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Rain Day

Jeremy hid carefully in the tangled bushes of the park to avoid the revelry of Rain Day. Already soaked by three or four of the passing groups, and pursued at one point by his cousin Paco and his friends, Jeremy was in no mood to let it happen again -- at least not without a fight. Besides, what a stupid idea, a whole day-long holiday to celebrate rain.

Looking upward, Jeremy stared in wonder for a moment at the cities that arched together over his head, and the cloud that hung perpetually in the center of the man-made cylinder in space that was called Gerard. Huh. A dumb name, too.

Gerard was the largest space colony ever built. It occupied an orbit between Earth and Mars and had been called man s greatest engineering achievement. Jeremy had little enthusiasm for the worldlet that he'd moved to with his parents from a home in Ocean City, Maryland, no matter what people said about it. It was true that the cylinder, its interior lined with dirt built up from dust from the moon and asteroids, did have cleaner air and better water than he was used to at home, but what of it? Gerard didn't have any of his friends, and there was little chance that he would ever see his girlfriend Kathleen anymore. Heck, Kathleen hadn't even bothered to answer the last letter he'd sent her. Jeremy sighed sadly. Since he was more than twenty million miles away from Earth, he might as well forget Kathleen.

Although his hiding place was comfortable enough, it was also boring--except for the view of the two other cities that made up the worldlet there was little to look at close up.

The sounds of steps on the path made him settle back down onto the grass for a few more moments, and before he could decide to leave, there came the noise of running feet and laughing voices.

"She went this way, I bet," one voice yelled, and then another. The commotion quieted.

Jeremy held his breath. He could hear a small rustling sound in the bushes, as if someone was pushing their way through. He knew what that meant. One of the kids with the squeeze bottles, or, even worse, one with a borrowed zero gravity bucket, was sneaking up on him.

He wished that he'd known what this holiday was all about. He could have borrowed a zero gravity bucket from either of his parents, both of whom flew ferry craft between the main space colony of Gerard and the various government and private factories that were in the same orbit.

Jeremy tensed. He could imagine a zero gravity bucket, a plastic container with accordion-like folds and a special, one-way valve, waiting to be dumped on him.

Instead, a girl, not much shorter than he, entered the tiny clearing. She was wet from her red-brown hair to the tips of her sneaker-covered feet. Water dripped from the bedraggled ends of her hair onto her shoulders.

She gasped when she realized that someone was already there, glanced around anxiously to locate any squeeze bottles or buckets of water. Seeing none, she relaxed.

"You've got a crew looking for you, too?" she asked.

"Yeah," he said guardedly. "My cousin and his friends, mostly."

"Did they chase you here?" She glanced around again, as if expecting to be showered at any moment.

"I don't think they know where I am." Jeremy shook his head briefly. "They think I took a transport tube over to the farm area. But they soaked me first." He spread his arms to show that he, too, was still dripping wet. "And then three girls with squeeze bottles got me just before I got to the park."

"Do you mind if I sit?" she asked.

"Pull up a rock," he replied, indicating a likely looking piece of imported moonstone.

They both hushed at the first sign of conspiring voices. Suddenly there were squeals of laughter and the whooshing sound of a zero gravity bucket being emptied. The voices, male and female, continued to laugh as one group chased the other away from the hiding place.

A few seconds later droplets from the battle began to fall on the hidden pair, dripping off branches, and, in some cases, it seemed, directly from the sky. Jeremy glanced up in time to see a drop fully two inches across dropping toward the girl. He slapped at it and it showered his face lightly.


"Sure," he said, "no problem."

He was quiet a few seconds before speaking again. "I'm never going to feel right when water acts that way. It's not natural."

"What do you mean?" the girl asked.

"Water shouldn't fall so slow. It shouldn't be in such big drops."

"But it's always acted that way," the girl replied, adding "or at least as long as I can remember." She stopped talking while she wrung out the bottom of her blouse, several large drops collecting and falling to the ground as she watched. "How do you want it to act?" she finally asked.

"Like it's supposed to. You know, little drops that fall right away. Splashes that don't take all day. Like that."

The girl's eyes widened momentarily. "I'll bet you come from one of the Out-farms, or maybe from one of the research cylinders, right?"

Jeremy shook his head. He judged the girl to be around his own age -- say, thirteen, or maybe just turned fourteen. He wondered if she would call him the same names that others called him. Names like groundhog and earthworm, or, even worse, smogger.

"No, I'm from Earth."

"Really? Wow, I never met anyone from Earth before--I mean, no one my own age, anyway. Oh. My name is Monique."

"Glad to meet you, Monique. I'm Jeremy. Jeremy Tiffany." He shook the proffered hand, realizing as he did that he was glad to meet someone who didn't make a joke as soon as they found out he was from Earth.

"Do people call you Jerry?"

"My parents don't like that, but I don't mind."

"My grandparents were from Earth, you know," she said. "In fact, they were from Kansas. That's in North America." She seemed proud to be able to put the state on the proper continent.

"I'm from North America, too. From a place called Berlin, Maryland. It's part of the U.S. And I lived in Ocean City for awhile, too."

"I know, we learned about the U.S. in school once. We don't have countries here, though--each cylinder or colony is independent--you'll get that in school, I'm sure. Ocean City. Was it on the seashore with waves and all?"

"Yeah. I really like it there. Or I liked it there. I think it's a lot better than living on Gerard."

"You don't like it here?" Monique s voice was indignant.

Jeremy hadn't planned on offending her. It was important to him that she understand. "Everything is wrong here. The year is 500 days long instead of 365. The gravity is wrong. People ask me how old I am and I say thirteen." Jeremy clasped his hands together as he spoke.

Monique was startled.

"See? You react the same way. I celebrated my thirteenth birthday while I was on the ship coming here. Everyone tells me that I have to change back to being nine and a half! How can I do that? And some years -- every year, maybe! -- you have Christmas twice because it s one of those synchronized holidays they keep Earth-time on ."

"I guess that is a lot of changes," she said sympathetically. "But everything seems right to me. I like here a lot more than any of the other cylinders I've visited. You know, some of them don't have any parks at all, and you have to get permission to do anything. Gerard is a good place to live!"

"But the holidays are so strange. Like today."

"Today's not strange at all," she said, wrinkling her nose a bit in thought . "Look. A long time ago they started building Gerard. After it was built, they had to bring all kinds of chemicals and dirt, and they had to live inside special domes. They got enough air, finally, so they could live anywhere -- but they didn't have enough water. Some colonies will never have enough extra water to let people throw it around the way we do here. They had just enough to live on, and they grew all the food in hydroponic tanks. Then, one of the asteroid miners found an asteroid that was almost all ice. She named it Rain, and told the colony about it. The colony would never have been able to ship that much water up from Earth -- it's an expensive trip. But they started melting Rain, and that's where we got the extra water."

Monique took a breath.

"Jeremy, suppose you had lived in a desert all of your life, and then someone found a way to bring an oasis wherever they needed it? That's what Rain means to Gerard. You should celebrate, too -- we wouldn't have any parks without Rain. In fact, Rain is still in orbit a few hundred miles from here, and we haven't used half of it yet. Rain is our treasure, like gold or good air is treasure on Earth."

Jeremy was amazed. No one had bothered to tell him about Rain, since they all thought he knew about it. Anyone over two or three of Gerard's years old must know the story as well as American school children know about Betsy Ross.

Jeremy nodded. "And Air Day is the day the first air was let out?"

"Close. Air Day," she said, waving her hands around so hard that she slid part way off her rock and was half-wedged between the rock and a sapling with red leaves "is the anniversary of the first day that the air was breathable enough to live outside the domes without a respirator of some kind." Monique was smiling.

"I see." Jeremy realized that he was smiling too. "Just like Thanksgiving is a real holiday in the U.S."

"Exactly." Monique held her arm out to him. "Help me up, will you?"

Jeremy stood and reached out to help, pulling lightly. He almost succeeded in knocking both of them over.

"Hey, not so rough!" the surprised girl complained.

Jeremy was red-faced. Another one of those things he would have to remember. "I'm sorry, really. I'm just not used to the gravity yet."

"And you're awful strong, too, aren't you?" she asked as she rubbed her shoulder.

"Not back home," he said, and then changed it to, "No, not on Earth. But almost everyone here grew up in less than half of the gravity I'm used to, so my muscles are stronger."

"Oh," she said thoughtfully, as they pushed their way out of the hidden clearing and on to the path that led to the colony's zoo.

They walked for a few moments, Monique pointing out buildings and boats on the lake of the city above them. Suddenly, there were yells and war whoops and the sound of running feet behind them.

Jeremy turned. Paco and his friends were charging them, squeeze bottles and zero gravity buckets at the ready.

He turned back to run, but Monique grabbed his hand. "Come on, let's grab one of the z-g buckets!" she urged.

"They're bigger than us."

"Jerry, you're probably stronger than they are, aren t you?"

And Jerry found himself charging his cousin, and the water buckets, hand in hand with Monique.

The larger group fell back slightly in surprise, and tried to aim their water weapons. In the confusion, Jeremy tackled Paco's bucket and wrestled it away somehow. Two of Paco's friends were aiming squeeze bottles at Monique when Jeremy startled them, and himself, with the amount of water that sprayed out of the zero gravity bucket when he pushed the accordion section with all his might.

In their haste to get away, both dropped their squeeze bottles, which Monique retrieved and began to use on other members of the group. They scattered, yelling threats of water buckets and squeeze bottles, dripping all the while. Jeremy watched them lope off in the half-hopping, half-running motion required to move fast in low gravity

"Paco!" Jeremy yelled. "I'll bring your bucket by later --unless you want all of it right now."

Paco yelled back from a safe distance. "Use it, Jeremy. I have another at home. And Happy Rain Day!"

Then Paco and his friends were gone around a tree-hidden curve on the park path, their laughter hanging in the air behind them for a few more seconds.

Monique said, "Wow," and was grinning. "That wasn t bad at all!"

"Nope, it wasn't bad at all. And I think I see now how you have to run here."

With that, Jeremy took a running leap over a small bush and found himself high in the air as he sailed through the low gravity. He came down ten feet further from Monique than he'd planned to.

"You know," he said, turning to Monique, "I've been stamping the ground ever since I got here, since I know that it isn't like Earth. On Earth, I knew there were eight thousand miles between me and the other side. I didn't think Gerard would feel as solid." He stamped his right foot a few times to illustrate, bouncing a bit into the air each time.

"You know, Monique, it feels pretty solid now." He stamped a little extra hard and had to wait a second or two before he came down. "It may be," Jeremy said, taking Monique's hand in his as they headed to the lake to refill the zero gravity bucket, "that I'll like it here after all."

Smiling, they went to celebrate Rain Day together.

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