(A story written for my friend Karen, who makes nice things you should buy, and written in reply to her rather random question…)
Obviously you’d order your weather from ‘The Weather Channel.’ That’s a given.
Now. Let’s say you’ve just put some tomato plants into the ground, and the poor dears are looking a bit thirsty. In this modern era, we have many options available to us. You could either pick up the Telling Phone, or you don your Writing Cap and sit down at your Magical-Movable-Type Pixello-Dynamotronic Computational Desktop Engine and Communication Center, and file your request thusly, using the Intertubes, which, according to Senator Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is:
“A series of tubes that deliver information around the world via computer. The internet is not something you just dump something on. It’s not a truck. It’s a series of tubes. And if you don’t understand those tubes can be filled and if they are filled, when you put your message in, it gets in line and its going to be delayed by anyone that puts into that tube enormous amounts of material, enormous amounts of material.” (And if you think I’m making that up, you’re mistaken. The state of Alaska gave a collective shudder when those words were spoken.)
Once you hit ‘send’, your request is immediately transported through these ‘tubes’, until it reaches one in immediate proximity to a wizened little man sitting at an old wooden desk, wearing a green accountant’s visor and manolo sleeve bands. It arrives with a sort of sucking sound, like a bullfrog over-pronouncing the word ‘fool’. The tube strikes a lever, which in turn jingles a merry little bell, alerting the man of your request. He opens the tube, unfurls a small scroll of paper, nodding to himself and scratching the considerable amount of stubble on his chin. “So it’s rain she wants, eh? Well, then! Got to get those tomato plants what they need!”
After scribbling his authorization to begin processing your request with his feather quill, he turns around in his chair to face a large console full of buttons and levers and gauges, some of which are pulled, some of which are pushed, and the steamy face of a stubborn gauge struck with an disapproving fingertip.
In another part of the warehouse, your order is being mixed with great care and concentration by a magnificent machine, a fantastic invention, a miracle of modern science; a two-story entity, an improbable contraption burdened by more whistles and bells than a New Orleans strip show, but with far less rum and lace.
The necessary ingredients of your made-to-order weather are selected from rows and rows of beakers and vials, vats, drums and tubes. The measurements are checked and double checked for quality before being carefully poured into the opposing ends of a series of bifurcated canisters, the ends of which are separated by a clever device – a strip of rubber-coated metal that prevents the contents from mingling too early, thereby introducing the Merry Month of May to the laboratory nine months too early.
The canisters are mounted on padded brackets and lashed in place to prevent unnecessary jarring, and the whole shebang gets sealed in a synthetic crate made from a special material designed to revert to carbon the moment it reaches terminal velocity, a process governed by nanites swimming through the grain pattern.
The crate nailed shut, hoisted to the overhead loading dock by a complicated maze of pulleys and ropes, and winched aboard a massive flying ship tethered to the top of the factory. The loadmaster checks each and every crate as they are delivered, making a series of notions in old-world hand with a draftsman pencil he stores behind one leathery ear.
These airships, or Zeppelins as some call them, are lighter-than-air craft that can be steered and propelled using rudders and propellers, or other forms of thrust. Unlike fixed-wing aircraft or helicopters, which produce lift by moving a wing or airfoil through the air, aerostatic aircraft stay aloft by filling a large cavity, such as a balloon, with a gas less dense than the surrounding air. They are covered in a dense array of solar panels which unfold like flowers when the weather is favorable, storing vast amounts of power for later use. Like the Gossamer Albatross, these airships never land, maintaining an average height of 2,000 feet above sea level. With less variation in altitude, there is less stress on the airframe and less effort required of the engines. Since the ships are powered by solar energy, there is no need to warm up the engines as with conventional aircraft, allowing them to remain at an ideal temperature and burn less energy, which means they can be ready to fly 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, guaranteeing vital tomato-saving water to any address in the 50 states, Guam, Lithuania, Puerto Rico, and Cleveland, Ohio.
When the ship reaches the appropriate longitude and latitude, the crate is shoved out the back by a team of able-bodied ‘Birdmen’, a good-natured term for those adventurous souls who slip the surly bonds of Earth, and seek their livelihood among the clouds.
The crate attached to the airship by a single lanyard, which weaves its way through the crate like any good story. First, the lanyard pulls the release on the parachute, which is made from the same substance as the crate; but, whereas the crate is designed to disintegrate upon reaching maximum velocity, the parachute disintegrates when it reaches minimum velocity, or stops moving altogether. The lanyard yanks the eyelet of the aforementioned metal strip that until just recently prevented the contents of the containers from intermingling; once the strip is gone, lots of things begin to boil and smoke, as mysterious chemical reactions take place.
That lanyard continues on through to the bottom of the crate and terminates at a single lynch pin, which, when removed, causes the bottom of the crate to spring open, allowing your weather to spill out into the atmosphere.
The rubber coating, having been sheared from the metal strip, is now flopping around dangerously at the end of the tether, and were it not for the clever intervention of some rather clever people, this lanyard might pose a hazard to the propulsion system of this airship, resulting in mechanical malfunction, and withered tomatoes! Fortunately for your begonias, the strip is composed of a low-grade magnesium, which ignites with sufficient vibration and wind velocity with just enough heat to burn away the majority of the lanyard, until it reaches a special barrier located well beyond the reach of the propellers and self extinguishes, rendering it harmless, and your gazpacho more flavorful.
Lots of things are happening now: the lanyard is alight, and the parachute is billowing. The interior of the crate is bursting with new born rain clouds, while the exterior of the crate has begun to dematerialize, less and less resembling a solid yellow thing of planks, ten-penny nails and stern stencils, and more like something assembled from morning mist and pencil lead shavings. By the time the first fat droplets kiss the mounded soil at the base of your precious tomato plants, the crate is just a memory, the airship is out of range, and the parachute has begun its slow degeneration into high-nutrient topsoil.
How big is a day? Well, that’s a story for another time.