PLOP PLOP

Larry Hodges has sold more than a hundred stories. His third novel, Campaign 2100: Game of Scorpions, was published by World Weaver Press. His When Parallel Lines Meet, a Stellar Guild team-up with Mike Resnick and Lezli Robyn, came out in October of 2017. This is his eleventh appearance in Galaxy’s Edge.

***

The brothers Abe and Brad were going to die and the only question was who would die first. Brad’s son, Cal, had arranged it. And what a pair of deaths it would be! The two loved skydiving, but this would be their last time as Cal had sabotaged their parachutes, and neither had caught this in their final chute check. They flew at fifteen thousand feet, with Abe’s son, David, at the controls of their SC-7 Skyvan. But that was temporary—soon Cal would take over the controls, David would skydive, and he’d find that his parachute had also been sabotaged. In one swoop, Cal would be the sole heir to the BadBear Weapons factory, the fabulously wealthy company the two brothers owned and founded, with the name a silly anagram of their first names.

“It’s almost time!” Abe said, nearly jumping up and down. He was always the excited one, as well as the brains and driving force behind the company. He’d brought his little brother, Brad, on as an equal partner when he’d founded BadBear, claiming it was the only way to get a good anagram, though Brad did have an MBA.

“Abe, let’s jump together this time,” Brad said, smoking a cigarette. “Then we can wave and make funny faces at each other the whole way down.” He stuck his tongue out at his brother.

“Dad, aren’t you going to have Uncle Abe go first?” Cal said. “It’s his turn.” It was central to his main contingency plan, and he’d chosen this skydiving trip to take action because his father had jumped first last time. Uncle Abe had to jump first—otherwise David might inherit all or half of the company.

David!!! The very thought of his goody-goody MBA cousin inheriting the company—or having enjoyment of any kind whatsoever—forced Cal to fight to keep the frozen grin on his face. But he wanted David to live and see Cal owning the company. He’d keep David on as a pauper, reporting to him personally, and watch him squirm. Maybe he’d put him in the mailroom.

“We’ll jump together this time,” said Brad. He wore a blue jumpsuit with the BadBear logo on the back, a grinning bear with a machine gun.

“I plan to shoot spitballs at you the whole way down,” Abe said. He wore the same BadBear jumpsuit in aqua.

“But you always go one at a time,” said Cal. “You don’t want to hit each other on the way down.” Though he had no plans to join them in jumping; they didn’t know that, so he also wore a BadBear jumpsuit in cyan. David in the cockpit wore one in dandelion, which made him look like the ugly namesake. Abe, who supplied the jumpsuits, had a thing for matching the color to the first name initial. So silly. First thing Cal was going to do when he owned the company was get one in blood red.

“Don’t worry,” said Abe. “We’re old pros at this.” Now it was time for Cal to squirm, at least inwardly. There went one of his contingency plans. But his main plan was still on, and he had other contingency plans ready if needed. He was smarter and better prepared than David, who had no idea what was going on. To the winner goes the spoils.

“David, put the plane on autopilot, and get your butt out here with your parachute,” Cal said. “It’s your turn. I’ll take over the controls after you all jump.”

A moment later David joined him, but without his parachute. “I think I’ll pass today,” he said. “You can jump.”

“You sure?” Cal said. “C’mon, it’s your turn. Don’t you want to feel that breeze on your face!”

“Naah, not today.”

Great. Cal kept the frozen smile on his face. There went his main plan. So he’d have to use his main contingency plan, a much trickier, uncomfortable one.

“I think I’ll skip jumping today also,” Cal said. “My stomach’s been bothering me.”

“We’ll take you to the doctor later,” said Brad. “Then ice cream—vanilla for me, one of those newfangled flavors for you. Anything for my son!”

“Thanks, Dad.” Ice cream was a great idea, but Cal was pretty sure he’d be eating alone tonight.

“I guess it’ll just be the geriatric duo jumping today,” said Abe. “Now, before we jump, remember the tossing ceremony.” To celebrate the first ten years of their company, he had told them to each bring something symbolic to toss off the plane. Cal thought it was stupid and overly sentimental, but he’d played along. Abe opened the jump door as the others grabbed safety handholds.

“I’ll go first,” Abe shouted over the howling wind. He held up a six-pack of ping-pong balls. “We spend so much time thinking about laser technology, bombs, fighter jets, and other weapons of death that we often forget the little things in life. Table tennis is an awesome sport where you get to smash and kill, and nobody gets hurt. I’m cutting down on my work hours so I have more time for things like that.” He tossed the balls out the door. They were immediately whipped to the side by the air. “Maybe someone will see them fall out of the sky and be very confused—wish I could see it! So…here’s to another ten years of great success!”

“I’m next,” said Brad. He held up a pack of cigarettes. “Cal’s been on me to quit for a long time, and we all know I can never say no to him. Besides, I want to live long enough so that I can dote on him in my dotage.” He tossed the cigarette pack out the door. He took one last drag on the cigarette in his mouth, then tossed that out as well. “Here’s to long life!” He turned to Cal. “So what have you brought?”

“These.” Cal held up a pair of automatic rifles, a BadBear Original and a BadBear Classic. “It’s time to get rid of the old and bring on the new.” Which is exactly what he had planned.

“But they’re our best sellers!” Abe said.

“Only because we advertise them as the gun for the average guy,” Cal said. “But the profit margin isn’t big enough. It’s time to upgrade our catalog.” Forget the average guy; the real money was in big weapons sold to the military at exorbitant markups. He tossed the two rifles out the door.

“What if they hit someone?” David asked.

“What if a meteor hits them?” Cal said. “We’re in the business of death.”

“Speaking of death,” David said, “here’s what I brought.” He held up a plush dove doll. “Dad says we’re always thinking about death; maybe we should think more about peace.” He tossed the dove out the door and the wind snatched it away.

“What, you couldn’t afford a real live one?” Cal asked.

“The wind might kill it if we tossed it out,” David said. “Even slowed down for skydiving we’re doing over a hundred miles per hour.”

“So, ping-pong balls, a grenade, some old rifles, and a dove,” said Abe. “Quite the diversity. And now, it’s showtime—let’s go, Brad!” They both lowered their goggles. A moment later Abe and Brad did matching Tarzan yells and jumped.

“I’ll get the door,” Cal said. “You can go back to the controls.” To Cal’s relief, David nodded and went back up front.

Cal now had a job to do, one he’d hoped to avoid, and with little time. After a quick glance toward the cockpit to make sure David wasn’t watching or listening in, Cal pulled out his cell phone and opened it to the zooming video watching the two skydivers falling. They were both going feet first, meaning less air drag, and so they were falling nearly one-hundred-eighty miles per hour, much faster than if they went belly first. Great. He stared at his dad for a second. Dear old Dad. He’d always been great to him, and had taught him the financial end of the business when Cal refused to go to college. But he was in the way, and now there was no turning back. He didn’t have time to get sentimental. Holding back a sigh, he put on his own headset so his dad and uncle could hear him on their headphones.

“Dad, Uncle Abe, sorry to break in on you like this,” Cal said, “but I’ve cut the cords on your parachutes.

“You what?” exclaimed Abe.

“Why?” asked Brad.

“Dad, you always taught me that in business, you have to be ruthless. There’s nothing personal in this. It’s just business.” Cal watched as they both tested their pilot and reserve chutes, but they both broke away—he had cut the cords, but glued them back together so the cuts wouldn’t be noticeable until they were deployed and broke.

“You’ve watched too many Godfather movies!” cried Abe. “I should have killed you when you were a baby!”

“Son, I don’t know what to say,” said Brad. “I’m scared to death but I’m also proud of you.”

“Proud?” cried Abe. “He just murdered us both, and you’re proud of him?”

“Dad, I have a favor to ask,” Cal said.

“I don’t have a lot of time, you know.”

“I’ve seen the will, and you and Uncle Abe are mutual heirs to the company. I need you to make sure that Uncle Abe hits the ground and dies first. That way you’ll inherit the whole company for a split second, and then when you hit the ground and die, I’ll get it. Can you do this for me? Please?” There was a moment of silence. Cal started to get antsy.

“Dad, it only takes a minute to drop fifteen thousand feet, and you’ll be hitting in about fifteen seconds. I need you to do this for me now. Switch from feet-first to belly-first falling to slow your fall.”

“Okay, son, I’ve done that. But Uncle Abe heard you, and he’s doing the same. We’re still falling together.”

“No!!!” Cal screamed. “Uncle Abe has to die first! C’mon, Dad, reach over and give him a shove down!” Cal felt the panic begin to rise into his stomach and barely noticed as he bit into his tongue, drawing blood.

“Anything for my son,” were Brad’s last recorded words. He reached over to his brother, who held his arms up defensively. Brad grabbed Abe’s arms and gave him the needed downward shove.

Plop.

Plop.

Abe hit the ground first, Brad second. Cal smiled. The company, and power and riches, were his.

***

“Dad, Uncle Abe, sorry to break in on you like this,” Cal said, “but I’ve cut the cords on your parachutes.

“You what?” exclaimed Abe.

“Why?” asked Brad.

“Dad, you always taught me that—” But Cal stopped. A woman had appeared on the video, falling between Abe and Brad. She was completely bald, not even eyebrows, with large, sad eyes, wearing a green military uniform of some sort, and a headset. She seemed to be sitting at a desk as she fell alongside them. “Who the hell are you?” Cal cried out.

“My name is Esmeralda,” said the newcomer, her voice coming through the radio. As she spoke, Abe and Brad tested their pilot and reserve chutes, but they both broke away. “I’m the leader of the Earth Resistance forty years from now. We’ve pooled all our resources to send this one interactive hologram back to this decisive moment in time.” He turned to Abe. “We need to act quickly. In a moment you are going to hit the ground and die, just before Brad. This means his son, Cal, will inherit BadBear, and your son, David, will get nothing. Cal will use that base of power and money to develop weapons that he’ll use to conquer the U.S. and the world. Billions will die under his oppressive rule. You must make sure that Brad hits the ground first so that you inherit the company, and then David.”

“Whah?” exclaimed Abe, wringing his hands, his eyes wild.

“Huh?” cried Brad. But he looked over at Abe, his eyes narrowing.

“Don’t listen to him!” Cal yelled.

“Abe,” said Esmeralda, “You need to fall belly-first to slow your fall.”

Abe did so, but so did Brad.

Esmeralda sighed loudly. “Abe, you need to take action. Reach over and give Brad a downward push. It’s our only hope!”

“I don’t know what to do!” Abe cried.

“Anything for my son,” were Brad’s last recorded words. He reached for Abe and tried to grab him. But that seemed to make Abe’s mind up, and he grabbed at Brad’s shoulders and gave him the needed downward push. The hologram winked out.

Plop.

Plop.

Brad hit the ground first, Abe second. Cal screamed.

***

“Dad, Uncle Abe, sorry to break in on you like this,” Cal said, “but I’ve cut the cords on your parachutes.

“You what?” exclaimed Abe.

“Why?” asked Brad.

“Dad, you always taught me that—” But Cal stopped. A third figure had appeared on the video, falling between Abe and Brad. “Who the hell are you?” Cal cried out.

“My name is Esmeralda,” said the newcomer. As she spoke, Abe and Brad tested their pilot and reserve chutes, but they both broke away. “I’m the leader of the Earth Resistance forty years from now. We’ve—”

“Shut up, Esmeralda,” said a fourth figure, who had just appeared opposite and facing Esmeralda, between the two brothers. The newcomer was also Esmeralda with a headset, but a much older version. Wrinkles covered her face. She now wore a purple uniform. He eyes were beyond sad; they seemed to have seen the very depths of hell. “I’m Esmeralda seventy years from now. My younger self is about to warn you of the future if Abe hits the ground and dies first, leading to Cal inheriting your company, taking over the world, blah, blah, blah. She’ll convince Abe to shove Brad down so Brad hits first, and David inherits the company. David will convert BadBear to futuristic farming technology, which will feed the hungry and unite the world in harmony, leading to a golden age for humanity. But when the aliens arrive in fifty years, they’ll conquer us, since we’ll have disarmed and forgotten how to fight.”

“What is going on here!” cried Cal.

“You tell me!” said Brad.

“Abe,” the older Esmeralda continued, “we need you to die first so Cal gets the company. The future of humanity depends on it! Quickly—you only have seconds!”

This time they were all in agreement. Abe wanted to save humanity, Brad wanted Cal to inherit the company, Cal wanted the company, and the younger Esmeralda just gritted her teeth. Abe went into a head-first swan dive while Brad went belly-down, his last words, “Anything for my son.” The two holograms winked out.

Plop.

Plop.

Abe hit the ground first, Brad second. Cal smiled. The company, and power and riches, were his. Now all he had to do was land and get the video to the proper authorities. What had that old witch Esmeralda said about his taking over the world? That was something he would look into. And that alien thing? He’d make sure they were ready. He was perhaps the first man to ever get to see his great destiny in advance, and he loved what he saw.

That’s when the plane swerved downward, knocking Cal off his feet. “What’s going on?” he wondered, walking quickly toward the cockpit. The door was closed, something David never did. He tried opening it, but it was locked.

He pounded on the door. “David, what’s going on?” he called out.

“I was listening on the radio,” David yelled back. “I heard it all.”

“We can discuss this on the ground.”

“We can discuss this now,” David said. “I have to prevent the future they spoke from ever happening. So I’m crashing the plane and we’re both going to die.”

“You moron!” cried Cal. “Look, let’s discuss this!”

“Nothing to discuss. Out with the old and the new. Goodbye.”

Cal stepped back, struggling to keep his balance as the plane shot downward. Once again he was one step ahead of his brother. This was a skydiving plane, after all, and he had a parachute. His destiny was at stake here, and all he had to do to reach it was survive. He put on his parachute, opened the skydiving door, and jumped to that destiny.

***

I hoped he would do that, thought David as he brought the plane back under control. When he’d prepared the plane for flight he’d noticed his parachute had been moved, and suspected Cal. For some reason Cal had always hated him, and he wouldn’t put it past him to sabotage his chute. He didn’t really believe Cal would do that…but something in his gut told him better safe than sorry. So he’d switched parachutes with Cal as the others were coming aboard, and just in case, decided not to jump today. Now what was that the older Esmeralda had said about feeding the hungry, uniting the world in harmony, and a golden age? And aliens attacking? He’d have to look into this, and of course make sure humanity was prepared to defend itself. He glanced at his phone, and watched his brother screaming as he fell to his death.

Plop.

Copyright © 2019 by Larry Hodges