Larger Hammer

Listel (Principalities) was always a marginal world. An atmosphere too thick, clouds too hazy with hydrocarbons and too prevalent, an ecology containing some worrying chaotic irregularities, and the whole, moreover, orbiting a primary which – while not technically qualifying as a flare star – nonetheless possessed a rough and turbulent cycle that flayed the upper atmospheres of its planets with wave after wave of energetic particles.

So it did not come as a complete surprise to the local branch of the Office of the Atmohydrosphere when an inconveniently timed flare, at the peak of the cycle, coincided with a downturn in the tropical ocean ecology and thickening upper-atmospheric haze to nudge the planet’s course away from its current metastability.

It came as a slight surprise that the temperature spike was as large as it turned out to be, and as rapid in its ascent.

That it should reach the point at which destabilization of the clathrates layering Listel’s polar seabeds was threatened, raising the spectre of a further trillion tons of methane – in the best case – being abruptly belched into the planetary atmosphere no longer qualified as a surprise, and was notably described by the then Principal Administrator of the Office, Ialla Jessaris-ith-Janaris, as “something of an inconvenience”.

The solution they chose was unique.

Ordinarily, minor atmospheric imbalances are dealt with using the normal, subtle ecopoetic techniques: ocean seeding, release of tailored microbiota into the upper airs, albedo adjustment, importation of suitable plants, and so forth. But with the threat of the clathrate release hanging over their world, Principal Administrator Jessaris concluded that a larger and faster correction was needed than would be available through such techniques.

If you drive out into the Serantor Desert, you can see the Listel Carbon Depository for yourself. Make sure you choose a day on which they’re not operating, because of the cyclonic storm the plant generates, and when you pass the signs warning you to put on sunglasses, they are not joking, it is that bright, and yes, you really can see it from that far back.

That’s because the solution she came up with was the simplest, most brute-force solution imaginable: carbon-organizers, built to feed on atmospheric carbon dioxide and methane. The storms are caused by the venturi that sucks in inconceivable volumes of the upper atmosphere, feeds it through the organizer beds, and blows it out again at ground level – while spitting out flitter-sized diamond bricks as a by-product.

And those bricks are responsible for the brightness, because they pile them up into pyramids for storage – eight, huge, mile-high pyramids of shining diamond, and they’re working on a ninth. So far, they’re keeping ahead of the gas releases. It’s a magnificent sight.

It would be one of the wonders of the Worlds if they weren’t so damn embarrassed about it.

– Octavia Dalastel, “Around the Fringe in 48 Bottles”

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