“The most ultimately righteous of all wars is a war with savages … the rude, fierce settler who drives the savage from the land lays all civilized mankind under a debt to him.” Theodore Roosevelt, The winning of the West, 1889 CE It was after dusk when Teddy came for us. His breath was thick and wet as it swept through the forest. Not even the coquis dared to chirp with him there, rummaging in the brush. I can still remember the wails of the trees as he flayed their barks, as he dismembered them limb by limb.
I was huddled with my family when his tongues slithered through cracks in our zinc roof, bored holes in the tarp that we hoped would shield us. Someone screamed when the roof caved in, splintered under the weight of a fallen yabisi. Its pale trunk cracked like bone beneath his invisible fist. Then, Teddy descended, jaws bared, his saliva oozing down on us in wicked rivulets.
Hands clasped, we pleaded to our creator for quick deaths. But death never came. Instead, as if our cemís had heard our prayers, Teddy’s voice caught in his throat. Silence. It was as if the engine of the cosmos had suddenly shuttered its industry, giving way to quiet entropy. And that’s when I remembered what the Gobernadora had said on the radio the night before, her warning not to trust the stillness. “No habrá paz en medio de la tormenta.”
When it was so quiet that I could hear my heart drumming in my ears, I clambered out of the wreckage. My sisters cursed at me for my foolishness, but soon they followed, curious. Where the roof had collapsed, bleached bark and serrated metal parted like the petals of a hideous flower to reveal him, grinning and gordo in the pallid sky. Below, the jungle had withered to a tangle of brown, as if his breath curled with unseen flame. A coconut palm whined and crashed. Its death echoed over the mountains, twisting into something that reminded me of laughter. I lifted my gaze to the sky to search for the face of the Taíno deity that legends say takes the shape of a storm, arms curling like serpents to set the clouds into a devastating spiral. Jurakán.
Teddy was the twentieth of twenty-two names randomly assigned for that year by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. But I like to think that he was named after the Teddy, the American conquistador, the last to lay claim to this little jewel in the Caribbean I call home. How fitting that he should be the one to usher in the end of American dominion here. Perhaps we should be grateful. Some pray that our new masters will be better caretakers of our land, but we jíbaros have our doubts.
I regret not taking Mandarin at university as we sift through the packages our new rulers airdrop for us. Bags of rice. Insulin. Antibiotics. Distilled water. Bioprinted protein powder. Will the Chinese be more sympathetic than their American or Spanish predecessors? They are not strangers to our suffering. They must remember when their people were sent here as laborers to work in the factories, that last ditch effort to save Spain’s crumbling empire with industry. Or when the Americans’ Chinese Exclusion Act uprooted thousands from their communities, leaving them few refuges other than our colonial backwater. What an irony that the ones the Spanish and the Americans spat on and called coolies ended up as our new landlords.
The US sold us off like a bad investment. But on the radio they said that the Americans were on the verge of bankruptcy, that the Chinese seized Puerto Rico as collateral for unpaid debts. The price for defaulting on too many climate loans. I applaud the Chinese for banking on our collective apathy to curb emissions to win out in the end. With this International Climate Bank, they hold all the cards now. Financing natural disaster recovery efforts. Cementing their global influence by sowing debt. Before Teddy, the talking heads said that their President should get it over with and declare himself Emperor. Emperor of what, I wonder? After COVID-19, Androvirus, the gigafires and heat domes, the Thwaites Ice Shelf and Teddy, who wants to rule a world that is half-underwater and half-scorched to a dustbowl?
After Teddy, I had to teach myself not to care about what happens beyond my shores, even if that is what I spent my life preparing to do. I ignore what I hear about the Yucatán, parched by chemical weapons into a desert by the madman elected to care for it. I ignore accounts of drones slaughtering civilians branded as ‘apostates’ in Siberia for opposing the Tsarina’s theocratic regime. I ignore the latest updates on this Sino-American cold war with many fronts, fought by many proxies. It feels silly, my dream of being a journalist, that noble reporter who covered these last days of ‘civilization.’ Teddy had other plans for me. Now I’m here in the mountains, weaving solar nets with my sisters.
“It’s like when I used to braid your hair, Vero,” my little sister Yuíza says, showing me how to entwine kapok fibers, strands of blue tarp, cables, copper filaments, bulbs and glittering fragments of solar panels. She hands me a basket of materials. Her dimples are little caverns that deepen with delight. Yuíza. Ever the optimist.
I set the basket on top of a ladder and begin to thread a mesh of fibers through the boughs of a gnarled fig tree. “Remember when I did your hair for your Quinceñeara?”
Anacaona bursts into laughter behind me. My elder twin, the serious one. Even she cracks at the memory. “How could anyone forget?”
Our mother was running late that day, like always. Deciding that the fifteen kilograms of arroz con gandules she had prepared wouldn’t be enough to feed the dozen people she was expecting, she went to the market at the last minute for more pork, plantains, breadfruit and God knows what else. Anacaona, our mother’s shadow, was recruited for the shopping trip, leaving Yuíza and I behind. What was I to do? The princesa needed to be ready for her big moment. I did what I could, which admittedly was far from adequate. I’ll never forget Mami’s screams of disgust upon her return, how she wrenched the comb from my hands as if it were a murder weapon. The arcane arts of the feminine have always eluded me.
“On second thought, maybe you can help Dagüao with the breakers,” Yuíza says gently, her black curls falling over her face as she peers down at me from a rooftop.
“It’s coming along.” Anacaona gestures toward the forest, eyes alight with pride as she repositions her ladder.
I help Dagüao with the labyrinth of switches and breakers he built behind the cancha, the ballcourt that has become our unofficial town square. He’s another genius like Yuíza. Which explains why they’ve been best friends since they could crawl. I remove a rusted screw and grab a cable to attach to the open switch when I catch an expression of alarm in Dagüao’s green eyes.
-Not that!- he signs, the pads of his index and middle fingers clamping to that of his thumb.
I make a circle with my fist over my heart to reply. -Sorry.-
Dagüao passes me the end of another cable wrapped around his shoulder. I socket it into place and retighten the screws. Dagüao grins with approval, tucking his black hair into an elastic tie. In his delicate smile lines and sharp cheekbones, I can see the ghost of his father’s face, an artisan and mechanic from Ponce who moved to our mountains to build a new life with others who could communicate in his language. Teddy took too many of us.
When you’re raised in the campo, hearing or not, you learn to sign if you want to understand what’s going on. In primary school we learned a bit of ASL. But our neighbors speak a regional dialect of their own, sometimes specific to families. Communication is not the most straightforward up here, but you get used to it — you have to. We hearing people regularly switch from Spanish to English to Spanglish to ASL and LSPR and ASLPRish and that resurrected Island Arawak that youth learn at summer camp.
Dagüao riffles through a shipping container filled with useful scrap, searching for solar batteries to attach to his contraption. I follow him with discarded cable shielding and copper thread and drop them into bins that he has meticulously labeled to keep our salvage organized.
In the months since Teddy, we became scavengers to survive. They don’t tell you that the aftermath of the storm is the worst part. They don’t tell you about the despairing nights, praying for help that never comes. About digging mass graves to bury the dead under the smog-choked skies of diesel generators. In the end, we endured as we always have. Like the petroglyphs of frogs and birds etched in boulders along our rivers. We endured. From the debris of our towns, we created this yucayeke, this mountain sanctuary that has served many generations of our ancestors, going back to those daring Taíno and Yoruba that settled here, to escape the reach of the Spanish crown that enslaved them.
But with our kerosene supply dwindling, we had to find a new way to keep the lights on. Even though Teddy’s Category 6 winds shattered most of the island’s solar panels, Yuíza schemed a way to remake the debris into something that might save us. For all that our isla lacks, we have sunshine in abundance. So we weave the reflective shards of solar panels with kapok fibers from our sacred ceiba trees. We stitch circuits into a meshwork that we drape over the branches. We make solar microgrids with life’s stringy filaments. We call them our nasa -- an Arawak word for the nets that our ancestors used to catch fish in our seas and rivers, when they were still teeming with life.
“Y la música?” Anacaona descends from the ladder, the glossy twists of her hair swaying past her hips. She crosses her arms, her broad shoulders and tall stature instantly commanding respect. “It’s too quiet.”
At her bidding, Don Brizuela wheels onto the scene, followed by his grandchildren, Alonsito and Enriquillo. They carry maracas, guiros, panderetas, and his twelve-stringed pride and joy, a cautro he named India Encantada, to honor his late wife. The children guide him onto the raised catwalk we built for him to get around the village, but he has already mastered the makeshift ramps.
“How about something more retro than Bad Bunny?” He chuckles beneath his threadbare sombrero. The band strikes up an old folk song called “Espérame En El Cielo.”
“Wait for me in heaven, my love, If you are the first of us to go, Wait for me, because soon, I will come, To where you are, beyond the sky. Between bales of cloud as soft as cotton. Where we will live again.”
Dagüao notices the tears in my eyes. His hands stack and then part like a square, lips curling to mirror my sorrow. -Sad?- I feign laughter as I sign, -Estoy bien.-
I tell him I’m fine but I’m not. None of us are. I pretend as I have every day since that wall of mud buried our house with Mami, Papi, and Abuela Serafína inside, the day we became orphans and my dreams for the future were washed away. The day our community’s survivors turned to us, the children of their deceased pastor, for leadership.
Anacaona’s nails gently scratch my shoulder. She has never been the sentimental type, but I recognize this warm gesture. She always knows what I’m feeling. It’s a twin power, our grandfather used to say. “Ready?”
Yuíza and Dagüao huddle in anticipation, eager to see if their mad science experiment will end in disaster or triumph. -Turn on the lights- they sign in unison. They look like magicians pulling rabbits out of hats.
We grab the ignition cord together, and the generator sputters to life.
The forest flickers. Like neon spiderwebs woven across the canopy, our solar nets activate. It’s as if a thousand fireflies are frozen in amber above our yucayeke, their light softening everything as dusk falls. The cheers are hesitant at first, skeptical even. But after a minute or so of uninterrupted power, I jump up to hug Anacaona, shouting in that excited way I used to when we were kids. Don Brizuela is drumming his pandereta. Dagüao kisses Yuíza. Alcimar stares up in disbelief, removing his cap. The children clap and cheer and some of them run to their tents to fetch tablets to charge, followed closely by the stray dogs that have become their protectors. Grateful to be able to read his book late into the evening, Don Mateo drops into his hammock. Doña Marta switches on the electric grill, her daughter already prepping iguana kebabs and toasted casabe for the celebration.
Anacaona tosses me one of our last medallas. I snap open the can with care, as if handling a prized vintage. Teddy taught me not to take small pleasures for granted. “Salud!” I say to her, raising my can to hers. Her eyes sparkle as we tip our cans to our lips. The drink is still sweet well after expiry.
“For the yucayeke!” She twirls in a circle with her can raised.
“I thought you didn’t like calling it that.”
“This isn’t Taíno summer camp, Vero. But I think grandfather would be proud of what we’ve built here. The nasa, the yucayeke.”
I take a swig from my can. “Oh, Abuelo Abey! I’m sure he’s looking up at us from hell right now. Yeah, that’s what you get for worshipping idols!” I shout, mimicking my mother’s angry exchanges with her eccentric father.
Anacaona chuckles and crushes her empty can. “Mami was too harsh on him. Never forgave him for naming me and hermanita after old Taíno chiefs.”
I grab Anacaona’s empty as I finish my own and toss them in the salvage bin. “I think she believed in that stuff once.” Our mother never stopped me from visiting Abuelo Abey’s bohio, where he showed me the striking faces of the elder gods etched in stone. I remember being frightened by their cavernous eyes, like the orbital sockets of skulls. “It unsettled her … the possibility that her God was only one of many.”
Anacaona scoffed. “Meanwhile our father and his mother were doing Santería in our basement. She let that slide. As long as they have the names of saints.” Anacaona searches the crowd, spotting Dagüao and Yuíza approaching from the grill. The smell that precedes them is smoky and delicious.
“Los pinchos están listos!” Yuíza passes me a stick of charred, greasy meat.
Dagüao smiles as his clenched fist drums his open palm. -Buen provecho.-
I nod gratefully, then devour Doña Marta’s famous pincho. As dusk falls on the mountains and the frogs begin to sing, we drink and feast on iguana kebabs, breadfruit fritters, and crumbly casabe. There is laughter. The children are playing gallitos in the cancha. They giggle and cheer as they toss algarroba seeds threaded through string.
For a moment I allow this contagion of hope to lift me up. Somehow we always find joy, even when everything is taken from us. Even when we live in rubble and so many of us have vanished. For a moment, all I can feel is the love and warmth radiating from the faces of my community. And then I remember the shadow that looms over it all.
As the night deepens, as the people drink and grow bolder, their joy will sour. Even after this miracle we built for them, they’ll whisper and jeer. They’ll laugh and point behind my back. Because they know who I was. And they hate this new me. Just like Mami and Papi. I feel it in my bones.
But tonight I am spared. One by one, every phone, tablet, and computer lights up. An SOS on the emergency alert system. Another crisis. Another opportunity to make a difference. They’ll be too busy needing me to judge.
E.G. Condé (he/him/Él) is a queer diasporic Boricua writer of speculative fiction. Condé is one of the creators of “Taínofuturism,” an emerging artistic genre that imagines a future of Indigenous renewal and decolonial liberation for Borikén (Puerto Rico) and the archipelagos of the Caribbean. His short fiction appears in Anthropology & Humanism, If There’s Anyone Left, Reckoning, EASST Review, Tree & Stone Literary Magazine, Sword & Sorcery, Solarpunk Magazine, and FABLE: An Anthology of Sci-Fi, Horror & The Supernatural. He is also an anthropologist of technology and digital sustainability advocate (as Steven Gonzalez Monserrate). When he isn’t conjuring up faraway universes, you might find him hiking through sand dunes or playing 2D JRPGs from the 1990s. Follow his writing at www.egconde.com or on social media via @CloudAnthro on Twitter.
Sordidez and Answers of Tainofuturism by Scott Russell Duncan
I hadn’t heard the word Tainofuturism until I attended a reading by E.G. Condé where he read the first chapter of the upcoming Sordidez. I was amazed. It told of a near future Boricua community turning to renewable technology and a renewed Taino culture to survive a disaster, a hurricane aptly named Teddy after the colonizing US president. I loved hearing about the homemade solar panels called nasa, an Arawak word for nets.
I had to read the novel and know what else Tainofuturism had to offer. I’ve read other kinds of native futurisms and have tried to help Chicanofuturism along. (Shameless Scott-futurist plug: buy all the copies of El Porvenir, ¡Ya!, submit to the Chicanofuturism anthology, look for my upcoming book Old California Strikes Back and, finally, my speculative collection in progress Mexpocalyptic Tales.)
I know that for colonized people tangling with the future raises many questions.
Anyone interested in what questions futurism can answer should read Sordidez. (There is even a glossary with Taino, Arawak, and Mayan words in the back). Condé describes people turning their indigenous roots and land and refining the world and seeking to bring it back with clean technology and inter-reliance. Sordidez is a good example for Chicanofuturism with which to seek connection and solidarity.
Sordidez or sordidness, is a reference to the people with memory loss from a weaponized virus during an ugly civil war. The dirty past we are tasked to deal with as the descendants of ancestors who fought and died against other ancestors who would better be called war criminals. Boricuas, like Chicanos, are the survivors of two colonial efforts and survival often means imposed or chosen sordid choices: we lose ourselves, our language, our singular voice, our history. We deal with the culture of survival and having only pieces of ourselves. How do we deal with the trauma, how do we find ourselves whole again as the word Tainofuturism promises with a future that includes native people and outlook?
Sordidez opens in the future with the character Vero who becomes the leader of a small community hanging on in a post-climate and war apocalyptic near future Puerto Rico. Rebuilding the community is inspired by the resurfacing of Tainismo to resist occupation after Puerto Rico is being sold off to China by the USA for past debts. People scavenge from abandoned mansions left by rich Americans and use native language Windtalker-style. After losses in the conflict, the main character Vero believes transphobia will prevent him from ever being truly accepted and leaves for the outside world promised by the UN. The story moves to a “Sordidez” community where people affected with memory loss in the Yucatan from a virus released in a war with a tyrant. The community struggles to deal with the trauma, loss of identity, and finding family as some figures seek vengeance. As the UN comes to occupy the land for control rather than aid, a figure emerges, Red Wolf, who is steeped in Mayan culture and seeks to lead her people. I was worried when Vero left…I’ve read many lauded books where the central character leaves and makes some side appearance. When Vero enters the story again in Sordidez, I was relieved. Condé does an excellent job of weaving in the characters we follow, with narrative importance, not for asides. The characters had great verisimilitude for future gente, and while reading, I always felt concern over what’s at stake and was excited to know what happens next. Condé carries out the writing advice I jokingly tell myself, “Take out all the boring parts.” Sordidez could have been needlessly longer, but instead it gives us what is important, what feels important, the after affects, the decisions and the giving ups or returns.
Sordidez is an instant classic that deals with issues many occupied and colonized people deal with: intolerance, trauma, loss of history, necessity to reclaim indigenous culture, the poisoning of land and climate disaster. Sordidez offers a future vision that, though broken like the present, has hope.
Ultimately, Sordidez blends narrative, visions, healing and resolutions, in several figures, all willing to transform for their people and offer mutual aid in a found familia.
Scott Russell Duncan is senior editor at Somos en escrito Literary Magazine and Press and was editor on the first Chicano sci-fi anthology, El Porvenir, ¡Ya!, which was a finalist in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards. In 2016 his story “How My Hide Got Color” won San Francisco Litquake’s Short Story Contest. His nonfiction piece “Mexican American Psycho is in Your Dreams” won first place in the 2019 Solstice Literary Magazine Annual Literary Contest. He is at work on a collection of short stories called Mexpocalyptic Tales. His novel, Old California Strikes Back, a memoir of growing up Native/Xicano-Anglo and a fantastic tour reclaiming the myths of Mexican California, will be published in 2023 through FlowerSong Press.
From the fanzine The Missionary, dated July 1990, by Willie Colon (real name and address withheld by request)
My favorite episode of the classic TV series Mission Venus (1) is without a doubt “Major Juan.” That episode was significant not only to science fiction and to Latinos, but especially to moi. The strange thing is, it only aired once (on October 9, 1970).
The low-rated series, which ran only October ’69 to May ’71 on Friday nights on ABC, achieved cult status in syndication in the late ’70s. The series was never a favorite of network executives, one of whom infamously deemed it “not cerebral enough.”
Yet the “Major Juan” episode—while undeniably campy in some respects, which you have to remember was part of the aesthete of the times (2)—demonstrates how clearly wrong that executive was.
As all of you know, the series has not been released on video. But this spring at I-Con IX in Stony Brook, I was fortunate enough to obtain a pirated cassette of the episode. I had not seen the episode since that one time it originally aired, so it was with great anticipation, as well as a giant bowl of popcorn, that I sat down to rewatch it. And rewatch it I did, 17 times in a row.
As with every episode of the series, this one started with a brief cold open.
A Terran rocket ship nears a planet. A navigator announces, “Approaching Jupiter, captain!" (The planet Jupiter is played by a rather good matte painting of Saturn by legendary sci fi artist Emsh.) We see the captain of this ship and his crew are handsome men and women, who seem to spend more time giggling and flirting with each other than attending to their duties. The camera closes in on a short, swarthy man with a thick mustache who is mopping the deck. (Yes, in the future they still use mops!)
His overalls are dark and drab. Two male officers dressed in primary-colored uniforms walk by. One of them, with a nametag that reads “Abbot,” stops and gives the janitor a mock salute. “Aloha, Major Juan,” he says. The other man, with a nametag that reads, “Costell,” takes the mop, spilling the bucket, and says, “I’m sure you could use this to fight evil aliens, Major Juan, huh?” The two officers exit laughing.
The janitor, crestfallen, looks down at the mess they’ve made.
An imposing authority figure then comes by. His nametag reads “Capt. Jackson” and he says, “Don’t just stand there, you lazy git! Get to work! What are we paying you for?”
The camera lingers on the spilled mopwater and at that moment the transparent form of the Dutchman rises up through the riveted floor to his waistline. The janitor continues to swob the deck, sometimes passing the mop through the broadly smiling apparition.
Played, as we all fondly remember, by veteran actor Van Johnson, the Dutchman (3) was the spirit of the dead skipper of the ill-fated Earth ship Dutchman. In exchange for having lost his entire crew, he was cursed to wander through the galaxy and witness the misadventures of humans in space. (4) He would materialize out of thin air or emerge through a bulkhead or hover over an alien world, and, unnoticed by that episode’s characters, would introduce the story and then reappear at the end to wrap up things with a piquant moral.
In this episode, hands across his broad chest and in Johnson’s distinct baritone, the Dutchman intones: “Meet Jose Ortega, a simple, hardworking man with a dream: To own and operate his own space ship. His fellow crewmen on the United Earth vessel Maine laugh at him and his dream, but they won’t be laughing . . . for long.”
As the camera pulls back from the Dutchman and out through a porthole, he adds, “The Maine’s mission: reconnoiter a fleet of UFOs heading directly toward planet Earth. What do these aliens want? What will happen to Earth when they arrive? And can one simple man make a difference?”
The series’ music and credit roll at this point, accompanied by the infectious theme song, with its distinctive mix of theremin and surf music, and the lyrics we all know: We're out of space and we’re out of time, my love Let’s go where no one can see us Out of here before we lose our minds, my love Let’s go . . . let’s go on a mission to Venus!(5)
A commercial break follows, with ads for Goodyear tires (“When there’s no man around…”) and the Frito Bandito.
After the commercial break, we see Jose putting away his mop and bucket. Judy, a scantily dressed blonde communications officer, is sitting nearby, smoking a cigarette.
“Don’t let those bullies get you down,” she says. “There’ll be a time for you. A time for both of us.”
Jose shakes his head. “I don’t know, Miss Judy. All I have ever wanted was to have a ship of my own to go gallivanting around the cosmos.”
“Such a man! Major Juan, why don’t you settle down with a good woman and have a few bambinos?”
She hugs him tightly, and we can see from Jose’s leery reaction and the bawdy musical cue that he thinks she could be that good woman, but she just smiles and turns away.
Suddenly, alarms blare! Red lights blink! Three alien spaceships looking a lot like pie tins dwarf the Maine. (According to The Mission Venus Compendium, these were indeed made of old pie tins.) At her post, Miss Judy (how she got there so quickly is never made clear), the scantily dressed blonde communications officer, tells Capt. Jackson that she can’t get the aliens to respond. Jackson orders nuclear missiles to be armed. The camera cuts to two empty chairs on bridge. Then there’s a smash cut to the crewmembers who are apparently in charge of the missiles frolicking in a radioactively-heated hot tub not noticing the “DANGER OVERHEATING” sign (which we’re led to assume is being caused by their ardor).
At that moment, Ortega is outside in a patch-covered space suit scrubbing the sides of the ship. (How he got there after putting away his gear is never made clear.) No one has bothered to warn him or call him back inside. Suddenly, the ship begins to rock back and forth, we hear explosions, and then see a blinding flash of light. We see Van Johnson’s ghostly image waving as Ortega’s spins away into space, unattached to the ship and out of control.
Suddenly, after a cut to black, we find Ortega unconscious in a circle of light. Next to him is the unconscious Capt. Jackson, for some reason. Dramatic theremin music plays. As he stirs, three tall, silver aliens with big heart-shaped heads emerge from the darkness. (According to The Mission Venus Compendium, these were made of papier-mâché and footballs.) Their expressions are fixed, wide eyes and eyebrows up in big curves. Ortega holds up a scrub brush to protect himself when, suddenly, one of the hyperencephalic alien speaks: “¿Que es su nombre?” The subtitle reads: “What is your name?”
Ortega is dumbfounded. To himself he says, “Madre de Dios!” Which is translated as “Oh my!” Then when he finally makes his reply, it’s fascinating. He says, proudly, “Me llamo Major Juan."
This—this is an important moment! This janitor, thought of as lowly by the rest of the Maine’s crew, has appropriated their derisive nickname for him in order to empower himself.
“We have come to seek friendship,” says the head alien--in English. But we are meant to realize the rest of the conversation is still in Spanish, which is admittedly confusing. Per the Compendium, the producers thought switching to English made it easier for the predominantly English-speaking audience and/or for the people who hated subtitles.
“Tell us of your planet, Earth,” says the leader,
“There is so much to say. I don’t know where to begin,” answers Ortega. “It is blue and green and beautiful. It is rich with resources, enough for everyone to live and live well.”
“Humans such as you are in charge of this world?”
“Well, such as me and not such as me.”
The lead alien looks surprised still, but with the musical cue we are meant to realize he is horrified. “Are all the humans on Earth not treated fairly?”
“Well, some of us could be treated a little better.”
The lead alien remains looking horrified.
Capt. Jackson rouses himself them. He says, “What’s all this Martian gobbledygook?” He grabs Jose by the color and shakes him.
“They’re speaking my language, captain. They are speaking Spanish.”
“What?! That’s impossible!”
“But they are!”
“Listen here, you nitwit: If you collude with these aliens, you’re betraying your country and you’re betraying your planet! But most importantly your country!”
“Mucho gusto,” the aliens say (returning to on-screen Spanish; the subtitle reads “Hello, friend”).
The captain’s eyes almost come out of his skull. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”
There is a flash of light—and then we cut to commercial! Some of the old ads included Kool-Aid (“Kool-Aid, Kool-Aid, so great, once you try it no can wait!”) and Fresh Stick (“I did everything you said, but my boss still hasn’t asked me to lunch!”).
We come back to what looks like a courtroom situation, with the three aliens behind a tall bench, and Ortega and the captain in two docks. The lead alien asks if the society of Earth is a fair and just society. Capt. Jackson vehemently says it is. “Everyone on Earth, at least in my country, gets a fair share. But they have to work for it. We can’t just give stuff away. That would be Communism.”
The lead alien then turns to “Major Juan” and asks him what he thinks.
Ortega is silent for a long time while the show’s suspenseful theremin music plays. Sweat beads on his swarthy face. (Note: The Greek actor’s ethnic features were amplified with dark makeup). His first words are “The burdens of generations of poverty . . .”—and then suddenly, as if someone somewhere pulled a giant switch, the screen goes blank!
I remember this happening in 1970. I was five years old, and I remember screaming at the television, “Wait! What happened?!” And I remember my father, rarely at home in the evening, pounding the box on the side forcefully, to no avail. The screen went to a test pattern, then commercials until it was time for that week’s episode of Judd, for the Defense.
We know that the decision to cut off the broadcast came from the network, but we do not know who made the decision. Rumors abound that an affiliate or an accountant or a lawyer finally read the script or saw the completed cut and decided that America was not ready for it.
What we do know of the ending comes from Ready to Explode, the biography of the script writer, Corinthian Tody, aka the pen name of the late series co-creator Jack Hoffman Sr., as well as his collection of essays, Under the Electric Udder. Apparently, he had written several endings. Here is a reproduction of his own personal notes:
--Jose allies with aliens to conquer Earth. Speaking only Spanish they swoop down and start invading. (Forget this! Will put me on FBI list. I hate my life!)
--Jose befriends aliens and brings them to Earth to celebrate. Note: Reject inevitable request by Scott to play “La Cucaracha” during this scene. FUCK ME.
--The aliens capture Judy and Jose rescues her, and they fall in love. Would have to be careful about casting. She couldn’t be too pretty or viewers would balk.
--Jose leaves solar system with the aliens to find himself. Very Ram Dass. Very Razor’s Edge. Could be backdoor pilot to series, like Route 66 or Then Came Bronson, but in space! (Fat chance getting this greenlit!!!)
--Aliens cook and eat Jose like livestock. Serling did already, no? He did everything already!
--Jose somehow at ship’s helm. In the background, Capt. Jackson and ensigns are swobbing the deck. Cut to an exterior shot that shows Jose leading the alien ships toward Earth. To what end? Who knows! Jose asks the comely communications officer to hail Earth: "This is Major Juan to ground control. I’m coming home." (6) Then, floating into the control room from stage left, the Dutchman turns to the audience and concludes: “What happens next? At the very least, we can say that, to the people of our small blue marble of a planet, the stars are going to be looking very different from now on. Buenas noches all, and to all a good night." Note: Network will never let me do this!
So which one was actually filmed? With Hoffman dead, every one of his four wives silent on the matter, and no existing original finished prints of the episode, we may never know!
But I will tell you it is Hoffman’s final idea here that I would have killed to see. Here we have Jose finally fulfilling his dream of owning a space ship. It would have said to me at that age, a four-eyed, little Hispanic boy who barely spoke anything at all, let alone English, that I could be a space hero one day! (7)
Maybe one day, someone will find the finished shooting script. Maybe one day the truth will be uncovered. (8) — Willie Colon.
FULL CAST Jose Ortega Michael Constantine Captain Jackson Robert Culp Ensign Abbot Frank Sutton Ensign Costell Ron Masak Communications Officer Judy Lynne Marta Ensign in Hot Tub Dick Gauthier Girl Ensign in Hot Tub Judy Carne
1 As we all know, Mission Venus was the brainchild of writer Jack Hoffman Sr. and producer Scott Forbin. Hoffman wanted to do a serious anthology show, but it was Forbin who retooled the pitch and sold the show as “a sexy romp to the stars.” Why Venus is in the title is also never explained—though a star chart of Hoffman revealed he was “Pisces, venus rising.” Each week the ship encountered different humans and alien species in crisis—like the mad scientist who searches for his lost android in “Robby Come Home”; the superintelligent insect man who starts a rebellion at a research facility in “Ant Misbehaving”; or the meek bookworm who gets stranded on a planet with a beautiful woman but no Dickens in “Almost Paradise.”
2 Many fans have noted the series could be characterized as Twilight Zone meets Star Trek meets Love, American Style.
3 Obviously a play on the Flying Dutchman legend.
4 As you know none of this was stated in the actual series. But we know the Dutchman’s origin story from the pilot script, written by series creator Jack Hoffman, which was never filmed and never aired. Forbin attempted to rewrite but gave it up because he said, “It gave me the blues, man.”
5 Every schoolboy knows the dirty version of these lyrics, so there’s no need to reprint them here.
6 David Bowie was a close friend of Scott Forbin’s and a frequent visitor to the set of Mission Venus. Whether this episode inspired his song “Space Oddity” in any way is the subject of another column. But we have to note: He was listed as co-owner of the famous Mission Venus disco in Manhattan.
7 However, I ended up becoming a pornographer. 8 The truth was never uncovered.
* * *
Felisa flipped off the translator and raised her head from the brittle manuscript she had been examining. “¿Qué estupidez es esto?” she said to her lover.
Zita turned from the console, where she had been struggling to map planets that no longer existed, that had been swallowed by a swollen star, whose hydrogen was slowly depleting. Meanwhile, their ship’s computer steered them through a field of space dust and debris. “Cualquier tonto que fuera tenía una gran imaginación.”
“Todas hablan español en el universo.”
“Lo sé, mi amor, ciertamente cualquier persona con inteligencia.”
Felisa wrapped her arms around Zita and kissed her. “No puedo creer que perdí tanto tiempo leyéndolo.”
“Es nuestro trabajo examinar lo que encontramos en este sistema muerto. ¿Eso estaba en la caja de metal?”
“Sí, pero la mayor parte se desintegró cuando abrí la caja. Lo que sobrevivió fueron figuras anatómicas de las criaturas que deben haber escrito esta tonta historia.”
“¡Basta de estas criaturas muertas! Guarda eso y ven al hidromasaje y muéstrame tu figura anatómico.”
“Pero tenemos trabajo.”
“Olvídate de trabajo ya. Hueles a polvo. Ven aquí.”
“Estas tan fresca, mi amor!”
“Déjame mostrarte cuánto.”
Born and raised in Brooklyn, of parents from Puerto Rico, Richie Narvaez is award-winning author of Roachkiller & Other Stories, Hipster Death Rattle, Holly Hernandez and the Death of Disco, and Noiryorican. He lives in the Bronx.
Rinconcito is a special little corner in Somos en escrito for short writings: a single poem, a short story, a memoir, flash fiction, and the like.
Pictured is an open cannister of Scho-Ka-Kola, a caffeinated chocolate produced in Germany starting around 1935 and distributed to many German soldiers during World War II. The protagonist of “Out of Range” recalls widespread starvation in the years following the Spanish Civil War, coinciding with World War II, and a fortuitous encounter with Nazi chocolate.
Out of Range
by Olga Vilella
It happened sin darse cuenta apenas. One minute, Josefina Corrada was the exceptional mujer she had always been. A responsible professional. Puntal of the eight o'clock Mass de San Aloishús, even in the worst snowstorm in February. A mother who never disappointed. And the next day, she consigned everybody to hell.
“Se me van a hacer puñetas, todos. Y el que me esconda las llaves, me va a oír.”
Which is how she came to be waiting for Dr. Haddad, that day. Maybe she should send la familia that funny meme of the cat. Pa’l carajo…a mí nadie me manda. Even Joey, the only among her relatives she could stand these days. But el guaifi seemed to be down.
Certainly not to Josie, there was no reasoning with Josie lately. When Josefina thought of her eldest, she had to ask los cielos what sin was she paying for in this life, to have been saddled with such an ingrate of a daughter. Who never called, unless she needed something. Trite, trite, and verging on the caricature, but oh-so-true.
A flash of memory sparked in Josefina's mind. She blinked then, assaulted by a draught of icy air and un recuerdo. The pinkie finger in Josie’s left hand, curved slightly inward. The dedo that was a replica of her own. And then she closed the screen pa'quick. No thinking of la Josie. La que me va a armar cuándo se entere.
Swipe screen left. Not for anything Josefina was the only one among her friends that Twittered and Instagrammed and Facebooked and TikToked. A brief smile lifted the corner of her perfectly drawn mouth!--Cherris-in-de-esnow de Reblon—with the next image popping up in her head. A circle of silvery heads, jostling around, whenever she showed las amigas how to get on? in?—maldito inglés—social media. Yet again.
A small whoosh brought her back to her surroundings. Another blast of frigid air fell on her shoulders from above, like a shower at Varadero Beach Club, on a morning in August. Dios mío, ese aire acondicionado me va a matar de pulmonía. Y esta camilla.
A little face, all eyes, peered then from around the curtain of the cubicle. An orangey tube—¡cómo el presidente!—was poised firmly between his lips and a bag dangled from a grubby paw. ¡Un Chito! Food from the gods. Now forbidden by Josie. The sight made her stomach rumble, not for the first time. Josefina tried her nicest smile. Kids usually responded to her abuela charm, but this one was not parting with one curly bit.
El niñito left quickly, but the curtain of the cubicle had parted long enough for Mrs. Cou-rra-dah to catch a glimpse of a group in scrubs planted around the nurses’ station. Call me “mom” one more time, anda. See what’s going to happen to you, mija. Will you look at the size of those culos? People are really unattractive these days.
“Body shaming, grandma.” “Don’t call her china, grandma, she’s Korean.” The list of her many social sins clacked like dominoes in her memory. Swipe definitely left.
But Joey’s gently reproachful face, a caramel Mater Admirablilis, refused to budge, once invoked. “Grandma, be nice. I love you, but be nice. Te quiero mucho,” repeated to signal no bad intent, pronounced in that cute gringuita accent of hers.
Joey, tan bella, mi niña.Joey qué no salió a su mamá, that’s for sure. “If those people are Italian, I’m china. Coreana,” Josefina spurted out loud, almost choking, on a breathy yelp.
Look at the time, caballero.Deja, que estos van a trinar cuando yo termine con el presidente del hospital. ¡A mí! Qué me hagan esperar a mí, Josefina Corrada, la primera doctora hispana de Jersi Sity.
But the memory of her granddaughter’s brown eyes still hovered, stubbornly, before her. It was getting late. And Josefina was so tired. And more shook up than she had thought when the car stopped spinning. Tired, hungry, in need of reviving. “Latte with an extra shot,” she heard Joey order in that papery hoarse voice of hers. Even Joey, even her.
“Un café con leche, mijo. Cargadito.” These days, saying those words, en español, felt like an act of resistance. En español, like it or not. Café con leche. Y tu MAGA que te la metes por dónde no te da el sol. Besides, calling out for a café con leche at el Estarboc also conveyed, loudly she hoped, what she thought of people willing to pay más de cinco pesos for a latte. Café con leche, guanajos.
“Well, dear heart. It is a fallen world,” as Catalina always repeated, while dusting her bolster of a chest. She knew las niñas would worry about her when she didn’t show up. But she was also sure they went ahead and ate. At this point in their lives, not one of her friends was going to delay ordering lunch because one of them didn’t show up. They would never eat.
Maldita vejez. ¿Quién te prepara para esto? ¡Nadie! As if there were any medical textbooks that could prepare you for the indignities of old age.
The carefully calibrated contempt in the voice of los jóvenes at the cellphone store. The looks of disdain when you don't put away your wallet fast enough. As if they were never getting old. As if. As if. That movie with la rubita de Beberli Jills. How they had laughed, she and Joey, escapadas, both of them. “No PG-13 movies for her until she's old enough, mom.” As if Joey didn't hear worse every day in school, so guanaja.
I wonder what's taking Dr. Haddad so long. Had she been in her right mind, she would have refused the ride to the ER. What had she done instead? Let them wheel her, in while making un chistesito. And not even a good one. “What happened to la ambulancia de los guapitos?” At least, one of them—dominicano by the looks of him—had laughed. “Lady, that's the next crew. And they won't be here for a while.”
“You think you’re really funny, don't you, abuela?” As a matter of fact, yes, she thought she was pretty funny. Even Joey turned on her these days.
For nearly seventy years, she had been a good girl. Not anymore. ¡Se acabó! She was now primed for war. Ready a dar guerra like the warrior she had once been. The buena hija who told her father she was going to medical school during that lunch, so, so many years ago. Dios mío, cómo se puso, loco furioso.
Contrarian, contrarian, cómo eres, Enrique used to say. The faces from other days of conflict crowded the small space around the gurney. Her father hitting the lunch table with a fist, the afternoon she told him Enrique was coming to talk to him. Certainly, she was marrying him. And she was moving to La Habana con él. Y mamá, llora que llora. Why couldn't she understand? She left México con papá.
Igualitica, igualitica que tu padre, Enrique used to say. David Juño, cerrado cómo un puño. The man who refused to ever go to el paseo once the war was finally over. “Cara al sol/con la camisa abieeeertaaaaa.” Somebody would intone the anthem of the Nacionales in the middle of la Alameda and the crowd would pause, as if paralyzed. Shifty eyes taking note. Black shirts and a sea of raised hands, saluting. An arm lifted, stiff like a gravestone, like el Caudillo's, meeting Hitler in Hendaya.
Not that don David had any use for the other side. Not after what they had written on the doors of the apartment building in Madrid. “Muerte al dueño de este edificio.” And Lelia's daughter dying during the siege. She died of a pneumonia, they said. We knew it was hunger.
“Recuerda, Pepiña. En este pared, unos españoles asesinaron a otros españoles.” Y el hambre por todos lados. As many maids as any house would want, to be had for a pair of alpargatas and their keep, during those years of darkness. Niñas, niñas todas. And then the years of that other war. Grey uniforms, all over the city. The whole of the province, all of Galicia, was overrun by them. On leave from the German submarine base in El Ferrol, la tata Rosalía would whisper, moving away from their Nordic raptor eyes. And Amelia, all blonde trenzas and blue eyes, pretending she was a refugee. “Kinder, kinder, schokolade.” After all these years, those words remained fresh in her memory, as bittersweet as the taste of that chocolate long gone.
Better make sure next time Joey took her to el Cosco she bought enough garbanzos. And a big bag of those small Esniqers.
“My dear colleague, what is this I hear about you still driving?” El doctorcito Haddad. Here we go....
A native of Río Piedras, Puerto Rico, Olga Vilella is currently at work revising Los que llegaron, a historical novel based on the unsuccessful attack by the English to San Juan, Puerto Rico in 1797, a work that seeks to upend Caribbean notions of race, religion, and ethnicity.
Flora didn’t remember falling asleep, but she must have because she was suddenly startled awake by someone calling her name. “Flora.” She heard it again and looked around. It sounded like her brother’s voice calling out to her, but that was impossible. He had been dead for over thirty years.
Voices drifted down from the roof where the rest of her family was watching the sunset. And Flora put her hand on her chest, forcing herself to relax. That’s all it was, her family calling to her. Her mind was playing tricks on her, making her believe she heard her brother’s voice.
Flora looked over at the stairs that led to the roof. Maybe she should have gone up there after dinner. One of her favorite things was sitting with her son and grandchildren to watch the sunset. And if she were with them now, she wouldn’t be sitting here thinking she had heard the voice of a ghost.
But she had been tired and wanted to relax on the couch and enjoy the warm evening breeze. Besides, she had seen enough sunsets in her life. At ninety-six, she earned the right to do what she wanted. Flora had spent her whole life working hard, and she was tired, so tired. And that’s what she told her son earlier when he tried to insist that she join them on the roof.
“Flora, vente.” She heard it again. It was louder this time. She wasn’t half-asleep, and she was almost positive that it was Antonio’s voice. “Except he’s dead,” she told herself.
The setting sun streamed through the large wooden doors that led to the balcón, and a memory of Antonio waiting for her came with it. He was in front of the house on Luna Street where they had grown up and sounded a little annoyed as he called out for her to hurry. Papá was forcing him to take Flora with him and his friends to the movies, and he was not to let her out of his sight.
Papá always made Antonio take Flora with him. Antonio might not have liked it too much, but Flora loved it. And as she ran down the stairs to meet him, she smiled. After the movie, she would get him to take her for ice cream.
Antonio complained, “Te tardastes mucho.” He told Flora she was slow and he didn’t like being late. But he always said the same thing. Then Antonio would smile. And it was always the same sly smile like he knew something that she didn’t, a secret she would love.
The sun had almost set, its light was a deep orange, and it covered everything in its glow. Flora felt almost like she was in a dream as she pushed herself up and stepped onto the balcón. She wanted to see where that voice calling out to her was coming from even though she was half-blind and wouldn’t be able to see too far.
Sure enough, there was no one on the street. Flora was sure of it, and she wasn’t surprised.
“Inventos míos,” she mumbled under her breath, and for a second, she wondered if she was starting to lose her mind. Or maybe she was just tired. She had been tired a lot more lately. She also had been thinking about the past a lot more.
That’s what it was, Flora told herself. She was letting her memories get to her. She took a deep breath and shook her head. Then she told herself to leave the past behind, where it belongs. Those times are over and gone. She headed back to the couch, then looked up at the ceiling and said a little prayer just in case she was losing her mind. “Que sea lo que Dios quiere,” she mumbled.
“Mami, ¿estás bien?” She heard her son call out from upstairs.
“Sí,” she called back. “I’m just tired,” she thought to herself as she grabbed one of the throw pillows she had made off the couch next to her. A thread was loose, and she tried to see where it was coming from but couldn’t make it out. Maybe tomorrow she’d sit at the sewing machine and fix it. She hadn’t done any sewing in a while because of her lousy eyesight.
And that was a shame because sewing was her lifelong trade. Gracias a Dios, she had learned one. It saved her when her husband took off with another woman, leaving Flora alone and afraid in New York to raise two young boys by herself. But none of that mattered now. It was over. She had survived and had even come back to Puerto Rico.
Flora stretched her legs out. She should go to bed, but her exhaustion was overpowering. She felt it in her bones. Besides, a part of her enjoyed the warm breeze coming in from the balcón. It made her feel safe and comfortable. There was always a lovely warm ocean breeze that made its way down Luna Street in the evening, and she had loved it since she was a child.
She closed her eyes and felt her body relax. Just then, her brother’s voice called out again. This time she jumped up quickly and practically ran to the balcón. She surprised herself with how fast she was able to move. She looked out at the street and saw a man standing below. He waved at her. And he seemed familiar, but she couldn’t see his face clearly.
“Flora vente.” The man called out, and Flora was sure that it was Antonio’s voice.
The man waved, and Flora stood frozen to the balcón’s handrail. She had a feeling in her chest that made her want to go downstairs and see the man, but a voice in her head was telling her not to go.
Flora decided to ignore the voice in her head and go with the feeling in her chest. She called out to her son, “Vengo ya,” and rushed out the front door. Usually, Flora held onto the handrail tightly as she made her way down the stairs, but this time it was almost like she was a kid again. Her steps were steady and confident. She smiled and went faster.
Flora stepped onto the sidewalk and looked around for the man, half expecting him to be gone. He stood on the corner and waved to her. She squinted, trying to see him clearly. A breeze made its way down Luna Street and brushed against her skin. She felt refreshed, almost invigorated. The tiredness she had been feeling before was gone.
He was leaning against the wall waiting for her just like he used to do. The closer she got to him, the clearer her vision. He had the same angular face she remembered, and his hair was dark and messy.
Antonio smiled at her, “Por fin llegastes.” And it was the same smile he had always had. Like he knew a great secret that Flora was going to love.
Flora stopped and looked up at him. “¿Cómo? How are you here?”
His eyes sparkled like she remembered, “I was waiting for you. Te tardastes mucho.” She smiled at him and felt the tears filling her eyes. It felt like he had never left.
“Vente,” Antonio held his arm out so she could grab ahold of it, and she looped her arm through his.
“Mami, ¿estás bien? Flora heard her son’s voice calling out to her. It sounded so far away. She turned to look behind her and felt an ache in her heart.
Antonio looked down at her and patted her hand to reassure her. She nodded, “Que sea lo que Dios quiere.”
Then she turned back and smiled. She was ready for her walk on Luna Street.
Kim Vázquez grew up in Puerto Rico and moved to New York to study Dramatic Writing at Tisch School of the Arts, NYU. The lack of representation and diversity in children's books drove her to write a middle-grade Latinx mystery that she is currently querying while she works on another. She's had various articles curated and published on Medium, including “Green Plantains and Memories of mi Isla” and “An Afternoon in la Plaza del Mercado.” She's also had a short story, “The Lady in White,” published by the Acentos Review.