Isabelle Archer exhaled slowly and forced herself to breathe through the irritating oxygen cannula in her nose.Â The vibration and noise of the C-130 as it crawled to altitude was almost soothing.Â In a few brief moments all that security would disappear.
Through the window, aircraft flew in arrowhead formation like a flock of migrating geese.Â Their dark hulls sparkled in the bright morning sun.Â On the bench beside her, a dozen skydivers hid behind bravado. Â She could smell their fear, their excitement.Â Half of them were sporting erections.Â
She closed her eyes, gathered up all the discomfort, and pushed it into a small compartment in the back of her mind.Â Images flowed by in perfect synchrony as she visualized the part she was about to play.
The world record skydiving formation.
Hundreds of bodies hurtling through the atmosphere at hurricane speeds; each diver responsible for a precise slot in a specific formation.Â One wrong move and the delicate balance would be destroyed.Â One careless turn and injury or death could result.Â
She envisioned her jump from the airplane, angling her freefall to enter the formation at the exact time and place.Â Too soon or too late and the entire formation would be disrupted.Â
No second chances â€“ no substitute for perfection.
Cameramen were situated above and below, filming everyoneâ€™s performance.Â One screw-up and the group would be forced to abort.
This was a lifetime achievement.Â Only professional skydivers were invited, the best of the best.Â Isabelle glanced towards the front of the plane and saw the standby skydivers.Â Their faces told her what she already knew.Â They would give anything to jump in her stead.Â
A sharp tap on the shoulder.Â She looked up at a weathered face and nodded her readiness.Â Seconds later, the enormous hydraulic door of the C-130 levered open and the signal to assemble for disembark came.Â
Isabelle stood and stretched her legs.
The plane was a blur of motion.Â Goggles were donned.Â Last minute gear checks made.Â There were smiles all around, ritual good luck hand gestures and high-fives while fifty skydivers lined up in two rows, compressed into a solid mass.Â Isabelle took her place at the front of a line and waited for instructions.
A coach yelled above the deafening wind.
â€œReady, set, GO!â€
She took three steps and was out of the plane, transitioning from biped to bird of flight.Â The noise of relative wind sent her thoughts into hyperdrive.
â€œLook left, look right, up, down.â€
â€œBend at the waist.Â Now dive, dive, dive!â€
She searched the sky below for the color zone of red jumpsuits she was to build her own geometric formation from.Â Her heart raced.Â She spotted her slot and angled towards it.Â Two dozen jumpers followed her lead.
â€œLook left, look right.Â Donâ€™t cut anybody off.Â Be careful.Â Be patient.Â Relax.â€
She reached out and snagged one of the red jumpsuit grippers of the skydiver in front of her and held on tight.
â€œOkay, Iâ€™m in my slot.Â Head up, back arched.â€
She felt someone tug the gripper on the right leg of her jumpsuit.Â
â€œGood, thatâ€™s exactly where heâ€™s supposed to be.Â Look ahead, look around.Â All clear.Â Sweet!Â Relax and fly the formation.â€
Isabelle was a natural flyer, always had been.Â No freefall struggle; no panic when rigging equipment malfunctioned.Â She soared effortlessly, relished the adrenaline high.Â The powerful endorphin release was something sheâ€™d never experienced in any other sport.
With every grip complete, the symmetrical formation resembled a giant saucer with octagonal tentacles.Â International rules determined the formation must hold together for eight full seconds.Â Isabelle glanced at her altimeter.
Although she couldnâ€™t see all of it, she knew her section of the group was perfect.Â A break-off signal was given, legs waggled.Â Everyone turned to fly away from one another.
This was the most dangerous time of the entire jump.Â Isabelle watched closely for traffic.Â A mid-air collision with another jumper could cost their lives.Â
She waved her arms, a signal to all of her intentions; reached back and pulled the pilot chute that deployed the main parachute.Â One hundred twenty feet of rainbow colored Z-P fabric arced above her head in a textbook deployment.Â She dragged in a long breath, enjoyed the view as her parachute slowly lowered her to Oahuâ€™s north shore amidst whistles and whoops of joy.Â
Isabelle spotted the landing zone.Â In a few minutes it would be crowded down there.Â She looked all around and veered in that direction.Â A few tight spirals to lose altitude, a tug on her left steering toggle, and she swooped in, touching the ground as gently as stepping off a curb.
Skydivers rushed towards one of the giant hangars, bundled parachutes draped over their shoulders.Â Isabelle quickly gathered her gear and headed that way, weaving through the Technicolor rain of descending jumpers.
Champagne corks popped.
â€œYo Izzy!â€ a jumper named Derek, whoâ€™d been doing his best to seduce her for weeks, yelled from across the open hangar.Â â€œThe camera dudes are playing the video on the big screen outside.â€
She gave him a flirty smile and strolled to her locker.Â â€œDoes the video confirm it?â€Â It had been weeks since sheâ€™d last had sex.Â The urge to wrap around Derek thrummed low in her belly.
He licked his lips and moved towards her.Â â€œSure does.Â Letâ€™s grab some bubbly and PAR-TY!â€
Isabelle clicked her locker open with a metallic thud.
â€œThree hundred and fifty people plummeting to the ground at terminal velocity with expert precision?Â That is definitely something to party about.â€Â Her voice purred with sensual intent.Â â€œLet me stow my gear and Iâ€™ll join with you.â€
When Derek moved from line of sight, she quickly retrieved her purse.Â Sheâ€™d been out of touch for several hours and needed reassurance that they hadnâ€™t tried to contact her.Â She had notified them of her plans to take the day off.Â In reality, that meant nothing.
If they summoned, she came.
Isabelle dug around and pulled out a small black pager.Â A demanding series of numbers, punctuated by three stars, scrolled repeatedly across the display.Â She let out a sigh.Â There would be no sex and games on the flight line tonight.Â