Author : David Henson
The module thuds onto the planet’s surface.
Commander Stevens adjusts the stabilizers. “No prize for that one.”
Lieutenant Johnson cuts the engines. “You always think you can do better.”
“Do you have to take everything I say personally?”
The com crackles. “Conquistador to Black Sparrow: Are you on the surface?”
Commander Stevens sits up straight. “Confirmed, Captain Ove. Sorry, Sir. I should’ve checked in immediately upon landing. We had a … momentary distraction.”
“I can imagine,” the Captain says. “Now get with it. We need your eyes-on to verify the planetary scan.”
“Yes, Sir, ASAP. Stevens out.” The commander turns toward the lieutenant. “Atmospheric conditions report.”
Johnson studies the blinking panel in front of him for a moment. “Benign. We don’t need suits.”
“Protocol requires them.”
“Then why ask me for the report? I know … ‘Protocol requires it.’ Do you always have to be so by-the-book?”
“There’s a time and place for improvising, Frederic.” Stevens opens a door in the side of the module. “Here.” She hands a small square of silver-colored material to the lieutenant.
“Whatever.” Frederic snatches the packet and pushes and holds a button on the material. It unfolds several times to form a protective suit. He slips it on, then pulls a cord at the collar. A helmet inflates around his head.
Commander Stevens activates her suit and helmet as well. “Com check.”
“Loud and clear. I suppose we have to wear oxygen tanks, too?”
“No, filtration is adequate,” Stevens says.
“Will wonders never cease?”
Stevens rubs her hands down her thighs, smoothing the crinkles in her suit. “Frederic, what’s your problem?”
“You started it, Victoria, with that crack about my landing.”
“No, you started it earlier when — ”
“Oh, never mind. Activating airlock. Protocol.”
The planet’s skies are blue and clear, the lawns lush and green; tidy houses line the streets. “Reminds me so much of home,” Frederic says.
“Except for the quiet.” Victoria puts her hand on her husband’s shoulder. “We’ve been out a long time. I think that’s why we’ve been at each other’s throats lately.”
“Probably.” Frederic presses his helmet gently to his wife’s, then turns and watches a light breeze trickle through the leaves of a nearby tree. “Too bad about the birds and other wildlife.”
“Replenishment will take time, but the arks are right behind the colonists,” Victoria says.
“I know. But if our neutronic lasers can vaporize all animal life without hurting anything else, why can’t we refine the technology so just humanoids are affected?”
“That’s above our pay grade, Honey.”
“Lieutenant Honey,” Frederic says, grinning at his wife. He checks his locator then points. “One hundred meters this way is where we told them our delegation would arrive.”
The two walk up the street. There’s a speakers’ platform, grandstands, and what appears to be a parade route with banners and placards.
Victoria turns over a sign with her foot: “Welcome To Our New Friends The Irthlings.” She toes another and chuckles: “We Love Irth.”
“You ever feel guilty?” Frederic says, imagining the excitement the planet’s inhabitants must have been feeling right before they were vaporized.
“A little maybe,” Victoria says. “But it’s so much more efficient to find a Goldilocks and clear it than terraform a planet from scratch.”
“I guess you’re right.” Frederic takes his wife’s gloved hand in his. “Besides, we’ve been deploying this tactic throughout the sector. It’s their own fault for not doing their homework before accepting to be Sister Planets with another world.”
“Let’s get back,” Victoria says. “I’ll confirm to the captain this place is a Go.”
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