A team dispatches to set up equipment to monitor the first rainfall on a planet.
|Sandar’s gas regulator still wasn’t right; he stopped to adjust it, turning the control left until he felt the gas jets sputter and then right half a turn. As he was tightening the thumbscrew to fix the feed in place, Mags turned around. “Well? Are you coming or not?” her voice clattered from the speakers inside his helmet.|
“I’m coming,” he replied. Then he remembered he had turned off his microphone. His right hand reached over to the panel on his left arm and pressed it. “I’m coming! This thing hasn’t been right since we left the fourth planet.”
Mags turned her head to look at the sky left and then right, but there was nothing to see. Just a beautiful clear blue sky in all directions. The sky was unbroken by clouds, just as the plain below them as far as the eye could see was unmarred by any sign of life. Just dirt—in various shades of brown and red. “How much of the water did they take?”
“How much of what water?” Sandar replied.
“The fourth planet’s water. How much of it did they take?”
Sandar shrugged. “All of it that was on the surface. I guess there’s still some underground there. Not much.”
“Hmm.” She turned and started walking too.
The two of them were walking on the ridge of a long line of low hills. They had been climbing toward a peak for the last several hours and now were less than a mile away from its summit, where they would set up the equipment they carried on their backs.
“How’s your humidity holding up?” Sandar asked.
“Okay, I guess,” Mags answered. She didn’t turn around; both of them had their heads down, trudging forward.
“I’m dry, and my nose itches.”
Mags chuckled. “We’ll set the shelter up at the top of this thing and you can take the helmet off.” She looked up. “Almost there.”
“Yeah, I see that.” Sandar stopped and shrugged the backpack off of his back. “I’m setting it up here.”
“No, let’s keep going. It’s not even a mile away.”
“It’s farther than it looks,” Sandar said. He opened the top of the backpack and pulled out a bundle, which he began to open and assemble. It was a tent-like structure with some equipment attached, big enough for the both of them—barely. “This’ll only take a second.”
Mags had turned around and walked back to him. She pressed her gloved hand against the side of the shelter, which yielded, indicating that the pressure inside was not sufficient to support respiration—yet. The pump would continue working until it was. “Yeah, okay. I could do with a little freshen up.”
Sandar cast his gaze upward and pointed. “Look,” he said.
Mags looked. “Ah. It’s started.” They both stared at the thin wisp of a cloud that had formed and was growing high in the atmosphere. “That’s the first cloud I’ve seen. Where are they injecting the water?”
“The other side of the planet,” Sandar answered back. He inspected a panel on the side of the shelter, which had now assumed a globe-like shape. “Okay, it’s pressurized. I’m going in.”
Sandar slid the door mechanism and quickly stepped in, closing it behind him. He stood for a few minutes while the pump compensated for the pressure that had been lost during his entry. When the panel indicated that full pressurization had been reestablished, he unlatched his gloves, removed them, stuck them onto the sticky patches on his suit, and then unfastened his helmet. He tucked that under one arm as he ran his hand over his face vigorously. He heard Mags’ voice from the speakers in the helmet, tinny and faraway sounding: “How is it?”
“Good,” he answered back. “Hot.”
“Don’t take all day in there. We’ve got to get the equipment set up before it starts raining.”
Sandar rubbed his face again, then put the helmet and gloves back on and exited. “Okay. Your turn.” He looked up at the sky that now had many cirrus clouds high in the atmosphere and some nimbus clouds, lower, forming. “Oh, yeah, we need to get going.”
“I tried to tell you that,” Mags said as she entered the shelter. “You go ahead. We can set things up and then come back here for the night.”
“No, I don’t want us to separate. I can wait. Just do what you have to do and we’ll be on our way.”
“Yeah, okay.” The next few minutes passed in silence as the sky continued to fill with clouds. Then Mags emerged and looked up. “Oh, yeah. They must be really spraying on the other side.”
“I’m sure they are. Are you ready to roll?”
“Yeah,” Mags said as the two of them continued toward the summit.
Once there, they set up the equipment hurriedly as the cloud cover increased. The sky was now heavy and threatening. “Come on, I want to get back in the shelter before we get rained on.”
“I’m moving as fast as I can,” Mags said. Work continued until the equipment necessary to monitor the introduction of liquid water to this planet was completed. “Okay, let’s go.” The two of them started off towards the shelter. It was easier going down than up, and in a few minutes, they were within sight of the shelter. “How long will it be before life gets going here?” Mags asked.
“A billion years or so,” Sandar replied. Then the two of them were at the shelter. “Looks like we beat it after all.”
“Yeah,” Mags said. She activated the door and entered, and Sandar followed. They had just completed the complicated process of getting out of their suits and stowing them when the first raindrops started impinging on the roof of the shelter. “Ah,” Mags said. “How romantic to be in here with the rain coming down.”
“I guess it is,” Sandar said as they embraced. “The first rain.”