An explosive concussion ripped through the cargo hold; turbulence was getting rough. Almost 8,000 feet ago, I’d been warned of the danger: a red sky that morning, high possibility of snow, low visibility, foo fighter sightings. But (like the scientist I was) I’d ignored all that and pushed on. Now, we were all paying the price.
“My cocoa!” Was all I could choke out, tears streaming down my face as I tried to reconcile the loss of my beverage with our mission’s success. Gambit was calmer, being unconscious and all.
The lead Elvi was staring at us. “Son, I know I didn’t ask during takeoff, but seein’ as how y’all are about to jump, why is he asleep?
“I would’ve thought that in this day and age, a man’s religious beliefs
wouldn’t be up for public debate,” I yelled loudly in an attempt to deflect attention from the man I’d knocked out and dragged aboard the plane against his will. At first, I was just talking loud to compensate for the engine. But when I saw how many of the skydivers were turning to look, I just ran with it. “Maybe in Utah
you can condemn a man based on his roots, but where I come from—America
—we stopped doing that a long time ago.”
“Now... now just calm down, son.”
“Why should I?! You’ve learned nothing
from the days when the Carthaginians were at your doorstep! You’d think that in the last four hundred years
there would’ve been some
Before I could finish berating the old man for his imaginary indiscretions, the plane tipped sideways, and the engines roared voraciously before cutting out. The main hatch blew open, creating a vacuum that sucked the Elvi (who weren’t wearing their safety belts) out into the stratosphere. Holy spontaneous explosive decompression!
“I AM AMOK! I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOU!”
I didn’t need to see the contents of AMOK’s plastic egg communique; my own two eyes told me that he was sliding unimpeded toward the gaping hole. Worse, his fear was causing him to excrete massive amounts of petroleum—normally a successful predator repellent—that was hastening his aerial defenestration.
“Mrrr... wha..? What’s... ahhhh! AHHHHHHHH!”
Not only was I losing my cameraman, but waking up two miles from the ground aboard a refitted crop duster that was rapidly losing air pressure was having an adverse effect on Gambit’s self-esteem. When we returned to sea level, I’d have to pay for several expensive counseling sessions... or I could claim
he attended such sessions on our team’s expense sheet. Then I could use the reimbursement to found a think tank devoted to achieving my dream: solving the world’s energy crisis with rockets.
“WHERE ARE WE?!”
“I AM AMOK! I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOU! I AM AMOK! I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOU!”
With a heavy heart, I unfastened my belt and sprung to the edge. Grasping the door handle, I looked down. Too late.
My eyes filled with water, or at least some holographic approximation of water. As I watched AMOK get smaller and smaller as he shot through the clouds like a lead balloon, I realized it was only an illusion: he wasn’t actually shrinking, but was getting farther away from the plane. Fascinating optical effect!
“I’m not jumping!” Gambit shouted, clutching his safety belt with a death grip. Aw, and he was hyperventilating, too!
I sighed. “You don’t have to anymore. The Elvi are gone... our mission... has failed.” The tear fairy once again threw her magical dirt in my eyes as I closed the door and sealed it by sticking an inanimate carbon rod through the handle. Nothing could have made this day worse.
AMOK had been like a thermos to me.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles... Teenage Mutant...”
Mournfully, I tossed the iPod to the ground; the song meant nothing to me now.
“Cheer up, Gyrobo.”
“I’d prefer you addressed me by my full name, Remmy.” Not that I necessarily wanted
him to do that, but it was best not to get too chummy with Gambit. He was, after all, the scapegoat I was planning to use when explaining AMOK’s destruction.
“You couldn’t have known that a supercomputer like AMOK would generate so much heat that the doors would blow out when the plane reached a certain altitude.”
“What? Oh, I’m over that. I’ve been
over that. Right now I’m thinking about our challenge. Not only did we not skydive
with the Elvi, but they’re all dead... and we lost our camerman...”
“Aw, yeah!” someone across the restaurant shouted. The whole crowd at his table laughed. Callous brutes!
Boy howdy, it was sure hard concentrating on our losses with all that commotion. Grabbing my Tom Landry hat, I went to go give those degeneratives a piece of my mind.
“Young lady,” I said, purposefully using the word “lady” to incite him into fisticuffs. “I demand you stop... wha...?!”
No... it was the old man from the plane!
Reeling back in terror, I looked at the other faces at the table... the woman who was sitting next to Gambit’s unconscious body... the teenager with a chip on his shoulder... person with miscellaneous backstory #3...
“I AM AMOK! I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOU!”
This was too much. “Why aren’t you all dead?!”
“Son, your concern fer us is... I jus’ cain’t describe it,” the old man said, shaking his head. “When we got sucked out of the plane, we jus’ held our hands in formation, like we done a thousand times before.”
“Ah, dis is great!” Gambit may have been a good lock picker back in the day, but he was a terrible negotiator. With that attitude, we’d never buy Utah from these rubes for a pocket of beads.
“And this here guy is the greates’ skydiver we ever had,” he laughed, patting AMOK. “Your team gets our highest review!” I felt both offended and enthralled.
“He has neither arms nor legs, and weighs over 400 pounds.” Yes, surely harsh logic would convince them of my viewpoint.
“He’s the best skydiver we’ve ever had o’er the flats. And when we landed, he poured scalding oil over my hands!”
“Did you want him to do dat?” Gambit backpedaled.
“As we say in Utah, sí señor.”So Gambit was from Utah all along.
“Not only that,” one of the skydivers added, “but he bought us this whole round of diet Sam’s Club cola!”
“Where did you get that kind of money?! We don’t have Sam’s Club
“He mentioned something about getting reimbursed for a counseling session you two went to,” the old man slurped. “Oh, and here’s your clue...” He handed me a folded slip of orange paper. “Now join us before you go! We’ve got a whole buffet right here-”
“That’s incredibly offensive to my religion,” I yelled, loudly enough for the entire restaurant to hear.
Grabbing AMOK, I stormed from the restaurant, Gambit in tow. I knew that inside, people would be eying the old man in disgust and that he would spend hours sifting through Wikipedia, trying to find out exactly what religion I kept saying he offended.
But it was a small price to pay to conceal my addiction to Sam’s Club cola.