“It’s perfectly safe, Holly.”
“Perfectly safe? I’ll tell you what’s perfectly safe! NOT jumping out of a moving aircraft! That’s perfectly safe!”
“Come on! It’s a team-building exercise. Everyone else from the office is doing it.”
“Okay, if I have to.” I look out at the ground two kilometers below me; four parachutes are already out and now it’s my turn. Everything looks so small and far away. Maybe I could...
“Off you go, Holly. Don’t forget your parachute!” A firm hand pushes into my back, thrusting me out the aircraft door.
“Zeke you asshole!” But it’s too late. I fly out the door, narrowly missing the tail wing on the way by, and then I’m being blown in a hurricane wind. I’m blowing upward, I guess due to the plane’s wake or something.
After a few seconds and about a forty vertical meters it dawns on me that something’s wrong. I’m not falling down, I’m falling up. This wasn’t covered in our preparation.
A radio clicks to life in my ear. “Miss Brellin? What’s wrong?”
“Gravity is broken! I’m falling up!”
“A feeling like you’re floating upward is perfectly normal. You are in fact falling downward.”
“Then why is the ground getting farther away?”
“That’s just an illusion. What does your altimeter say?”
I eventually find the little cluster of readouts on my arm. “It says 3400... 3450... 3500... If that’s falling I’m wearing this stupid thing upside-down!”
“Don’t panic. Maybe you’re caught in an updraft. Try shifting your weight.”
“Updraft!? I wouldn’t rise this fast if I were sitting on a wind machine!” I try to shift position, but it has about as much effect as I thought it would. “It’s not working. And it’s... getting... hard to... breathe!”
“Is there any way to slow your rise? Have you tried opening your chute?”
It takes some fumbling to find the rip cord. Things are starting to go red and dark patches are coming and going in my vision. I start giggling when a little tiny parachute comes out. Then the big one opens and just about pulls my arms off while at the same time giving me the ultimate wedgie.
It doesn’t take long to realize that the parachute’s upside-down; the ground is hanging above me and the clouds below. Everything is getting fuzzier and dimmer. The voice is shouting but I can’t really tell what it’s saying. It sounds like it’s getting farther and farther away...
When I wake up it takes me a moment to actually realize that I have. It’s dark and it’s cold; all I can see is a dim glow on my frozen-over goggles. I try to stretch, but everything crinkles and resists. With some effort I manage to raise my hand and pull the goggles off. Stupid idea, I know, but if this environment wants to kill me it’s already had plenty of chances.
It’s nighttime and the stars look awesome! The Milky Way is glowing brightly, clearly visible for the first time in my life. I recognize some of the constellations, but not all of them. I start to look for old favourites from when Dad and I used to go sky watching, but the tableau is broken up by a large object. It’s the Earth, floating against the stellar backdrop like a gargantuan pearl sheathed in blue radiance. It seems close enough that I could just reach out and touch it...
The illusion breaks and I realize it really is the Earth and it’s actually several thousand kilometers away. I’m floating in space in my parachuting rig, completely coated in frost but somehow not dying from lack of air.
I pull off one glove and my hand immediately feels warmer. It’s glowing too, with a faint white light like some heavenly aura. If I concentrate I can see the stars through it. I immediately pull the other glove off, with the same effect.
The boots are next, followed by the bulky skydiving coverall; if real physics were operating here I’d be signing my own death warrant by doing this. Instead it’s warming me up. I look around nervously, then realize if anyone’s watching me they’d have to be using a high-powered telescope. Off come the sweater and then the tee. I’m glowing all over, or I guess all under, and my exposed flesh feels warm, dry, and soft.
I stretch my back. I hadn’t realized it had felt constricted, but now I’m free. A ten meter triangle of diaphanous wing stretches to my left, and the same amount to my right. A warm breeze takes hold of them and I can feel myself blowing away from the Earth. It takes practice, and maybe a few hundred kilometers, but I figure out how to adjust things so I’m floating freely and not moving too much.
The rest of my clothes come away quickly. I’m a little self-conscious, but I’d rather be embarrassed than frozen to death. I find that I can fly around just by wanting to, but moving toward the Earth is like climbing a steep hill. Not that I really need to go there.
What have I got back on Earth? I’m not close to my family and I only have a few friends. Most of them are busy starting families of their own; if I have to go to one more baby shower I’ll be the one throwing a tantrum. Even ‘team building’ events from work like the one that got me here are more of a torture than a treat.
But there is something. About a hundred kilometers in I can see another faintly glowing shape like me. Another person. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try to help.
I manage to get to him, though I’m winded when I get there. It’s a man in a frozen business suit, looking totally confused.
“Are you an angel?”
“If I am then you are too. Help me get you out of those clothes; they’re what’s making you cold.”
It takes some effort, but his clothes come free. As happened to me, the air (or lack thereof) catches his wings and drags us a ways before he gets control.
“Who are you? What’s going on?”
“My name’s Holly and I have no idea. I’ve only been here a few minutes myself. Skydiving accident.”
“Oh. I’m Carl. I was admiring the view from the roof of my company’s building. Well, not my company, I work in the Accounting Division, but you know what I mean.”
“And you got sucked up into the air like you were falling?”
“I guess. More like the Earth rejected me. I jumped, but rather than falling down I fell up.”
“So you were trying to end it all. And now instead of the end you’ve found a new beginning. I mean, look around you at all this beauty. There’s a whole universe to explore.”
He stares at me. “You’re right; there is beauty here. But I’ll still be alone.”
I have no answer to that. I feel the same way myself.
“Come on; I can see a couple more people like us over there.”
The next person we get to is a man, another guy who decided to leap off a building. After that it’s a woman who ‘fell’ out a fifteenth-story window. A teenager who jumped off a water tower, a woman who did a high dive off a bridge, and so on. Every one but me is a suicide, somebody who decided jumping was their chosen way to make peace with an empty and unforgiving world.
No matter how many people occupy my life, I’m always alone. And now here I am in outer space, which is really no different from where I was on Earth. Suddenly I’m struck by how much I just want to have someone around.
Maybe a few people at work will mourn my absence, light a candle for me or some such. I kind of wish I could call and tell them I’m all right. In fact, I’m better than all right. I’m a butterfly in outer space, free to fly and free to be free. And with the thousands of others that have emerged from their earthly cocoons this day, at least I won’t have to fly alone.