Posted by: David Weimer | August 2, 2010

Excerpted from the short story “Ohgod.”

This is an excerpt from my short story Ohgod written in 1994 as a senior at the University of Pittsburgh.

I’d tandem skydived before, twice, and had the unexpected experience of becoming bored while free-falling from 14,200 feet for a mile or so at 120 miles-per-hour.  After a terrifying leap into the void, I found myself looking around, bored.  I  became irritated at my painfully popping ears.  I wasn’t able to bring in my hand to plug my nose and blow.  I yawned constantly.  It didn’t help.

Later, I thought about the momentary times where I’d felt more alive than ever.  They were usually when I had experienced a ‘warm fuzzy’ moment, as my former framing carpenter boss called those almost-incidents where you almost died falling off the edge of a roof or something like that.  In those times when I pushed the limits of comfort and safety; the first jump out the turboprop’s door, climbing too high, driving too fast, diving too deep for too long–that kind of thing.

And then I thought about the search for ultimate meaning in one’s life.  How could you really, really live that ‘super real living’ for more than a few seconds?  Men in battle, who have lived through battle with mortal fear, talk about that time as having been the most real time in their lives.  Not enjoyable necessarily.  Real.  And if you didn’t want to fight in a war?  What could you do to put yourself in a position where you couldn’t possibly become complacent?  What about a suicide with some time to think?  Okay.  So I wrote this one about a girl jumping into a volcano on Mars.  The full-length story has a longer lead-in and a more… developed ending.  I plan to have it appear in my upcoming book, Born to Wonder.

Well, I’ve recently returned from several weeks overseas visiting my wife’s family and country.   Now, back in the saddle again, I’ll be more of a consistent presence on this site, posting about once a week.   –D.W.

Olympus MonsOhgod

It is the largest known shield volcano in the solar system.  Its summit caldera, from which the magma last poured, is 70 kilometers across.  The volcano rises 27 kilometers from the surface, and was last active 200 million years ago.  For reasons not understood, Olympus Mons is surrounded by a cliff that is several kilometers high.

….Below her, an almost solid haze.  Aura backed several steps from the edge.

Hyperventilating, her heart pounded in her head and an electric tingling ran over her body in a wave.  Light-headed, she took deep breaths behind her face shield.  Despite the special coating, the clear oval fogged briefly with each breath.  Aura ran.

With her fingers spread wide, her arms reaching forward, she leaped, pushing off with her right toe, the last part of her body to leave.

This is what it was like:

There were no aerodynamics— she was a dropped rock in a low-g vacuum.  She had jumped out as far from the edge as she could.  Now falling head-first and sideways, out of control, listing, turning over in a slow flip on her back.  No glide-plane surfaces to ease her through the Martian air.  No conscious thoughts, but a single-minded concentration, Aura stretched out her arms and legs to form an “X” shape, looking down, arching her back.  She was assuming the position necessary for a controlled fall.

The falling, God.  It wasn’t like she imagined; she was dropping without grace.

She arched more.  Her arms and legs were spread and bent.  She knew it had to work.  Gradually, a firm, solid stabilizing presence materialized, pressing itself against her front.  She was a falling leaf, of solid rock, lying on a roaring motionless cloud.  Aura opened her eyes and gave a short scream.

Steel gray, rushing what seemed like mere inches from her face, was the blurred surface of the cliff!

She had spun around; she had to get away, back out into the void.

Freefall in low gravity, in the thin atmosphere of Mars…

“When you want to turn like a wheel falling on its side, move your hands like flippers; make small adjustments—keep your form and make those small correcting movements.  If you do too much, you’ll spin.”

The voice of her skydiver instructor from the activities simulator played back in her mind.  She pulled in her left hand.

And saw the cliff move away as she spun, clockwise.  The sky blinked dark, than light, then dark, as she found herself facing first the fuzzy caldera, then the wall.  Aura put her arm back out.  Stabilize.  Try again.  She was breathing hard.  She pulled her hand in and then back out again.  Facing void.  Facing away.  Now!  She had to get into the safety of the haze.  Safety!

“Like an atmospheric plane or a diving bird; when you want to move forward, you have to trim your form.  It’s easy, but the thing with moving laterally is that you lose altitude fast, so if you’re going to do a lot of sightseeing, be sure to watch your altimeter.”

Aura wondered what her instructor’s reaction would be if he were beside her right now; without a universal altimeter or required emergency gravity brake.  Unable to turn her head, she rotated left and right, sensing it out of the corner of her eyes.  She lined up and formed a delta wing for a two hundred count.  If she was right, she would find out soon enough.  Getting away from the cliff, avoiding being smeared along a stretch of sharp rock cliff was her first concern.

“Just keep your arms by your sides, like this, making a “V.”

Aura had practiced this maneuver, but only in the simulator with her instructor floating by her side, talking to her through a comlink.  She imagined that he was still there, with the cliff a dark menace behind her—far behind her, hopefully.

“—with your head like the point of an old jet.  Steady—keep those palms down—okay, good; your arms stay extended by your sides.  Good.  You want to keep everything even so you don’t list and tumble.  That’s all there is to it—don’t turn your head like that; keep it straight.  Okay, so this’ll give you forward movement.  It’ll also increase your rate of descent almost half again, so once again, get where you want to go and return to your stable form.  Don’t burn up the air; you want a nice, long ride, every time.”

That’s for sure.  Aura slowly let her arms move back out. She stabilized, then pulled in one arm, deliberately spinning.  She kept her hand pulled in, looked down to make sure it was at her chest where she felt she was holding it.  Another fear jolt ran through her. Dizzy…  Aura put her back out in front, returning to her “X” position.  The dizziness subsided.  The haze obscured her vision.  Landmarks.  Nothing.  Just pressure.  All connection with place-sense was gone.  She was floating in a sea of nothingness with the hiss of the wind in her pickups and a solid pressure supporting her.  Aura looked down.  Alone.  Nothing.  Maybe she wasn’t even falling…

She glanced at the large green changing luminous numbers of her wrist chrono:  3:15…3:16…3:17….  She might have as long as her torch… ten minutes…  Time.  There wasn’t much time.

In the placeless void, falling on automatic, the young woman relaxed into her rapid descent.  She pulled in her right arm again; an odd sensation registering in her eyes, a pressure, and slight nausea.  She knew that she was spinning.  She put her arm back out and made an “X” out of her body.  She closed her eyes.

They would never discover that she had actually enjoyed her life, that she had not begrudged it at all.  Not one minute.  They would wonder if she had been depressed.

“Aura.”

A voice.  Was it the same?  She couldn’t tell.

“Aura, you may be falling toward a locked door.  This may be the end.  You could be on an irreversible course—”

“Shut up.”

At her own quietly mouthed words, the musical voice in her head stopped.  Since she could no longer gage her body orientation, it seemed that her thoughts, her emotional environment, nothing—was any longer concretely hers.  Her thoughts were no longer hers…  If they ever were.

6:48…6:49…6:50.

Time. Time.  Time…

A squirt of fear:

There had been a blast of adrenaline just before she moved to leap, millennia ago.  She had always assumed that she would find out.  That it would be inevitable.  It was the inevitable part of dying, wasn’t it?

“You could be locking yourself out… forever…”

“No!”

She had done this so that her attention would be forced to remain on the moment, the profound, the immediate:  Now.  Now, she was only aware of her breathing.

She couldn’t get a deep enough breath!  Calm now, remain calm, she reminded herself.  Her virosuit’s oxygen reserves would engage soon, once the air circulating around her becomes rarified…

Dead end!

No!  Breathe slowly, concentrate.

Fear.   Inescapable.  Unavoidable.  Undeniable.  FEAR.

Fear.  Okay, yes.

A cold writhing flame consuming her belly.  She needed to curl up to smother it.  But there was no way to…

She was falling.  She would die alone!  Oh God; she had dived off this cliff and would be forgotten.

Fear.

The thin roar holds her immobile.

Fear.

Fear is—

This is what happened:

Aura was unable to force her fear to retreat.  She couldn’t overcome it.  The fuel that feeds fear is limitless, and this young woman was riding on a solid cushion of it, carried like a great wave carries particulate.  In the screaming of her mind and the knowledge of loss, she finally stopped. Utterly still.

Something broke.  She was free.  She no longer struggled.  She was at an unexpected plateau.  It was peace.  Serenity.  Acceptance.  This had required a tremendous struggle.  A swimmer, in a daze, climbs from the turbulent sucking water without thinking.  And then, they are dry and warm, resting under a sun, feeling the warmth on their skin.  How can this…?

Is this all?

Listen:

My life isn’t mine.

Aura’s wide-angle panorama was closing in, darkening, focusing to a point.  She was far inside the volcano, leaving the world behind.

The thrumming of the wind against her was familiar.  It had always been so.

She knew that she was motionless.

The Martian volcano was opening up to receive her.

Aura’s limbs were stinging and numb from the cold seeping in through the joints of her suit.  A brief pain in her head as her ears popped again.  The suit’s integrity—

Behind her face shield, Aura swallowed dryly to equalize the pressure difference between her head and the artificial suit environment.

DECOMPRESSION IMMINENT her suit flashed across her face shield.  It pulsed in time with her heart.

Aura brought her tired arms in to her sides, her thumbs pointed toward the rush beneath her.  Light-headed.  Sparkles in her vision.  The oxygen shunt was…seizing, malfunctioning.  A sharp acrid taste in her mouth now as she breathed in shallow breaths the suit’s failing atmosphere.

A ringing sound that grew gradually louder until it pushed aside her vision; a field of pure white that moved and erased all in its wake.  Sound, vision, and sensation— all melded into taste.  Her thoughts marched one by one across her mind, and then ceased.

The hand that had held her so firmly spread its fingers so gently to let her tumble slowly into motion, and…

Rock.

In twelve minutes, thirty-five seconds, Aura Minehold traveled to where she had always wanted to be ****** loved, to be folded inside warm blankets and carried away forever on gentle waves.  She had always wanted to belong.

Control.

Whether it was Albert or Eliza, or her parents, her classmates, her boyfriends; they had always wanted to take away where she could go, what time she could be there, what she could do…

And her insistence on self-control had gotten her far.  To this place.  To go still farther, she abandoned her precious control.

To leap into the void; she had acted to allow no other event to have as great an impact on her as her falling.  She has let go of control.

TIME TIME TIME TIME TIME TIME.

TIME.  COMPLACENCY RULES.  I’M ADAPTING TOO QUICKLY.  VOICES AND DEATH IS NOW “NORMAL.”  PART OF ME SCREAMING.  TIME TO DIE.  DIE.

WITH ENDURANCE-EYES, ENTER THE PROFOUND, PLEASE!!…  BUT I AM DYING TO AVOID DISTRACTIONS!!!

VOICE. whispered…

“Am I in your mind?”

(This question gets through)

SOMETHING SOLID CAPTURES HER ATTENTION:  THERE IS NO TIME.

A point of light hovers to her right, an arm’s length away.  She reaches, stretching.  Dizzy.  Spinning, she reaches as far as she can and then lets go.  So bright.  She should have known.  About falling, about dying and everything.

Teeth clenched in a grin behind her face shield, she reaches again…

CONCENTRATE.  EVERYTHING IS COMING.  GROUND RUSHING.  NO… NO!  NOT YET…

“There are only these few moments,” the voice said.

She knows.

Finally.

Her virosuit not designed for ‘diving.  It had none of the billowy material from arms to torso and between legs; no repulsors to facilitate a survivable landing; no hope of her again watching the ‘divers practicing maneuvers in their wind tunnels, half a world away.

In her free fall, Aura had become.  Is this what it was all about?  Like other things, too much build up, she realized.

Falling 56 kilometers at a rate of 280 kilometers per hour, with a malfunctioning respirator and wearing an virosuit with no glide/collector surfaces— through an almost airless space into a thinly, wind-swept extinct shield volcano.  Wind currents…

HERE IS THE CUSP:     ONLY TWO THINGS CAN HAPPEN.  SHE WILL DIE, AND THERE WILL BE A SORT OF REALIZATION JUST BEFORE OR DURING OR AFTER THE IMPACT… OR, THERE WILL BE NO REALIZATION.  THE STORY WILL END BEFORE SHE HITS.

THERE IT IS: AN UNSURPRISING “EPIPHANY” ENDING, OR ONE THAT FINISHES FLAT.  WE CAN EXPECT ETERNAL LIFE OR DEATH ON IMPACT.  REALIZATION, OR REALIZING THERE IS NO REALIZATION…  WHAT HAPPENS TO OPEN OUR EYES AND MINDS?  THE TIME THAT DIES INSIDE US…

(c) 1994 David W. Weimer

Olympus Mons 2

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