Hello, my name is Jack.  I will always love an early morning rain.  Oh Dark Thirty has some of the best storms, the best rains, you’ll ever see.  The temperature drops, a cool wind comes in, and the rain starts to fall, cleaning off the grime of a long day.  The sun comes up and a beautiful clean world, ready to welcome it.  It’s all because of the rain.  And I will always love to stand in one, reveling in the power of nature to begin anew, every day.





It was a dark and stormy night.

Jack laughed as the words from an ancient story traveled through his mind.  The lightning was certainly lighting the sky, and the rain was coming down in sheets so bad even the dogs weren’t chasing the cats out there.  Which was a good thing.  Jack hated the smell of wet dog.  The thing that made him laugh was that it wasn’t even night all.

The storm clouds had rolled in off the ocean, sometime after what passed for midnight on New Earth, and even now after the first sun should have risen it was still dark as night.  The lights of Leif Erikson Spacebase illuminated the sheets of rain power washing the base and Landing City in the distance.  Jack couldn’t even see the nearby city through the clouds and the rain.

He could barely see the landing field, where the spider-like shuttles sat with their ramps closed against the weather.  The skies were devoid of traffic due to the storm, but at least the last of the trucks had been close enough to finish their route via surface streets.  They now huddled beneath the shuttles, waiting for the storm to end before they packed the shuttles with the last of the supplies.

Looking out on the base through the windows of the main administration building garnered an amazing sight.  Jack whistled as a pair of figures ran through rain, the flaps of all-weather coats held nearly straight out by the wind.  The figures grasped their cowboy hats to keep them from flying off, but Jack didn’t know how much actual protection those gave when the rain fell sideways.  The doors slid open and a spray of rain flew into the building along with the two figures.

“Holy frak!” Jay bellowed at the Cowboys arrayed throughout the main entrance of the administration building.  “It is frakking wet out there!”

“No shit, Sherlock!” Jessie answered with a laugh and clapped the towering Indian on the shoulder.  “Tell us something we don’t know!”

Jay shook himself away from Jessie, took off his coat, and hung it on one of the many pegs next to the door where it continued to drip water.  Jay removed his cowboy hat long enough to shake himself some more, spraying the inside of the administration building’s main entrance with salty water, before placing it back on.

“Chief!” Jay called out, turning to Charles.  “Everybody’s good out there.”

Charles shook his head slowly.  “They’re staying?”

Jay shrugged.  “They’re happy.  As long as the wind don’t go over a hundred, they’re staying.”

Charles let out several tsks and shrugged.  “Fine by me, then.  We offered.”

Betty walked over and tapped Jack’s shoulder.  “Samantha’s on the way,” she whispered.

Jack frowned in surprise and turned to her.  “What?  Here?”

“Yes,” Betty whispered with a nod.  “She’s coming.”

“Why?” Jack asked as he rifled his brain for an answer to the question.  “We’re leaving.”

Jasmine stepped up with a shake of her head as if she were talking to a particularly dim child.  “Maybe she wants to see you.  Or say goodbye,” she added with a wink after Jack shook his head.

“Yeah, well,” Jack whispered with another shake.  “I think I got the message.”  He turned away and began walking towards the stairs.

“Jack!” Jasmine shouted through the speaker in his left ear so loud he cringed.  “There’s a girl driving through a hurricane to see you!  If you don’t go out and talk to her I’ll…I’ll…” she trailed off and he turned back to see her standing in place, quivering in anger.

He smiled at her.  “You know, it sorta takes the threat away when you can’t come up with a threat.”

Jasmine glared at him.

Jack sighed and looked at Betty.

She smiled and tilted her head to the side.  She didn’t say a word, but she didn’t have to.  Her expression told him that she trusted him to make the right decision.

Damn her.

He shook his head and looked at Jasmine.  “And for the record, it’s not a hurricane.”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

“Be careful,” he growled back.  “You’ll get stuck that way.”

Betty placed a hand on his shoulder and he turned to meet her gaze.  She still trusted him.  Damn.

He looked down and nodded.  “OK, OK.”  He turned towards Charles and pulled in a deep breath.  “Hey, Chief!”

Charles turned to him with a questioning gaze.  Dorothy leaned in and said a few words.  Charles turned to look out at the storm buffeting the base.  After thinking a moment, Charles smiled and nodded.  “Hey, Cowboys!” he shouted, raising a hand to call everybody closer to him.  “It seems we’ve got a bit of a storm here.”

The assembled Cowboys laughed at the understatement, slapping each other’s backs.

“Due to the storm, Leif Erikson Spacebase is to all intents and purposes shut down for the duration.  I’m therefore placing all Cowboys on liberty until the storm breaks.”

“Oorah!” the Cowboys shouted back in enthusiasm.

Charles chuckled, shook his head, and eyed Jack with a smile that said he was never going to forget the reason for his next order.  “Now don’t do anything that will get me called.”

The Cowboys from Earth laughed and slapped Jack on the shoulders.  The new recruits from New Earth didn’t look certain if they should laugh or frown.  Making fun of the local laws wasn’t high on their list of things to laugh at.

Betty smiled at Jack and walked over to the coat hooks on the wall.  Jasmine followed and they pulled their virtual all-weather coats off their virtual coat hook.

Jack extricated himself from the backslapping Cowboys and walked over to grab his all-real all-weather.  He paused to watch them pull their coats on with a smile, until they glared at him.  Then he averted his eyes and slipped into his with all due speed.

“Where’re you going?” Jay bellowed as he stomped over.  “It’s wetter than my grandfather’s rain dances out there!”

Jack paused and cocked his head at the Indian in confusion.  “I thought you did rain dances when you were asking for rain?”

Jay laughed and waggled his eyebrows.  “Grandfather got fast answers.”  He aimed a finger at Jack.  “And you’re changing the subject!”

Jack shook his head.  “You’re crazy to think a rain dance brings rain!”

Jay poked him with a finger the size of a sausage.  “You’re crazy to doubt it without ever seeing it.”  He stepped in between Jack and the door with a smile.  “And I’m not getting out of your way until you tell me what’s so God-awful important out there.”

Jack rolled his eyes.  “In case you missed it, the Chief just gave us liberty.”

Jay chuckled and leaned towards him.  “At your urging,” he answered, poking Jack in the chest.  “The rest of us are getting a game in.  You’re running off into thatWhy?”

Jack glared at him.  “Maybe I enjoy standing in the rain.”

“Hah!” Jay erupted.  “That’s not rain!  That’s a flying lake!”

“Well, that’s perfect, cause I grew up in lakes!” Jack retorted.

“He’s got a girl waiting for him,” Jasmine interrupted the argument with an impish smile.

Jack spun his glare to shoot daggers in her.

A booming laugh washed over him and Jay slapped him on the shoulder hard enough it almost knocked him off his feet.

“Hey!  Watch the bones!” Jack growled back.  “I like ’em where they are!”

Jack felt his hat come off his head and Jay’s other hand ruffled his hair like he was a kid.  “Hey boys!” Jay bellowed.  “The girl’s finally comin’ for him!”

“Oorah!” the other Cowboys shouted and came over to ruffle his hair or slap his back.  Jack weathered their expressions of approval with all the composure he could muster until Jay finally placed the hat back on his head and patted his shoulder again.

“See?” the larger man asked.  “That wasn’t hard at all.”  With that, he stepped out of the way and waved his hands for Jack to continue.

Jessie and Ken stepped up on either side of him, shaking their heads.

“You really going out in that?” Jessie asked in a skeptical tone.

Jack looked at Betty and Jasmine who both nodded before shrugging as if to say “what else am I going to do?”

Jessie shook his head slowly.  “You’re a stronger man than I.”

Jack snorted.  “It’s not that bad out there.  But remember this moment the next time Mary tells you to do sumpin crazy.”

“Not gonna happen,” Jessie said with a shake of his head.  “Me an’ her know who’s in charge.”

Jack looked around Jessie to see Mary glaring at her pilot.  Jack tipped his hat to her with a big smile and she nodded back.

Jessie gulped.  “Say, you need a wingman?” he asked in a hurried manner.

Jack snorted and patted Jessie’s shoulder.  “You know what?  I think I got this covered.  But thanks for the generous offer,” he finished, gathered his courage, and stepped towards the door.

The door slid open, letting in the howling wind and the water it drove before it.  Muffled curses came from behind and Jack smiled as he stepped out into the downpour, holding his cowboy hat down to secure it to his head.  The rain drummed into his all-weather coat, running off the ends to pour onto his boots where it met the water running across the base pavement.  The rain drenched his face in less than a second, and in that moment he realized that it really was that bad.

He paused for a moment, considering his options as the marines behind him cursed at him.  He could turn back around right now and…and his buddies would never let him live it down.  He blinked into the rain and realized that the storm itself was the answer.  She was weathering this to see him.  The least he could do was meet her at the gate.

He pulled in a deep breath through his nose, to keep from breathing the water in, and plunged out into the storm battering the base.  The wind picked up in the street, but it was steadier than the whipsaw of wind around the building, and much easier to walk in.  He focused through the rain, smiled, and walked down the deserted street, Betty and Jasmine on either side of him.

It actually felt oddly refreshing, like an early morning storm coming off Rainy Lake, only much stronger.  It also tasted of salt, and he could tell he was going to need a shower to get that off him.  And the salt made it smell wrong too.  Still, it reminded him of those storms, and he smiled as they passed through the base like ghosts.

They sloshed up to the main gate and stopped just inside the arms.  There they waited, the wind and rain running over and down them.  Within seconds, the guard shack opened and one of the local marines stepped out to see what was going on.  The marine saluted them and they returned the gesture.

“Can I help you, Sir?” the marine shouted through the downpour

Jack shook his head with a smile.  “Someone’s coming in to see me,” he shouted back.

The marine gave a wondering look down the road.  “In this?” he asked in a disbelieving tone.

“Women,” Jack returned with a shrug and steadfastly ignored the glares Jasmine and Betty aimed at him.

The marine snorted.  “Yes, Sir.”  He looked down the road again.  “You good here, Sir?”

“I’m good,” Jack answered with a smile.

The marine nodded towards the shack.  “I’ll just wait in there, then,” he shouted and turned moved back to it.  “Just wave at me if it’s your people!”

Jack nodded, the guard shack door closed, and they waited alone again.  It wasn’t long before car lights appeared in the storm, highlighting rain on the main road outside the base.  Betty pointed at the car with a nod, telling him that it was the one.  Not like there were others out there.  Jack waved at the guard in the shack as the car turned onto the military road and slowed to a stop outside the gate.

The passenger side door opened and a figure stepped out that Jack recognized easily, even under the trenchcoat.  The rain plastered red hair to her face and she brushed it to the side.  She stepped between the arms of the gate, walking up to stop before him.

He smiled at her.  “Good morning, Sam.”

Samantha made a show of examining the storm plastering them.  “You have a strange definition of a good morning, Jack.”

Jack gave her his best charming smile and spread his arms out wide.  “Any morning that has you in it is a good morning.”

She raised her eyebrows at him and took another step closer.  “You never give up, do you?”

You’re the one standing here,” he returned with a beaming smile.

“So are you,” she said, cocking her head to the side with a wry smile.

He sucked in a deep breath and uttered the single word that he could never take back once he said it.  “Always.”

Samantha blinked, her mouth hung open, and she wiped the rain of her face with one hand.  “God!” she finally shouted in exasperation.  “I don’t know why I bother!  You always have one of your quips ready!”

Jack sighed and kept his eyes on her until she met it.  Then, making certain she could see the truth of his words in them, he finally answered her.  “And I mean every word.”

Her eyes widened and she chewed her lower lip for a moment before shaking her head.  “Fine!  You want to be Mister ‘I Cannot Tell a Lie,’ I’ll take you up on that!  Why did you destroy that mugger the way you did?” she finished with a shout.

“He was a threat,” Jack answered with a shrug.  “He had to be broken or he would have threatened more people in the future if I’d let him get away with it this time.”

“Great!” Samantha shouted, stepped in and jabbed him in the chest with a finger.  “You thought he was a threat so you broke him!  But you thought that floozy last night was a threat and you didn’t!  Did she promise you a good toss when you two had your little chitchat!  Is that why you didn’t say whatever it was you were prepared to say?” she shrieked, her emerald eyes blazing hotter than the lightning above them.

At the question, Jack just smiled and shook his head.  She really was good.  She’d read him like a book on that stage.  He only hoped that no one else had.  He brought both hands up and placed them on her shoulders.

She bristled under his touch and glared at him, demanding he answer her question.

“I asked her if she meant that last question,” Jack said in a soothing tone.  “Or if she was just trying to find ammunition to use against me for the people who got her the interview.”

Samantha continued to glare at him.

“Look she had a question or something that she thought could hurt me,” Jack explained.  “She didn’t ask it.  Instead she wanted to know.  I couldn’t destroy her career after that!”

Samantha shook her head and chewed her lip some more, quivering under his touch, though he didn’t think it was anger now.  “So is this how it’s going to be then?  You looking for threats everywhere and trying to stop them?”

Jack sighed, considered her question, and shrugged.  “I don’t know.”

“What did you do before the Marines got you?”

“Honestly, I ran away from most of the fights.”

She smiled.

Jack cleared his throat.  “Of course, most of them were fathers and the last thing I wanted was the girl blaming–.”

She slapped his arm to shut him up.  “Quit while you’re ahead.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

She shook her head again and gave him a worried look.  “So where does…this…leave us?”

Jack swallowed and gazed at her drenched face.  In that moment, he realized that he would be happy with whatever she decided.  It might hurt, but he wanted what she wanted, and that was just it.  “Wherever you want it left.

“God!” she shouted with an angry shake of her head.  “Damn you!” she shouted and punched him.  It wasn’t any little girl punch he’d ever had before.  She’d grown up in ten percent higher gravity than he had, and when her punch landed, it hurt.  “You really mean that!” she continued, her eyes blazing again.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said through gritted teeth.

She grabbed him, pulled him down by his coats lapels, and kissed him hard with electric lips.  The shock ran through his body from head to toe, standing every hair on end.  He responded to her kiss and the urgency of it morphed into fire that burned through them both so hot that the rain itself must have evaporated.  The moment stretched out into an eternity until she pulled away to take a breath.  Jack opened his eyes to see they were still drenched to the bone with the salty ocean spray.  His mouth hung open as he tried to catch his brain back up to the moment.

“That’s…for luck” she shouted and punched him again.  “Bastard!”

Pain snapped through his body and Jack felt himself driven back a step.  He snapped his mouth shut and felt thankful for the rain flowing over them.  It masked the tears of pain.  She was much stronger than he’d given her credit for.  He hadn’t realized she’d been holding back so much.  He licked his lips, examined her panting face for a long moment, and knew he had to walk back into the minefield if he didn’t want that to be their last kiss.

He forced a smile, pushed the pain from his mind, and stepped in.  “I don’t know, Ma’am,” he said in a calm voice, barely loud enough to carry over the sound of the storm around them.  “Where I’m going, I think I might need an awful lot more luck than that.”

Samantha panted, her anger fading as she looked into his eyes.  “You…you…never give up, do you?” she asked in a wondering tone.

“I never have,” Jack answered with a wry smile.  “You know, I’m on liberty until the storm ends.  As long as you’re not walking away, I got a while to not give up.”

Samantha shook her head for a long time, her mind racing behind her eyes.  “Really?” she asked in a tone that gave him no leeway at all for his normal bravado.  “You think you do?”

Jack swallowed, considered his feelings for any hesitation on the matter, and smiled.  “I do.”

She met his gaze for several seconds, studying him before coming to her decision.  She turned towards the car, waved it away, and wrapped an arm around his.  “OK.”  She let out a long breath and smiled at him.  “You’re on the clock, so make it make it count.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he answered and began to walk down the street as she hugged his arm tight enough he was afraid he was going to have to worry about blood circulation.

Several hours later, after a very long shower, they watched the clouds retreat.  Every inch of Jack’s body complained, and even his focus was having trouble keeping the groans of pain at bay.  Samantha was seriously strong.  He was pretty certain he had at least one cracked rib, maybe more, and he didn’t want to think how many of his muscles were pulled or torn.  He knew for a fact that his shoulder had popped out once.  That had been fun putting back in place.  And he didn’t even want to think about the bruises the shower had revealed.  He probed his mouth with his tongue, tasting blood and, yes, noting a loose tooth.

“Not bad for a puny Earthling,” Samantha whispered with a sly smile as the sun began to glint off the storm-cleansed buildings.

“Heh,” Jack returned, trying really hard not to laugh.  It hurt to laugh.

Betty flickered into being next to them and nodded to Samantha with a sad smile.  “Liberty’s up, Jack,” she announced in a matching tone.  “Five minutes to assemble.”

“Thank you,” Samantha whispered to the cyber.  As Betty flickered away again, Samantha turned Jack towards the administration building with a firm hand.  “Let me walk you back.  Wouldn’t want you to fall down and hurt yourself,” she added with a wink.

“Heh,” Jack repeated, still trying very hard not to laugh.  “Very funny.  I think I might be safer falling down.”

She raised an eyebrow at him.  “Well, if you’d rather,” she said and started to step away.

“No!” he retorted without hesitation, holding her fast.  “No.”

She gave him a knowing smile, stepping in closer to hold her body tight against him.  Then she began walking towards the administration building, stepping through puddles in the street that glinted in the new sun.  They walked in silence until the finality of the administration building rose above them and Jack swallowed.

Samantha stopped, looking up to the building with a sad shake of her head.  “So this is how it ends?”

Jack shook his head.  “Not if I have anything to say about it.”

“And if you don’t?” she asked, a worried look on her face.

Jack laughed and sucked in a deep breath.  “Then me an’ God are gonna have some words on where my heaven is.”

She gave him a soft smile.  “I thought you didn’t believe.”

“If He can get me back here, I’ll give Him the benefit of the doubt,” Jack returned with a shrug and a wink.

Samantha shook her head, sighed, and reached up to pull him down by his coat lapels again.  She stopped him, centimeters from her lips, with one of her patented mischievous smiles.  “You really are never going to give up, are you?” she asked, her warm breath playing across his face.

Jack pulled in a deep breath, filling his nose with the scent left after the water washed away all the perfumes.  It was a good scent.  “No, Ma’am,” he whispered with another wink.

She nodded in approval and patted his arm.  “Then…” her voice faded away and she cleared her throat.  She released her hold on him, reached for her neck, and slipped her necklace off.  She quickly slipped it around his neck and clasped it.  “Bring it back,” she ordered.

Jack almost saluted her on the spot.  “Yes, Ma’am,” he said, acknowledging the order.

She smiled in approval before pushing him away with firm arms.  She turned him to face the administration building’s door and pushed him forward.  He did not resist and did as she ordered.  Beside him, Betty and Jasmine flickered back into existence and followed him into the building where the Cowboys were to assemble one last time.

His eyes adjusted to the relative gloom inside the building, he focused, he saw that he was the last to arrive.  When the lusty cheers started, he remembered that everything was visible from the inside.  He groaned as Jay walked up to give him a hearty slap on the back.  The other Cowboys followed his lead, and once they realized Jack was genuinely in pain, they of course redoubled their efforts to congratulate him on his luck with crocodile smiles.

They were real bastards.  Jack smiled and weathered the abuse without complaint though.  They were his bastards after all.  He would remember them all.  And paybacks for something like this…well…there was a word for that, and as Jack weathered their friendly ribbing, sometimes literally, he made mental notes, his mind already planning his sweet revenge.