Image found at mars.nasa.gov
“When are you coming home, Reggie?”
“Countdown commences in just a little over ten minutes, Desirae.”
He had plenty of time to wrestle with his inner agonist during the 32 minute round trip it would take for his voice to reach her and then for her reply to whistle through his headset. He could still see her, the last time before his final trip to Earth. She was standing near a high dune, the last rays of the sun glinting off of her space helmet. The shadows of a dying planet rendering her as an eldritch specter. She didn’t find out she was pregnant until three weeks after he left her.
Leaning back in the co-pilot’s seat, Reggie Dwight ran down the pre-flight checklist of numerous details, as if recounting the recipe of a casserole. Then he jumped against his restraints as Colonel Iraida Simms accidentally sent her archaic clipboard clattering to the deck.
“Sorry,” she murmured in uncharacteristic chagrin.
He felt his fingers harden against the edges of his state-of-the-art tablet. “No problem.” He knew his voice betrayed his anxiety.
It wasn’t his fault that Eduardo Phillips suffered from that damned ictus, or whatever the doctor called it, and died. Yes, they’d been arguing by the kitchen’s coffee machine, having randomly encountered each other, but Joshua had never laid a hand on him, not that he didn’t want to at times. The paleontologist was incorrigible, insisting that some form of humanoid had actually lived and thrived in the depths of Sorth 662 B’s primary ocean, called “Pellucidar” by Roxanne Sims, the team’s marine biologist and resident romantic, sometime within the past 10,000 years.
At the height of their raging, mutual diatribe, Phillips dropped his Styrofoam cup of tepid Sumatra, clutched at the sides of his head with both hands, an expression of profound anguish on his toffee-colored face, and then collapsed into a heap on the floor, his salt-and-pepper hair soaking up a pool of what one of the Marines called “Java.” Captain Marcus Fink and most of the rest of the team had already been running into the galley in response to their shouting match, and were just in time to see 28-year-old Josh Munoz, astro-geologist, and the youngest member of the expedition under the planet’s north, arctic wastes, standing over the elder scientist, his fists and teeth both clenched, staring at a corpse at his feet.
Doctor Beth Holloway, 61 years old, through as active and intellectually keen as someone half that age, pronounced Phillips dead on the spot. Fink and Patrick Simmons, the Gunny Sergeant heading the small complement of Marines attached to their operation, icily escorted Munoz to his quarters, disabled his comm, and locked off the door mechanism after leaving.
Rows of garlic on a farm. (Photo: Gary Weathers/Getty Images)
The other local farmers had an easement agreement with Straen so they could cross his land and water their herds, but Keekik’s passionate desire for emulation put him above the law, or so he believed. True, he had no herds of his own, being only sixteen, and a stable hand on Logi’s farm, but now, crouching behind a tree at the edge of Straen’s property, he felt that ownership was inherently evil, and that resources should be available to all who desired access.
Experiencing an almost ethereal since of giddiness at his self-assigned empowerment, the excitable lad sprung from his hiding place, across the artificial boundary between Logi’s and Straen’s farms, and ran with enough vigor to clean his employer’s stables for a week (though he loathed the task).
Racing past the soil enhancement equipment, he knew exactly what he was going to say. His words would be exoteric when he arrived at the lake where all of the caretakers for the farmers were watering the herds of cukol.
Finally, he passed the last open gate that gave him entry to the gathering at the water. The thin, pale skinned boy climbed up a dozer machine that was sitting idle for the moment, took a wide stance, raised his arms above his head and cried, “Brothers and sisters, hear me,” as loud as he could.