There was no parade. No gathering of peasantry to welcome us, no enclave of scholars waiting to dictate our supreme knowledge, no robots to scatter rose petals before our feet as we walked.
Aye, but the buildings- they towered up to the heavens, enchanted obelisks of glass and wire! Some must surely have pierced the hearts of clouds. I felt like dropping to my knees inside the closest building and thanking the Almighty for delivering us to this magical place; but a McDonald’s was entirely the wrong place for that kind of thing.
“Would either of you like some complementary fruit basket things?”
A man in his mid-30s strolled up to us with AMOK by his side, obviously our arranged host for the duration of our stay in the Orient. AMOK didn’t just bring back drifters and rapscallions, he brought back results.
“Are dere pineapples?” Gambit reached out to shake the man’s hand, and I made a mental note to have him court-martialed for asking such a trivial question during a diplomatic introduction. We may know little of the Eastern etiquette employed here, but by Balboa’s blood he would pay dearly
for this minor transgression.
“No, but there are
several pineapple-like thingies that are, you know, indigenous to Japan,” the man said, shaking Gambit’s hand and reaching for mine. I clasped his forearm and shook readily, so that he may be competent of my strength of character. “But you might want to just go to Tagata Jinja and lead their prayer, you know, so you can move on with your, you know, thing.”
“All in good time, signor. Tell us of yourself, of how did you come to the Orient?” I turned that last statement into a question with the most covert upwards inflection I could muster.
He blinked. “Well, um... my name’s Kyle al Zabar, and until three years ago I was the goodwill ambassador to Norway, acting on behalf of Microstan, my native country-”
“That’s not a real country.”
“-but then I fell in love with Japanese culture, and have been, you know, acting as a go-between for American tourist agencies and Japanese commercial... interests...”
Though as a subordinate it was shameful for Gambit to falter during the introductions, I as a nobleman was free to openly mock our host by noiselessly flapping my lips while he spoke. “Show us this ‘temple.’”
What abomination was this?!
“Konichiwa,” the woman fluttered, bowing before my expedition. We bowed in turn, except for AMOK who had no spine and was the frequent target of jokes regarding his “spinelessness.”
“This is the head priestess during the festival thing, the Hōnen Matsuri,” Kyle blurted hastily. “Kowai Junpuu.”
I frowned, never for one second removing my hand from my concealed can of bear mace. This temple had no loudspeakers, no transparent Plexiglas ceiling panels, no souvenir booth or gift shop... it was like another country.
“Mister al Zabar tells us you would like the honor to lead us in prayer,” the priestess said in heavily accented English. What kind of a God would give these people an alphabet devoid of the glorious letter “L,” the epitome of perpendicular greatness?
“Mister al Zabar has soapy hands,
” I smirked, hoping that by denigrating a senior diplomat I would ingratiate myself with the she-shaman. “Now stand aside, y’all! I’m about to bust open a bottle of religiosity!”
Accepting the ceremonial robes from Priestess Kowai as forcefully and graciously as I could, I stormed peacefully up to the pulpit with a carefully rehearsed speech to lay on the festival goers spontaneously. They failed to maintain a respectful silence as I straightened my reading glasses, stirring doubt in my gullet that they’d ever accept me as readily as they had Polo.
“I speak now for you, so that you won’t have to do anything yourselves.”
A temple adjutant translated my message, and I continued.
“Scientists have been covering up the fact that the Earth has been moving closer and closer to the sun,” I declared, holding up a folder full of blank paper. “In this folder is proof that ‘global warming’ is just a ruse by your government to distract you all from your eventual, inevitable, and fiery death in the belly of the sun that adorns your nation’s flag.”
I chucked the folder into a temple pyre behind the pulpit, and clutched the sides of the lectern fiercely. “But I pray now to the ancestors of this island, bless the people of this village with a swift and painless death, that they expire long before sunspots lick the surface of the Earth, incinerating all life! Thank you.”
Leaving the lectern before someone said “amen” would’ve violated the terms of the challenge, so I waited patiently, hoping someone would get the hint to applaud me as I pointed at my watch and grunted. After about three minutes of total silence, I took a deep breath and waved to a sweaty guy in sweatpants and a sweatshirt.
“You there!” He raised his eyebrows and pointed to himself. “Yes, you! What’s the plural of ‘man’ in English?”
“SCORE!” I skipped down from the pulpit to high-five Gambit, but he and Kyle and Junpuu were all standing there, mouths open, staring at me in horror like I’d grown a third head. I’ve seen people act like this before.
My hand went directly for the mace.