“VEL-AS-KEZ, you dumb fuck!”
“Whatever. Your name is Marine. Now move!”
Since Leticia could remember, she had always wanted to be a Marine. Her father, her uncle Roland, her grandfather: all Marines. Someone had to carry on this tradition. It wouldn’t be one of her five brothers. They were all academic high-achievers with dreams in the stars or trying to save a dying planet.
Growing up, she had liked making forts, playing guns, watching old re reruns of GI Joe or She- Ra. She’d tease her brothers with insects and small animals while they did their homework in a silent circle at the kitchen table. When they were away, she’d run into their rooms, imagining new worlds with monsters to kill. This earned her the title of Disaster Master. Nothing was safe in her wake.
Papa’s little girl was shaping up to be a big bad Marine .
As a teen, she was the one always causing trouble for her mother, running the streets in dickies, red lipstick and a bandana. She celebrated her fifteenth birthday by smoking her first joint while listening to freestyle in her best friend’s back yard. After that she started mixing vodka with Big Red during family parties or sneaking boys in when everyone was asleep. She was a homegirl with an attitude the girls wanted to smoke with and the boys wanted to fuck because they could tell she was a “wild one.” Guys had to work hard for that shit though. She wasn’t easy.
Unlike her brothers, who began investigating colleges their sophomore year in high school, she had no idea what she wanted to do. It wasn’t until she got caught shoplifting lipstick at seventeen that her path was set. She couldn’t call her parents when they booked her at the police station, so she had to rely on her uncle Roland. He promised not to tell her parents as long as she met him every Saturday and Sunday to go shooting or hunting. He owned a ranch in the small town of Poteet, Texas. Now that he was retired he had nothing but time. Time and his goats.
Leticia’s world opened. It wasn’t long until she could take apart and put together any weapon. She studied harder than she ever had in school, learning all there was to know about military strategy. She would be a Marine, but not just any Marine: the best of the best, doing all those things people want to have happen, but don’t want to know how. If she wasn’t shooting, she was in the gym, preparing her body and mind for what would be the most gruelling weeks of her life. While the guys were shooting junk up their pimpled asses to bulk up, she was putting in the graft to take out the biggest motherfuckers with her bare hands. Basic training for the elite was designed for quitters. The more that dropped out, the easier it was to find out who had the stuff to make it. Death had to be the least of your worries.
All her life she had hair that fell to her waist. Her mother and grandmother loved the thick tendrils that had been a family trait for generations. This beautiful hair was cumbersome, not fit for training or the heat of hell, so she cut it all off. The gasp from her mother’s mouth followed by a shake of her head and the pious crossing of her chest told Leticia she would never hear the end of it. How would she ever find a husband now, her mother seemed to cry, even though she was surrounded by men?
She didn’t give a shit. She loved the feel, the same freedom as the guys. She was already at a disadvantage in so many ways, so why not make her life easier? Leticia wanted to be accepted as the best of the best with the ability to smoke an enemy as fast as any of the men. And despite what her mother and aunties might have thought, it looked good. She had no problems getting laid.
Leticia made it through training. She only wanted to give up once, and that was down to the food being so bad. Lust, not love at first sight, dictated her sexual encounters until she went on her first mission. It was that rush of adrenaline, curiosity, the racing pulse of what could happen next you get when experiencing a new lover for the first time. Coming out alive despite the odds was a drug all its own.
Her eldest brother, Ramón was an executive that worked for the Waxman Corporation. As a child, he would hog all the Legos to create detailed extravagant buildings and worlds. You could scare La Llorona with the screams that came from his little body if you dared destroy something that took him weeks to create. Now he created worlds for a living. He was the one that got her the gig that almost got her killed. He pulled a few strings to put her in the middle of the action, with the hopes she would fill him in on any details that were left off any official report.
The brief was sketchy. All they were told was it was a security breach. Trillions of credits burning as fast as a neutron. Waxman Corporation could not afford to lose this colony. A woman named Riley , who might or might not be crazy, would be their guide.
The Unofficial Report
To everyone she knew, Leticia was dead. It was only two days ago her entire family attended her funeral. Full honours too. All she ever wanted was gone.
She sat on the beach front property watching the ocean crash on the shore then recede. Its hypnotic motion numbed her just like the six-pack of Modelo beer at her side. God gives and takes away. After seeing that thing in action she didn’t know what she believed. She still wore her little cross, but it had lost some of its shine after seeing the colonists’ flesh used as wallpaper
This was all her brother’s fault. Only four of them had lived to flee the colony. Once at a safe distance, they blew those alien cockroaches to pieces, destroying trillions of dollars of investment. She wondered if her brother would still have a job as the florescent light exploded in fourth of July firecracker glory. At least they still had their skin, not that the Corporation would care. Skin never paid out a dividend unless you walked the streets.
Once they crash-landed on the prison planet, the only doctor in that strange mix of saints and sinners allowed them to leave on the one ship that remained intact. Yeah, humans had learned long ago it was easier to ship their garbage off-world then deal with it. You don’t worry about what you can’t see.
Riley refused to leave the prison planet. She wouldn’t say why. Perhaps it had something to do with the young boy that died in the crash. Her own daughter was dead now too. What the hell was she thinking staying on a trash bucket of a world with a bunch of cons? Maybe she wanted to die. She was ready after encountering the aliens not once, but twice.
The sound of a motor pulled Leticia from her revelry. It was Ramón pulling up to the beach house in his fancy car. The little lyrical voices of his children poured out of the open doors. Lucky he brought them with him, otherwise she might have choked him to death.
“Hi, Tia!” Marisol and Benjamin were six-year-old twins that only sometimes made her want to be a mother.
“Hey, my loves. Do you mind going inside for a bit? I want to speak to your Papá alone. I might have left some cookies and presents on the table.” Before they could get a thank you out of their mouths, they were running through the door.
“Hey, sis. You doing ok”? She couldn’t look at him, only take another swig of beer.
“Does it look like I’m ok”? She lifted her right arm then dropped it against the wooden arm rest. Small splinters stuck to the metal.
“Well, you do look like Ash from the Evil Dead.”
She balled a metal fist before offering him a beer. “Bitch, sit down. How was my funeral by the way? I hope you cried like a baby.”
“I wore sunglasses, but it was very emotional. Knowing you could have really been in that casket.”
She could feel her head spinning from the hours of sea air day drinking. Her mood darkened like the approaching storm clouds. “So what am I supposed to do now, looking like this? Landscaping? Housekeeping? Construction? I was doing what I loved, cabrón, and it’s all over thanks to you and that greedy’ass corporation. I’m glad we blew it all up. How’s your job, by the way?”
Ramón drank his beer without stopping at his usual dainty sips. “I got a promotion if you can believe it. And there is a job for you. We want you to go back up there.”
Leticia choked mid drink giving him the full attention he needed. “You crazy man. Those things aren’t just scary: they’re evil! No right, no wrong, just cold -blooded survival. They only exist to make more of themselves, exterminating anything around. Everyone is a threat.”
“Waxman? Waxman thinks? You don’t have a brain of your own in there? That crazy old cook still giving orders. Take me to him and I’ll tell him straight. I really don’t give a fuck.”
“Waxman is going with you. That’s why I, we need you. You need to be his body guard.”
Leticia drummed metal fingertips on the broken armrest. “This shit gets weirder and weirder. Alright, so say I do go. What’s the pay out? Am I a Marine again?”
“Well, for starters you’ll never have to work again. You’ll be set for life on the back of this one mission. Yes, you’ll be a Marine, but not like any on this planet. You won’t exist, your missions won’t exist. You’re dead, remember?”
Leticia continued to drink while watching the tide inch closer to the edge of the property. “You don’t get it. You didn’t see what it did to my crew. Look at my arm, dammit. That thing out there is a monster built like a machine. It doesn’t need weapons because it is a weapon!”
Just as the last word slipped out of her mouth the reality of the situation dawned upon her. How did she not see it before? Half of earth was a pock marked mess from war. That’s why colonization of other places was so vital, especially for those that had the pockets to invest. They were the new’world speculators of old. A hospitable planet or at least a planet that could be terraformed was more valuable than gold. Earth would be left for those without pockets or shoes or any other means of leaving this dirty, destroyed place. How sad humans were. Perhaps those things out there were savage instinctual creatures, but they had none of the cruel irreverence of humans. Maybe she should go up there with Waxman. Let him shit his pants and run back to his desk where he belonged. No, he wouldn’t stop there. It would only be the beginning. By the end of the night she decided to meet with Waxman. Her liver wouldn’t survive anymore of civilian life.
Ramón told her to dress up, but when did she never listen to anybody? She wore jeans, Red Nike high tops and a white tank top that showed a hint of her red bra underneath. Let’s see what this old head thinks of me now.
The office overlooked the main hub of the MagnoRail train station. As busy as it was not a sound could be heard. To her surprise there was no old decrepit man speckled with age spots and trembling hands. There was only a guy that looked similar age to her, in head to toe Patagonia. They were going to space, not Everest.
She wondered who this pencil-pushing chump was. Probably a lawyer with a million papers for her to sign releasing the company of any knowledge, culpability, recourse or anything that resembled responsibility for anything. The new world was built on this bullshit. She was ready, but truth be told, it was these kinds of people, men like her brother, who she feared the most.
He turned to towards the door as they entered. Damn, he was good-looking. If it was one thing she appreciated it was a pretty face and a hard ass. Male or female, Leticia didn’t mind one way or the other.
“Ms. Velásquez, its nice to meet you. Your brother has told me a lot about you. I especially like the stories about the frogs in his bed.”
Leticia thought this guy might be ok. “I see he has been telling tales. He hasn’t told me anything about you. I thought I was meeting old man Waxman.”
The man smiled extending his hand. “Old man Waxman at your service. Call me Jacob”. Leticia felt slightly embarrassed. The back of her metal hand found its way to Ramón's mid -section.
“Its nice to meet you.” She went to shake with her metal hand, but decided to use her real one.
She could tell Jacob was trying not to stare. She was used to it, now that she lived a civilian life, having to pick up groceries, take her truck to the car wash, walk amongst the mere mortals in their daily droll. She did like hearing kids say “cooooool” as she walked past. It was cool. It went perfectly with the small teardrop tattoo below her left eye. She would get another teardrop in honour of her fallen comrades. Perhaps a colourful Virgen de Guadalupe on her torso before this mission. Just in case. They would need God, La Virgen and all the saints to survive the demons of space.
Jacob poured them all a glass of bourbon. “Before we get to the details, I wanted to let you know I completely accept you’re the boss up there. I don’t know what to expect, but I know it’s not something I know anything about. If you say jump, I’ll do so without question. When Riley was first discovered, no one believed her story. I don’t plan on making the same mistake.”
Leticia finished the booze in one gulp. Rich folks always had the best stuff. “I just need to know one thing: why are you doing this? Why do you need to see this thing? You can’t bring it back. It ain’t no puppy you can train. This thing makes eggs like an insect and kills without mercy. It operates like a bug, but hunts in a pack”.
Jacob wandered to the window to watch the MagnoRail speed by. “Before I took over the company for my father, I taught European History at the community college. One thing history has shown us time and time again is that no one wins when there are colonizers and the colonized. These things tell us we are not alone.” He turned eyes as blue as one of those rare icebergs floating in the Arctic towards her. They were filled with excitement and fear. Leticia thought maybe he hadn’t made his mind up about this mission either.
He looked out the window again at the ant-like procession of people entering and exiting the rail. “Are there other species out there on worlds we are exploring, trying to call our own? I will not make the same mistakes as the imperialists of the past. I will not allow this company to be dragged into Star Wars. Earth is nearly finished because of us. We need to learn from that. We need to know what destroyed an entire colony. If their original habitat is on our list of worlds to explore we must not encroach upon it.”
Leticia didn’t know what to say. This community college professor easily worth a billion had a brain and a heart, maybe. She’d trust him when she saw he didn’t want one of those things alive. All her prayers begged for those things not be anywhere else. Let the incident on the colony once named “Hattie’s Hope” be a one in a zillion fluke.
“Riley said it wasn’t indigenous. There was a ship.” Jacob gulped another shot of bourbon while pouring her another too.
“I know. I’ve seen the classified drone photos of the ship before the planet was destroyed. It’s technology that can’t be created by an instinctual creature. Like I said, we are not alone and we can’t afford to pick a fight with a superior species.”
Leticia left without asking any more questions. She needed to think. All her training, all her strength and ganas would be needed to go back out there. At least when fighting humans, you know what you were getting. She left the meeting feeling better about Waxman, but not the mission. Even if it meant suicide, she would blow up any chance of the creature being brought back. She had to go, not as Jacob’s bodyguard, but humanity’s.
Her bags were packed hours before a car was scheduled to pick her up. She spent her last night at the gym listening to music alone. At first she thought she might call one of her occasional lovers, but she wasn’t in the mood. This wasn’t a goodbye or a celebration.
Ramón was waiting as they pulled up to the base. There was a bag at his feet. If this was what she thought it was, he was going to get his ass kicked in front of everyone.
“What’s that at your feet, bro?” He smiled while kicking it. “I’m going too. It was a last-minute decision, but I need to go.”
“Like Hell! You got kids! Mary-Anne! Get your ass in the car before I call Mama and Mary-Anne. Where’s Jacob?”
Ramón grabbed her by the good arm, which he never did. “You will be there to protect me. Plus this is not as dangerous as you think. You can’t be the VP of Risk Assessment and not assess the risk without knowing what it is.”
Fuck. He had a point. What if there was something else? Her niece and nephew came to mind. “Alright, Ramón. You have to promise to listen to me on the lives of your babies. Don’t go investigating or playing around. We assess the surrounding colonies and that’s it.”
Once in the ship, it was time to strip down and go for a long sleep. Jacob would be next to her. She tried not to stare as he undressed down to his shorts. He probably played tennis on a Saturday and met with a personal trainer on a Sunday with a special meal delivery during the week. Community college professor my ass. But he was good-looking nonetheless with a hard body. Why did she always think about sex in the most inopportune times?
As she lay down, she clutched her cross with her metal hand and placed her good hand across her belly so that her fingertips rested on the burning heart of La Virgen. It was a good thing drugs did all the work to put them to sleep because her mind flitted in every direction. Like a hummingbird stopping for a millisecond, a forgotten memory paused long enough for her mind to take a photograph.
Years ago in what is now the Cartel of South American Countries, her team was waylaid in a shitty military base not on any map. A Green Beret, built like a brick house, sat on his own smoking a cigar. A man looking that good in tight Levi’s shouldn’t be on his own, so she invited him over for a drink with her crew. Somewhere between Kiss’ “I Was Made for Lovin’ You” and “Detroit Rock City,” she and this big Green Beret made their way back to her room for an after party. They licked each other’s sweat before swigging tequila from the bottle finding R&R in each other’s body. No salt or lime needed. After, as he drunkenly lathered her body in the shower, he stared at her. She reminded him a girl he saved in the jungle. All his men dead except him and the girl. It was a manhunter in the trees that took them out one by one. To this day it still haunted his dreams. She kissed him hard to shut him up before he could ramble anymore. No, they were not alone, but it was too late to back out.
“Dancing In The Dark” by Bruce Springsteen began to play in her sleep pod. She loved The Boss. God, she must have listened to this song a million time during her break before this mission. This was what she wanted after all that restless time alone with her thoughts. There were only so many strangers you could sleep with or friends to meet for drinks before the world contracted tightly around your neck, laying its evil eggs of self -doubt.
But here she was a hired gun and they would be dancing in the dark for years to come.
To Be Continued…….