A thug glimpses eternity during an event very few rarely have.
|John Stone wondered exactly how he got there. He was afraid of heights and no matter how many times he did it, he was afraid of heights. His owners knew that and it didn’t matter, he was owned and when Uncle Sugar made him a paratrooper, he went. Well, he went and he went and now he was there. Still afraid of heights, still jumping out of perfectly good airplanes that were going to land anyway.
This current ‘there’ happened to be the tail door of a 727 Boeing.
This Boeing happened to be cruising at an altitude of a hair and change over six miles.
It was billed as a training mission. Specifically, a HALO aquatic jump. HALO, High-Altitude Low Opening to wit, leave the perfectly good airplane at over six miles and open the main chute at four hundred fifty feet over the English Channel. Then drop the main chute at about twelve feet, splash into the water and swim away really, really, fast as to not get tangled in the airfoil and thusly avoid being drowned in the English Channel.
Many ways to die on the way down too.
One of them being suffocation. He wore breathing gear, and at that height it was really, really, cold. The condensation from his breath could, would and did freeze up in the face mask and to alleviate that he had to hold his breath, take the mask off, hold it at an angle and use the phenomenon of cold evaporation to unclog the diaphragm valve.
That didn’t worry him. Suffocation that is. What worried him is the drogue chute would fail, he’d cut it off and by the time he had enough altitude for the main airfoil to open, he’d be moving too fast and snap his neck. That worried him but what really ate him up is snapping his neck and not dying and having time to think about it as the end came.
The ironic thing is they even gave him a third chest mounted emergency chute. This was on the off chance that if things went south, the drogue failed, the airfoil had malfunctioned at enough altitude that he could loose that and then the emergency chute would be used. Hoping all the time he wasn’t going so fast as to break his neck or break his neck as the canopy shredded itself.
He wondered exactly why forces of the universe conspired against him. As the jump master kept him talking as the now open to the inky black void of eternity came over the drop zone, he thought of what he did wrong to deserve this. The list, needless to say, at this point, was a long list, a very long list of sundry villainy and moral outrage. So long, so fabled that he found the continual reiteration of jump specifications a release from the monotony of thinking about it.
Then as expected, the lights in the tail hold changed from white, to red, then a buzzer sounded as another light this time green light flashed and then he leaped off into near vacuum..
He looked over his shoulder, noting the backwash didn’t kill him and watched the rather sizable airplane disappear in the space of two blinks of an eye. The running lights just became lost among the early morning stars. He reached around to the bag on his chest and tossed the drogue chute. He didn’t hear it open but felt a vibrating slap as it did. He looked over his shoulder and the four panel ‘X’ shaped sail with a hole in the middle twirled about as it should. As a side note, as the drogue opened, it hurt. It hurt enough to give him the distinct impression that he might have dislocated his left shoulder, yet again. Or maybe just busted a clavicle, yet again.
There wasn’t any sense of motion.
There wasn’t one iota of a sense of distance.
What there was is the full moon, and a blanket of clouds beneath him. The ice white moonlight cut a swath of pale from horizon to horizon dividing the mottled blues of vapor. The stars in the sky were sharp razors of twinkling rainbow. As the air density increased, the flapping slap of the drogue could almost be heard. When he did hear it, it seemed farther away than it really was…Not this big flapping sound but more like an echo of something.
When his oxygen mask froze up he followed protocol the first time. The second time he didn’t. He took the mask off and as it dried he smelled the air. More exactly, exhaled and took a deep breath of almost nothing.
He could taste it. He could smell it. There was almost nothing to breathe. He put his mask back on and looked at the altimeter on his arm…After fast math in his head, he had another five miles to go. It took a few full lungs of real air to get the smell out of his nostrils and the taste slowly faded from his mouth.
It smelled and tasted like vanilla ice cream.
When he skidded into the topside of the carpet of clouds sounds returned. Roaring thunders and a whistling pitch that started at a low distance and rose up out of hearing range and then his ears popped.
Falling out the bottom, night disappeared totally and daylight blasted him. Looking around him, he could vaguely see England, and maybe, just maybe a lip of land that belonged to France.
He cut loose, mechanically released technically the drogue and waited. As the water stopped being flat as a powder blue mirror and started to moved he paid more attention to his altimeter. At five hundred feet he pulled his ripcord and at four hundred feet the airfoil deployed perfectly with a snap. He had tugged twice on the airbrake cables and began counting and at about twelve feet released the airfoil and met water.
He fell into a swirling white bubbly mass of cheap champagne and needed to use his knife to cut the guide lines of the airfoil off him as that monstrosity fell straight down. Once at the surface he dropped most of his equipment as it didn’t serve a use anymore, inflated his water wings and had a bright idea. He looked at the watch on the combination gauges on his left forearm noted the time and made a float out of the emergency chute. It worked just like it did in the training films, and that allowed him to drift in the channel unmolested. John Stone liked water.
It took him thirteen minutes and twenty-seconds from the time he left the airplane until he splashed into the English Channel. When he thought about it he considered the fact he passed from the edge of Heaven in the afterlife sense and now rested quite comfortably in the loving embrace of a watery retreat. When he ran through his list of his moral misdeeds and outrageous criminal excesses he wondered what he did to deserve such an indulgence.
He floated there alone with himself, for an hour and a half. John Stone never did quite understand why he received such a gift. Understand, John Stone hated himself and the world. He was a man with notches on his gun belt, and when he wasn’t working he had whiskey on his breath and smelled like a few not so cheap German prostitutes. Whatever it took for him to avoid looking himself in the eye.
He never would understand why such a thug would have the opportunity to see eternity, and for a brief instance, taste and smell Heaven.
As an ending note, whatever his mission was, 'they' cancelled it.