It was strange to have the thought of death so near. I had a moment where it felt I would fall forever, in the next I had fallen for eternity. In the one after I could only think of how little time I had. My mind ran like a mouse on a wheel, frantically looking for any way to escape. The mental activity might have been useful if I could have focused it on my problems, but it was difficult to overcome the fear. The inner war on my terror was going about as well as the outer one on my fight to survive while I struggled to figure out how to engage the flying mechanism in my boots.
I once again knocked my feet together hoping that might do something. I pushed the buttons on my watch.
“Engage flying mechanism.” My words were ripped from my mouth.
Things were getting bad.
Vegetation passed on all sides and I was forced more frequently to bring down my hands to protect my face against the undergrowth as they flashed by.
I had assumed I would die when I made contact with the ground, but now I wondered if it wasn’t more likely I’d be skewered by a branch.
When I repeated my actions there was no difference in the rate I fell. I muttered a prayer to a God I had not thought of since I was a child, if my prayer could be heard in this far off world.
I tried every combination of words I could think of, but my boots did not respond.
The vegetation was bad enough I could hardly see a foot in front of my face, yet I continued to fall without major resistance. My boots took the worst of it as I used my hands to shield my eyes in between attempts to press my watch buttons.
I took in a deep breath, gasping as if it had been my first in minutes. The thought I was seconds from death felt like a monkey on my back that jumped up and down, threatening to topple me over and bring death that much faster. It did not recede without a battle, but I managed to poke a little hole into the thought. I focused on that pinprick and tried to widen it.
I brought my feet together.
I pushed the buttons on my watch and felt the jolt of something kicking in, a sudden force that would have tossed me forward if I hadn’t grabbed vines that dangled in front of my face. Neither the engagement of the flying system nor my hold of the vines broke my fall. I continued to slip through the ravine, my fingers tearing leaves from the vines as I descended.
I slowly came to a halt.
Everything was quiet, something I’d missed in my rapid descent down the ravine. I licked my lips, inhaled, and was glad to be still. The vegetation was so thick I could hardly move my shoulders. There weren’t any critters nearby, but I didn’t doubt they would show up before long.
The fact I was alive sunk into my frazzled brain. I’d tried everything I could to stop it from happening, but I’d known the most likely outcome.
A sigh escaped as I tried to come to terms with my renewed chance at life. My whole body was wracked with fatigue and stress, it felt like I had been seconds from succumbing to a heart attack. The silence washed over me as I caught my breath. I was not in a hurry to return, but I was anxious to get out of the green sea of poison.
The moment slipped away. It was difficult to say how long I waited, floating in the thick vegetation but my mind started to work again, the gears ground like they were breaking off rust.
The ability to fly came from my boots, I could feel the stabilizing force emanating from below my feet, but it wasn’t a propulsionary force like I’d first thought when it had finally kicked in.
It was something different.
For lack of a better term, I thought of them as anti-grav boots because I appeared to float.
I was surprised the boots had not stopped me dead in my tracks, but it was good they had not. They appeared to have a feature that recognized my descent and were smart enough to know nothing good would happen if they stopped me sharp in midfall.
As I shifted I became more certain the levitating force came from the boots alone, my jumpsuit did not seem connected to the experience.
Jeffords hadn’t mentioned the boots once when he had spoken about our jumpsuits prior to his jump.
Another deception. He hoped I’d die before I figured it out.
I was sure he hadn’t consciously touched his watch buttons when he’d approached the edge of the ravine, it had to be something he’d done without thinking.
His slip had saved my life.
I might have stumbled onto it if given enough time, but not before I had become well acquainted with the ground or embedded into a tree. I wanted to know how close I was to the bottom, but it was too dark and overgrown to tell. I could barely see six inches past my nose.
The dark seemed brighter at the top of the ravine, but it was far away and well enough hidden I wondered if it wasn’t just my imagination.
Sweat covered my body. At least I hoped it was just that, I was afraid I bled all over.
Hoping I had not touched anything poisonous I collected my wits and began to put my mind back together. The fear was gone but the aftereffects would be with me for some time. My hands shook, my legs seemed like they were about to fall out from underneath me. Luckily, it seemed my boots kept my feet together and me upright; otherwise, I would not have stood in the air so easily.
Was it my imagination or did the jumpsuit add support?
Jeffords wasn’t kidding when he said some of us would die today. If Logan is a teenager in a man’s body, does he have the presence of mind to hop off the ravine and survive a fall?
Maybe he could—I was surprised to be alive—but I doubted it would be the case.
Logan might hate me, but I did not want him to die.
Why didn’t the boots activate the first dozen times I pressed the buttons?
I had done nothing different the time it worked.
Could Jeffords turn off my anti-grav boots?
It was one thing to make me run laps until I dropped. It was another to order me to jump into a ravine without teaching me how to fly while also disabling my anti-grav boots until the last minute.
What if I had not tried my watch again?
After waiting until I was less likely to throttle Jeffords upon arrival, I unclenched my hands and pointed my toes down just a little, remembering how the tiniest movement had pushed Jeffords back several feet.
My action propelled me up, limber branches and other vegetation scraping against me as I went. I winced with each new brush against the plants, afraid I had been exposed to enough poison to expect another visit to the infirmary. A smile crept across my lips when I thought of the look on Dolores’ face when I returned so soon.
It became easier to breathe as the vegetation thinned out the higher I traveled. I couldn’t see much because of the dark, but it was enough to know the way above me was clear. Once the path was not as cluttered, I pointed my toes down and shot up the ravine, feeling like a superhero.
The euphoria ended as soon as I thought of Sam and Jeffords.
Several minutes later I had enough light to get my first real look at the plant life. There were vines, lots of vines. And trees that seemed a cross between mushrooms and pines. They had branches, but instead of leaves there were bulbs that were covered with spiny needles. The thin barbs stuck out as much as a foot. Some of the bulbs were three or four inches around. In between the needles there was something else. I thought at first they were leaves, but when there was more light, I decided it was a different plant that grew on top of the weird-looking mushroom trees, a moss of some sort.
All this grew in two days?
Now that I was free I was careful to avoid touching anything. I didn’t know what poisons I had picked up by contact, but I was certain it was to my advantage to avoid further exposure. I felt a little lightheaded.
Was it the poison, the aftermath of the ordeal I’d been through, or the fact I was traveling in a way I never had before?
My anxiety was less now that I could see better so I slowed my rate of climb, not caring if Jeffords noticed because I wanted to think about how I was going to act at the top. It was a risk in more ways than one because of my exposure to poison, but if it felt like I was getting sick or if there were other obvious effects, I would increase my speed.
Jeffords is John Jeffs the convicted murderer, I thought while shaking my head. The same traits that had landed him on death row would betray him here. His time would come.
Patience was my friend.