Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Star Fall

There is a certain hardy professionalism involved with soldiers who volunteer for atmospheric assault units. Most military movies these days concern themselves with AAUs, despite the fact they make up less than five per cent of combat rolls. For decades, AAUs have had a reputation - earned or not - for being the best of the best. One thing's for sure, Humphries muses, they're the craziest of the crazy.

The fact that he's smiling as he plummets at terminal velocity towards the surface of an alien planet is more than enough proof of that.

   Just let your fears go
   You might find your way back home
   Let your fears go
   You might find that you’re not lost

For some reason, the ballistic personnel carrier fired his unit's pods at too shallow an angle and Humphries quickly recognized that he was in danger of taking a one-way trip into deep space. There was no time to determine what happened - the BPC probably came under orbital flak, panicking the pilot into firing his payload too early - so Humphries ejected from his pod, hoping his suit's jets were enough to carry him close enough to the planet's gravity well to bring him in. Once he got situated, a sensor check assured him that most of his unit made it into the atmosphere. Only a handful of transponders were silent, but those could have simply been out of range or already well into the ionization blackout.

At any rate, he has more pressing matters to worry about. Without the drag chutes on the pod, he might not be able to slow down enough for his suit's drag chutes to deploy successfully. Not to mention he's already burned some of his jet fuel.

  Forget the peace inside
  You’ve given way to the gods of destruction
  Full of desire
  You feel afraid that there’s nothing left

"Open net, Thorne 2-6, over." The radio call is probably futile, since there has never been a recorded incident of an AA trooper in uncontrolled descent - oddly referred to as a cigarette burn in some strange homage to the ancient days of paratroopers - being successfully saved from the inevitable splat. But, Humphries is a hopeless optimist, and futility has never been reason enough not to try. Besides, the thought of his drinking buddies haunted by being the last to hear Humphries' voice is strangely appealing. Selfish, he knows, but who's going to hold that against him in this moment?

"Open net, Thorne 2-6, over."

  The ocean is dry
  Do you feel hollow?
  Nowhere to hide
  And nothing to swallow

The wind pummels his suit and maintaining form during descent slowly becomes an exhaustive exercise. A man who once completed a military 30-kilometer march in just over three hours suddenly finds himself angry at the thought of lacking the endurance to fall properly. The irony only makes matters worse and Humphries' open net calls are soon laced with expletives.

  And when you can’t recognize
  Anything solid
  Where do you turn?
  When you can’t buy it?

Managing to calm himself down, Humphries tumbles into a fetal position then gradually extends limbs, gaining control of his spin. His suit has control surfaces, but he fears that deploying them will only result in them breaking off at these speeds. Entering the upper level of a thundercloud, he inhales deeply and slowly exhales. Zipping by multi-colored bolts of lightning, he notices how beautiful storms can be.

As a child who once spent countless hours finding shapes in masses of water vapor, he withdraws into his past and begins to create shapes in his mind. Though he is far too close - within, really - and moving far too fast, it is almost immediately that he begins to see her. His visor now riddled with drops of water, even an onlooker directly in front of him would not be able to tell that Humphries has started to cry.

  What can you believe in now
  With no love to follow?
  Now that you have lost yourself
  Oh, can anything help you now?

He fell in love with her upon first glance. Though she was dressed in a silly getup supposedly resembling a Middle Eastern princess, he recognized the subtle smile of one whose love of life was only matched by an unspoken loneliness. She learned to enjoy the small things as much as possible, for the large things seemed elusive. Having endured similar heartbreak, he knew that someone must have recently hurt her. At the time, she should've been far too young to be familiar with such pain. But the universe doesn't care to wait when teaching such lessons. Nor, it seemed, did it care to wait when alleviating them.

It would be months before he could get her to talk to him. An emotional eternity, entirely subjective to itself. A free fall into her embrace that seemed to last forever.

  What did you learn?
  What was it worth?
  What did you yearn for?
  Everything’s lost now

  ... and not alone

She finally agreed to spend significant time with him after, he lamented, he received his orders to deploy. It was a repetitive story, and sad, that everyone seemed to wait until he was leaving. But in her case, it was enough. Her initial resistance to him was due to nothing more than she knew he was a soldier and would often be absent from her life. She never told him that she loved him, even as he boarded the shuttle for orbit, but her kiss spoke more to him than anything he could remember. In spite of her pragmatic hesitance, her lips made no secret that they were aware she is loved in return. It was an impact upon both their psyches unlike any other.

Including, he's confident, the impact that will momentarily end his life. His smile returns as he imagines her hair violently whipping in the free fall. Though his desire is to spend the rest of her life at her side, he's content with having been a part of her journey. Perhaps that is the only reason he was born in the first place.

A foolish thought, he knows, as he lets his smile evolve into laughter. He hopes that she will remember a falling star that once wished upon her. And that the universe gets the joke.

  Just let your fears go
  You might find your way back home
  Let your fears go
  You might find that you’re not lost

*Lyrics from Sunlounger's "Lost"


  1. A fascinating exercise in counterpoint. It works.

  2. dang, becoming a falling star...some interesting textures to this one...looking for hours for shapes in teh water vapor for instance...that tells me many things and allows my mind to wander...i like the blend in of the song...

  3. great descriptions. very tight. i like the single action expansion into an entire story.

  4. Of course you know that you are very talented and creative. I was captured immediately by this tale and the lyrics you blend in work so perfectly. Fantastic!

  5. I respond more to this style of writing from you than to the science-fiction genre. With the latter, I am simply unable to assess, because I know nothing, and you realise by now that I have a very poor line in bull-shit.

    What I did not realise, until I joined this collective, is the romantic strain running through much American amateur writing. Many of you produce yearning romanticism, rather than clear-eyed realism. This story is of that ilk.

    I really liked the verse interspersing the soldier story ... until I realised the words weren't yours and then I felt a bit diddled.

    Who is your narrator? For mine, he tends to smother the emotion somewhat.

    I said a few words to my monitor at all the acronymns littering the get-go ...

  6. I like the way you wove the Sunlounger's lyrics through, and also the juxtaposition of the technical stuff with the soft romantic. Nice, Jeff.

  7. Oh, you starry-eyed romantic, you.

    The aspect of this piece that I found most interesting is the s-l-o-w passage of time, given that he's plummeting at terminal velocity. It illustrates how facile the mind is, capable of reviewing so much of a lifetime in such a brief flash of time.

  8. i loved reading this piece, and the lyrics are expertly folded in. you paint longing and sadness with a deft hand. haunting.

  9. I like it. I'm surprised, but I like it. Of course, your use of lyrics woos me a little.