Friday, February 28, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: No Rain

Most Fridays, Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge. This week's was the Random Song Challenge. You were supposed to go to Pandora, put your playlist on shuffle, whatever, and the first song that came up, that title was the story you would write. Mine was Blind Melon's "No Rain", which I haven't really done crazy things like edit or whatever. So be aware, this is mostly a first draft, and at slightly less than 1000 words (the limit). You can read it with or without listening to the song; the song itself didn't really affect the story much.

No Rain

The ground outside was hardpan and crumbled away into the finest of dusts when disturbed. Even with atmospheric control, they were always aware of the hot white sun as it wheeled across the sky in its cycle, never dropping below twelve full hours of daylight. "I want to talk about water rationing," Jake said. He thought about the flask of Scotch he had in his gear.
"How bad is it?" Madge asked.
"Pretty bad. I wish we hadn't come to this rock during a drought."
"We're lucky we don't have to deal with sand worms." Lou muttered, not taking his eyes from the screen embedded in the table.
"Lou, as your captain, I hardly have any idea what you're talking about."
Lou looked up at him briefly. "It makes me sad, truly, when my colleagues haven't read the most popular science fiction of the last century or so."
"Own your feelings, Lou." Jake clapped him on the back. The Scotch wasn't contraband, not technically. He was within legal weight parameters.
Their habitat was converted from the ship they brought here from Earth. A clever bit of Ikea-style work, though with fewer allen wrenches required. It was reasonably air tight, though the atmosphere on Quirinus-5 was hospitable. There were cisterns set up to catch rain, but not a single drop had come from the sky since they had boots on the ground.
"Where's Gail?" he asked.
"Replacing the tubes on the recyclers. She thinks the dust put pinpricks in everything, allowing for evaporation."
"Is she right?"
Lou shrugged. "Funny thing about the weather this time last year, though. Rain you could set your watch by." He tapped the table screen and it brought up the satellite graphs.
"Then I guess we need to find out what went wrong this year. Margie, will you get Gail please?"
"Sir." She didn't march, but she was close. Had he hurt her feelings? Fucking morale. The flask would be just colder than room temperature, not enough for condensation. He knew how much water four working adults needed. Three. Two. One. He shook his head.
Gail came in, wiping her hands on a bandanna, and Marge trailed behind her. "Good thing we brought multiples of everything, Sir," Gail said. "I switched out the tubing and then sealed the manifold with the spray foam, so we're tight now."
"Was the tubing the problem?"
"Yup. This grit's worse than moondust, just shears through everything it touches." Gail leaned over Lou's screen, scanning the data he had up. "So should we start a rain dance or what?"
"Theoretically, it should rain tomorrow," Lou said. "Or the next day."
"So what does that mean for us, water rationing?" Gail asked.
"Hell, I'm just the pilot. Marge, you're our biologist, what would you say?"
"We can do half for a few days pretty comfortably, I'd say. Hygiene limited to the alcohol wipes. If we're sealed up tight we won't lose anymore, and if it rains like Lou says it should--"
"Like the satellite says," Lou interjected.
"If it rains like Lou says it should be fine," Marge finished, eyes on Jake.
"And if it doesn't?"
"Then we should reconsider Gail's rain dance."
Later, Jake sat in the lounge alone. His flask was tucked in one jumpsuit pocket, and he took a smokey nip from it once in awhile, slowly, as he read through the satellite data. Yes, it had rained this time last year. And the year before, and in all the years a satellite from Earth had orbited Quirinus-5. Despite this and the breathable atmosphere, Marge's analyses had found no trace of plant life in the soil, in any stage of a growing cycle. They didn't know where their air came from, and they didn't know why nothing grew on Quirinus-5.
Jake took another drink, savored the slow smoky burn. He was the only non scientist on the mission, and was long inured to his pilot's instincts. His skin felt electric, the way it did in the air driven ahead of a storm. He'd spent his hours looking at the past data gathered by the weather satellite, and with a gesture, brought up current conditions.
Crawling rapidly closer, and getting larger by the second, was a dark mass. Hot winds from the south, a storm the likes of which he'd never heard of on Earth; at a glance, it was the size of a continent, pulled together from thin air in a matter of moments, but perhaps building for years. Maybe it was comparable to sandstorms that raged in the Sahara, or the Rub' al Khali, where few people lived, if any. Maybe Lou had a science fiction comparison, but the rest of the crew was asleep. They were good people, and it was a shame not to be able to say goodbye.
He finished his Scotch in one long smooth pull, wet dregs coating his tongue like ashes. He could call up the outside cameras, but what would be the point? They would show nothing, and then a bigger nothing, and then they would go out. He screwed the lid back on his flask and stuck it in his jumpsuit pocket. He could feel it now, that deep seated hum in his sternum like waiting for a rocket launch after everything started firing up. The inexorable roar of an approaching train.
Jake made his peace before he left Earth. He could only hope the rest of the crew had done the same.


  1. Interesting setting. Loved the Dune reference.

    1. Thanks for coming by!

      Dune is kind of the Monolith of Scifi for me, so it's something I keep in mind frequently as I write, especially with a prompt like "no rain" ;)