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Tears of Durga
Elizabeth L. Chalecki
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Science Fiction: Visioning the Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project.
"You know, the Army won't thank you for kicking their sensitive equipment."
"Madre de dios, el cargazón estupido!" Nieto gave the heavy pack an extra kick for emphasis, then groaned. "Why again are we dragging this stuff halfway across Asia? Why can't the moisture sensors be dropped by a drone?"
McCormack smiled. "You pay taxes, Nieto?"
"Now imagine your precious tax money dropped from the sky, plummeting towards the earth, and shattering into a million useless bits on the rocky ground."
"Fine. But I still don't understand why we're stamping around the Hindu Kush in secret."
"If you were a Pak, would you want us in your country?"
She and Nieto were part of a special Army project, designed to alter regional weather patterns to provide environmental services to the United States and its allies. Called AGITs, or Army Geo-Insertion Teams, pairs of scientists were deployed into environmental hot spots to tweak rainfall, heat patterns, species migration -- all part of the Army's nation building and ally maintenance campaign. McCormack, an environmental geographer, had wanted to be a Soldier her entire life, like her father, and his father. Her battle buddy Nieto, however, was an atmospheric chemist, and new to the Army. All the personnel assigned to AGITs were scientists, with at least a master's degree; climatologists, hydrologists, crop scientists, environmental biologists and more, in keeping with the Army's gradual shift from traditional combat missions to stability ops and science-based missions. Their insertion had been without incident so far, though McCormack knew that the worst part was yet to come.
"Now that you've kicked the crap out of it, see if it still works."
Nieto unpacked their equipment, which consisted of a sensor array to measure atmospheric moisture and a small chemical tank full of a brew proprietary to one of several defense contractors. The OPORD directed them to plant a ground-based sensor at four predetermined coordinates, then activate a signal to begin dispersal of the chemicals. Combined with sulfur dioxide aerosols deployed by a modified weather blimp, they should be able to cause a rainstorm to coalesce in the area.
"Sensor diagnostics show green status. Apparently it takes a kicking and keeps on ticking!"
"Built in China, right?"
AGITs had to be light, fast, and mobile. Due to the high demand for their expertise, they could complete an op in Pakistan one week and be sent to the Andes the next. This didn't leave them time to learn other languages in the traditional way or rely on interpreters. Consequently, the Army, in its infinite wisdom, chose the AGITs to beta test a new technology called a TIARA. This Transmit Interpret And Receive Assembly was specialized superlight headgear made of carbon nanofibers. It served as their radio and location beacon and gave them access to the Army's classified database. Most importantly, it functioned as a simultaneous real-time translator. Someone would speak to them in Dari or Khowar or Balti, and the TIARA would identify the language, translate the words into English, and relay them via a speaker in the Soldier's ear. When the Soldier responded in English, the TIARA would reverse-translate back to the native language. No one would mistake them for poets, but they could make themselves understood. The TIARA allowed the AGITs to communicate with almost anyone on the planet and access almost any database, and it weighed no more than a pair of earrings. Of course, Nieto's had been glitchy almost immediately.
McCormack touched the vox button on her TIARA to ping the TOC. Miles overhead, a satellite relayed her call.
"Starfleet, this is Kirk over."
"Kirk this is Starfleet send it over."
"Starfleet, sensor two is operational and on standby. Still getting a standby reading from sensor one, and ETA to third sensor location is two-day travel."
"Kirk good copy."
"Starfleet, Spock's TIARA has been malfunctioning, request resupply."
"Kirk, negative on the resupply request, a supply drone being seen could compromise the objective. Continue mission and don't fall behind schedule. Starfleet out."
As the sun set, they prepared to make what little camp they could. Nieto put out her DH to gather drinking water from the atmospheric humidity, while McCormack deployed the surveillance drone affectionately known as the Bluebird.
"And in answer to your earlier question, if I were a Pak and the U.S. Army were bringing me rain for my crops, I might sacrifice a goat for them. What, you don't think so?"
McCormack considered. In this particular campaign, the United States was attempting to support its ally Pakistan and stabilize the government by cooling its overheated relations with neighboring India. The snows of the Himalayas had been dropping each year since the mid-2000s, and no longer provided enough fresh water for the growing populations of Pakistan and the Hindu Kush. Since both nations were short of water, the Army deployed AGITs to ease the drought. Climate change meant more moisture in the air, which meant more opportunities to direct rainfall. It was their job to geo-engineer a precipitation event and direct it into the Karakoram basin and eventually into the Indus River, where it could supply both the government loyalists and the Kush tribes. They were "stamping around the Hindu Kush in secret," as Nieto sarcastically put it, because while the Government of Pakistan had tacitly asked for American support, their mission was complicated by the Pakistani government's relationship with its various opposition parties, several of which peddled conspiracy theories about how the United States was messing with the weather. If the public knew that the U.S. Army actually had AGITs running around messing with the weather, there would be an international political firestorm of the kind the United States was keen to avoid.
"I don't know. If I were part of a hill tribe with my own ideas about rain and climate, I might want foreigners out. Imagine if Pakistani AGITs were running around the Rocky Mountains doing unknown things with the rain. How would the hippies in Boulder feel?"
"They might avail themselves of the Second Amendment."
Their wrist displays beeped in unison.
The Medical Sensor Tracking and Relay was a small wrist screen, which communicated with an implant in her arm. It measured temperature, heartrate, pulse ox and other vitals, calories expended, and monitored them for signs of dehydration or infection. She could access Nieto's data and Nieto could access hers. The data it collected could be streamed back to the TOC to monitor Soldiers' health and fitness, or even request a MEDEVAC if necessary. It could also, McCormack knew, be programmed to remind you when to eat and sleep. They each reached for a messcap, a capsule the size of a horse pill which contained enough calories and nutrients to sustain them and enough fiber so they would feel full. Nieto swallowed hers immediately, washing it down with a swig from her DH. McCormack balanced hers in her palm for a moment and regarded it.
"What are you waiting for? It's not going to turn into a pizza if you stare at it long enough."
McCormack sighed. "Remember when Soldiers used to eat food?"
"Ha! If you mean those nasty MREs that my basic instructor called 'shit on a shingle,' I'd rather have the pill. Besides, food is heavy."
McCormack continued to contemplate the messcap until her MedSTaR started beeping like a car alarm. That's just what she needed, a wrist nag. Might as well bring her mother on the op.
"Swallow the red pill, Neo."
McCormack swallowed her messcap and banished thoughts of pizza.
"SP at 0600.
The next morning dawned cool and beautiful, and McCormack had to appreciate the quiet calm of the Kush. She could see the signs of the drought everywhere: shriveled fields, dry wells, dead crops, skinny animals, riverbeds that should have been full containing only a trickle. Below average rainfall had persisted for four years, and the bright blue sky contained not a single cloud. In approximately a week, that would change.
After placing the second sensor outside Para Beg, they started for their third location near Harchin. The terrain here was slow-go treacherous, and they were confined to a narrow mountainside path. As they picked their way around a rockfall, Nieto's foot slipped on the scree and with a yell, she slid over the edge of the gorge. McCormack dropped her pack and dived for Nieto's hand. With much scraping and cursing, she hauled Nieto back onto the trail, and they sat there for a moment, panting. The drop was at least 700 feet, and no Soldier would have survived that fall. After a minute, Nieto visibly pulled herself together.
"Aaaannd that's Wednesday!"
Both of their TIARAs pinged at the same time. They toggled the vox.
"Spock, what the hell?" came Major Pittman's voice from the TOC in Peshawar. "Your MedSTaR just went apeshit. You want to explain?"
"Starfleet, we had a bit of excitement, but we're fine now."
"Came a little closer to a canyon edge than I would have liked, but we're good to go."
"Spock good copy. Get yourselves situated and Charley Mike. Starfleet out."
Nieto toggled off, stood up, and suddenly swore.
"What? Are you okay?"
"Yeah, I'm fine, but my messcaps and DH went over the edge."
"It's all right, we can survive on mine till extraction. Thank god it was only the food, you could have lost your woobie."
"Don't make me cry."
Non-combat missions were becoming more common for the Army, and in a world of 8.7 billion people, environmental conditions played a huge role in peace. If people didn't have water to grow food, they got angry and went to war. The AGITs has access to decades of weather and climate research, mostly from the EU and China, since the U.S. government had defunded its research capabilities twenty years ago. McCormack knew politicians speechified about saving money, but she remembered her research director in grad school talking about Aldo Leopold and the land ethic. When she asked Nieto if she'd heard of Leopold, the answer surprised her.
"Aldo Leopold? Sure! 'Think Like a Mountain' is one of my favorites. That's when I learned to listen to the ecology and not bloviating politicians." She looked up at the sky. "Speaking of gasbags, has the blimp deployed yet?"
McCormack toggled the vox button on her TIARA.
"Starfleet this is Kirk. Spock wants to confirm blimp has deployed?" She listened, then toggled the vox off.
"TOC says ETA for the blimp in 6.
Nieto snorted. "Days or weeks?"
"C'mon, this is fun!"
"Fun? Packing in twenty billion tons of equipment, my TIARA glitching, losing my messcaps, and, if we're successful, packing out in a monsoon? I could be sitting in a lab at CalTech right now!"
"You're serving your country!"
"Not to mention, they wouldn't let you do this stuff at CalTech."
"I'd do it on the sly, they wouldn't know."
"That you shifted rainfall over 1200 square kilometers? I think they'd know."
Approaching Harchin, the terrain was smoother going, but a day of hiking along riverbeds and up hillsides left McCormack with a taste for some food beyond messcaps.
"Hey Nieto, when you get back stateside, what's the first meal?"
"My grandmother's arepas! She makes 'em old-school, but I put sriracha on 'em, which drives her nuts."
"You put Thai hot sauce on Venezuelan food? Isn't that insulting the ancestors?"
"They're dead. What about you?"
"A lobster roll, with a cold Sam Adams."
"Ah, you can take the girl out of New England, but--" Nieto suddenly stopped.
An old man wearing indigenous clothing stood before them on the path. He didn't move, clearly blocking their way. Nieto nodded to him and attempted to go around him, but he turned to face her directly. She toggled on her vox and spoke to him, trusting her TIARA would identify his language.
holiday wonk meat nin fark heeeeee the TIARA cut out. McCormack stared at her, as did the old man.
"Dammit," Nieto muttered. McCormack heard the TIARA say donkey.
"Ok, stop before you offend his people and cause an international incident. Let me do the talking." She toggled on her own vox, then turned to the old man and bowed her head.
"Greetings, esteemed grandfather." Her TIARA translated into Balti. "We are honored to be in your land."
He just stared at them. McCormack tried again.
"We see that you have had no rain--"He interrupted her.
You are videsi-haru, the TIARA stumbled over this word, foreigners.
"Yes," McCormack said. He stared at their equipment.
You take the rain.
"No, we bring--"He interrupted again, nodding at their sidearms.
You are warrior women, but you offend the goddess Durga.
Neither of them knew what to make of this.
"We do not wish to offend anyone."
Durga is the mother of the universe. She creates, preserves, and destroys the land and the people. The rain is her tears, which she bestows as she will.
Woo maaa, Nieto's TIARA began, but McCormack cut in.
"Durga also eliminates suffering. We are going to eliminate the suffering of your village by relieving the drought and making it rain."
The old man looked at them, as if considering her point.
Even the Devas bow to her and all the asuras could not stand against her. Mahisha took to himself the power of the gods. Do not make his mistake.
Without a further word, he turned and disappeared onto a side trail they hadn't seen. They toggled their voxes off.
"What was that all about?" Nieto asked. "The goddess Durga? I thought people in this region followed Islam or Buddhism." She turned to McCormack. "And how do you know who Durga is?"
McCormack shouldered her pack. "Didn't you read the OPORD?"
When they reached Harchin and placed the third sensor, Nieto deployed the Bluebird to take a good look around.
"That old man wasn't too happy with us and our mission. Do you think the locals might try to sabotage the equipment?" McCormack considered this.
"They might, but we can lock it down to the terrain. Besides, the mission can still accomplish on three sensors."
"And how did they even know we were here? The Bluebird should have alerted us to any movement around the equipment. We'll have to call in a sitrep in case any other AGITs get local resistance."
McCormack stared at the sensor array, then at the Bluebird circling in the sky overhead. "Durga is from the old Hindu religions in this area. She had the power of all the male gods. Those stories are thousands of years old."
" 'Creates, preserves, and destroys,' that's what the old man said. These people would have used the gods to explain the stars, weather, crops, diseases, everything about their world. One torrential rainstorm could seem like the wrath of a goddess because it would have destroyed everything they'd built."
Nieto activated the last of the sensor equipment. "Then I guess that makes us Kali. Let's go."
During the four days it took them to hike to the last sensor location near Madyan, McCormack thought about old man's warning. He said don't make Mahisha's mistake, or at least that's how the TIARA translated it. What could he have meant by that? She used the vox to ping the TOC's computer for the term Mahisha, but came up empty. Devis and asuras were gods and warriors, but who was Mahisha? And how had Durga defeated him?
"How many other storms do you suppose the Army's tried to engineer?"
"I dunno. Pittman said that their success at the Nebraska test site created the whole Functional Area.
They hiked on in silence for a bit, till McCormack said, "I wonder what their success rate is."
"God, I hate to think we're hiking these things all over creation if it's just going to fail. Because I'm invested now, or at least my back is."
"I wonder if success is what the Paks want."
"What on earth are you talking about?"
"Nothing." Nieto raised her eyebrows at her. "I saw some aquilegias growing in the last valley we crossed. It's a dry land flower. The ecosystem here's adapting to the drought, and I just wonder if we should be dumping a shit-ton of rain on them, is all."
"Those decisions are made above your pay grade and mine, McCormack."
By eight hours outside of Madyan, McCormack was ready to pitch her TIARA into a gorge. She had repeatedly pinged for information on the success rate of previous geo-engineering attempts, and been told that it was classified.
"Yeah, you know what "classified" means, it means the Army doesn't want to admit the op went belly up."
"You don't know that, the AGIT program has a pretty good success rate."
"But how many of them have attempted geo-engineering?"
"I dunno, it's classified." They hiked further. "I can feel you simmering back there, but I'm confident this will succeed."
"Nieto, are you familiar with the phrase, 'the more you succeed, the more you fail'?"
"That only applies to espionage and the making of Crocs."
When the final sensor has been installed and greenlighted, McCormack knew it was now or never. But she couldn't shake the old man's warning. The Army now had elemental forces at its command. All the Devas bowed to her and the asuras could not stand against her. She pinged the TOC one last time.
"Starfleet this is Kirk. Requesting any available data on collateral damage resulting from rainfall manipulation."
"Kirk, Starfleet. I've about had it with these requests. Auxiliary data is not relative to your mission success. The blimp is in position, and we have our orders. Execute your mission. Starfleet out!"
"C'mon, McCormack, pull the ripcord already!"
"It's hubris, Nieto."
"So maybe we shouldn't be screwing around with the weather?"
"If we don't do it, the Russians will."
"The old man said that the rain was tears of the goddess."
"Dios mio, McCormack, it's just rain."
"Unleashing that powerful a force could have major blowback. We could flood this whole area and wash these people out of their homes!"
"You don't know that. I'm sure the Army has calculated this to the nth degree, how much rain goes where and when." She moved closer to McCormack. "C'mon, you're a geographer. You know the Army will need the data from this experiment to make this work better in the future. Maybe we can prevent economies from crashing and save people's lives."
"I hope you're right." McCormack keyed in the code sequence to activate the sensors and chemical tanks.
"I hope this experiment works."
In 48 hours, they had their answer. The rainstorm resulting from Operation Durga added 200,000 acre-feet of water to the Karakoram, and the flood pulse moving down the Indus and its tributaries washed away the third sensor and flooded out several villages in the nearby valleys. The official After Action Report stated that the Pakistani government was satisfied, but McCormack knew the old man's home had been obliterated.
Was this warfare? If so, McCormack didn't know who they were fighting. The invincible warrior goddess Durga rode a lion, wielded every weapon, and protected all humankind against sorrow and tribulation. Mahisha was the demon who had been granted a boon by the gods and had abused his power.