It was a clear day. Very few clouds decorated the sky, and the temperature was just right. The time of day was around 2 P.M.
In the middle of an otherwise vacant meadow rested a large and square metal pallet, about the size of a small parking lot. Four eyehooks marked the pallet's corners, and tied to each was a firm cable, each about as long as the pallet's diagonal. The four cables' loose ends ended in climbing brackets, and for neatness's sake they had been left linked to one another along two opposing edges of the pallet.
A black-backed jackal in his early twenties approached the pallet, humming a tune to himself. He was colored standardly for his species; his tail-tip and back were solid black, while the rest of him was tan. He also sported dark brown pawpads and digigrade feet, plus a golden pair of eyes. His only clothing was a matching set of four tight metal rings around his wrists and ankles.
Reaching the pallet, the jackal knelt down and began unhooking the brackets and loosening up the cables. He'd just finished the first two when the sound of a vehicle approaching reached his ears, and he glanced up.
Lo and behold, he witnessed an orange tank truck driving towards him, with the word "ULTRABALLOON" marked on the side. Its driver: a cherry-red flying fox bat, about the same age as the jackal. She was wearing a white tank top and black shorts, and her wings replaced her arms, albeit flexibly enough for most everyday tasks (among other things, the dewclaws on her wings could function as thumbs).
"Hey, Fruits!" the jackal called. "You're right on time! Park 'er on the pallet!"
The truck rumbled to a stop right in the pallet's center, its driver taking care not to run over the cables. Then the bat got out and picked up something from the seat beside her: a long length of heavy-duty hose connected to a custom-made face mask.
A female voice forced its way into the jackal's mind. ~Looks like we've got everything we need. Climb on top of the truck and get into position, J.J., and I'll hook you up.~
Fruits had been completely mute since birth and couldn't speak, but her gift of short-range telepathy and mind-reading was adequate compensation. This was actually part of the reason J.J. (Johnny Jackal, by the way) had taken her on as his partner, as he was often in situations where oral conversation was impossible.
Johnny climbed up on the truck and lay on his belly, facing one edge of the pallet. Fruits, meanwhile, picked up one of the cable ends with her wing and flew up to the jackal's position, clutching the bracket firmly with her dewclaw. She linked the bracket to one of the four rings the jackal was wearing, then flew back and got another.
Finally all four cables were hooked up, each to the ring nearest its origin. Now it was time for the face mask and hose. Fruits strapped the mask into place over Johnny's snout, ensuring it was as tight as possible, then glided down and connected the other end of the hose to the tank truck's valve.
Johnny quivered in eager anticipation, nearly falling off the truck. It's go time! Hurry up and open the valve, Fruits! I can't wait to balloon up!
~Keep your shirt on, J.J.! I haven't done my final checks yet!~ the bat shot back. She was in the middle of adjusting the air seal.
Carefully Fruits inspected every inch of the hose from Johnny to the valve for kinks and leaks. She carefully rearranged the hose to get rid of any unwanted knots or loops before finally returning to the valve.
~Alright, J.J., we're all clear. I'm gonna turn on the gas now. Ready? ...Who am I kidding, you're always ready. I don't even need to ask.~
Grabbing the valve's handle with both dewclaws, Fruits gave it a firm twist. Slowly the Ultraballoon gas began to force its way out of the truck, through the hose, and into Johnny's mouth. He enjoyed the feeling of the gas rushing down his throat and filling his body.
At first it looked like nothing was happening, but then the jackal began to bloat as the air pressure stretched him out. His belly expanded and expanded and expanded, pressing against the truck and stranding his arms and legs in the air.
Noticing Johnny was beginning to tip to the side, Fruits quickly rushed around and beat her wings in his direction, using the wind to correct his balance. Because the Ultraballoon gas was much lighter than air, the jackal grew lighter and lighter as he inflated, making him respond easily to the wind.
Fruits... I'm getting a little seasick...
~You are NOT throwing up with that mask on your face. Don't worry, it'll be okay in a moment.~
By now Johnny was about the same size as the truck he was lying on. Then with a sudden whoosh he changed shape, the gas equalizing all around his body instead of remaining in his belly. Now he was vaguely egg-shaped, his head, limbs, and tail barely sticking out of the round inflated mass that was his central body.
Then he began to float up. The gas had neutralized the jackal's base weight, rendering him airborne. He wobbled in excitement as he slowly ascended, stopping only when the cables on the pallet went taut.
Fruits flew up and hovered in front of Johnny's face to keep him within the limited range of her telepathy. ~How are you doing, J.J.?~
Great! he replied mentally. Turn the pressure up, I can take it!
Returning to the air valve, the bat cranked it further open, increasing the airflow. She then watched from below as the jackal continued to expand. The sun was casting him into silhouette, but that was all she needed to see; he looked like a blimp with hands and feet.
The truck contained enough Ultraballoon gas to lift two elephants simultaneously, so it had to be enough to carry the pallet. But they still hadn't left the ground.
Fruits flew up to Johnny again, perching on his back this time. ~We've got no lift, J.J. I think the truck's the heaviest thing here; should I move it off the pallet?~
Heck no! We should keep it with us in case we want to go any higher. Just keep filling; we'll cancel its weight eventually.
I insist! There's no problem that can't be solved with some extra pressure. Go open the valve as far as you can.
Reluctantly, the bat glided back to the truck and turned the handle as far as it would go, maximizing the flow into the jackal's body. He continued to expand, completely shadowing the truck. Mercifully the hose was long enough that it could keep up with him the whole time.
Now Johnny was even larger than the pallet. He was far too bloated to move, but he didn't care; the sensation of being inflated was too thrilling for anything to bother him at the moment. It was like being on drugs.
Still no lift, though.
Fruits was now rather awed at the sight of the jackal floating above her. So much so, in fact, that it took a moment for her to realize something very important. She rushed to the valve and began to close it, but it was too late.
KAPOW! It was over.
In an instant, the rising air pressure had overpowered Johnny's physical integrity, ripping him into a thousand pieces. The four rings he was wearing clattered noisily to the pallet, and the face mask and hose drifted down a bit more slowly. Last came the myriad shreds of jackal as they floated lazily to the ground; each one was no bigger than a tissue, and they covered a wide area, as he'd been as large as a mansion right before bursting.
Finally closing the valve all the way (waste not, want not), Fruits stood back and glanced over the mess, a frustrated expression gracing her lips. All that work and no payoff excepting a big pop.
Then she was hit in the back of the head with one of the scraps as they all drifted to a central location-- as if carried by the wind, only there was no wind. The bat watched in mild amusement as they assembled themselves to reconstruct the body of Johnny Jackal, good as new.
Finally the last piece snapped into place on Johnny's right hip. He was in a lying-down position beside the truck, his eyes shut. After a moment, he woke up and pulled himself to his feet, still a little woozy from his explosion. It wasn't clear how the jackal had gained the ability to repair himself like that; he'd had it as long as he could remember.
~You all right, J.J.?~
He nodded. "I think so. Did we ever get off the ground?"
"Ah... that's a pity."
Fruits cocked her head as she caught a stray thought that accompanied that statement.
~J.J., you knew all along this wasn't going to work, didn't you? You just wanted an excuse to burst yourself again.~
Johnny laughed. "You got me, Fruits. What can I say, I'm a guy who loves going out with a bang."