For the final portion of this rather epic Flash Fiction Challenge Chuck Wendig has been running, I chose to finish the intriguing tale Velocity, started by Mark Gardner and continued by LC Finney. I hope they, and you, enjoy how I finish the story.
Part 1 (by Mark Gardner)
I rush to you with my eyes open wide. I’ve protected you for years, but now you’re my undoing.
I gaze at the weapon clutched in my hand. My knuckles white with exertion. I cling to what’s familiar, but it mocks me. A tool for keeping the peace used in such a profane manner.
I tried to stop them, but I wasn’t good enough. I did my duty with honor.
“Velocity two meters per second squared. Dispatching rescue drone.”
I snort at my ‘assistant.’ Or as much of a snort you can muster while falling. I’m reminded of a quip my partner said once: When trouble breaks out, the assistants break down. I kept up with all the maintenance, followed all the procedures. When the damn thing broke, I requisitioned a replacement.
I’d seen old videos of skydivers. They fall spread-eagle for maximum drag, but I’ve already reached terminal velocity. The problem is, they had a parachute. It’s been said, It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the sudden stop at the end. It’s amazing what trivialities the mind conjures in a situation like this.
“Rescue drone deployed. Calculating time until intercept.”
It’s amazing I can hear the thing with the wind rushing over me. The sound is intense. If it weren’t for my cochlear implant, I’d never know if help was on the way. The implant inputs audio directly into my auditory cortex and detects the vibrations of the tympanic membrane in my ear when I speak.
“Drone inbound. Estimated time until arrival, thirty-seven seconds.”
“Assistant.” I said. “Access geolocation. Estimate time until impact.”
I hear the beep. “Five thousand nine hundred eighty seven feet until impact. Estimated time, thirty-three seconds.”
I feel tears briefly – the wind steals them and their meaning from me. The sky is so clear, I can see for miles and miles. Below, the patchwork of ground creates a mosaic. It would be beautiful if it didn’t mean my death.
Resigned to my fate, I holster my weapon. I suspect if the wind wasn’t biting my clothing, I might try to straighten my tie and jacket. If I have to be a corpse, I’d prefer to be a handsome corpse.
“Impact immanent. Reduce speed immediately.”
No shit. I think as I see less and less of the mosaic below. I squeeze my eyes and think about what led me here.
Part 2 (by LC Feeney)
Gemma. Well, to be fair, not Gemma herself, but a need to impress her.
I’d always wanted to be special, to make something of myself. I’d lapped up all the propaganda, the adventure and romance they promised, the whole “be part of something bigger, something important” crap the recruiters feed you. When I’d signed up, I’d envisioned myself as something of a white knight, a superhero, a great defender of the clueless, unwashed masses. I’d risen through the ranks pretty quickly, and when I met Gemma, it seemed like a sign from God that I was on the right track, that we were meant to be. She was perfect in every way and I was determined to be worthy of her attention, her affection.
I focused on the memory of our last encounter, determined that my dying thoughts would be of her. Her short, coppery hair had fallen into her eyes, like it always did when she leaned down to kiss me, and she’d tasted of coconut curry and good beer from our supper. Our lovemaking had been slow, comfortable, familiar, and she had snuggled down into the crook of my arm afterward, so small and pale and smooth. I’d tried not to wake her as I’d gathered my gear and dressed in the dark, but she’d thrown on my carelessly discarded shirt from the day before and walked me to the door. She always did that, wearing my shirts around the house when I was away. She said she could smell me when she wore them, and it kept her from being lonely.
What would I have done differently, if I’d known that that would be the last time I’d ever touch her, ever kiss her? Would I have held her in my arms a little longer, kissed her a little more slowly, looked more deeply into her eyes as I said my goodbyes? Would I have tried to tell her how much I love her, or how my life had changed for the better since I’d met her? Would I have left her with some pithy, memorable line that she could recite, through tears, at my memorial service or have engraved on my headstone? Or would I have just driven away, like I had done so many times before, so as not to give her any unnecessary grief?
How much time did I have left? Could I send her a message?
“Assistant, contact Gemma,” I shouted, suddenly desperate to connect with her one last time.
An eternity of waiting, then a reply. “Gemma is unavailable. Would you like to leave a message?”
“No.” The tears sprang to my eyes again. It was a stupid, selfish idea anyway. She didn’t need to hear me die. It was better this way. At least, for her.
I willed my breathing to slow and my mind to focus on Gemma again, standing in the doorway wrapped in my dress shirt, blowing me kisses and waving as I pulled away from the curb.
My salary isn’t great. I’d only ever been able to afford a landcar for personal use. Not one of the fancy aircars that the rich or influential often get their hands on, making low flights across vast expanses of home on leisurely drives.
As the ground speeds towards me, the sun reflects off of the windscreen of one such aircar. I can’t tell how far up it might be, but from the way its moving, it isn’t on ground level.
And that gives me an idea.
My path to the aircraft from which I’d made my ill-advised exist hadn’t been a linear one. The operation, as laid out for me, involved infiltrating the hideout and gathering intel to feed back to my partner, who would in turn encrypt and burst-transmit it to HQ for analysis. We wanted to surprise these so-called ‘freedom fighters’, but one of them took a wrong turn towards the bathroom and found me in the tiny kitchen’s dumbwaiter. I’d managed to shoot three of them before getting shoved out the door. Not my proudest moment – dead guys can’t tell us where they buy their biowarheads.
I have about twenty seconds. I draw my weapon again, and dig around in one of the pouches on my belt, normally concealed by my suit’s jacket. The grappling equipment disables the weapon’s main functions and has a variety of attachment options, including a rather powerful rare-earth magnet. If that aircar isn’t a fancy carbon-fiber racing model – and judging by its leisurely pace, I’d say it isn’t – I can latch onto it. The grappler can reel me in, and I can get the driver to put me down on the ground safely, rather than letting me splatter.
That is, of course, provided the whiplash from the change in my velocity doesn’t break my neck or my spine.
It takes me five seconds to attach the grappler, another two to lock in the magnet, one more to enable the auto-reel. I spread my arms again to possibly by a couple of seconds back. The aircar is doing slow, lazy loops over the countryside. Someone’s sightseeing or taking photos. That makes my job easier, but then I get close enough to see just how far up they are.
Just a couple hundred feet.
This is going to be close.
“Warning. Impact in ten seconds.”
“Thanks for nothing,” I tell the assistant.
The grappler’s got about twenty meters of braided monofilament line in its spool. I try to eyeball the distance, the ways in which aircar is moving, and how many seconds I have left. I hold my breath, blink away tears, and wait an agonizing three seconds.
The aircar passes under me at the right angle. I pull the trigger.
I don’t remember the next second. Every goes violently black.
I come to gripping the gun as it reels me in. The driver of the aircar is turned halfway around, eyes as big as satellite dishes.
I show my badge.
“Got a phone?”