"They may see it as a political ploy," commented Steve.
"Exactly! That's why Fred invited you to become a part of the team," said Ross. "You are respected as someone who plays no games, a scientist of absolute honesty and integrity."
"You tell me that your boss, Fred, invited me, but what about you? Is this what you really want me to do as a friend?" said Steve.
"Personally, I would love you to be involved for a totally different reason," I answered quietly. "The SDI cancellation is important. It's important to the President. But in the larger picture it isn't a big deal. I need you in Venice for one specific reason that goes far beyond what the President asked for, and what Fred is even aware of as a possibility. It is something so big that I'm not even sure we can pull it off. With someone like you on my side it might be doable."
"Something bigger than the cancellation of the SDI, Peter? What could that possibly be?"
"The President wants us to cancel America's Strategic Defense Initiative as a gift to the Soviet Union in order to ease the pressure that has become a danger to us all," I said to Steve. "I personally want to put something vastly bigger in place for the scientists to tackle instead. I'm thinking of a real strategic defense initiative for the protection and the continued existence of all mankind. I'm thinking of something big, something that is truly global in its significance and that has become absolutely vital to be considered. It is so big that no politician has had the courage so far to touch it, much to less run with it."
"OK, Pete, "stop the suspense. You've got me listening!"
"I want to put the start of a new renaissance on the worldwide agenda at the physicists conference in Venice. I need your help as someone that the physicists from around the world respect. What I must ask them to support to the best of their ability goes totally against their acquired axioms."
Steve nodded momentarily. "You want me to betray them?" he said moments later and looked away. He got out of his chair.
"Please," I said. "I want the opposite. I want to help them to stop betraying themselves."
"So what is this big thing that you want to announce and need my help with?" said Steve as he said down again. "It better be good."
"It could become the key-turning point for mankind," I said and began to smile. "It's the biggest thing for mankind to face since the last Ice Age. In fact, it is the biggest thing ever. It is the return of the Ice Age itself. The challenge is, as you have told me several times before, to create the technological infrastructures that enable a ten billion world-population to be supported by indoor agriculture for the next ninety thousand years. I have read a report by Professor Zbigniew Jaworowski from Warsaw on the coming Ice Age. He suggests that the transition period could be as close as fifty to a hundred and fifty years from now. With a forty-percent drop in global average temperatures most of our present agricultural potential will disappear. We might have to support almost ten billion people from indoor resources while we loose twenty percent more of the Earth's landmass to glaciation, and most of that in the Northern Hemisphere. This challenge that we face is the biggest challenge that has ever been thrust upon a species in the entire history of our planet. It is a challenge, because we have the ability to master it. Otherwise it would be a catastrophe. If we were to fail of course, the consequences would be unimaginable."
"The Ice Age Challenge," Steve repeated. "Creating an Ice Age Renaissance? That's big alright. That's what we dreamed about the last time we met. You aim to put this onto the world stage with the cream of the science community assembled, and this in conjunction with the biggest political announcement in modern history."
I nodded. "I would like you to help me with this. I like to propose to the scientists, Steve, that mankind needs to start a global strategic defense initiative to defend mankind from itself against its possible extinction. I would like to suggest on a world-forum platform that the time has come to get moving on this much needed initiative in a real and intensely dedicated manner. If we succeed we would close the door on nuclear war along the way. It would become obsolete forever, together with a whole lot of other nasty things of the type that are killing mankind today. I like to propose that we set a new stage for having the brightest future imaginable. That's what's at stake. Will you help me, Steve?"
Steve just nodded.
We argued back and forth over a lot of the details, all seven of us, until Ross and Steve stood up and shook hands. Ross smiled and embraced Steve.
We sat in that restaurant for a full two hours. Eventually we were talking about small stuff, the beach project, Puff the Magic Dragon, Tony's air show, submarines, and Dante. Now and then, I strayed from the main conversation and became absorbed for a time in some lovely meaningless smalltalk with Ushi. It was good to see her again!
"It is nice to have you with us again," she said.
Oddly, these were virtually the same words with which I was greeted at the hotel when we checked in after lunch. The bellboy recognized me instantly. The captain too. He came over to us, to greet us.
"But the beach is closed now," the captain grinned. "Are you here on another 'diplomatic' assignment?" he asked.
He shook my hand and said he was delighted to see me back. He looked at Heather and Ross, then at me.
"We're visiting a friend," I replied.
"Ah?" he replied, as he handed the keys to the bellboy. "Have a nice visit. Will you stay long?"
"Till tomorrow, then Italy."
He bowed slightly after taking his tip.
"I smell trouble," said Ross. "He was interviewing you."
I suggested that we should call Steve and Ushi and get them to meet us somewhere, and leave the same night.
Ross disagreed. "This will put them in danger and ruin our whole mission on top of that."
We agreed to carry on as planned. We met Steve and Ushi for dinner and then returned with them to their apartment for a nightcap. There, practically in front of their house the surprise began just as Ross had feared. Ushi recognized the 'pickup wagon' being parked around the street corner. I had parked our car only three spaces behind it on the opposite side of the street. Ushi went up to the car and talked with the driver. "Herr Krausse! What a surprise!" she said and offered a kiss.
"Go away, Ushi," he said in a heavy tone of voice. "It's you they've come to arrest; you, Steve, and your friends. You're in deep trouble."
"Me!" Ushi joked. "No, Heinz."
"Treason!" he said. "You must get away from here."
"Where would we go, Heinz? How far do you think we would get?"
"I'm terribly sorry," he said in his drawn out German. "Just be careful, they're waiting for you upstairs."
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