Chapter 2: How to Hold a Debate while Skydiving
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Brink Dangerguts and the Shard of Thermopylae

Several copies of this anonymous manuscript have been found scattered across Site 19 over the past month. Despite its near-total factual inaccuracy, it contains enough truth to warrant a low-level breach of security if published. As far as Foundation sources have gathered, it has not been sent to any outside publishing company; the investigation is ongoing.

Trail wiped frantically at the windscreen of the plane with his sleeve, trying his hardest to clear the persistent fog upon it. It had been over a day since they left Peru, and it was here in the last leg of the flight that things finally had begun to fall apart. The obscured view out of the cockpit was becoming less of a nuisance and more of a threat, and some heavy turbulence earlier on had caused Trail to empty his stomach on the floor of the tiny aircraft.

“You said you wanted to be the copilot, so do your job!” Brink had shouted over the sound of the propeller. “I’m gonna need to land this at some point, and we’ll be better off if I can see the ground when I do!”

“I’m trying, man, but I can’t reach all the way over there without undoing the safety restraints.”

Trail heard a short clicking sound, and suddenly the pressure on his chest vanished. A metal buckle dangled limply by the side of his seat.

“Safety restraints?” Brink brought his hand back to his side of the plane. “When has safety ever been something we worried about?”

An hour passed, and the plane lurched and pitched as it sputtered through an embankment of clouds. Night was falling, and the sky around them was turning almost opaque. Trail felt his stomach start to turn again and braced himself for what he thought was the worst; unfortunately, he was not thinking on a large enough scale.

“Well, probably can’t push our luck any further.”

Brink’s words snapped him out of his reverie. “What?”

He had no sooner asked the question than he noticed the low-fuel indicator light blinking what he assumed was the beat to their funeral march.

“Has that been on long?”

“Oh, yeah, a while. Past hour or so, I figured it was just some electronics problem, but I’m starting to think we might’ve sprung a leak somewhere… necessary.”

Trail Mex blanched. “How far out are we from Cairo?”

“Oh, we’re pretty much in Cairo. The distance ain’t the problem. Clear a window and look down.”

He hesitated. “I’d rather not.”

A tremendous hand gripped him by the top of the head and turned it around to look out the side window of the plane. “What-has-gotten-into-you-today?” Brink said, syllable by gravelly syllable through perfect, gritted teeth.

What lay beneath them was a sprawling city full of buildings and people ambling among them, rich with a culture older than history, built on land settled millennia ago—a place possibly more vibrant and intriguing than anywhere else in the world. What did not lie beneath them was a runway.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got the yips about using a parachute, too?”

“I don’t have yips about nothing.”

“All right, whatever. Long as you don’t mind jumping out of this plane in a few minutes.”

The engine coughed and went still. Brink quietly handed over a backpack; Trail began sweating.

“Or right now.”

Trail muttered feverish Spanish. “El Dios de dioses, Jehová, ha hablado, y convocado la tierra desde el nacimiento—“1

“Cut that out and get that door open,” Brink barked as the nose of the aircraft began to dip.

Trail reluctantly threw himself out of the plane, mumbling what he could remember of Psalm 50. Brink followed a second after, leaving the plane to fall to earth at its own preferred pace. With a steadily growing sense of unease, Trail started thinking about what would happen when it landed. Crashed. “Crashed” was the more suitable word.

“HEY!” he shouted upward. “BRINK!”

No answer came immediately, but Brink straightened his mountainous body into more or less a vertical line and accelerated toward his friend. “YOU SAY SOMETHING?”

“I WAS WONDERING, YOU KNOW, ABOUT THE PLANE.”

“WHAT ABOUT THE—AW, DAMN IT TO HELL. GOD DAMN EVERYTHING.”

“WHAT?”

“I LEFT ALL THE STUFF IN THERE.”

“STUFF?”

“YEAH. ALL THE FOLDERS AND THE WHATEVER.”

“YOU MEAN THE CLASSIFIED STUFF THE GOVERNMENT GUYS GAVE YOU?”

“I GUESS.”

“THAT’S… BAD.”

“I WAS JUST THINKING THAT. GOOD NEWS IS THAT WHEN IT CRASHES IT’LL PROBABLY ALL BURN UP, SO NOBODY ELSE GETS TO READ IT.”

Trail’s mouth opened in shock, and the air rushing into it made him cough uncontrollably. “THAT’S THE GOOD NEWS?”

“RELATIVELY.”

“AND WHAT’S THE BAD NEWS?”

“MOSTLY IT’S THAT I HATE SKYDIVING.”

“REALLY?”

“YEAH, NOT MY FAVORITE.”

REALLY.

“I KNOW, I KNOW, GUY AS FEARLESS AS ME HATES SKYDIVING, IT’S WEIRD. I GET IT. I THINK IT GOES BACK TO WHEN I WAS LITTLE, AND…”

“YOU DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT THE PEOPLE THAT THE THING WE JUST JUMPED OUT OF IS GOING TO HIT?”

Brink made as pensive a face as he could manage in free fall. “MAYBE A LITTLE.” A thought struck him. “WAIT, ARE YOU UPSET ABOUT THIS, TOO?”

“OF COURSE!”

They deployed their parachutes, drifting slowly toward the rooftops of the city beneath them. The winds whipping Trail’s face calmed slightly; Trail himself did not. He curled his hands into tight fists around the straps of his backpack, staring intently up at the man who’d flown him straight into the moral gutter.

“Brink,” he called up, doing his utmost to keep from sounding as furious as he felt, “you and I have done a lot of ridiculous things together over the past couple years.”

“Absolutely have,” he replied. “Why d’you mention it?”

“And a lot of those things have been really stupid and dangerous to everybody around us.”

“I mean, if by that you mean fun.”

“For example,” he snapped, ignoring the remark, “just now we abandoned a plane over a crowded city, where it’ll crash and kill several innocent people, because YOU ignored the fuel gauge for an hour.”

Brink crossed his arms. “Is this you now? This your new thing? You’re gonna, what, summarize everything I do right after I do it? What’s the point of that?”

“That’s not what I—puta madre. We’re not speaking until you learn to give a damn about this.”

The adventurer scowled. “About what?”

Trail looked down at the rooftops growing closer to his feet. “Nope.”

”Come on, seriously? Don’t do this. Just tell me what I’m allegedly doing wrong.”

“No. Not talking.”

Brink sighed loudly enough for Trail to hear. “Don’t be like that, compadro. You’ve at least got to tell me what you think my flaw is before you can expect me to do anything about it.”

Compadre. Also, flaws.

“Look, I—“

“Also, I told you already.”

“Don’t—“

“Also, not talking.”

“Fine, okay! We’re not talking. This’ll be fun.”

Trail didn’t respond.


“Sure is a good thing we’re not talking, isn’t it?” Brink intoned nasally. “You didn’t need my help climbing down that building you landed on, no sir. You got that all on your own. Good job not almost breaking your leg on the way, that was a nice touch.”

“Shut up.” It was faint, tired, almost a plea.

Brink pressed his palms to the sides of his head. “He speaks! Thought you’d gone mute. Thank God we still have your cheery voice to get us through the trip.”

Mentally beleaguered and physically exhausted, Trail stopped walking and looked blankly at a fire that had started a few miles in the distance. He grimaced and wrung his hands. His partner broke the silence for the hundredth time.

“Huh,” he said dully. “Didn’t think it’d get that big.”

Trail sat suddenly on the pavement and buried his face in his arms.


“What did you find?”

“Most of the documents inside had been incinerated by the time I arrived, unfortunately. I believe the crash may have been intended for this exact purpose.”

“You found nothing, then.” A finger moved toward a beige stone button.

“No! No. Not nothing. Please. I… I managed to recover this from the wreckage without being spotted.”

Into his hands was placed a charred scrap of paper, with an austere black heading that read “Secure. Contain. Protect.” He mused upon it.

“So,” said Heinrich Krause. “They know.”

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Brink Dangerguts and the Shard of Thermopylae

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