Tom had the pedal mashed to the floor. He said our launch window was closing and there was no telling when they would be back.
“They who?” I asked.
I was already trying wrap my mind around the concept of there being another one of these idiots out there running around – a Tom 2.0, as it were. Now there was also apparently a “they” to contend with. Tom had a look of sympathy on his face. He pulled the van to the side of the deserted road and reached under his seat again. This time he produced something useful: a fifth of bottom shelf vodka. He swore to me it wasn’t tainted with any of Raoul’s psychedelic concoctions. I carefully inspected the unbroken seal around the cap before opening the bottle and draining almost half its contents.
“They WHO, Tom?”
His face switched from sympathetic to serious in an instant. He turned off the engine and then faced me.
“Okay, my dude. It’s honesty time, bro. Have you ever heard of the Huygens Probe?”
Considering who was asking the question, my first guess was that it was something you put into your ass. My second guess was that it has something to do with space.
“Yeah… ha ha… it’s no anal probe. The Huygens Probe is attached to the Cassini Space Probe. It’s an atmospheric entry probe that’s gonna break away from Cassini and land on Titan. You know, Saturn’s moon!”
My drunk was setting in. The warmth of the alcohol eased my tension and gave me the patience to listen to this lunatic ramble on.
“The Huygens Probe was getting pinged by something out in space. It’s been sending out a repetitious pattern of beeps, almost like Morse code. The European Space Agency originally built the probe and shut out NASA and have kept everything hush-hush since then. But Raoul and the boys at the ranch intercepted the message and started working on decoding it. Turns out it was a series of numbers, dude. Not just numbers, but a set of coordinates just outside our atmosphere paired with something else… today’s date!”
I sat in silence, not really sure what to say. I was also not 100% that I didn’t just let this raving rockstar idiot poison me again. But I decided ‘fuck it’ and guzzled the last half of the bottle anyway.
“I was out with Blink when Raoul called me with the news. So I faked illness to get off the tour. Then I went straight to the ranch to finish building my ship! Don’t tell the Blink guys, but I’m never going back. My work here is too important.”
Tom’s eyes were as big as saucers. I could sense both the excitement and pride he was exuding. Since he was on a confession roll, I thought this might be a good time to once again bring up the clone I had yet to meet.
“That’s all amazing and really wonderful and shit. But let me stop you there, Tom. What’s up with this clone thing?”
Tom started the engine of the van back up, threw it into Drive, and said:
“Gawwwwwd you sound just like that shithead, Mark. Don’t doubt me, dude. You just gotta believe in the magic of what we are doing. Because that’s what this is. It’s all magic!”
We drove on for another twenty magical miles in complete silence until we got to the border crossing into Mexico. Raoul had promised Tom safe passage by way of a border guard who had been paid off in advance. We were getting plenty of bizarre looks due the van’s lack of windshield, the bullet holes splattered across the sides, and the sloppily covered spaceship resting on our trailer. Some guy yelled something in Spanish from the window of his pickup, but I couldn’t understand what he said. I was drenched in sweat due to nerves and trying to control my shaking. But, Tom sat stoic beside me.
We inched along but were still a few dozen car-lengths from the border when a border guard walked up to the van. He didn’t say a word. He, squinted, nodded, and then flagged us through traffic into an inspection area. Once the van was parked, he told us – in English – that the surveillance cameras were on so he would need to pretend to inspect our van. It was at that point that the vodka really started to hit my nervous guts. The guard pantomimed the inspection as my insides churned and burned. Then suddenly, he told us we were free to go.
Tom hopped back into the van without saying a word. I went to drunkenly mutter a ‘thank you,’ but instead projectile vomited on his uniform. I apologized, wiped the bile ridden strands of puke from my face, and got back into the van. Tom looked at me, shrugged, and said:
“He seemed nice.”
We drove into the city, on our way to meet up with Raoul and Tom’s clone. I asked Tom why we had to go into Mexico to meet them. Tom responded that the man who funded his project was the owner of a very successful animal sanctuary in Colombia. He was also a huge Blink-182 fan and was obsessed with astronomy. Raoul had known the man for a number of years and when Tom and Raoul began working together, it was a given that the two meet. From that meeting, they began the funding of Tom’s project. The man – who goes by either ‘El Scorpion’ or ‘Rick’ – wanted to see the final product, but was unable to cross the border into the U.S. due to issues with his passport.
I was having an internal struggle with Tom’s supposed naïveté. It was clear to me that a guy called El Scorpion from Colombia sounded less like some hero who rescues exotic animals and more like a guy who turns leaves into cocaine. Yet Tom seemed convinced that his benefactor was on the up and up. Or perhaps he knew, but wasn’t letting on; it was getting hard to tell. A few hours ago we were dodging bullets and suddenly he was as cool as a cucumber. It was leading me to believe that he knew that the ranch was going to get raided tonight.
My paranoid, dissociated thoughts were brought to an abrupt halt as Tom roared into the driveway of a strip mall that housed several businesses, all closed due to the hour of the night. All except for one, a place called The Hideout. Yes, the fucking hideout we powered through both the night and the border to get to was called The Hideout. I wanted to grab Tom by the throat, but I’d settle for whiskey.
I followed him into the bar, hoping that if shit went south I could use him as a human shield and run like hell. The jukebox inside was playing “The Joker” by Steve Miller. It was dimly lit with red vinyl booths and a pool table located in the center. The population of the bar included only a few men, all wearing sunglasses and smoking cigars.
Tom spotted Raoul in a corner booth. My anxiety boiled over into pure, unbridled anger once Raoul and I made eye contact. He just grinned. For someone who just blew up a few acres of land, he didn’t seem to have a scratch on him; I wanted to change that. Tom sensed my anger. He leaned in and whispered:
“Hey man I know you’re upset. But, like, please don’t freak out in front of Rick when he gets here because he’s a real big fan of mine.”
Tom assured me once we got to the launch site, we could revisit my Raoul-based anger. But for now, I had to be cool. We piled into the booth. Raoul had a bottle in front of him and poured out drinks for Tom and me.
“Come my friends and quench your thirst! You’ve had quite a horrendous journey!”
That grand understatement made me want to remove his voice box with my bare hands. But my need to fall further away from sobriety was stronger. Through clenched teeth I mentioned that we seemed to be missing one Tom. Raoul responded that he was in the restroom. Apparently, Tom and Raoul’s recipe for clones wasn’t an exact science (much like their Red Bull formula) and this version was birthed with a number of gastrointestinal issues. In short, as Tom put it, the dude cannot stop farting. This was why he wasn’t at the ranch and was demoted to keep watch over one of Tom’s other storage units in East San Diego.
I drained my glass and while Tom paid no attention to his, I grabbed it and finished it too. Original Tom looked a bit antsy. But Raoul just sat there grinning at me and said:
“If you find the right thread to pull, my friend, anyone will crumble.”
I looked at him with murder in my eyes. He indeed pulled a thread with me, but I was far from crumbling. Space aliens or not, I planned on tuning him up real good. While thoughts of killing danced in my head, I heard a familiar voice over my shoulder:
“Hey Raoul, you got any money for the jukebox? Oh hi, Tom!”
It was HIM. Aside from different Hurley shirts, I couldn’t tell them apart. Raoul pulled out a wad of bills and told him to play more Steve Miller Band. KILL. While Other Tom shuffled off to the jukebox, Real Tom wanted to get down to business.
“Raoul, we need at least an hour before launch to make sure the ship isn’t damaged. Dude, that’s barely enough time to do a standard system diagnostic. But with all those bullets that were flying around, I don’t want to risk launching with any possible fuel or oxygen leaks.”
Raoul poured us both another drink and let out a belly laugh which forced his toxic breath into my nostrils. For a split second I feared Raoul might try drugging me again. But that thought dissolved when Other Tom returned to the table and nervously announced that Rick had arrived.
The men in sunglasses who inhabited the bar upon our arrival all rose to their feet and started towards our table. One walked over to the jukebox and yanked the plug out of the wall, rendering the bar silent. The front door swung open to reveal a large man in a black suit wearing an earpiece. Outside I could hear a familiar chorus blaring from a car’s sound system:
“Forever and ever, let’s make this last forever!”
El Scorpion had indeed arrived. The music continued to drone on as he danced into the bar with a young boy in tow. He wore gaudy sunglasses that looked more at home on a Long Island yenta. His jeans were bedazzled and low rise, revealing a paunch that drooped below a bedazzled Blink-182 T-shirt. Around his neck hung a bright yellow bandana that matched the yellow Macbeth trucker hat placed atop his head. He also seemed to share Raoul’s love of gold chains.
Tom got up from the table and Rick danced his way to him. With a thick accent he said:
“Tom, my friend! It’s been far too long! Come, meet me nephew. He is also a huge fan of yours!”
Tom and Rick walk over to the young boy who was almost in tears seeing his idol in person.
“Neto, this is Tom… from Blink the 182!”
The boy squealed with delight and tightly hugged Tom. Tom chuckled and patted the kid on the head. Rick stood there grinning when he spotted Raoul. Rick sidestepped Tom without a word and ran over to us almost crashing into the table. Out of instinct, I grabbed my drink to protect it. Raoul shimmied his girth out of the booth and the two men embraced. It was an amalgam of shiny jeans, greasy hair, and gold chains. I gagged a little while Tom’s clone just stood there trying not to stare. Rick and Raoul released their embrace and Rick noticed an absence.
“Raoul, where is your little friend Toby? I miss him!”
Raoul informed him that Toby was an unfortunate casualty of the ranch explosion. Rick bowed his head and hugged Raoul again before saying:
“I’m so sorry for your loss. He was a beautiful creature.”
As Rick’s men encircled our table, I could easily make out prominent bulges in their jackets. I think Tom 2.0 could too, as he shot me a wide-eyed glance. I just shrugged and downed another glass full of whiskey. Raoul waddled over to us and said that he, Rick, and Tom were going into the back room to discuss logistics for the operation. Tom 2.0 slid into the booth next to me. He was sweating and from what I could smell, panic farting. He grabbed my arm and pulled me closer to him.
“Look dude, I’m sorry I’m so gross. But I have a really bad feeling about this Rick guy!”
I agreed but told him that we were pretty much fucked, so he should just shut the fuck up and have a drink. He informed me that he couldn’t drink alcohol because it clots his blood, a flaw in the cloning process. So while I continued to pickle my liver, Tom 2.0 had to ride it out sober and gassy. One of Rick’s men plugged the jukebox back in and “Rock Lobster” blared through the bar. But even with the music pumping I could hear raised voices coming from the back room. Then the voices turned into yelling. I could hear Tom clearly:
“NO FUCKING WAY DUDE!!!! NO WAY!!!!! RAOUL, WHAT DID YOU DO?”
This was followed by the two other men yelling over each other, then a loud crash, and the sound of glass breaking. One of the henchmen ran to the door.
The yelling continued, in addition to what sounded like chairs being thrown. With that, the rest of Rick’s men ran to the door, some grabbing at the bulges in their jackets. Tom 2.0 was drenched and he looked like he was literally going to explode. And since he was made in a test tube it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility that this might happen tonight. I sat in place. I sipped my whiskey. I was told to be calm and that’s what I intended to do. Calm and drunk.
The ruckus continued until the door was flung open and the young boy ran out crying pushing through the bodyguards. Behind him was Rick welding a knife, his Blink shirt soaked in blood. As he walked out slowly, he told his men to let the boy go. Tom and Raoul were next to emerge from the room. Raoul was covered in blood and several stab wounds yet Tom didn’t have a scratch on him. Tom walked up to our table and grabbed a glass. He poured a double and drained it quickly. He took a deep breath and said:
“My dudes, here’s what’s happening. Raoul made a promise to Rick that I wasn’t aware of. Rick was really hoping I could take him and his nephew up in the ship. I tried to explain the craft only seats two and I needed copilot who understands the controls. But he didn’t appreciate that. I tried explain to him with the money he donated from his animal sanctuary wasn’t enough – ”
I stopped him there and told him to cut the shit with the whole animal sanctuary deal.
“Please Tom, you cannot be this fucking dumb. You know a guy named ‘El Scorpion’ doesn’t really run an animal sanctuary right? He moves cocaine, dude. And judging by the number of bodyguards he has, I’m guessing it’s a shit ton.”
I was pretty drunk by then and the honesty was just pouring out. He looked at me with a hurt expression. Just then, Raoul walked up wiping blood off his face with a soiled bar towel. He had a sizeable gash above his left eye. Rick and his men were outside trying to console Neto.
Raoul plopped down next to Tom 2.0, poured a drink, and explained that the boy was very upset to find out he wasn’t going into space with his favorite musician. And when the boy gets upset El Scorpion loses his cool, which is why he attacked Raoul with a knife. Raoul threw chairs in self-defense because he had left his handy pistol at the ranch. He also added that we had about five minutes to get out of Mexico or El Scorpion’s men were going to literally skin us. Tom had promised to pay Rick his money back, to which Rick replied:
“I know you will.”
With that, I was back inside the van in no time. Tom was still trying to assure Rick that he would be repaid in full. Raoul, still bleeding profusely from his stab wounds, jumped into Tom 2.0’s van – a replica of the one Original Tom drove sans bullet holes – and said they’d meet us at an alternate launch site. It was now too dangerous to launch from the field they had originally planned.
Even though Rick and his men had let us go, there was little chance we’d escape Mexico alive. Tom knew this, but no matter what, he was determined to shoot this bucket up into the sky and time was running out. If we didn’t launch before sunrise, we’d miss our window to cross paths with whoever or whatever was sending out those signals. We barreled out of the parking lot of the bar and headed towards the outskirts of town. Raoul had really fucked everything up, and I kept finding myself wishing that Rick would have killed him. Better yet, El Scorpion should have dispatched our whole group. But at least we were finally headed towards our destiny; the end of this nightmare was almost in sight.
After driving east, somewhere close to the U.S. border, we reached our alternate launch site, an abandoned gas station in the middle of nowhere. We parked and waited for Raoul and Tom 2.0 to arrive. Tom 1.0 jumped out of the van and began his thorough inspection of the ship. Aside from some cosmetic damage and a couple of bullet holes, he said she was ready for flight. Just then, the other van pulled up.
Now that we were out of danger, I reminded Tom about our agreement. Feeling deceived by his partner, he shrugged and told me to have at it. And with those words, I walked over to the van’s passenger side. I opened the door, ready to yank Raoul’s sweaty mass to the ground with the intent to beat him to death. But it appeared as though Rick had beaten me to it. Raoul’s body rolled out of the van and fell onto the dust below with a thud. He had apparently bled to death on the drive to the launch site. Tom 2.0 has misplaced his phone during the bar scuffle and wasn’t able to contact us. Tom walked over and saw his dead partner. He looked at me, but then realized I didn’t do it. As he wiped the sweat from his brow and said:
“Well dudes, we really don’t have time to bury him. So I guess… load him back in the van and burn it.”
Holy shit; he was serious. While the Toms attended to setting up the launchpad, I was left with disposing of Raoul. I took great pleasure in my task as he was nothing but a fucking nightmare from start to finish. My only wish was that Toby was also there so I could roast the two together.
As the van started to smolder, I heard a deafening crash accompanied by a scream from one of the Toms. I ran to the field behind the gas station to see Tom 2.0 pinned underneath the ship which had slipped off the trailer. I sprinted over and tried to pull him out as Tom tried to raise up the trailer. His left leg was crushed and hanging on by mere shreds of flesh. I shouted for him to hold his breath just before yanking him free, leaving the leg lodged under the trailer. Tom ran over with a blanket and a First Aid kit.
“Don’t worry Number Two! There’s a reason your blood clots up. Snake, you’ll need to hold him down.”
Instead of producing bandages from the kit, he pulled out a small blowtorch and proceeded to cauterize his clone’s gaping wound. As I gagged and choked on the smell of burning flesh, Tom 2.0 passed out from the pain. There was simply no way Tom’s clone could handle the mission now, which put me back in the copilot’s seat. We left the unconscious clone by the van while we prepped the ship for flight. I followed Tom’s directions, as I had no idea what I was doing. Now we were at a critical point and running out of time. In the distance, we could hear the other van’s gas tank explode, likely sending whatever chunks of Raoul that were left into the air. I cracked a joke that he went into space before we did. But, Tom wasn’t laughing. He moved quickly and nimbly, piecing the poorly built launchpad together.
Once that was set up, the next challenge was to get the damned thing vertical. This proved to be a problem since the winch on the trailer was destroyed during our escape. I spotted an old tow truck in the station’s garage. I squirmed in through a broken window and got into the cab. There were actually keys in the ignition. I turned the key and the truck reluctantly roared to life. I was so excited by this, I drove straight through the garage doors and out to our launch site. Tom quickly used the hook on the tow truck to pull the rocket upright and into place. It worked like a charm and within minutes Tom and I were inside the cockpit turning on all the systems. Lights began to glow inside the cockpit and strange hissing noises were being generated by the engine. It was finally happening. Tom’s dream was going to come true. And I was there to witness it. He poked his head out of the cockpit and said:
“Better wake up Tom 2.0 so he can man the launch controls. Then you better saddle up, my dude. We’re going into space!”
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, CHAPTER 2, and CHAPTER 3! (Editor’s Note: Bad Copy does not guarantee answers to any questions in these chapters).