In a world grappling with the mysterious TPAA (Tropical Persistent Atmospheric Anomaly), a ceaseless storm looming over Bermuda, Kewana and Devin are at the forefront of its observation and study. When Chaser 2, a crucial piece of monitoring equipment, goes silent amidst ominous signs of change in the storm’s behavior, the two are thrust into a whirlwind of governmental pressures, corporate stakes, and the lurking fear of unpredictable climate change consequences. However, the truth of Chaser 2’s demise is far more unexpected, revealing both nature’s capriciousness and resilience. Amidst the high-tech VR investigations and global implications, this story weaves personal bonds, celebrating life’s mundane moments alongside its grand mysteries. Dive into a tale where the borders of technology, nature, and human connection blur.
“Kewana! How’s Teapa doing today?”
She peered over the screens at him. All he could see were her olive-shaped eyes, sharpened at the edges by eyeliner and experience. The staccato tapping of a keyboard momentarily paused when she looked up at him. The pale underlit glow of the monitors emphasized the message conveyed by her left eyebrow.
“It’s the same it is every day…why?”
Devin sheepishly stepped into the trailer and softly shut the door behind him. The flimsy latch closed with a hollow tick and the bright white light disappeared from the room, leaving only server lights and screen readouts.
“Iiiii….need a reset again.”
Now both eyebrows raised and for a brief moment both her eyes followed too. She winced internally at the message it conveyed and made a mental note to be more professional. Luckily, Devin could hardly see her through the dim lighting and his own sheepishness at having to ask for a third reset that week.
“I’ve lost signal on Chaser 2 again.”
She had already opened a terminal window but stopped and thought.
“Wasn’t that fine yesterday?” she thought aloud.
“Yea, I…I mean, it was” Devin explained; “and that’s why I want to try a reset before, you know – looking any further into it.”
“Yea that’s… give me one second.”
Tak tak tak tak.
“Done – let’s give it like five minutes ok?”
Devin nodded solemnly and sat down at a free work table, opening his laptop and logging in. He opened his SITMAP to wait for the reboot process to complete on the server.
“Oh she’s good. Really good actually, she just started to walk yesterday!”
“Really? That’s awesome – I’m so happy for you guys!”
“Yea, thanks I mean hey we were expecting another month or so to start baby-proofing two feet above the floor but here we go!”
“Diane must be ecstatic.”
“You could say that – ” she laughed politely and continued “ – but she’s going to have a lot of work to do. It’s a good thing her schedule is so flexible.”
“Yea, thank goodness for remote work. Contribute to society and live your life? No freaking way, right?”
They both chuckled. The small-talk continued for a little longer before Kewana interrupted him;
“Try it now.”
A quick burst of keyboard noise followed by a silence filled only with the electric hum of electronics and the gentle wisp of air conditioning.
“Yea, it’s still doing it. Chaser 2 is showing null across the board.”
Both their hearts skipped a little. Chaser 2 had been monitoring the eyewall for over six months now and the readings had been swinging wider as of late. There was a thought that it might signal a change in the storm’s behavior.
“Do we have proof of life at least?”
More staccato keyboard strokes bounced off the thin plastic walls, unhelpfully adding a bit of dramatas in the mostly-still environment.
“No, not even a signal ping.”
There was a pregnant pause.
“You wanna go in?”
“Yea, let’s take a closer look.”
Kewana’s wheel-less chair screeched rudely as she pushed back from her desk. She grabbed a pair of wireless VR headsets from their wall hangers. Devin came around her desk, grabbed one and retreated to an empty area at the front of the cabin demarcated by a red circle on the white floor. A bold “KEEP CLEAR” emphasized the emptiness of the area in an otherwise crowded room. Kewana, for her part, sat back down at her desk.
Inside the headsets a bright white liminal space appeared. A floor made up of small squares spread into infinity. Devin looked around and saw the black sphere and hands that made up Kewana’s virtual representation. He waved and she returned the gesture before they both turned their attention to the empty space between them.
“I’ll pull it up.” Devin stated flatly. Smacking his two hands together, he spread them apart and a menu appeared. He grabbed a 3D model of a hurricane and deftly threw it into the void that separated the two colleagues.
The model snapped to an invisible point in space and instantly expanded to a ten foot 3D representation of the Atlantic. The Americas, Greater Antilles and Africa looked as smooth as a cue ball next to the multilayered cloudscape that appeared above them.
To the East of the United States, Bermuda was swallowed by a vividly colored vortex towering above it. The storm was hundreds of kilometers in diameter and was painted in vivid hues ranging from deep blue to bright red. On the surface of the water below, dozens of small cubes moved slowly in the currents. Each of them was accompanied by text stating their designation; Chaser 1, Chaser 3, Chaser 7, etc.
Devin pointed and a red laser lept from his fingertip, indicating an area on the water. He pinched two fingers together quickly and the entire scene zoomed in. Areas of the map that grew out of range of the volume disappeared as they “flew” through the storm’s digital twin, synthesized from thousands of sensors ranging from beach-ball sized barometers floating on wind currents to satellites orbiting at thousands of miles a second. Kewana was always impressed by how quickly OpTechs like Devin could move through such a sensory-rich environment; she was mostly there for the ride and to offer her domain expertise. Devin pointed at a slowly pulsing cube, motionless on the ocean’s surface. Above it, the clouds were interlaced with different shades of color denoting wind velocity, intensity, humidity and more.
“Right here’s where Chaser 2 was yesterday.”
He used his red laser pointer to click on the pulsing box. Next to it a long table sprang to life, littered with charts and graphs and other meteorological data. He gestured at a particularly erratic piece of information overload.
“The last three weeks saw the greatest variety in wind intensity over the last five years and then the last three days showed a slight upwards trend. Then nothing”.
Kewana pointed and clicked on a tab at the top of the panel marked “Digital Twin”. She inspected the new window that appeared, pulling it towards her for a better look.
“Everything’s normal except for the times we had to reboot. Looks like we got a strong lateral movement just before each one that took it offline.”
“Are you sure it’s not just a loose wire or something?”
She tapped the back of her hand and a microphone appeared above it.
“Gypsy, compare the last three weeks of Chaser Two’s datastream with the last two years. Note any irregularities that might indicate an electromechanical explanation for the last three outages.”
There was a pause as her command went from voice to text, followed by another pause as the AI ingested it. After about three seconds came the reply;
“There has been no evidence of an electromechanical fault in Chaser Two. Some example indications of electromechanical failure that I looked for include but are not limited to: microfluctuations in power inputs, corrupted data files, erroneous logs, extraneous-”
Kewana double tapped the back of her hand to stop it from continuing any further. She looked at Devin and even without shoulders her shrug was apparent.
“I can’t think of anything either.” she said.
Devin held his chin in thought. He tried dancing around the inevitable conclusion but couldn’t avoid it for very long. Chaser 2 must have been destroyed by an excessive event, probably by wind, water or most likely some combination of the two. The craft was meant to survive a Category 5 but it’s not impossible to knock it out if there was a strong enough localized event. The fact that the droneship was only about a year old lent credence to the idea that whatever happened it wasn’t electromechanical in nature and that something inside TPAA was changing.
TPAA stood for “Tropical Persistant Atmospheric Anomoly” and the term first entered the public consciousness about ten years ago. The storm had formed like a normal tropical depression off the coast of Africa, but when it slowed down and eventually stopped over Bermuda it never stopped being a tropical depression. A year after it had started, headlines had introduced the idea of the TPAA to the world and people had begun to simply call it “Teapa”. Climate change had given Earth it’s own “Great White Spot”: a persistent storm that lasted for years instead of months.
TPAA went through different phases, some weaker than normal, some stronger, but an increase in wind speeds around the eye wall around this time of year was unseasonal. There was always a worry that climate change mitigation might not be enough and that the storm could increase in intensity until it became a major hurricane. There was no precedent to begin with but now…what if it began to move, or increase to the point where it threw off other more established weather systems?
It took another two months before the understood what happened to Chaser 2. It was a stressful period for the monitoring team; the spectre of a significant change in the storm’s behavior set off alarm bells in many high places. Energy companies building wave and wind power plants on the storm’s periphery had to shut down until they were given the all-clear again, costing the companies millions every day. That sort of loss meant that governments got involved too and project managers across the globe got more than a few sleepless nights juggling meetings with attendees from Delhi and San Diego or Rio and Shanghai.
Yet in the end, when the team finally discovered the cause of Chaser 2’s disappearance, it all felt worth it. The area around the storm was changing, but this change was not just above the water. Without the presence of humans above life had begun to blossom again and whales had set up a rather brisque trade in krill deep below the swirling vortex of clouds.
Chaser 2 had run raised the curiosity of a particularly inquisitive young calf whom had been “interviewing” it several times over the past week. When it’s line of questioning got a bit too close, an errant tailfin severely curtailed Chaser 2’s ability to handle itself in the rough seas and high winds. The small sailcraft had capsized and it’s equipment flooded, so when the answers to everyone’s questions washed ashore in Main, changes were immediately made to all subsequent Chaser craft; it was given visual sensors below the waterline and the electronics were sealed into watertight 3d printed enclosures, molded into the supportive bracing of the plastic outer hull.
Kewana and Devin had grown closer after spending many sleepless hours at the office. He and his wife were delighted when Kewana invited them for a celebratory family dinner night.
Thankfully, the only animal/environmental related change that Devin and Kewana had to solve that evening was keeping June and Baxter separated long enough to land dinner safely on everyone’s plates.