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Last Conquistadors, Ep. 4

A Jacksonville Landing

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Episode 4.1: La Florida!

Menendez tried to listen to Cdr. Liu’s message while figuring out how not to die. Live first seemed the wisest method. He tapped the controls on his forearm panel. All his suit thrusters engaged. Slamming into reverse after plunging at 200 kilometers an hour has quite an effect on a body. Just before he passed out, he glimpsed the subject of Liu’s frantic message. The hulk of the Helios jutted from the beach less than two kilometers away.

When Gabriel woke, he thought he was back home floating above the lunar surface, inspecting Loreon’s dome. He wondered why he had had a nightmare at work. As his clarity returned, he realized he was hovering above water. Looking up, he saw the Helios again. About 150 meters to his right, there were four roofed turrets standing above the water, what might have been part of a submerged pier or bridge. Just then, his emergency thrusters began to gasp and sputter.

He lurched downward and stopped several times before plunging into Earth’s primal brine. A four-legged creature was visible under the surface. Gabriel’s view changed to thousands of bubbles swirling before him as if in low gravity. Feeling the stern grip of gravity ease, and he drifted through space just like back home. His mellow momentum was halted by a clank against his helmet. He jerked away and thrashed, remembering the creature. Turning to see what had stopped him, he was horrified.

A fanged face with a human-like stare snarled and gnashed at him. Its great paw gripped something. Now it seemed the creature stared over him, not at him. Menendez turned back to look at what the creature was focused on, fearing what would be more threatening to this beast than he was. Nothing was there. He spun back to the creature, but it had not moved. He could now see; this lion had not moved in 400 years. Engraved in the white stone beneath the lion statue was: “1513 ST. AUGUSTINE 1924.” Returning his gaze to the man-like face, he thought, “What is this place?”

 

E4.2: Touchdown Jacksonville

Gliding down to Earth for the first time, Mikhail Mischenko knew something was seriously wrong, not just the-Earth-has-been a-wasteland-for-a-century-and-our-ship-blew-up wrong. He knew something more fundamental was amiss with the Earth; things that should have worked on the Lariat didn’t. No technology seemed to work reliably. He wasn’t sure what that meant.

Mikhail had never used an actual parachute. No training sim could compare to this. Feeling as heavy as the sky looked, he marveled that this blanket on strings could slow his mass against this gravity. But he could also feel the openness. “Now this is space,” he mused.

Two parallel shorelines were visible below. The outer shore was more or less a two-kilometer-wide sandbar over which waves rolled toward the inner shore. Waves passing over this outer shore then skimmed across a counter-flow of water of an amber-brown hue, running north.

Scanning to the south and west, he observed three towers of bare steel grouped within a wide tarmac, all standing above the flood. The facility reminded him of the port station on Marius Hills colony at home. Tracking back north and east, he could see a great grove of tall buildings near the inner shore which created a defiant peninsula jutting into the amber flow. In the center of the abandoned city, there was an obelisk of black glass. The steel frame of a pyramid stood at the pinnacle of the building. Caught on the peak of the pyramid, a Lariat parachute flapped like a flag. Having earned minutes of parachute expertise, Mikhail steered his flying blanket toward this strange aerie.

Lifting his legs to clear the edge of the building, he touched down on the roof. His feet gained purchase and he ejected his chute. Garcia and Lamont were standing there, their tiny, bare heads poking out of their suits. Before he could ask why their helmets were off, he found out. A wave of stunning nausea spun him to his knees. An invisible hand squeezed his guts, the contents of which spewed out, filling his visor. He blindly groped for the release, then his helmet clunked and sloshed to the floor.

“Welcome to Earth, moon-dweller.” Anna greeted, spreading her arms in a partial bow.

“Welcome to Jacksonville, in fact,” Donovin added.

With guttural breaths, Mikhail blatted, “Holy shit, this place is horrible!”

Donovin presaged, “Yeah, I’m pretty sure this Jacksonville landing will go down as one of the worst ideas in history.”

To be continued Oct. 16!

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