Weather is a Zero-sum Game

An essay by Sam Keegan, as provided by Judith Field
Art by Leigh Legler

I wheeled my new invention up the garden. It was a metal box about the size of a pillow, with an array of switches, instrument panels, and levers down one side. At the top was an axle attached to a horizontal row of plastic drainpipes of different widths and lengths, looking like a set of organ pipes on their sides. The box was mounted on the frame and wheels of an old-fashioned pram. This one would make my fortune. A thirty year old millionaire. I imagined the headlines in the press: “Local man makes good.” Just like Bill Gates. Only more.

I unwound a cable as thick as my wrist from a bracket at the end of the box and plugged it into the extension lead running out of the back door of the house. Luke looked over the fence from the garden next door.

“Hi, Sam,” he said. “Looks like rain. So much for my barbecue.”

“It won’t rain,” I said. “Just wait and see.” I looked up at the grey clouds that had been gathering all afternoon and tapped the side of my nose.

“How do you know?” Luke asked. “Was it on the weather forecast? Can’t believe that lot, they make it up as they go along. Wanna come over? There’ll be sausages, burgers, kebabs–”

“–will Cara be there?”

“Said she might, if she finishes her revision. It’s this ‘chemistry for a sustainable future’ thing she’s doing at night school. I think she’s off her head, doing exams when she doesn’t have to.”

“No, you weren’t one for the academic stuff at school, I remember.”

Weather is a Zero Sum Game

“I call this the Cloudzapper. Plenty of people have tried to seed clouds to make it rain, but this does the opposite. Chases the clouds away.”

“I think she fancies you, God knows why, she really must be off her head. She’s always asking about you.”

“Really?” I asked. “I could use a bit of help with this project from a big, beautiful woman, that’d be sweet.”

“Oy!” Luke leaned over the fence, his mouth set in a line. “Less of the letching, that’s my sister you’re talking about.  I’m not sure I want her going round with a beer-gutted layabout like you.”

“Layabout? Leave it out. I’m a freelance designer/inventor, me.”

“Yeah, right.”

“No, really. Who do you think dreams up all those things you never knew you needed, in the gift catalogues? Me. And I’m doing very nicely out of the last one I came up with.  Combined golf ball holder with integral hip flask in a sumptuous leather case, lavishly personalised with up to three initials of your choice.”

Luke shrugged. “I never look at those things. I’d shove them straight in the bin if Cara didn’t insist on recycling everything.”

“Talking of trees, now I’m branching out.” I pointed at my invention. “I call this the Cloudzapper. Plenty of people have tried to seed clouds to make it rain, but this does the opposite. Chases the clouds away.”

“What happens? Does it suck them into those tubes? They don’t look long enough.”

“No, no!” I rolled my eyes upwards. “This is pure science. It sends a super-powered stream of ions into the atmosphere. To be precise, the bit called the tropopause …” I could see Luke’s eyes glaze over in that way people’s so often did, so I skipped to the end. “Anyway, the jetstream whips the clouds out of the way. Then there you are. For as long as it’s switched on,” I started to sing, “The sun has got his hat on.” I realised I didn’t know the words of the rest of it and substituted “ner, ner” under my breath, in the manner of someone who realises they’re going on to the second verse of “God Save the Queen.”

I turned a crank on the side of the Cloudzapper and the pipes swivelled from their horizontal position until they were pointing almost vertically towards the clouds, like a bundle of howitzers. I flicked a switch, a red light glowed on the control panel, and the machine began to hum and pulse. I turned a knob, and a lever flicked from “zero” to “50%.”

“Look up there!” Luke’s gaze followed mine. The clouds moved aside like a pair of curtains pulled back by a pair of invisible hands, leaving clear blue sky. A blazing sun shone directly overhead. In the distance, all around this blue, sunny gap were rainclouds.

I went into the house and switched on the radio. The news reported a localised thunderstorm, which had flooded three streets in another part of town.
To read the rest of this story, check out the Mad Scientist Journal: Autumn 2014 collection.

Sam Keegan lives in the south of England, with his live-in girlfriend and business manager, Cara. He’s still a designer, his most successful item to date has been a combined hand-held generator and umbrella. You might remember seeing him and Cara on the news, following their attempt to draw down electricity from the jetstream using a giant kite that exploded, striping the clouds in rainbow colours and jamming the streets with sight-seers. But that’s another story.

Judith Field was born in Liverpool, England and lives in London. She is the daughter of writers, and learned how to agonise over fiction submissions at her mother’s (and father’s) knee.

Her fiction, mainly speculative, has appeared in a variety of publications in the USA and UK. She speaks five languages and can say, “Please publish this story” in all of them. She is also a pharmacist, freelance journalist, editor, medical writer, and indexer. She blogs at

Leigh’s professional title is “illustrator,” but that’s just a nice word for “monster-maker,” in this case. More information about them can be found at

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