The Cloud

The lightning slides over my bare skin like a silk-fiberglass blend. I only refrain from wincing because what comes next will be worse. Falling through a cloud is like being blasted in the face by a very cold steam-kettle: soft and wet and a little face-melting.

I’ve been falling for 13 seconds now - my hand keeps steady time as I count. I hope I leave the cloud soon - I’m already traveling at my terminal velocity of ~40 m/s, which means I’ve gone about 20 * 13 = 260 m since leaving the lightning. The wind is rushing past and it’s cold up here. I have a maximum of about a minute left before I leave the storm-cloud, but it could be at any second.

I fish the wind-rope from my mouth with one hand, keeping careful hold of it. This wind-rope is rated for 750 newtons for up to 5 minutes. At my mass, that’s 70 newtons net, counting gravity, which is almost exactly -1 m/s^2. I peer into the mist ahead, waiting to see clear air.

Finally, I hit the lower boundary of the cloud layer at 34 seconds, passing instead into heavy rain. It’s only because I’m falling just as fast beside it that it doesn’t get in my eyes. I use one hand to put the hoops of the wind-rope over the thumb, index, and pinky fingers of the other. Untying the knot in the center, wind blasts forth from the wind-rope, shoving my arm back in it’s socket before I stabilize it by grabbing my wrist. This is the best part of the journey, in my opinion. The wind doesn’t buffet me as badly, and I have time to just watch for the ground. In 40 seconds, I will travel another 40/20 * 40 = 800 meters, bringing me almost to the ground if this cloud is typical.

When I spot the temple, I angle my wrist a bit to jet towards it. It’s always tricky to spot exactly how far away it is, but I think I have another 300 meters or so. I feather the wind-rope left and right, trying simultaneously to stay on target with the temple’s brightly-colored landing pad, and not to keep in the air too long. The wind-rope can accelerate a jumper enough to slow their fall, but that also means it can accelerate them right back into the storm if they dilly-dally on their landing. A lot of rookies die trying to make their approach perfect, instead of just survivable.

With about 7 meters between me and the landing pad, I flick the wind-rope off my fingers with practiced ease, bringing my hands up to cradle my head as I try to make sure I come down feet-first, or at least on my back. The wind jets around me as the wind-rope tumbles, driving rain into my face and sending sheets dancing across the wet ground.

Although I am used to every part of a lightning-jump by now, my least favorite part is the actual landing. My feet smack into the soft-wet surface of the landing tarp, followed quickly by my knees and then my back. When it is over, I am lying at the bottom of a deep furrow in the pillowed material of the pad, rainwater collecting around me, sliding down the surface of the tarp’s oil-cloth. I feel it running down my skin, pooling over my stomach. I focus on my breathing as I push the adrenaline down. When I feel I can move again, I clamber off of the landing pad, slipping and sliding my way into the covered porch. An attendant is waiting there with a warm, soft white robe and a pot of ginger tea. Goddess, as much as I hate jumping, it’s great when it’s over.

I shiver as I dry myself, gingerly wiping the rain away with the robe before donning it. The fractional hair that I had accumulated has been burnt away by the lightning again, leaving me smooth from the top of my head to the soles of my feet. The one good thing about that is that I dry off quickly. In just a few minutes, I am warm and dry, changed into a tunic and leggings, and waiting with my tea in front of the temple’s fireplace.

Minutes later, I give my memorized message to the high priestess.

Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, so long as we have lightning.

Author’s Notes

Mir weighs 69.4 kg, so it takes 231 newtons to counteract their acceleration due to gravity.

Mir stands at 163 cm, and is ~40 cm across. Cross-sectional area: 6520 cm^2. This gives a terminal velocity of ~40 m/s with a drag coefficient of 1.25 - about that of a spread-eagled sky diver.

Mir is nonbinary, AFAB, asexual, panromantic and polyamorous.