he has never in her life seen rain. Every autumn, though, she keeps hoping she will. It only ever rained at the tail end of the warm season on Daimios. Before she drifted off to sleep, she said a prayer that this year there would be rain. As she sleeps she dreams of it.
It is a warm evening and she can feel it, even inside Grandpa’s cottage as she dozes by the fireplace’s cold ashes. Suddenly, there’s a blast of wind. The windows rattle and a gust blasts down the chimney, scattering fireplace ashes on the rug and on her. Grandpa, dozing in his easy chair, wakes with a shout on hearing her cries of dismay. Grandma hurries in from the kitchen and steps pounding down the stairs, indicate that Momma and Poppa are coming from upstairs.
In no time her frightened cries are quieted and she is getting scrubbed in the big, enamelled iron of the bathtub. Afterwards, cleaned, dressed for bed and holding a big ice cream cone, she sits on the porch-swing next to Grandpa, watching the smaller moon, Dragos, come up over the tops of the mountains in the West. That’s when he tells her about the Rain.
It was when he was no older than she and he was living in this very cottage in the mountains that, for the first and only time in his life, he saw (and felt) the Rain. It was warm then, too. He remembered Poppa, Momma, he, and his little sister sitting on this porch watching the big moon sail over the constellation called the Quarryman when blackness climbed past the mountains and swallowed the whole sky. To her rather scared expression, he replied that it was only clouds, but that night it seemed something more. Then the wind came, just like tonight. Unlike tonight, though, the wind heralded the rain. He remembered the first drops making little craters in the dust of the lane way, he said, pointing to the narrow track that wound away among the foothills. Soon it was pounding down and the road turned to mud. He and his sister were scared at first, but let their parents lead them out into the downpour. The drops were warm and heavy and felt so good that he soon found himself naked and running, splashing through mud puddles, laughing with the sheer joy of it.
That rain, he told her, lasted sixteen days. When it was over, there was a new President and a new Caliph of the Temple. Grandpa’s Poppa had found out that the price of his crop (harvested just before the rain) had tripled, so there was more than enough for the winter ahead. There was so much money, in fact, that he decided to buy a home in the city and try his luck there. That’s how Grandpa ended up being educated in the school system in the city, as opposed to weekly tutoring by the local Wytch, such as his parents had had.
She listened to her Grandpa talk; ice-cream all but forgotten and melting all over her hand, enchanted by the thought that everything would change with the rain.
She awakes to her alarm, annoyed as always by its insistent demands that she face another day. As she stumbles toward the shower, she reflects that, while she dreams often of rain, she hasn’t remembered that particular day in years.
The autumn following that day, she also began to learn what it meant to be a Cathari, a member of the Magian religion. A Cathari was a Good Man or a Good Woman. She was told that, while the Cathari lived in the world, he or she was not of the world. The world was, for the Good People, a place to learn and a place to experience. The goal of every Cathari was to achieve the Fullness upon death–to return to that which they had left upon deciding to be born. To that end, they sought to achieve the Consolamentum, the baptism that would free then from the bondage of matter and confer upon them the powers latent in their beginning.
Though the world could be sad and painful, the Cathari knew that it was also a place of wonder and of joy, to be experienced for its own sake. The desire for this baptism didn’t mean that the Cathari disliked the world; it meant simply a freedom from the distracting power of the senses. The senses could still be experienced to the full, but they were no longer distracted by them. The Consolamentum was, for those of the Magian faith, symbolized by the rain. When the rite was performed, the Good Man or Woman was doused, naked, in a torrent of water, meant to symbolize the rain. It was the belief of the Magian faith that actual rain could confer the Consolamentum on any it touched.
After soaping and rinsing she stands under the hot, stinging jets of water and thinks about rain. Then, as she often does, she slowly turns down the hot water. The pressure drops; the water cools. She lets it cover her and imagines that it is a baptism.
As she dresses for the day, she reflects on what she was taught about living in the mundane world. Besides the basics of thought (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric, Literature, Maths, Astrology, Music) she was taught the ways of the world, including economics, politics, history, biology, physics, psychology and, because this was a conservative society, the arts of love. She had shown an especially good understanding of the practical side of the last. She checks herself out in the tall hall mirror. She is dressed primly, despite the expected heat of the day, because that is how one gets a Good Man. It’s not that she, or the Magians are overtly modest; they merely wish to keep worldly distractions to a minimum. Not wearing revealing or provocative clothing is, for a Cathari, only a matter of courtesy.
Looking into the bathroom mirror after applying a little light make-up, she reflects that hers is not a compelling face. It is somewhere between plain and pretty; not one that would be noticed in a crowd of three. Will anyone ever love her? She says this to herself, not quite not thinking about someone in particular: the Good Man.
She sighs. Though she’s had her share of relationships, she is much more naive than she thinks she is; she thinks love alone is enough.
Eyes closed, she can tell the train has started to move by the feeling of being pushed back into her seat. She smiles, loving the feeling of it. She leaves them closed until the feeling goes away.
The view that greets her out the window is that of landscape blurring by as the train cruises along at 150 km/h. The buildings of the town she lives in quickly give way to farmland as the twenty minute journey to the city gets under, way. She feels slightly sleepy as always not just because of the train’s soporific rocking but also the early hour. The sun is behind her, casting long, blue shadows before it. The scalding coffee she’s sipping hasn’t had a chance to work yet, either. She can just make out the pale silver disk of Agros, the larger moon, as it sets ahead of her.
To keep from falling asleep, she turns to the local paper she downloaded on the way in. She taps the acrylic rectangle that is her doc viewer, moving from page to page, not really reading anything when she notices that it’s getting harder to see the type. She glances up to see that cloud cover has rolled in. She has looked up just in time to see the last of Agros smothered by blue-grey billowing mist.
It’s a little late this year, she tells herself. Daily overcast usually starts a couple of weeks earlier in the season. Only once a century does it ever do anything other than hide the sun for a few hours. She turns back to the news.
It is a normal autumn day in most ways, but she can’t get her mind off the gloom outside. She stops typing at her desk and looks out the window. The underside of the clouds are boiling and streaming off to her right, but there’s not a hint of a breeze at street level. She could spend the day just looking at the magnificent structures formed by the cloud layer, but there’s too much to do.
There are orders to process, as always, and that’s what she does. It’s not an exciting job, but there are compensations. The greatest of which is the presence of the Good Man. Well, he could be a Good Man. She doesn’t know if he’s Cathari as she’s never spoken to him. But he’s so beautiful. She has loved him from the moment she first saw him.
After an hour or so of work, she pauses to look out the window once more and then rises from her seat. It’s time to refresh her coffee. Of course this will mean passing by the desk of the Good Man.
She won’t flirt; Good Women, the kind who get Good Men, don’t flirt. She rounds the corner at the end of the row of cubes–and there he is. He’s typing busily away at his keyboard, apparently oblivious to her presence. But she knows how to get his attention. She walks just by his desk and, as she rounds it to go to the kitchenette where the coffee machine is, turns suddenly as if forgetting something and briefly meets his eyes as he is distracted by the sudden movement. She smiles, slightly and waves. He smiles back, barely, and doesn’t. She continues on serene in the knowledge that once again, she has caught his eye.
When she comes back moments later, steaming cup in hand, he doesn’t look up. That’s okay, she thinks, one shouldn’t be too obvious.
Back in her cube, sipping coffee and revelling in her moment of triumph, she continues her boring job processing orders.
The coffee’s long gone and she’s contemplating another when the rattling of the window distracts her. She glances out to see the deep blue-grey clouds scudding along the horizon. The wind seems finally to have found the ground. Down in the square, debris spirals in corners, defining zephyrs. In the park, across the street, leaves flutter, some losing their grips on their branches and surrendering to the invisible force of moving air; large trees hold firm but smaller trees bend in acknowledgement of that same force.
She spends a wistful moment watching the swaying of the smaller trees and imagining the start of the rain. She tries to imagine how different her life might be when the rain alters everything about this world.
It wasn’t until her schooling had taken her to her teenage years that she learned the details of this incredible change. It all started with the unusual ecology of this world.
When the first colonists from Earth had arrived almost a thousand years earlier, they had found a most unusual biosphere here. Though it only rained, on average, once a century, there was no scarcity of water. The odd geophysics of the planet Daimios were such that the daily pull of Agros actually drew enough ground water to fill small lakes and double the capacity of larger bodies of water. The colonists wasted no time in exploiting this phenomenon. Specially designed wells and reservoirs caught the rising water, preventing it from retreating when the larger moon set.
As fascinating as she found this, it was as nothing beside the effect of rainfall on the emerging culture of the planet. In the early years, when contact with Earth was a difficult and time consuming affair, the planet was, to all intents and purposes, an independent state. Naturally, the people had brought all the detritus of civilization, including religion. The theologically polyglot faiths morphed as new dispensations, brought about by new revelations from new prophets changed the nature of the tame beliefs into something more in keeping with the unkempt nature of this new world.
In short, the rain cycle of the planet found its way into the group mind of its inhabitants and different faiths, finding this common ground, tended to merge. There were now only three religions to speak of on Daimios. The Unians were an amalgam of the three main ‘western’ religions of Earth. Then there were the Magians, which covered the spectrum of alternate faiths from ‘New Age’ to Gnosticism. Finally there were the Kronkoids; what they believed was anybody’s guess. They all believed that the rain was a sign that the old should make way for the new. This meant that the leadership of all three faiths changed with every rain. (It changed more often than that, obviously, but in a more orderly, sedate fashion.) The Magians were a meritocracy. They retired the Council of Eleven and elected a new one, which in turn appointed a new Caliph from among its number. The Kronkoids didn’t seem to have a hierarchy; but they moved a lot of people around every time it rained, so that probably counted. The most startling of all were the Unians, who publicly executed their Holy Prophet in a quite gruesome fashion with every rain.
Another of the socially parasitical outgrowths of civilization that made it the 50 light years from Earth was politics. It followed that classic mode called ‘enlightened autocracy’, the leaders being chosen as the ones most likely to actually perform all the mundane, monotonous, and downright unpleasant task required to actually keep things running. Almost no one wanted the job, and those who did were ineligible, anyway, so things tended to work out okay. The Autocrats and the President were, of course booted out when the rains came.
Socio-economically, things were even more bizarre. An arcane, Byzantine, and nigh unintelligible system completely redistributed the wealth of the whole world by changing the value of all commodities and publicly traded companies. All social contracts were effectively declared null and void, which meant, among other things, that marriages tended to dissolve with the coming of the rain. Those who wished to remain wedded had to renew their contracts. Not even religious adherence was spared.
By the time FTL (faster-than-light) travel was a common-place, Daimios was again a new world to the Terrans who came visiting. Treaties, as among sovereign states, were signed and Daimios became one of the seventeen worlds of the Confederacy. Foreign influence had begun to soften some of the rougher edges of this world, but the dominant faiths remained much as they had been during the centuries of relative isolation.
It is naive of her to hope that the Good Man will leave his wife or his faith (if he isn’t Magian) and take up with her after the rain. She doesn’t want that, though (she persistently tells herself). She’ll settle for good conversation over coffee, with maybe a compliment or two. To want more would be improper. She strives, after all, to be a Good Woman.
She pauses in her monotonous typing and glances at the clock–time for lunch. It being a cloudy day, naturally everyone opts to take their midday meal outdoors. She stops at the cafeteria downstairs and, following the crowd, takes her tray outside. She finds a bench across the street at the edge of the park. There are trees to either side of her, but not above–she chose this bench to get a clear view of the cloud-hidden sky.
The Good Man brought a bagged lunch. He is sitting on the other side of the street at one of the stone tables. He has a sandwich in one hand and a doc viewer on the table in front of him; he’s probably reading the newspaper. He pretends he doesn’t notice her.
She begins to eat and looks around her. Most of the tables and benches are full of people, her coworkers, eating and chatting in groups. There’s little traffic today. She looks up. Clouds are scudding across the sky, driven by a wind that she cannot feel because it has again has lost contact with the earth. She looks back to where the clouds are coming from and sees that the sky there is a uniform grey, without any detail. Her brow wrinkles; she’s never seen anything like that before.
Time passes and, her lunch finished, she prepares to get back to her cube for the afternoon. She notices the noise, just as she realizes that the cars in the lane going to her right haven’t moved in the past few minutes. The noise is a roaring sound. She can’t think what it could be. Drivers are leaning out of open windows and peering ahead, probably wondering the same thing.
It gets louder.
She realizes what it is–people shouting–just as something wet hits the bridge of her nose. She looks up and two more hit her on the face.
It has to be rain.
She looks down to see dark, circular spots on the sidewalk where–raindrops, actual raindrops!–have fallen. Her delighted giggle turns to a shout. She stops suddenly; this is not the way a Good Woman behaves. She does sit and enjoy the warm, wet raindrops hitting her with increasing frequency, though. She sits with knees together and hands clasped in her lap, while all around her, her fellow employees (she supposes she should call most of them former fellow employees, now) shout and caper around her. The cars are abandoned as their drivers join the impromptu revel.
Soon most of them are naked, capering and singing in the park behind her. The Good Man hasn’t reacted to the rain at all. He continues to read the newspaper (though she can’t imagine how he can make out the text anymore); he hasn’t even glanced up. She allows herself a quiet smile; he is the Good Man, he would no more give in to the seduction of rain than she would.
She sits, serene in her private connection to the Good Man, while the rain begins to fall harder. Soon, it’s so intense that she can barely make him out past the sheets of water pounding down. In no time she’s soaked to the skin. She begins to feel as if the Good Man and she are no longer connected because of the sheer weight of the water falling between them. She also feels that her clothing is in the way of the glorious feeling of the water as it hits her exposed hands and face.
She makes her decision. This day, a hundred years in the making, will not come again in her lifetime. She rakes her soaking wet hair out of her eyes. Slowly and carefully she unbuttons her blouse and peels the garment, heavy with the weight of water, off. Next goes her bra, which takes awhile to unfasten in the wet. Her head tilted slightly back, she closes her eyes and revels in the feel of warm water hitting and cascading down her breasts and belly. The cooler, heavier drip of water off her hair and down her back makes her shiver. She can feel the change begin to happen.
The rain is sheeting down now, making a roaring noise unlike anything she’s ever heard before. The splashing of the water hitting the ground is causing a kind of mist rising about a meter above the ground. She has lost sight of the Good Man altogether. She turns in her seat; she can make out the revellers in the park, but only just. Ill-defined silhouettes are all she can see. The rain is masking any noise they might be making. She is isolated her from everyone. It’s just her and the rain, now.
A sudden fear grips her that the Good Man has gone. Before she has time to think about it she stands, abandoning her tray and discarded clothing and begins walking back toward the building, winding past abandoned cars, most with their doors still open. As she steps up onto the other sidewalk, she notices that her skirt, saturated with water, is dragging on her. Without slowing down, she unzips it and lets it drop to the pavement. She stops and looks down at herself. A moment’s thought and her sandals and panties follow.
She approaches slowly, the rain–the Consolamentum–a baptism, stripping her of chastity. Hundreds of years, and a dozen rains like this one, have moulded the consciousness of her culture into accepting the rain as both purification and consecration. She is reborn and rededicated. She is a Good Woman: a Cathari.
The rain slackens somewhat as she approaches the Good Man. She sees, with satisfaction that he is peering into the rain, obviously looking for her. His expression when he sees her approaching from behind the skirts of the rain is one she will treasure for years to come. Without slowing, she sidles through the rain toward him; arm slightly out from her sides, welcoming. A small, confident smile plays over her features. She is Venus born from the Waters.
The Good Man’s eyes never leave her, his gaze intent, his features neutral. He has to crane his neck back to see her by the time she reaches her side. It’s only when he is looking up at her through the gap between her breasts that she sees any expression on his face–it is desire, she is sure of it. Tentatively, he reaches for her. His index finger catches one of the many raindrops cascading from her right nipple. He puts is finger in his mouth, as if savouring the taste. Then he smiles.
Her answering smile would have shamed the sun on an average day.
January 2013 e.v.