Copyright © 2017 by Matthew Karabache
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other non-commercial uses permitted by copyright law.
Dani stared at the slice of pizza in horror. The station was quiet, bar the constant muted shrieking of the White Storm raging below. The whole habitat seemed to convulse, rolling on the atmospheric currents like a ship on a storm-tossed sea.
The motion sickness pills the institute had helpfully provided barely made any difference at all. It had taken Dani three months to acclimate to the station’s constant pitching and lurching. The White Storm was more violent than any other weather system Dani had experienced during the last eighteen months aboard the Rhea habitat.
Then there was the isolation. Shipping out to a remote monitoring station in Saturn’s upper atmosphere hadn’t bothered Dani too much to start with. The first fifteen months had been mostly fine. Communication with Earth or the Mars colony had a three-hour delay, which wasn’t so bad. Jocasta, the station’s virtual intelligence, was designed with emotional responses to mitigate the loneliness. She wasn’t perfect, but she helped. He painted in his spare time using a virtual reality interface to simulate his loft back on Earth, complete with paint and canvases.
Then the White Storm had started, two years early. Dani should have been long gone and Rhea’s systems would have become automated for the duration. He wasn’t supposed to be here.
After the first week, radio and plasma interference had reached the point where any signal in or out was scrambled. Dani was completely cut off. It had taken a few more weeks to sink in and for him to realise that — even with all of Rhea’s instruments — there was no real way to predict how long the storm would last. Though most recorded historical White Storms were over in a handful of weeks, the 2010-11 storm had lasted for 267 days.
A little over five months later, the storm still showed no sign of abating and Dani started to crack.
It was little things at first. Hygiene dropped by the wayside. At the seven month mark his clothes had started to feel so tight and abrasive that he’d crammed them into the waste disposal unit and incinerated them. Jocasta alerted him that his behaviour was becoming erratic. He disabled her for being mouthy.
At eight months Dani created what he considered his masterpiece. He’d remembered seeing abstract works created using the human body as a brush. Headset on, he greased himself up with heaping handfuls of virtual paint and flopped about on the cold metal floor until he accidently crushed his left testicle. It hurt so badly he’d gotten into the emergency kit’s medical morphine. Things had progressed from there.
Dani became fixated on food. He missed proper Earth food. There was variety in his diet and some was even relatively tasty, but there were no hot chips, no steaming bowls of risotto, no pizza.
No pizza. That was the worst one.
So he started to experiment. He was a scientist, after all.
This had proven to be a mistake, Dani realised as he stared at the gooey mess of rehydrated macaroni cheese, bolognese sauce and chunks of irradiated meat that was now splattered across his keyboard. The tortilla had failed him.
The towel he grabbed to clean up with was woefully insufficient for the task. Tossing it aside, he used his fingers to scrape at the hot gunk between the keys. He bent over to lick them — fingers and keys both — clean.
It wasn’t until he looked up that he realised he’d been pressing keys the entire time. The measurements from the previous five months were gone. Just gone. The bottom fell out of his stomach. Hands shaking, Dani closed and reopened the database. Nothing.
The backups, then. Oh, no. Dani closed his eyes and started to rock back and forth gently as he remembered last month’s attempts to ‘streamline’ the station’s backup procedures and the mess he’d made of the hard drives. There were no backups, not anymore.
Recorded in those observations had been a complete refutation of the current theory about the White Storms’ origins. Rhea’s instruments had measured the precise mechanism. It had all been there, laid out in the data. It was something that challenged their understanding of atmospherics and could hold the key to accelerating the slow terraforming of Mars.
The Cassini nanosatellites orbiting the planet were monitoring the storm as well, but the data they were able to collect was of limited use compared to the wealth that Rhea was capable of recording. Capturing the details of the White Storm was the realisation of Rhea’s purpose. It was the culmination of tens of thousands of man-hours of work by a hundred different agencies. And he had fucked it all up.
The storm might continue for a few more months and Rhea would gather plenty on its ongoing effect and end, but all the data on the storm’s conception and build-up was lost. White Storms were rare, occurring once every 20 to 30 years. That was how far back Dani had just set all of meteorological science. Dani was done. Finished.
Or was he? A fevered plan started to form in his mind. He’d already spent months analysing the data. New information could be used as a baseline. There was no way he could remember every detail, but he had a pretty good idea of what the trends had been. Besides, Dani was a scientist, wasn’t he? A meteorologist, at that. He could just make it up. Make it all up.
Pawing at the keyboard again, he reopened the database. New data was already being recorded, measurements taken every few seconds. All he had to do was reconstruct five months’ worth of information before the storm finished and communication resumed with Earth. Hell, he could probably just program a randomiser, plug in a few variables and it’d be able to fill in the data in an hour. Simple.
Dani began to laugh. A few moments later, still tapping away at the keys, he began to cry.
TALES OF THE SUNDERED LAND
The Flame’s Burden
- – -
Matthew Karabache is addicted to stories of all kinds, devouring those made up by others and creating his own with equal gusto. Mythology and folklore hold a special fascination for him and he plunders them for ideas and other riches like some sort of literary pirate. He has been writing for as long as he can remember and will continue to do so for ever and ever. You can’t stop him, so there. He lives in Brisbane, Australia.
On a weather station in the upper atmosphere of Saturn, a scientist observes a storm that could shake the foundations of meteorology. This story was my first round entry in NYC Midnight‘s 2017 Flash Fiction Challenge. The writing prompts in my brief were: Sci-Fi | A Weather Station | A Slice of Pizza.