I Bring Fresh Flowers


A touching tale of an Astronette—and why the
gentle rain from Heaven has the quality of mercy.

[Transcriber's Note: This etext was produced from
Amazing Stories February 1964.
Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that
the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

You know Rosemary Brooks. You have known her for many years.

It is said that when she was a little girl her favorite poem was Barbara Frietchie, and it is told how she would sometimes poke her pretty head out of her bedroom window, survey the suburban street with her blue-sky eyes, and cry, "Shoot, if you must, this old gray head, but spare your country's flag!"

Yes, you know Rosemary. You know her very well.

Like all little girls, Rosemary grew up. But Rosemary did not change. This is not to say that she did not turn into an attractive young lady. She turned into a most attractive one indeed. Fragilely beautiful, airy of tread, she should have been the reigning rose of every dance she went to, but she was not. Rarely did the young men of her acquaintance ask her to dance, and never did one of them approach her and say, "Come into the garden, Rosemary, for the black bat, night, has flown." She did not go to very many dances in any event, and looking back, one realizes that the few she did attend, she attended primarily to please her mother. The reason behind Rosemary's wallflowerhood is simple: the young men of her acquaintance knew that with her, God and the United States of America came first, and that accompanying her through life, or even accompanying her home from a dance for that matter, meant being relegated to a back seat. It is alright for little girls to be Barbara Frietchies, you see, but not for big ones.

During her short and dedicated life, Rosemary poked her pretty head out of quite a number of windows. After the Barbara Frietchie window came the Girl Scouts of America window, and after the Girl Scouts of America window came the Young Peoples' Civil War Society window, and after the Young Peoples' Civil War Society window came the Citizens for Patriotic Progress window. Last of all came the Astronette Training Center window.

Set up by Project Rain Dance in 1969 after prejudice against women going into space had abated, the Astronette Training Center had for its purpose the finding, training, and conditioning of six female pilots for a series of six manned weather-control satellite shots, the first of which was scheduled to take place some time in February of '71. After exhaustive screening, one hundred volunteers were accepted. Fifteen of them passed the exacting physical and psychological tests, and from the ranks of the fifteen, the six astronettes were chosen. Incredibly, when one considers her delicateness (and fails to consider her patriotic fervor), Rosemary not only made the grade but was selected to accompany the first weather-control satellite to be placed in orbit.

All of this is history now—faded words on newsprint, old photographs, a dozen dusty articles in as many magazines—but at the time, it captured the attention of the whole wide world. It is said that Madison Avenue nearly went out of its mind trying to circumvent the regulation that prohibited astronettes from underwriting testimonials to toothpaste, cosmetics, and cigarettes. This is not to be wondered at. If Rosemary could have been legally enticed, for example, into letting her picture appear in a cigarette ad, cigarette consumption probably would have doubled overnight. It is one thing to be an obscure Barbara Frietchie and quite another to be a famous one, and the patriotic devotion shining in a person's eyes can, through the thaumaturgy of photography and touch-up, be transmuted into a sensual gleam.

February of '71 arrived at last, as all months must, and a specific date was set for the launching. Psychological winter had come and gone, but no singing of birds could be heard. Even as far south as Canaveral, gray skies were the rule, and gray rain fell intermittently. Countdown was begun regardless. And then, miraculously it seemed, the skies cleared, and the day of the launching dawned bright and clear. There is a photograph of Rosemary standing in her snow-white spacesuit at the base of the gantry, her space helmet resting in the crook of her arm. The photograph is in color, and the blueness of her eyes is not one whit different in shade and texture from the blueness of the sky behind her. This is as it should be. Looking at her hair, one thinks of sunrises and sunsets. This is as it should be too. When remembering Rosemary, it is fitting that one should think of the sun and the sky. It is equally fitting that one should think of the snow and the rain. For Rosemary is nothing if she is not all of these things.

The launching was a good one. The Rainbow 6 rode its Saturn booster like a bird on jet-fire wings, and the bright star of its passage seemed to linger in the morning sky long after the booster had fallen away. The television cameras caught the action beautifully, and the American public, reminded once again that the noblest thing a person can do is to risk his life for his country, looked on in awe and admiration. The orbit was a good one too: apogee—203 miles; perigee—191 miles. Rosemary radioed back that she was A-okay.

She was supposed to complete three orbits, then climb into the escape capsule, jettison it and herself, re-enter the atmosphere, and parachute into the Atlantic. There, a task force waited eagerly to pick her up. Her mission was to orientate the satellite's weather-factor instruments to the existent cloud patterns and jet streams. Once this was accomplished, the telemetric readings would, through the medium of the Main Weather Control Station in Oregon, dictate future weather. Weather control had been in effect since the middle sixties, but the telemetric readings of the unmanned weather-control satellites, owing to faulty orientation, had fallen far short of the one-hundred percent accuracy needed to make the regulation of rain and sunshine something more than a half-realized dream, and it was hoped that the present satellite, given a human boost, would bring the dream to fruition.

One can picture Rosemary high in the sky, faithfully carrying out her assignment. One can see her sitting there before the instrument panel of the Rainbow 6 looking at dawns and sunsets and stars. One can see the slow drift of cloud and continent beneath her. Australia now, and now the vast blueness of the Pacific ... and now the west coast rising out of mists of distances and air, and beyond it, the vast green blur of the land that gave her birth. Little Barbara Frietchie riding on a star.... Far beneath her now, highways wind; rivers run down to seas. Patternings of field and forest blend into pale blue-greens. Fresh-water lakes look up at her with blue and wondering eyes. Now the sea of night drifts forth to meet her. Bravely she sets sail upon the dark waves in her little silvery ship. Brief night, soft sunrise, new day.

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.

Little Barbara Frietchie riding on a star....

Jettisoning took place exactly on schedule. The weather-control satellite continued on its orbital way, and Rosemary plummeted earthward in the escape capsule. That much, at least, is known. But what took place during re-entry—whether the retro rockets failed to fire, whether the attitude controls malfunctioned, or whether the heat shield proved to be defective—is not known and never will be known. All that is known is that Rosemary became a falling star.

The nation mourned. The whole wide world mourned. Project Rain Dance was discontinued. It would have been discontinued in any event, for Rosemary had obviated any further need for it. She had done her job well, Rosemary had, and in the doing of it, she had placed the weather in the palm of mankind's out-stretched hand.

That spring, the rains were soft and warm and the flowers grew riotously upon the face of the earth. Grass knew a greenness it had never known before, and trees dressed each day in lovelier and lovelier dresses. The rains fell in the cities and on the plains. In valleys and in little towns. On fields and forests and lawns. And when the land had drunk its fill, the sun came out as warm and as bright as Rosemary's hair, and the sky turned as blue as her eyes.

Yes, you know Rosemary, and you are in love with her in a way. If you are not, you should be. She is the sun coming up in the morning and the sun going down at night. She is the gentle rain against your face in spring. She is the snow falling on Christmas Eve. She is every glorious rainbow you see in the rain-washed sky. She is that pattern of tree-shade over there. Each morning, when you are lying fast asleep in your trundle bed, she tiptoes into your room, her golden sandals soundless on the bedroom floor, and wakes you with a golden kiss. Sunlight is her laughter, her voice the patter of the rain—Soft you now!—she speaks:

I am the daughter of the earth and water,
And the nursling of the sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die....