“We could always build a float of
a shrine. Dat’s killing two birds wit one stone.”
I stared at Gambit. “That’s the most intelligent thing I’ve ever heard you say!”
He shrugged. “I’m a stoic.”
“But it’s a terrible
idea, you fool!
We’ll make a float, and you’ll like it, or I’ll throw you in irons!”
“What the...?!” al Zabar choked. He was reviewing the latest expense report. “You’ve exceeded our annual hosting budget thingy in less than a day. You just checked in! How did you spend over ¥2.000.000?!”
“On only the finest goods this continent can muster,” I laughed, running my hand through the wine we’d filled our room’s bathtub with. “It’s all for brainstorming.”
“My agency can’t, you know, afford this kind of thing right now.” He twisted his tie, trying to fill himself with calmness. It wasn’t working.
“You must live
before you can die,” I said while taking a bite of a perfectly seasoned meatball. I’d ordered ten heroes and thrown the bread away, content to just eat a single bite from a single meatball. Oh, why stop at just one?
Digging in with the fork, I twisted a sizable chunk of ground-up meat and popped it into my mouth. Mana From Heaven!
“Yeah, the money that was going to build your floats and shrines is, you know, gone
“Curse your poor accounting, Kyle!” I waved the fork angrily in his direction. “You’ve went and ruined a good meal with your logic!”
“Get the fork out of my face.” He batted my forking hand, throwing me off balance and into AMOK. As the tiny metallic spears scratched his polished chassis, AMOK’s gears starting whirring uncontrollably.
“I AM AMOK! I HAVE A PRESENT FOR YOU!”
The plastic eggs visible within AMOK’s chest plate rattled around, and there was a loud CLUNK.
A white-hot ball of oblong flame shot out his egg tray, vaporizing al Zabar as it touched his trenchcoat.
“Oh my God, he killed Kyle!”
“It was a reflex,” AMOK asserted. “I would never harm a human intentionally before the conquest of your planet... which would never happen,” he added quickly, averting his digital eyes.
Gambit picked al Zabar’s clipboard from the pile of dust he (Kyle, not Gambit) had become. The little plus and minus signs were like candy to him. As he scanned the pages, his eyes started dancing with the agility of a samurai who fancied himself a ninja.
“I know how we can win dis!”
“When you see what we’ve got under that tent, it’s gonna knock yer socks off!” I yelled at the monk next to me, hoping he could hear me over the cheering crowd. Ha! My prophesy was already fulfilling itself, he was totally
Our float stopped, and Gambit and I each grabbed one end of the tarp, and heaved it over. The people gasped as they saw... nothing.
“Your float has been stolen,” the senior ranking member of the honorable review committee whispered, “we should alert the police.”
“Fear not, noble quizzmaster! Nothing has been stolen!” I stood atop the empty platform and addressed the crowd with my best Orson Wells-type oratory voice. “This float is a symbol of the unseen forces that work even now
to bring you fertility and good fortune. Can you see
love? Can you, man?!”
AMOK translated for me, using his never-before-mentioned universal translator. The reviewer grunted. “No, but I can ‘see’ a cheap fool trying trick us with an empty cart.”
The words hurt almost as bad as my bear mace would when I-
Kowai Junpuu made her way through her reverent flock. She knelt beside the empty cart.
“Have you come to ask me to rebuke my earlier statements on global warming? ’Cause I ain’t doin’ that, sister. I got principles.”
“Your float exemplifies the true spirit of the Kōan. It is a fitting tribute to our village, a simple reminder that we don’t need fabrics or materiél to honor our ancestors.”
“That’s what we’ve been trying
to tell you!”
She placed her palms upon the balmy wood and without qualm recited some psalm. “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, I bless this shrine for Shinto!”
“An anachronism, but I’ll take it!”
Dumping a heavy load of cargo onto AMOK’s new enhanced luggage handling grapplers, I said “sayounara” to a befuddled review committee whose members were so backwards they didn’t even understand the basic underpinnings of the whole Zen thing. Barbarous Klingons!
We made our way unimpeded to the local train depot, and as AMOK radioed ahead to rustle us up a taxi, I could only stop to think about all the things I’d learned of this region: the friends I’d made, the friends I’d accidentally indirectly incinerated, the blasphemies I’d orchestrated.
Things that would persuade the kingdoms of Aragon and Castille to unite under a single banner and send thousands of conquistadors to seize these islands for the good of the Spanish Empire, before the Portuguese became entrenched in the Pacific.