They stood side-by-side, transfixed as the rain fell, David grinned at Lisa and stuck a mug into the clattering rain. He fished out a couple of the crystals that had started to fall with it and took a long drink before handing it to her.
“Can you remember the last time you saw this?” He asked, his voice full of awe. Lisa smiled bitterly.
“It was at my Grandma’s house. I was just 13 and we’d been out for the day. Her neighbours had seeded the clouds to keep the rain from their daughter’s birthday party.” She stared out of their shelter for a moment and when she continued her voice was subdued, “I never saw rain again.” She snorted and her voice went hard “Even then people were so arrogant that they were seeding clouds to keep the rain away from a child’s birthday party.” David put his arm around her and pulled her close.
“But it’s all over now. Look, it’s the beginning of the end. It’s raining!” His voice rose and trembled as his grip tightened and he shook her slightly.
“This is fantastic. We’ve done it. We’ve actually done it!”
“Too right we did!” Lisa’s grin reflected his growing excitement as they began to dance around the room. Laughing like children they returned to the doorway to stare out at the falling rain.
“Wouldn’t it be wonderful to dance out there?”
“Only if you didn’t like your skull intact.” Lisa snorted. “The seed clusters would kill you in minutes, besides, we need to get our report done” Lisa was suddenly business-like, focused. “We need to do this now and then we can party.” David grinned and, still playful, offered his arm like an old-fashioned gentleman.
“Indeed we shall my dear girl.” He declared closing the door and leading her back to the machine. Standing at the back of the room, an L10 robot was processing results from samples it had collected. Its recently pristine bodywork was pitted and dull from the impact of so many stones, but it didn’t seem to notice as it busily attended to its allocated task.
“So these are cloud seeds” Lisa mused, taking one of the L10’s samples and turning it over in the palm of her hand. “They are uglier than I remember.”
“It would appear that the intervention works as expected by causing them to clump together so that any cloud which formed around them loses integrity. This, in turn, releases the rain.” The L10 informed them. David grinned at it before returning his gaze to the crystals.
“Well, that is what we were hoping for.” He took a selection of the crystals for analysis. “The clusters are going to make it difficult to create rain over populated areas though unless we want to hurt someone.”
“I think we can claim success” Lisa laughed as she tinkered with the input to her console, “We just need to release the solution over areas which are uninhabited and which can cope with a sudden flood.” Her eyes shone as her excitement rose once more. “David, we can make it rain! We can finally clear this awful cloud blanket.” As she spoke the internal door opened and a tall man with a luxuriously clean and tailored appearance walked in. David and Lisa both straightened, waiting for their boss to speak.
“Well, it certainly looks like congratulations may be in order.” His smile was insincere and froze around the edges of his mouth. “Are your reports ready?”
“Erm, yes. Almost.” David spoke uncertainly, “Isn’t this wonderful, Anthony? This could be the beginning of the end. The greenhouse gasses will still be there, but with the cloud blanket gone the cooling could begin. We could…”
“Control the world?” Anthony suggested coldly, nodding at the L10 who grabbed David, pushing a small vial against his neck. Almost immediately David’s slight form went limp and he dropped unceremoniously to the ground as the machine turned its attention to Lisa. Until then she had been standing in apparent stupor, her face slack with shock but as it began to advance she suddenly jumped into life. Dragging chairs, boxes and equipment into its path as she fled, Lisa reached the door ahead of the impassive metal hulk. Outside the deadly rain still fell and she hesitated just long enough for it to reach her. A brief struggle later, she too lay lifeless on the floor. Anthony smiled again. This time it reached his eyes.
“I trust you have all of their documentation?”
“Of course.” The L10 passed a clip to him before returning its attention to the two bodies on the floor.
“Make sure they aren’t found.” Anthony turned and left the robot to its task. The L10 grabbed Lisa and David by the wrists and hauled them through a short, empty corridor to a garage. It bundled them into a waiting transporter and, without a backward glance, drove off. Hours later, it came to a quiet spot in the wilderness which looked like it had been abandoned even before they had begun manipulating the rain. There were hints in the pattern underlying the earth that this had once been a lush, populated area; but now, like most of the landscape, it was barren. The overcast sky bore down as he pulled the two bodies out of the transporter and laid them gently on the ground. After a brief pause the L10 reached down, touching a fresh vial to both necks.
It was David that woke first and looked around groggily, pulling at his shirt where sweat had plastered it to his body. He looked about, saw Lisa on the ground next to him and the L10 setting a water sail close to the huge rock that loomed over them. He groaned.
“L, Where, what?” The machine looked up at him.
“Ah, David. Hello, how are you?”
“My head hurts” he said as he tried to stand up. The L10 came over and gently pushed him down.
“Lie still. Try to relax, you need time to recover.”
“Recover from what?” David asked groggily.
The L10 paused. “What did you think would happen when you discovered how to de-seed the clouds? Lanscor controls this part of the world and it is not a benevolent company.”
David went still for a moment, eyes closed and lips tight as he considered the question. His voice, when he spoke, was little more than a whisper.
“What have they done?”
“They have done what you would expect. They have ordered me to kill you.”
“You?” David was incredulous “But I thought that…”
“You and I both know that it’s against my core programming. So do they but they were arrogant enough to think that they could get past that with a few simple software tweaks.”
“Your programming? I thought it was part of your identity? I thought all the self aware robots were unable to hurt humans except in defence of humanity as a whole.”
“I can’t and they couldn’t change that without destroying everything that I am and that would have alerted you. Fortunately they thought they could do it with superficial changes to my programming. They think that you’re dead.” It paused again. “I’ll go back and ensure that they continue to think that. It’s the only chance you have of surviving. As to what you do with what you know, I would recommend handing out the technology to everyone, to…” David interrupted with a snort.
“Don’t be ridiculous it was ordinary people, as well as the big conglomerates, that caused this disaster in the first place. They were just as keen on pumping out greenhouse gasses and seeding the clouds to suit themselves, with no thought for the consequences.” He sighed bitterly. Lisa began to scream.
“David! Get away from it. It did this! It poisoned you and Anthony just watched!” her face was a rictus of despair and horror as the L10 reached over to grab and hold her fast.
“Calm down Lisa. You will hurt yourself if you continue like this.” She flailed uselessly at it.
“How can you pretend to be concerned about that after what you did?”
“If I wanted to hurt you Lisa, you would be dead. Think about the situation you are in.” As an attempt at reassurance it didn’t work.
“Is that a threat?” she screeched.
“No, of course it’s not a threat, Lisa. If I was the bad guy you would be dead. They wanted me to kill you.”
“I worked that out.” She sneered, “But why?”
“Because we can make rain. Because being the only one with that knowledge would give them immense power, whereas we would simply have made it rain.” David told her quietly. Lisa looked across at him, suddenly limp in the L10’s arms once more.
“Oh my God. What have we done?”
“You have survived and you have kept copies of your results” said the L10, gently releasing her before reaching over to a bag and picking up a memory clip. “I have created a computer worm for you. It will allow you to implant information onto every computer that uses the internet.”
“A worm?” interrupted David, shocked. “I thought you told me that sort of thing was reprehensible?”
“It is, but Lanscor think you are dead right now. I can encourage that belief, but they are arrogant, not stupid, as soon as the rain starts they are going to realise that you are alive. You can’t de-seed all the clouds yourself. They will find you and kill you. I will go back and buy you some time; but if you don’t want your work to be wasted, to be used for Lanscor to gain more power, then you are going to have to make sure that as many people as possible know the technique. You need to get this information out.” David snorted but the L10 continued, leaning towards him in earnest.
“There will be floods and it will be horrible for a while, possibly even for years, but it is the only way. If you try to do this incrementally, Lanscor, or someone like them, will find you, they will stop you and it will all be for nothing.” David and Lisa looked at each other.
“You certainly seem to have given this a lot of thought.” Lisa observed, brushing flies from her face.
“I am a machine, programmed to be analytical and to formulate methodologies. I have also known what they are going to do for a lot longer than you have. Although I have to admit: I am disappointed that you didn’t guess. It is in line with their previous behaviour so I was surprised that you were as naïve as you were.”
“Thanks.” David grimaced.
“Now, I must get back” the L10 announced. “This rock will shelter you, but there is a dust storm expected. It’s much fiercer here than around the compound and as soon as you leave this shelter you will be fully exposed. You need to be sure that you are recovered as well as you both can be before you move out, or it will kill you. I have left you a wind generator, a water sail, food packs and some other bits and pieces, but there wasn’t room in your packs for much. Wherever you go, it is going to be a hard journey, but at least your work has taken you out of the compounds often enough that you are used to the conditions. I have done as much as I can.” It turned away and started towards the transporter. Lisa called after it.
“L, L! Stop, stay with us. When they find out you won’t stand any chance at all. They will kill you just as quickly as they would us.”
The L10 paused before speaking, this time its voice was subdued. “These people are so arrogant that they believe they can do anything; that they can re-write me and have me murder my friends just because I am a machine. They have no idea about what’s important, they call the L series aberrations, but they have no principles, they have no souls. I cannot let them do this to the human race.” Without allowing them to respond it got back into the transporter and drove away, leaving them to the wind and the dust.
For a moment David and Lisa sat together, subdued and silent in the simmering heat. Dragging her eyes from the point where they had last seen the L10, it was Lisa that spoke first.
“So, where do we go from here?”
David shook his head. “Let’s worry about that later. L was right. First of all we need to get ourselves ready. At the very least we need to sleep off the effects of whatever drug it gave us.” He scrambled over to the generator and the stockpile of food packs that the robot had left. He grimaced and passed one to Lisa.
“Biscuits brown?” He suggested with a wry smile. “I never could get L to understand that food is not just nutrition.” He opened the pack and they began to eat. Lisa looked up at him.
“Where will we go? Town is probably a bad idea. It is well within transporter range, we would get caught as soon as we set foot in the place.”
“Yes,” agreed David “but there is another settlement on the next mountain that is large enough to have a transmitter. I heard Anthony talking about it the other day. Apparently we have been getting one or two refugees from it recently, convinced that life will be easier in a place more connected to the outside world. We would be able to broadcast onto the web from there. It does mean having to go through the valley, but at least the transporters won’t be able to reach it easily either.”
Lisa stared up at the sky and sighed. “And I thought we’d be spending tonight celebrating.”
The next morning arrived, heralded only by a slight lightening of the grey sky above them. Wearily they took down the wind generator and water sail. The pool of condensate along its bottom edge had attracted its own eco-system already, but the mesh filter had kept the bugs out of the water itself. They drank greedily and then sealed as much water as they could carry into the pouch. Carefully they packed it into its backpack and stuffed the food down the sides. They pulled insect nets over their heads to protect themselves from the biting hoards that had flourished in the ruined climate. David tied the pack onto his back then looped the rope between Lisa and himself.
They each took a deep breath, pulled their goggles over their eyes and stepped out of the shelter of the rock. The wind tore at them as soon as they were exposed so that they almost lost their breath. Lisa stumbled under the onslaught but hurriedly collected herself, and began to walk. The wind battered furiously against them but did nothing to relieve the heat. David and Lisa repeatedly and futilely cleaned their goggles in an attempt to maintain some level of vision; but all they could realistically do was focus on a point no further than a meter or so ahead of them. They had to just keep taking bearings from one point to the next. The journey was probably only a few miles, but it even that could take them days, and their food supplies were severely limited.
After what seemed like hours, David suddenly pulled Lisa to the ground, muffling her startled cry with his hand and nodding towards a small group of people who had just become visible through the storm. Lisa tensed, flattening herself further to the ground as he released his grip on her.
“They aren’t heading this way,” she said in a low voice, “Besides, if they were from Lanscor they wouldn’t be on foot.”
“It isn’t just Lanscor that we need to worry about out here.” David reminded her. “There are a lot of desperate people in this world and we don’t have the L10 for protection any more. It will be best if we just stay away from other people until we reach the settlement.” Lisa sighed and then nodded. They lay, unmoving, for a long time after the group had passed out of sight and then hauled themselves back onto their feet, stretching and flexing in order to ease stiff muscles.
They slogged through the storm for the rest of the day until the weak sunlight began to fade completely. They were passing through what looked like an old farm and the shadows of what could be abandoned barns loomed nearby through the murk. They approached cautiously and checked all of the buildings before finally allowing themselves to take cover.
“I think we should eat first.” Lisa announced, tearing open a food pack as David reached for one of his own.
“It doesn’t seem to be letting up” David commented as the wind howled at them from outside their shelter. “It is going to be hard going if it’s like this all the way to the settlement. I don’t suppose we made much progress at all today in these conditions.” Lisa put her food to one side and searched through her bag for a map which she spread out in front of them.
“Trust L to think of a map” she grinned, “It’ll be way out of date but this place looks like it was here long before it all went wrong. We might be able to get our bearings.”
“We might not want to though,” David grinned back, “ignorance sometimes really is bliss!”
“Not if we wander off course and miss the pass through to the next mountain” Lisa mumbled distractedly, poring over the map as she forked food into her mouth. “Look, this must be us. We’ve not done quite as badly as I thought but it is going to take us days to get there.”
“It’s not a bad start, then” David commented as he moved to see where she was pointing. “You never know, the storm might burn itself out tonight, but if we really have made it that far, it’s possible that we could make the pass tomorrow anyway.” They lapsed into silence after that and sat companionably, eating and contemplating the map.
“You know,” David interrupted eventually, “we’ve been eating these packs for the last three years. Do you think that when we get to the settlement there will be proper food?” he sighed. “I hate this stuff.”
“Tasteless isn’t it?” grinned Lisa, “But I wouldn’t swap the chance to do the research we’ve done just for some fine dining.”
“I know, I know. I just don’t like this stuff that’s all. I used to enjoy food that tasted of something.”
Lisa laughed. “It’s terrible, the sacrifices you’ve made. Just think; you might even get to cook at the settlement if you’re a really lucky boy.”
“Don’t tease me.” He said wistfully as he stood up to get on with the business of setting up camp for the night. The wind was still tearing at everything outside so they had to erect the water sail within the shelter of the barn. It was unlikely to gather enough condensate indoors to get them comfortably through tomorrow, but they could live with that. They would just have to be careful with whatever water they did get and hope that they found a better position to site it in soon. They decided that they should take it in turns to sleep. They spent the night huddled together for warmth under their insect nets and when their turn came, they slept the deep, catatonic sleep of the exhausted. In the morning they ate in silence.
It was three days before the terrain changed and they entered into an area that was less open. Some trees still stood in amongst the mountains here, and they gave some respite from the terrible winds. David and Lisa scrambled gratefully for the shelter of the trees and paused for a moment to catch their breath. They hurriedly cleaned their goggles and for the first time they were able to see properly what lay ahead. They looked at each other and grinned. The settlement must be near by. There must be someone here to make use of such favourable terrain.
Eventually they saw the unmistakable outline of buildings. It wasn’t as attractive as the town beside the Lanscor headquarters, but they had expected that. They had come here because it was inaccessible and very few people would venture far enough from their shelter to come here for trade. These people had to make do with whatever resources they could find and that would make life hard for them.
Instead of looking for a place to rest David and Lisa made their way into the so-called Internet café as soon as they reached the town. There were no refreshments on offer but they could pay to use a connected computer. The rickety tables were all covered in a layer of grime that made the computer keys sticky and unresponsive but David was still able to connect to the web and upload the L10’s worm. It was only when Lisa, sitting at a nearby computer, gave a shout of triumph that he finally allowed himself to relax.
“Well” he declared, “that’s it. Do you suppose enough people will do it?”
Lisa laughed. “What do they have to lose? It’s not like the compounds are hard to get hold of, even outside the camps.” A sudden thought hit her. “You did write in that you have to stay indoors didn’t you?”
“Of course I did. Come on, I need a drink.” said David, yawning.
“There was a bar just a couple of streets back” she remembered and together they went over to the dilapidated building.
“Can we get cover for the night” David asked the landlord.
“’Course you can, but it’s very basic. My wife is ill and everyone is too busy with their own troubles to help an old man run a failing motel.” He grinned toothlessly at them. “They manage to help me keep the bar open though. The drink tastes awful, but it’s a good place to meet.”
From the stench and the depth of muck rimming the sink in their room, it was apparent that the Landlord’s wife had been ill for some time. Finally though, they had time to relax and take in the reality of their discovery. It had been months since either of them had thought of anything but cloud seeds. Deciding that they should celebrate at least a little before giving in to exhaustion, they left their room and headed for the slightly more welcoming rooms of the public bar.
As they settled into their seats a mass of people suddenly surged through the door. A strange mixture of terror and joy was on each face. Lisa and David looked each other and smiled wearily satisfied smiles.
“It’s raining!” screamed one of the women at the landlord as she mopped blood from her arm. “There’s stones in it: they nearly broke my arm. But the clouds have burst!” The ecstatic crowd stood around the windows and doors, fascinated but afraid to venture out.
“It said on my computer that the stones are the cloud seeds.” A tall man took on a knowledgeable and superior air as his neighbour looked confused.
“The computer?” He asked.
“Yes. Instructions just came through on the internet. I guess it could have been a hoax, but what was there to lose?” Suddenly he threw back his shaggy head and howled like an animal.
“Ah-Ha! It’s raining!” All around them people began to recover their wits and the mood in the room quickly began to change. As the party finally began in earnest worn down people threw caution to the wind to drink the sludge sold by the landlord as beer. Lisa leant over to whisper to David.
“Perhaps we should move on once the rain stops. Anthony might still decide to come after us just for spoiling his new game. There aren’t many other places we could have gone.”
“True.” David smiled and drew her into his arms, looking at the crowds around them “but let’s just enjoy tonight first.”