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Cardale Jones and the Last Crusade

Can an unheralded quarterback, once mocked, retrieve the Big Ten's most prized artifact?

I.

The lights come up to reveal a solitary man seated at a cluttered desk in an oak-paneled office. On the desk is a framed photograph of a different man. The man in the photograph has kind eyes and a winning smile. He wears a scarlet jersey, emblazoned with the number 10, and a safari hat. The man seated at the desk picks up the photograph, sighs, and sets it back down. There is a knock at the door.

"Come in," growls the man at the desk.

The door opens. The person stepping through it inadvertently kicks the decayed husk of an old football, which sprays dust as though it hasn't been touched in decades. This person, a middle-aged man with salt-and-pepper hair and a collared warmup jacket, approaches the desk.

"Cardale," he says, "why are you sitting here all alone?"

The new man catches sight of the dusty photograph on the desk.

"I know," says the new man. "I miss Troy, too. Never coached him, but damn if I didn't respect him."

"Why are you here, coach? I thought I'd be the last person you'd ever come to if you needed something big. And if you're here...well, it must be something big."

Coach paces before the desk, hands behind his back. He touches the top of his head as though expecting a headset to rest there. Neither of the men smoke, but if they did, this would be a perfect time to light up.

"Cardale...this isn't easy to say. I haven't slept all night. I'll just put it out there. You're right -- I wouldn't be coming here if the situation weren't so dire. But our two best men have been taken out by the enemy."

"You're joking."

"I never joke. And I never thought I'd say this...but dammit, Cardale, we need you. Need you in a bad way."

"What makes you so sure I'm the guy?"

"Because you're the only guy we've got."

Scene.

II.

Cardale Jones stands on the windswept tarmac of an airstrip. His scarlet jersey emblazoned with the number 12 shines in the sun. A floppy brown fedora and a bullwhip, though certainly incongruous, heighten the gravitas of the ensemble. An old fighter plane, painted matte gray, spins its propellers behind him at deafening volume. Jones and the aforementioned "Coach" shout at one another to be heard over the roar of the propellers.

"THANKS FOR COMING TO SEE ME OFF, COACH."

"YOU DIDN'T THINK I'D LET YOU GO WITHOUT SAYING GOODBYE, DID YOU? BESIDES, I HAVE A SURPRISE FOR YOU."

"WHAT'S THAT?"

A small boy, wearing a jersey to match Jones' (though showing a 17 rather than a 12), scuttles into view. He wears an adorable little cap and a smile that makes you just want to melt.

"TAKE JALIN WITH YOU, CARDALE. I KNOW HE'S MADE SOME MISTAKES, BUT I THINK HE'S GOT WHAT IT TAKES TO HELP YOU SALVAGE THIS EXPEDITION. TAKE CONTROL OUT THERE, BUT DON'T BE AFRAID TO LET HIM DO HIS THING, ALRIGHT?"

"IF YOU SAY SO, COACH. WHAT...WHAT DOES HE EAT?"

"MOSTLY JUST HOT TAKES FROM FANS ON TWITTER. HE MIGHT MAKE A MISTAKE OR TWO, BUT HE'LL FEND FOR HIMSELF, DON'T WORRY. YOU TWO BEHAVE YOURSELVES."

The boy, Jalin, has somehow found his way into the cockpit of the plane while Jones and Coach speak. He's up there just causing an adorable ruckus and you can already tell this is going to be a great story, real heartwarming. Jones mutters to himself as Coach walks away.

"Oh, brother."

Scene.

III.

A scenic mountain view above a sweeping desert vista comes into focus. Cardale Jones and Jalin sit side-by-side in the cramped cockpit of the old plane. Jalin is talking a mile a minute in a way that tells you there's no way he's appreciating the scenery even a little bit. Jones seems to be tuning him out, mostly, eyes scanning the horizon for something important.

"There," he says, with a triumphant growl. "The cave from the map that the old gypsy woman gave us. I knew we'd find it here somewhere."

"Why are we going to the cave, Cardale? I thought we were looking for that...trophy thing. The one coach told me about before he dropped me off."

"We are going after the trophy, Jalin," Jones says, exasperatedly, "But we can't do it without a few things that we'll find in that cave. You'll see soon enough."

Jones slaps his floppy brown fedora back on his head and scowls as he brings the plane around to try to land it on the narrow strip of flat ground below the cave. He's done this plenty of times on the practice airstrip, but he's never attempted anything like this landing before. Jalin examines the plane's flickering gas gauge, and his face takes on a look of concern.

"Cardale..." Jalin murmurs, realizing that Number 12 hasn't so much as glanced at the gauge. "Are we going to have enough fuel?"

"We ain't come to play with fuel," growls Jones.

"Okay." He gulps. "Cardale..." Jalin murmurs once more, as Jones pilots the plane into a screaming descent towards the tiny patch of friendly ground. "Shouldn't you at least put on your flight glasses?"

"Glasses are POINTLESS," shouts Cardale over the deafening noise of wind shear against their small aircraft. He's right. Windshield technology has rendered the Snoopy-and-the-Baron pilot goggles pretty much moot.

Jones pushes the small craft to its max. Alarms are going off, red lights are flickering on the dashboard, and there appears to be a small quantity of smoke streaming from one of the propellers. These only serve to harden the grimace on the pilot's face as he barrels closer and closer to the ground. This is it. They're either touching down smoothly or going out in a glorious fireball. There can be no middle ground.

The plane absolutely trucks a small tree that sat camped in the corner of the strip. The landing gear touches down with a sickening crunch, and Jones pulls the plane to a halt just before it would have collided with the sheer face of the mountain.

"That was close," says Jalin. "Next time, let me take a turn."

"And watch your hand slip off the throttle at exactly the wrong moment? No chance," growls Jones.

The men disembark from the still-smoking plane.

Scene.

IV.

One of those '80s movie montages ensues as the two scale the face of the mountain to get to the mouth of the cave. Lots of aerial shots, quick cuts, and close-ups, with a juiced-up hair metal anthem playing in the background. Some synth too, maybe. Finally, sweating profusely, the two reach the cave. On the floor of the cave is some flint and a single torch.

"I...I think I'm supposed to go it alone," says Cardale. "Stay here. And for crying out loud, stay out of trouble."

"You got it, boss."

Jones strikes sparks on the wall of the cave with the flint and lights the lone torch. He's two steps into the darkness when a noise like the end of the friggin' world sends him dashing back.

"Jalin? What in the name of all things holy--"

"Are you mad?" Jalin points out the mouth of the cave back down the mountain at his handiwork.

There's been what looks like a massive rockslide. Beneath the fallen rocks is a horde of men wearing the skins of badgers on their heads, brandishing a serious-looking collection of weapons.

"They were sneaking up the mountain. At first I didn't take them seriously, but as they got closer I saw how good at hurting people they must be."

"But how did you do...that?"

Jalin holds up a small rock, no larger than a chicken's egg.

"I pulled this out from underneath all the big rocks."

Jones is already turning his back to walk into the darkness once more. He is shaking his head slowly, purposefully, as if to say--"That crazy S.O.B."

"Jalin," he calls back, voice already retreating into the depths of the cave. "I mean it this time. Stay out of trouble."

V.

Jones takes the torch deep into the recesses of the mountain cave. He has never been enveloped in such complete silence. Were it not for the torch, he might believe that all light has gone out from the world. Deeper and deeper he strolls into the abyss, knowing not what might leap from the darkness. Without warning, a blue glow appears before Jones's face.

Jones follows the glow, which seems to know exactly where it's going. He has lost all sense of space, of time. After a time, the glow winks into nothingness, and in the same instant the torch goes out. All is dark. Without warning, a voice emanates from the blackness.

"Hello, Cardale."

Jones starts.

"How do you know my name?"

"I know more than just your name. I know everything about you, Cardale."

"How? Who are you?"

"Oh, Cardale..." the voice seems to relish the moment. "I'm you."

"You're what?"

"I'm you. Spirit you. Come to guide you on this quest. And there's something you need to know."

"What's that?"

"Those things...the things you're looking for? They've been inside you all along. You've always had it, Cardale."

"Had what?"

"Had it."

Scene.

VI.

Jalin watches Jones stumble back into the light. His hair is disheveled, his face dripping with sweat. His already-massive frame seems ... bigger, somehow, in Jalin's awestruck eyes. The long-cold torch clatters to the floor of the cave.

"I know what I have to do," says Jones. "Are you with me, Jalin?"

"Absolutely."

"Good. Now watch the mouth of the cave, and tell me when you see something coming."

They sit in silence for a few more minutes. Suddenly, Jalin gasps, pointing with mouth agape at the wide swath of sky before them. Something like a plane is hurtling towards the cave with impossible speed.

"What... what is that?"

"It's a drone. A Gordon X-25. The best model on the market. And it's the only thing standing between us and that trophy. I need you to get out there and distract it."

Jalin breaks from the cave and goes running all over the mountainside with pretty good speed of his own, like he's in one of those impossible montages from Scooby-Doo or something. The spray of ammunition from the incoming plane strafes the hillside, but Jalin is too fast for it. Really makes you wonder if he's the quickest guy on earth or what.

The scowl on Jones's face becomes even more pronounced. Cool guys don't think about stuff like this, but the rest of us would probably wish we had a cigar to complete our devil-may-care facade in a situation like that. Jones reaches into his big brown satchel and pulls out a solitary football. Maybe, just maybe, the hint of a smirk appears amidst the scowl.

With Jalin still running laterally like a madman and falling down once in awhile when it seems really risky to, Jones knows his window is closing. The Gordon X-25 is still out there wreaking all kinds of havoc. It must be stopped. He feels the pebbly surface of the football in his sweatless palm, searching for the perfect grip. The Gordon X-25 is zeroing in on the mouth of the cave. There is no time for thinking. Just throwing.

Jones throws the ball, a perfectly smooth release that those recruiting journos probably wouldn't even believe if they saw. The ball is a missile, flying through the air a damn quarter-mile or something. Time seems to slow. Time is crawling as the ball continues its laser-precise arc through the air. Jones is reminded that time is a meaningless human construct that somehow still means everything, and for a brief moment is angry at Will Smith's kids for even existing.

The impact, when it comes, looks like it belongs on one of those old-school test explosion footage reels, it's that dramatic. The football collides precisely with whatever part of a drone would make it explode the hardest. Boom. For good measure, Jones leaps through the air towards the still-moving wreckage and just truck sticks the hell out of it. Jalin, battered and bruised but still an integral part of the team, gives a wild cheer from below.

Jones scales back down the mountainside to the smoldering debris from the Gordon X-25. From beneath a really hot piece of sheet metal, Jones pulls something that seems to glow from within. It is tall. It is glimmering. It is beautiful, really. It is the big Ten Championship trophy.

Scene.

VII.

Back in the office once more. Someone has dusted the place since we last saw it, and picked up all the random crap from the floor. Jones, looking weary but still tough as hell, sits in a comfy-looking chair across from Coach, who stands.

"You've done alright, Cardale," comes the warm voice of Coach, after a thoughtful silence. "More than anyone could have asked of you. More than you even expected of yourself, I'm sure."

Coach paces, hands behind his back, for a long moment. He shakes his head several times, and his facial expression looks as though he's trying to do calculus with a Tonka truck and a glue stick.

"Cardale...I have one more thing to ask. One more giant favor."

"It never ends, does it." It's not a question.

"No, it doesn't. Cardale, the Narrative is out there. Narrative has teamed up with Game Control to form a rather odious committee, a committee that doesn't like the look of us one bit. They've got a priceless relic of their own, one that would look awfully good sitting in this office. I've already asked you to do the difficult. Now I'm asking you to do the impossible. Defeat the Narrative. Show the Committee why you're the best. Bring me that trophy."

"Oh, that's all?"

"That's the spirit. It won't be an easy road, Cardale. They've got plenty of power, you know. And they've got plenty of hired goons -- guys and gals who will try to tie up every phone line on earth calling into radio shows about your flaws. A behemoth warrior named MayDay who has publicly sworn to destroy you. And they're fueled by a source more powerful than any we've been able to match -- the Bowl Integration Adjudication Synthesizer. B.I.A.S. is a force to be reckoned with.

"Heard it all before, Coach," says Cardale Jones, already strolling towards the exit. "I'll let you know when I get the job done."

"Oh, one more thing, Cardale," calls Coach to the broad back retreating from his office.

"What is it this time?"

"Don't forget your hat."

Coach throws the floppy brown fedora towards the camera. It fills the screen.

Fin.