fbpx
You have 4 free member-only stories remaining for the month. Subscribe now for unlimited access

Rain – An Aetheria Short Story

35 YEARS SINCE THE JUMP|21 YEARS UNTIL LANDING.

“I remember the rain”.

Baba Yelena always talked about the rain when she got to feeling sentimental. And now, even at the end, she rasped that oft-spoken monologue that was part stream of consciousness and part pure escapism from the metal and plastic of the colony ship, the Zvezda. It was almost like a prayer of sorts.

“I remember”, she began tremblingly, “the way it smelled. Ach Bozhe moi, it smelled like home, I tell you”, Baba Yelena trailed off.

Mitriy Nikolaevich’s mother sat in the uncomfortable plastic chair next to the hospital bed, her tears glistening like starlight as she listened to her mother speak what would be her final words. Despite the old story, no one dared interrupt the old lady.

The silence was dreadful.

Baba Yelena coughed, and continued her story, “When I was a girl, I used to hate the rain. Always had to stop playing in the courtyard because mama worried we would get sick. And of course, being indoors meant we had to go back to our schoolwork…I never liked having to sit quietly in that old apartment…”

Baba trailed off, a distant expression on her face. Mitriy wondered what it was that she was seeing; was it the old apartment? He’d seen photos of their housing block back home, the tall concrete cookie-cutter structures that loomed over the city like oppressive sentinels.

“I spent so long wishing for the rain to stop. I even wished that it would never rain. That the skies would dry up, for good. And now I would give anything to experience it one last time…”, her voice was thick with bitter memory and regret.

Baba Yelena was only 72, but mod sickness had caught up to her fast over the last few years. The cheap cybernetic implants, or mods as most people called them, of her generation had destroyed what little was left of her immune system. Even the slightest cold could develop into a deadly fight for survival. But it wasn’t a cold that was killing her, rather her own exhaustion. It just simply wasn’t worth going on.

Even her grandson, a boy of only 6, could tell she had reached her limits. She moved oh-so-slowly, in a way that reminded him of how the ship’s repair drones would slow down as their battery reached zero. She had simply run out of battery.

He wondered what that felt like.

Baba Yelena had signed the papers for the neatly called Final Directive this morning. By tonight what was left of her would be feeding the mushrooms in the complex biologics recycling units. A dignified end indeed, yet she ran to it with open arms, driven by the fear of what might happen if she didn’t. All Mitriy knew was that today would be the last visit. He’d never see his grandmother again, and when he asked why he was only ever met with sad expressions and non-answers. We’ll explain it when you’re older, they always said, but when would he be old enough?

There had been so much arguing in the weeks leading up to today. Shouting. Angry gestures. Unfulfillable threats that filled the air with desperation. Stubbornness seemed to run in the family. Zoya Rodionova had fought just as hard to keep her mother from signing the papers as Yelena had fought for the right to sign them. That was at least one good thing to come from this: the two would no longer keep the other patients up with their arguments.

In the door, a hospital orderly stood, on her face an almost constant expression of apology. “Visiting hours are over”, she reminded the assembled family gently.

Zoya nodded in acknowledgement and whispered something to Baba Yelena who smiled sadly in response. The two embraced as the younger woman’s shoulders began to shake. Mitriy’s father, Kolya, placed a hand on his wife’s shoulder in some effort to show support but there was no acknowledgement of whether it helped or not. It was as if the man didn’t exist here, or rather that he was an interloper. After what felt like a long time, Zoya finally withdrew, and wiped away her tears, then turned to her son, “Mitriy, it’s time for you to say goodbye to your Baba Yelena”.

Mitriy tried to find some excuse not to, but he couldn’t bear seeing his mother’s grief-stricken expression any longer than he had to. He approached the hospital bed. Had Baba Yelena always been this pale?

The old woman smiled as he approached. She was stick-thin, the skin of her face stretched over the bones like canvas over the metal supports of the temp shelters they practiced assembling every few weeks. She snaked her fingers into his hand, they were so cold, like she was already gone.

“Ba-“, but there were no words he could even think to say. What comfort could you offer to the already dead? What words could he, a kindergartener, say that would lessen her suffering? Before his panic ran on too long, she broke the silence for him.

“Dear Mitriy”, she began, “you don’t know how lucky you are”.

“I don’t feel very lucky right now”, Mitriy’s voice began to shake as felt something iron constrict in his throat.

“Just trust me, you are. You get to experience the end of our journey. Your parents will too, god willing, but I am far too sick to finish out this mission. I…I need you to promise me something Mitriy”, she squeezed his hand.

“What do you need me to do?” The lump in his throat made it hard to speak. Whatever she would ask, he would do it. How could he not?

“I want you to remember the rain, dear boy. Remember the rain”.

—————————————————–

The Zvezda had set out on a journey of truly epic proportions. One of the first colony ships to have been berthed inside the massive hangar of the FTL Collective ship, they had arrived in the new galaxy Elysium after a ‘brief’ but unanticipated 3-year jump. Their mission: find Earth-like planets and settle them. The surveyor drones had determined that a planet orbiting a Sol-like sun was the site that provided the settlers with the best chances. But first, came the bidding. As claims prices soared galactically, it became a hard-fought battle to buy the colonization rights to a planet with the best living conditions. It left them utterly broke. In light of that, they called this place ‘Nadezhda’. Hope. It was the only thing they had left.

—————————————————–

40 YEARS SINCE THE JUMP| 16 YEARS UNTIL LANDING

The barrel-shaped Zvezda was built for practicality, not for beauty, which was made all the more immensely clear when one had the opportunity to view her from her jagged and irregular outsides. Her interiors were sterile, mostly long stretches of hallways that on occasion opened up to a few larger rooms that functioned as meeting places. Still, at least one aesthete had snuck onto the architectural team, because hidden amongst all the hum-drum cookie cutter hallways was the emerald jewel upon the cheap steel-wire crown: The Hanging Gardens.

Built across multiple levels of decking, the Hanging Gardens made up the largest open space within the relatively cramped colony ship. Strewn with oxygenating plants like lush ferns, mosses, and sprawling vines, it was like a little pocket of Earth’s nature had been just dropped into place. In the center, the place of honor was reserved for a rather sickly, but still living oak tree that had been planted from seed just before the Jump. Most of the space was dedicated to the growing of consumable crops, but care had been taken to allow some room for more aesthetic choices. And one of these was the design of the Artificial Rain system.

With the already well plotted out irrigation system embedded inside the plant beds, there was no practical need to design the Artificial Rain system. It was just more efficient to ensure the water was delivered straight to the soil and that none was wasted by controlling the frequency and release speed of the water in response to the plant’s conditions over time. And despite this, like clockwork every 5 years, the waterworks engineers would prepare the unconventional irrigation system for the hour-long shower.

The engineers wouldn’t be the only observers, the Rain always drew a large audience. This would be Mitriy’s first Rain, the first that he could remember at least. He’d been too young the last time.

His residential block’s school had only just let out for the day when his father, Nikolai Sergeivich, came to pick him up to find a good spot they could watch the Rain from. Ever since the divorce, Zoya only ever came by to pick him up on weekends. She would be missing the Rain anyways; she hadn’t been at the last one either.

They were hardly the last group to be headed to the Gardens early for the show. Even the widest of hallways had become packed as people made their way from their homes, their schools, their work, from the farthest parts of the ship. Amongst the throng, the high pitch of children’s excited voices carried over the more quietly excited voices of the adults. To attend a Rain was an event.

As everyone filed into the Gardens the atmosphere became oddly quiet. There was an odd sense of reverence here, broken only by the overstimulated laughter of children too young to understand the gravity of the situation. Mitriy’s father finally found a spot amongst some of the other dads from school. A series of hushed greetings were exchanged, and soon silence returned. Nikolai waved his son over to a nearby railing, “If you stand on this, you can see things a bit better”, he clarified and allowed Mitriy to lean on his shoulder for support.

Now at a better vantage point, the sheer size of the Gardens was easier to appreciate. Large enough to accommodate what looked like a sea of people on the lowest level alone, and tall enough to feel like the ceiling stretched into the stars, Mitry was only a small part of the crowd. Like a tiny asteroid in an even bigger system. Even his dad was small in comparison.

“Weeeeelcome!!! Everybody!!!! To the 8th Rain since the Jump!!” the Head Waterworks Engineer exclaimed through the announcement system. The crowd began to murmur, the previous silence and reverence now replaced by barely contained excitement. It was about to Rain.

“We hope you brought your waterproofs because it’s about to rain in…5…”, the announcer hyped,

“4…

3…

2…

1!”

The echo bounced off the walls and faded.

It became stone silent. The crowd waited in anticipation, faces glancing up, down, all around in expectation of the Rain. Mitriy almost thought the system had broken when a wave of exclamations came from a group just a few meters to the front of their vantage point. Then he felt it.

A series of droplets hit his upturned face and rolled down to hit the mossy floor. Mitriy flinched involuntarily, he hadn’t expected it to be cold. As the Rain continued to build up, he could hear a sequence of soft plat, plat, plat sounds. So, this was what Rain sounded like? He lifted his hand into the air, catching the heavy drops of water and watching as they ran down his arm and dripped onto the floor below. Plat, plat, plat.

He wasn’t the only one reaching for the Rain. Many of the adults were reaching out, a look of wonder on some faces, or of satisfied contentment on others. There was a flash of motion to the left as a small circle of Adults and children broke out into dance. Mitriy had never seen Adults look so happy to be soaked with what was really just water. Just below, a line of other kids shrieked and laughed as they chased each other through the legs of those watching. It was as if, for once, that the magic of the fairy stories Baba Yelena used to tell had become real and captivated nearly everyone on the Zvezda.

“Remember the rain, dear boy”, she’d told him, “Promise me to remember the rain”.

How could he ever forget it?

—————————————————–

It was official. There was now only a little over a year left until they’d reach their space in orbit around Nadezhda. “Only one more year until Landing!” was the common greeting. Talk of plans and dreams was common-place, everyone wanted to be the first to discover or do things on the new planet. The Surveyor Drone’s first pictures of Nadezhda had been fuzzy, but now that they were in range to scan it with their own telescopes the planet’s features became clearer, and with it, the vision of the colony’s future.

—————————————————–

55 YEARS SINCE THE JUMP|1 YEAR UNTIL LANDING

Three more Rains had come and gone. He’d only had two left with his father. If he had only known that the water boiler was going to explode that day, he could have warned him. At the very least, he would have tried to be better to him than he was. And now, today would be his second Rain without his father by his side. Luckily, it was hard to tell tears apart from rain.

Mitriy had taken a job in the Waterworks division just like his father had before him. He was no Rain engineer, but it was work, and that was all it needed to be. Some days were better than others.

The biggest question at work was, “Are you gonna stay onboard after Landing?” After all, the Zvezda’s work would not merely finish upon reaching Nadezhda, there was still plenty of important things to take care of in orbit and they would need Waterworks engineers the whole time. But he would not be among them, Mitriy had been one of the first ones to sign up to go down the well, as far as he was concerned his time with the Zvezda was over as soon as his feet touched ground, real ground.

This would be the last Rain before they could experience real rain on a real planet for themselves. And while the Waterworks division promised that the tradition would endure past the Landing date, there was still this sense of finality. As far as everyone was concerned, this was the last Rain. There would be none after this one that had the same value. It would only be rain, then, after all.

There was a semi-nervous energy at work that only grew as the hours ticked by. How many more workplace accidents would be reported today because everyone’s hearts and minds were elsewhere? How many teachers would be exasperatedly failing to keep their class’ attention? How many people were anxiously awaiting the one celebratory moment that came every five years like clockwork? How many people, like him, were waiting for the chance to remember those who had passed on?

They’d built the Zvezda fair decently, but now, 55 years into her intended 38-year mission, she was showing her age. They would replace long segments of pipework, only to find another leak in the same sector. With each passing year, the loss percentage would go up as they tried desperately to squeeze another year out of the aging systems. She simply hadn’t been designed to go on this long, her anticipated lifespan had been 40, maybe 45 years at best. They could thank their cutthroat “friends” for that. After the longer-than-anticipated Jump had burned through supplies, there just wasn’t the cash to buy a survey claim any closer than where they’d found Nadezhda. At least they’d found Nadezhda.

There was plenty to do as the clock ticked on. The pipeworks leading to the agricultural sections were constantly clogging with growing media and other plant matter, and they’d found an illicit grow operation on more than several occasions hidden behind bathrooms and other less likely spaces during what were otherwise routine checks. Today was, however, not that exciting. Just a full shift of patch-and-find. Finally, the End-of-Shift bell rang.

Mitriy was gone before the shift manager had the chance to finish saying “that’s all for today”. If he wanted the best spot in the Gardens, he would’ve left half an hour earlier, but even this late into the day, there’d be a chance he could snag a good spot before they were all taken.

It seemed like this time the hallways were even fuller, since when had there been so many kids on the ship? Other adults, both young and old, were conversing excitedly in the halls. Mitriy could feel that very same air of excitement he’d felt as a child pervading the halls. Like always, the chatter seemed to crescendo up until the point of entry into the Gardens. Like always, a reverent silence would take hold, but now Mitriy thought he understood why.

The Rain had always been a social event. It united every single inhabitant of the Zvezda. Rich, poor, old young, everyone had experienced the Rain. Here, in this one hour, every single resident, with the exception of a minority few, could be found rejoicing in the relief of the Rain. The Rain was a celebration. It gave people something to look forward to. The Rain was resilience. It gave people a reason to keep going despite sameness of the hallways and the monotony of days. The Rain was memory. It was a chance for everyone to stop, to remember those they had shared the Rain with in days gone by.

Mitriy watched as the Garden’s main floor filled for what would be the last time. Despite the excitement and joy, there was a twist of sadness at the thought of seeing the Gardens empty at the next 5-year mark. Still, like many others, he turned his face upwards in anticipation of the Rain.

“Weeelllllcome everyone!! To the 11th Rain since the jump, and our final Rain before Landing Day!” The announcer screeched through the PA system. There it was again, that excited murmur of anticipation. The Rain was ritual. It would not do to miss a single step.

“Get your waterproofs ready! We’re about to rain in 5…

4…

3…

2…

1!”

And there it was again. That soft plat, plat, plat. Almost imperceptible at first, but then as the first fat drops fell it grew louder. PLAT, PLAT, PLAT. The cold water, once so shocking, felt refreshing. It washed away at the tiredness of his heart. It felt cleansing and uplifting. So, this was why the adults enjoyed the rain so much. This was why they’d become so light and full of joy that they’d danced in the deluge.

Mitriy raised his hand, once again, to marvel at the way the raindrops tracked one way, then another in their journey to the floor. An earthy scent he hadn’t noticed before was wafting up from the plant beds.

“I remember the smell of the rain” Baba Yelena had once said, “It smelled like home”.

Earth had been their home, so long ago. And now, Nadezhda would be too.

—————————————————–

The Zvezda hangs in orbit over the blue-green ball that they call Nadezhda. White clouds swirl over top of it, a sure sign of life and of water. Green and sandy islands dot a deep indigo sea. Everyone onboard is hard at work with preparations. The mood is almost intoxicating. “I can’t believe we’re really here”.

—————————————————–

56 YEARS SINCE THE JUMP|1 DAY UNTIL LANDING

They had really made it. They were really here, above Nadezhda. The dream of decades ago was finally realized. If only Baba Yelena, or his father, were here to see this! Mitriy could hardly sleep as his mind raced with the things he could do and see on a real planet. It was impossible to decide what to do first…

But of course, the rain!

Mitriy tried to imagine what it would be like to stand under real rain for the first time. Obviously, it would be different, but how? Did it smell different? Did it feel different? Was there even such a thing as warm rain?

All the necessary things were packed. As part of the first Landing Group, Mitriy was expected to spend his time helping build the required infrastructure for the rest of the colony. There would be so much to do. Water purification systems, the solar panels, the temporary shelters. It would be long hours of absolutely backbreaking work, but all he could feel was excitement.

Too slowly, morning came. It was time to leave the Zvezda for the first time in 56 years. For Mitriy, this would be his first time off the colony ship in his life. The Landing shuttle had been prepped, checked, and doublechecked ad infinitem since last night. This was it. It was time.

The expedition leader checked IDs and assigned seats. Mitriy already knew where he would sit and how to strap-in, they had spent the last month rehearsing for the Real One. And now, they were closing the airlocks for the last time as the shuttle pressurized itself. On a viewscreen above, Mitriy could see the landing site highlighted in a red square.

They were landing on one of the bigger islands. Preliminary scans had shown it to be sparse of trees, but absolutely covered in tall green grasses. What appeared to be brightly colored flowers swayed in the breezes as the grasses around them undulated like verdant waves. It looked like paradise.

The shuttle shook as the engines powered on. The pilots went through their flight-checks and then, suddenly the shaking stopped as the shuttle was released from its contact with the Zvezda. Mitriy felt his weight fall away as the small ship fell away from the barrel-edge of the Colony ship, then suddenly he weighed a whole lot as the shuttle’s drive kicked in to adjust their fall. On the viewscreen, the islands grew until the only thing still visible was the grassland beneath them. The shuttle began to rattle more as it hit atmosphere, the noise growing louder and louder into an all-out roar. Mitriy could feel his stomach tossing and turning as the shuttle was shaken by the turbulence. The engines roared one last time, this time he could feel the noise in his bones, and then, with a jolt, all was quiet.

“We have successfully made the Landing!” the pilot announced.

Cheers erupted from the cabin as the expedition team celebrated this victory. Not only had they made the trip, but now they had landed successfully!

The expedition leader gave a short speech that Mitriy was still too wired to listen to, but it ended with an emphatic “Let’s get to work!” and some more cheers from his compatriots. There was that same anticipatory air as when they used to gather for the Rain, the rise and fall of excited conversation as people prepared to disembark. The airlock doors opened and sunlight streamed in. Real sunlight from a real sun.

Despite the palpable excitement, the expedition crew kept to the planned order of things. When it was finally Mitriy’s turn to climb down the ladder, he almost fumbled it and fell. His hands were shaking that much. He kept it under control enough to make it down the ladder before falling to his knees in the dirt. The real stuff.

“You alright, Nikolaevich?” someone nearby asked.

Mitriy could only smile and nod, “It’s just been a long journey to get here”.

“Alright crew! Time to grab your packs and get a move on! We need a temp shelter up by nightfall, there’ll be time for sightseeing later!”

They walked for what felt like miles through the knee-high grass. Small unknown creatures skittered away in response to their noise, the grass rustling in their wake. Overhead, some winged creatures swooped and dived, undisturbed by their new visitors. Small creeks broke up the trail some, but soon, they reached their destination.

—————————————————–

The team assembled their temp shelters in record time. Aboard the Zvezda, the people are glued to their viewscreens for even the tiniest update about their new home. The meteorologists scan the weather patterns to answer the question that is on everyone’s minds: When will it rain?

—————————————————–

56 YEARS SINCE THE JUMP|1 DAY AFTER LANDING

Setting up camp had gone well, but Mitriy was still sore the next day. He had never done so much physical labor in one day before. Hopefully, he’d get used to it. Today’s task was to start on the water purifying systems. They had only brought so much water with them so as to get them started, the intent had always been to start producing their own so the Zvezda would no longer need to keep sending down supplies.

Breakfast was nothing special, but the setting of it sure was. While they had set up a dining tent, no one sat inside it to eat. Everyone wanted to enjoy the free air as much as possible. Looking over the grassy sea, Mitriy could spot a knot of dark grey clouds advancing. That meant rain. He felt the excitement build up, perhaps today they would experience real rain.

The clouds advanced so slowly it was almost painful. As the hours ticked by and the work labored on, it felt like they would never arrive. Mitriy had just stopped by for lunch when he heard the first peal of thunder. It sounded like a ship had flown over, but of course, there were no ships around save the shuttle. He turned to see that the clouds were only just above the outer edge of the island. From where he was, he could see the lightning arcing between clouds and then in a spectacular burst, a bolt of lightning hit the water beyond the beach.

That got everyone’s attention.

As if by schedule, everyone at camp stopped what they were doing. Everyone wanted to be the first to experience the real rain. There was that sudden air of reverence again as the assembled crew took in the sights and sounds of their first real rainstorm. The clouds overhead thickened and darkened. A cool breeze blew in, bringing the musty scent of water and salt. The rain would soon arrive.

Mitriy could see the front of the storm advancing, the rain falling in sheets in the distance. A peal of thunder announced its arrival and the first plat, plat, plat began to sound. He turned his face up to the sky.

Then the screams started.

A woman furthest from camp had been the first one to scream. She ran back to the camp, her face in her hands. Blinded, she didn’t see the shipping crates in front of her until it was too late. She fell into the mud. Two other expedition crew members ran to help her up. The leading edge of the storm rapidly overtook them and the shouting multiplied.

It wasn’t long before one of the helpers shoved the poor woman back into the mud and ran. The second crewmember paused, helpless, still wanting to render aid, but also slowly realizing the futility of the effort. With another shove, the woman was left lying, helpless, in the mud as the rain continued to fall. Her screams were only muffled now. As she spasmed in pain, her hands came away, and Mitriy gasped in horror. Amidst the spreading crimson mass that was her face there were bits of what appeared to be white bone showing through as she continued crawling laboriously for safety. The rain was eating away at her skin.

Mitriy came to this realization around the same time the rest of the camp did. They ran back to the shelters in a mad dash. Behind him, he could hear fellow crewmembers yelp and scream in pain as the wall of acid rain caught up to them. He ran into the nearest tent and now safe, and barely suppressed a yelp of terror at what had become of the camp.

He’d been lucky. Damn lucky. All he’d gotten were a few small splash burns, but nothing too major. His slower comrades had not been so fortunate. One of them, the man who’d been the second to get the full brunt of it was crawling along in the mud, his skin peeling and inflamed. Another one had dashed to the water barrels and was trying desperately to rinse off, but to no avail, the water only turned redder. He could hear the pained cries and shouts of his fellow expedition mates, some of which emanated from muddy shapes that writhed in search of relief.

The rain drummed into the plastic of the tent overhead, no longer a simple plat, plat, plat but rather a roar of droplets beating into the shelter. The grass, once green, had turned a muddy brown, everything was a muddy brown as the deluge washed everything away.

A cold droplet hit the back of his hand and Mitriy almost wiped it off absent-mindedly until it started burning. He jumped back, and saw that a small hole had been eaten into the tent. It was eating the plastics!

Mitriy retreated further into the tent, hoping he could find something else to put between him and the rain before the whole tent collapsed. He grabbed a few spare rain ponchos and layered them underneath one of the bunks, then dashed out to grab the metal baking sheets from one of the cupboards and stacked that on top as well. He curled up under this construction, hoping against all hope that the storm would pass quickly. Mud had seeped into the tent now, and Mitriy could swear the water level was rising.

“I want you to remember the rain, dear boy, remember the rain”, he remembered Baba Yelena say.

Another droplet of rain fell from somewhere onto his shoulder. Then another. They smoked as they burned through his shirt then he felt that all-too-familiar burn begin again once they reached skin.

The front of the tent collapsed and the splash sent some of the muddy acid-water onto his legs. Mitriy grit his teeth trying not to yell out. The tent’s remaining metal ribs began to bow inwards as the acid ate away at them. There would be nowhere to go once they gave out. A question flashed through his mind: Had Baba Yelena felt this trapped towards the end?

“I remember the Rain”, he said.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in Fiction, Horror, Sci Fi

Responses