The explosion shook the air throughout the cabin.
“Less than a minute ‘till we reach the drop point, boys!” Shouted the Sergeant. He was straining his voice to its vocal limits, but it could barely be heard through the chaos.
“We’re in the thick of it now!” Shouted Frank as another blast detonated just outside. He had a maniacal twinkle in his eye and a crooked smile on his face. “Get some!”
Jack looked back at his buddy, not sharing a single shred of his confidence. What the fuck am I doing here? I’m not a soldier! I don’t want to die! His mind was racked with such thoughts of fear and dread, but outwardly he tried to hold a stoic and serious composure.
“Silent Jack is ready to attack, eh!” Franks face was lit by a blinding flash followed with a deafening explosion. This thing’s going down before we even jump!
Around the cabin, men—boys would be a more accurate description—were preparing for deployment. They had accumulated from all over, trained together, worked together, and crossed the ocean together. They had made it up this far, and now there was only one way back down to earth. They were set to rain down through the hell-fire of the enemy amidst explosions, shrapnel, and flash-bangs. “Hey, I just realized; no matter what happens up there, we’re gonna come back down.” Frank had joked in poor taste during basic training.
It was a suicide mission. Life’s a suicide mission.
Jack looked at his comrades, some of whom, like Frank, he had grown up with playing in the stream. Many were acting exactly as he was; their faces were stern and their movements where minimal. But Jack had an inkling that they were all scared as shitless as he was. Even Frank, for all his hooting and hollering, was terrified; he showed it with giddy energy.
“THIRTY SECONDS!” Screamed the Sergeant, “Remember: Rendezvous Point, Ocean Blue!”
He’s probably the only one of us that’s not afraid. The warrior had been through multiple jumps in the summer campaign: a true veteran. Comrades always marveled at his ability to slip past the enemy fire like water through the fingers of a cupped hand. But the Sergeants best kept secret was that he was every bit as terrified as his men. Conversations with Death are frightening whether you’re new acquaintances or life-long friends.
A couple seats down, a fellow from the Gulf area was holding a small picture of his wife and child. A look of determination was on his face. “I promised I would hold my son at least once before I’m dead,” he had told Jack, “I ain’t gonna die. I’m a man of my word. So I can’t die, ya see?” Jack hadn’t argued.
“I don’t want to go!” There it was. What was on everyone’s mind had finally been shouted by Skip, the smallest and youngest of the group. No one looked at him. To see the kid rocking in his seat, at nerves’ end, and weeping hysterically was too much like looking into a mirror. There was no time for such behavior, but no one could bring themselves to stop him—their empathy was overwhelming.
“There’s always one,” Jack heard the Sergeant mutter, “Listen up Skip! I know you’re scared. I know you never thought you’d be here. I know you don’t think you’re a soldier. I know you don’t want to die. But you are a soldier! ” He wasn’t just addressing Skip now, “I can’t promise you’ll make it through this, or that anyone—myself included—will make it through this. But I can promise you you’re dead if you stay up in these clouds. So you can either die crying for your mommy, or die fighting to see her again. What’s it gonna be?”
Several men muttered “Hoorah,” to themselves. Jack’s mind wandered away from the tumult around him and turned to memories of his family. I’m gonna see you again.
The warmth of his memories was violently ripped back to reality by an explosion so near, Jack was thrown from his seat. He looked around, but his vision was blurred. Focusing with all his might, he saw that they had been hit!
“Now or never, boys!” Bellowed the Sergeant as the floor opened beneath them.
The world outside was dense with black clouds and flashes of light. Jack saw thousands upon thousands of fellow soldiers like a torrential rain falling toward the Earth. Men he had never met and knew nothing about were flying through the air, risking their lives. Their unified valor gave him strength. Jack felt an urge to prove himself worthy to be among them. He looked to Frank, who was already staring back at him. Jack tried to yell something to his dearest friend, but words failed him.
“Tell me when we get there!” Screamed Frank. He gave Jack a solid nod and a wicked smile before bellowing his best Rebel Yell and jumping.
If we get there. Thought Jack.
He felt a hand clasp his shoulder. It was the Sergeant.
“We’re going down, son. You’ve gotta get out of here!” Lifting Jack up, he added, “I’ll be right behind you. Now!”
The jump was a blur of movement. Jack had no idea which way was up or down as he tumbled to Earth. Explosive thunder boomed all around him. Light bolted across the sky. Jack could hear the wind whirling around him. As he approached the surface, one thought repeated in his mind, The Ocean. The Ocean. The Ocean. The final rendezvous of all raindrop soldiers.