Falling isn't scary.
But landing is another matter.
I started the fall from so high that I'm now picking up some serious speed and yet I still have enough time to contemplate falling.
Or, rather, stopping.
I look up and see the tattered remains of my torn parachute. I say look up as though it were some gentle action but it is more a case of the slightest move of my head becoming exaggerated a thousand times by the force of the wind that batters me through my descent. And now my shoulder burns from the sheer force of my head being spun upwards painfully.
The exploding jet sent shards of hot, razor-sharp fragments into the bright morning sky. My ejection from the craft should have propelled me clear out of danger. But then nothing about this whole situation has gone as planned; after all, the state-of-the-art prototype should not now be burning up in the inner atmosphere.
I drag my face back round towards the ground and watch my fate rising up to greet me. And I can now guess how fast I must be travelling. At the edge of my peripheral vision, low wisps of cloud are now moving up and away from me. From their form, I can make a good estimate of my height.
This would normally be the start of the count during freefall.
Freefall? What a stupid name. And now suddenly I'm smiling with surreal amusement. The edges of my mask pulling against my cheeks as I allow a slight chuckle to escape my tight chest. I've done hundreds of jumps but only now am I truly falling freely.
And how I wish I wasn't.
In some ways it's quite disappointing. I'm waiting for the life that is supposed to flash past me in a wave of powerful memories. But all I can think of is the inevitable impact with the ground.
Bummer of it is that only 6 seconds prior to the malfunction, I was over water. I might have had a better chance of surviving. I could have ensured a correct position to clear the surface and hoped that the material of my canopy would drag and prevent me torpedoing straight into ground at the bottom of the lake.
But now all I have is the inevitability of a surface contact. No matter how I land, I'll be crushed.
And now I'm wondering if I'll know that I've landed. I'm hoping that the impact will cause instant death and someone in the afterlife will have to tell me what happened. I don't want to know first hand what happens when you hit ground after a plummet through 17,000 feet.
And so, with only 6 seconds to go, I'm panicking. I'm seeing my family, my friends. All the reasons I have for this not to be happening right now. I start flailing my arms and legs, desperately trying to somehow slow my descent. I feel like the coyote. Only this is now definitely not funny.
A glance at the horizon tells me that it's not working. I've got 4 seconds.
Our father who art in heaven.
Hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Scott sat upright in bed, fighting for breath. His chest was tight and he clutched at the sheets, his whole body shaking.
It took a few minutes for him to regain some sort of control and when he did, he looked around in the dimness of his surroundings and realised with relief that he was home, he was safe.
Scott's legs trembled as he clambered out from among the tangled bed sheets and stumbled towards the door. The light was still on in the hall and he squinted in the sudden brightness. Making his way carefully to the bathroom at the far end, he splashed his hot face with cool water and leaned against the porcelain basin.
His heart thudded against his chest and his head was spinning. That damn dream again.
He would have thought that after three weeks of the images plaguing his slumber that he would get used to it. But each time it varied. Each time there was a new detail that seemed to make it that much worse. And that much harder to clear from his thoughts.
It seemed longer.
Three weeks since the news had come. News that, at first, did not seem to hold as much weight as perhaps it should. But after the year he had had so far, it was simply yet another gut-wrenching catastrophe to add to all the rest.
And coping with bad news had become something of a familiar task of late. Well, perhaps not coping exactly. More submitting to the inevitable. His once half full glass was now decidedly all but empty.
Finally a little more composed, Scott padded through to the end of the hall and noted the dark sky beyond the glass-fronted lounge. With a sigh, he re-routed towards the kitchen and sought sustenance.
Grabbing two slices of bread and a whole armful of fillings, he fetched down a plate and began to create a suitably satisfying snack. And he could always head for the beach later to jog off the calories. It was a small price to pay for the comfort of cheese, hams, pickles and the rest.
It was perhaps not the ideal way to cope with stress but it was a habit that he had never been able to break. Gordon swam. Virgil hammered out a tune on his piano. Alan killed mutant aliens on his VR game console (complete with his own sound effects). Scott ate.
John blew out the back of the skull of a crazed psychotic woman.
Scott choked on a sudden sob and dropped his knife, the metal clanging against the stone floor noisily as the knife danced to a halt beside his foot. Scott closed his eyes, resting his hands on the breakfast bar and leaning heavily on his trembling arms.
Tears stung his eyes and he shook his head to clear the fearful thoughts from his mind.
The light flickered on and pulled him back to reality. He looked up and spun to see the figure approaching wearily from the hall.
"Scott …?" Jeff yawned loudly and rubbed at his pale face. "You okay?"
"Yeah." Scott shrugged an apology and crouched down to retrieve the knife.
"Midnight snack, huh?"
Scott completed his many-layered masterpiece and sliced the thick sandwich in two. Moving round to perch on one of the high stools, he took a large bite of one half and held out the plate towards his father.
Jeff smiled and joined him eagerly, taking the sandwich remains and nodding a thank you.
They munched in silence. Jeff still half asleep as he chewed and Scott deep in thought.
"I loved it when your mother had odd pregnancy cravings at stupid o'clock in the morning." Jeff offered through his final mouthful, wiping his mouth and smiling at the memory. "We used to have gross out competitions." He laughed softly, "Her combos always won."
Scott nodded slowly, he had heard of this many times. Not that he minded listening to the story again, especially when it brought such a spark to his father's eyes.
Jeff stood and grabbed them both a drink. "So. Why the fridge raid?"
Jeff returned to his side and frowned slightly.
Scott sipped at his juice and shrugged his shoulders. "Jake."
Recognition removed the frown and Jeff let out a sigh. "God … of course … sorry …"
Scott gave another shrug.
"Thursday, right?" Jeff inquired.
"Tomorrow." Scott corrected and then glanced at the clock. "Today."
Jeff considered this for a moment. "Shit …" He mused, "I've totally lost track of what day or month or …" He shook his head slowly, "It's just one long 'when will it end' …?"
Scott smiled suddenly, glad to not be alone in this. His face then returned to its former sombreness and he regarded his father for a moment. "You're still coming, right?"
Another smile of relief and Scott nodded wordlessly.
"I knew Grey well." Jeff continued, "It's a while since we last spoke but … hell … to lose a son …" He trailed off and glanced at Scott, seeing the same thought cross his face.
Scott was loath to ask, for he already knew the answer.
Jeff anticipated the query and shook his head slowly. "Pen says he's still out there but … she won't tell me where."
Scott's face darkened, "That's so wrong."
Jeff gave a thin smile. "She thinks she's helping."
"Right!" Scott sniggered.
"I know," Jeff sighed, "I don't understand it either but …" he forced a smile to his lips and took a deep breath. "Women, huh?"
Scott was unconvinced. "It's more than that."
Jeff considered this for a moment. "Yeah … but what can I do …"
"Order Brains to override the security protocols, break into the files."
Jeff sighed, "Perhaps …"
"No!" Scott argued suddenly, "God, Dad, it's been almost a month! And nothing!"
"Exactly." Jeff countered, "If he was out for mad revenge, surely we would have heard something. Pen's got a point. Maybe he is simply taking time to recover."
"Or lying in some hospital somewhere … or worse …"
"Scott, don't." Jeff pleaded, "It's hard enough without - "
"What? Facing the truth?"
Jeff shook his head and reached out to place his hand on Scott's arm. "She promised, Scott … she promised she won't let anything happen to him."
"Yeah, but Pen - "
"Not Pen. Alex."
Scott backed off a little and recalled the brief communiqué that Alex had managed to slip past John a few weeks back. She said he was healing and doing okay. He was coming to terms with it all and would be home soon. It was a ray of hope and he had so wanted to believe her.
The signal had been bounced off a French communication satellite; it was a sloppy scramble and Brains had easily traced the call to a small village in Switzerland. And they had all been more than happy to rest easy in the notion that their brother was safe, surrounded by nothing more than powdered mountains and après ski.
But thirteen days of more nothing had let the nagging doubts creep back in.
"We should get some sleep." Jeff offered carefully, "I guess we need to leave around midday."
Scott frowned in thought, calculating time zones and flight time.
"The service is at 3, right?"
Jeff smiled, "Least I got that right." He stood and turned towards the bedrooms nestled within the island complex. He then glanced back and watched Scott for a moment. "Will you be okay?"
"Sure." Scott replied quickly and gathered up their used crockery. "See you in a while."
With a nod of agreement, Jeff wandered from the kitchen and was gone.
Scott sat with his thoughts, his mind a blurred mess of worry and apprehension. Knowing sleep was lost to him now, he headed outside into the warm night air and slumped down on one of the benches beside the pool.
It had been a while since he had been preoccupied with what the morning might bring. A while since he had felt so lost. And ironic that the one person whom he would normally talk it all through with was now the very reason for the vast majority of it.
But the anger was long faded. The colourful language he had carefully selected as a greeting for if – when – he was finally reunited with his brother had been replaced with the need to simply hold him tight and never let go.
Praying that John would somehow sense this and come home sooner, without fear of rebuke or criticism, Scott hugged his arms around himself and let the tears fall.