glass door that opens onto the patio. He pulls his old woolen Navy watch cap, the ancient one his wife keeps tossing out and he retrieves repeatedly from the trash, down to cover his ears, and trots over to the small observatory he and Jeremy built during the summer to house Jeremy’s new two meter telescope and attendant computer systems.
“What? What is it, Jerry?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, dad. Take...take a look,” Jeremy says and steps away from the scope to make room for his father who, like Jeremy, is puffed out to almost double his girth in a quilted, down-filled jacket.
“Well, what do you know about that?” his father says. “You found one.
And it’s a beauty, too. Have you checked the computer data to make sure it’s not an existing—?”
“No, dad. Let your eyes adjust a little more and take another look— and yes, it’s a new one—they’re all new ones.”
“They?” his father says, leaning back from the eyepiece with his eyes closed. “What do you mean, they?”
“Just look again, dad. Tell me how many you can see.”
After another minute of resting his eyes in total darkness, Jeremy’s father opens them and returns to the eyepiece. Jeremy watches impatiently as his father concentrates on trying to see with his old man’s eyes what is trapped faintly in the eyepiece. His father gasps and almost staggers back from the scope.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says under his breath. “I’ll be damned.” He looks again and Jeremy figures it’s probably to convince himself he’s not seeing things because of Jeremy’s suggestion in the plural. He pulls away from the eyepiece and looks at Jeremy who is standing, barely visible, in the dim red glow of the service light.
“Well?” Jeremy asks. He is aware his voice is oozing anticipation and excitement but, considering the circumstances, he doesn’t care.
“I...I counted five of them. Is that what you saw?”
“No, Old Eyes. I saw...seven. Let’s go to the computer room where we can enhance them on the screen and suppress Sirius so they’re a lot easier to see. Besides, it’s a heck of a lot warmer in there.”
The two of them leave the dome and make their way across the crust of snow and ice that crunches and crackles under their boots to the small building adjacent to the observatory. Once inside and the door is closed against the bitter cold, Jeremy turns on the automated system’s visual monitors.
“There. See? There are seven of them in a group. Oops, sorry...eight of them. They’re so faint they get washed out against the glare of Sirius.”
“Another Shoemaker-Levy 9?”
“No, dad. They’re too far out to have been broken up by anything and, according to the track the system’s calculated for them, they’re on a hyperbolic path. It’s their first and last visit to the sun.”
“Oh, my...God. Quick, Jerry, connect to the Union and start transmitting your data. Wait ‘til your mom hears about this...she’ll flip. You’re going to be famous, my man—if you get in before anyone else does. Go, man...go, go, go.”
“It’s already running, dad. See? The receipt signal just came on.”
They rush across the yard to the house for a cup of hot chocolate to toast Jeremy’s discovery. In their hurry to celebrate, they don’t notice the red warning light flashing news of a possible collision event.

* * *

12 January 2054: 1655 PST

“Hey, Sandy, I made it,” Emery Klein called out as he came in through the door from the garage. “Where are ya, babe?” There was no answer. “Well, damn,” he said to the air around him. He was accustomed to this empty home business. Their careers kept them on the move constantly, but...but sometimes it was frustrating, and this time she had promised she would be waiting with open arms, and there would be his favorite chocolate cake, plastered generously with extra thick fudge frosting, sitting on the dining room table. She even told him there would be candles on it, if she could find enough of them to cover the occasion...and she had picked out some filmy, flimsy black neglige for dessert.
Smart-ass woman.
But there was no cake and there was no Sandy, fully clothed or in a titillating, see-through toga of come hither black. “Comp.”
“Yes, Dr. Klein?”
“Where’s Mrs. Klein?”
The computer made the proper connections and the wall screen in the living room came to life, fading from its usual Cascades scenery, and the image of his wife, standing against a backdrop of something that was decidedly not Los Angeles Metroplex, materialized.
“Hi, Em. I was just getting ready to get on the LA jump when you called. How did your trip go?” she said as she squeezed her way through a predominately Asian crowd loaded down with all manner of luggage, some even with hired carriers for their junk, all of them wearing that impatient don’t-they-know-who-I-am look glued to their faces as they waited in long queues for jumpers to various locations around the world. “Find any good rocks?”
“The trip was great, if you like lots and lots of desert with hotter than hot days and cold...I mean frigid nights. Picked up a bunch of rocks, too, and they all look good. Perfect crusts on most of them, and I think we’re going to be able to tie them in with the Allende fall of 1969—at least the same parent body, if not the same time. What with all the tracks and other evidence of people having been in the area where I found them, I can’t figure out why no one else has ever come up with a few. Where are you?”
“Tokyo. I’ll be home in about four hours, if the traffic at LAX isn’t too bad. Wanna come pick me up?”
“It would be my pleasure, madame. Hey! Better than that, how about taking the shuttle and meeting me at Alpee’s Tower? It’ll save us from having to fight the local traffic and I am going to get my birthday din-din.
What were you doing in Tokyo, anyway?”
“Emergency meet with the Union reps. I’ll tell you about it when I get to Alpee’s, ‘kay?”
“What’s the matter with now?”
“Hushy...hushy, my love. Hushy and muy importante. That’s why I couldn’t let you know before I left. Bring me anything?”
“Yep. Really traditional Mexican, too. You’re going to love it. Well, I think you will.”
“Oh, yay. Okay, Em, gotta run or I’ll miss the jump. See you at Alpee’s, about ten, and I’ll treat you to a great dinner as compensation for not being home like I said I would. Get us a table away from the maddening throng, huh? Oh, and happy birthday, old man.”
“Fifty is not old,” he said to the now blank screen. The screen faded back to the mountain scene Sandy loved and Emery unpacked the parrot he bought for her in Durango; a huge bird of hand-carved wood, and painted in garish greens, oranges, yellows, purples, blues and the deepest of blacks— an incredibly ugly thing that he thought would take a place of honor. It would probably find its spot perched on top of that equally hideous glass pillar objet d’art—couldn’t call it anything else without waxing obscene—she brought back from Paris a couple of months ago. The pillar was supposed to be a sculpture of a nude holding a platter over her head, but it looked to Emery more like a twisted, surrealistic representation of a gnarled, grotesque tree trunk sporting exaggerated buttocks and ballooning breasts— the only recognizable things about it. The damned thing had to weigh in at around three hundred kilos.
The bird was sure to be a big hit with Sandy. As for the load of stones he lugged back from La Zona del Silencio, that was still up for grabs. Crude field tests strongly suggested they were recently fallen meteoritic material and his instincts told him he had been lucky on this trip but, until he got them under the new super-microprobe and mass spectrum analyzer in the lab for a more thorough analysis, who could say whether they were recent visitors or had been out there in the sand for a few thousand years? They were, without doubt, beautiful stony meteorites, carbonaceous and sporting an impressive array of well-formed chondrules, if they weren’t the same, did a good job of mimicking the Allende fall samples. He was sure they were related, if not from the same event. He shrugged off his disappointment over not finding Sandy at home, neglige or not, and headed for the shower to flush the remainder of the desert out of his pores.
What could be so hushy that she couldn’t use the grid to tell me what was going on?
At least it was a Monday evening, so Alpee’s wouldn’t be packed. From the image on the screen, Sandy hadn’t appeared to be her usual, happy self, either. She appeared to be somewhat preoccupied...and nervous. Sandy was never nervous. Preoccupied, yes...but never nervous. Nervousness was something that had not been included in her genetic makeup and it would take a lot to bring such a foreign emotion to the surface so that it could be seen as well as heard. After his shower he would contact the Union to see if there were any new bulletins, just in case it wasn’t so hushy after all.

* * *

Emery pulled into a charging stall in Alpee’s parking garage at about 9:30 and hooked up. There was no need for him to go anywhere for Sandy. She would be shuttled directly to the restaurant right after the pad was cleared of people and their packages. Whatever luggage she may have brought with her would be sent straight to the security receiver at the house. She always traveled light, so there should be no problem.
Alpee’s Tower, located about five kilometers offshore, was built on a substructure of twenty huge, floating pylons, similar in concept to the old offshore oil rigs, but much more complex and on a scale that dwarfed all the other structures around it. Automated anchor reels and high volume, fast- ballasting provided for a stable platform, come future quakes or high water. Since the last big quake in ‘39, buildings in the LA Metro were restricted to ten stories with stringent guidelines regarding base size versus height. Several towered structures went up immediately after the quakes on existing but no longer used oil rigs to help make up for the lost office space in the LA basin during the clean-up and rebuilding of the regions that hadn’t slid into the sea, but none were a match for Alpee’s. The restaurant at the top of the hundred story structure was considered the finest on the west coast, providing a breathtaking view of the LA Metro’s sprawling and constantly outward crawling boundaries. In addition, the restaurant kept a menu unparalleled in its selections and constantly upward crawling prices. Pure class was the only way to describe Alpee’s.
He was right about the place not being stuffed with bodies. Hardly anyone was in the restaurant. He told the maitre d’ he wanted a table for two as far from anyone as he could get and that he would be celebrating his birthday; that little comment would secure them a complimentary bottle of good champagne and a frosted cupcake with a candle jammed into its middle. It would also bring a couple of waiters to warble the birthday song for him—off key and filled with abrasive dissonance.
He was ushered to a small table on the western side against the windows where the lights of the Tower playfully bounced and scattered off Pacific waves as they stacked up at the continental shelf and headed toward the beach. If it weren’t for the lights from the various offshore structures dancing in the undulating ocean, the night would have been completely black, the thin sliver of the moon having set just a little while before he got to the restaurant’s garage and an evening overcast had taken its place. Ah, perfect, he mused. Whatever it was that had taken Sandy to Tokyo had not appeared anywhere in the IAU’s site and, oddly, there were no new bulletins posted from the sixth of the month on. Strange, he thought. Traffic of all sorts always littered the boards, but he found nothing—nothing at all.
Emery looked up from the menu plate embedded in the tabletop and saw the maitre d’ heading his way with a dark green bottle in a chrome ice bucket that dangled from his left hand, and Sandy in tow on his right. She looked tired. Tired and worried...and she had a security attaché case cuffed to her wrist, a heavy metal one reserved for top secret documents and diamonds.
What the hell is going on here?
“Hi, Em,” she said as she settled down at the table, her voice filled with a nervousness he could touch. “You picked a good spot.”
“I didn’t pick it, he did,” Emery said, casting a thumb at the retreating maitre d’. “So, what’s going on here...and what’s with the attaché case? Or should I say ‘portable safe?’”
Sandra Klein leaned forward over the table and spoke in a hushed voice as if she were holding a secret she wanted to tell and all the people in Alpee’s were spies straining to hear it. “Flux rate for cometary material has gone up several levels of magnitude during the last six days,” she said, her voice held low and conspirative in tone. “Reports of multiple sightings are coming in from all over the globe.”
“This isn’t a ‘The sky is falling!’ thing, is it?”
“Not hardly. All rock solid observers and most with direct links to the system so their observations can be checked directly.”
“You said there are multiples?”
“Mm-hmm. Three, seven, ten in a group,” she said as she unreeled a length of security cable from the case so she would be able to move a bit more freely. “As usual, most of the data is flowing in from the amateurs, but they, the potentates of government wisdom, have seized control of all the available major observatories to analyze the problem and determine what it may mean.”
“Cause?”
“No one has any good answers. A number of people, some of them even close to respectable, offered up the normal stuff—you know the routine; gravity waves; cycling through the galactic disc; passing gravity well; bow shock from a fast moving object, like a blazar, perhaps, but there really is no way to know. Whatever it was happened several millions, maybe billions of years ago and, until these things began appearing, there was no evidence—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Nemesis, or Planet X, or any other such nonsense. Just wait until the UFO gang and conspiracy clods get hold of this. The rag papers will be filled with more crap than their regular fare. Any of them dangerous?”
“Some of them in the eighty-five percent bracket, but no, not yet...but...but there are so many, Em. Most are highly inclined and won’t pass near our orbital track, but there are some—enough—on and close to the ecliptic that are going to cross with the sort of proximity that’ll make anyone nauseous. Nothing beyond a two on the scale—yet. But...but potential collisions in the belt might kick some of your ordinary rocks around enough to create a second set of threats as well as breaking up some of the comets, and disrupting the tracks the observatories will have already established for them. That will generate a third threat from pieces with unknown paths. The orbits they have so far are all indicating their origin to have been beyond the Kuiper Belt’s limit—somewhere in the inner Oort.
Quite a few of them appear to be of substantial size. Most of the orbital vectors they’ve been able to pin down have been determined to be hyperbolic, so, once they’ve gone by, we won’t be seeing them again, and some are going to pass the sun close enough to be drawn in, but there are enough—”
“Yeah, but hyperbolic tracks also mean high cosmic velocities. Comets from that far out always move fast. Lots of energy, even in the small stuff. So, we have cosmic billiards, again. Oort orbits are tenuous to start with and it wouldn’t have taken much to knock things around and prompt their fall in. The best we can hope for is that most of those that have our name on them will detonate in the upper atmosphere. What’s being called substantial size?”
“Four—five kilometers. Some have been tentatively identified as being in the ten kilometer range, and some may be even bigger. All of them are low-albedo objects, so they’re hard to see until they start outgassing. Radar sweeps are being organized to make sure we cover as large a portion of sky as we can in as short a time as possible.”
“There’s a whole bunch of sky out there, Sandy. The sizes starting at four kilometers? That’s substantial, all right, and so much for high altitude detonations. Even a rubble pile at five kilometers will make it down to impact. Anybody have any ideas about what can be done? We’re still years away from being able to deflect anything threatening, especially after the budget cuts of ‘29 and the dismantling of several key programs by the wise politicians we entrust our world to—in spite of the Posner Protocols, I hasten to add—politicians who don’t know the difference between meteoroids and hemorrhoids,” Emery said, his voice mirroring the tension he felt in hers. “Have they set up any sort of action plan...on the off-chance we do get smacked by one or more of the biggies?”
“We were advised that there is a program in place to keep the public from reacting—from panic, you know. Nothing beyond that...and no one said anything about what that program is or how it will be implemented. I’ll be finding out about that when I get back to work this week. Maybe as early as tomorrow. That’s what’s in the attaché case—speaking of which, I have to stop by the office on the way home to put it in the safe. Do you mind the little detour? Security’s waiting for me, so it won’t take long.”
“Aha, they thought it was so important and sensitive that they opted to hand carry it, rather than send it through the system, huh?”
“Looks that way, yeah,” she said and nodded toward her extra appendage. “So, do you mind the side trip?”
“Would it make any difference if I did?”
“Not in the slightest, unless you’d like sleeping with this attaché case between us.”
“We’ll go to the office first.”

Storm Cloud Rising by J. Richard Jacobs

EXTRACT FOR
Storm Cloud Rising

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Prologue

Space; frigid, silent darkness punctuated by a multitude of points of piercing light—light generated by the fury of hydrogen fusing to helium and other, heavier elements. Among all those brilliant pinpricks, more than half huddle inside vast girdles of gas, ice, mineral dust, and metal. In time these materials coalesce through a horrifying, violent and whirling dance into rocky planets, huge balls of gases, and globes of frozen gases, water ice, stone, and nickel-iron crystals. Some of the solid, stony-iron masses are pulverized into chunks that continue the ballet of the bullies, while others, out in the frozen fringe, wait quietly for something to come along that will jostle them enough to send them dashing headlong to join the fray, and the random violence erupts anew.
Some of these events are cyclical. Here, in our quiet little solar system, there appears to be one such cycle that occurs every thirty-two to thirty-five million years as we pass through the galactic plane, a transition we are now making, but other episodes can be triggered by the random, close passing of any massive object; dense clouds of dust and gas, blazars, planets ejected from their home systems with enough speed to wander free until they are trapped or forced to change direction by the cold grip of gravity, stars, or the burned out cinders of dead stars, and the list goes on.
That this cosmic clutter exists within our galaxy, indeed between the galaxies, too, is known with a high degree of surety. That these things make an occasional pass by or through our solar system is also well understood, but when they will come calling or when they have visited us and gone on their way, no one can say, with the notable exception of stellar data collected by the Hipparcos mission. It has to be mentioned also that the Hipparcos data only include information on selected visible stars coming our way or those that have already gone by—not the things that remain unseen, hidden from us. All that can be said is, it has happened in the past with devastating results. It will happen again. The passing of objects we know has occurred in the dimness of years past, but it often requires millions, even billions of years for the evidence of any such visitation to appear. When the signs of a chaos producing incident do make themselves known...it is too late, the chaos arrives full grown and the time of death follows not far behind—the Reaper spurs a silent, black steed into our midst and in his wake comes...THE RAIN...the hard rain.
Although what follows is a speculative fiction, it is rooted firmly in the soil of past, present, and future realities. It is a fiction that could easily become a living nightmare of hell while you are reading this, or it may not manifest itself for millennia. The only thing that can be said with certainty is, it will happen. The storm cloud will rise and the rain will fall. Are you ready? Should it arrive during your lifetime, do you have the information, the knowledge and the will you need to survive the advancing storm of hard, deadly rain that gouges out huge holes in our little planet/spaceship and pulverizes entire regions of Earth? Will you be prepared to face the long, cold Winter that follows, one that lasts for years, perhaps centuries? Will your ancestors, should any of your progeny survive the Winter, be ready for the dangers of acid precipitation, deadly radiation, and the fierce, merciless storms that come with the Spring?
So, curl up in your favorite reading spot and get a preview of things to come. If you pay attention you will soon realize that this, though it is speculative fiction, is really a tale of things to come that are far from an imaginary flight to other worlds and that it can and will happen. Sorry, we have no idea of when. The dates given here in STORM CLOUD RISING are merely there to give the reader a sense for time-line. Perhaps sometime in the next few days the storm cloud will be seen rising. In the meantime, relax, but not too much, and do begin to prepare for THE RAIN.


Chapter 1

10 January 2054: 0130 MST

In the back yard of a large, rambling ranch house just north of highway 60 between Soccoro and Magdalena, New Mexico, Jeremy Stone, shivering in the sub-zero weather, presses his eye against the cup of the ocular, his pulse quickens and breathing becomes difficult. There can be no mistake, but what he is seeing is...is impossible. All his life, well, up until today, he has wanted to find one, but...but this sight is unreal, incredible, unbelievable. He steps back from the eyepiece and closes his eyes for a few minutes, then leans down to take another look. No, there is no mistake. It is no illusion. They are there. Tough to see, yes, but they are there.
I sure hope they’re bright enough for my gear to track, he thinks.
Jeremy taps a series of numbers into the keypad he holds in his gloved hand and the system gives the signal that it has locked on the target and tracking has begun. Out in the computer shed, data recording and automated orbital reduction processing for later transmission to the International Astronomical Union also begins.
“Dad,” he shouts at the intercom. “Dad, dad, come on out here...quick. Hurry.”
Jeremy’s father, Wendell Stone, pushes at the sliding glass door that opens onto the patio. He pulls his old woolen Navy watch cap, the ancient one his wife keeps tossing out and he retrieves repeatedly from the trash, down to cover his ears, and trots over to the small observatory he and Jeremy built during the summer to house Jeremy’s new two meter telescope and attendant computer systems.
“What? What is it, Jerry?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, dad. Take...take a look,” Jeremy says and steps away from the scope to make room for his father who, like Jeremy, is puffed out to almost double his girth in a quilted, down-filled jacket.
“Well, what do you know about that?” his father says. “You found one.
And it’s a beauty, too. Have you checked the computer data to make sure it’s not an existing—?”
“No, dad. Let your eyes adjust a little more and take another look— and yes, it’s a new one—they’re all new ones.”
“They?” his father says, leaning back from the eyepiece with his eyes closed. “What do you mean, they?”
“Just look again, dad. Tell me how many you can see.”
After another minute of resting his eyes in total darkness, Jeremy’s father opens them and returns to the eyepiece. Jeremy watches impatiently as his father concentrates on trying to see with his old man’s eyes what is trapped faintly in the eyepiece. His father gasps and almost staggers back from the scope.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says under his breath. “I’ll be damned.” He looks again and Jeremy figures it’s probably to convince himself he’s not seeing things because of Jeremy’s suggestion in the plural. He pulls away from the eyepiece and looks at Jeremy who is standing, barely visible, in the dim red glow of the service light.
“Well?” Jeremy asks. He is aware his voice is oozing anticipation and excitement but, considering the circumstances, he doesn’t care.
“I...I counted five of them. Is that what you saw?”
“No, Old Eyes. I saw...seven. Let’s go to the computer room where we can enhance them on the screen and suppress Sirius so they’re a lot easier to see. Besides, it’s a heck of a lot warmer in there.”
The two of them leave the dome and make their way across the crust of snow and ice that crunches and crackles under their boots to the small building adjacent to the observatory. Once inside and the door is closed against the bitter cold, Jeremy turns on the automated system’s visual monitors.
“There. See? There are seven of them in a group. Oops, sorry...eight of them. They’re so faint they get washed out against the glare of Sirius.”
“Another Shoemaker-Levy 9?”
“No, dad. They’re too far out to have been broken up by anything and, according to the track the system’s calculated for them, they’re on a hyperbolic path. It’s their first and last visit to the sun.”
“Oh, my...God. Quick, Jerry, connect to the Union and start transmitting your data. Wait ‘til your mom hears about this...she’ll flip. You’re going to be famous, my man—if you get in before anyone else does. Go, man...go, go, go.”
“It’s already running, dad. See? The receipt signal just came on.”
They rush across the yard to the house for a cup of hot chocolate to toast Jeremy’s discovery. In their hurry to celebrate, they don’t notice the red warning light flashing news of a possible collision event.

* * *

12 January 2054: 1655 PST

“Hey, Sandy, I made it,” Emery Klein called out as he came in through the door from the garage. “Where are ya, babe?” There was no answer. “Well, damn,” he said to the air around him. He was accustomed to this empty home business. Their careers kept them on the move constantly, but...but sometimes it was frustrating, and this time she had promised she would be waiting with open arms, and there would be his favorite chocolate cake, plastered generously with extra thick fudge frosting, sitting on the dining room table. She even told him there would be candles on it, if she could find enough of them to cover the occasion...and she had picked out some filmy, flimsy black neglige for dessert.
Smart-ass woman.
But there was no cake and there was no Sandy, fully clothed or in a titillating, see-through toga of come hither black. “Comp.”
“Yes, Dr. Klein?”
“Where’s Mrs. Klein?”
The computer made the proper connections and the wall screen in the living room came to life, fading from its usual Cascades scenery, and the image of his wife, standing against a backdrop of something that was decidedly not Los Angeles Metroplex, materialized.
“Hi, Em. I was just getting ready to get on the LA jump when you called. How did your trip go?” she said as she squeezed her way through a predominately Asian crowd loaded down with all manner of luggage, some even with hired carriers for their junk, all of them wearing that impatient don’t-they-know-who-I-am look glued to their faces as they waited in long queues for jumpers to various locations around the world. “Find any good rocks?”
“The trip was great, if you like lots and lots of desert with hotter than hot days and cold...I mean frigid nights. Picked up a bunch of rocks, too, and they all look good. Perfect crusts on most of them, and I think we’re going to be able to tie them in with the Allende fall of 1969—at least the same parent body, if not the same time. What with all the tracks and other evidence of people having been in the area where I found them, I can’t figure out why no one else has ever come up with a few. Where are you?”
“Tokyo. I’ll be home in about four hours, if the traffic at LAX isn’t too bad. Wanna come pick me up?”
“It would be my pleasure, madame. Hey! Better than that, how about taking the shuttle and meeting me at Alpee’s Tower? It’ll save us from having to fight the local traffic and I am going to get my birthday din-din.
What were you doing in Tokyo, anyway?”
“Emergency meet with the Union reps. I’ll tell you about it when I get to Alpee’s, ‘kay?”
“What’s the matter with now?”
“Hushy...hushy, my love. Hushy and muy importante. That’s why I couldn’t let you know before I left. Bring me anything?”
“Yep. Really traditional Mexican, too. You’re going to love it. Well, I think you will.”
“Oh, yay. Okay, Em, gotta run or I’ll miss the jump. See you at Alpee’s, about ten, and I’ll treat you to a great dinner as compensation for not being home like I said I would. Get us a table away from the maddening throng, huh? Oh, and happy birthday, old man.”
“Fifty is not old,” he said to the now blank screen. The screen faded back to the mountain scene Sandy loved and Emery unpacked the parrot he bought for her in Durango; a huge bird of hand-carved wood, and painted in garish greens, oranges, yellows, purples, blues and the deepest of blacks— an incredibly ugly thing that he thought would take a place of honor. It would probably find its spot perched on top of that equally hideous glass pillar objet d’art—couldn’t call it anything else without waxing obscene—she brought back from Paris a couple of months ago. The pillar was supposed to be a sculpture of a nude holding a platter over her head, but it looked to Emery more like a twisted, surrealistic representation of a gnarled, grotesque tree trunk sporting exaggerated buttocks and ballooning breasts— the only recognizable things about it. The damned thing had to weigh in at around three hundred kilos.
The bird was sure to be a big hit with Sandy. As for the load of stones he lugged back from La Zona del Silencio, that was still up for grabs. Crude field tests strongly suggested they were recently fallen meteoritic material and his instincts told him he had been lucky on this trip but, until he got them under the new super-microprobe and mass spectrum analyzer in the lab for a more thorough analysis, who could say whether they were recent visitors or had been out there in the sand for a few thousand years? They were, without doubt, beautiful stony meteorites, carbonaceous and sporting an impressive array of well-formed chondrules, if they weren’t the same, did a good job of mimicking the Allende fall samples. He was sure they were related, if not from the same event. He shrugged off his disappointment over not finding Sandy at home, neglige or not, and headed for the shower to flush the remainder of the desert out of his pores.
What could be so hushy that she couldn’t use the grid to tell me what was going on?
At least it was a Monday evening, so Alpee’s wouldn’t be packed. From the image on the screen, Sandy hadn’t appeared to be her usual, happy self, either. She appeared to be somewhat preoccupied...and nervous. Sandy was never nervous. Preoccupied, yes...but never nervous. Nervousness was something that had not been included in her genetic makeup and it would take a lot to bring such a foreign emotion to the surface so that it could be seen as well as heard. After his shower he would contact the Union to see if there were any new bulletins, just in case it wasn’t so hushy after all.

* * *

Emery pulled into a charging stall in Alpee’s parking garage at about 9:30 and hooked up. There was no need for him to go anywhere for Sandy. She would be shuttled directly to the restaurant right after the pad was cleared of people and their packages. Whatever luggage she may have brought with her would be sent straight to the security receiver at the house. She always traveled light, so there should be no problem.
Alpee’s Tower, located about five kilometers offshore, was built on a substructure of twenty huge, floating pylons, similar in concept to the old offshore oil rigs, but much more complex and on a scale that dwarfed all the other structures around it. Automated anchor reels and high volume, fast- ballasting provided for a stable platform, come future quakes or high water. Since the last big quake in ‘39, buildings in the LA Metro were restricted to ten stories with stringent guidelines regarding base size versus height. Several towered structures went up immediately after the quakes on existing but no longer used oil rigs to help make up for the lost office space in the LA basin during the clean-up and rebuilding of the regions that hadn’t slid into the sea, but none were a match for Alpee’s. The restaurant at the top of the hundred story structure was considered the finest on the west coast, providing a breathtaking view of the LA Metro’s sprawling and constantly outward crawling boundaries. In addition, the restaurant kept a menu unparalleled in its selections and constantly upward crawling prices. Pure class was the only way to describe Alpee’s.
He was right about the place not being stuffed with bodies. Hardly anyone was in the restaurant. He told the maitre d’ he wanted a table for two as far from anyone as he could get and that he would be celebrating his birthday; that little comment would secure them a complimentary bottle of good champagne and a frosted cupcake with a candle jammed into its middle. It would also bring a couple of waiters to warble the birthday song for him—off key and filled with abrasive dissonance.
He was ushered to a small table on the western side against the windows where the lights of the Tower playfully bounced and scattered off Pacific waves as they stacked up at the continental shelf and headed toward the beach. If it weren’t for the lights from the various offshore structures dancing in the undulating ocean, the night would have been completely black, the thin sliver of the moon having set just a little while before he got to the restaurant’s garage and an evening overcast had taken its place. Ah, perfect, he mused. Whatever it was that had taken Sandy to Tokyo had not appeared anywhere in the IAU’s site and, oddly, there were no new bulletins posted from the sixth of the month on. Strange, he thought. Traffic of all sorts always littered the boards, but he found nothing—nothing at all.
Emery looked up from the menu plate embedded in the tabletop and saw the maitre d’ heading his way with a dark green bottle in a chrome ice bucket that dangled from his left hand, and Sandy in tow on his right. She looked tired. Tired and worried...and she had a security attaché case cuffed to her wrist, a heavy metal one reserved for top secret documents and diamonds.
What the hell is going on here?
“Hi, Em,” she said as she settled down at the table, her voice filled with a nervousness he could touch. “You picked a good spot.”
“I didn’t pick it, he did,” Emery said, casting a thumb at the retreating maitre d’. “So, what’s going on here...and what’s with the attaché case? Or should I say ‘portable safe?’”
Sandra Klein leaned forward over the table and spoke in a hushed voice as if she were holding a secret she wanted to tell and all the people in Alpee’s were spies straining to hear it. “Flux rate for cometary material has gone up several levels of magnitude during the last six days,” she said, her voice held low and conspirative in tone. “Reports of multiple sightings are coming in from all over the globe.”
“This isn’t a ‘The sky is falling!’ thing, is it?”
“Not hardly. All rock solid observers and most with direct links to the system so their observations can be checked directly.”
“You said there are multiples?”
“Mm-hmm. Three, seven, ten in a group,” she said as she unreeled a length of security cable from the case so she would be able to move a bit more freely. “As usual, most of the data is flowing in from the amateurs, but they, the potentates of government wisdom, have seized control of all the available major observatories to analyze the problem and determine what it may mean.”
“Cause?”
“No one has any good answers. A number of people, some of them even close to respectable, offered up the normal stuff—you know the routine; gravity waves; cycling through the galactic disc; passing gravity well; bow shock from a fast moving object, like a blazar, perhaps, but there really is no way to know. Whatever it was happened several millions, maybe billions of years ago and, until these things began appearing, there was no evidence—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Nemesis, or Planet X, or any other such nonsense. Just wait until the UFO gang and conspiracy clods get hold of this. The rag papers will be filled with more crap than their regular fare. Any of them dangerous?”
“Some of them in the eighty-five percent bracket, but no, not yet...but...but there are so many, Em. Most are highly inclined and won’t pass near our orbital track, but there are some—enough—on and close to the ecliptic that are going to cross with the sort of proximity that’ll make anyone nauseous. Nothing beyond a two on the scale—yet. But...but potential collisions in the belt might kick some of your ordinary rocks around enough to create a second set of threats as well as breaking up some of the comets, and disrupting the tracks the observatories will have already established for them. That will generate a third threat from pieces with unknown paths. The orbits they have so far are all indicating their origin to have been beyond the Kuiper Belt’s limit—somewhere in the inner Oort.
Quite a few of them appear to be of substantial size. Most of the orbital vectors they’ve been able to pin down have been determined to be hyperbolic, so, once they’ve gone by, we won’t be seeing them again, and some are going to pass the sun close enough to be drawn in, but there are enough—”
“Yeah, but hyperbolic tracks also mean high cosmic velocities. Comets from that far out always move fast. Lots of energy, even in the small stuff. So, we have cosmic billiards, again. Oort orbits are tenuous to start with and it wouldn’t have taken much to knock things around and prompt their fall in. The best we can hope for is that most of those that have our name on them will detonate in the upper atmosphere. What’s being called substantial size?”
“Four—five kilometers. Some have been tentatively identified as being in the ten kilometer range, and some may be even bigger. All of them are low-albedo objects, so they’re hard to see until they start outgassing. Radar sweeps are being organized to make sure we cover as large a portion of sky as we can in as short a time as possible.”
“There’s a whole bunch of sky out there, Sandy. The sizes starting at four kilometers? That’s substantial, all right, and so much for high altitude detonations. Even a rubble pile at five kilometers will make it down to impact. Anybody have any ideas about what can be done? We’re still years away from being able to deflect anything threatening, especially after the budget cuts of ‘29 and the dismantling of several key programs by the wise politicians we entrust our world to—in spite of the Posner Protocols, I hasten to add—politicians who don’t know the difference between meteoroids and hemorrhoids,” Emery said, his voice mirroring the tension he felt in hers. “Have they set up any sort of action plan...on the off-chance we do get smacked by one or more of the biggies?”
“We were advised that there is a program in place to keep the public from reacting—from panic, you know. Nothing beyond that...and no one said anything about what that program is or how it will be implemented. I’ll be finding out about that when I get back to work this week. Maybe as early as tomorrow. That’s what’s in the attaché case—speaking of which, I have to stop by the office on the way home to put it in the safe. Do you mind the little detour? Security’s waiting for me, so it won’t take long.”
“Aha, they thought it was so important and sensitive that they opted to hand carry it, rather than send it through the system, huh?”
“Looks that way, yeah,” she said and nodded toward her extra appendage. “So, do you mind the side trip?”
“Would it make any difference if I did?”
“Not in the slightest, unless you’d like sleeping with this attaché case between us.”
“We’ll go to the office first.”

EXTRACT FOR
Storm Cloud Rising

(J. Richard Jacobs)


Prologue

Space; frigid, silent darkness punctuated by a multitude of points of piercing light—light generated by the fury of hydrogen fusing to helium and other, heavier elements. Among all those brilliant pinpricks, more than half huddle inside vast girdles of gas, ice, mineral dust, and metal. In time these materials coalesce through a horrifying, violent and whirling dance into rocky planets, huge balls of gases, and globes of frozen gases, water ice, stone, and nickel-iron crystals. Some of the solid, stony-iron masses are pulverized into chunks that continue the ballet of the bullies, while others, out in the frozen fringe, wait quietly for something to come along that will jostle them enough to send them dashing headlong to join the fray, and the random violence erupts anew.
Some of these events are cyclical. Here, in our quiet little solar system, there appears to be one such cycle that occurs every thirty-two to thirty-five million years as we pass through the galactic plane, a transition we are now making, but other episodes can be triggered by the random, close passing of any massive object; dense clouds of dust and gas, blazars, planets ejected from their home systems with enough speed to wander free until they are trapped or forced to change direction by the cold grip of gravity, stars, or the burned out cinders of dead stars, and the list goes on.
That this cosmic clutter exists within our galaxy, indeed between the galaxies, too, is known with a high degree of surety. That these things make an occasional pass by or through our solar system is also well understood, but when they will come calling or when they have visited us and gone on their way, no one can say, with the notable exception of stellar data collected by the Hipparcos mission. It has to be mentioned also that the Hipparcos data only include information on selected visible stars coming our way or those that have already gone by—not the things that remain unseen, hidden from us. All that can be said is, it has happened in the past with devastating results. It will happen again. The passing of objects we know has occurred in the dimness of years past, but it often requires millions, even billions of years for the evidence of any such visitation to appear. When the signs of a chaos producing incident do make themselves known...it is too late, the chaos arrives full grown and the time of death follows not far behind—the Reaper spurs a silent, black steed into our midst and in his wake comes...THE RAIN...the hard rain.
Although what follows is a speculative fiction, it is rooted firmly in the soil of past, present, and future realities. It is a fiction that could easily become a living nightmare of hell while you are reading this, or it may not manifest itself for millennia. The only thing that can be said with certainty is, it will happen. The storm cloud will rise and the rain will fall. Are you ready? Should it arrive during your lifetime, do you have the information, the knowledge and the will you need to survive the advancing storm of hard, deadly rain that gouges out huge holes in our little planet/spaceship and pulverizes entire regions of Earth? Will you be prepared to face the long, cold Winter that follows, one that lasts for years, perhaps centuries? Will your ancestors, should any of your progeny survive the Winter, be ready for the dangers of acid precipitation, deadly radiation, and the fierce, merciless storms that come with the Spring?
So, curl up in your favorite reading spot and get a preview of things to come. If you pay attention you will soon realize that this, though it is speculative fiction, is really a tale of things to come that are far from an imaginary flight to other worlds and that it can and will happen. Sorry, we have no idea of when. The dates given here in STORM CLOUD RISING are merely there to give the reader a sense for time-line. Perhaps sometime in the next few days the storm cloud will be seen rising. In the meantime, relax, but not too much, and do begin to prepare for THE RAIN.


Chapter 1

10 January 2054: 0130 MST

In the back yard of a large, rambling ranch house just north of highway 60 between Soccoro and Magdalena, New Mexico, Jeremy Stone, shivering in the sub-zero weather, presses his eye against the cup of the ocular, his pulse quickens and breathing becomes difficult. There can be no mistake, but what he is seeing is...is impossible. All his life, well, up until today, he has wanted to find one, but...but this sight is unreal, incredible, unbelievable. He steps back from the eyepiece and closes his eyes for a few minutes, then leans down to take another look. No, there is no mistake. It is no illusion. They are there. Tough to see, yes, but they are there.
I sure hope they’re bright enough for my gear to track, he thinks.
Jeremy taps a series of numbers into the keypad he holds in his gloved hand and the system gives the signal that it has locked on the target and tracking has begun. Out in the computer shed, data recording and automated orbital reduction processing for later transmission to the International Astronomical Union also begins.
“Dad,” he shouts at the intercom. “Dad, dad, come on out here...quick. Hurry.”
Jeremy’s father, Wendell Stone, pushes at the sliding glass door that opens onto the patio. He pulls his old woolen Navy watch cap, the ancient one his wife keeps tossing out and he retrieves repeatedly from the trash, down to cover his ears, and trots over to the small observatory he and Jeremy built during the summer to house Jeremy’s new two meter telescope and attendant computer systems.
“What? What is it, Jerry?”
“You’re not gonna believe this, dad. Take...take a look,” Jeremy says and steps away from the scope to make room for his father who, like Jeremy, is puffed out to almost double his girth in a quilted, down-filled jacket.
“Well, what do you know about that?” his father says. “You found one.
And it’s a beauty, too. Have you checked the computer data to make sure it’s not an existing—?”
“No, dad. Let your eyes adjust a little more and take another look— and yes, it’s a new one—they’re all new ones.”
“They?” his father says, leaning back from the eyepiece with his eyes closed. “What do you mean, they?”
“Just look again, dad. Tell me how many you can see.”
After another minute of resting his eyes in total darkness, Jeremy’s father opens them and returns to the eyepiece. Jeremy watches impatiently as his father concentrates on trying to see with his old man’s eyes what is trapped faintly in the eyepiece. His father gasps and almost staggers back from the scope.
“Well, I’ll be damned,” he says under his breath. “I’ll be damned.” He looks again and Jeremy figures it’s probably to convince himself he’s not seeing things because of Jeremy’s suggestion in the plural. He pulls away from the eyepiece and looks at Jeremy who is standing, barely visible, in the dim red glow of the service light.
“Well?” Jeremy asks. He is aware his voice is oozing anticipation and excitement but, considering the circumstances, he doesn’t care.
“I...I counted five of them. Is that what you saw?”
“No, Old Eyes. I saw...seven. Let’s go to the computer room where we can enhance them on the screen and suppress Sirius so they’re a lot easier to see. Besides, it’s a heck of a lot warmer in there.”
The two of them leave the dome and make their way across the crust of snow and ice that crunches and crackles under their boots to the small building adjacent to the observatory. Once inside and the door is closed against the bitter cold, Jeremy turns on the automated system’s visual monitors.
“There. See? There are seven of them in a group. Oops, sorry...eight of them. They’re so faint they get washed out against the glare of Sirius.”
“Another Shoemaker-Levy 9?”
“No, dad. They’re too far out to have been broken up by anything and, according to the track the system’s calculated for them, they’re on a hyperbolic path. It’s their first and last visit to the sun.”
“Oh, my...God. Quick, Jerry, connect to the Union and start transmitting your data. Wait ‘til your mom hears about this...she’ll flip. You’re going to be famous, my man—if you get in before anyone else does. Go, man...go, go, go.”
“It’s already running, dad. See? The receipt signal just came on.”
They rush across the yard to the house for a cup of hot chocolate to toast Jeremy’s discovery. In their hurry to celebrate, they don’t notice the red warning light flashing news of a possible collision event.

* * *

12 January 2054: 1655 PST

“Hey, Sandy, I made it,” Emery Klein called out as he came in through the door from the garage. “Where are ya, babe?” There was no answer. “Well, damn,” he said to the air around him. He was accustomed to this empty home business. Their careers kept them on the move constantly, but...but sometimes it was frustrating, and this time she had promised she would be waiting with open arms, and there would be his favorite chocolate cake, plastered generously with extra thick fudge frosting, sitting on the dining room table. She even told him there would be candles on it, if she could find enough of them to cover the occasion...and she had picked out some filmy, flimsy black neglige for dessert.
Smart-ass woman.
But there was no cake and there was no Sandy, fully clothed or in a titillating, see-through toga of come hither black. “Comp.”
“Yes, Dr. Klein?”
“Where’s Mrs. Klein?”
The computer made the proper connections and the wall screen in the living room came to life, fading from its usual Cascades scenery, and the image of his wife, standing against a backdrop of something that was decidedly not Los Angeles Metroplex, materialized.
“Hi, Em. I was just getting ready to get on the LA jump when you called. How did your trip go?” she said as she squeezed her way through a predominately Asian crowd loaded down with all manner of luggage, some even with hired carriers for their junk, all of them wearing that impatient don’t-they-know-who-I-am look glued to their faces as they waited in long queues for jumpers to various locations around the world. “Find any good rocks?”
“The trip was great, if you like lots and lots of desert with hotter than hot days and cold...I mean frigid nights. Picked up a bunch of rocks, too, and they all look good. Perfect crusts on most of them, and I think we’re going to be able to tie them in with the Allende fall of 1969—at least the same parent body, if not the same time. What with all the tracks and other evidence of people having been in the area where I found them, I can’t figure out why no one else has ever come up with a few. Where are you?”
“Tokyo. I’ll be home in about four hours, if the traffic at LAX isn’t too bad. Wanna come pick me up?”
“It would be my pleasure, madame. Hey! Better than that, how about taking the shuttle and meeting me at Alpee’s Tower? It’ll save us from having to fight the local traffic and I am going to get my birthday din-din.
What were you doing in Tokyo, anyway?”
“Emergency meet with the Union reps. I’ll tell you about it when I get to Alpee’s, ‘kay?”
“What’s the matter with now?”
“Hushy...hushy, my love. Hushy and muy importante. That’s why I couldn’t let you know before I left. Bring me anything?”
“Yep. Really traditional Mexican, too. You’re going to love it. Well, I think you will.”
“Oh, yay. Okay, Em, gotta run or I’ll miss the jump. See you at Alpee’s, about ten, and I’ll treat you to a great dinner as compensation for not being home like I said I would. Get us a table away from the maddening throng, huh? Oh, and happy birthday, old man.”
“Fifty is not old,” he said to the now blank screen. The screen faded back to the mountain scene Sandy loved and Emery unpacked the parrot he bought for her in Durango; a huge bird of hand-carved wood, and painted in garish greens, oranges, yellows, purples, blues and the deepest of blacks— an incredibly ugly thing that he thought would take a place of honor. It would probably find its spot perched on top of that equally hideous glass pillar objet d’art—couldn’t call it anything else without waxing obscene—she brought back from Paris a couple of months ago. The pillar was supposed to be a sculpture of a nude holding a platter over her head, but it looked to Emery more like a twisted, surrealistic representation of a gnarled, grotesque tree trunk sporting exaggerated buttocks and ballooning breasts— the only recognizable things about it. The damned thing had to weigh in at around three hundred kilos.
The bird was sure to be a big hit with Sandy. As for the load of stones he lugged back from La Zona del Silencio, that was still up for grabs. Crude field tests strongly suggested they were recently fallen meteoritic material and his instincts told him he had been lucky on this trip but, until he got them under the new super-microprobe and mass spectrum analyzer in the lab for a more thorough analysis, who could say whether they were recent visitors or had been out there in the sand for a few thousand years? They were, without doubt, beautiful stony meteorites, carbonaceous and sporting an impressive array of well-formed chondrules, if they weren’t the same, did a good job of mimicking the Allende fall samples. He was sure they were related, if not from the same event. He shrugged off his disappointment over not finding Sandy at home, neglige or not, and headed for the shower to flush the remainder of the desert out of his pores.
What could be so hushy that she couldn’t use the grid to tell me what was going on?
At least it was a Monday evening, so Alpee’s wouldn’t be packed. From the image on the screen, Sandy hadn’t appeared to be her usual, happy self, either. She appeared to be somewhat preoccupied...and nervous. Sandy was never nervous. Preoccupied, yes...but never nervous. Nervousness was something that had not been included in her genetic makeup and it would take a lot to bring such a foreign emotion to the surface so that it could be seen as well as heard. After his shower he would contact the Union to see if there were any new bulletins, just in case it wasn’t so hushy after all.

* * *

Emery pulled into a charging stall in Alpee’s parking garage at about 9:30 and hooked up. There was no need for him to go anywhere for Sandy. She would be shuttled directly to the restaurant right after the pad was cleared of people and their packages. Whatever luggage she may have brought with her would be sent straight to the security receiver at the house. She always traveled light, so there should be no problem.
Alpee’s Tower, located about five kilometers offshore, was built on a substructure of twenty huge, floating pylons, similar in concept to the old offshore oil rigs, but much more complex and on a scale that dwarfed all the other structures around it. Automated anchor reels and high volume, fast- ballasting provided for a stable platform, come future quakes or high water. Since the last big quake in ‘39, buildings in the LA Metro were restricted to ten stories with stringent guidelines regarding base size versus height. Several towered structures went up immediately after the quakes on existing but no longer used oil rigs to help make up for the lost office space in the LA basin during the clean-up and rebuilding of the regions that hadn’t slid into the sea, but none were a match for Alpee’s. The restaurant at the top of the hundred story structure was considered the finest on the west coast, providing a breathtaking view of the LA Metro’s sprawling and constantly outward crawling boundaries. In addition, the restaurant kept a menu unparalleled in its selections and constantly upward crawling prices. Pure class was the only way to describe Alpee’s.
He was right about the place not being stuffed with bodies. Hardly anyone was in the restaurant. He told the maitre d’ he wanted a table for two as far from anyone as he could get and that he would be celebrating his birthday; that little comment would secure them a complimentary bottle of good champagne and a frosted cupcake with a candle jammed into its middle. It would also bring a couple of waiters to warble the birthday song for him—off key and filled with abrasive dissonance.
He was ushered to a small table on the western side against the windows where the lights of the Tower playfully bounced and scattered off Pacific waves as they stacked up at the continental shelf and headed toward the beach. If it weren’t for the lights from the various offshore structures dancing in the undulating ocean, the night would have been completely black, the thin sliver of the moon having set just a little while before he got to the restaurant’s garage and an evening overcast had taken its place. Ah, perfect, he mused. Whatever it was that had taken Sandy to Tokyo had not appeared anywhere in the IAU’s site and, oddly, there were no new bulletins posted from the sixth of the month on. Strange, he thought. Traffic of all sorts always littered the boards, but he found nothing—nothing at all.
Emery looked up from the menu plate embedded in the tabletop and saw the maitre d’ heading his way with a dark green bottle in a chrome ice bucket that dangled from his left hand, and Sandy in tow on his right. She looked tired. Tired and worried...and she had a security attaché case cuffed to her wrist, a heavy metal one reserved for top secret documents and diamonds.
What the hell is going on here?
“Hi, Em,” she said as she settled down at the table, her voice filled with a nervousness he could touch. “You picked a good spot.”
“I didn’t pick it, he did,” Emery said, casting a thumb at the retreating maitre d’. “So, what’s going on here...and what’s with the attaché case? Or should I say ‘portable safe?’”
Sandra Klein leaned forward over the table and spoke in a hushed voice as if she were holding a secret she wanted to tell and all the people in Alpee’s were spies straining to hear it. “Flux rate for cometary material has gone up several levels of magnitude during the last six days,” she said, her voice held low and conspirative in tone. “Reports of multiple sightings are coming in from all over the globe.”
“This isn’t a ‘The sky is falling!’ thing, is it?”
“Not hardly. All rock solid observers and most with direct links to the system so their observations can be checked directly.”
“You said there are multiples?”
“Mm-hmm. Three, seven, ten in a group,” she said as she unreeled a length of security cable from the case so she would be able to move a bit more freely. “As usual, most of the data is flowing in from the amateurs, but they, the potentates of government wisdom, have seized control of all the available major observatories to analyze the problem and determine what it may mean.”
“Cause?”
“No one has any good answers. A number of people, some of them even close to respectable, offered up the normal stuff—you know the routine; gravity waves; cycling through the galactic disc; passing gravity well; bow shock from a fast moving object, like a blazar, perhaps, but there really is no way to know. Whatever it was happened several millions, maybe billions of years ago and, until these things began appearing, there was no evidence—”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Nemesis, or Planet X, or any other such nonsense. Just wait until the UFO gang and conspiracy clods get hold of this. The rag papers will be filled with more crap than their regular fare. Any of them dangerous?”
“Some of them in the eighty-five percent bracket, but no, not yet...but...but there are so many, Em. Most are highly inclined and won’t pass near our orbital track, but there are some—enough—on and close to the ecliptic that are going to cross with the sort of proximity that’ll make anyone nauseous. Nothing beyond a two on the scale—yet. But...but potential collisions in the belt might kick some of your ordinary rocks around enough to create a second set of threats as well as breaking up some of the comets, and disrupting the tracks the observatories will have already established for them. That will generate a third threat from pieces with unknown paths. The orbits they have so far are all indicating their origin to have been beyond the Kuiper Belt’s limit—somewhere in the inner Oort.
Quite a few of them appear to be of substantial size. Most of the orbital vectors they’ve been able to pin down have been determined to be hyperbolic, so, once they’ve gone by, we won’t be seeing them again, and some are going to pass the sun close enough to be drawn in, but there are enough—”
“Yeah, but hyperbolic tracks also mean high cosmic velocities. Comets from that far out always move fast. Lots of energy, even in the small stuff. So, we have cosmic billiards, again. Oort orbits are tenuous to start with and it wouldn’t have taken much to knock things around and prompt their fall in. The best we can hope for is that most of those that have our name on them will detonate in the upper atmosphere. What’s being called substantial size?”
“Four—five kilometers. Some have been tentatively identified as being in the ten kilometer range, and some may be even bigger. All of them are low-albedo objects, so they’re hard to see until they start outgassing. Radar sweeps are being organized to make sure we cover as large a portion of sky as we can in as short a time as possible.”
“There’s a whole bunch of sky out there, Sandy. The sizes starting at four kilometers? That’s substantial, all right, and so much for high altitude detonations. Even a rubble pile at five kilometers will make it down to impact. Anybody have any ideas about what can be done? We’re still years away from being able to deflect anything threatening, especially after the budget cuts of ‘29 and the dismantling of several key programs by the wise politicians we entrust our world to—in spite of the Posner Protocols, I hasten to add—politicians who don’t know the difference between meteoroids and hemorrhoids,” Emery said, his voice mirroring the tension he felt in hers. “Have they set up any sort of action plan...on the off-chance we do get smacked by one or more of the biggies?”
“We were advised that there is a program in place to keep the public from reacting—from panic, you know. Nothing beyond that...and no one said anything about what that program is or how it will be implemented. I’ll be finding out about that when I get back to work this week. Maybe as early as tomorrow. That’s what’s in the attaché case—speaking of which, I have to stop by the office on the way home to put it in the safe. Do you mind the little detour? Security’s waiting for me, so it won’t take long.”
“Aha, they thought it was so important and sensitive that they opted to hand carry it, rather than send it through the system, huh?”
“Looks that way, yeah,” she said and nodded toward her extra appendage. “So, do you mind the side trip?”
“Would it make any difference if I did?”
“Not in the slightest, unless you’d like sleeping with this attaché case between us.”
“We’ll go to the office first.”