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I like the cold. In fact, I have a real physical need to feel the cold, to be in bed wrapped tightly against the outside, bare feet searching for the cold corners while my nose sticks out like some polar crocodile. I enjoy walking through snow, feeling my face sting from rain that’s nearing hail and having the wind rub my ears to beetroot red. Which is a pity really, seeing how I live here in tropical Queensland, the temperature hardly falling below 20oC all year and three hundred odd days out of each year being without rain.
It’s all put up out of deference to Angelique. She can’t stand the cold or rain and who, having the money in the family while I was still working my way up the academic ladder, had the major say in where we settled. Not that we don’t compromise. I get two weeks holiday at the height of the Australian summer anywhere in the world, which usually means the northern hemisphere in the deep of winter (last year it was Reykjavik, a place I can appreciate). Angel suffers patiently through it all until we take the other two weeks anywhere she wants it. In fact it had all worked marvellously well until that year when the faculty just couldn’t do without the services of this particular climatologist, and I had to suffer through one of the worst summers on record.
One evening about two and a half weeks into what should have been our holiday, I was with Angel on our verandah wondering what I had done to deserve this. Shirtless, with rivulets of sweat pouring down my back and chest, I lay sprawled across a swing chair sucking savagely on a rapidly diminishing ice cube. I had not been able to eat all day for the heat, and to add insult to injury the faculty had decided at the last minute they really didn’t need me after all. Pity they didn’t make that discovery when tickets out of the place were still available. Not in the best of moods I saw that Angel was enjoying the heat, balanced daintily on the edge of the chair not a hair out of place, not even the smallest signs of perspiration visible. Needless to say her very audacity at being so comfortable needled me no end.
I hauled myself up on one elbow. “It’s not fair. I should be rigid with frostbite right now.” Energy totally expended I sank back down.
Angel regarded me as you would a five year old brat. I could be petulant and irritating at times, and I had just about used my annual quota of both that day. Thankfully she was feeling conciliatory and not combative.
“Well for somebody who claims to know so much about the weather you’re not doing too much about it. I thought that a smart guy like you would find a way to make it more bearable” she crooned, stroking my hair and creating a small Niagara that cascaded over my nose onto the floor. With a passing chuckle at the look on my face she moved back inside. I didn’t give it much of a second thought, thinking she was only sparring with me as we do.
Looking back now I can’t help but think she was more than half serious. I also can’t help but wish like hell she’d never opened her mouth.
Of course next month we had forgotten all about it. Angel was busy with her trading and I was buried in my office (really just a corner of the tech lab) getting the latest results from my micro climate simulation project. The simulations were bringing the right numbers out so I was feeling OK. All I had to do was wait until the next fifty million dollar research grant came around (fat chance) and I could try to really get that part of the Dandenongs warmed up. What I was in reality left with was theory, a bit of prediction, and more and more modelling.
It was then that Pradesh came bursting though the door. I sprang up just in time to arrest the hurtling student in mid stumble, plonking him bodily into my vacated chair.
“Pradesh what’s the matter? What’s happened?” I assumed that some piece of bad news had wound him up so. He didn’t respond, just continued to draw deep breaths, but his eyes darted between mine and a handful of crumpled pages he was holding on to as life itself.
“Prof look at this! Finally, finally we can really do it!” he gasped.
My heart sank. Probably another red herring or Government statement about increasing funding that once again nobody had bothered to make sure was right. I liked Pradesh so I decided to at least feign interest. I took the papers from him and flattened them against the desktop.
I had read barely a paragraph when my stomach started to tighten up. By the time I had finished the last page I could feel something stirring inside me. I looked him in the eye.
“Where did you get this? When did it come in?”
“Just now on the fax. I was standing there sending one out and this dropped in. I couldn’t believe it - are we going to go for it or what?”
I just smiled. In my hand I had a genuine NASA request asking me to form a team, spend one hundred million dollars of their end of year appropriation and reduce flood risk in the sub continent. Was I or what? My smile turned into a fully fledged inane grin. “Fancy a trip to the States?”
Things happened fast. Pradesh, myself, and my other grad student Kate would meet two of my ex students at CalTech to form the core of the team. Facilities, mainframe time, accommodation, everything was being supplied outside the appropriation so we had no problems there, and to say that the Yanks were welcoming would be putting it mildly. Before we had even finalised the team details we felt as if we were part of the family. But there was one problem. A hundred million sounds like mega bucks when you’re struggling on forty thousand dollar research grants, but to do what I had in mind properly would take a fair bit more. Although the technique I had in mind would be a sure fire success I knew we could barely just get to the mid point with the budget we had.
I had told Angel at the start about the whole deal. As time came nearer for the off she noticed my mood becoming more and more sombre. It was one cool afternoon as autumn was about to make way for winter that she confronted me. Sitting beachside with our toes in the sand we were talking about nothing in particular when she started.
“Okay, out with it” she said turning to face me across a Bacardi and Coke. “You should be the happiest damned man on the planet but you’ve been moping around as if you expected the end of the world. I’m not sure what’s going on but I think we should talk.”
I pulled my eyes from her thighs and sighed. “Yeah, you’d think I’d be leading the conga line wouldn’t you. I dunno if I’m sounding ungrateful but I’m not sure if it’s going to be enough.”
“The money for the project.” I leant forward a bit. “I’ve had something in mind for the past few years that I thought I could never do, something I know can work brilliantly, and when this came in I thought I had the budget to swing it. But I’ve done the figures and it is just not enough. Another fifty and I could just about with some begging, but another hundred and I could do it with style.”
“It’s really short? I mean, there are no corners you could cut, no alternatives, no options?”
I laughed. “What do you think I’ve been doing at night for the past month? I’ve been over everything, all the options, all the alternatives. If I can do this and do it the way I want it will make everything I’ve done before seem like a spit into a strong breeze.”
Her eyes widened. “That big?”
“You’ve never quite told me what it was. You’ve dropped some pretty obtuse hints but ...”
“OK” I admitted, “I’ve been secretive. But here it is for what it’s worth, and when I’m finished you’ll see why I can’t do it. For starters ... ”
It took me the best part of three hours during which she never once said anything. Once I was finished we sat in silence for an hour. I could see that she was deep in thought. She finally spoke sometime after the sun had left.
“I’ve never known you to lie or exaggerate but I thought you’d just started. But I see what you mean and I think I understand it. Tell me, the extra hundred, what currency?”
“I haven’t thought about it to be honest.”
She sighed. “Where would you do your shopping with the extra?”
“The States, possibly Europe, more than likely France or Germany.”
“And how much can you access now?”
I had to think hard. “Well the last time I looked I had about fifty three and another forty six in the States once we start.”
“Can you draw on it?”
“Do you trust me?”
I looked at her strangely. “Of course.” And then I knew.
“How much do you want?”
She drew some figures in the sand. “Forty six I’ll need for three days but I need you to do something specific with the other seven. And I need you to do exactly what I say exactly when I say. If you do, we can make this fly. If you don’t, well ...”
The following day a rather large bank draft was drawn up and I sent Pradesh and Kate to set up shop in the States with sixty thousand. I promised to join them in a week or so, and let them off at the airport. As I pulled out my mobile went off.
“Hon, Angel. It’s time. Be at McLellands in twenty minutes to start.”
“Right, let’s go over it again. Go in to McLellands at exactly two o’clock and ...” she continued giving precise instructions and having me repeat them verbatim.
I had nearly run off the road twice writing it down. “No probs. See you later.”
We did private business we wanted quiet and discrete through McLellands Brokers and Exchange Agents, a (barely) reputable company that charged more but said less than other brokers. McLelland was happy to see me but I suspect happier to see the bank draft. After the two o’clock transaction he thought I had gone for good, but come three was surprised to see me back on his doorstep. The additional commission helped ease his pain over my return but he looked nonplussed as I sat down again at ten to five.
“Again? Haven’t you had enough? Do you know what happened ten minutes after you left, you coulda screwed it to the wall if you had just left it sitting instead of diving off. If you want back in well mate that horse has bolted.”
I eyed him cautiously and slipped a tab of paper to him. “No, I just want to dump it for this. What’s the rate now?”
He told me, and I told him to put the offer at eighty five percent value. His jaw dropped. Before he could speak, I cut in.
“Don’t ask, I’ve got my reasons. If you need an explanation you can put your rate up two percent but just do it now.”
His jaw went back where it belonged. I had touched him at heart, he had always been easy to buy. His hands went up. “OK, whatever you say, no questions asked.”
He left the room muttering something about the mental defects of bloody greenie academics and came back in at ten past five with a cheque and an evil grin.
“Well you probably take the prize. I’ve done what you said and after all that stuffing around you’re down by three and a half. I hope you have a nice day, thanks for the commission.”
I left with cheque in hand. The closer I came to home the deeper my gloom became. I had lost three and a half out of seven but I took some solace as I knew Angel was probably making that up and more. The hours at home dragged on and I ended up glued in front of late night TV. The exchange market news nearly broke my heart, all the movements indicating I had missed the chance to make over seventeen and a half million. Me and Johnny Walker got to know each other better.
I had been drunk, sobered up and drunk again by the time Angel came home. I was feeling pretty dirty but I said nothing as she sat down. I felt that instead of flying this little puppy was all over and done with. Maybe exile to Siberia wouldn’t be that bad.
Angel put her head on my shoulder and let out a long sigh. “I guess you think I am some sort of moron or something. You’ve seen the rates I suppose?”
“Yeah, I figure we missed out on about eighteen plus the three and a half we lost elsewhere and commission. But I still love you.”
“That’s nice to know, but don’t give up on me quite yet. Do you know why I asked you to lose that money? You do know that I actually wanted you to lose it, don’t you?”
“Can’t say that I did or do, you know. It’d be the first time you set out to make a loss if it was.”
“Well I couldn’t be the one to kick the first domino.”
She reached into her briefcase. “But I had to be there to make sure the rest went. I had to hang on for a while to make it happen and I’m not going to try and explain as you don’t understand cross rates or hedging no matter how hard I try. Put it simply that a smart trader knows how to play one off against another. And, darling, you know I’m the best.”
She had slid a small square of paper into my lap while she was speaking. I looked down and saw a US currency draft for three hundred and fifty million dollars.
“That enough?” She laughed.
Enough? I nearly wet myself.
My departure from Australia was made in high spirits, Angel adding to it by riding on the back of the research money with some of our own. I had doubts about what the NASA Grants Board would say, but was pleasantly surprised with their reaction at our first meeting. I had just started my ‘Oh, by the way I have an extra couple of hundred million’ speech and was wondering if it would be believed when the Board Director came up to me.
“Fantastic!” she exclaimed, grabbing me in an ebullient bear hug. “And they say the spirit of free enterprise doesn’t live down under? Wonderful!” And that was that.
The team knew better than to ask questions and in any case were too far into their work to have the time. Pradesh had managed to locate and identify the materials we required and Kate was moulding the rest of the team into shape on the design and device build. I busied myself spending until it hurt and watching it all go together. Even working feverishly with and all the assistance we had it was still a hard slog to completion. Finally, eight months later, we found ourselves in the Florida dawn watching the crawler transporter carry our precious load to the launch pad. It was not the awesome spectacle of that tower of metal and ceramic that sent shivers down my spine, but the knowledge that shortly I would finally see my theories in action. We had a window, we had a deadline, and we had beaten it by a sliver over twenty four hours. And we had twenty two million dollars change.
The launch was flawless and we assembled at JPL two days later to watch the devices’ construction in space. Fully automatic, the drones had already deployed in orbit, and in relative comfort we could monitor their progress. The day consisted of nothing more than watching the automated construction of our device which after eighteen hours resembled exactly what it should - a large, appreciably convex saucer some three kilometers in diameter. A central column four hundred meters high protruded sunwards from its center. The surface of the saucer consisted of myriad small, mirrored shutter like panes built around radial spokes. The end of each spoke was connected by nanotube to the top of the column and likewise to a lesser protrusion on the Earthwards side. At the moment all the shutters were aligned so that they were edge on to both Sun and Earth.
“Always the way it is, another simple, elegant solution.” Kate mused.
I smiled. Elegant yes, simple not quite so. It was the first question I had put to Kate when she applied for the Doctoral programme, and her answer was the reason I had taken her into my circle of students. ‘How do you heat up one square kilometer of ocean?’ which usually elicited the same series of hydro-thermal, bore hole options. Kate had suggested what I myself thought. Take a small mirror. Stick it in orbit and presto, ocean heated. With the device however a simple command would turn it either into a lens or a reflector by angling the mirrors. In the neutral state the device was, for all intents and purposes, transparent. I laughed.
“Not the way you see it?” she asked.
“Oh no” I offered, “it’s not that. I’m just wondering what Orville and Wilbur Wright would think of what we’ve done with their wing warping.”
“Somehow I think they’d approve.” Pradesh volunteered.
Months later back at the University I was still monitoring the device. The preliminary data were encouraging, if anything better than projected. It seemed a success. Even if it would be a further twelve months for the impact on weather patterns to be felt everything pointed to our goals being met. All we had to do was monitor it as the automated routine continued.
A year and a half down the track and life rolled on as usual. Pradesh and Kate had both graduated. Angel and I were now ridiculously well off and had solid plans to retire by forty five to open a café bookshop. The device was working as expected, it’s monitoring now being automated out of JPL leaving me with a tenuous link via the stream of research papers I was publishing.
Angel and I were sitting on the same verandah in the same place as we were when the whole episode started, watching a mid summer pastel sunset.
“Strange” she started, “the days aren’t quite as harsh as I remember them.”
“How do you mean, harsh?”
“Well, it seems as if the edge has gone off the days. It’s not quite as hot and I’m positive that it’s less humid than it has been.”
I chuckled quietly to myself. “What were we doing not more than three years ago?”
She creased her brows slightly. “Not much, you hadn’t started the project then and we were stuck here. In fact” she continued with more than a touch of sarcasm, “the only thing I remember clearly is a constant whining.”
I leant back and put my arm around her. “I recall that you asked why I didn’t have the brains to sort out the summer heat while I lay here sweating to death.”
“Oh yes, and I didn’t forget. In fact, I have done something about it.”
Angel stared at me, eyes narrowed. “What exactly do you mean?”
“Well, the device doesn’t have to work all the time on the main project, it has a big down time up there and because of its positioning it can work on a third lesser known weather node in the region.” I smiled broadly, looking her in the eyes.
“So, I have added just a couple of lines to the programming and it’s going to chop off about two degrees from our summer maximums.”
Angels’ eyes widened slightly, but then retreated to slits. “They’ll find out what you’ve done eventually you realise, don’t you?”
“Nah, they won’t” I countered derisively, “it only has to do this for another two months and the pattern’s changed forever. I can then just wipe the lines and then that’s that. No ones the wiser and this place is then just that little more civilised.”
“Hmmmmm” was her only comment as she settled back, “I certainly hope so.”
Three things happened in quick succession that neatly destroyed my carefully laid plans. Firstly a minor meteor shower took out the communications antenna on the device leaving it still functioning but unable to talk to us or we to it. Secondly the US Congress was faced with the largest budget deficit ever, taking a sharp axe to all expenditure. Near the top of the list was NASA; and on the top of NASA’s list was JPL; and on the top of JPL’s was the monitoring of the device.
Finally all the over work, late nights, bad eating habits and stress hit me in one foul swoop. I don’t know if it’s possible to have a minor nervous breakdown, but if there is then what hit me sure as hell wasn’t. I quit my faculty job, retiring at forty two instead of forty five. I couldn’t do much more than dress and clean myself for the next eighteen months. Worse yet as part of it I totally lost track of my work, a common defence mechanism I am told.
The upshot? The device was forgotten totally, erased from the minds of NASA and myself and left to get on with its programming uninterrupted.
Retirement has treated Angel and myself well. Our café bookshop pays its own way, and is relatively stress free. With both of us retired we have time enough for ourselves, and that’s what really matters. And my legacy still continues on. Monsoon is now much gentler, predictable and still replenishes the lands and river deltas. El Nino and La Nina continue in a much lessened way, severe drought and flood being relegated to history. The device continued on its merry way for another ten years before failing totally, more than enough time to produce a permanent change in weather patterns.
And of my other special project?
Well, I like the cold. In fact, I have a real physical need to feel the cold, to be in bed wrapped tightly against the outside, bare feet searching for the cold corners while my nose sticks out like some polar crocodile. I enjoy walking through snow, feeling my face sting from rain that’s nearing hail and having the wind rub my ears to beetroot red. Which is fortunate, seeing how I live here in hemiboreal Queensland, the temperature hardly struggling above 8oC all year and rain two hundred and fifty odd days out of each year. But Angel ...
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