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A Trail of Dust: Chapter 1: Departure

The following story takes place in an alternate universe, split off at the moment Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich announced Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, Tony Parker, and Danny Green would not be playing the Miami Heat on November 29th, 2012. The characters and opinions within are entirely fictional and should be treated as such.

Chapter 1: Departure

Stephen Jackson’s Twitter was still blowing up and it was annoying. He loved a little entertainment, but for some reason the media’s reaction to Pop’s decision didn’t set off a guilty giddiness the way that sort of thing used to. Maybe it was the fact that he had a broken finger and he wasn't able to help out his boys. Maybe it was the sound of fatigued, youthful snores around him. Maybe it was the city, San Antonio—every city had a different effect, and this city’s effect was humbling. It was different than places he had lived before, places where unflinching eyes bored into him, almost as if to say, "Come on, do a trick. Do something crazy." But in the 210, it seemed most everyone was just trying to get by.

At the moment, scanning instrumentals and planning out his next song, he felt the exact same way.

He peeked up over his seat to see who else was still awake. Looking back, he could see the blue glow of a computer screen making Matt Bonner’s face look even paler than it usually was. Probably playing poker. Nearby, a raccoon-eyed Patty Mills texted rapidly. Near the front of the plane, Pop and Mike Budenholzer were discussing strategy. Just then, the cockpit door opened and a shiny sweaty pilot ran up and kneeled in front of Pop and Bud. He spoke while wringing his cap in his hands. Pop pointed to a sleeping body, which the pilot rushed to and woke up. It was the team’s physician, Dr. Morton. They both ran back to the front of the plane and slammed the door.

"Hey, Patty," Stephen called out as he removed his headphones.

"Wot?" Still texting.

"Did you see that?"

"See wot?"

"One of the pilots just ran out here, grabbed the doctor, and they ran back in the front. The door’s closed now."

"Oh yeah, tha’s cool." But Patty was in another world entirely. Stephen kept his eyes riveted to the cockpit door. Several minutes passed. The doctor came out and kneeled next to Pop the same way the pilot did, only this time much more slowly. They spoke for a little while and he went back to his seat. Stephen stared at the weak light above Pop’s chair, waiting for what felt like an hour. He got up and went into the restroom next to the cockpit. When he came out, he saw Pop’s face looking grim and wide-eyed. It was always grim and wide-eyed, but this time it seemed grimmer and wide-eyeder.

"Heyyo Coach, you alright?"

"Yes, Stephen." He knew not to bother Pop this late, but he decided to push it. "Hey, what was all that running about?" Pop looked at Stephen hard in the eye in the dim light.

"One of the pilots suddenly had some sort of flu and passed out. He came to ask for Dr. Morton’s help, but it seems," he hesitated. "He died."

"Woah, that’s… that’s heavy. So, are we going to, like, stop, or something?"

"Well, we’re almost over New Orleans and the pilot’s family is in San Antonio, so he’s just going to finish."

"Wait, a second, one of those pilots is just flying up there with a dead guy sitting next to him? Should we like, move him or something?" Stephen looked down the plane at the sleeping faces, most of them indistinguishable in the darkness. He could make out everyone by their varying heights.

"Are you volunteering?"

"Shit, no….damn." This was all pretty fucked up, but Pop gave him a look that none-too-politely requested he hurry to his seat. As he turned back, there was a sudden jerk in the cabin that made Steven reach out for an empty seat next to him, across the aisle from his coach. The plane jerked again, more violently, causing him to sit. It was quiet for a moment and just as he started to get up again, there was a hard thump against the cockpit door.

"What the hell…" Stephen said and exchanged glances with Coach before an even louder thump assailed the door. He began to feel the tickling feeling of his organs rising with him and he jumped to his feet. "Are we falling?"

"Yes," Pop said as he unbuckled himself and stood up. The players began to stir and someone yelled out, "The hell is going on?" in a French accent. It was Boris Diaw.

"We’re losing altitude, fast," Popovich said. "Something’s going on in that cockpit."

Stephen stared with horror in front of him. "Shit… look." He raised his hand to the carpet in front of the cockpit door. Some of the players had made their way to the front of the plane and there were a few gasps.

Just under the cockpit door, a trail of blood grew and quickly headed towards them, more evidence they were falling fast.

"I’m opening that door," Popovich said. He reached for the handle and when it turned the door flew out at him and made him stumble back. Cries of fear reverberated through the cabin. In the doorway stood the other pilot. His skin was gray, his eyes were yellow-green, and a grating, guttural sound escaped his lips. He drunkenly reached for Pop. Pop grunted and pushed the pilot to the ground and moved past him into the cockpit. Stephen ran up and kicked the pilot in the stomach. This didn’t seem to phase him in the slightest, and the once-pilot reached for Stephen’s leg and clutched it. "What the fuck, man!" He pulled his leg away and stomped the man in the head as players cursed in the darkness. "He tried to bite me!" He stepped back and stumbled past Budenholzer. "That dead guy just tried to bite me!" He had stomped his head hard enough to hear a sickly crunch but he could still hear it gasping and grating.

"Dead guy?" asked Gary Neal somewhere in the dark.

"I can’t see shit!" said Dejuan Blair.

"We’re still falling," said Kawhi Leonard.

Someone shrieked. It was Mike Budenhoizer.

"Pop, get the light!" Stephen yelled. The cabin filled with a white-blue glow and for a moment it was too bright to see anything. As his eyes adjusted, he saw why Budenholzer was screaming. In the aisle near the front of the cabin, Budenhoizer was clutching to a seat while the pilot was tearing apart his leg with his mouth and hands. Chunks of flesh flew off and splattered blood. He continued to scream.

"Fuck, man!" Stephen ran back up and kicked the pilot’s head in some more. How is he still alive, he asked himself. With each kick, he felt his shoe get closer and closer to the ground, until it seemed there was no face left to stomp. All that was left was a bloody mess and a whimpering Mike Budenholzer. Stephen looked up his leg. There was a clean-as-milk shaft of bone shining out from a pool of red. We’re still losing altitude, he thought. He ran to the cockpit.

When he opened it, the noise of the nine Spurs players grew to an uproar. In front, Popovich was pressing controls all around him, but what caught Stephen’s eyes—and the eyes of everyone that could see past him—was the fact that the cockpit seemed almost entirely red, covered with blood. The other pilot had been torn apart and left behind his seat in a sitting position, looking down the aisle. One of his intestines rose up from his body and was wrapped around the headrest.

"Pop, what happened?"

"I don’t know, but some of these controls are fucking jammed. There's so much blood that its fucking up the buttons. Tell everyone to brace themselves-- I'm bringing us in for an emergency landing."

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