Matt Archer: Blade's Edge
By Kendra Highley
To be released in December/January 2013
"Gentlemen, we’re going to be departing the aircraft shortly, so everyone get set,” Colonel Black hollered.
My breakfast rose in my throat. The colonel must’ve seen the look on my face because he chuckled as he drew a black watch-cap over his salt-and-pepper hair. The dude was six-five and solid muscle and, from the look of things, not the least bit concerned about jumping out of the plane…which made me feel like a wuss.
“Oxygen on,” the jump-master barked. “Eight-thousand feet.”
I sighed and put on a mask like the ones you see in hospitals. We were jumping from high enough up that we had to breath pure oxygen from the plane’s air-system until we switched to the tanks we’d wear on the way down. Uncle Mike explained this was to keep us from getting the bends from the altitude drop.
“So,” Colonel Black called to me, his voice muffled by his plastic breathing mask, “where are you this week?”
“Greece. Field trip for that ‘gifted and talented’ program General Richardson cooked up as my cover,” I said. “So far, so good. If my mom knew I was really jumping out of airplanes at high altitudes to hunt monsters, I think my number would be up.”
“Speaking of jumping…” Mike nodded at me. “You got that thing strapped on tight enough?”
My hand flew to the buckles and clasps holding my parachute pack to my back. “God, I hope so. Does it look loose?”
On my right, Lieutenant Johnson said, “Kid, the major’s just yanking your chain. You tighten those straps any more and you’ll cut off your own arm.” His laugh rumbled louder than the engine. “Stop worrying so much. You’re ready for this.”
“I’ve only done practice jumps, not combat.” I settled back against the wall and glared at Uncle Mike. “Just because you’ve jumped out of a perfectly good airplane into mountains doesn’t mean I have. I’m allowed to be extra careful.”
Mike’s brown eyes crinkled up at the corners. Mine did the same thing when I was laughing at someone else. “Chief, what did you think being part of the 10thAirborne meant? The word ‘Airborne’ kind of gives it away.”
Schmitz, my hunting instructor, piled on. “Hooah, Major Tannen. We live to jump, sir!”
“That mean you’re going second today, Master Sergeant?” Mike yelled.
“Amen to that, sir!” Schmitz danced in his seat a little. The smallest member of our squad, Schmitz was wiry and less than medium height, his hair a five-o’clock shadow barely hiding his skull. He also practically buzzed with energy. “You hear that, ladies? I get to go second.”
“Not sure that’s a good idea, man. You’re so short, we won’t be able to spot you in the snow and one of us is bound to land on you,” Lieutenant Johnson said.
Schmitz made a face but his retort was cut off because the jump-master stood to start the ready-protocol. Using a special set of hand signals, he motioned for us to prepare. The roar of the engines changed pitch and I felt the plane jerk as the pilots slowed so they could kick us out.
The jump-master gestured for us to stand and hook our parachutes to the anchor cable, shouting, “Green in ninety seconds.”
“You heard the man. Last check on equipment,” Colonel Black yelled.
My stomach did flips. “When do I go?”
“I’ll go first, then Schmitz, then you,” Uncle Mike said. He wasn’t kidding around anymore—his voice was tight and sharp. “Johnson will come behind you. Then the rest of the team.”
We took off our oxygen masks, lined up and clipped our chute lines to the wire suspended from the side of the plane. Schmitz was right in front of me, behind Mike, standing with his head bowed.
“Our Lady, bless us and keep us,” he murmured. “In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” He did the sign of the cross then let loose a bloodcurdling “Hooooo-aaaahhhh!”
The praying didn’t calm me down much. Too late to back out now, though, because the ramps at the rear of the aircraft opened. The sky yawned through the wide-open hatch and sunlight glinted off the metal around the edges of the ramps.
The jump-master signaled “stand by.”
Oh, man, this was it.
Mike turned around, his face totally intense. “Yellow light. Masks on.”
I slapped my jump-mask into place on my helmet and a plastic smell invaded my nostrils as the oxygen started to flow from my reserve tank. Shouts of “Hooah” came from every which way, while my heart slammed around like a marlin caught in a net.
“Countdown!” the jump-master shouted. “In five…four…three…two…one. Green light. Go, go, go!”
Mike ran down the ramp, dragging his chute line, then leapt from the airplane with hands folded over his reserve chute’s ripcord. By the book. Seconds later, his chute opened.
Schmitz followed, screaming “Geronimo, you mother…!”
The last of whatever he had to say got drowned out in the howling wind.
Johnson gave me a shove. “Go, kid!”
I drew a huge breath and held it, ran, jumped, soared off the ramp just like I’d been taught in jump school. I braced myself for the pull of the chute as it slowed me down.
The tug never came.
My parachute didn’t open.