Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Forecaster


Just in and out, Jiun.  Slow and steady, Jiun.  You are modulated, Jiun.  You are focused, Jiun.  You are in control.  You are calm.  You are in control.  You are calm.  You know what the hell you’re talking about.

And she did.  Of course she did.  She had always known.  

Top of her class, or at least, close enough to touch it without stretching.   Professors who tumbled over themselves to recommend her.  Snapped up in a bidding war, almost kissing seven figures right out of her program.  Two years in at Econalytica, and the youngest senior analyst in their storied history.  At meetings, the overtalkers and the blowhards had learned to shut up when she spoke, because C suite had learned to listen.

And groomed her.  And welcomed her in, the youngest partner since the firm had been founded.  Senior Vice President of Climatometrics.   Four direct reports, all upper management, thirty two staff in her program, her work the beating heart of their business model.  And their primary profit center.

She was their best, and they knew it.

She knew it.

Still, there were the cameras.  

What was it about those cameras?

There was the studio, lights hot and overbright.  The scent of the Acela still lingered in her blouse, where it mingled with the slight but inescapable tang of stress pressing through the deodorant.  Jesus, they paid for the ride up, no Skype or ZoomMeet for her, she was a damn guest.

And there was Lamia Singh, right there in the for real, the familiar face from the best watched business program in the industry.  A little shorter than Jiun had thought she’d be, they were always shorter than you thought they’d be.  But no less stunning, and no less sharp.

Lamia had said a few words from within her swirl of production staff, so glad to have you, looking forward to your insights, heard such amazing things about your contribution to the industry.   Genuinely engaged, bright and smiling, decanting the same dessert wine flattery she undoubtedly poured for every guest.

Jiun centered herself.

“We’re on in three.”  Around her, the studio scuttled and flowed, a smooth practiced organic machine.  She was ushered to a chair, given water, a little touch up here, perhaps.  Told where to look, told she was great, thanked again, and then it was two.

Her primary.

Her primary was on.  She hadn’t checked it, had taken that vid from John about the quarterly reporting to General Electric, it was on then. And it would go off, because it always went off.

She fumbled in the deep pocket of her Gortex coverall, and powered it all the way down, as a memory of her mother’s gravel and corn husk voice flitted unbidden through her consciousness.  


“The day we finally got our damn pockets was the day the patriarchy fell,” Mother had said, and she was right.

When she looked up, Lamia was settling in.

“Ms. Kim.  Good ride up?  No delays?”   The familiar voice from the familiar face, the famous face, with it’s famously big, subtly asymmetric eyes, bright as dark polished pebbles, so large, distractingly anime eyes.

Jiun nodded, shaking off the spell.  “None.  Smooth and effortless.  No delays or interruptions.”

“Well, of course. That’s what you’re here to tell us about, isn’t it?”

Jiun’s attempt at a slightly witty response was interrupted by a producer.  “Ten seconds to live.  Ten seconds to live.”

The eyes turned away to camera, and Jiun managed a jagged attempt at a cleansing breath.  The theme and intro music was suddenly everywhere, all of a sudden everywhere, not just in her buds as she watched on the commute in.  

“This is Marketwatch Now, and I’m Lamia Singh.  I’m pleased today to have with us Dr. Jiun Kim, Senior Vice President of Climatometrics at Econalytica.  Dr. Kim, welcome.”

“Thank you, Lamia.”  Not an evident crack or a quaver in her voice.  The centering must be working.

“Looking forward to the third quarter, we’re looking at more bad news for the economy, already under stress from the catastrophic weather this winter and spring.  Dr. Kim, how bad is it going to get?”

“Lamia, it looks like the worst quarter in nearly a decade.  I’d go beyond that.  In fact, both the North American and our own proprietary New Combined Global model are showing the worst forecast in my career as a Climate Economist.”

Behind them, the screens spun up a globe overlaid with images of the anticipated storm season.  The model, there it was, her own New Combined Global, the most accurate forecast of the wildly chaotic churn of the planet’s weather.

What it showed was terrifying.

Nothing.  Not a single storm.  All along the Atlantic and Pacific, nothing.  

Jiun’s voice, terse and urgent and matter of fact.  “The impact on this year’s storm drought on the repair, reconstruction, and emergency supply industries is going to be just staggering.  This coming after a weaker than expected West Coast fire season, and only one fizzled blizzard in the Plains states this winter.”

“Why?  What’s going on to cause it?”

“It’s an entropic system, Lamia.  Obviously, we’ve had a run of great years.  Two seasons ago, Benito?  That generated nearly two hundred billion dollars of economic activity.”

Lamia interjected.  “Probably the most profitable category Seven in recent memory.  The New Shreveport projects alone pushed the markets up nearly five percent.”

“Absolutely.  What a great year.  Not at all what we’re looking at for the next few quarters.”

Lamia nodded.  “That’s exactly right.  The DOW is down nearly sixteen thousand points, and the S&P was off a similar two percent yesterday.  Weyerhauser’s stock was off almost twelve percent, and Caterpillar was down seven and a half.  What impacts are you seeing in the employment sector?”

“Obviously, huge.  General Dynamics and United Recovery Systems are already starting layoffs along the Gulf Annual Disaster Zone, which is on top of the layoffs on the Pacific coast.  In the Carolinas, Dupont is ramping down production at the Tyvek Repairboard shipping ports in Columbia, South Carolina.  Crop recovery and restoration efforts in the Midwest are at a standstill.  We’re talking hundreds of thousands of jobs now, maybe millions idled, in the sector that’s come to take up nearly sixty percent of the global economy.”

Lamia’s voice, now filled with carefully simulated human concern.   “With no homes and cities to rebuild, no infrastructure to restore, what are the prospects for the average worker in this sector?  How’s this going to turn around?”

“In the short term?  Things look terrible.  But the New Combined Global has verified multiseasonal reliability, and what we’re seeing for this winter season looks, how to say this?  Well, Lamia, it looks promising.  It looks good.   If we can run’ll see that there are multiple Eastern seaboard superstorms likely in both late December and into the…”

Jiun felt the answers pour from her, as Lamia nodded and those dark eyes glistened with admiration at her radiant expertise.  

She wasn’t nervous.  Those weren’t nerves she had felt.  That was pure energy.  She was on fire.  She was the expert.   

She was the global expert, in the world’s most important industry, and now the world knew it.

The ten minutes had flown by.  There’d been a handshake, a genuine offer of “having her on again soon,” and she was done.  A meeting with one of the NYC subcontractors, a quick snag of a bag from a vegan fazcaz place, and she was off.

Her primary hummed and buzzed.   Congratulations from colleagues, from John and Young Sik on the board, from a couple of her VPs.  Notifications from her bots, as the interview splashed and echoed across other media.  Picking up steam.

And after four days of losses, the markets, turning around.  Two point two three percent since this morning.  The chatter, as the market babblers pitched their daily rationalizations?

“Market turns after strong long term report from Econalytica.”  “Dow up nine hundred on analyst’s positive storm report.”

She was Atlas.  She was moving the world.

All of a sudden, she was hungry.  So very hungry.  The nervous tightness in her gut had unfurled and released, and now her stomach snarled and groaned.  She could smell the falafel, and lord it smelled good.  She fumbled with the bag.  

The pita was a great fat thing, thick spread with hummus and tzatziki, and she tore into it, feeling the tzatziki course down her chin.  She didn’t care.  No more meetings today, and she had always been the kind of girl who ate…

And Mother’s voice again.  “You eat like a wolf, Jiun.  Like a starving wolf.”  Not a reprimand.  Not a correction.  But smiling, the broad smile of a loud brassy ahjumma, so pleased with her fierce firstborn wolf girl.

Halfway through, she stopped for breath, took a deep quaff of her energy tea, and looked around.  The car, entirely full, rustling with the mutters and clicks of business.

Through the windows of the train, the landscape flickered bright and sun dappled behind the concrete and steel windbreaks.

Above, the sky was a perfect, cursed, unprofitable blue.

Ah well, she thought.  It'll pass. It’s just weather.