Days of Wasp and Spider
by Luna-tic Scientist
The Pattern turned its attention back to the self replicating organics spread across the deep ocean floor. A few changes and more endless slow seconds to allow for the glacial motion of atoms and it had a molecule able to capture that fleeting energy and store it in a more useful form. Green slime started to spread across the ocean and land, and in time the sky turned from red and grey to blue and white. The experiments continued and eventually there were things walking, crawling, running and flying in the new oxygen rich atmosphere.
By now the Pattern was spread throughout the space-time underlying the bubble, it had complete knowledge of the deep physics and a corresponding complete control over everything that happened down to individual trajectories of single atoms if it wished to. Its experiments in biology had proved an interesting diversion; the complex dynamics of species interactions to build a functioning, self sustaining biosphere had taxed even its mental powers. But now it could do... what? It had nothing left to research, no experiments left to run with this system. For a moment it considered opening the barrier that held back the chaos, dissolving this little universe and starting again.
=== Chapter 5 (v26): You can take the gryphon out of the raptor... ===
The sky was a black dome only marked by the band of scattered points from the debris ring and a few heliostats. Even though Celestia had set long ago the training facility was still in use. It provided a safe place for more advanced lessons, designed as it was to contain the accidental magical surges inexperienced ponies were prone to, with a double ring of deep, crater-like berms surrounding a central control/ monitoring hub. While many ponies were with their families for the few 'off' kiloseconds the Master insisted on, or like Fusion's parents, still at their places of work, there was a small group of older students a few bays over. These students - still yet to receive the Blessing - were being escorted by the tan and black form of Random Walk. Fusion grinned to herself, she'd try and catch her friend after this last test was over.
Fusion, Gravity and Animal separated when they reached the opening to the nearest safety bay. Gravity and Animal climbed the slope to the top of the berm, leaving Fusion standing in the opening. Suddenly nervous the white mare hesitated, staring down into the central pit. This was a nearly bare, circular arena of concrete maybe eight bodylengths across at the bottom of steep-sided grass-lined walls. At its centre was a copper coloured loop of metal, three bodylengths across. Fusion swallowed, mouth suddenly dry as she remembered that other copper ring, the one surrounded by shadowy machines in a brightly lit subterranean chamber. Gritting her teeth she trotted down the ramp, over the metal and into the centre of the bay. Reaching out with her magic she retrieved a pair of tungsten spheres, duplicates of the ones she'd used at the corral, letting them lie between her forehooves.
"Ready when you are sis," Gravity said, settling down on her belly at the top of the berm, facing Fusion where she stood in the pit. Animal Scanner did the same on her other side, pulling out his remote medical link and connecting it to the distant Hive. Gravity then activated the safety systems in the training area; bright red strobe lights started to run in circles around the perimeter of the arena while a gauzy field of light sprung up from the metal ring. Fusion shook her head, suddenly feeling terribly lonely, locked off from the normal magical background inside what to her magical sight was a hollow sphere of total darkness. She lifted the two tungsten spheres over her head and tied them together with an invisible strand of force, then started spinning the whole thing about its common centre.
Fusion steadily fed power into the spinning balls, using magic to both accelerate them and keep them a fixed distance apart. Within a few breaths they were chromium blurs, their motion filling the shielded ring with a rising hum and a strengthening breeze. Fusion could start to feel the strain, a tension building up in her neck and the base of her horn, as she gritted her teeth and bent her will to accelerating the balls further. The individual masses were no longer visible; to the unassisted eye the mare stood under an apparently solid toroid, alternately silver and red with reflections of the safety strobes. The tone was a high keening now and the wind was strong enough to force Fusion to close her eyes against the dust whipped up by the miniature cyclone. She could still sense the balls though, her magic following the tiny disturbances in the field she was using to move them.
It was getting hard now; air resistance had built up to something fierce, but this was dwarfed by the effort it was taking to hold the spheres in their circular orbits. Her own strength had reached its limit but she wanted to do more, had to do more - the Masters were relying on her! There had to be some way to get more power... Her awareness narrowed down to only the spinning balls, with eyes closed and ears flat against the sides of her head she tensed every muscle in a final effort. She was suddenly aware of something else, the hint of something warm yet incredibly distant. Fusion focused on it, using it as a reference point.
A thought from nowhere struck her and she realised that there was something she could do to get more power, a subtle transform in how she manifested her magic. Fusion took the power she was applying to the metal spheres and gave it a twist. Suddenly she felt... fuzzy... hazy... as if made of mist, her being diffusing out from her physical body to fill the shielded area. Here was the source of more energy; she didn't have to be limited by her own body, she could pull it from all around her!
Fusion reached out and started to drain energy from the ground and the air. A mist filled the shielded area, dense enough that if she'd had her eyes open the mare would have had difficulty seeing the perimeter berm. Beneath her hooves the ground developed a sheen of frost, thin needles rapidly growing then breaking off in the pocket tornado, while a deep chill lanced up her ankles. Despite the sudden cold Fusion was sweating heavily, the liquid instantly freezing on her flanks and coating her fur with a thickening layer of ice.
Outside the force field Gravity pounded her hooves on the grass, shouting with pleasure at this new trick that was allowing her sister to perform this extreme feat of magic - she'd never been able to perform this test for so long or at such a high speed - and she was good at this. Then she caught sight of Animal's expression. The stallion's wings had flicked half open and his eyes had widened with shock when the force field had filled with fog. He was then on his hooves and staring at something on an instrument he was pointing at Fusion, mouth working as if trying to say something. A sudden spike of fear stabbed at Gravity, jumping up she galloped round the top of the berm to stand next to Animal, nosing under one crimson wing to look at the display floating in front of him. The sudden contact jolted him out of his shock and he dropped the sensor, but not before Gravity got a glimpse of an exponential power plot.
"We've got to stop her!" he shouted. "It's too much!"
Behind them both an alarm started to add its wail to the almost deafening howl of the spheres, an appallingly loud synthesised voice adding the racket. "Emergency, evacuate area, safety limits exceeded. Thaumophysical excursion in progress."
"Fusion Pulse!" he bellowed against the racket. "Stop! For the Master's sake, stop!"
Within the mist-filled dome something stirred. Both ponies looked on in amazement as the indistinct six limbed shape of Fusion appeared to rise up off the ground surrounded by an irregular white halo. The glow brightened and eerie flickers of miniature lightening pulsed between head and upraised wings before grounding out on the shield in total silence. Gravity shivered as her sister appeared to open her eyes, two pure white spheres of brilliant light that lit the fog like the lights of a cargo lifter in a cloud. The sound of moving metal grew louder still and rose in pitch.
Animal cast a pleading eye at Gravity while frantically emptying the contents of his equipment harness onto the grass. Picking up a cylindrical case from the pile he popped the lid and shook out a slim crystal rod. Discarding the case Animal levitated the water-clear wand in a field of crimson magic and did something that sent waves of deep purple light running down it. Gravity's eyes widened when she recognised the instrument; that was a mercy wand!
"No, you can't!" she cried, shoulder barging the larger pony away from the device.
Animal cursed and shoved her away with a pulse of magic, then lifted the rod and pointed it at Fusion. A brilliant purple pinpoint flicked down its length then sprang from the tip to dart at the pony in the pit, only to be batted aside at the last instant by Gravity. With a snarl Animal Scanner swung round and pointed the wand at the blue pony, its tip glowing like a captive purple star.
"Do. Not. Interfere." The stallion ground out with a curious mix of anger and sorrow. "These are my Master's standing orders."
Gravity Resonance wilted under that glare and the sudden wave of pain that came with the knowledge that she'd tried to subvert the will of the Masters. No pony would dream of disobeying an order, but that didn't stop the sudden rush of grief washing over her and blurring her vision. Unless... she closed her eyes and used her magic to scan her surroundings. The world was suddenly black shadows and silence, no grass, warning strobes or debris ring light. A dim shape in front of her was Animal Scanner, horn and wing edges highlighted with red light. Floating next to him was an achingly deep violet splinter, already turning on its axis to point at... what?
The centre of the pit was filled with a hazy dome of white light, within which was a pony shining with an eye-searing magnesium glare, painful to behold. Gravity redirected her magical sight desperately searching for... there! Over the figure's head was a disk of light, almost appearing solid except for a subtle flicker suggesting a horrible speed. Gravity hurriedly reached out with her magic and felt over the glassy surface of the force field, hunting for the gaps she knew were there.
This was no military containment field able to block fast projectiles, explosion pressure waves or thaumatological attacks. Instead it only had enough influence on normal physical matter to damp the secondary effects of runaway magic. Mainly it was designed to stop two kinds of high energy thaumic accidents. The first were the short lived spells that sometimes spalled off the workings of inexperienced ponies. These randomised bursts of magic were highly unpredictable and could result in anything from simple physical destruction to the total conversion of an affected object to something else. The second... it was not unknown for a pony to try too hard and end up loosing control of his or her magic. The poor unfortunate experienced an exponential increase in magical power and without a safety field would cause an enormous amount of damage to their surroundings, right up until they were hit by one of their own pulses of uncontrolled magic. The end result was invariably messy and if the pony was lucky they would die immediately.
This was first and foremost a training centre and one of the requirements of good magical training was the ability to give students feedback on their progress. To this end the field wasn't completely impermeable to magic, the various sensors and scanners could work through it - and that meant weak spots. Gravity reached in through one of these openings with all her considerable strength and snapped the force line tying the tungsten spheres together.
The spheres vanished with an ear shattering bang and a thump that shook Gravity off her hooves. They passed through the force field as if it wasn't there and punched deep craters in the berm wall. All the lights failed at once and the sudden darkness and silence was only broken by the gentle patter of falling dirt and a hiss of vaporising water from deep inside the berm. Gravity got her hooves back under her and leaned forward to peer down into the pit. Here the darkness was broken by a lurid orange glow from the shield emitter, now nothing more than a broken ring of molten metal, the light reflecting off the ice covered ground within it. Fusion Pulse stood at the centre of that circle, swaying slightly and looking blearily round at the devastation.
"That was stupid," Animal said to Gravity in a quiet voice, dropping the mercy wand. "But it worked. Thank you." He tapped the inert rod with his hoof, making a dull thunk, voice trailing off into a mumble. "I hate that thing." He sighed, eyed the now dead medical scanner, and started to reassemble his equipment harness.
Gravity opened her mouth to say something sarcastic, but seeing the look of relief in the stallion's face thought better of it and just nodded. Turning her back on him she lit her horn and flicked open her wings to glide down to where Fusion was looking with some trepidation into one of the holes pushed into the berm. Somewhere deep inside she could see something glow yellow, that and the occasional burst of steam made her keep her distance.
"What happened?" Fusion called to her sister as the other pony landed in the pit. Her tone turned pleading as she gestured around the pit with her wings, taking in ice and molten metal. "Where... how... What happened?"
"What's the last thing you remember?" Gravity said carefully, studying her sister intently.
"I was focused on the exercise, trying to get a little more speed - you know how it is - when I felt something give inside me and I got... bigger." Fusion groped for the right words, but there weren't any. There was also that distant point of warmth and the idea that had come from nowhere, but something about the experience had been so dreamlike that she was half convinced it hadn't happened. She stared back into her sister's furrowed brow, ears flicking back with a sudden impatience. "Well? What did you see?"
Gravity sighed. "You maxed out the exercise chamber's safety systems. Animal Scanner tried to get you to stop but you obviously didn't hear him or the alarms. He was going to use a mercy wand on you."
Fusion gulped and turned to stare at stallion looking back at her from the berm top. "Why didn't he?"
"Because I stopped him," Gravity said simply. "I broke the force line holding the spheres together, figured that would get your attention."
"It did," Fusion murmured, turning back to the crater in the pit wall. "How... how fast was I going at the end?"
Gravity laughed and slapped Fusion on the back of the head with one wing, then started to pick ice out of her sister's coat. "Fast enough to prove you are fully recovered, and then some." She leaned forward and said with an eager voice. "You think you can show me how you did that?"
Fusion shrugged her wings, feeling slightly frustrated. "Sure, if I can understand what it was I did! Can't you tell me anything else?"
Her sister hopped from hoof to hoof for a second, looking thoughtful. "At the end I was watching you." Here she waggled her horn meaningfully. "You were really bright - all over too, not just your horn - and at the centre of a glowing cloud. It looked like you had spread out, and rather than just your horn generating the magic it was your whole body - even the air and ground around you seemed to be involved. That extra energy had to come from somewhere though." She eyed the still frozen ground. "It looked like you were being held in check by the safety field. The Masters only know what might have happened otherwise. Oh, and you blew out all the lights."
Both ponies stared off into space, lost in thought, until the sound of hoof falls and a polite whinny brought them back. Animal Scanner, now wearing his equipment harness again, opened his mouth to speak but Fusion got there first.
"Decided not to kill me then?" she said acidly, eyes narrowed and ears back.
A pained expression, followed by shame flickered across the stallion's face. "There are standing orders in event of an excursion. I've seen it before." He shuddered. "At least the mercy wand would have been fast."
"Orders... from what I hear you were a bit quick to reach that decision. Not interpreting your orders a little creatively?" As the last sentence escaped her lips Fusion snapped her mouth shut and cringed reflexively against the stab of pain... which never came. Shocked even more she froze for a second before relaxing.
Animal Scanner stared at her, brow furrowed in confusion, then shook his head and snorted. "I would have thought you'd be old enough not to follow that line of reasoning." His voice became emotionless, almost machine-like. "You are clearly fit for duty; if anything you are significantly stronger than before your accident. I'm sure the Masters will want to study you in detail." He offered her a mirthless smile. "Congratulations."
Fusion glared back at him, but her retort was interrupted by an ear shattering double bang from somewhere overhead. All three ponies looked up, but whatever had made the noise was over their limited horizon before they could react. Gravity and Animal immediately took off for the top of the berm while Fusion, still too shaky to trust her wings, trotted back up the ramp to join them a few seconds later. Something was coming towards them, a dark grey arrow head moving low and fast in complete silence, only really visible were it occluded the debris ring for a second. In a flash it had expanded from a hoof width to filling the sky overhead, dark objects tumbling out of a line of openings in its belly.
Flysoldat Athils Gunnulf was tired. Combat Flight School had seemed like such a good idea twenty two days ago. Sign up for the CFS, be the part of the top five percent of gryphons that became the Hive's Talons. If he made it he'd get the best duty, better quarters - even extra breeding rights. Not one of those days had gone past where he'd not regretted that decision. He'd had no real sleep, not enough food and far too much exercise, but even so he'd never quite given up on that dream. This last day had been the worst so far. The mid course eliminator; nearly a hundred kiloseconds of constant physical training, simulated missions under fire and high speed/ low altitude flying - all while being berated by the instructors - had left him with a bone-deep muscle ache from foreclaws to rearpaws and tufted tail-tip. If you'd asked him - and he'd had enough energy to reply - he'd have said that even his beak hurt.
"What are you, a chick? Pick up that pack and move your paws!"
Gunnulf groaned, opened his beak and gripped the pack straps. With a grunt he tensed his shoulders and neck, then levered the hated thing off the ground. It was about half his own bodyweight and far too heavy to fly with. With an awkward waddle he staggered towards the loading ramp of the attack carrier, muscles burning and vision so blurred he could barely see where he was going. An eternity later he felt a gentle touch through the feathers on his shoulder.
"Son," said a quiet voice - the first gentle tones he'd heard since yesterday - "you can stop now."
"S...stop?" he said, dropping the pack with a thump.
The other gryphon, a goshawk variant that was all steel grey feathers and fur and big even without the bulky equipment harness and armour set, stood there and gaped at Gunnulf with an avian grin. "You made it, good job." Then he stood up straight and glared at the exhausted soldier. "Flysoldat, are you uninjured and fit to continue?"
"Yes sersjant!" Gunnulf shouted, fluffing up his own white head feathers and snapping his beak shut with as much enthusiasm as he could muster.
"Excellent. Stow your gear and get on the carrier." The sersjant waved Gunnulf away, then trotted back down the line to berate the next arrivals.
The flysoldat swayed where he stood for a few seconds, then shook his head and walked slowly towards the loading ramp. Savouring the sudden lack of trainers shouting at him - and not quite ready to test his trembling legs on the steep ramp - Gunnulf watched the bustle around the attack carrier. The fat bodied arrowhead, almost twenty lengths from aerospike nose to ramjet tail, rested on five thick legs in the middle of a smashed and broken section of forest. All of its various access hatches were open; the rear ramp Gunnulf was using, the middle ports with a small herd of tired looking ponies and the front drop bays with a squad of bipedal power armour clustered around a portable tactical table.
The ponies - under instruction by one of the Masters of the flight crew - appeared to be dismantling one of the big lifter fans in the carrier's left wing. A multihued glow surrounded the fan as it was broken up, each blade flying off and changing from dull-and-pitted to bright-and-shiny before being slotted back into the motor hub. As Gunnulf watched the fan was inserted up into its housing, the ponies staggering as if suddenly stopping some gargantuan effort. One even appeared to pass out, rolling onto its side with chest working like bellows, as the telekinetic glow faded.
Pathetic grass eater, Gunnulf thought with a sneer, you should try doing some real work for a change.
What was of more interest was the group of Masters in powered armour. This was the first chance he'd had to actually study them - he'd seen them before, but generally only for a second just after his command collar had given him a brief shock that announced his simulated death. Half again as tall as a standing gryphon, with smooth egg-like armour surfaces studded with sensors, field generators and other less identifiable hardware. Dogboys, Gunnulf thought, that's what the other troopers had called them. He thought about it some more, then decided in a rare moment of insight never to actually say that in front of one of them. At the moment all five were deep in conversation, one of the suits making emphatic gestures at something on the tactical table.
Gunnulf gazed at the suits in envy, just think of the damage I could do with one of those, he thought, then rolled his eyes. Like a gryphon's ever gonna get anything like that!
Still thinking over the impossible, the young gryphon idly scratched under his command collar with one claw then slowly levered himself up the ramp and into the red-lit belly of the attack carrier. Stepping into the half full drop bay he shuffled into the next available space, unclipping his autogun from its recoil mount and hanging it from the ceiling rack that ran down the middle of the bay. Hooking onto the anchor points he tried to get comfortable, but the rest of the exhausted squad trickling in behind him was a constant disturbance. Gunnulf passed the time by trying to tell where one gryphon stopped and another began in the three dimensional puzzle of equipment and avian solider. This particular CFS group had the normal range of gryphon genealogies; most were white-headed eagle types like himself, but there were a few others from the more experimental parts of the Master's eugenics programmes, including the buzzard-based Alfgeir in front of him and a dark eyed peregrine Svartr over on the other side of the bay. Finally all the gryphons had finished the exercise and the ramp closed with a whine to leave them all in silence until the lifter fans spooled up and the carrier accelerated into the sky.
At least now he could rest for a few precious kiloseconds. Gunnulf and the rest of the squad of flysoldat had made it half way through Combat Flight School, and if they survived the rest would be inducted into the prestigious Talons - Lacunae Hive's gryphon shock troops. Packed into the drop bay of the attack carrier with the other twelve gryphons and a small mountain of gear he rested his beak against flysoldat Adigard Alfgeir's equipment panniers. The other soldier lifted his red-brown feathered head to glare half-heartedly at Gunnulf, then turned away, too tired to do any more about this infringement of his personal territory.
Gunnulf slumped in his harness in a kind of haze, lulled by the drone of the attack carrier's engines but unable to sleep despite his exhaustion. A sudden surge of acceleration and an abrupt jump in the carrier's engine noise brought him back to the real world. Looking around he saw sersjant Geirstein Kafli jerk upright and start to talk to someone on his communicator. He watched Kafli's eyes widen and heard the formal beak-snap that signified the acceptance of a command. Oh crap, he thought, here it comes. There'd been rumours about this; lull them into a false sense of security then hit them with another exercise just as they thought it was all over.
"Paws and claws you featherbrains, paws and claws!" the sersjant yelled, slapping the alert key on his controller and sending a painfully loud warble though every flysoldat's earbud. "While I am evil enough to give you fluffballs some more punishment after today it turns out I won't need to. You will be ready for a combat drop in three hundred seconds. Korporals - issue thumpers and standard kinetic ammo packs." The sersjant glared around the compartment, bright yellow eyes taking in the shocked stillness of his soldiers. "Move it!"
The gryphons jumped into motion like someone had rolled a grenade into the drop bay. Gunnulf shook his head in confusion while his foreclaws worked with the automatic motions of long training. Twist here to unlock his primary harness from the bay's anchor points, reach up and connect it to the static line there on the drop track running along the ceiling. Repeat with the backup line, then pick up the stubby autogun from the rack running down the centre of the ceiling and attach it to the sliding mount that ran down his right side from shoulder to wing root. Next came the helmet and visor, the latter flashing up 'connection successful' symbols as it paired with his collar, before he flicked it up to its retracted position. He flexed his back to settle the now loaded armour rig, then reaching out to take the pair of heavy drums passed down the row of flysoldats from his korporal. A quick flick with a thumb claw popped the seal and...
"By the First Egg, these things are real," he said in an awed whisper, staring at the tight spiral of ruby crystals, each capped by a bright silver needle. He elbowed Alfgeir's tawny hind quarters, earning himself an irritable reflexive snap from the other's beak. "This is a real mission!" Gunnulf was practically dancing on the spot with suppressed excitement.
Alfgeir rolled his eyes and went back to clipping ammunition drums into his feeder unit. "Yes, you fool, I had noticed." He shook all over to settle his harness, then looked over his shoulder at Gunnulf. "Perhaps you should think about it before you get too eager. We're right in the middle of Hive territory and they've diverted us - a unit in training - to the scene. Run that little detail through your tiny brain."
Gunnulf was silent for a second, then brightened. "It must be pretty bad, terrorist or black-ops team or something. We're going to see combat!"
Alfgeir stared at him open beaked, then narrowed his eyes. "Are you for real? No, claw that, I don't want to know." He turned away, resolutely ignoring Gunnulf's prattle, trying to push down the cold feeling welling up in his chest. Closing his eyes he offered up a wordless prayer to whoever might be listening. Why am I always in front of the eager ones? he thought despairingly. I hope that idiot can keep his beak off that bite trigger until we deploy. He shivered as a series of metallic noises behind him announced that Gunnulf was feeding the first round into his autogun, relaxing slightly only when he heard the safety go on.
"Listen up chicks, eyes front," the sersjant shouted over the carrier's roar, using his controller to activate the bulkhead screen. "This is the objective. Approximately four hundred seconds ago someone detonated a thaumic pulse bomb right here." A satellite photo of some surface structure surrounded by deep pits, a green cross over one of them. Two clusters of little red markers crawled across the surface. "We will be dropped here," a green circle popped into being next to the larger of the two clusters, "and contain this group of targets. The dogboy spec-ops team will handle the other group. All visible targets appear to be ponies, but be alert for camouflaged hostiles." The sersjant glared round the compartment again, punctuating his next words with gunshot-loud beak snaps. "You will not use those standard kinetics unless fired upon. Is that clear?" He waited for all his soldiers to snap their beaks in acknowledgement before continuing in a gentler tone. "Remember your training and follow your korporal's orders. Keep your heads and we'll all get to go back to the aerie."
Within a few claw-fulls of seconds of this briefing the sound of the engines died back to a distant purr. Gunnulf cocked his head to one side, trying to place the new noises. From somewhere in front of him, deep in the belly of the carrier, was coming a high pitched whine, almost like one of the hatches was being opened. He felt the feathers rise on his neck and head, a thrill of excitement and adrenalin burning away any residual tiredness, as the deck bucked underneath his paws.
"Hey, Alfgeir," he whispered fiercely. "What's going on?"
The other gyrphon stiffened and was silent for a few seconds. "Sounds like the maintenance bay door."
"The one with the ponies, why are they opening that?"
"How the..." Alfgeir sighed, as irritating as he found Gunnulf it was a good question. "They must be in a hurry to drop off some of the maintenance ponies. I can only assume that when we get to the target we'll be picking more up." In fact, he thought, we must be picking up ponies, which means they must... He pushed aside this line of reasoning when the lights flickered three times and a low buzz sounded through his command collar.
"Drop warning, check your lines." The voice of the carrier's computer was obviously mechanical, a harsh grating buzz that had no chance of being mistaken for anything other than what it was. Thirteen sets of talons reached up and rattled the paired quick release fittings, then snapped down protective visors.
"Bay door opening." Cool night air and the howl of a turbulent high velocity airstream filled the drop bay. Above the opening a green '5000' flashed on then spooled down, counting the milliseconds until drop.
Gunnulf danced on his hindpaws and foreclaws, wings half unfurled, as he waited for the sudden tug on his static line. The counter reached zero and the pair of flysoldat at the front of the line leapt forward, wings flicking out as they cleared the back of the carrier. Gunnulf tensed his hindlegs as a heartbeat later the next pair were thrown out. Finally it was his turn.
With a brutal surge of acceleration Gunnulf was pulled out of the carrier by his harness. Tumbling in the slipstream he waited the required two seconds to drop below the engines then eased his wings open and glided into the darkness.