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The Whether App

by Paul Levinson 2 months ago in science fiction · updated 2 months ago
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Weather or Whether?

Photo by Paul Levinson of Cape Cod Bay

“What the hell?” It was raining and windy, when the app had been set for a bright sunny day.

“Did we hit the limit?” Janey said, shaking her head, looking out the window at the rain on the beach. She had just put on her new bikini.

“No,” Carl replied. “I checked before I put in this setting last week. We’re entitled to another sunny day.”

Janey cursed under her breath. “It was sunny five minutes ago. I know these storms along the coast can come out of nowhere, but –”

“Right, not when this app that we’d paid a small fortune for called for the day to be beautiful,” Carl finished the sentence.

“Let’s try it again,” Janey said.

“I don’t think you’re supposed to try it repeatedly,” Carl said, but did as requested. The rain continued.

“One more time,” Janey asked.

Carl nodded and invoked the app again, with the same lack of result. If anything, the rain came down even harder.

“Is there a helpline we can contact?” Janey asked.

“Exactly what I’m doing,” Carl replied.

# # #

“Yosef at your service,” Yosef said over the phone. “Can you provide your name and product number?”

Carl did as requested.

“So, what’s the problem?” Yosef asked.

Carl explained.

“Are you sure you have a correct tally of the sunny days you already requested via the Weather App?” Yosef asked.

“I’m sure,” Carl replied.

“And the Weather App has you listed as on Captain Dunbar Road, right off Ellis Landing, in Brewster, MA – is that correct?”

“Yes.”

“Well, the app is saying you have a clear sunny day right now, and you’ve had it all day,” Yosef said.

“That’s impossible,” Carl said.

“I can send you pictures,” Yosef offered.

“Please do,” Carl said.

Janey walked over, sensing the conversation wasn’t going well.

“He says it’s been a beautiful day here,” Carl half whispered, "and he’s sending me pictures."

Janey made a face and pointed outside. It wasn’t pouring any more, but it was definitely lightly raining, and the sky overhead was brooding with big grey clouds.

The pictures arrived a few seconds later. They showed an indeed beautiful, morning sunlit beach – the one right outside Carl and Janey’s cottage, time-stamped just a minute ago.

“Your app’s obviously broken, or you’re playing some kind of game with us, and I prefer to think the former,” Carl said to Yosef.

“I assure you, neither is the case,” Yosef replied.

Carl turned the camera to his overcast, rainy beach. “This is what our day looks like right now,” Carl said. “You think I’m somehow making this up?”

“Not at all,” Yosef said, soothingly. “But what you’re showing me on your phone is pretty much identical to the pictures I just sent you.”

“You’re telling me that the video I just sent to you, of our nasty beach, looks bright and sunny to you?” Carl rasped. “I paid good money for this--”

Janey put a calming hand on his shoulder.

“You’re in Brewster, Ellis Landing Beach,” Yosef said with equanimity. “I just want to confirm that.”

“That’s right,” Carl said, tightly.

“We have someone on our weather squad in Provincetown right now,” Yosef said. “That’s under an hour away. How about I send her over to take a look and see what’s going on with the weather on your beach?”

# # #

The rain stopped and the clouds cleared about five minutes before Tesa arrived.

“Like going to the doctor when something’s bothering you and it’s gone by the time you get there, right?” Janey asked and sighed.

Carl just shook his head.

“I love the new mag lev,” Tesa said, as Carl opened the door for her. “Got me here in half the time, and the walk from Foster Square was lovely. I even had time to say hello to another app user, just up the road.”

Carl just shook his head, again.

“So, what’s going on here,” Tesa asked, cheerily. “You getting some strange effects from the app?”

“Stranger than strange,” Janey replied. “Your app was showing a beautiful sunny day, when we were seeing rain right outside our window.”

“And according to Yosef, our video of the rain came through as a sunny day to him,” Carl added.

“Right,” Tesa said. “He showed it to me.”

“So how can that be?” Janey asked.

“That’s what I’m here to find out,” Tesa replied and looked outside. “Beautiful, isn’t it? Barely a cloud in the sky.”

“The weather cleared five minutes before you got here,” Carl said. “I know you don’t believe me, but look at those puddles –”

“I believe you,” Tesa said.

Janey nodded.

“Why would the two of you make something like this up?” Tesa said.

“Exactly,” Janey said.

“Can I see your phone?” Tesa asked Carl, who was looking at it with an angry expression.

“Sure,” Carl said, and gave her his phone.

Tesa studied it for a few minutes, while Carl and Janey exchanged exasperated faces.

“Nothing unusual here,” Tesa said. “You called for three sunny days in the last two months. You still have another one owed to you under your package.”

“That’s what I told Yosef,” Carl said.

“And only two of those sunny days came through just as you wanted them, with no rain clouds or problems?”

“Yes,” Janey said.

Tesa did a few other things on the phone. “Hmm…I see you got a call from Beni this morning…”

“Who’s Beni?” Janey asked.

“You don’t know him?” Tesa asked.

“Never heard of him,” Carl said.

“He’s the guy with our app that I said hello to before coming here,” Tesa replied. “The guy who ordered a beautiful day today and received it all bright and sunny.”

“How far is he from here?” Janey asked.

“About half-way between Ellis Landing and Linnell Landing,” Tesa replied. “He has a nice little cottage on the beach with green shutters.”

“So, it would be impossible for him to have ordered and received a sunny day all day today, while we went from pouring rainy to light rain to sunny,” Janey said.

“I would say so, yes,” Tesa said.

“Could we go and talk to this guy?” Carl said.

“I’d have to get his permission,” Tesa replied. “But you say you don’t know him and didn’t hear from him today?”

“That’s right,” Carl said,

Tesa considered for a second and made a call. “Great. Thanks. See you soon.”

She nodded to Carl and Janey and looked out at the water. “The tide’s pretty far out, the sky is clear –”

Carl unconsciously grimaced at that.

“– we should be able to walk it ten minutes on the beach,” Tesa concluded.

# # #

Carl had noticed the cottage with green shutters before, and for some reason liked it. It was nothing fancy, probably dated back to the late 20th century, but it had charm.

He had no idea who lived there – who owned it, who was staying there now – and had no idea who this Beni was. He was 100% certain that he hadn’t talked to anybody named Beni this morning. He supposed a call could’ve come in which he had missed, but he was sure he’d taken off the Do Not Disturb when he had awoken, which was around 8:30 am.

It started raining – literally out of the clear blue sky – about halfway in their walk on the beach to Beni’s cottage.

“So much for your app, and my order of a sunny day, today, isn’t it?” Carl said with dripping sarcasm, as the rain matched by dripping down his face.

“Not the app’s fault,” Tesa said. “I canceled your order until I could figure out what was going on.”

“So much for this Beni’s app, then,” Carl shot back.

“I don’t know the specifics of his order,” Tesa replied. “If you give me a moment, I could call it up –”

“Let’s just get to this guy’s house,” Carl said.

“What happens, though, if two apps in next-door houses request contradictory days – one wants sunny, the other wants rain?” Janey asked Tesa. “Because the weather we’re in is real, not virtual, right?”

“Right,” Tesa said.

“That can’t happen, because you don’t allow apps in houses that are next door, or too close, right?” Carl asked.

“Right,” Tesa said again. “Line of sight. Paragraph 12 in the Agreement: ‘App use controls real weather only within line of sight or 10,000 feet from any place in the house, whichever is less.’”

“And we paid something extra because more app control is needed with beach front,” Janey said.

“Yes,” Tesa said.

“And there’s the house with green shutters, clearly way beyond the line of sight from our cottage,” Carl said.

Tesa nodded.

The three quickened their pace. The rain intensified, as if in a duel with the speed of their walking.

# # #

The rain won, easily. They were drenched by the time they walked up to the house.

“At least it’s not too cold today,” Janey said.

“That was part of the natural pattern of weather in this area today,” Tesa said. “Warmer than usual temperatures for June – not the result of anyone’s Weather App.”

“Hmm…seems to be locked up pretty good,” Carl said, unsuccessfully brushing the water from his face.

Tesa looked around to the side. “No car, either. He had a mauve Neo-Prius parked right there when I was here.” She pointed to an empty driveway.

“Why hang around here in this rain?” Janey asked, half sarcastically.

“It was sunny when I was here,” Tesa said, and started laughing. “I’m sorry. I was just thinking what a funny picture we make, the three of us standing here talking about the app, standing in front of this app user’s house, getting more and more drenched in the pouring rain.”

Carl wasn’t laughing. He looked around the outside of the house, as best he could through the sheets of rain. “Would’ve been nice if this guy had an outside porch with an overhang, seeing as how he left us outside in this soaking mess. But I guess he didn’t know we were coming –”

“No, he did,” Tesa said. “I called him before we came over here, remember?”

“Yeah,” Carl said. “This rain almost washed away that memory.” Now he laughed, unhappily, and grunted.

Tesa had stopped laughing. She was looking at her phone. “Now…that’s strange,” she said.

“What?” Janey asked. She was sort of leaning against the side of the house, for what scant protection it could provide.

“He exercised his cancel clause, and no longer wants our app.”

“Can’t say I blame him,” Carl said, gesturing to the rain that was coming down in curtains.

“That’s not the point,” Tesa said, now a little upset. “I was talking to him and arranging our visit here not more than 20 minutes ago.” She stared at her phone and frowned.

“What’s it saying to you now,” Janey asked.

“I can’t tell,” Tesa said. “The rain is making it impossible for me to see.”

“You could use an app for that,” Carl said, with no humor.

“I thought there was one, your Weather App,” Janey said to Carl and Tesa. “It’s supposed to change this rain into sun, right?” She was getting sarcastic in this pouring rain now, too.

“Is that a car I see?” Tesa said, taking her eyes off her phone and squinting into the rain.

An old Ford pick-up almost seemed to materialize on Linnell Landing out of the wet.

# # #

A big blue umbrella emerged from the driver’s seat. A woman in snug canvas shorts and a tank-top appeared underneath the umbrella.

Carl managed to enjoy this despite the rain. Janey frowned.

“We’re here to see Mr. Beni Sukowa,” Tesa said and walked right up to the woman.

“He’s the person we’re renting this from,” the woman said, walking quickly to the house. “My husband and I.” She frowned at the rain and looked intently at the door, which clicked open. “Mr. Sukowa programmed in my retinal scan,” she explained.

“Ah, ok,” Tesa said. “Look, can we come in out of the rain? I have an appointment with Mr. Sukowa, as I said.”

The woman made a face. “I don’t see how that’s possible. When my husband spoke to him the other day, he was in Australia. He’s on some kind of long-term contract there.”

Now Tesa made a face. “I assure you, I spoke to Beni – Mr. Sukowa – just twenty minutes ago, and we made an appointment for me – us –” she gestured to Carl and Janey – “to come over here.”

“You have proof of that?” the woman asked, tiring of the conversation and looking like she was about to turn her back on Tesa and enter the house alone.

“Well, yes, you can see where Mr. Sukowa was located at the time of our call, on my phone right now.” Her fingers worked on the phone’s display. “No, actually, you can’t – the phone’s not responding to my touch in this rain. Can you just let us in for a moment? Let the phone dry off and I can show you what I’m talking about.”

“I’ll do you one better,” the woman replied. “How about I call the police?”

“Wait, can I just say one thing?” Janey piped up. “If by any chance Beni gave you access to the Weather App associated with this house, how about you call up a sunny day? We’ll just be out here a few minutes, until her screen dries a little, and she can show you what she’s talking about.” Janey looked at Tesa, who nodded slowly.

“I’ll think about it,” the woman said, curtly, entered her house and slammed the door shut.

The pouring rain outside turned to glistening sun a few moments later.

# # #

The door opened. “I don’t like the rain much, either,” the woman said with just a trace of a smile.

“Can we start again?” Tesa asked. “My name is Tesa Treadwell, I’m with the Weather App. And these are Carl and Janey Danielli – two of our customers.”

“Enchanted, I’m sure,” the woman said with faux appreciation. “Honestly, I don’t care about your Weather App. It’s not my thing, it’s my husband’s, and he’ll be home any minute.” She said this last with just a touch of warning.

“She thinks that’ll scare us off if we’re burglars,” Carl groused under his breath to Janey.

“Well, you just used it to stop the rain,” Tesa said, loudly, “so you must have some appreciation for what it can do. Let me just see if I get the screen to show me where Mr. Sukowa was when the two of us spoke.” She fiddled with her screen, which was mostly dry now.

The woman of the house rolled her eyes.

Tesa stared at the screen, did some more dancing with her fingers.

“What does it say?” Carl asked.

Tesa shook her head, as if to clear something that made no sense. “It says Beni Sukowa was in San Francisco when we spoke, I guess now about thirty minutes ago, and arranged for us to come over here to his house to meet him.”

# # #

The woman in the doorway shook her head and began to turn around. “Look, I don’t really care –”

She was interrupted by a sleek new Tesla that drove up to the house. A sandy-haired man got out, took in the people around and in his house. “Raining like a bitch out there,” he said in a California accent. “Cleared up just as I got here.”

“Tell me about it,” Carl muttered.

“I used the Weather App,” the woman said.

“Good,” the sandy-haired man said.

“My husband, Jack,” the woman in the doorway said and walked out. “And these are – sorry, I didn’t really catch your names,” she gestured to the other three.

“Tesa Treadwell with the Weather App, and these are two of our customers, Carl and Janey Danielli,” Tesa supplied the names again.

“Pleased to meet you,” Jack said and smiled.

“They say they’re trying to get in touch with Beni Sukowa,” the woman said, now no longer in the doorway but in front of the house, with the door still open.

“He’s in Tokyo, right?” Jack said.

“Australia,” the woman said.

“San Francisco, according to this,” Tesa held up her phone. “And he was supposed to meet us here.”

“He didn’t say anything about that to us,” Jack said. “We rented the house for the entire month.”

Tesa held up her arms in an I-don’t-know gesture.

“By the way, let me tell you that we love your app,” Jack said. “It came with the house.”

Tesa nodded. “Thanks.”

“We’re going to get one when we get back back home – if it’s available there,” Jack said.

“Where would that be? Home,” Tesa asked.

“San Francisco,” Jack said.

“It should be available there by September,” Tesa said.

“Great!” Jack said. He turned to his wife. “How about we invite these fine people in for a drink or iced tea or coffee?” he asked her.

She gave Jack a frown and turned with a forced smile to the other three. “My name’s Melina,” she said, “would you like to come in?”

# # #

“So, as I understand it, the app works by sending up certain signals to the satellites, which can control the weather on a pin-point basis for at least most of the day, do I have that right?” Jack said, as the five sat on a screened-in porch in the back and sipped various beverages.

Tesa nodded.

“Those hummingbirds are beautiful,” Janey said, before Tesa had a chance to say more.

“We love them, thanks,” Melina said with real appreciation.

“See, this is what the Weather App is supposed to help do,” Jack said. “Bring people together in nice weather. Isn’t that what it says in one of your ads?”

Melina lost her appreciation and nearly replaced it with a sarcastic comment, then caught herself.

“Yes,” Tesa replied. “Which brings us back to the problem of Beni.”

“Yeah,” Jack said. “But the app’s less than a year old, isn’t it? So you’re still working out all the kinks, right?”

“Right,” Tesa said. “Are you a programmer? You seem to know about as much as I do about the app.”

“In my younger days,” Jack replied.

“You don’t look more than thirty, if you don’t mind my saying,” Janey chimed in.

“Not at all – I take that as a compliment,” Jack said.

“So you were a child prodigy,” Carl said.

Jack just laughed, then said to Tesa, “And what about you? Do you program?”

“Tech support,” Tesa replied. “That’s all.”

“Ok,” Jack said. “Well, have you at The Weather App considered that your manipulation of real weather might do more than manipulate weather?”

“Such as?” Carl asked, now more interested. “I couldn’t help notice you drive a Tesla.”

Jack laughed again. “I’m not talking about Nicola Tesla’s hypothetical scalar weapon – which would be a kind of weather manipulator, anyway.”

“Right,” Carl agreed. “Create and steer hurricanes. Lots of conspiracy theories flew around about that after the devastating hurricanes earlier this century.”

“I know,” Jack agreed. “And also about why they seemed to suddenly subside in, when was it, the early 2030s?”

“That’s right,” Carl said.

“And this relates to our missing Beni, how?” Tesa tried to steer the conversation back to what was now her pressing interest.

A thunderclap announced itself before Jack had a chance to answer.

“I ordered sun for the rest of the day,” Melina said.

“When the app is doing more than one thing, its control over the weather could weaken,” Jack said.

Tesa furrowed her brow. “What else could it be doing?”

“The project I was working on at MIT was trying all kinds of things,” Jack replied.

“That’s where you and Beni met,” Melina said.

“We’ve been friends a long time,” Jack added.

“So your renting his house here is no coincidence,” Carl said.

“There are fewer coincidences than you might think in this world,” Jack said.

Another thunderclap ensued, this time accompanied by pouring rain.

“I guess the app is, indeed, overloaded,” Jack said.

“What would happen if you tried the app again?” Tesa asked.

“Good question,” Jack replied and turned to Melina. “Try it.”

Melina pulled out her phone and invoked the Weather App. The rain continued in torrents outside.

“I guess we have our answer,” Jack said. “Nothing happens when you engage an app that’s otherwise occupied.”

“All this is news to me,” Tesa said. “Wait –” She looked around the room. “What happened to Carl and Janey?”

“Who?” Melina asked.

# # #

“It’s still pouring out there,” Janey said.

“I can see that,” Carl replied.

“What’s going on with the help line?” Janey asked.

“Still on hold,” Carl replied.

“Been at least ten minutes,” Janey said. “We paid good money for this app.”

“That’s the way it always is with these damn helplines,” Carl said. “I could try to message them.”

# # #

“The couple who were just here!” Tesa said. “Carl and Janey Danielli!”

“Haven’t a clue,” Jack said with a bemused smile and looked at Melina.

“Me either,” Melina said. “Or is it neither?”

“This isn’t the least bit funny!” Tesa said, raising her voice. “There was a man and woman sitting right there –” she gestured to two empty chairs at the table – “sipping, I’m not sure, white wine?”

“Well, the chairs are there, because that’s where they always are,” Melina said, a little sharply, “but I don’t see any glasses of wine, even empty. Do you?”

Tesa shook her head in frustration.

“This could be an effect of the app which we were talking about,” Jack said and considered.

“You remember that, but not Carl and Janey?” Tesa asked.

“Of course he does,” Melina answered, “because that’s what happened. You came by, apparently before either of us arrived. When I drove up, you said you had a question about that stupid app –”

“I wouldn’t call it stupid,” Jack said.

“Ok,” Melina said. “But she had a question about the app, I wasn’t in the mood to talk to her, and then you drove up and invited her in.”

“I still can’t believe the two of you have no memory of Carl and Janey in that recollection,” Tesa said.

“You know, Beni used to joke that it could be called the Whether App, when we were working on it at MIT,” Jack said. “You know, whether this or that. That could include whether or not a given person was present.”

“You’re losing me,” Tesa said. “But you didn’t mention that the two of you actually were working on the Weather App at MIT.”

Jack laughed again. “Losing you is what might literally happen to you with this app – Weather or Whether.”

“That rain’s not letting up,” Melina said, looking at the raindrops pelting the window. "I wanted to go for a swim today.” She grimaced and pulled out the phone. “Let’s see what this app can do –”

She invoked the app before Jack, who was having a glimmer of a realization about what might have been happening, could stop her.

“Still raining,” Melina said, after the app had given confirmation that it was putting through her request for a sunny day. “Have we reached our allotment?”

“I don’t think so,” Jack said, but he was mostly thinking about something else...

“I’ll try the app one more time,” Melina said.

“Don’t!” Jack shouted, a second too late.

# # #

Beni Sukowa looked out at the pouring rain. He was looking forward to a nice walk on a sunny beach.

He walked outside and looked at Cape Cod Bay. The rain was increasing in intensity.

He took out his phone, played with it for a moment, and put it back in his pocket.

Sometimes a walk in the rain was nice. Didn’t the Ronettes have a song about that? Yeah, his wife was a fan of that kind of music.

He put the phone back his pocket and began walking on the beach towards Ellis Landing. But the rain proved too much for him. He pulled his phone back out, and ordered up a bright sunny day.

The rain ceased immediately and the sky grew clear and blue. Then he realized he forgot the bottle of water he always liked to take on these walks.

He headed back to his house with green shutters. There was a woman, not unattractive, waiting for him at the door.

“Tesa Treadwell,” she said and extended her hand. “Beni Sukowa?”

Beni nodded.

“I’m with the Weather App and was just in the area on another call. I thought I’d drop by and see how the app is working out for you…”

science fiction

About the author

Paul Levinson

Novels include The Silk Code & The Plot To Save Socrates; LPs Twice Upon A Rhyme & Welcome Up; nonfiction includes Fake News in Real Context, The Soft Edge, & Digital McLuhan translated into 15 languages. Details here. Prof, Fordham Univ.

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  • D-Donohoe2 months ago

    That was a great read! I’ve got to be honest the most interesting narrative about weather I’ve ever read!

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