“Gentlemen! Colleagues! Tonight is the night we have been working so hard to achieve over the past four years. If it had not been for the generosity AND vision of Mr. Delonge, we wouldn’t be standing here. Tonight, we set our sights upward and cast our vision to the stars in a craft we’ve built with our own hands and without government interference!”
I couldn’t see a damn thing; my good eye was blindfolded. But I clearly recognized the voice. It was Raoul and he was huffing, puffing, and laying it on thick for his naked cabal. Luckily, I wasn’t naked. Unluckily, I could feel some kind of binding suit covering almost my entire body. The only exposed skin were my wrists and ankles, which were both bound to what felt like a lawn chair. I reached down to try to touch my leg in hopes of feeling the material. It was Neoprene, like a wetsuit. Like the wetsuits Tom joked that we were going to wear in space. At least I thought he was joking. And if that wasn’t enough, my ass hurt worse than that time I passed out at Tommy Lee’s Hermosa Beach condo. My guess was that I had been shot with a standard animal tranquilizer dart. Not the first time I’d been shot by one either. As my consciousness and surroundings came back to me, Raoul continued to pontificate.
“Friends! We were all spawned from such a vast array of professions. We are some of the brightest minds the world doesn’t even know exist. And tonight, we will thrust ourselves out of the shadows and they will see just how brilliant we are!”
The men blindly cheered their leader on. It was then, that I heard a set of footsteps move towards me. I felt a hand on my shoulder and then a voice whispered in my ear.
“I’m so sorry they shot you with the tranquilizer gun. Raoul is not a fan of runners. He feared you were going to tell the authorities about our life’s work. He is deadly serious about his privacy!”
It was Arthur. Hearing his voice was sort of a comfort, but he didn’t seem to be untying me.
“I can’t release you; the guards are still roaming the compound. And next time they will use live ammo to stop you! The best I can do is this!”
It was then that I felt something flat and long being slid into my boot. Arthur informed me that once I was taken to the launch site and was loaded into the rocket, Raoul would untie me. That would be my only chance to escape. And the best weapon Arthur could wrangle in a compound with a plethora of sharp objects was a goddamn butter knife. I was fucked.
While Raoul rattled on, I wondered where Tom was. I hadn’t seen him since they dosed me with their special Red Bull. Arthur said he had to get back and be present in the crowd during Raoul’s speech.
“He gets frightfully upset when he feels his words are being ignored.”
I urged Arthur to untie me. That butter knife wasn’t going to do jack shit once I was out in the middle of the desert and Raoul was carrying a gun with one hand while trying to load me into a rocket with the other. Arthur apologized and scampered off. Just then, another set of footsteps came up behind me.
“Dude I’m so stoked. I can’t wait to launch! Sorry about drugging you and the whole dart gun thing, man!”
It was Tom; he sounded sincere. I begged him to untie me and promised that I wouldn’t cause a scene. But he refused.
“That’s a negative, bud. Things are prrrreeeettty tense right now. Raoul locked himself in the bathroom and did a bunch of speed with his alligator and you do not want to upset him when he’s all gacked out and busy doing science stuff!
You’d think someone that hangs out with a dozen scientists wouldn’t refer to what goes on at a top secret ranch as ‘science stuff.’ Then again, this was also the same guy that somehow managed to make a career out of writing songs about his dick and fart jokes. I asked him to at least take off my blindfold. He obliged that request. And as he went to remove it, I realized it was just my eyepatch slid over my good eye. Well played, nerds.
Once I could see again, it was then that I finally caught a glimpse of the rocket I’d been hearing so much about. Considering this compound was a place which housed some of the most brilliant minds in the world, you would think the rocket they designed would resemble a high tech spacecraft. Instead, it looked like a carnival ride and an aluminum fishing boat were forced to copulate and had a child. I was more terrified now than ever before. I looked up at Tom and his eyes were big and welling up as he viewed his vision which had finally come to fruition. He was on the cusp of being complete. Or, if what Arthur said was true, we would both on the cusp of be incinerated during take off due to a poorly designed engine. I began to take a mental inventory of my life. I’d been close to death many times, but this time I felt I may actually meet The Reaper, and not just the crackhead from Venice Beach who goes by the same name.
Raoul had climbed on top of the rocket to give his long winded speech as his men hooked the trailer to the tow hitch of the van. The whole scene reminded me of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the soldiers gathered around the ark of the covenant waiting for it to be opened. Except the soldiers were naked scientists and the ark was a rickety hand built garbage heap that looked more like my future coffin. Raoul’s speech continued:
“One day, when those pencil pushers in Washington see what we have accomplished here tonight, it will prove that any man is not limited to the mere confines of this planet. It will show that space travel should be open to anyone capable of daring to dream large enough to achieve that goal!”
His nude men applauded as he took a bow atop the rocket. Just then, I noticed laser beams similar to the ones attached to the weapons of Raoul’s men dancing and lighting up the earth beneath Raoul’s celebration. Suddenly, the ground began exploding as shots rained down out of the sky. Everyone scattered. Before Raoul’s topnotch security could fire a single shot, the mysterious bullets from the heavens had ripped them all to shreds. I fell over in my chair and managed to slither under a bush. The crowd erupted in screams as armed men clad in all black began to descend from ropes. They were rappelling out of strange black helicopters that were silent. Raoul unholstered his revolver and began firing blindly at the intruders.
“Scoundrels! You cannot stop progress! You cannot stop the dreamers! We will prevail, you ruffians!”
He kept firing into the dark until his revolver was empty. He had hit nothing. It didn’t help that the men in all black also deployed smoke bombs the moment they reached the ground. The armed men had silencers on their weapons but I still felt the whizz of bullets as they flew by me. White smoke slowly filled the area as I began to hear fewer and fewer screams. I shouted for Tom to untie me. I could hear the bullets hitting the van and Tom’s ship as he floored it in reverse towards me. He leapt jumped out of the cab with a knife and said:
“I’m sorry I got you into this, dude. This was supposed be a simple space mission. But I’m betting that someone in the collective was a rat! We’ve gotta go now! Raoul has a countermeasure planned for just this type of event!”
There wasn’t time to ask what that meant. Tom only said it would ensure us a safe exit off the property and that Raoul would meet us at a hideout near the launch site. We sprinted back to the van and roared up a bumpy dirt road that was a quarter mile from the house. We stopped when we got to the top of a hill. There, in the darkness, we saw the barn on fire and a few stray laser beams scurrying around in the woods, most likely looking for any remaining nude scientists that might be hiding out. Tom’s phone beeped. He looked at me and said “Close your eye!”
Just then everything went white and then the shockwave hit the van. Raoul’s countermeasure was nuking the entire ranch. Debris rained down upon the van and we covered our heads out of instinct. After the blast settled, everything in the valley was on fire. There wasn’t anything left of the farm or the house. After a few minutes of staring in silence Tom finally spoke:
“I told him not to use that much magnesium. He really wanted to scorch the earth I guess. Oh well, let’s head to Mexicali, my dude!”
We barreled down the remainder of the back road, almost flipping the van and trailer in the process. My sphincter finally released its grip once our wheels hit the highway. I thought about Arthur, who was now probably a pile of charcoal somewhere back at the ranch. A familiar rage started to building inside, and I decided that I would be directing it at Raoul. I began to consider trying to fight Tom and take control of the van. I even thought of just jumping out of the van. The rage continued to boil. Neither of us had said a word to each other for ten minutes. Tom just stared at the highway and sang that same fucking song under his breath:
“I cannot live, I can’t breathe
Unless you do this with me.”
I began to feel nauseous, no doubt more after effects of the tainted Red Bull. I was at my breaking point and he seemed as cool as a cucumber, a cucumber that has a severe imbalance and a penchant for space travel. The tension finally broke when Tom’s cell phone began to buzz in the center console. He stared ahead at the road ignoring it, acting like he didn’t hear anything. As it continued buzzing, my guts began to tighten. I saw the screen; it was Mark (CONFIRMED HUMAN) calling again. The phone’s vibration droned on and on. I stared at it and sweat began to pour out of every pore of my body. Tom stared ahead, still singing that fucking verse. I wanted to vomit and my bowels churned and he kept singing those stupid fucking words:
“I cannot live, I can’t breathe
Unless you do this with me.”
The phone vibrated and, finally, I couldn’t take it anymore. I grabbed it and answered the call and began screaming as fast and as loudly as I could.
“TOM BUILT A ROCKET!!! I JUST SAW A DOZEN NAKED MEN MURDERED BY MERCENARIES AND RAOUL NUKED THE FUCKING RANCH!!!!!!! GOVERNMENT AGENTS!!! FUCKING NOISELESS BLACK HELICOPTERS!!!! MEXI…..”
Before I could finish saying ‘Mexico’ Tom had slammed on the brakes, launching my body into the windshield. That’s the real lesson here, kids – always wear your seatbelt. I rolled off the dashboard and fell to the floor between the seats catching a glimpse of Tom’s money under my seat and remembered what got me into this fuckery in the first place. But that didn’t help block out the pain of what I guessed were about three broken ribs. I began to lift myself up back into my seat and I noticed that everything felt wet and sticky. I was covered in blood. Tom just sat there staring at me with an extremely disappointed look on his face. I finally plopped into my seat. Tom handed me a couple of Macbeth shirts to wipe up the blood. I could feel the back of my scalp was split open. So I wrapped the a shirt around my head. Then Tom finally spoke:
“Dude. That wasn’t cool. I thought I could trust you. I thought you believed in what we are trying to achieve. You have no idea how important this mission is.”
He continued, “There’s a real super important reason why we need to launch tonight. That’s why the government is trying to stop us. They don’t want us to expose the truth!”
I sat there trying to keep the blood from leaving my body. My wetsuit felt like it was stuck to my body. There were tears across the back. There was no way this suit would keep me alive in zero gravity now. The windshield was completely shattered. Tom reached down to move his seat back. He the lifted his legs and kicked the windshield out. It fell to the ground in front of the van. I felt like I was beginning to go into shock; my whole body started to shiver. Tom reached over and grabbed me by the shoulders. He looked in my eye, which felt swollen and heavy.
“Okay, dude. You’re in bad shape, but it’ll okay. I have a backup copilot in the event something should happen to you. We can have him meet us at the hideout.”
He paused and took a deep breath and said, “Okay now repeat after me… I cannot live, I can’t breathe unless you do this with me.”
He wasn’t singing it; he was more saying it like a chant. I didn’t know what else to do, so I began to mouth the words along with him over and over again until I felt my strength building up. Then, we were saying it at the same volume and Tom began to give more power to his statement by shaking my shoulders. It was actually getting me hyped up. I began to forget the pain and the fact I was about to be launched into the ozone with a lunatic. We chanted and chanted until we were yelling it. Tom began punching the roof of the van and we chanted! I tore open my wetsuit and chanted! We were screaming it now. I tore the glove compartment door off and screamed the words while Tom lit firecrackers and threw them into the back of the van and screamed and screamed.
“I CANNOT LIVE! I CANNOT BREATHE! UNLESS YOU DO THIS WITH ME!”
Tom slapped me so hard my head bounced off of the passenger’s seat. Then everything was quiet. He put the van into Drive and we began heading back down the highway. The frigid night air and bugs whipped our faces without the protection of the windshield. But we pressed on towards the hideout. Tom was quiet, no longer singing or chanting that verse. Instead he reached under his seat and pulled a bulky black object. It was a military satellite phone. He steered with one hand and dialed with the other and then handed the phone over to me. He said when someone answered I needed to say the following:
“Dark and scary… ordinary.”
And the person on the other end would respond with:
“Nice to know ya… paranoia.”
“Where’s my mother?… biofather.”
I nodded that I understood and put the large piece of ancient technology to my ear. There was an answer on the other end of the phone and I parroted back the words just as Tom had instructed. Then the voice on the phone repeated the response and hung up. That was it. But something struck me as odd about the voice. It was vaguely familiar.
“Tom, who did I just speak to on the phone?”
And without missing a beat he said, “Oh that’s Tom 2. He’s my clone.”
Struggling to keep up? Feeling a bit lost? Perhaps you’re wondering how a snake can wear a vest or be a band roadie? The answers to these questions and more are in CHAPTER 1 and CHAPTER 2! (Editor’s Note: Bad Copy does not guarantee answers to any questions in these chapters).