9. SPECIAL FEATURE: A Short Story by Ronan Cahill
Editor’s Note: If you’ve read Starship Sloane magazines before, then you’ve seen Ronan’s compelling artwork on many the occasion. His abstract science fiction art is unique and challenging to define. This is Ronan’s first foray into writing science fiction. I enjoyed the story. I hope that you do as well.
The Weather App
by Ronan Cahill
Tap . . .Tap . . . Tap. Tap.
Outside my office window the storm is getting worse. An ancient oak tree taps its branches against the harbour-facing windowpane. I hate these extreme weather patterns, absolutely detest them. It’s my business to predict these weather events, and once again I have absolutely failed. This is no comedy. When storms are forecast incorrectly, people die. Trains derail, fishing boats sink, airplanes take risks, trees fall on cars.
Tap . . .Tap. Tap.
I must ask the letting company to cut those oak branches back.
Pain and suffering are inevitable, I think randomly, as the full force of this storm throws more buckets of rainwater across the small office window. The truth is I have a lot of worries on my mind at the moment.
Yes, I have had successes in my work career but there is always an inkling in the back of my mind that failure is not far around the corner. This is true also on my long remorseful avenue of relationships that never quite worked. It seems my brain is wired to take wrong choices everywhere I go. There was a time in London in the 1990s that I was the great weatherman about town, mad crazy, stormy days. I had it all; enjoyable and challenging work, the house, the family. What could go wrong? Everything and anything can go wrong, I have learned. Today I need some luck.
This road has led me back to my long-forgotten home city, Aberdeen, Scotland, peddling my services to the fishing and the oil companies, analysing the weather for them. This city is not the city I left in 1990. Most of those I knew then are dead, or have left, or are unrecognisable ghosts to me now.
I am a good meteorologist, but the game is getting tougher with the bizarre trends in the global weather systems. This storm has raged for 14 days, every so often the data I collect tells me there will be a lull, and at the final hour instead of a lull we witness an angry intensity. It is despairingly unpredictable. I am not alone, no meteorologist in the country is getting these things right in the wake of climate change.
Yet my clients are paying me to be exact. They want more of a climate crystal ball than a weather person. And yet this god-awful storm continues to wreak havoc. Deaths and power outages. It is no joke. Forecast things wrong and fisher folk die at sea.
I look once more at the storm outside. It rages on. Twice last week the data told me it would calm down. Twice the data made a fool of me, and the rest of the meteorology community. To my clients only I, alone, got it wrong.
I stare at the screen. The program is stuck again. The circle just keeps spinning. Time to call it a night and wander home, I think. Feck it, I will load the data from home.
I look out the window through the rain onto Market Street. In a doorway a homeless young man sits shivering. How sad I think. But as my gaze meets his, he springs up on his feet and trudges hurriedly up toward Union Street. That’s strange, I think. It’s most likely nothing but I have had that uneasy feeling that I am being followed since I first moved back to Aberdeen. I am not without my enemies, but surely this is just paranoia. I grab my computer and bag and slam the office shut. It is 5pm.
Tomorrow, I have a key meeting about my Fishing Weather App with potential sponsors.
The first thing that hits me as I step out onto Market Street is the ferocity of the wind. It nearly blows me onto the path of oncoming traffic. I did not quite forecast the anger of this storm. Regardless I battle my way down toward Tory Bridge.
The Royal Burgh of Torry stinks of fish factories on this cold stormy April night as I tread my way back to my one-bedroom, first-floor flat on Victoria Road. The tenement is a mad house of drunks, junkies, and hard-working immigrants. Torry had been a quaint fisherman’s offshoot of Aberdeen before the Big Oil came to the city. The Oil changed everything and not always for the better.
I lived here 35 years ago when I was a young loon just starting out as a meteorologist. I worked hard over the years, but love, life and naïve financial decisions have not been kind to me. And so, I am starting again in a young man’s game. With what cash had survived my fall from grace I invested in a new weather app start up. The kid, my business partner, Vicky is smart and diligent, and believes we can make it. I am no longer so sure. There are so many weather apps vying for the market. But all I can do is try harder. Yes, it has been weighing heavy on my mind, will we ever get off the ground?
Home from the office I open the door and scoop up my mail. I make my way through the tiny hallway, and into my large kitchen, turning on lights as I go. I set my laptop up at the window desk overlooking Torry Harbour. Large Oil Supply ships sift in and out in front of my eyes. While awaiting the laptop to load up I check the mail. In amongst the usual bills is a parcel with no address.
In capital letters it simply says my name: KEVIN.
I freeze. I am not without a past. I owe some people, I should never have got involved with, a distant far-off debt. Have they finally caught up with me?
I open the parcel. It is a bog-standard Nokia mobile phone. It is fully charged and switched on. There is a charger with it.
I have a bad feeling about all this. I jump out of the chair and rush to the flat door to insure I am fully locked and bolted. I look out the front window to see if anyone is watching. Nothing, just the usual drunks making their way back home.
I think about that gangster I owe the cash to, Ken Lawless. Has he finally caught up with me?
I think about running, but I am too old for that. I turn on the cool jazz blues of Miles Davis’ trumpet, “So What,” on the stereo, and I pour a large whiskey, with a drip of water, and I wait.
I must have fallen asleep slightly watching the boats in the harbour, but something awoke me.
The phone is ringing . . . bzzrrzrrrr bzzrrzrrrrrr.
“Hello,” I answer.
First there is a cracking kzzcckkzzzkc kkzcckzzzzkkcc and then what seems to be the crazed laughter of an electronic chimpanzee and then there is calm . . . and a voice comes into focus amid a whirling background of mechanical sound.
A female voice from a distant past spoke. I think I recognise her voice but cannot quite place where from.
“KEVIN, you don’t know me, but you NEED to listen carefully, I know you have doubts about your weather app business. I have a plan to save YOUR BUSINESS. TRUST ME!
You NEED to give me a chance, THIS IS NOT A SCAM!”
She continues . . .
“The first thing you need to do? There is two pounds fifty in the phone packaging. Find it. Please take the money, make your way to the SPAR convenience store on Victoria Road.
Place the following numbers on for tonight’s competition: 1, 2, 3, 16, 18, and 41, and the latter 4 numbers will come up, and you will win £128 tonight.
Then return here and after the Lottery TV show I will phone again to discuss a way forward.”
I try to say what the hell is this bullshit about, but she confidently replies, “I will give you another call after the results. BYE!” and she is gone.
Bugger this! I think. It’s torrential outside. Do I want to enter the freezing street to buy a lottery ticket?
This woman doesn’t have a crystal ball. What if Lawless has caught up with me and is luring me out into the open? But then the hope of her “plan to save the weather app” played on my mind. I NEED a break, God knows, I need a break.
I knock the whiskey back and walk into the night to put the Lottery on.
Drumroll! “And here is the live draw for the National Lottery . . . First up is 10, Next is 33.”
My heart sinks I almost believed it . . . what a fool, I!
“Next up is 3 . . .” and then came . . . 18, 41, and 16! I had just won £128 on the ticket!
How did she do this? Witchcraft, magic, sorcery, or luck? My mind is going overtime when the phone rings again . . .
“KEVIN, have I got your attention? I am phoning from 5 days in the future to be exact. The machine I have invented can send audio data back in time. This is sound time travel, and I want to use it for good. It may not yet be possible to send matter back in time, but I have invented this to send voices back in time, a real time machine phonebooth.
You can never know who I am, but you can call me Marbella! You can’t know my identity as this will make it safer for both of us. We can never meet.
If this technology falls into the wrong hands, then the world is at risk.
Turn on the Man United vs West Ham game on TV. It is one all in the 91st minute. In two minutes Casomiro will score a stunning 25-yard volley.”
I turn on the soccer match. The clock goes to 92 and then 93 minutes, before Casomiro volleys the prophesised goal!
What the hell? I have no choice now but to believe. But what is the plan, and what is in it for Marabel? So, I call her out, “Marabel, what is in this for me, and what is in it for you?”
She replies . . .
“I don’t have long the machine is already heating up too much.
Growing up in a fishing community I have lost too many friends and family over the years. With climate change and the extreme, unpredictable weather, weather forecasting is far from crystal ball technology.
I can save lives by sending the ACTUAL future weather data back to you to forecast. You will be known for getting the weather right and your business will grow in direct proportion to less fishing boats taking risks and losing lives. This is my passion!
I will phone you every four days with the forecast detailing where you, the forecasters, got it wrong so keep the phone charged!
The machine has heated up too much, I am going to have to go . . . Have you got a final question?”
“Yes,” I answer. “What are tomorrow’s Lotto results, all of them?”
“Look, buddy this is fucking serious, by Tuesday you and the other forecasters will be convinced that we are in for a five-day calm. In Johnshaven, Jim Murphy will kiss his wife and kids goodbye on Wednesday morning, and sail to sea on the Blue Mist with his three mates. But by this Friday morning, my time, Jim will be dead at the bottom of the ocean.
Kevin, you can save Jim. There is no lull to the storm this week. Please fix this. Recheck the data again, and I will come up with a better system to report to you the actual weather.
I will phone in five days, please keep the phone charged.”
Her sentence is punctuated by the sound of a loud BANG! And the phone line goes dead.