It's not as hot in this desert as is imagined, but the heat is still overwhelming. At least the humidity is lower than it is in North Carolina, so shade here is marginally more valuable. Of course, it doesn't make much difference in the staging area, with everyone laid out, weighted down by hundreds of pounds of weapons, equipment, and parachute. The sun is as unfriendly as it's ever been, and someone's joke of blasting Wagner's "The Ride of the Valkyries" over the loudspeakers isn't making anything more comfortable.
As the sun sets, a call goes out and signals are passed. Dozing soldiers wake from their slumbers and 500 paratroopers attempt to stand on legs too tired. Chalk lines are formed, segregating combat teams into easily assembled groups, or so the theory goes. Sweat quickly begins to pour down the brows and faces of veteran and boot alike, washing away already worthless blotches of camouflage makeup. The Air Force crew chiefs give a thumbs up, and the lines lumber toward the awaiting C-17 aircraft. Great Birnam Wood on the march.
The cast and crew find their marks and take their positions, heavily-armed actors strapping into flimsy cargo seats, the stagehands checking and double-checking gauges and equipment. Miles away, safely behind friendly lines, congratulatory playwrights verify new intelligence to ensure last-minute rewrites remain unnecessary. The overheads go dark, replaced by the candlelight of an apron inviting only in its emptiness. Many suddenly realize that Faustus had made a better deal with the Devil.
Engines roar to life, and a small formation lifts gracefully off the ground, the skin of artificial birds reflecting the irony of a phantom moonlight. Deadly silhouettes filled with deadly shadows. The flight is rough, pilots forced to follow the contours of hostile terrain in an attempt to hide from the masked and watchful eyes of the enemy. A command to ready jars the passengers. Time flies strangely on the wings of angels. Those wearing watches remain unconvinced of the hour passed. Some hesitate, but eventually all hook their static lines, their lifelines, onto awaiting cables. Nervous soldiers, wishing they were somehow home again, attempt to masquerade emotions as they approach the point of no return.
The doors open. Landscape 800 feet below whips by deceptively slow. Narrow prosceniums revealing distant, potentially lethal backdrops. The airflow inside the C-17 increases an unnaturally small amount, aided in part by the aircraft's efficient wind-deflectors and a cabin that was unpressurized to begin with. The door jumper makes eye contact with the jumpmaster, and each nods a silent acknowledgment. Eyes shift to the red light. Patience begins to lose its patience, waiting for Godot.
Green light; the curtains rise. All the world's a stage. It's time to kill the audience.