Piker Press Banner
June 17, 2024

Tabula Rasa 2

By John Paulits


"Incredible," said one of the two men waiting. "Where did it ... you go?"

"Back to the year 2015," Carl said as he climbed out of the IF capsule. When his feet touched the ground, Neil Armstrong flitted through his mind. He stifled a grin. "What year are we in now?"

"2218. My name is Peter Hewitt."

"I'm Richard Mandred. This is the Restoration of Planetary Life Institute."

Carl's stomach danced. "What's wrong with life on the planet?"

"I'll let Professor Ainsley tell you. We called her immediately. She should be here ..."

"She's coming," said Hewitt.

A woman dressed in a loose top and pants hurried her way through the wisps of fog.

"Professor Ainsley," said Mandred. "This is ..."

"Carl Tyson. Professor Carl Tyson. Endicott University was once on this spot."

Professor Ainsley walked past Carl and ran her hand over the IF sphere. "What is this?" she asked.

"It brought me here," said Carl.

"From where?"

"From what I take to be the exact same spot where I left. The building housing my laboratory must have stood here. As I told your colleagues, I've come here from the year 2015."

"My god." She stepped back closer to Mandred and Hewitt. "Explain."

Carl went through the entire story of his research. He concluded, "Now you. Restoration of Planetary Life? I must say I don't like the sound of that. And this weather. I didn't know humidity could exceed one hundred percent, but this feels like it. The heat, and the fog and these clouds."

"We may go inside if you'd like," said Ainsley.

"I have only ..." Carl put his head inside the open hatch. "... an hour and thirty-five minutes before this ..." He tapped the IF. "... is called home."

"Trust me," said Professor Ainsley. "We'll all be more comfortable inside."

Carl followed the trio up a stone walkway toward the nearest building. Wavering fingers of fog floated around them, and clouds filled the sky relentlessly. A mist formed on his skin.

They entered the building and went into the first office on the right. A small fan whirred in a corner.

"Sit, please," Professor Ainsley invited. She moved a chair from behind a desk, and the four people sat in a circle. "Now, I'm sure you'd like to know what's happened. But first -- 200 years ago? It's very difficult to believe."

"Your colleagues saw the IF capsule appear and disappear. It went somewhere," said Carl.

"I suppose it did," said Ainsley. She brushed the hair away from her ears and said, "We're willing to try anything. You're familiar, I presume, with the theory that human activity caused the warming of the atmosphere?" She gave a sardonic chuckle.

Carl's stomach danced. He'd hoped what he'd seen so far in this future was merely a bad weather day. "It was generally accepted in my time although certain political and business interests denied it."

"Did they? They did the world a great disservice," said Ainsley. She went on to describe how decades without a sufficient change in behavior had lifted the atmospheric temperature enough to set off a rapid evaporation of the planet's surface water. "The clouds began to form almost a hundred years ago, and you see the result. Polar caps are gone but this evaporation has limited the rise of the oceans to between one and three miles of coastline in affected places. Lakes and rivers are dangerously depleted. Food production has plummeted. Population has dropped to something around three hundred million."

"There were only some three hundred and forty million in the country in my time."

"No, Professor, not the country. On the planet. But worst of all ... it will not rain."

Carl's skin crawled on hearing her statement.

"People are clustered where rivers and lakes still provide some water, but the spiral is downward. Without rain ..."

"All of those clouds and no rain? How is that possible?"

Mandred spoke up. "Some combination of physics and chemistry, the unlocking of which is beyond us. The layer of clouds is two, three miles thick, maybe more in places. There's blue sky above, but some teenagers alive today have never seen it. We cannot get at that water."

"You know about cloud seeding?"

"Of course," Hewitt answered. "But nothing we send up causes the release we need. On occasion we get a heavy mist, a sprinkle of rain, maybe two minutes worth. It's the same planet-wide."

"But cloud seeding was a common thing in my time. It worked." Carl glanced at what appeared to be a computer sitting on a desk against the far wall. He gestured toward it. "You must've researched this, I'm sure. Wait, what was it? Yes, silver ... silver iodide. It worked. You must have learned that."

Professor Ainsley nodded. "We've researched and researched and tried and tried. We know about your silver iodide. It was banned in the late twenty-first century because it added too much toxicity to the rainwater and began affecting the population. Have you heard of argyria?"


"A disease caused by silver iodide. Nations eventually banned the chemical, and now there's none we know of."

"I can get you some," said Carl. Visions of being the savior of his planet danced in his imagination.

The faces of his three listeners tensed.

"Assuming what you say is true, I come from a time well before anyone outlawed silver iodide. Do you have a delivery system ... for the cloud seeding, I mean?"

"We do, but all our attempts have failed. It's horribly frustrating."

Carl checked his watch. "I'll go back to my capsule. I'll bring you some silver iodide. You prepare for your delivery to the clouds."

Mandred turned to Ainsley. "If we can target rainfall over rivers and lakes and arable land, if we can simply get it to rain and clear out those clouds, we might be able to get the weather system back onto a normal footing."

Ainsley redirected her glance toward Carl. "Are you certain you can get what we need?"

"I'm returning to a university. I'm a scientist there. We have laboratories brimming with chemicals. I'll bring enough to make the attempt. When we prove it works, I'm certain I can supply you with all the silver iodide you need on further trips back and forth."

Hewitt touched his chest. "My heart is racing."

"A simple technology of the past will save the day," said Mandred with a mild grimace. "How appropriate."

"My capsule will be called home in thirty-five minutes," said Carl. "I'll go and wait. You do what you have to do."

~ * ~

"Silver iodide?" said Lacey. "There must some in the chem lab."

"Get it," said Carl, closing the door of the capsule behind him. "Get my keys out of the desk drawer. The chem lab's'll be there."

"Would you like to tell us why you need silver iodide?" Ron asked.

Carl did.

"My god!" said Lacey when Carl finished. "They said it's planet-wide?"

"Yes. Imagine. We have the opportunity to ... I don't even want so say it. It sounds so grandiose."

"But maybe true," Ron muttered.

"Lacey, take my keys. Get the silver iodide. Go. Ron, reprogram the IF for manual return."

"But we've never tested that."

Carl laughed. "Okay, Mr. Anomaly. Tell me how we test manual return of the capsule without a man to return it? Eh?"

Ron didn't reply.

"I'm going to call Professor Packard. He'll want to know what his Research and Development Committee has researched and developed. Go, go. Get moving."

Half-an-hour later Carl watched for Professor Packard's reaction. He'd shown Packard all of the data footage available from the capsule. Lacey stood nearby, having retrieved two pounds of the powdery yellow silver iodide from the chemistry lab. Ron rose from his computer, his reprogramming complete, to join her.

Professor Packard looked blankly at the three scientists. "I don't know what to say."

"We'll need more silver iodide," said Carl. "Much more. That's first. You may inform whoever you think necessary about our achievement. Of course, you'll convince President Ellis that dismantling our lab here is an impossibility. I'm returning ..." To save the world, nearly slipped from his lips. "... to help out. I suggest you stay a moment and watch, Professor Packard."

"I can't believe it," said Professor Packard after the IF capsule shimmered and disappeared. He walked quickly from the lab.

~ * ~

"Here it is," said Carl. He placed the container of silver iodide on the counter in the office where Hewitt, Mandred, and Professor Ainsley waited.

"We've arranged the delivery system," said Ainsley. She gestured. "It's a short walk from here. We'll launch and release the seeding. Then we hope."

"You're certain you can get the silver iodide up high enough?" Carl asked.

"We've developed small vehicles specifically for the purpose," said Ainsley. "We've tried and tried, but as I've told you, nothing's worked."

"Well," said Carl, "shall we?"

They walked outside into the gray, damp day. A five-minute stroll brought them to something Carl would not have identified as the rocket he expected to deliver the seeding. A square box topped by a beach-ball sized sphere sat atop six spidery legs. Mandred carried the box of silver iodide and now handed it over to Professor Ainsley. She opened the top of the sphere and poured the two pounds of seeding inside. She closed the lid and stepped back.

"Professor Tyson," she said, "don't allow me to try this unless you're certain you can provide all of the seeding we'll need. I'd hate for it to work and be unable to follow up."

"No, I can get you whatever you want."

Ainsley looked at her two colleagues. "If this succeeds, we can target rainfall wherever it's needed."

"No use talking," said Mandred. "Shoot it off."

They walked over to a plastic box attached to a short post. Ainsley tapped in a code and lifted the top of the box.

"Say a prayer if you're so inclined," she said softly, and she depressed a blue button. The oddly shaped rocket gave a whoosh! and disappeared quickly into the clouds.

Carl wiped his brow. He couldn't tell whether it was nervous sweat or merely the condensation on this world wrapping itself around him.

"We might as well go back inside," said Ainsley. "What's your deadline, Professor Tyson?"

"No deadline," he explained as they walked. "I can go back manually whenever I choose."

They reentered the office and sat, no one speaking. Carl looked for a coffee machine, but not seeing one, wondered whether these people wasted their limited water on such a frivolous thing as coffee -- or even if they had coffee machines. He thought of Debbie and what she would make of his accomplishment. He hoped she didn't feel too foolish for being so dismissive of him. He vowed to not lord it over her. He'd accept her amazement and congratulations humbly. He wondered for a moment whether he'd get to meet the President. He'd never been to Washington. A tiny smile formed, and then he heard it -- a pattering against the window.

Everyone turned. Raindrops. Then more raindrops. Suddenly, it seemed as if the teeming cauldron of the heavens had tipped over. Rain poured down, appearing as shimmering panes of glass. The roar of the deluge grew rapidly, and before anyone could speak, it became difficult to hear anything other than the explosive crash of the rain. Mandred rose and left the room.

The silver iodide worked. The moisture in the pregnant, swollen clouds, ripe for release, underwent the necessary freezing nucleation. Manifold infinitesimal changes in the atmosphere over two centuries, though, combined with the nucleation to initiate a process. The condensation grew in power and spread from cloud to cloud in every direction. Where clouds did not abut, the slightest breeze arranged for their mingling and on and on went the process. On and on rolled the thunderous rain, mile by ravenous mile across the planet. Both land and water, continent and ocean felt the weight of decades of cloud growth as at long last the clouds gave up what the world thought was their treasure.

The initial deluge pummeled many caught outside aware with its incipient fury. Anyone foolish enough to venture outside while the storm swept the land did not stay outside long.

"My god," said Professor Ainsley as she stood at the window. "It's as if we're at the bottom of the sea. I can see nothing but water." She turned to Carl. "Can your machine withstand this weather?"

Carl had not been thinking of the IF capsule. He'd been shaking hands with the President, his wife standing proudly alongside, as he gleefully watched the rain pour down. Ainsley's remark caused him a shock of tension.

"Uh, right. I'd better go now. I'll gather more silver iodide, and I'll be back. Trust me. No, no. You stay here. Don't go out in this." He gestured at the window and the conditions. "I'll find my way." Carl bolted out into the rain. After three steps he lost his footing in the mud that had already formed. He picked himself up, shielded his eyes, and slopped his way to his capsule. He tried looking up at the sky, but the battering of the rain on his face called quits to the attempt.

A wind, instantly severe, rose, lashing Carl with the rain as if in punishment for a misdeed. Where the hell was the capsule? He plodded on and nearly bumped into the capsule before he saw it. The rain was an absolute, blanketing misery. Carl could barely keep his eyes open against the force of it. He groped for the hatch and when he touched it, shielded it with his body so he could tap in the entry code. He pulled the hatch open, but with the force of the rain, the slipperiness of the handle, and his attention diverted by trying to protect himself from the cascade of rain, the door slipped from his grasp and banged shut. He pulled on it again, giving it his full attention. He bent it back against the hull of the capsule as the rain poured in through the open hatchway. A lancing wind drove him a step back from the door, so he lowered his shoulders and strove for entry, the rain entering the capsule before him.

He managed to get a leg inside and finally ducked out of the storm. Still, the rain invaded the capsule behind him. He noticed the capsule floor awash with rainwater. Trying to keep his head inside the capsule, he reached for the inner handle of the hatch and fought with the rain and wind to close the door. He felt a pronounced relief when the hatch closed, and he locked himself in. Rivulets of water ran everywhere down the insides of the capsule. He took his seat in a puddle of water and tapped in his return code.

The tight seal of the capsule eliminated much of the noise from outside, so Carl easily heard the sibilant buzz from his instrument panel. The green engage light flashed as a shower of sparks leaped from below the panel. A small snake of smoke curled from behind the sparks as a second shower of sparks erupted from the right side of the panel. The green light, meant to burn steadily while in transit, continued to sputter on and off.

~ * ~

Lacey handed Ron a cup of coffee. "How long do you think he'll stay?"

"I know nothing. We wait. Oh, Professor Packard. You're back."

"Yes. I've phoned President Ellis. He's skeptical, but he'll be here in a minute. He didn't go away for the weekend." He lowered his voice. "I wouldn't either if the university allowed me to live in the house he lives in. Oh, President Ellis, yes. Glad you could get here so quickly. This is Lacey Gail and Ron Zimmerman. They've been with Professor Tyson the whole way and can bring you up-to-date."

Ron interrupted the tale halfway through. "I see it," he cried.

The shimmery form of the capsule appeared above its floor collar, seemingly in a cocoon of smoke. A crack of what looked like miniature lightning, then another, then a third shot from the capsule.

The trio of electrical charges hit a book shelf and a cloth chair near the bank of computers. Flames shot up as the books and chair ignited, and the flames spread as the capsule shimmered out of existence.

The four onlookers stood riveted in shock. A powerful bang came from the power source in the room, and more flames leaped high as the hiss of rapid burning grew louder.

"Out of here," said Lacy. "All this crap is toxic. We go now or maybe we don't go at all."

~ * ~

When Mandred reentered the office, Professor Ainsley asked, "Where'd you disappear to?"

"I went to research Professor Carl Tyson."

Ainsley and Hewitt knew from Mandred's tone something was off.

"Yes, and?" Ainsley asked.

"I found information on him but nothing about his ... coming here. No headlines about his saving the future."

"What did it say?" Ainsley asked.

"It was an obituary. It said he disappeared while on what they called a scientific excursion. In 2015."

"The year he says he left his own time," said Hewitt.

"Does that mean he never made it back?" said Ainsley.

"If he never made it back, he never supplied us with ..."

The door to the office burst open, and Professor Tyson, dripping rainwater, a look of anguish on his face, stood in the doorway.

~ * ~

The rain swept across the planet in increasing volume as layer upon layer of clouds gave up their moisture. Populations had clustered near fresh water, and now they paid the price as rivers and lakes poured over their boundaries and devoured the land yard by yard, often sending voracious waves of rushing water to overwhelm everything in their way. The oceans surged, stretching the newly fallen tons of water further inland.

Two days in, one small newspaper managed to set up a banner headline: AND THE RAINS CAME. They were about to begin the press run when water surged into their building and the local electrical grid exploded into inoperable disarray. Days passed; weeks went by, and still the rain fell.

Finally one morning, the sun rose into a clear sky, but there were few alive to notice. Life could not be sustained. Searches for food resulted only in increased hunger. Lakes, streams, and rivers were all contaminated by dirt and filth from the runoff of the surrounding lands. Dead animals, swept into bodies of water, decomposed and horrible miasmas permeated the air. Within a month, all land life on the planet had disappeared due to drowning, disease, dehydration, or starvation. Some in the human populace chose suicide.

~ * ~

Authorities delayed the beginning of the fall semester at Endicott University for a week as a cautionary move to protect students from the toxic fumes caused by the tremendous fire in the IF building and the two labs nearby. Access to the quad resumed on Friday, and on the Monday following Labor Day, the university resumed its natural routine.

Five people knew the truth. Lacey, Ron, Carl's wife Debbie, Professor Packard and President Ellis. Once Professor Packard suggested it to her, Debbie insisted that nothing of the truth come out. She did not want her husband made the butt of jokes by people who knew nothing of what he'd accomplished. They waited a month's time, hoping for a miracle, before holding a memorial service at which the appropriate people praised Professor Carl Tyson for sacrificing his life to science. No specifics were provided. Some thought he died in the fire, since three buildings had burnt to the ground. Nothing remained of his research, so the rumor was allowed to circulate. And life went on.

~ * ~

Millennia passed after the falling of the rain, and the Earth set itself to rights. The sun shone daily; rain fell when the weather turned; an all-pervading quiet ruled the land. Eventually, a sea creature ventured upon the shore in search of food and returned to the sea satisfied. The creature would grow to depend upon the land, and one day would remain there. The inevitable march of evolution would begin again -- leading, in time, to intelligence; to technology; and ultimately, to destruction.

The End

Article © John Paulits. All rights reserved.
Published on 2016-02-29
Image(s) are public domain.
0 Reader Comments
Your Comments

The Piker Press moderates all comments.
Click here for the commenting policy.