Chapter XVIII
by General (Uncle Claude) Xxaxx
& General (E.J. Gold) Nunan PFC 1st Class Ret.

Settling into his old teaching posture, Drak shifted onto his rear haunches and flexed his tail. “Professor Woo, what do you know of Catastrophe Theory?” the dragon asked.

On cue and in perfect oral comprehensive form, Professor Woo fell to answering the question as if it was just another question on just another test, “Taking thermodynamics as an example, temperature, pressure and volume represent state conditions. These are a measure of the state of the system. Connecting points of neighboring states usually gives rise to a smooth graph of connected conditions that are freely accessible by simple transition one to each other. Liquid and ice are two well known conditions of water that one can find on a graph of temperature, pressure and volume. Ice is easily converted to liquid water and liquid water is easily converted to ice. No catastrophe there — unless one happens to run out during a party.”

Heartened by the dragons indulgent chuckle, Professor Woo continued, “In thermodynamics it is possible for state vectors to define sets of parameters that are associated with potentially drastically different conditions. In this type of system spontaneous transitions may occur between isometric states representing different conditions. When this happens it is not necessarily reversible. The irreversibility is not that significant in itself. Where things really get exciting is, whole new chains of processes that would hitherto have been totally unavailable become not only available but part of the new natural order. Typically these transitions require a rapid fluctuation of a significant variable that is part of a feedback loop. If one looks to the mathematics, it all comes from beautifully linked second and third order differential equations. Without recourse to mathematics or belaboring the point further, let it suffice to say, that when an important variable is altered suddenly it can give rise to nonreversible shifts.”

Smiling at his former pupil strutting in her old lecture form, the dragon challenged Woo, “Give me an example.”

“If you’ll forgive it, Drak, I’d like to use an example that is technically inaccurate but has the pictorial image I am looking for.”

“Pray continue.”

“Okay, consider an inner-tube — a bicycle inner-tube. As one pumps an air pump the pressure in the inner-tube increases in a somewhat steady fashion. Should one remove the pump from the stem and press the release valve the air would leave the tube and the pressure would reduce in a smooth fashion. We could bring the pressure up and let it drop for hours and hours — and still, each expansion state of the inner-tube would be accessible. There would have been nothing irreversible. However, if we pump the air in too fast, or shove too much of it in there, the tube will eventually rupture. At this time, the condition of the tube is permanently altered to a new form, and we may not return to the previous condition by a simple release of the valve-stem. In this example, the containment structure of the air was too-suddenly altered. But this is used only for pictorial purposes; elegant representations of catastrophe theory do not involve the sudden change in boundary conditions, forming the restraining vessel of the components. The sudden change is strictly within the relationship of the components themselves.”

Both Drak and Professor Woo smiled at each other warmly in the shared joke. Yes, even after these many years they were right back into Teacher and Student. It felt comfortable, like a pair of shoes well broken in.

A visible shiver went up Woo’s spine and her face lit up. (Yes, just like a vidi-cartoon mental light bulb being turned on.) “So what you are saying, or not saying as the case may be, is that if we can raise the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere suddenly throughout the globe, we can reverse the global cooling. Correct?”

With eons of training Drak prodded Woo further along the line of reasoning that she had started knowing that he himself couldn’t follow it to its conclusion. This was for Woo and Woo alone to discover. “No. No quite, keep digging” Drak also added that flick of the tale accent that said in dragonese, “You’re on the right track, don’t give up now.”

Woo continued, “Okay, so we need a sudden increase in CO2. But it can’t be from just any ol’ source.” Professor Woo looked for confirmation that she was heading into the right track. But alas, Drak was being seraphic again, he had to be he didn’t know where the answer lay but he could tell that Woo was only a few short steps away from it. Forging ahead, Professor Woo continued, “Otherwise, we could release thermal nuclear devices and create a quite sufficient quantity of carbon dioxide with just the help of the a few — no cooperation needed there.”

“This must be something that requires the cooperation of many, perhaps all of mankind.” Pausing, Woo continued to muse. Then, “I’ve got it. Everyone could light and burn a candle flame at the same time. With interglobal Vidi it is theoretically possible to coordinate the lighting.”

A thought struck Professor Woo, “No, that is just another form of flame and one or a few persons per community could light a flame big enough to compensate for any degree of cooperation. So it must be something else. Wait a minute. Oh, you sneaky little devil you.” Professor Woo was far from accurate in her allusion to Drak’s size, but she did have the tale and horns right. At 5’ 11” top of head to ground that made for about seven foot of neck and twenty-two feet of body.

Drak loved to watch Professor Woo when she was hot on the trail of an idea — especially one that led to a realization. It’s like watching a good gymnast in the midst of a remarkable floor routine.

“So, you and your dragon buddies are waiting for us to all light a flame together, a flame that cannot be lit in proxy by the few, for the many. It has to be a flame that the many must light and it should be a flame that is fun to watch — given your sense for the theatrical. And, given your love of puns and word games it should be a flame fanned by the very threat that faces us — or its opposite.”

“Yes, what is it you see?” the dragon prompted. He could tell that there was an answer just on the tip of Woo’s tongue.

“You want us to share some gigantic joke and have a good laugh together as one race at one and the same time. You want us to counter the effects of gravity with levity and you want this levity to fill the skies with CO2 from the flame of our bodies exhaling in one great laugh unified by mirth.” Woo concluded then added, “We are, after all, thermodynamically and chemically speaking, burning.” in case the allusion to candleflame was not obvious.

“Professor Woo, our faith in you has not been misplaced. However, you should know that number one, I didn’t know this answer until you spoke it yourself just now. Of course it is obvious in hind-sight. Without your special involvement, I don’t think anyone could have deduced this answer. It is too stupidly simple. And second, it is not us that wants this, we are not the ones setting the challenge or making the conditions. It is not us who need satisfying.”

“Well, at least now I know what to say to the Cownsil.” Woo declared to Drak. To herself she mentally added. “But first I have a little shopping to do.”

Not being one for long good-byes, Woo suddenly turned on her heels and made to leave.

Drak followed Woo’s unsaid thoughts, catching the all too cliché reference to shopping, Drak knew that Woo had need of packages and boxes to prove to nosy concierges and inquisitive goobers that she had been shopping this weekend. Catching an unexpected hint of real enthusiasm in Woo at the prospect of spending the rest of the day shopping, Drak punctuated their mutual departure “Yes, little human do your shopping. As for me, I have need to visit the goober that Woo has brought back to me after so many years.” But alas Woo was already on her way and couldn’t hear the last remark.


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