At first nothing really happens. The Earth gets far away and you're detached, strangely detached, your indolent mind refusing to give in to primate emotions. Then, suddenly, when the moment is almost at hand you become distinctly aware of gravity.
Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration. The potential energy of two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them. Acceleration is the derivative of the velocity with respect to time.
Your heart bounds about your ribcage like a rubber ball shot from a cannon into a maze of mirrors. Your eyes are sitting too high in their sockets. Everything hangs on you, snug but dangling, like old skin and all you feel is heavy, heavy, heavy.
Your main-sider, betraying no thoughts through eyes behind opaque plastic, gives the word, kicking a domino that may govern the rest of your life. "Take up position by the door," she commands.
"Right foot," you say, genuflecting against the wind. "Right hand," you clasp the door, hand flat against the wall, thumb hooked around the portal. It's dark inside and bright, blinding, without. "Left hand," the litany has taken over. You've practiced again and again. They call it "flow" and you've gotten oh, so, good at it, good at it to avoid thinking about all the other things that a rational person might consider right now because right now is all that matters. You press your hands together through the wall and pull yourself standing, "Left foot," you say.
The wind bears down on you like a sideways waterfall, lifting your clothes and pressing your cheeks to your skull. You peer back into the darkness at your main-sider, "Check in," you holler over the shriek of the wind.
Over your left you find your reserve-sider, "Check out." He can't hear you but sure he can see your lips trying to move as they ripple under the force of moving air.
Your head snaps forward, the next maneuver in the drill. In front of you, whip, whip, whip, to fast to see, thousands of RPM's, hundreds, thousands of horsepower. Top of your lungs "Prop!"
You shoot up on your toes.
You dip down, bending your knees.
And, you step backwards.
Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration. The potential energy of two bodies is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between them.
You yaw hard to the left and your head dips hard towards the Earth like an avian shot from the sky by some attendant hunter as the weight of the other two people gripping your sides drags you sideways and down. They don't tell you this in preceding hours of intensive training that are all that save you from a grisly demise. It would have been nice to know.
Arch, arch, arch, strain your back because the round side of a leaf always faces the ground as it falls.
"Just breathe," your reserve sider had said back on the ground. "Scream if you want to, or swear. That's fine. You can't scream if you don't breathe." But you don't scream and you don't swear. You just arch and check your horizon and your altimeter, that flimsy piece of plastic no more complicated than the wristwatch in the bottom of a box of cereal.
You check your reserve-sider. He gestures peace, straighten your legs, falling too fast. You arch and tighten your legs, feeling the wind slacken just enough to notice, like a candle snuffed in a blinding, bright room.
Reserve side - Thumbs up.
Check the horizon. The wind threatens to make you into Anne Boleyn but the ground will be up on you in so much less than a thousand days. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Reach for your pilot; keep your balance in the air; recover. Arch, arch, arch.
Check the horizon. Check your altimeter. Check your reserve-sider.
Check your main-sider.
Index extended, fist together.
You wave off, gesturing your two companions to abandon you to gravity. They release and loft away like cheap toys in a stiff breeze.
You reach for your pilot and pull, pull, pull, throw aft and right.
Nine and a half meters per second, per second. Force equals mass times acceleration.
The world halts. Everything broke hard and hit the pavement but you were wearing your seatbelt. You dangle, only three - quarters of a mile left to drift. You follow the wind and turn once each way to be sure you can. All the world is as it should be, square, stable, steerable. You ride the wind as your guts climb back up from your ankles and you wonder what all that panic was about. Everything gets so, so slow and all you do is dangle.
500, you turn left, cross the wind, to loose speed and altitude.
At 200 you turn right again and attack the wind, the breeze pushing you back and down and lifting you at once. The ground encroaches and you flare, flare, flare and land rolling, not graceful, but safe.
There's supposed to be some revelation. You're supposed to land as different person than when you ascended. You were expecting to kiss the ground or realize the important things in life or have your spirit set alight by the pure thrill. There's none of that, no great change, no reinvention of life. Just the memory that you were so incredibly busy on the trip down, so much to do that you almost missed the experience.
You walk away, get debriefed and sign up to do it again.
And you cross one more thing off your the before you die list.