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Episode 5.1: Lassoed
In his darkest dreams, Capt. Avilla had never imagined the Lariat mission could be any worse than it actually was. He would have to answer for it all, but how? After the first pound of flesh is taken, what’s left, really? Avilla didn’t know how to explain what had happened to the Lariat or the crew. They’re gone. They’re dead. Even if they had survived somehow, they would likely die of old age or worse on the surface before another lander could be built and sent down to get them. Unless … “Oh, hell no.”
Rahjman Siddiq’s voice came through the comm. “Captain, I have Selene station on a live feed. Prefect Liu is waiting online in the conference room.”
“Thank you, Lieutenant. En route,” Avilla’s voice had the matter-of-fact affect of someone in shock. All the heat of his panic and anger had burned off. The same could not be said for Leander Liu. As he approached the conference room door, he could already hear the old man screaming at Lt. Siddiq.
“Prefect Liu, here is the Captain,” Siddiq said to the screen and disappeared out the same door through which Avilla had walked in.
“Captain!? Captain!? You have to remember, Avilla, you’re not actually the captain of jack-shit! That’s a trumped-up title for a tugboat pilot who lost my fucking ship!” Leander Selene Liu, Prefect of Selene colony and chair of the Whole Earth consortium, was not a typical 65-year-old.
He had originally been intended to be the commander of the Lariat mission, but when you don’t have enough resources at the mission's start, some delays can last a decade. It was mostly by Leander Liu’s will alone that the Lariat mission took place at all; his will and the willingness of his middle daughter, Leani. “And you can never be forgiven for losing my daughter. Tell me … Captain, do you know if Leani is even alive or dead?”
Avilla knew this was coming. His flat speech was a murmur, “We did hear from her before we lost all signals below the atmosphere. She found the Helios and gave coordinates.”
“So she’s alive?” Liu whispered like a prayer.
“We don’t know, Prefect Liu. We have no reliable signals from the surface. Any who survived the break-up of the lander may have been able to use their emergency chutes or thrusters to land safely.” Avilla dropped the words like a dollar tip on the table.
Avilla heard a small voice inquire with a too-familiar desperation, “Mr. Fernando, where’s my mommy? Where is she?”
Fingers of grief clutching his throat, Avilla lied, “She’s down on Earth, Junji, just like she told you. She’s leading the mission. Your mom will tell you all about it one day soon.”
“I want to talk to her,” the little voice insisted.
“You will soon.” Avilla knew four-year-olds already had internal lie detectors.
“I don’t believe you!” she shrieked in defiance.
“Ok, Juju Bee, go with your uncle to the aquarium and let me finish with Mr. Fernando,” Leander told his granddaughter without moving his eyes from Avilla’s face.
When the sound of the girl’s cries were no longer audible, Avilla slumped, his fists on the table, his head bowed. “Jesus Christ, Leander, that was cruel.”
Liu’s face now filled the screen. “Cruel? Yes. She asks me where Leani is every half-hour.” Leander Liu glowered at Avilla as if to see if he was being crushed on the outside as well. “Despite your fuck-up, you will still get your wish to lead a lander mission. The W.E. Kibo is en route. Their orders and yours are to refit the Bronco to be a lander/launcher. You rendezvous in three days. Captain Nguyen will take command of the Bronco when she arrives.”
Avilla snapped into motion. “But there are still things we don’t understand about the atmosphere … ”
“You have your orders … Captain. Selene station out.” The screen blinked out along with Avilla’s last hope.
Maeve Nguyen wasn’t supposed to wiretap her own ship, but she couldn’t resist. As she listened to Liu’s fury and Avilla’s mewling, Rahjman Siddiq came around the corner, his ears still red from Liu’s tongue-lashing.
“Well, well. You couldn’t resist, huh?” Siddiq jabbed.
“Shut up, Rahji,” Nguyen said, but waved him over.
They stood ear-to-ear listening to the exchange. When it was over, Siddiq commented, “How ’bout that? Your auntie is coming. Maybe you’ll be Ex-O soon, yah?”
“And maybe you’ll get spaced,” Maeve retorted.
“Fuck you,” Rahji said a little too nervously.
“You wish, baby,” Maeve quipped, but Siddiq was already gone. And her mind was already on the three days she had to begin her own mission.
To be continued Oct. 30!