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Last Conquistadors

A Jacksonville Landing, Episode 1

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Introduction

Earth will one day reject her infectious, human disease like a shaggy dog getting out of a pool, who shakes off the water and the fleas with it. The fleas who survive eviction from this shaggy planet would love to re-inhabit her, resume sucking her blood and breeding; they just can’t. They have left the Earth and the Earth has left them.

We find the poor remnant of humanity in this story, about 265 years from now, evicted by Earth nearly a century before to wander and settle the inner solar system with whatever resources they had off-world or could extract from Earth. Since then, the Earth has been no home for humans.

Our Big Blue Madre has experienced recent changes that warrant a second look at coming home, or so it seems. Many years and scarce resources have been committed to a mission to go down to Earth, return with something useful, and salvage a crashed orbiter called “Helios.” The scarce human resources on the Whole Earth Orbiter Bronco and the Whole Earth Lander Lariat are beginning the first mission of Operation Conquistador.

 

Episode 1.1: Fall of the Conquistadors

Looking down at the rising Earth for the first time, Gabriel Loreon Menendez thought: “I don’t know why humans can’t fly. Right now, this human would very much like to fly. Powered flight developed several different times over the course of evolution of life on Earth; sight developed several more times. We got the eyes but not the wings. These eyes are showing me the ancient city below becoming less like a map and more like a neighborhood, now a street—too fast.”

A voice came through his helmet speaker.                                         

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Commander Leani Selene Liu fell at 200 kilometers an hour through a leaden sky toward a leaden sea. The largest thought in her swimming mind was this question: “Where’s the blue? From orbit it always looked so blue.”

Lariat is her mission or was her mission. Everything and everyone was falling down the well right now. Her mission had already failed and those who survive will likely be resident aliens here forever. Worse than that, her daughter will be an orphan, orbiting her mother’s grave forever.

“Oh, Junji.” She felt tears make a beeline to her ears.

“Lariat crew sound off. This is Commander Liu.” No answer on her comms. “I see the Helios. It’s just above the surface; 29.90 degrees north and 81.03 degrees west.” No answer. “Shit! One shot left.”

She had no time to consult her enviro suit’s diagnostics. She engaged her four emergency deceleration jets. One thruster on her left leg fires. The force of her knee hitting her chest nearly knocks her out. She was now spinning toward her death. The only difference between the gray sky and the gray sea wheeling around her is that the sea seemed denser and closer.

“I’m so sorry, Junji.” The leaden surface of the water did not disappoint on impact.

 

E1.2: Whiplash-W.E. Orbiter Bronco

Captain Fernando Marius Avilla could not believe what he was seeing. “Lariat. Report. Commander Liu, status!” No answer. “Fuck! Lieutenant, find the crew and get someone on the goddamn radio!”

“Tracking, sir.” Lieutenant Rahjman Selene Siddiq ran his hand across the console panel. One by one, signature blips appeared moving rapidly down the display. “Captain, I have all five crew members’ signatures. Comms appear to be online, but entry fail safes are showing red. Repeat, atmospheric fail safes are offline, sir. They’re falling fast, 200 kph.”

“Open a comm channel, wideband,” Avilla said, placing the heels of his hands on the console in front of him, his head bowed.

“Sir, even with the wide … ,” Siddiq began.

“Do it, lieutenant.” Avilla punched from between white knuckles.

At that moment, a tinny voice sputtered through the bridge audio. “Lariat crew … off. … Liu … see the Helios … surface … 90 degrees north. 80 … ”

As soon as Liu’s signal dropped, Avilla delivered his message like fate’s auctioneer. “This is Captain Avilla of the orbiter Bronco. Fail safes are offline. Engage your emergency deceleration thrusters now. Survivors, rendezvous and report your coordinates. Wherever you land  we’ll find you. Bronco out.”

Each of the signature blips vanished from the display, as did the last few grains of reserved hope Avilla had; not just hope for this mission and his career, but for humankind, as all were linked. “How in the unholy hell did any of that just happen?”

In the cynicism of defeat, Siddiq said, “So sorry, boss. Your job sucks now.”

“Yeah, Rahji. Today it really does,” Avilla murmured. His head slumped to the console. “Let me know when you can raise Selene station. I’ll be in the lander bay.” The captain left the bridge.

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