21: Frying Pan or Fire? (part 7)

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21.7 Inclement Weather

LSA Control Centre, the Moon: 20 May 2128

"They are reaching equilibrium at three point one two seconds," Andrew stated, his fingers whizzing through the figures that floated in front of him.

Across the room Janet analysed the readings coming in from the new satellites. Built over the past two years and packed with instruments, all twenty four had been launched at the beginning of the month. Now they sat, high above the destructive shield, in orbit around the Earth monitoring anything they could. The LSA:EA support crew, numbering more than a dozen – the largest team Janet had ever commanded – sifted the data and tried to make sense of it. The computer systems were doing the real analysis but the routines were attempting to isolate and flag up any anomalies for the crew to take a closer look.

Janet took a quick glance around the room and smiled to herself. It was good to be properly back at the cutting edge.

Other centres had also been linked in so that the data load could be spread across as many systems as possible. The hope was that anything resembling a dangerous trend could be picked up at the earliest moment. Not that they knew what options they would have should such an event arise.

In control of the large screen that filled the wall, Melissa zoomed in on the planet as successive waves shot across its surface. The screen, its AI systems geared to recognising specific features of each of the five variations, changed the text in the bottom left at a rate of once every three seconds or so. The text cycled through Black, Robot, Green, Chaos, Paradise, Black, Robot, Green, Chaos, Paradise and so on without deviation.

"Something's happening on Black," Melissa said just before Tariq Ghannam said almost the same thing.

"Filter out the others," Andrew said and Melissa adjusted the screen so that it omitted to display the other four.

"There is a haze appearing," said Tariq.

He was right. The normally jagged outlines that Black exhibited were becoming softened as if a fog were enveloping the planet.

"Is that happening on all the worlds?" Janet queried. Melissa switched the filter to Green and then to Robot.

"No, there's no detectable changes – same as before."

"Confirmed," that was Anusha, another of the support crew.

"Wait," Tariq interrupted, a minute. "That's not quite true. Readings from the surfaces of the other four have increased."

"How much?" Andrew demanded.

"Um, less than half a percent at the moment. I will add a monitor and ping percentage increases directly to the main screen."

A few seconds later the figure was added to the bottom right of the screen. It said 0.39975 but every few seconds the last digit would flicker and increase.

"That's the shield diminishing," Janet confirmed, checking her own copy of the readouts.

Melissa returned the screen to Black and superimposed an outline map of the continents onto it. The main view was of central Asia with the Himalayas at the bottom. Selecting a recognisable peak she drove the magnification up close to maximum. The feed was coming directly from two of the synchronised satellites instead of a Moon-based telescope. With a resolution of around ten metres per pixel, the two combined satellite images rendered the mountain into a single 3D image that Melissa felt she could reach out and touch.

The angle of the sun meant that one side of the peak was bathed in light, the other in shadow. She picked a point halfway around where the suggestion of jagged rocks and mist appeared to be more pronounced. Then she hit maximum zoom and gasped.

So did the others.

They had found out what the mist represented.

After more than twenty-one years, rain had returned to Black Earth.

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