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“Hey there, John, how’d it go last night?” Hank was grinning at him.
“You ought to call him Lieutenant Wing. He is your superior—and mine too.” Franka winked at him. He did like her accent. She would call him ‘Ving’ rather than Wing, but that didn’t seem to matter so much. There was something about Franka that he couldn’t get over.
“Don’t assume things. Nothing happened,” John replied. He knew there was a rumor going around that he and Franka had been spending nights together back at the base . . . and wished it were true. He looked back to her, but she was gazing out the window. When he looked out his own window he saw that they must be getting near their jump point; the storm was just ahead.
It had just started forming, but the 4DVAR computer system they always used to analyze storms had told them it would be a strong hurricane. According to the system’s predicted “forecast” it would reach the states if left alone. So General Giren had issued the order for STORMFURY to intervene.
command of the field team relied on his strong academic background in
meteorology, and, of course, personal friendship to Giren,
the head of the
He looked back through the thick window of the Orion. Being the newest model of aircraft for this purpose, he wasn’t concerned. It would fly through any storm. He had never worried before, and he wasn’t worried now.
On the window pane he placed his hand. He got the feeling that he held that storm in palm of his hand. It became his to mold, and crush if need be. He did this every time he approached a hurricane.
He turned to see Aguerro unbuckle his harness and move over to check—or rather, recheck—the deployment gear.
“It’s fine, Aguerro. It’s always fine.” He yelled over to the finicky little technician.
“Hey, don’t you want to be sure I can pick you up out there,” he pointed out the window.
“Yes, but the equipment always works, we never have problems with it.”
“Well,” Smith piped up from behind the large console, “there was that one time. Back with hurricane EdnaII. Remember? Franka’s mass-balancing device quit and we almost lost control of that storm.”
That was right, John remembered, they did have that one close call, but that was way back when, among their first few missions. After seeing Franka lose control and fall through the eye wall, he had hoped then that the machinery could have been double checked. Their ability to alter the storm rested on the assumption that each of them, Hank, Fanka, and himself were at the right locations doing the right things. And Fanka had fallen before deploying her thermal charges. It was a rough one, but John had managed to quickly finish his part and get to hers before hitting the ocean himself. Franka had been all right. Aguerro had pulled the recovery vessel up to her and got her out of the water, and then picked up Hank and himself as they finally hit. Yes, John had been a little afraid there. A lot was at stake, had that went wrong, had the conditions not changed enough, that storm may have reached land . . . and killed people. It was after that mission that he forced his parents to move farther north.
“All right, point taken, check it all you want, Aguerro . . . that way we can blame you if something goes wrong.” Aguerro looked back at him, a little abashed, and John and the others started laughing. Aguerro joined them seconds later.
“Okay, e.t.a. three minutes,” Smith called out, “get ready, everyone.”
John and Hank had their wetsuits and drop gear on. Franka was struggling with a strap. John stepped around the explosive equipment and asked her if she’d like a hand.
“You wish,” she said, but then let him handle her suit. She thanked him and suggested he get back into position. They had reached the first drop point along the northern end of the eye wall. Hank would be first out. He was sitting on the platform by the opening door at the rear of the Orion. He couldn’t possibly stand, given the incredible weight of the mass-balancing pack, and the silver iodide rockets he was to fire on his way down.
His wrist console had the coordinates from Smith’s 4DVAR. He was to use that to position the rockets where they needed to be. Hank gave them a last wide grin as the hatch opened and he fell from the platform into the storm.
The wind was getting intense. John thought they ought to close the door until the next drop, but considering the Orion’s speed, they’d be there in a matter of seconds. And besides, he’d have plenty of that wind to deal with on the way down anyway.
Franka was getting herself ready on the platform. John always went last, felt it was his responsibility as their leader to see that everything went all right before he left the plane himself. There would be nothing he could do for them while hurtling through that mess of air, water, and heat.
She held that equipment up well, given her slender body. He decided she must’ve wanted to be no weaker than her male teammates. A strong girl, he liked that.
Just before she fell out he thought he’d tell her good luck. “Keep it, Lieutenant,” she said, and off she went. With Aguerro getting into the cockpit of the recovery vessel, and Smith now devoting all his attention to his monitor, John figured he’d get onto the platform and ready himself for the familiar wild ride.
When the door finally opened, and he felt himself drop, the exhilaration set in at once. He lost his orientation and started spinning. He reached for the mass-balancing controls on the gear’s belt. There was a large button for automatic balancing with respect to gravity. He tapped it and heard the propellant blast from the ports on his pack, pushing his body in the direction that would place him upright, and stop the spinning. In a couple seconds he was fine, he just felt the intensity of falling through the endless mass of clouds. He then set the controls for a constant propulsion that would slow his descent. Looking up he saw the Orion dropping Aguerro and his little ship—that would hopefully contain each of the fallen team members in a few minutes. Aguerro would wait down on the ocean’s surface to pick up each of them as they hit, but John had his job to do as well.
He looked at his wrist monitor and had the screen display the locations needed to release the modules for air pressure alteration. He used the pack to move through the clouds, fighting the wind and rain. At the right point, he would shoot off a capsule that would burst, releasing dozens of modules designed to change the air pressure in a given area.
The 4DVAR determined how much the air pressure and temperature around the eye wall needed to be altered in order to change the level of intensity, or the projected path of the storm, and they just did what it told them, it was simple.
Through his wrist console, he checked on the progress of the others. They confirmed they were on track, and he even saw the massive explosions of their thermal rockets through the clouds and rain. The wind was tossing him around, and he was soaked, but he finished with his last launch and let himself fall to the ocean.
later he could see the welcome sight of Aguerro’s
craft. It pulled up beside him and they
helped haul him in. They sped through
the water to get to the landing spot of the Orion. Once inside, the plane would take off from
the water and fly them back to the base in
Back home the team went to their quarters to sleep. John had been about relax, but a uniformed messenger entered his quarters and stood before him. “Sir, General Giren wants to speak with you, Sir.” He had left without another word. John stood half dressed in his room, wondering how that could be. Giren rarely left the headquarters in D.C.
He wasn’t that tired, and he did want to see the old man again, so he pulled his uniform back on and walked out into the starry night.
was very nice out, and it was because of times like this that he appreciated
what he did—well, that and not seeing cities torn down and people killed. If it wasn’t for he and his team, then the
weather wouldn’t be looking so nice in little while.
He took a deep breath of air and walked to the jeep waiting for him. He was driven to the base’s center complex. General Giren greeted him at the entrance and walked him inside. “Johnny, my boy!” he said, in that robust voice of his, as he clapped John on the back. “Things are looking good here. You’re really keeping this place up well.”
“That’s nice of you, Sir, but I’m not in charge of the base, here.” John corrected him.
“Oh . . . that’s right. We’ll have to see what we can do about that. It’s about time you had a promotion, you’re only a lieutenant, right?”
“Yes, but I like being a lieutenant. I’m fine with my rank.”
As if he had not even heard, Giren went on, “What do you think about Colonel Wing? I think that would better suit you—and this base would be put under your command, of course,” he added quickly. “I know how charismatic you are with the men here, they like you, my boy, they would follow you as their leader. And I know I can trust you to do well here.” With that last sentence he gave John an odd sideways glance.
“Yes, you can trust me to do my best, of course, but I’m good at what I do, I don’t want to give it up. I’d only accept the position if I could remain in the field unit as well.” John said this with the sound of confidence, but really wasn’t sure how the general would take it.
“Oh, well yes, sure you can, my boy . . . . In fact, I wanted to talk with you tonight about just that thing.” He led them into the inner chambers of the complex, less people floating around than before. Slightly . . . ominous. In one of the poorly lit command rooms, the general introduced John to a few other men, all rather unanimated individuals. With each handshake, the man would look over to Giren, not at John. But he didn’t mind, older officers tended to be a bit stiff.
Giren said, directing them to a table in the center
of the room. Its top was a large
monitor, and on it was displayed a digital map of
Giren went on to explain to John about the rising drug
problem in the
“But, General, Sir, that kind of thing couldn’t be approved. We don’t do that. And what about the UN? They had banned this very thing . . .”
“Well, that particular rule had expired recently, and . . . someone had it taken off the agenda for reapproval.” Giren was starting to make him uneasy. The idea was insane!
After Giren had finished his speeches and patted John on the back a few more times, Giren walked him back to the jeep, seemingly under some impression about what just gone on. John had not agreed to anything, but from the look on Giren’s face, John worried what Giren had thought. But as he got in the jeep, he heard Giren request that the driver bring Franka to see him.
John went to sleep when he got back, but was troubled. In the morning he received his official orders.
That’s what that was, he thought. The sweet talk, the promotion. He wants me to side with him while he goes through with this. This could mean hell for him if he’s caught—or maybe for me, maybe I’m a scapegoat. No, I must be more to him than that. But he does want me to run this base so it would remain loyal to him—through me—should anything happen.
he thought of could help him with this new problem. He couldn’t decide what to do. So with time running short and no answers, he submitted
to the only option available, to follow orders.
He read the official orders Giren had sent
him. He and STORMFURY were to alter the
next storm . . . so that its strength was optimized and its path ran straight
He didn’t talk about it with the others—they were oddly absent around the quarters—and there was nothing he could think to say anyway. They must have known about it, he figured. Perhaps they were feeling the same way, and couldn’t bear to face him.
But when the time came, they showed up in the hangar, and prepared for the flight. They loaded some unordinary equipment onto the Orion—their missions never called for strengthening the storms. They had, however, known it was capable from the 4DVAR simulations.
There was little to mention of the flight. Everyone was tense, or maybe John just thought they were, because he was. They approached the forming storm, the one they were to alter. He watched it through the window, but this time he put his flat palm up to the window as if signaling ‘stop.’
They had never intentionally sent a hurricane to land before, there was no way to be sure what a pumped up tropical storm would do. It played with his mind until they reached the drop point, where he finally stood up. “We’re aborting this mission,” he said aloud to everyone. He wasn’t sure what to expect from them, but it wasn’t the look of discomfort and unease that he got.
“I am afraid not, Darling.” It was Franka, she stood up and removed a gun from a holster he had not seen. “Giren, that fat, old, detestable, slob of a bureaucrat told me I was to relieve you of command if you tried to abort. He said he couldn’t be sure he could trust you, given your attitude that night.” She gave him a rather sympathetic look. “I don’t like it anymore than you do, but I have to. Just go along with it, and quit after, if you like, but I don’t want to have to shoot you, so put the damn gear back on and get ready.” Facing Franka like this, he didn’t know what to do. He hated being stripped of choice again. Resist and get shot by this beautiful vixen, or proceed and risk the lives of an entire nation for the aims of one neurotic man. He did what he was told.
They solemnly went over the 4DVAR script. Hank was to release the silver iodide here, Franka was to shoot thermal charges there, and he was to . . . he wasn’t paying attention. But when the drops came, Franka told him he was to go first. “Just do it, and get it over with, and who knows . . .” she whispered to him and kissed him on the cheek.
The hatch opened and he dropped, straight down. He was plummeting head-first through the clouds. He heard Franka’s voice over the communications system, “John! Activate your mass-balancing device! Now!” she screamed. He flew downward not knowing where he would end up. Over the system he heard the panicked voices of the others trying to get reorganized without him. They were going to go on with it. They could do it, he thought, but I can’t. He hit the ocean, cleaning himself of it all.
to in a Venezuelan hospital was less of a shock to him than what he had heard
from the hospital’s staff. They told him
about the hurricane that passed through, one so large and powerful that it
plowed through the entire northern coast of
what’s more, they told him, it somehow leaked that the
Like wiping a slate clean, he thought.
had just occurred to him to ask the nurse what fate had befallen
“Well,” he whispered, “problem solved.”
© Copyright 2005 by the author
All rights reserved