Dry Ice

Bill Evans and Marianna Jameson

Tor Books


In the most remote location on the most remote continent on earth, the eerie landscape lay shadowless under a moonless sky as dark and vast as eternity. The high, empty, frozen plains of snow and ice cast up a feeble, hungry glow. The only light came from stars that glittered intermittently through the heavy cloud cover.
It was mid-March in central East Antarctica, and late in the evening of just another workday at the Terrestrial Energy Southern Land Array—TESLA—installation. The only sound to be heard, inside or out, was that of the wind, screaming at more than one hundred miles per hour across the empty, miles-thick ice sheet. The torrent of air slammed into the state-of-the-art research station and blasted across the large fields of radomes covering the many antennae that comprised the station’s sole purpose and reason it existed.
The people of TESLA, twenty scientists and software developers and fourteen support staff, were the only island of humanity in this part of the earth’s coldest, highest desert. Their nearest neighbor on that high-altitude plateau was the aging Soviet-era Vostok Base. Located as it was near the Pole of Inaccessibility—the most isolated outpost on earth—Vostok sat tantalizingly close to the South Geomagnetic Pole, the best place on the planet to study, monitor, and alter nature’s electromagnetism.
The industrial giant Flint AgroChemical had chosen to quietly build the sleek, high-tech, $250 million TESLA even closer to that pole.
Flint’s decision had left the Russians livid, the Americans astonished, and the Australians amused. The Chinese, aggressive newcomers to the Ice, still seethed with silent, stoic rage. One by one, those nations, and several others, had turned their polar-orbiting reconnaissance satellites toward TESLA to watch the goings-on.
Although the installation’s antennae covered nearly one hundred acres, there wasn’t much for the cameras to track—by design. Every antenna at TESLA was either buried under many feet of snow and ice, as was the Extremely Low Frequency field, or hidden under massive radomes. Some of the shelters were spherical, some geodesic; some low, others nearly two stories tall. Whatever their shape, the carefully crafted structures offered little resistance to the wind while protecting the delicate equipment within their walls. But that wasn’t the only defense they provided.
The radomes frustrated the prying “eyes” of the multi-spectrum, high-resolution cameras trained on them from non-Flint-owned satellites. The complex composite materials used to build the radomes prevented snow and ice from building up on the surfaces while also preventing the units from emitting a heat signature. Their non-reflective surfaces bore a subtle camouflage pattern that rendered the large edifices nearly invisible during both the twenty-four-hour sunlight of the Antarctic summer and the deep-space darkness of the polar winter. No matter the intensity of the light directed at them, the radomes appeared no more sinister than the oddly carved snowdrifts surrounding them.
That invisibility was little more than a gesture really, a high-tech Bronx salute to those who made watching the installation a priority. Interested parties—competitors as well as nations—had antennae of their own that continually swept the earth’s atmosphere, alert to the faintest of electromagnetic signals, which made it impossible for Flint to hide the signals TESLA sent out. The company’s sole consolation was that no outsiders knew what the strange and heavily encrypted signals meant. Or did.
The vast arrays of receivers, composed of numerous shapes and configurations, captured communications from transmitters in precisely chosen locations the world over. This delicate but powerful network existed to gather and monitor vast quantities of minute data about the world’s weather. The rest of the antenna arrays were powerful transmitters that sent forth data and commands to receivers and repeaters across the globe.
TESLA’s control center and habitat sat not two hundred yards from the edge of the nearest antenna array. The elliptical, three-story structure stood tall above the ice plateau on massive hydraulic pillars. The exterior skin was the same dull, patterned covering the radomes wore, and a bracelet of windows encircled each of the floors. The garage unit sat at ground level between the pylons.
The station’s long-legged, shallow-domed design was more functional than aesthetic. Too many early polar stations had been lost within mere decades to encroaching snowdrifts that slowly, inevitably, built up and then froze solid, encasing the stations in impenetrable prisons of ice. TESLA’s sleek, aerodynamic design was cutting-edge, yet the entire installation resembled nothing so much as a 1950s cinematic concept of a futuristic moon station.
The scientists and developers living and working at the installation represented the pinnacle of their fields of study—artificial intelligence, informatics, agrometeorology, plasma physics, ionospheric mechanics, and other even more arcane subjects. They had willingly eschewed the pleasures of civilization to work at changing the way the world worked.
A small cluster of the resident geniuses tapped away at their keyboards, working silently and nearly elbow to elbow in the “sandbox,” the sequestered communal work area that occupied one end of the installation’s high-security upper level. Some of the researchers were crafting new algorithms or speculating on outcomes, while others conducted white- and black-box testing of their software. Uniformly, their tasks were labors of love in a research endeavor never before undertaken by any private company. Governments had tried, but none had succeeded because none had had the leadership of a man as single-minded and intent on success as the one in charge of TESLA: Greg Simpson.
The existence of the Terrestrial Energy Southern Land Array was an open secret within a small group of scientists, corporate executives, and American military commanders, but its true purpose was known to few. TESLA existed to influence the weather. Perhaps control would be the better word. Or manipulate.
Or create.
In the deliberate darkness of his office near the sandbox, TESLA’s chief scientist, Greg Simpson, sat hunched over his keyboard, watching data stream onto his screen in real time.
It was always this way: the lights off, the room lit only by the soft glow of the bank of flat-screen monitors on his desk. The first time he’d brought a transmitter array on line—telling no one that he was going live, only that he was conducting a power test—he’d sought the darkness instinctively, perhaps to lessen the magnitude of what he was doing. But that unconscious, reflexive timidity had been quickly usurped by an almost otherworldly elation. Greg had come to believe that his actions deserved a reverence reserved for the miraculous, and he savored the experience alone, in this hushed gloaming that recalled cathedrals. And tombs.
Greg had always longed to apply the theories of the twentieth-century scientist and visionary Nikola Tesla to the greater world. To Greg, Tesla had always been both a genius and a virtual mentor. He revered Tesla as much as others had reviled the man. No, “reviled” wasn’t the right word. The scientific community had dismissed Tesla as an interesting crackpot, part forward-thinker and part snake-oil salesman. But that hadn’t stopped any of them from blithely cherry-picking his ideas. When Tesla died, the U.S. government had moved in like a strike force to confiscate his papers. They tested and even implemented his most immediately useful inventions. The rest had been left to molder.
When Greg had earned his own lab space, his own assistants, and just enough autonomy, he had begun refining and even testing some of the great man’s less well-known theories. He used them to build his own reputation and then, as Nikola Tesla was never able to, Greg cashed in.
Greg typed commands on his keyboard and the sensitive mechanisms within certain of the radomes responded. Without so much as a click or a hum to compete with the roar of the wind on the other side of its shelter, a fixed, towering dipole array came to life. In other radomes, oddly curved dishes spun and tilted, some dramatically, some imperceptibly, moving into new positions that targeted specific coordinates in the sky.
The movements were timed and calibrated to the nanosecond. By the time each rig was settled in its place, alert and awaiting the next command, the generators in the low-slung power station on the near side of the antenna fields had achieved peak operational efficiency. Dedicated power boxes placed among the radomes ramped up to “go” mode, ready to supply the enormous wattage needed by the arrays. With a gentle tap of his finger, Greg executed the command. Mere nanoseconds later the fully juiced antennae emitted synchronous bursts of unimaginably powerful electromagnetic energy into the southern sky.
Instantly, though invisibly to the naked eye, the suddenly supercharged bands of the ionosphere, miles wide, began to shiver and shimmy, to warp and buckle as electrons and protons reacted, alternately colliding and repelling each other in ways that nature never intended. The effect was that of a massive earthquake in the atmosphere.
Seconds later, the secondary effect triggered, sending streaks of luminous greens and blues rippling through the clouds and across the endless black of the sky, flashing and shimmering like a kaleidoscope spun too fast. To any untrained eye, it would appear to be just another glorious display of the aurora australis.
The huge waves of energy snaked their way around the globe as TESLA’s transmitters powered down and returned to “sleep” mode to await the next assignment. The installation’s scientists dispassionately noted the direction, duration, and magnitude of the bursts, then moved on to other tasks.
Within hours or days, depending on where they called home, citizens of the planet would marvel at the beautiful spring weather, curse the autumn storms that pummeled them, or weep at the unfathomable devastation caused by nature’s unpredictability.
The financial markets would churn, creating vast wealth for the executives at Flint. And, in the Pentagon, military leaders would smile grimly as field reports came in, for they had learned how to play God.

Copyright © 2011 by William H. Evans and Marianna Jameson