The s long sleep was over. A soothing voice greeted the crew while with the smell of coffee and birds chirping piped into the pod. The light was bright to give the effect of curtains being drawn.  They hadn’t arrived at their destination, but they were close. As Leticia’s pod opened, Jacob was already up twisting his body in various yoga poses. Tennis and Yoga. Great.  Still hot though.

Leticia tossed her legs to the side still feeling hungover without any of the fun. Hunger pangs pinched her awake, enough to move her feet to the floor. She’d kill for chorizo and egg breakfast tacos. Extra salsa of course.

“When do we eat, I’m starving.”

Jacob answered her still doing his impromptu yoga session: “We meet in an hour for breakfast and debriefing.” 

She didn’t want to wait an hour, patience was one of the virtues she never mastered.

 

The spread was a lavish buffet, unlike the vacuum sealed crap dispensed by a machine she was used to. There were a few occasions in the field, if it were not for her hunting skills passed down from uncle Roland, she and her team would have starved. Waxman was buttering them up for something. Fluffy pancakes with lashing of syrup, crispy bacon, fruit at its peak of ripeness, muffins, real coffee. Man, this was bad, very, very bad. But at least she could eat well, before some mission of death was revealed.

No one spoke to one another, except Ramón to some cute lady at least ten years younger than him. She’d keep an eye on them. This was exactly why she didn’t stay in relationships long. The secret life of the other, when you weren’t looking, might be something you wouldn’t want to see. Tina had it right when she sang, “What’s Love Got To Do With It.”

After a satisfying breakfast, the group of fifteen turned their attention to Jacob, who stood in front of a white wall ready for some projection. Leticia could feel her stomach cramp from a mixture of overeating and excitement.

“I want to introduce you to planet E2. We call it E2 because it is Earth’s long-lost sister, but her formal name will be Olinka.  From our observations, it seems to be in a stage similar to what earth was before humans. Anyone been to Iceland? Half of the planet resembles that country with its vastly different landscapes, some dangerous. We lost a few rovers to geothermal activity. But the other half resembles the Amazon, or what’s left of it.”

Jacob clicked through photos taken from above and on the surface of the planet. It was a beautiful, rugged, unspoiled version of Earth. People were going to pay big money for this place, unlike the other world’s being terraformed by working class families that had run out of options on Earth.

Leticia could just see her brother living in some high-rise penthouse in the middle of unspoilt jungle, with an infinity pool overlooking the trees.

“The only inhabitants of any size we have seen are animals that resemble small dinosaurs, think an ostrich with scales and claws. We don’t know if they are carnivorous because whenever a rover approaches, they run. We assume there are creatures in the ocean, but that can wait. Like I said before: any sign of intelligent life and we are gone, no questions. Now, I’d like to introduce you to Leticia Velasquez, the Head of Security.”

 

All eyes were on Leticia. She groaned her brother’s name in her mind. The official title was great, but a heads-up on her position would have been a courtesy. He was always a rude devious little shit. Why did Ramón say bodyguard? During their worst fights, he always said she had no ambition. Did he not think she would have said yes to such a position? Whatever… She was ready for this. Leticia smiled and lifted her metal hand to give a beauty queen wave.

 “I don’t care if you’ve found the one thing that will revolutionise mankind, if Leticia says move, you move. Except samples not taken by the rovers, you are to not harm or engage with any indigenous life, unless your life is at risk. Once we leave, it should be like we were never there. If this place is what I think it could be, we will be here for a very long time.” It did not go unnoticed by Leticia that Waxman was looking directly at her brother as he said this. She wondered what these two had been cooking up.

“Alright, I’d like everyone to get to know each other. We need to trust each other, be as one.”

There were five ex-soldiers directly under her command, and the rest were important people in the fields of science and anthropology. Jacob sought her out.

“I hope you don’t mind me putting you on the spot like that. You looked surprised. Didn’t your brother give you all the details?” She shook her head as she watched Ramón now deliberately avoiding the woman he was previously speaking to.

“I’m cool. Don’t you worry about me.” Before she could get another word out, Ramón interrupted the two.

“Excuse me Jacob, may I have a word with my sister?”

“Absolutely. We will speak later Leticia?” She nodded and watched him walk away without caring what her big brother might think of her wandering eye.

“Hey Sis, watch it, ok. I know you like a little something on the side to keep you occupied, but he isn’t some private you can hop on and off for fun. I mean, you’re wearing mascara and lip gloss.”

“It’s called trying to make a good first impression. And its not lip gloss. It’s Carmex. What about you with miss clipboard over there. If I was Mary-Anne, I would not want my man giggling in the corner with some astrobiologist with a body that hasn’t birthed babies. You wouldn’t have the career you have without her. Don’t forget that.”

Ramón was silent which meant something. She didn’t know what, but she would file it away for later.

 

She kept the introductions short, because she wanted to get into the stuff that really mattered. There were files upon files of research: on the planet, on the soldiers she was leading, even a glimpse into all the classified stuff on her doomed mission. After all this, she needed a plan for entry and exploration. “Head of Security”, she whispered while smiling to herself. Leticia threw herself onto the bed and began to read.

 

There was a knock on her door. She glanced at the clock. Was it already early evening? Breakfast left her full most of the day, so she didn’t even realize she skipped lunch until it was late afternoon. This was as good as any time to take a break. It was probably Ramón trying to scold her again about shitting where you eat. To her surprise it was Jacob with a bottle of Hibiki whiskey in one hand and a bottle of Zacapa rum in the other.

“I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I brought two. If you prefer wine I can go back and...”

“It’s ok. I’m an equal opportunist with booze. Come in.”

 Music was playing, as it always was when she was alone. The screen behind her bed was of the sea at sunset. She tolerated the cold, didn’t mind humidity, but loved heat.

“Who is this? I like it.”

“Los Lonely Boys”, “Onda.” Reminds me of my beach house. So, what would you like to talk about. I’ve been here all day and I think I know what we should do.”

He stepped closer to her. “Who said I wanted to talk.” Now this was a surprise. She liked it. Direct. Not a bullshitter or a timewaster. Get to the good stuff fast because it was occupying too much space in her brain.  Maybe the looks she was trying to hide were not so hidden after all. The sooner they fucked, the sooner she could forget about wanting it to happen. Leticia grabbed him by the waist, pulling him close enough to undress him. Would the fantasy live up to the reality?

He slipped her signature bandana over her eyes while his mouth found its way to her neck. “Fuck this”, she thought. She didn’t want fifty shades of anything. Leticia liked to watch. He needed to know exactly what to do to get her off one more time, should she die in the next few days. Face to face she straddled him, using those strong legs her mama gave her to dig deep into the bed so every inch of him was inside and available for her gratification. When it came to sex she was an unapologetically greedy bitch. Tonight, her hips were the drums, his thrust the guitar and the pleasure he was giving her, every instrument in between. For a man that was always in control, he let her take the lead.

After sex that didn’t seem to end, but ended too soon after both orgasmed, they lay in bed sipping on rich boy brown liquor.

 “You really haven’t seen anything suspicious down there? When people aren’t honest, that’s when the shit hits the fan.”

“I promise you there is nothing that we know of, but this place means everything because, as we speak, there is already a bidding war amongst the wealthiest who gets first dibs at development. I’ve already banned anything except geothermal energy, and no formal borders anywhere. However, this did little to dissuade anyone. Most of them just want clean air and a safe place to call their new home amongst people like themselves. Bunch of elitist assholes.”

Leticia looked at him wondering if he knew who he was. Jacob must have read her mind or felt her body tens. He kissed her shoulder. “And I will only live here to make sure this place isn’t turned into a billionaire’s playground. They don’t know it, but I’ve got a secret lottery going to bring everyday people here. Pregnant single women, young families in the worst parts of the world, orphan kids. They will hate it, but what’s the use of all this power, if you can’t wield it. They all think I’m a little trust fund professor playing tennis on the weekend, with my nose in a book, that knows nothing of real life.”

“I guess you’ve found your empire, Caesar. I don’t think the other billionaires will like your plans. Watch your back.”

He turned to his side, placing his hand on the inside of her thigh. “Well, my Cleopatra, they don’t have to like it. They’re my ships, my investment in the basic infrastructure will make this place hospitable. If they want borders, bad air and sandy beaches for vacation, they can stay on earth. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t plan on running the place. I believe in democracy.”

She slid his hand further up her thigh. “Baby, you’re smart enough to know utopias don’t exist. Humans are incapable of such a thing. Believe me, I know.”

Those perfect blue eyes wavered. There it was. A little tell she was onto something. This job, as a soldier in the trenches, seeing the gnarliest shit had a way of giving one a sixth sense. Her second sight developed from experiencing the real Heart of Darkness, to seeing acts of kindness in the most desperate of situations.

He was now stroking her where it ached. “I accept your challenge. Did I not surprise you tonight?”  Her robotic hand, turned down to its lowest strength setting, gripped the sheet as the sensors connected to her brain indicated a spike in heart rate. “Not there, here.” Her good hand guided his to the place she wanted stimulated. Who needed sleep when you could have a night of multiples. God’s little gift to women for all the other shit they had to deal with.

Leticia liked him before, well liked his body, his eyes, that geeky shy boy smile, but now she wanted to know more. She liked a rebel. And if his ability in the sack had anything to do with his yoga, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all.

 

                                                                     --                   

The five soldiers would touch ground first to set up camp for a day and look around. If everything went well, the scientists would follow. This would be Leticia’s first time formally leading her own team. She stood in front of her small band of five ex -soldiers, too restless for civilian life, but too tired or broke for service.

“Alright, my people. You know the drill. We’ve been told there’s been no strange activity reported, so this should be a walk in the park.” But when did that ever happen...

“We work as a team. Sounds like this is a nice payday for everyone, so don’t fuck it up. I expect you to follow my orders, but don’t think I won’t listen to your concerns. Tell me everything. If a beetle shits the wrong way, I need to know.”

They continued to look towards her expressionless. Maybe she should have spent more time talking to them before the mission. It was an odd sensation being the boss, like new boots on a marathon-long hike. Leticia was at a loss for words. She was always quiet before darting through some strange atmosphere, saying a prayer to herself.  Before strapping in for landing, she pressed play on the control panel. “Come out and Play” by The Offspring rang through the small ship. The group of four men and one other woman grinned simultaneously. They began to shout out the chorus and thump boots to the beat against the floor. By the time the track ended, they would be entering a virgin world.

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