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24. The Finger of God

Dendrobium macarthiae usually flowered with the coming of the south-west monsoon, but this year it was early. As Johan Rajasinghe stood in his orchid house, admiring the intricate violet-pink blossoms, he remembered that last season he had been trapped by a torrential downpour for half-an-hour while examining the first blooms.

He looked anxiously at the sky; no, there was little danger of rain. It was a beautiful day, with thin, high bands of cloud moderating the fierce sunlight. But that was odd.

Rajasinghe had never seen anything quite like it before. Almost vertically overhead, the parallel lanes of cloud were broken by a circular disturbance. It appeared to be a tiny cyclonic storm, only a few kilometres across, but it reminded Rajasinghe of something completely different – a knot-hole breaking through the grain in a smoothly planed board. He abandoned his beloved orchids and stepped outside to get a better view of the phenomenon. Now he could see that the small whirlwind was moving slowly across the sky, the track of its passage clearly marked by the distortion of the cloud lanes.

One could easily imagine that the finger of God was reaching down from heaven, tracing a furrow through the clouds. Even Rajasinghe, who understood the basics of weather control, had no idea that such precision was now possible; but he could take a modest pride in the fact that, almost forty years ago, he had played his part in its achievement.

It had not been easy to persuade the surviving superpowers to relinquish their orbital fortresses and hand them over to the Global Weather Authority, in what was – if the metaphor could be stretched that far – the last and most dramatic example of beating swords into ploughshares. Now the lasers that had once threatened mankind directed their beams into carefully selected portions of the atmosphere, or onto heat-absorbing target areas in remote regions of the earth. The energy they contained was trifling, compared to that of the smallest storm; but so is the energy of the falling stone that triggers an avalanche, or the single neutron that starts a chain reaction.

Beyond that, Rajasinghe knew nothing of the technical details, except that they involved networks of monitoring satellites, and computers that held within their electronic brains a complete model of the earth's atmosphere, land surfaces and seas. He felt rather like an awestruck savage, gaping at the wonders of some advanced technology, as he watched the little cyclone move purposefully into the west, until it disappeared below the graceful line of palms just inside the ramparts of the Pleasure Gardens.

Then he glanced up at the invisible engineers and scientists, racing round the world in their man-made heavens.

“Very impressive,” he said. “But I hope you know exactly what you're doing.”

23. Moondozer | The Fountains of Paradise | 25. Orbital Roulette