“Pickard! We’re leaving. We’re going on. Follow us.”
The rain dripped from Pickard’s ears.
“Do you hear me, Pickard!”
It was like shouting down a well.
“Leave him alone,” said Simmons.
“We can’t go on without him.”
“What’ll we do, carry him?” Simmons spat. “He’s no good to us or himself. You know what he’ll do? He’ll just stand here and drown.”
“You ought to know that by now. Don’t you know the story? He’ll just stand here with his head up and let the rain come in his nostrils and his mouth. He’ll breathe the water.”
“That’s how they found General Mendt that time. Sitting on a rock with his head back, breathing the rain. His lungs were full of water.”
The lieutenant turned the light back to the unblinking face. Pickard’s nostrils gave off a tiny whispering wet sound.
“Pickard!” The lieutenant slapped the face.
“He can’t even feel you,” said Simmons. “A few days in this rain and you don’t have any face or any legs or hands.”
The lieutenant looked at his own hand in horror. He could no longer feel it.
“But we can’t leave Pickard here.”
“I’ll show you what we can do.” Simmons fired his gun.
Pickard fell into the raining earth.
Simmons said, “Don’t move, Lieutenant. I’ve got my gun ready for you too. Think it over; he would only have stood or sat there and drowned. It’s quicker this way.”
The lieutenant blinked at the body. “But you killed him.”
“Yes, because he’d have killed us by being a burden. You saw his face. Insane.”
After a moment the lieutenant nodded. “All right.”
They walked off into the rain.
It was dark and their hand lamps threw a beam that pierced the rain for only a few feet. After a half hour they had to stop and sit through the rest of the night, aching with hunger, waiting for the dawn to come; when it did come it was gray and continually raining as before, and they began to walk again.
“We’ve miscalculated,” said Simmons.
“No. Another hour.”
“Speak louder. I can’t hear you.” Simmons stopped and smiled. “By Christ,” he said, and touched his ears. “My ears. They’ve gone out on me. All the rain pouring finally numbed me right down to the bone.”
“Can’t you hear anything?” said the lieutenant.
“What?” Simmons’s eyes were puzzled.
“Nothing. Come on.”
“I think I’ll wait here. You go on ahead.”
“You can’t do that.”
“I can’t hear you. You go on. I’m tired. I don’t think the Sun Dome is down this way. And, if it is, it’s probably got holes in the roof, like the last one. I think I’ll just sit here.”
“Get up from there!”
“So long, Lieutenant.”
“You can’t give up now.”
“I’ve got a gun here that says I’m staying. I just don’t give a damn any more. I’m not crazy yet, but I’m the next thing to it. I don’t want to go out that way. As soon as you get out of sight I’m going to use this gun on myself.”
“You said my name. I can read that much off your lips.”
“Look, it’s a matter of time. Either I die now or in a few hours. Wait’ll you get to that next Dome, if you ever get there, and find rain coming in through the roof. Won’t that be nice?”
The lieutenant waited and then splashed off in the rain. He turned and called back once, but Simmons was only sitting there with the gun in his hands, waiting for him to get out of sight. He shook his head and waved the lieutenant on.
The lieutenant didn’t even hear the sound of the gun.
He began to eat the flowers as he walked. They stayed down for a time, and weren’t poisonous; neither were they particularly sustaining, and he vomited them up, sickly, a minute or so later.
Once he took some leaves and tried to make himself a hat, but he had tried that before; the rain melted the leaves from his head. Once picked, the vegetation rotted quickly and fell away into gray masses in his fingers.