Steven K Singh
I'VE ALWAYS BEEN able to leap straight out of bed, ever since I was a kid in India. I used to be woken by the sound of cocks crowing, but now it's just a standard alarm call. I wake up hungry and grab a longlife muffin from the store. I'm too impatient to sit down for a proper breakfast and, besides, there's always some sort of food shortage here - I can see the queues from my window.
My day is made up of active stretches punctuated with naps - I'll get three hours' unbroken sleep if I'm lucky. Back in Calcutta, where I used to work for the Pan-Asian Technology Service, I was on a standard six-hour day, but now I'm on 24-hour call. It's hard work but I love it. I've programmed my compumate to wake me at the first signs of solar activity, and I can be dressed and ready to broadcast in less than two minutes.
My career really took off after the Alpha disaster in 2014 - it always takes a disaster for people to sit up and address a problem, doesn't it? Suddenly, safety in space was a big issue. I was headhunted by Worldview just after the Zeus satellites were sent up to their positions outside the earth-sun line - they get a much better view of what's happening from there - and within a year I was broadcasting to a 1m-strong audience.
Most of our clients are the big global companies, then there are our private subscribers - wealthy individuals who just like the idea of knowing something that other people don't. We've come a long way from counting sunspots but it pains me that we still cannot predict everything.
I see what I do as a form of damage limitation. I watch for two things: solar flares and coronal mass ejections (CMEs). Solar flares are basically explosions on the sun's surface. If a flare stream is heading towards one of our space stations, I'll send out an emergency bulletin. Operational personnel will have 30 minutes to call in any walkers - anyone outside the space station had better move fast or they'll get fried in the stream.
Then, of course, there are the CMEs, which are swirling clouds of electronic particles - geomagnetic storms, in layman's terms. You can see the effects of a CME pretty easily, even here on Earth - things like interference on telescreens, flickering compass needles. They're not new, but they can leave a trail of destruction: transformers blow out, satellites get lost... pretty much any power, communication or navigation system can be affected. Last year, yet another oil pipeline cracked in Siberia - and you can bet that a CME caused the weakness. The oil companies are probably wishing they'd hired me! If I pick up a CME on the coronagraph, I'll send a warning on the Net, first to the military, then to everyone else. The storms take three or four days to get here, so it's fair notice.
Halfway through the day I'll stop and eat - something reconstituted, I'm not fussy - and maybe sign on-screen a few copies of my books. Celebrity is such a mixed blessing. When the Hush paparazzi satellite got zapped by a freak solar flare, I couldn't help feeling pleased - my family back home were fed up with being monitored. I've lived here for so long, my parents think I've forgotten them. They try to make me feel guilty by sending lots of little manipulative e-mails, but I have become kind of hardened to them. They're okay really, they have my sisters to look after them. I've fixed things here so that I hardly have to leave the apartment - it's chaos outside and I'd rather explore from the security of my own home. Anyway, I'm a bit of a workaholic - I've forgotten what a real-coordinate social life looks like.
I first started writing as a way of winding down at the end of the day. I knew it would never be as lucrative as the solar weather forecasting, but now I'm addicted. I work until my eyelids droop, then head straight for the bathroom. I've got this great new refreshment system that is designed around 1% water usage, so I can save a small fortune. After this I stumble into bed and fall asleep straight away. I've hooked Dmitri up to the compumate - he thinks I'm feeding and stroking him but I haven't got time, so I leave the two programs to communicate with each other. There's such perfect order in their universe; everything makes sense. Sometimes I envy that.
Interview by Kathy Brewis
Portrait by Daniel Mackie
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