After starting with Ernest Hemingway – of whom I am a disciple – I decided to switch gears and turn to another genre entirely. I don’t have a long, drawn-out history with Ray Bradbury the way I do with Hemingway, but I did get introduced to him early in my career.
I remember I had written a draft of a short story called Till Death Do Us Part in 2009, which I was proud enough of to share with a friend. It was about two people boarding up their house as aliens ships surrounded our planet, and my friend made a comment that it reminded her of Ray Bradbury’s work. So, it introduced me to a couple of his books, specifically his collection of sci-fi stories, The Illustrated Man (his most famous work, though, is probably Fahrenheit 451).
One of the stories that always jumped out at me was The Long Rain. I never heard anyone talk about it, and certainly most people have never read it, but I loved the themes in it: A group of astronauts, crash landed on Venus, where it’s constantly raining (this was back in the early 50s, when our understanding of Venus was much different than today). The soldiers/astronauts are searching for shelter in the form of a Sun Dome, which has been built on Venus as a shelter and contains an artificial sun. As a trekker and explorer myself, I found great delight in this setup, and it was one of the first stories that came to mind when thinking about this cover series.
As a reminder, my cover stories often include a couple lines verbatim from the original story, the same way a remade movie might contains nods to the original version. From there, it takes on its own life and explores its own themes.
Bradbury’s version, which you can read here, leans heavily on the sci-fi aspect of it, as well as the psychological battle between the mind and the elements, the search for comfort among chaos. The latter is the main focus of my version, which is no surprise considering I’ve spent a lot of time in 2020 improving my outdoor skills, and also quite a bit of time reflecting on my own psychological makeup. The Lieutenant becomes the ultimate elder in my version, offering advice to his soldiers about how to deal with the relentless rain, reminding them that no matter how bad things get externally, “the sun is in your heart.”
“Your mind, it’s like a projector,” he warns, “and what you’re projecting is what you’ll see.”
It is in these ideas that I have found comfort over this last year, as well as in the practice of self-sufficiency, both of the mind and body – both of which ring loud and clear in the story.
I’ve always admired Bradbury for his courageous depictions of the future and for his simple, plain writing style, and thinking about my introduction takes me back to another era of my writing and career entirely. I hope you enjoy the journey of this story. For the next cover in the series, we’ll jump over to Russia and check out a story that focuses on relationships, a piece by Alex Chekov.
The Long Rain
Ray Bradbury Cover by Will McGough
The rain continued. It was a hard rain, a perpetual rain, a sweating and steaming rain; it was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles; it was a rain that drowned the memory of all previous rains. It fell relentlessly upon the forests and plains and carved big rivers into the land. It simultaneously fed and destroyed and it rained all the time, day and night, when it was hot and when it was cold, when the wind blew and when it was still. Life was enormous and thirsty; the leaves and vines grew tall toward the sky, trying to climb above the clouds, until the rain knocked them down again.
Simmons stopped and pulled off his gloves. They were soaking wet, and his hands were wrinkled. Water ran across the tops of his boots. It was cold. His pants and jacket were weighed down by the soggy wind and the driving rain. He looked up at the gigantic trees, growing thousands of feet into the air, taller than the skyscrapers he grew up beneath back home.
“How much farther to the Sun Dome, Lieutenant?”
“I don’t know,” the Lieutenant said. The map, along with most of their belongings, had been lost in the rain. “A mile, ten miles, a hundred? Let’s just keep moving.”
“No!” Simmons yelled, wringing out his gloves. “I can’t take this rain anymore!”
He approached a big tree at the edge of the forest. The water streamed down the trees and had worn big grooves into the trunks. The wind gusted, and a surge of water came down the trunks. It ran over and outside the grooves and spilled down onto his boots, splashing all about.
Ben walked into the forest, a flooded mess of vines and leaves and trees, water streaming down each and every trunk.
“Watch out,” he told Simmons.
Ben drew his knife and bent down, cutting away a humungous leaf, about the size of a patio umbrella. He handed it to Simmons. He held it above his head with two hands by the thick stem. The rain molted the ends of the leaf and the water came off the top in spouts, but Simmons was able to shield himself from some of the rain.
The Lieutenant ducked under the cover of the forest and the three of them stood together, shoulder to shoulder, under the leaf. They peered out of the forest and across the flooded plains, seeing through to the sky, the light diffused by the clouds and its energy transformed into a milky, white haze that hung over everything.
“How long has it been raining here?” Ben asked.
“It never stops raining,” the Lieutenant said. “That’s why we need to reach that Sun Dome.”
Simmons walked through mud to the edge of the forest and peered out. The landscape looked to be lying on a table under a bedsheet, a corpse devoid of color and life, pale and sick. He looked up at the sky. Water fell into his mouth, nose, and eyes, and he choked on it.
“This damn rain!” he said between coughs. “It’s like living underwater!”
The Lieutenant called from under the leaf to Simmons. “Get suited up,” he said. “And put your gloves back on.”
“They’re useless,” Simmons said. He held up the floppy, wet gloves.
“Where’s your rain gear?” Ben asked, irritated. They all congregated at the edge of the forest, the Lieutenant alone now under the leaf.
“I think I left it back at the ship,” Simmons said.
“Bullshit,” Ben said.
The Lieutenant glared at Simmons, unimpressed.
“Don’t get mad at me!” Simmons was defensive. “It’s not my fault we’re here!”
“No one expects to break down,” Ben said. “That’s why we prepare, for when things don’t go as planned.”
“Oh, shut up Ben!” Simmons turned away from the Lieutenant, stepping towards Ben. He had grown tired of him. “Don’t act like you knew it all along. Congratulations, you remembered your rain jacket!”
“That’s enough you two,” the Lieutenant said.
Ben reinforced the hood of his jacket with both his hands, shielding his eyes from the rain.
“He’ll never survive without rain gear, Lieutenant. We should set up camp and wait for rescue.”
“It could be weeks before rescue arrives,” the Lieutenant said, holding the leaf like an umbrella. He looked around at the landscape, at the rivers and lakes and swamps and forests beyond. “Besides, it’s too dangerous.”
Simmons nodded in agreement with the Lieutenant, his blaster slung close across his chest.
“Yeah, we need to get the hell out of here,” he said, still trying to get the water out of his throat.
“We will, but in the meantime, make the best of it,” the Lieutenant said. “Your brain, it’s like a projector, and what you’re projecting is what you’ll see.”
“All I see is rain,” Simmons said. He covered his head from the rain.
“This place is whatever you make it,” the Lieutenant said. “Just like any place else.”
Ben put his arm on the Lieutenant’s back and gently pushed him along, out into the soggy meadow. He walked with him underneath the big leaf. Simmons retreated back under the overhang of the forest to wait, huddling beneath the thickest of branches. Water streamed down clean and cold and in very distinct sheets, funneled by the branches, one to the next to the next. Simmons took cover, and Ben and the Lieutenant walked out into the plain, away from the forest, holding the big leaf over their heads.
“He won’t do well without rain gear, Sir, the suits aren’t designed to take on this much water,” Ben said quietly to the Lieutenant. “And we need him happy if we’re going to survive out here.”
“It’s not his rain gear I’m worried about,” the Lieutenant said.
Ben leaned in and whispered. “Right, I hear there are… uh, forgive me, Sir, but… I hear there are some dangerous people here.”
The Lieutenant acted surprised. “Where did you hear that?”
Ben shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know,” he said. “Around the base.”
“And do you believe it?” the Lieutenant asked.
Ben nodded his head. “Of course, they’re responsible for everything that happened here!”
The wind gusted, and the big leaf was ripped from the Lieutenant’s hands. They watched it blow across the plain like a beach umbrella. The Lieutenant, unfazed, looked down and read the meter on his wrist.
“How long will it take to make him something?”
“Not long,” Ben said. “Twenty minutes.”
They both looked over at Simmons, huddled under thick branches in the forest, trying to light a cigarette, the blaster hung over his shoulder. His fingers were shaking without gloves. They watched the water dissolve the cigarette and melt it from his hand. He threw it down and began to curse.
“Get it done quick,” the Lieutenant said.
“Thank you, Sir.”
Ben gathered a variety of big leaves and took cover in the forest under an even bigger leaf, about the size of one of those old, 21st-century motor cars back on Earth. He overlapped the leaves he found, fashioning them into a pattern and fastening them together with vine cordage he had made earlier, sitting under the overhang of the ship. He cut holes for the head and arms and tossed it into Simmons’ chest.
“Put it on,” Ben said with authority. Simmons looked at the Lieutenant.
“As he said,” the Lieutenant ordered.
Simmons slipped the poncho over his head. It fit very well, and the rain ran off his shoulders down toward the ground.
“Good,” the Lieutenant said. “Now, let’s keep moving. We’ve got to reach that Sun Dome.”
They sloshed through the bog, their boots disappearing up to their ankles. They had to be careful not to catch their boots on an underwater vine, and they had to keep the water out of their eyes. Still, it was easier to walk through the open plains than through the forest, where the water came shooting down the tree trunks, like faucets filling a bathtub.
The biggest adversary upon the plains was the currents. The planet was full of them, mostly ankle deep, and the men walked with them as best they could. But sometimes they had to go through intersections of water and walk against the current, and the water threatened to come up over their shins and down into their boots.
Ben split a large vine into several pieces of string and tied the top of his boots tight to his shins. He did the same for the others, so they could cross the currents when needed.
The three men walked in a straight line, the Lieutenant up front, Ben in the middle, and Simmons in the back, lagging behind.
Simmons walked with his head down, hoping his eyebrows would help shield his eyes from the rain. His fingertips tingled in the cold air, and he moved them constantly. A chill had entered his suit, starting back behind his neck, and now it crept into all corners of his body. He shivered as he plunged his boots down into the muddy, soggy, grabby ground; he fantasized of bread baking in a stone oven, a warm bath fogging up the mirror, the hot coals of a campfire.
Lost in his desires, his boot caught an underwater vine and he stumbled down to his knees. He looked up into the rain and cursed at the sky. He stood up, frustrated and fatigued.
“How do we even know the Sun Dome is still there?!” he shouted out to the Lieutenant.
“We’re only hoping,” the Lieutenant said, stopping and turning around.
Now Simmons was more furious than frustrated.
“Cause those fucks in Congress defunded it!”
“To be fair,” the Lieutenant said, “They didn’t have much choice.”
The Lieutenant’s mind flashed back, twelve years prior, before his hair had turned grey and before the wrinkles really began to shape his eyes. He remembered emerging from the forest and seeing the glow of the Sun Dome far across the plains, that bright, shining beacon against the white hills and ominous sky. He remembered walking towards the door, the light bursting out from under it in a solid, golden ray.
“How many were there, Lieutenant?” Ben asked. They were all standing there in the rain.
“More than a dozen at one point.”
“They were slowly destroyed or decommissioned,” the Lieutenant explained, “after the Great War.”
Simmons grew annoyed.
“Brilliant! Our lives depend on a hut that was shut down before I was born!”
“I hear it’s much more than a hut,” Ben said.
“It will be whatever we make of it,” the Lieutenant said.
He then stood silent, looking at his two young soldiers. They did not say anything.
“Let’s keep moving,” he then said.
Simmons wept. He squatted down and covered his head with his arms, his face buried in his thighs.
Ben leaned in and whispered to his Lieutenant.
“We better rest for a while.” They looked on at his blaster. “We need him in good shape.”
The Lieutenant looked at Simmons.
“Okay,” he said, “Let’s rest for a while.”
They found a place where the water was just a few inches deep. Ben chopped down a tree and, using a retractable saw he kept in his pack, cut the trunk into planks. He hammered posts into the ground, laying the planks on top to create a platform. When Ben had latched the last corner, Simmons and the Lieutenant jumped up off the muddy ground and sat down on the hard, firm boards.
“I never thought I’d be so happy for such a solid, hard surface!” Simmons rejoiced at first.
But a few minutes later he was not as complacent. The rain still fell upon them, and he covered his head with his hands.
“I can’t take this torture!”
“Give me a minute, for Christ’s sake!”
Ben disappeared into the forest and emerged dragging a large bundle of logs, sticks, and branches. The Lieutenant and Simmons sat on the platform, hands overhead, watching.
“Don’t worry, you just sit there, I got this!” Ben shouted to Simmons.
He struggled to drag the load through the thick bog, losing his balance and stumbling often. Eventually the Lieutenant motioned for Simmons to go and help him, and together they lugged it through the mud to the base of the platform. Fifteen earth-minutes later, Ben had constructed a roof and they all sat on the platform under cover, protected from the rain.
“It won’t last long,” he warned.
The rain pounded the roof and the leaves started to wither. Water began to leak through the roof and drip down upon the three men. Ben took branches and leaves he had set aside and patched the holes. Still the water came down, a few drops at a time.
“I can’t take it!” Simmons shouted, covering his head. “Didn’t you learn how to build a shelter by now?”
“You wouldn’t be suffering so much if you had your rain gear,” Ben shot back.
“I thought we were leaving Earth, not coming to China!”
“First time I ever heard Venus called China,” Ben said.
“Sure, China,” the Lieutenant said. He had heard it before. “Chinese water torture.”
They looked at the drops coming down through the roof.
“Drop one drop of water on your head every half hour. You go crazy waiting for the next one.”
“I would give anything to be back home under the sun,” Simmons said. “For this rain to stop for just one hour so we can lay out and dry off!”
“You don’t need to go home,” the Lieutenant said. “The sun is always with you.” He pointed to his chest. “It is in your heart.”
“Oh, what does it matter?” Ben said. “You can’t lay outside for an hour at home either.”
“I would kill to lay down outside in the sun. The real sun!”
“And if you did, you’d be dead in a day,” Ben pointed out.
“I’ve seen a lot of places and believe me, nowhere is perfect,” the Lieutenant interjected, covering his head from the drops with his hands. “And all this talk about how there’s one out there, it’s… laughable.”
Ben thought, trying to remember the name. “What do they call those planets, the perfect ones?”
“It doesn’t matter,” the Lieutenant said. “It’s the wrong kind of thinking.”
“There’s got to be some place better, in another solar system,” Simmons said.
“Looking for another planet won’t solve our problems,” the Lieutenant said. “We have everything we need back home. All we need is a new perspective.”
“What we need is a new planet!” Simmons said. “Some place we can start new!”
“We’ve been down that road,” said the Lieutenant. “The Mars experiment, well, we all know how that worked out. And then Jupiter and Saturn and, good god, poor Pluto!”
The Lieutenant stared down at the ground, thinking of his fallen comrades. The boys sat in silence, looking on at their Lieutenant.
“And now they’re going to try to terraform god-damned Mercury, of all places,” the Lieutenant said.
Ben and Simmons sat with their elbows on their knees and listened to their Lieutenant.
“There will always be a new planet, a new place to covet. But moving on with the same mentality won’t solve anything.”
“Trust me, boys, even if we found someplace perfect, right now we would only bring out the worst in it. The minute a human lands on a planet, all of its shields come up.”
The Lieutenant chuckled, watching the rain come down.
“I mean,” he said, “just look at our old friend Venus here.”
Goosebumps formed on Ben’s arms as he listened to his Lieutenant. The rain continued to put pressure on the roof, more and more water dripping down. Simmons looked up at it with skeptical eyes.
“Let’s rest for a minute,” the Lieutenant said.
The three men lowered their foreheads into their knees and tried to sleep. They kept their mouths pointed down and their hands over their heads, cradled in a seated position. They could feel the cold drops of rain coming through the roof, and the wind blowing across their faces. After a while the Lieutenant gave up on trying to sleep.
“We better get moving,” he said.
Before the three men had left the plain and re-entered the forest, the roof of the shelter had collapsed and the platform was washed away by the currents.
AFTER A FEW HOURS walking they arrived at the sea. The Single Sea. There was only one continent on Venus. This land was three thousand miles long by a thousand miles wide, and about this island was the Single Sea, which covered the entire raining planet.
The rain fell constantly upon the cold surface of the Single Sea, and it bubbled like a pot of boiling water. The men stood at the far end of the bay, the rain falling on their heads, the sea widening out into the unknown. Water rushed down the land and poured into the sea from every direction.
“Build a boat, Ben,” Simmons barked. “I’m tired of walking.”
Ben looked at the Lieutenant. He was looking out at the sea, into its depths. There were gigantic pillars of water far out, miles off shore. The water was picked up in large columns, sucked up into the cloud bank that hung over the land, stagnant like a thick fog. Thunder rolled. Lightening cracked and spread across the sky.
“No, it’s too dangerous,” the Lieutenant said. “We’ll follow the coast on foot.”
Simmons held his blaster close.
“Let danger come,” he said. “Let it come and see.”
The Lieutenant looked at the sky. Lightening fingered and snaked from all directions, meeting in the middle. A ball appeared were the energy gathered. The ball grew larger and larger as it charged up. It began to pulse.
“Danger is already here,” the Lieutenant said.
The three men sprinted for the cover of the forest. They dove into the shallow waters beneath the trees. The sky lit up bright, a blinding flash. The men hide their eyes and covered their faces. They heard a tremendous boom, a chilling sizzle. The thunder hit them in the chest, rattling their ribs. They blinked their eyes and tugged on their ears to bring back their senses.
Across the way, on the far side of the Single Sea, the entire forest was on fire. Then, in a matter of seconds, the rain put out the fire, and the broken, fried trees were washed away like driftwood.
The three of them looked out from the forest. The energy in the sky had subsided, the thunder and lightning were gone. The rain still came down.
“We were lucky,” the Lieutenant said.
Ben sat silent. Simmons gripped his blaster tight.
“God damn this weather!”
The Lieutenant let out a breath. “Let’s keep moving.”
The men followed the coastline of the Single Sea. Simmons was shaking from the storm. He held his blaster under this arm, and kept his chin to his chest. He grit his teeth as the rain pounded his forehead. He cursed as he slipped. He felt his feet squish against the bottom of his boot, water between his toes.
Ben looked at the waves on the sea, and across the way to where the forest had been. He noticed the new growth was already starting to pop out of the ground. The Lieutenant stepped up beside him.
“One day soon that too will burn and be replaced,” the Lieutenant said. “And on and on it goes.”
They walked on for an hour, into the forests and out onto the flooded plains, crossing streams and big rivers and walking as best they could with the current that was, at all times, tugging at their ankles.
Simmons saw it first. “There it is!”
“The Sun Dome!”
Up ahead they could see, very faintly, something in between the trees on the far side of the next flooded plain. They stood in a line and looked at it. The Lieutenant blinked the water from his eyes.
“Looks like you were right Sir!” Ben exclaimed.
The Lieutenant did not say anything.
Simmons began to run.
“Thank God! Bring on the coffee and buns!”
“Save your energy!” Ben called out. He began to trot after him, but the Lieutenant stopped him with a hand on his shoulder.
“Take your own advice,” he told his young cadet.
Simmons splashed through the wet ground and puddles as he ran. He was a kid again. He looked back.
“Come on!” he yelled. “Last one there’s a son of a bitch!”
The Lieutenant and Ben walked steadily behind him, keeping their same pace. Simmons grew the distance between them and raced for the Sun Dome. He felt is hunger, and all his other desires, grow as he closed the distance to the front entrance.
But something was wrong; the Lieutenant could see it from afar. There was no light coming out from under the door. There was no steam from the chimney. There was no life to the place.
Simmons kicked the door open and marched in, blaster drawn and ready. Inside was nothing but stale, cold air. There was no sun, no heat, no boiling tea or hot bread or heavy blankets or crackling fire or bubbling, melted cheese. Many of the windows were broken. The glass tables were smashed. The thick rugs were covered in mold. The bookcases were hidden by vines, and there was no food to be found.
Simmons began to laugh madly as the Lieutenant and Ben arrived.
“Look at what’s here for us,” Simmons said, standing in the doorway as they approached. “No food, no sun, no nothing!”
He stepped out and threw his wet, broken radio through one of the windows. He swung his blaster around and gripped it tight.
“The Venusians—they did it of course!”
The rain pounded his head, and he felt the anger surge up inside of him.
The Lieutenant, calm and collected, motioned for Ben to take a look. He stepped inside the Sun Dome. His boots crunched down on broken glass. Perhaps no one had been there in years, or perhaps it had only been a matter of days. With how fast things changed, with all that grew and withered, it was hard to tell. On the board in the entryway, he saw a map and studied it. He stepped back out into the rain with Simmons and the Lieutenant.
“The next Sun Dome is just a few days walk from here,” Ben said. “I can get us there.”
Simmons was irate.
“Oh, please! It’s probably got holes in its roof too! And then what? On to the next one, and the next, until we die out here in the rain!”
“We must try!”
“To hell with trying!”
Simmons screamed into the sky.
“We’re going to starve out here anyway, if this rain doesn’t wash us away first!”
He began to breathe heavily.
“Damn those Venusians! And damn this rain! If only it wouldn’t hit my head, just for a few minutes!”
He looked up into the sky. “If only I could remember what it’s like not to be bothered!”
He aimed his blaster into the sky. He began laughing, firing up into the rain.
“Yes! How’s that!?”
He held down the trigger.
“All day the drops come down, how’s it feel for you now!?”
He yelled into the sky and sprayed his blaster in all directions above his head. The Lieutenant rose his voice above the sound of the blaster.
“That’s enough Simmons! That’s enough!”
Simmons stopped shooting.
“Enough? Oh, I think that’s enough for you!”
He stepped towards the Lieutenant.
“All day you’ve led us through the rain, walk walk walk, always raining, it never stops raining!”
He pointed his blaster at the Lieutenant, but he never got the chance to pull the trigger. He fell to the ground immediately. Ben stood over him.
“Are you all right Lieutenant?”
The Lieutenant was standing there. “I’m fine.”
They both looked down at Simmons, flat out on his back, the water running over his shoulders, the rain falling on his face.
“Don’t worry, he’ll be all right,” Ben said. “I learned it in SERE.”
As they watched, a vine poked through the surface of the water and began to wrap itself around Simmons’ ankle.
“Well,” the Lieutenant said, watching the vine grow up, “You’d better get him up out of the water.”
Ben nodded his head. He went over and cut the vine with his knife. He grabbed the sleeping Simmons under the arms and began to pull him upright.
Just then, the ball in the sky returned, and the sky flashed a blinding white. The Lieutenant immediately called out to his soldier.
“Run for cover!”
Ben tried to drag Simmons through the water. He stumbled backwards as the sky flashed and the rain came down in buckets.
“Run!” he heard his Lieutenant shout.
The wind blew hard and kicked the rain into their faces. Small waves formed on the surface of the planet and crashed into their hips. Ben was knocked over and when he stood up, the water had washed Simmons several feet away. Ben fought the current and waded through the water, toward the floating body. Then he heard his Lieutenant cry out.
Ben tried to shield his eyes from the rain. He pushed on toward Simmons. The ball in the sky pulsed, a bright light flashed, the wind blew and a wave came through.
“Help!” he heard the Lieutenant call again.
Ben had no choice but to let Simmons go. He turned his attention to his Lieutenant. His leg was caught and he was being pulled down by the current. His body was being twisted around a small tree. He cried out in pain as he was pulled down into the water.
“Hold on, Lieutenant!”
Ben churned his legs through the water as fast as he could. He lunged on to a log that was floating by and pushed it toward his Lieutenant.
The Lieutenant hung on for his life as the water swirled around him. Ben wedged himself against another tree and held the log tight. Both men closed their eyes when the sky lit up bright.
IT TOOK FOUR HOURS for the waves and water to recede. The Lieutenant was hurt bad; his legs had been torn and shattered in the storm. He could not walk. Ben grabbed him under the arms and dragged him to a patch of high grass. He leaned the Lieutenant up against a fallen tree, about as tall as a house, so he could sit upright. Ben went over and began to twist the vines and make a covering above their heads.
“Come sit, Ben,” the Lieutenant said.
“Be right there,” he said. “I have to camouflage us.”
He continued weaving the vines.
“No,” the Lieutenant said, weak. “Let it be.”
“Let me at least retrieve my blaster then,” he said. “It could have wedged against a tree – “
“No,” the Lieutenant said. “Leave it and come sit.”
“But Sir,” Ben began to explain, “Without protection the Venusians could – “
The Lieutenant slapped his hand into the water. He looked down and composed himself. Ben dropped the vines and went over. He knelt down beside him.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “But Ben, there’s something you need to understand.”
He spoke with the weight of many years on his shoulders.
“Truth is, there are no Venusians.”
Ben was startled by the news. He thought about everything he had come to believe, the whispers within his squadron, the reports in the news, and the things he had overheard back on base.
“But the Sun Domes were attacked and destroyed by the Venusians…”
“Lies,” the Lieutenant said. The wind gusted and the rain came down.
“There was never anyone else here,” the Lieutenant said. “It was our own people. The rain… it drove them all crazy.”
“But everyone around base was talking about it,” Ben said. “And Simmons told me – ”
“Simmons was always thinking about what was being done to him, not what he was doing to himself,” the Lieutenant interrupted.
Ben felt bad about Simmons. He looked at the sky and water fell into his eyes. Lightening flashed in the distance.
“I don’t understand.”
“What were we to tell everyone?” The Lieutenant turned emotional, worn down by his injuries. “No one can understand this place until they have experienced it. People needed a physical enemy, someone to blame, to help them keep their focus, to take the brunt of the rain.”
Ben did not say anything.
“I was wrong to go along with it,” the Lieutenant said. “And the truth is, Ben, it didn’t work. Soldiers, scientists… they all lost it anyway.”
“But Sir,” Ben said. “This is not an easy place to survive. I know that now more than ever.”
“Yes, but is it because of the rain? The rain can’t hurt you. Look at it. It’s been falling on you all day and it has not hurt you one bit.”
“Well, Simmons –“
“It never did a single bit of harm to Simmons. Yet all day he told himself he was under attack.”
Ben did not say anything. He continued kneeling beside his Lieutenant.
“You see, Ben, this rain, it exposes our mentality, our weakness. And what a bright light it shines!”
“But Sir, your leg…”
“Things happen, Ben. Legs get broken on every planet, accidents can happen anywhere and anytime. If a storm takes you down, so be it. I’ll I’m saying is… don’t let the rain get to you. Find a new perspective. Promise me you won’t let it get to you. We forget it cannot hurt us.”
He held out his arm. The rain fell upon it.
“See, it is only drops on my arm.”
It was getting harder for the Lieutenant to breathe. Water poured into the wound in his leg. He winced at the pain.
“Promise me, Ben, promise me.” He held his leg with both his hands. “I can’t look after you any longer.”
“Stop talking that way,” Ben said. “I’m going to get you out of here.”
“No,” the Lieutenant said. It was obvious that he would not be able to walk. “I am happy right here in this rain.”
“Come on, I will make you a splint.”
The Lieutenant ignored him.
“You have everything you need to go on,” he said. “I will be nothing but a drag.”
Ben felt empty. He could feel water gathering behind his eyes. It was easy to hide, though, with the rain hitting his face.
“I won’t make it without you, Sir. Come on, please get up.”
The Lieutenant leaned up towards Ben and pushed his finger into his chest.
“Nonsense. You are in good shape, you have good skills,” he told him. “All you need now is a good attitude.”
The Lieutenant began coughing up water. Then he gasped in pain, his leg bone split in two.
“Let’s get you somewhere more comfortable,” Ben urged his Lieutenant. Rain was pounding both their heads. “The forest isn’t far.”
“No, it’s time for you to go.”
“I’m not leaving you, Sir. Please, let me fight for you.”
“You need to focus on yourself,” the Lieutenant said. “And when you get home, convince everyone else to do the same.”
“Stop,” Ben pleaded.
“Just remember, the sun is in your heart,” the Lieutenant said. “And what you’re projecting is what you’ll see.”
He shifted and repositioned his weight, grunting in pain.
“Go on, Ben. Find that Sun Dome. Create your new reality.”
“Stop talking that way! Let me help you up!”
The Lieutenant pulled his blaster out of his belt.
“Go on, you don’t want to see this. Promise me, though, don’t let it bother you one bit.”
“You’re stronger than that!”
“No,” the Lieutenant said, shaking his head. He pointed to the sky, into the clouds, toward Earth.
“I am merely one of them.”
He smiled a warm, proud smile, the warmest thing Ben had seen in days.
Ben eventually followed the Lieutenant’s orders. He walked out of the forest and around the corner, and continued on through the rain. He never heard the blaster go off. Just keep going, he told himself. Water splashed beneath his boots. The wind tried to push him over. He ducked into the forest and built himself a covering. He put his head in his hands and cried for a long time, the rain washing away his tears.
Eventually he cried himself dry. But the rain kept falling. His covering began to fail and he watched the water drip upon his suit. Thunder cracked above his head. He remembered his Lieutenant, his voice in his mind.
It is only drops on your arm.
He started off again, weeping as he walked. After a while his throat grew dry. He was very thirsty. He stopped next to a river and squatted down to drink.
He looked down into the river. He could not see his reflection because the water was bubbling. He felt the rain falling on his head, neck, shoulders, arms, and hands.
He shifted his weight onto his heels and bent his head back. He felt the rain fall on his face.
He opened his mouth. At once his mouth was full, and he swallowed. He tasted the cold, fresh water. He felt the energy enter his body, his thirst recede, his mind return.
He looked at the sky. He could hear his Lieutenant again. He began to think about the rain in a different way.
Ben threw his head back and drank. He closed his eyes as the rain filled his mouth.
“What luck!” he blurted out. “I have more water than I could ever drink!”
His voice disappeared amongst the sounds of the rain. He looked around. There was no one – just the plains and the forests, the clouds and the coast of the Single Sea. He could see across the bay where he had left the Lieutenant, near the first Sun Dome. He had walked a long way. Up ahead there was more rain and more water.
He began to think differently about his journey.
Where am I going? he asked himself. Will it be better somewhere else? He laughed out loud.
My, what a crazy thing to think!
He started off back towards the first Sun Dome. He did not see the Lieutenant or Simmons. They had long been carried off by the currents. He walked steadily, for many hours, drinking from the sky as he went, until he reached the front door of the Sun Dome. There was no light on under the door.
But there will be, Ben thought. Oh yes, Sir, I promise you that!
He pushed opened the door. Inside the water was dripping down from cracks in the ceiling, and it was very cold. Vines snaked through the broken windows. There were bullet holes and blaster chunks taken out of the walls. He went through every desk drawer, every wooden trunk. He found a few pounds of dehydrated food hidden behind the bookshelf, and he discovered that the tool kit was mainly intact.
He climbed the perimeter stairs up and around to the top of the dome, following the walkway along the walls. He reached the top, an industrial platform, across from the artificial sun. It hung suspended at the top of the dome. Water dripped down on it from the ceiling.
He looked at it and smiled. He put the tool kit down beside him. It clanged down on the metal floor. Outside, thunder cracked, lightning flashed, and the rain was relentless.
“Don’t worry my friend,” he whispered, “They are only drops.”
He bent down and opened the tool kit. A soft glow came to his eyes from somewhere deep inside.
“And the sun,” he said, “the sun is in your heart.”