Ever see that scene in GI Joe Resolute, where Snake Eyes does a HALO drop with no parachute, using a birdman chute to glide in to a dock, and land at a run? How the heck would he know that would actually work? Well... there's a first time for everything....
* * * *
Over the Nevada desert at 35,000 feet:
The transport plane's rumbling drone changed ever so slightly as it leveled out and Snake Eyes got to his feet. Seeing the ninja rise, the other four people clambered to their feet as well, clutching at the wall and stretching kinks out of limbs that had stiffened over the ride to their location.
Ripcord shook himself and then began to check all his straps, calling out to the others to do the same. Snake Eyes absently tugged his straps, making sure none had loosened unexpectedly. The loose fabric fell in folds from his arms to his legs, making him feel like his commando suit had been turned frilly somehow. At least the wings were black. He turned his back to Ripcord for the paratrooper to do a chute check on his pack.
He felt a pounding slap on his shoulder. "You're good to go Snakes!" He gave a thumb's up to the gregarious soldier. Annoying though Ripcord could be to him, he was a great paratrooper and knew his stuff inside and out. "You think these birdman suits are any good?" The ninja shrugged slightly. "I think they're more 'flying squirrel' than bird.. but I guess the brass don't wanna call their troops gliding rats.."
Snake Eyes smiled under his mask then fingerspelled slowly for Ripcord. "R.o.c.k.y." Ripcord tilted his head briefly and Snakes sighed and fingerspelled out, "B.u.l.l.w.i.n.k.l.e." Then he watched the man mouthing the letters until he suddenly started to laugh. There were times when the ninja wondered why he bothered to try to make jokes with his fellow troops.
"Funny!!" Ripcord turned to the other three who were finishing their preflight checks. "Hey.. the ninja made a funny!" Snake Eyes sighed to himself as the guy walked back to them. "Yeah, he wriggled his fingers at me.. said we were all like Rocky the flying squirrel." A few strained laughs. "Well.. I guess ya had to be there.. maybe it's all in how you wiggle your fingers..."
Snake Eyes looked over as BeachHead stomped back to them. The Airborne Ranger had a chute strapped on, his ever present mask in place and looked as grumpy as ever. "Ya'll get ready.." He looked disappointed that everyone was already checking their gear instead of getting to roust them up himself. He grunted. "Double-check yer gear.. move outa my way Ripcord.." He pushed past the paratrooper.
Ripcord stepped aside, then snagged a strap as the Ranger tried to continue past. He yanked him to a stop. "Hey Beach.. you gotta let me check you."
BeachHead cursed quietly but stood there to let him run the pre-jump check anyway. He lifted an arm to peer at the deep green fabric fluttering in the air. "This is ridiculous. Doing a danged HALO jump to test freakin' birdman suits.. what's the danged point?"
Ripcord slapped his shoulder and then flicked the fabric to shake it. "We gotta check to see if these suits give us enough range to move into position from miles outside a jump zone. If we can jump far enough away, we can do HALO inserts without flying a giant droning cargo plane over the target area." BeachHead grunted at him and moved to the back, pulling the map out to peer at it.
Ripcord gave Snake Eyes a jab in his arm and he looked over irritably. "Hey.. so our fearless leader looks like he got up on the wrong side of the bed.. what's up?" Snake Eyes looked up and then made a single name sign. "Oooooooo.... CoverGirl? They fightin' again?"
The ninja shrugged. *When are they not fighting?*
The other man nodded. "We better get over there. He wants to point at the map for us again. Like we ain't studied it already." The two greenshirts were already looking at it.
BeachHead pointed at his two greenshirts as Ripcord and Snake Eyes walked up. "Miller, and Teryris.." pointing at a mid-sized young capable looking man, and then the slender black dangerous looking female. "Good recruits.. they both got plenty of jumps under their belts. This is Ripcord, good paratrooper, probably has jumped outa more planes than he's landed in.. and Snake Eyes.. I ain't gotta tell you anything about him." Ripcord grinned at the two, a bit larger at the lady.
Miller shifted a little further from the ninja standing there. Snake Eyes tried to look mostly harmless, the last thing he needed to do was panic a greenshirt into jumping out early.. like last time. He hadn't meant to sneak up on the young man.. he only meant to tap him on the shoulder to let him know BeachHead wanted him up front. At the sight of the ninja on top of him unexpectedly, the poor boy had jumped backwards right out of the open cargo door.. and BeachHead had needed to dive out after him, catching up in time to shake some sense into him, yell at him about being incompetent, then pull his chute cord. It had been the first time anyone remembered the drill sergeant getting to scream at a recruit while falling from thirty thousand feet.
He blinked and looked at the map dutifully when he caught Beach glaring at him. He'd get yelled at if he didn't at least seem to be paying attention. What was he doing up here anyway? He hated jumping out of planes. It always was such a bother, and half the time he jumped out and something would go wrong.. cross winds, tangled steering cords, trees.. trees with thorns especially.. big thorns.. he sighed. At least they'd be jumping and landing over desert. He'd probably land in a cactus patch.
BeachHead pointed at their jump location. "We'll jump here.. form up and glide to the east, that'll put the sun at our back too, for those that forget to read their compasses.." He glared at Miller who blushed. "Once we glide for the first sixty seconds, we hit our GPS recorders to mark our exact location, and pull the chutes."
Ripcord burst out suddenly. "Sixty seconds?? Isn't that being a bit overly cautious? We get two full minutes of freefall!"
BeachHead glared at him. "Sixty seconds. That's what the brass wants, that's what the brass is gettin. We'll make further jumps and other tests dependin' on how this here jump goes. So do it right, and maybe they'll let you play flying squirrel some other time." Ripcord still looked sulky. "Look Ripcord.. if you don't pull that danged chute on time, I'm gonna land on your head and pull it for ya, get me?!"
The paratrooper nodded in startlement. "Yeah yeah! I got it. I ain't gotta like it. Just a waste of a jump, we oughta be doing ninety seconds at least. Don't you think so? Hey, Snakes.. how long you think we should wait?"
The ninja held up all ten fingers. *Ten seconds.* Ripcord and Miller laughed, while Teryris and BeachHead both looked vaguely annoyed. *I don't like jumping out of planes.. we should land and get out, that's why planes have wheels.*
BeachHead shook his head. "Great.. one that wants to freefall to the ground, and one that don't wanna jump in the first place. How do you volunteer for these jumps if you don't wanna do it Snakes?" Snake Eyes reached over to put Ripcord's hand onto his own wrist and lifted it, then mimed being surprised. "Oooooh... yes.. you were volun-told. That's always fun. Anyway.. we got two minutes, shake your packs and get ready. Goggles and check your headsets. Snakes.. you got your clicker?"
The ninja made a face under his mask. The communications specialist Breaker had recently decided that he could run a wired clicker to Snake Eyes' glove and give him a way to at least send a click as a answer. One click for yes, two for no. If he really truly wanted to, he could send morse code with it, but in every instance he'd tried it in real practice, it had failed before he got a full message out. Then Breaker whined about him breaking the equipment. Snake Eyes stretched his arm out then grabbed at the air to bring the little button into place in his palm from it's spot in the glove and sleeve. He snapped it once and BeachHead tapped his own ear.
"Clear, and working fine. Gimme a 'no'." A double click, and the Ranger nodded. "Got it. You'll be the last to pull chute. I know I don't have to worry about you panicing, and if my chute goes, you're the only one who'll be able to catch me and help. I want Ripcord to pull first. I don't trust him to pull at one minute. He's gonna wanna do a long drop, I've heard he's been bragging about this jump." Snake Eyes nodded and fingered his straps again. "You're ain't really nervous 'bout jumpin', right?" He straightened and shook his head solidly. Whether he was or not, he had a reputation to uphold, and a ninja afraid of ANYthing would quickly become a laughingstock in the Pit.. deadly reputation notwithstanding.
They moved to the back of the cargo plane, and arranged themselves in a row. The paratrooper Ripcord stood in front, with the two greenshirts behind him, then Snake Eyes and finally BeachHead. They'd move into formation in a single line across once they were in the air. BeachHead triggered his mic and earpeice. "SOUND OFF!" His bellow carried over the noise over the plane's massive engines as the cargo door dropped open in front of them.
Flint checked in on the comm. He was ground control and linked to everyone. The Warrant Officer had somehow avoided being one to jump, but managed to be in charge. He usually stayed calm and gave credit to everyone involved however. As long as he didn't get into squabble with the irritable BeachHead, missions usually went smoothly with him in charge.
Snake Eyes gave a click to his button, staring out the door at the clouds beneath them. He felt the familiar tightening in his gut, his muscles tensed up despite all his training in relaxation techniques. There just was something inherently 'wrong' about jumping out of a plane. He swallowed hard, took a deep breath and began to pay attention to the earpiece conversation.
BeachHead: "Forming up, jumping in thirty seconds!"
Ripcord: "Go time baby!! Let's do it!"
Teryris: "Let's go! Last one down buys the beer!"
BeachHead: "Shut it! Get serious!"
Ripcord: "Yeah, grim it up! Beachie is serious stuff here!"
Beach: "Ripcord, I'm about to kick your rear out without a chute if you don't SHUT IT!"
Snake Eyes: ".."
Flint: "You guys clam up! Jumping in ten.. nine.. eight.."
Snake Eyes crossed himself twice, he wasn't catholic, or religious, but he was indeed superstitious and as long as he'd been jumping out of perfectly good planes.. or planes on fire for that matter.. he'd always crossed himself and he always lived. His instructor way back in the first Army training had made them all cross themselves.. and he wasn't going to stop doing something that might actually work, and certainly didn't hurt.
Flint's voice came through loudly. "..two.. ONE... GO!" Ripcord took two running steps and jumped hard, pushing off and yelling loudly in excitement. He was followed quickly by Miller with three exactly regulation steps and a jump, Teryris with a lunging run and jump and shriek, and then Snake Eyes took two long steps and pushed off hard. His powerful legs shot him out from the edge of the door, and he tucked his arms in, twisting himself around to orient himself to the earth far below. He listened to the yells over his headpiece, and opened his arms carefully, extending the flaps of material that ran to his knees from his wrists. The rushing air flapped the material wildly, snapping his pants legs against his skin almost painfully. The sleeves failed to catch the air, and he extended his arms out to the side, until they suddenly inflated with the wind and caught. Peering around, he stretched the material tighter and felt his fall rate slow considerably. He suddenly wondered how much longer the drop would be factoring in the slower rate of fall with the birdsuits.
BeachHead's voice came to him in his ear. "Teryris.. get yer arms out!" Snake Eyes looked for the others, and spotted Miller gliding to his right, Ripcord to the far side of him. Teryris's smaller form was below them, still plummeting too fast. BeachHead passed him suddenly, arms folded in tightly as he caught up to the female greenshirt. "GET YER DANGED ARMS OUT!!" His bellow almost seemed to visibly startle her and her limbs spread to slow her. She was still falling faster, her form dwindling as she pulled away. The Ranger slowed his own speed with his 'wings' held out.
Ripcord began to speak calmly. "Teryris.. put your legs together.. tighter.. it'll pull the fabric tight.. there ya go.. arms up more.. perfect.."
BeachHead adjusted to bring himself towards the center of the falling bodies, then up more to be above them. "Good going Ripcord.. everyone orient towards the east.. forty seconds.. "
Snake Eyes was surprised at how very maneuverable the suits made him. He easily shifted his aim, and then with a slight lean and tilt, he felt himself speed up, but in a more horizontal direction. Everyone stayed in formation easily and suddenly they were out of the clouds. The ground far below was moving aside in a disorienting manner, making even the ninja slightly dizzy for an instant, his eyes convinced briefly that the ground was moving and he was sitting still.
Flint's voice came in. "Twenty seconds.. you're making great distance.. everything's going perfect.. stay green.. stay cool.."
Snake Eyes let himself slow just enough to drift up higher than Ripcord and the greenshirts, staying just under BeachHead's elevation. Even turning your head affected your movements at the speed they were slipping through the air. He spread his fingers on his left hand when he turned to look towards the right, keeping himself in place. If it weren't for the certain knowledge that the unforgiving ground was rushing at him underneath, he could truly enjoy doing this.
BeacHead shouted. "Ten seconds.. sound off!"
A chorus of "Ready!" sounded, and there was an instant of silence.
BeachHead shouted again, sounding annoyed. "Snake Eyes! Sound off!" Belatedly, the ninja remembered to click the button held in his right hand once. "Finally.. nice of you to join us! Ripcord... pull! Miller, pull! Teryris, pull!" As he called them off, each jumper's chute streamed loose from their packs, making them disappear as they were snatched to a speed so much slower that they seemed to stop midair as the rest continued to plummet. BeachHead dropped to beside Snake Eyes.. "Two seconds.. and pull Snakes!" He snatched his own cord and yanked out of sight behind the ninja.
Time to stop this fall, and he reached to take hold of the chute cord, tucking both arms in to prevent himself from slewing sideways. A hard yank and he braced against the expected jerk, but nothing happened. For just a second he blinked and then looked at the loose cord in his hand.
"Snake Eyes! Pull yer chute!" He felt for the cord exit, and found nothing. The cord hadn't broken, the chute simply didn't deploy. Snake Eyes reached over his shoulder now, feeling the emergency release. It wasn't there, and that meant the pull cord had deployed perfectly, and it hadn't released the chute at all. He swallowed and reminded himself that these things happened. They carried reserves for a reason.
BeachHead sounded like he was angry now. "Snake Eyes!! PULL THE DANGED CHUTE!" Of course.. it wasn't that he wanted to float safely to the ground, he wanted to freefall.. idiot drill instructor.. Snake Eyes reached under to the reserve chute cord and fumbled it into his hand. Yanking it, he suddenly felt it give way and looked at the second cord intact in his hand. It was the classic one in a billion shot.. both chutes failing on one drop was nearly impossible. Trust him to have it happen.. he was just lucky. "PULL YER CHUTE YOU DANGED STUPID NINJA!!!"
He twisted himself over onto his back, spreading his limbs to slow himself, looking upwards at the others hanging from their chutes. He clicked the button twice, then twice again.
BeachHead sounded apoplectic. "Whadda mean 'no'?? PULL IT NOW!"
Ripcord suddenly broke in. "Snakes.. chute failure?" He clicked once. "Reserve failure?" Another single click.
BeachHead spoke up again. "Check the emergency release.. I'm dropping my chute and coming after ya now.."
Ripcord yelled at him. "NO!! You can't catch him.. it's too far.. Snakes.. Get the emergency flap open.. you gotta yank it.." Snake Eyes reached over his shoulder again, knowing it was hopeless. He saw BeachHead's chute suddenly collapse midair as he cut away. "BeachHead! You can't catch up!" The Ranger was dropping streamlined but was almost a dot against the sky. Snake Eyes double-clicked several times.
BeachHead snarled over the comm. "I can't get to ya.. dang it... slow yer fall!" Snakes flipped over and looked at the onrushing ground and sucked in a deep breath. Suddenly he pictured a flying squirrel and spread his arms, tucking his legs forward to catch as much air as possible. He started to tumble instead of glide and stretched out again. Once the fabric caught air, he leveled out more, until he was flying closer to parallel to the ground.
Flint came over the comm. "BeachHead!! Pull your reserve!! He's out of range! PULL YOUR RESERVE! THAT'S AN ORDER!"
The sergeant major cursed roundly. "Sorry... Snakes.. I'm sorry!" He snatched his reserve chute and was yanked to a stop, still peering at the plummeting figure. "He's gonna hit.. at least two klicks past the drop zone.."
Snake Eyes had stopped paying attention to the comm unit chatter, the voices trying uselessly to comfort him before he splattered across the landscape. He couldn't talk back, other than clicking yes or no, which was useless in helping him. He clenched his teeth and struggled to extend his arms higher, giving himself a little more lift.. a few more seconds of flight.. a few more seconds of life before he was crushed by gravity and earth.. his body lifted slightly and he felt himself slow a iota more.
Suddenly he looked at the ground speeding by.. rushing along like he was really flying.. a human jet speeding along over the level sands.. he tilted slightly and felt himself lift and slow a little bit more. Could he.... could he survive a fall? A fall from thirty thousand feet? He was nuts.. no one survived that.. tanks regularly were crushed landing with cargo chutes.. he was an eggshell in comparison. He arched his back a bit and gained inches back in his altitude. How long could he stretch the flight.. was every second really that precious? He pictured Scarlett's face and his vision blurred ever so slightly. His breath caught and he arched slightly and felt his airspeed slow again.
Was... was he going to stall out? Could he stall his flight? That's what hang gliders did.. they slowed as they reached the ground, and then lifted at the last second.. stalling out enough to land at a run... but his speed was insane.. and he had next to no lift.. and they... they weren't renowned ninja masters.. he was a falcon, speeding along over the earth, an eagle soaring in clean clear air....
He could fly.
He narrowed his eyes and stretched, lifting inch by inch, the warm air off the desert sands buffeting his body, coating him in sweat despite his cold skin from the high altitude he'd started at. He suddenly spotted the drop zone, only briefly as he sped over it at nearly five hundred feet. 'Overshot the drop zone' and he grinned despite himself. He was always overshooting the drop zones on his jumps.. this time.. they had no idea how accurate the term was. He was a human bullet.
He dropped his legs a little, and actually felt his body jerk upwards slightly, his speed slowing again. Too much too much too much.. he leveled his body.. struggling to get the air to catch again. The babble in his head became paniced and he clamped down on his fear. Only a couple of hundred feet up and the ground was unnervingly clear, slipping by under him innocently.. it looked so soft and gentle, rolling underneath his body.
Snake Eyes gave himself more lift.. trying to judge the stall point.. trying to continue to live another few seconds.. the ground began to rush up at him and he began to gasp in panic, forcing himself to remain still, continue to keep himself spread eagle when he wanted nothing more than to curl into a fetal position and scream in terror.
He dropped past a hundred feet.. ninty.. eighty.. he panted, just another second.. only a few more.. he didn't want to die.. not this way.. not falling from a plane.. he'd survived everything.. survived death so many times.. the ground was right there.. twenty feet under him and he whimpered silently and curled up involuntarily, instinctively seeking the safety of a mother's womb.. tumbling through the air towards the sands..
'gonna die gonna die gonnadie gonnadie diediedie...'
*THUD* He hit and tumbled.. sand exploding upwards, automatically his muscles jerked and he rolled and bounced upwards, flying end over end and hitting again before skipping back up into the air as he left the edge of a low dune.. he barrel-rolled too quickly to focus on anything, dizzy and disoriented. Then he smashed into the ground, rolling and tumbling, skipping like a stone over smooth water, trying to keep his limbs curled in enough to form himself into a ball to roll and not give resistance to the ground. His shoulder hit a boulder and he felt the breath leave his helpless body, felt the sharp pain as he plowed through a cactus patch.. "oh really, was that necessary?" ran through his head. Not enough to kill him falling from a unrealistic height, fate had to drag him through cactus on the way.
Finally he rolled to stop, flopping the last few times like a rag doll. He lay there on the burning hot sand staring upwards into the blue sky dotted with clouds. Blinking he thought of how much he'd miss.. being dead now. Then he blinked again. Dead people didn't blink.
Turning his head, he gazed at his right hand in disbelief. It.. it was attached. He lifted it and wriggled the fingers at himself. It worked. Checking his left hand, he found it worked as well. He dragged himself over onto his side and levered his torso up. Sitting upright, he looked back along the drag marks and divets he'd left in the landscape. Staring down at himself, he began to shake in reaction.
He lived. He was alive. On the safe wonderful ground no less. He panted in laughter at himself. He survived a fall from thirty thousand feet. He was undoubtedly The Baddest Ass Ninja Ever. Reaching down, he tugged a cactus leaf off his leg, wincing. He struggled upright, needing to stand, to prove to himself that he was alive. He shook sand off himself, and pulled another chunk of spiny cactus off. It would figure he'd land in cactus. A whole desert to land in, he found a patch of spiny cactus. He'd bet that no one else landed in cactus. He suddenly grinned. At least he didn't catch his head on fire. And not to forget.. he was ALIVE! He'd get to see his Scarlett again, get to taste Roadblock's meatloaf, watch BeachHead screaming at new recruits, feel the smooth draw of his muscles as he worked through katas early in the morning... he was thrilled, and drew the sweetest air in the universe into his lungs.
He was suddenly aware of the comm unit squawking. "Anyone have visual?! Anyone have visual?!" Flint sounded frantic. "I have no visual on the body!"
BeachHead's voice sounded choked. "He overshot.. he was going horizontal, it'd be at least five klicks past the landing zone.. to the east-northeast probably ten degrees off." There was silence for a second. "You'll probably find him in pieces.. don't let Scarlett go there.. you stop her.. she ain't gotta see that."
Snake Eyes stretched his arm out and caught the button, wondering if it still worked. He clicked it twice.
Ripcord's voice hit first, before the rest broke in.
"Was that him?!" "Check in check in!!" "Snakes?"
Flint broke in. "Positioning check!! Shut up! Clear the channel! Snakes.. is that you?" He clicked once. "Say again.. is this you?" He patiently clicked once. "Are you down?" He clicked once.. waited and clicked twice. "Umm... okay.. do you know your position? Is your GPS signal working? Can you activate it?" Looking at the GPS signaler, Snakes gave it a few pokes and finally it began to blink silently. "GOT HIM! I got a signal! Move it out! Medic! Man down, get to the following coordinates.." He rattled off numbers.
Ripcord and BeachHead with both greenshirts reported landing and cleared the channel. Snake Eyes twisted his neck some, feeling the joint pop and snap. He trudged up to the top of the closest sand dune, peering in the distance for the oncoming Humvees.
They came flying over a dune, bouncing roughly. He smiled suddenly and arranged himself in a casual stance, hands on hips. Baddest Ass Ninja Ever. He sniffed slightly, feeling a bit of blood trickle from his nose. Battered? Yes. Alive? Hell yes. As they got closer, he gave a casual wave at them.
Flint's voice sounded incredulous. "HE'S ALIVE! Holy blazes!! Snake Eyes is alive! He looks fine!! How the heck??!" The Humvees skidded to a stop just below him in the sand, and Flint leapt out, followed by Lifeline and Clutch. CoverGirl and Roadblock piled out of the second vehicle, staring at him. Flint's voice shook a little as he stared at the man who should by all rights be a smear on mother Earth. "How... how did you survive that fall?"
Snake Eyes tilted his head slightly, lifting a hand to brush sand casually from his chest before he signed a reply.
*I'm a ninja.. we do these things.*
* * * *
Later.. much much later that night. He'd gotten stared at by nearly everyone, checked over thoroughly by Doc and Lifeline, who both proclaimed him the luckiest person ever, finding bruises, strains, and cuts, with a slightly bruised lung from the initial impact. They also removed at least thirty cactus spines from various spots on his body, including two in places he'd really rather not think about.
Scarlett curled around his body in the bed, sighing softly and stroking his chest. He reached to touch his black eye, feeling the slight swelling. At least his bruises would all be hidden under his clothing and mask. He nuzzled into the red hair spread over the pillow they were sharing.
"Snakes.. don't ever scare me like that again. What were you thinking?"
He smiled at her face, wiping the track of tears away with his fingers. *Mostly I was thinking I would die in a few seconds. And I wanted to live to see you again.*
She smiled back at him. "My crazy ninja. Everyone in the Pit thinks you're indestructible, you realize that?" He shrugged at her. "I should steal all your clothes.. make you show everyone all the bruises on you."
He frowned. *You better not. My reputation just grew. And I'll take bruises, I should be bits and pieces. Ninja brand fertilizer.*
She shivered. "Stop.. that's not funny."
He held her. *No.. it wasn't very funny until I realized I was still alive. Ripcord checked the chute pack. He says the chute was tucked in slightly rolled, hung up on the seams. Just a stupid careless accident.*
She hugged him tightly enough to make him wince at the pressure on his bruised ribs. He coughed slightly and she turned loose and propped herself up to look at him. "You okay? Sorry. That would have been the stupidest way to die.. after everything you've been through."
He grinned. *I thought that during the fall. If I went splat, StormShadow would have been appalled at my poor taste in my choice of dramatic deaths.*
She snorted and flopped back down, drawing the blanket up over them both. "Yeah.. StormShadow can kiss my southern butt. He needs to get over himself anyway. Besides, he's never fallen from several thousand feet with no chute and survived. So he's second best officially now."
Snake Eyes smiled widely. *Baddest, Ass, Ninja, Ever.* Scarlett laughed at his deserved conceit.
"Yes, I'm so lucky. I have the best non-squished ninja in the world. Now go to sleep, Squishy."