The rumor spread through government agencies like some frenzied plague of speech. In the corridors and offices of these august institutions, eyes and mouths flew agape. One neurotic in Strasbourg lunged for the toilets, piles of important documents were fumbled all over the floor by another, some laughed in disbelief but soon found out the gravity of the jest when the seniors called nervy meetings. They’d been alarmed by some new intelligence, and though the talk was vague it allowed this kind of dread to escalate. There were jeremiads against science and panegyrics for it. Many wanted to rush to the phones, but this, they were reminded, was classified gossip. And all this rabblement because something called the storm gun had been made. The inventor, some said, was an inspired madman, while others said he was merely a lucky bumpkin, but at any rate it was clear he was an immanent danger and so he was in imminent danger.
Maurice de Berjac grew up inside the walls of the old labyrinthine citadel of Carcassonne. Much has been speculated about the connections between all that cumbersome stone and his subsequent development. He must have yearned for lightness, air, breeze, counter-gravity. It is known that he was an avid kite flyer since early childhood. This sport, entirely subject to the elements’ whim, led him to his other great love, the weather. So when time came for him to choose his education he had no qualms such as most of his friends suffered, for he had no choice but to study meteorology.
He went to Paris. While researching for his doctorate, he secretly and obsessively studied wind and, more specifically, the possibility of producing real wind artificially, flatulence excluded. His professor knew about it and told him it was impossible, but that the pursuit was admirable. Keep doing it, you won’t get anywhere, but keep doing it. “We’re all Faust’s children, after all,” he told Maurice before lighting his pipe and rambling for half an hour about the devil and the little poodle in Goethe’s poem.
When Maurice was a child, he’d known of farmers who could drive away cumulus clouds with rockets crammed with silver iodide. They were no enfants de Faust!If conditions could be unmade, he said, why not made as well? So the librarians at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris soon grew tired of this dishevelled curmudgeon who suspiciously asked for cartloads of books on physics, chemistry, ballistics, and all sorts of scientific magisteria. They called him Notre Paracelse, though not to his face. His arcanum remained elusive.
An industrial designer friend of his built a gun to his long-considered specifications. For a long time he experimented with minuscule quantities of all kinds of chemicals and explosives—all secretly provided by another well-placed friend. There was no wind of wind. It took many months before he came upon a compound for what he realised was a miniscule tornado, or rather a puny whirlpool whose vortex curled its arabesques upon the ground and then fizzled out. He knew he was getting closer. When he increased slightly one of the elements, the radius of the maelstrom swelled, as did the variables in the condition. This particular mixture was a base whose further alterations produced other miniature conditions, which he could easily identify as hurricanes, typhoons, and so on. He was happy.
Awed by his discoveries and what seemed like the music of epochal significance, he almost forgot why he had been looking for these things in the first place. In deserted stretches along the Norman coastline he revelled in producing diminutive meteorological effects. It did not take him long to realize the value of his findings so he tried to contact the government. At first they thought him yet another duncical quack keen on sponsorship for some private folly. But when he persuaded a low-ranking official at the Ministry of Defence, a family friend, to witness a demonstration—well, that’s where that rumor began its peregrinations. Intelligence officers surely wanted the man dead. But he was in possession of incredibly destructive weapons, so caution was advised.
Somehow his name got out for he was suddenly hounded by a handful of eminent lawyers wanting to represent him in the negotiations. In league with the devil as they are said to be, lawyers seem to grub their way into consort with all the profitable information that’s trafficked upon the earth. The most persuasive of these was the man de Berjac eventually chose. He had de Berjac removed with his papers and a friend to a remote vineyard in Aquitaine. Much wine and mad conversation did flow. Troubled with the fruit of his own ingenuity, he contemplated destroying his designs and forgetting all about them. But in the end, he was persuaded to make the best of it.
De Berjac wanted to get rid of the invention as painlessly and with as clear a conscience as possible, and he thought the French government was the right place. This body, however, deliberated its offer for too long. De Berjac was then convinced by his lawyer’s idea to invite a number of delegations to a secret convention where each would be asked, within their particular budgets, to place an offer. This way, the lawyer said after noticing de Berjac’s concerns about misuse of the invention, one made sure when everybody has the patents that no one will deploy them.
“Just like the nuclear bomb!” the lawyer’s said to have said, giddy at his own genius. “Everybody has it, no one uses it!”
“Like Hiroshima and Nagasaki?” de Berjac is said to have asked.
“Heh! But not since,” he was told, “not since.”
“Could it start a Cold War Two?”
“We’re warmed up by now,” said the other.
And so they set out to formulate the letter of invitation. The Americans wanted these shrouded patents more than anyone else. Some of their classified communiqués were later leaked and there we can follow their oscillations. They offer a vast sum of cash and a consultant’s seat at the Pentagon in exchange for absolute and exclusive rights. The agent kindly refuses (without notifying de Berjac, it turned out, no doubt for fear of immediate greed ruining his more ambitious plans). They are asked again to simply attend the planned conference. The French and the Americans, though each initially wanted the other excluded from the conference, are finally forced to act jointly and approach de Berjac with a list of countries they think unfit to gain access to the patents. If everybody owns the weapons, the reasoning went, the lunatics among them cannot be depended on not to use these crafty puppets with such long and invisible strings as the storm gun provides. It’s too easy. An era of apocalyptic weather could lay waste to whole nations, they said. Ours is an age of terror and no need to intensify the dread. Seeing the humanistic logic in their proposal the inventor granted the coalition the right to veto rogue or extremist regimes.
The money that de Berjac pocketed made him at thirty-two the most puzzling absentee from the Forbes 100 rich list. His lawyer, having earned a fat commission, bought one of the sprawling casinos of Las Vegas.
Some years later de Berjac was kite-flying in the Far East and one day the wind got far stronger than he would have hoped for, eventually, as you may remember, laying waste to several countries, North Korea being the eminently worst hit. It was the most violent typhoon ever recorded, a natural excrescence, the obituary said, rehashing witless reports.
Elvis Bego was born in Bosnia, became a refugee when he was twelve, and currently lives in Copenhagen. His writing can be found in AGNI, Threepenny Review, The Coffin Factory, Massachusetts Review, London Review of Books (online), Parcel, PANK, Tin House (online), and elsewhere.