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Last Conquistadors, Ep. 2

A Jacksonville Landing

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Episode 2.1: Drop Day (W.E. Orbiter Bronco one hour ago)

“Good mornin’, Chief,” Commander Leani Liu chirped from behind her pouch of coffee.

“What’s so good?” Nguyen mumbled.

“Drop Day!” trumpeted Liu with a less-than-commanding ebullience.

“In a hurry to leave, Commander?” bellowed Maeve Marius Nguyen, her head inside a service hatch. Her body floated parallel to the deck out into the corridor, halting Liu’s morning walk.

Liu stopped and turned toward the hatch where Nguyen sprouted, “I wouldn’t call waiting 14 years of my life ’in a hurry.’ Everything OK?”

“Well, the Lariat is more than OK, but I can’t speak for everything else.” Nguyen suddenly understood how that sounded and rotated out of the hatch to stand on deck. “Everything is fine, Commander. Just being a surly mechanic.”

“You’re not a mechanic, Maeve. You’re a badass engineer. But you are surly. We about ready for pre-drop?” Liu said, returning her focus.

“You can suit up. We’ll be a go for pre-drop in 10,” Nguyen reported.

“Oh, Maeve, my friggin’ head is spinning. This is gonna be great!” Liu launched forward along the corridor, spurred by the energy of her enthusiasm alone.

Maeve Marius Nguyen watched the mission commander drift up the corridor and thought, “Who could be so giddy at this point? This is a friggin’ field trip for her.”

 

E2.2: Green AF

Lariat crew was suited up and in place 40 minutes later. All five humans were tucked into the lander crew module like eggs in a carton of ceramic and metal. Everyone’s relative excitement had devolved into raw nerves and silent terror.

Commander Liu’s voice filled the helmets of the crew and the bridge of the Bronco. “OK, people, check down. We don’t want to miss our drop window. Green or red: Attitude control?”

Lt. Anna Selene Garcia oversaw too much. As chief of ops for the Lariat, Garcia’s duties included the operation of the lander itself, the tech extraction with payload, and the liftoff operation at the end of the mission. Anna viewed the lander specs on her crowded display. “Green.”

Liu: “Landing gear?”

Garcia: “Green.”

Liu: “Tech payload?”

Garcia: “Green.”

Liu: “Atmospherics?”

No answer.

Liu: “Mischenko, whatta ya got?”

Lt. Cdr. Mikhail Marius Mischenko: “I’m not sure what I’m looking at, Commander. It’s as if the Earth’s magnetosphere has changed from just seven minutes ago. I can’t align anything. I couldn’t get a compass to work down there just now.”

Liu: “So ‘Red,’ then?”

Mischenko: “Yes, Commander, sorry, red … wait … Atmospherics are aligned and online. Green.”

Liu: “Mikhail, are you damn sure?”

Mischenko: “Yes, sir, I believe the problem is local. Once we are free of the atmospheric drag of the Bronco’s orbit, readings will be in stable alignment on the Lariat.”

Liu: “We have 38 seconds. I will scrub this drop unless you can say … ”

Mischenko: “We are five by five, Commander. Green to go.”

The collective eyeroll was palpable.

Liu: “Lamont, Geo payload?”

Donovin Marius Lamont was a petrified geologist. After a lifetime of lunar gravity, the idea of full Earth gravity was literally a crushing notion. Even up in orbit, he could feel the Great Rock pulling his knees out of joint, or so he thought. “Payload. Secure, Capt … Commander.” Donovin Lamont strained through his clenched teeth.

Liu: “Bio payload?”

Gabriel Loreon Menendez, a botanist/bioengineer, was from a miracle colony on Luna called Loreon. Loreon was truly a garden of the gods on the moon’s surface. Many considered it insane to even try to grow food in the raw radiation. But the Loreon project had become the breadbasket of humankind. It was rare to find a Loreon scientist outside the colony. It was unique to have one on a lander mission. More than that, Gabriel was the last living human named Menendez. “Gardening tools are in place, Commander. Very green.”

A smile bloomed inside each helmet.

Liu: “Bronco bridge, we are straight green in here. Can you confirm?”

Lt. Siddiq replied, “Showing green down the board, Commander.”

This was the moment when Captain Fernando Marius Avilla was elevated from a glorified shuttle pilot to a hero of the human race. He wanted this more than Leani Liu. He’d rather be in the lander. “Congratulations, Lariat crew. You are about to launch the first mission in the long-awaited Whole Earth Operation Conquistador. You carry the hopes and the gratitude of all humanity. Best of luck. Open lander bay doors, Lieutenant.”

“Lander bay doors open, sir. Drop in 5-4-3-2 … ” Siddiq wanted to close his eyes but couldn’t.

To be continued Sept. 18!

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