The Weathermakers (1967)

BOOK: The Weathermakers (1967)
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The Weathermakers
Ben Bova

The daring vision that men can control weather, and a brilliant and impetuous young scientist obsessed with making that idea a reality, are the elements for this exciting new science fiction adventure by Ben Bova.

When Ted Marrett is fired from the Weather Bureau’s Climatology Division after an argument with its head, Dr. Rossman, he attempts to continue his work at a company set up by a wealthy friend. But Dr. Rossman sees to it that the new company’s license is refused because both he and Ted are working on a method to alleviate a severe drought gripping the northeast and Ted is closer to the answer than he is. Determined to have the drought broken at any cost, Ted returns to Climatology. Shortly afterwards, it rains—and a Medal of Science goes to Dr. Rossman!

After the dramatic drought breakthrough, the Pentagon presses to make weather control a classified military program. Ted, insisting the program must be kept in civilian hands, attempts a spectacular non-military program—Project
THUNDER
, hurricane control—which brings him to grips with a giant storm, Omega, and, once again, “the Official Voice of Science.”

To the President who accepted challenges “not because they are easy, but because they are hard,” and who focused science and government on a difficult goal “because that challenge is one we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win . . .

Preface

S
INCE
at least the time of Noah, the weather has been a major concern to man. Although scientists are now beginning to work toward weather modification and control, this book is not intended to be a prediction of how or when weather control will eventually come about. It is merely a story about people and ideas, and the way they sometimes interact.

Much of the science in this book has not been invented yet, and perhaps never will be. Science fiction assumes a poetic license that includes the right to use any idea—real or imagined—as long as it has not been proved to be wrong. I have tried to get the most accurate and up-to-date meteorological information for use in this story, and I am deeply indebted to meteorologist Robert C. Copeland for his help. The factual background of the story comes mainly from him. He is not responsible, though, for any bending of the facts or for the not-yet-invented science that appears in the story. I have tried to make the imaginary science at least plausible, and not completely beyond the realm of actual possibility.

Many others have added technical information and useful ideas to this book. If I tried to list them all, I would surely forget a few names. Therefore I thank them all equally, and hope they forgive me for not naming them individually.

The editors at Holt, Rinehart and Winston—especially Ann Durell—have been tremendously helpful all through the genesis of this book. They encouraged the idea of “here and now” science fiction, spotted the flaws and inconsistencies that always crop up in a long story, and were gentle but firm about keeping the book to a reasonable length.

Finally, I must make my deepest bow to my wife, Rosa. She not only took time out from her own writing to type the draft manuscript, but she offered invaluable advice and assistance in thrashing out many points of the story. All this while raising our children and keeping house. What’s more, she even began complaining, when the weather turned sour, that there ought to be a Ted Marrett somewhere, hard at work.

 

Arlington, Massachusetts

December 1966

1. The First Day

T
HE
day I first met Ted Marrett began on Oahu. I had finished school in February, and Father had given me a desk and a title at his Thornton Pacific Enterprises, Inc. But I preferred the beach.

My three brothers and I always rose early, Father saw to that. But that morning, when they went to the office, I ducked out for surfing.

The tide was right, the surf booming, the sky bright and nearly cloudless. Nobody else was on the beach this early in the day, although I knew some of my beach pals would start to show up a little later. After a half hour of riding the big ones, a sectioning wave wiped me off the board, and down I went, gasping and struggling while tons of foaming water poured over me. I got out okay, dragged my board back onto the sand, and stretched out in the early sun to watch perfect twelve-footers curl in.

After a few minutes I started to get bored, so I reached out and turned on the portable TV I had brought with me. There was a western on; I had seen it before, but it wasn’t too bad.

The pocketphone in my beach robe buzzed. I knew who it would be. Sure enough, when I pulled the phone out and flicked it oh, Father’s face appeared on the tiny screen, looking as ominous as the thunderheads that pile up on the windward slopes of the island’s mountains.

“If you can tear yourself away from the beach, I need you here at the office.”

“Need me?”

He almost smiled at my surprise. “That’s right. Your brothers can’t handle everything for me. Get down here right away.”

“Can’t it wait ’til lunch? Some of the crowd will be coming along and we—”

“Now,” he said, “if you don’t mind.”

When Father used that tone of voice, with that expression on his face, you didn’t discuss the matter any further. I left the surfboard and TV for the beach boys to pick up and went back to the house. After a quick shower and change I dialed for a car. In five minutes I was cruising down the private road from our beach house to the main highway. I set the car on automatic; not that there was any traffic to cope with, I just wanted to see the rest of that western.

I was too late. The movie was finished and the news was on. Another storm had hit the Thornton mid-Pacific mining dredges, the news commentator said cheerfully, and a couple of men were missing. “All but two of the six-hundred-man team of engineers and technicians are safe,” was the way he put it. That explained the expression on Father’s face.

But what did he expect me to do about it?

A few minutes on the electronically controlled highway and the car was at the Thornton Pacific Enterprises building. As I walked into Father’s spacious, thickly carpeted office, he was standing by the windowall, moodily staring out at the sparkling ocean. He turned and looked at me in that pained way of his.

“At least you could have worn something decent.”

“But you’re wearing shorts too,” I said.

“This is a business suit,” he said, “not a walking flower garden.”

“I just took the first things I found in the closet. You said to hurry.”

“You were
supposed
to be here at the office, not at the beach.”

I must have made a sour face.

“Jeremy, this is your business just as much as it is mine and your brothers’. I don’t see why you can’t take an interest in it. Your brothers—”

“There’s nothing for me to do here, Dad. Nothing interesting, anyway. You’re running things fine without me.”

“Nothing interesting?” He looked amazed and angry at the same time. “Running the world’s first deep-sea mining operation, not interesting? Operating intercontinental rocket transports, not interesting?”

I shrugged. “It’s routine, Dad. You’ve done all the new work, the hard work. You and Rick and all. There’s nothing new in it any more; no kicks in it, not for me.”

Father shook his head unbelievingly. “Your brothers started out exactly where you are today, but they sank their teeth into their work and helped me to build up Thornton Pacific. I expect you to do the same. Don’t fail me, Jeremy.” I didn’t answer.

He went to his desk and glanced at a sheet of notes.

“Well, I’ve got a job for you, interesting or not. You’re going to Boston on the ten o’clock flight, which means you’ll have to hurry to catch the rocket.”

“Boston? To see Uncle—”

“This is a business flight, not a social call. You’re going to the Climatology Division. You’ll be in New York by four thirty Eastern Time, and you can get to Boston by five thirty at the latest. I’ll have word sent to the Climatology people and tell them to expect you.”

“Who’s the Climatology Division? What’s this all about?”

“The storms, what else?” he snapped. “Climatology’s part of the Weather Bureau—the part that makes long-range forecasts and handles weather modifications.”

“Oh. I heard about the storms on the way in. Any further word about the missing men?”

“Not yet,” Father said, sitting down in his contoured desk chair. “They were caught in the tethered pressure chamber when the storm hit. The cable snapped. The chamber must be at the bottom, but we can’t find it.”

“How deep is it where they went down?”

“Eighteen thousand feet. We’ve recovered men from worse spots, but that’s deep enough. One of them has been with me since I started in business here. If we lose them—”

“They’ll be all right for twelve hours in the chamber, won’t they?”

“If it stays intact.” He slammed a fist against the desk top. “These blasted storms! This is the third one in ten days, and April’s not half over yet. If the weather out there doesn’t improve we’ll have to shut down altogether. The contract with Modern Metals will be defaulted. We could lose millions!”

“Is it really that bad?”

“I’ve been in this business as long as anyone, Jeremy,” he said, nodding toward the model of CUSS V, which drilled the original Mohole. “This is the stormiest spring I’ve ever seen. The Climatology people have got to help us. I could talk to them on the phone, but personal contact always gets better results. Now, you find the man in charge of weather modification and don’t let go of him until he agrees to help us. Understand?”

Father’s secretary had a travelkit for me, tickets for the rocket, and a helicab waiting on the roof to take me to the launch pad out in the harbor.

I was to travel on a Thornton Aerospace Corporation rocket, of course. The company was owned by Uncle Lowell, back in New England, but Father ran the Pacific end of it. Father had his differences with the rest of the Thorn family, but that never stood in the way of business. When Uncle Lowell had needed help in starting a commercial rocket transport line, Father had invested heavily. Naturally, Father’s decision was influenced by the fact that his business interests spanned the broad Pacific, and rocket transports could haul the ore dredged from the sea bottom to the industrial heartland of America in half an hour.

The rocket wasn’t tall and sleek, like those used for space flights. It was squat and heavy-looking, with its reusable propellant tanks clustered around the main body. Nearly two hundred passengers were filing into the four-decked cabin as my helicab approached the landing barge. Across the harbor I could see the U.S.S.
Arizona
memorial, and farther in the distance a tug was towing in empty rocket-booster stages from the impact area.

I was the last passenger aboard. There were guides and hostesses at every turn to cheer me across the access ramp, up the elevator, into the cabin, and onto one of the contoured couches.

Rocket travel was still new enough for there to be plenty of people who preferred “safe and conventional” supersonic jets to the “new and dangerous” global rockets. Even though the rockets were cheaper, enormously faster, and actually safer than jets! I remembered asking Father how people could be so dim-witted.

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