Dead plants extended down the sandy plain as far as he could see. He took a quick breath, and hit the button.
The ground beneath him disappeared. Or rather, it reappeared a lot farther away.
A robotic voice beeped “Fall initiation time: 1640 hours” as he whistled past the wind, sparse as it was. The form fitting body suit and helmet held him together as his eyes rolled around in his skull. Falling through the sky was actually not that bad, he thought. Of course, the same couldn’t be said about the huge black thing blocking out half of his downward view. The 3 ton ‘package’ strapped to him should’ve oriented correctly by now, as it dragged him through the sound barrier and beyond, but going by the way it was beginning to swing him around at sub-sonic speeds, it probably hadn’t. He also couldn’t get rid of it either.
400 metres later, he was going down twice as fast, and zero times as around. It was time to let go. He still hadn’t though, causing a faint sense of alarm in the back of his head. His thoughts were of course, fiercely focussed on the poetic “AAAAAARGH!” that was emanating from his mouth. At the same time, a strong current pulsed around his neck, only so much weaker than a taser. Don’t ask how he knew what that felt like.
“X301. X301. Jum. Your payload is in position. Automatic release is non-functional. Disengage manually immediately.”
“The red handle marked ‘release’ on your right leg.” The feminine voice replied.
He clutched at his thigh, hoping for this nightmare to end. It didn’t work. “You are hurtling towards the ground at sonic speed, attached to a box that should not have weighed 3 tons, given its size.” a voice in his mind helpfully piped as he hysterically tugged at the red pin, praying to God that he got to see his mother again. He knew he shouldn’t have taken this job. The company was too shady. The facility looked too clean compared to the functional university rooms, the faces too unconcerned unlike the tired postgrads asking him questions in the usual clinical study. But thinking of his mama’s hospital bills, he had gone ahead anyway. Three hours later, pushing a button out in a desert field had thrown him into the sky.
“X301. The payload is aligned. It will enter the tunnel in 30 seconds. Twist, push and pull.”
”Goddamn, I forgot the push. Sorry mama.” He whispered, as he finally managed to let go and the block fell away from him, along with the fuel cans of the cheap jetpack that got it in position. Immediately a robotic voice in his helmet noted, “Release time: 1641 hours. Release height: 5000 feet”. With a parachute released quickly, his motion slowed and he swayed down the last few thousand feet, cheeks and trousers wet like they hadn’t been in two decades. He slowly trudged to the buggy and headed back to the control tower, feeling sick to the core.
A few kilometres away from where he landed, a man had gotten increasingly worried until Jum’s payload was released.
“Christ, Len. This was way too close. The kid passed all your tests! What if he had died?” a man grumbled next to the woman on the comms, as Jum began to make his way back.
“Our only problem would have been retrieving the helmet, since it has all test data and payload jetpack control system. The boy would have splattered on the shutters, which close as soon as the payload enters the energy recoup tunnel. So calm down, Frank.” She barked without looking up at the grizzled man’s agitated face.
“And I assume that his life had already been bought if we needed it?” he murmured slowly, as understanding dawned on him.
“Yes.” she said as she offered him the contract file. “Also, with this test the system now produces energy at 8 times the rate it consumes. No known side effects excepting the occupational hazards.”
“Hmm. You’re as good as ever Len. I don’t know why I ever came down here.” He smiled as he read through the details, shuddering inwardly and making a mental note to never cross paths with the woman.
“Told ya, Frank.” she said in a sing-song voice.
“Keep doing what you’re doing and maybe I’ll manage to keep the Army off your back.” he whispered as they walked off to talk to Jum, who had returned from his ‘adventure’.
“Congratulations Mr. Zhang. That payload you dropped just helped power a neighbourhood for the day.” she said. Her smile was more artificial than the flowers in his mother’s hospital room. “Want to go again? You are allowed to leave, but only because it’s your first time.”
“Nah, I think I’ll take off.” Jum said, already turning around.
The old man next to her yelled “Good job, kid!”
On the bus back to the hospital, all Jum could think of was how he had fallen from the sky without ever getting up there. Even though the pay was pretty good, he was not sure if he would do it again. One moment he had been sweating and hesitating, on solid ground, and the next there was no ground beneath him. That feeling of unease continued to build up, and he couldn’t help but dwell on it since his stupid phone was dead.
An hour later, he sat outside the hospital room, still unable to understand how a recovering pneumonia patient had died of cardiac arrest. The doctor had looked appropriately sad as he explained how even though his mother had died in their care; he still had to foot the bill. He glanced cursorily at his mother’s file, not quite comprehending the words while seeing them.
This was written entirely in about an hour on this prompt from r/WritingPrompts — " There's a computer that, when someone enters a specific location, will take the person exactly there. Make this only a minor part of your story and not the main focus."
This is about 900 words long,and just the bare bones. I always struggle to contain my stories to below 1500 words.