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Prinz Eugen Fanfic: Commander~ Ich Liebe Dich… Just Kidding <3 Chapter 25: The Second Battle of Denmark Strait

Commander

“Petropavlovsk,” I contacted the heavy cruiser who was leading us through the snow. “Come back. We’re about to pass through Route C.”
“J-Ja, Commander,” Eugen’s little sister responded as she reduced her distance from her sister’s ship. She’s 500 meters… 400… 300… 150… 50 meters…
“Commander,” the little heavy cruiser exclaimed as she jumped onto Eugen’s deck. She quickly ran into the bridge and saluted. “Petropavlovsk, reporting: no Siren ships or aircrafts within 500 meters. Nothing else to report!”
I saluted back and told Petropavlovsk to have her well-deserved rest. She sat next to Eugen who was silently concentrating on controlling her ship.
“Nimi,” I called the Iron Blood destroyer who was sitting with Ayanami, Laffey, and Javelin.
“Ja, Commander?” She asked as she stood next to me. I peeked into my binoculars and handed it to Nimi.
“Do you see anything?” I asked. Even with Petropavlovsk’s superior eyes and experience in the snow, one cannot be too sure.
“Nein, Commander,” she politely replied as she handed me my binoculars back. “Shall we proceed to the next part of the operation?”
“Hold on,” I approached the marked map in Eugen’s bridge and counter checked our current coordinates with the ones I marked on the map. I see… We couldn’t see the land masses through this thick fog and snow but it appears that we’re about to pass through the Denmark Strait.
“Alright… so far, so good,” I mumbled to myself and turned to Nimi. I cleared my throat and gave my command. “Nimi, Ayanami, Laffey, and Javelin.”
One by one, the other three destroyers stood with Nimi who was already readying herself.
“Let’s execute Plan E. We’ll proceed straight here,” I pointed at the entrance of the Strait with my fingers and made a motion with my hand as if I’m guiding their attention through the map. “Use Cross Formation. I want Ayanami on the bow, Nimi on the starboard side, Laffey on the port side, and Javelin on the stern.”
“Understood. It will be alright, Commander... Believe in me… Yes,” Ayanami blankly said as she marched out the bridge.
“Laffey… Will do her best…” Laffey suddenly became more alert as she said: “Deactivating self-imposed limiter…”
After the Union destroyer exited, Javelin flourished her staff and jollily hopped to me. “I’ll protect our rear very well, Commander!”
“Are you sure, Javelin? It might be too much for you…” I raised my brow and teased Javelin.
“H-Hey! Look, I can handle you just fine!” Javelin blushed and rushed out of the room. Haha… Nimi was the last one of the destroyers left in the room.
“Aren’t you going out, Nimi?” I asked.
“Hmm… I will, Commander. I was just memorizing the map, is all,” she really is the most studious of the starter squad. She’s also extremely dependable… It’s no wonder Nimi got accepted as an Academy teacher.
“Aren’t you preparing a bit, too much?” I asked.
“Battles are like exams, Commander,” she explained. “Wissen ist macht. Remember?”
Ah… yes, even Amagi believes in that. Actually, Amagi was always impressed with Nimi’s love for knowledge, going as far as to praise the destroyer and tell her once that she might make a good tactician if she studied battle tactics as well. Nimi, however, truly just loves knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Unlike me and Amagi, she doesn’t see information as something you manipulate to your advantage. She learns because she wants to learn.
“I’m done,” she announced. “Let’s go! It’s time to reap the rewards of our hard work!”
“Hmm?” Eugen shifted her eyes towards Nimi. “Well, aren’t you excited, Nimi? Hehe…”
“F-Frau Eugen!” Nimi blushed and pouted as she hastily walked out the bridge. “I-I have work to do…”
I sighed and smiled as I sat next to Eugen. Petropavlovsk was already fast asleep, probably tired because she’s been sailing for eight hours straight.
“Liebling? Whoops! I mean, Commander,” Eugen corrected herself. “I forgot I shouldn’t call you pet names on missions… anyway, your plan baffles me.”
I raised my brow. “What do you mean?”
“I understand you cooked this plan with that Sakura Empire tactician,” she referred to Amagi. “However… isn’t this a little too risky?”
Eugen stood up and pointed at the map.
“Our squadron consists of just me and my little sister as heavy cruisers, one Royal Maid as a light cruiser, and four destroyers…” She said. “Not only that, we’re traveling through the Denmark Strait instead of straight through the Atlantic, which is the fastest path towards the Fatherland.”
I stood next to Eugen and allowed her to speak first.
“The nearest company is the one made up of the Sakura Empire’s kidou butai and the Essex-classes… over here,” she pointed at the company following us on the map. “They’re not too far away… but won’t they come too late if the Sirens decide to attack us? Why didn’t you just make us go with the main strike squadron passing through the Atlantic?”
“Well, you’re right,” I said. “However, there are a few reasons why I didn’t make us go through a single path.”
I pointed at the strait. “First, we are sure that I am one of the primary Siren objectives. The Sirens know that we know this, right?”
Eugen nodded.
“Therefore, it is more likely for the Sirens to think that I am with the larger group,” I said. “They will send most of their interception force here… right through the Atlantic where the main strike squadron is passing. They will not expect us to circle around and outflank them. That’s why I had the carrier squad shadow us. Now, why did I make the carrier squad shadow us instead of the main strike force?”
Eugen caressed her cheek and chin.
“If the Sirens specifically knew we were passing through the Strait for whatever reason, then our plan of action is not to engage. We will fall back and draw the Sirens in for the planes to ambush them as we withdraw. Then, we are to take out any stragglers with Rossiya’s superior firepower and the destroyers we have with us.”
Eugen raised her brow. “And what if the airstrikes aren’t enough to get rid of most of them?”
“Then, we hold them here.” I pointed at the mouth of the Denmark Strait. “We take a stand here and wait for the main strike force to turn around and wipe out the Sirens from behind.”
“Hmm…” Eugen snapped her fingers. “Quite an elaborate plan… but, wouldn’t the Sirens be able to deploy their Mirror Seas and ruin it all?”
I smiled.
“No. They can’t.”
“What makes you so sure?” Eugen asked.
“Well, for one, we already know that the Northern Parliament ship riggings work exceptionally well even inside a Mirror Sea,” I explained. “Moreover, look at this geography, Eugen.”
I referred to the geography of the Denmark Strait.
“It’s too narrow for the Sirens to feasibly use their Mirror Sea here…” I said confidently. Eugen’s eyes lit up as if she understood everything.
“Ohh? I see… so, you intended to pass through here simply because the Mirror Seas require quite a large space to properly function?” She giggled. “My, my, Commander, you are quite the schemer, aren’t you~?”
“Well, you and Bismarck already showed us how painfully annoying passing through here is,” I chuckled. “The Royal Navy itself had a very hard time dealing with the two of you here haha…”
“I see… then hopefully, we come out of this in one piece,” Eugen began walking out of the bridge, presumably to watch the waves on her deck.
“We’ll make it,” I said. “You are a lucky ship—oops!” I forgot she didn’t want to be called that!
Eugen turned to me… I’m a dead man.
“Hehe… You’re right, Commander,” s-she’s not mad? “I am a lucky ship… Why do you look so confused? Don’t you know I’ve changed a long time ago because of you~?”
My heart skipped a beat... t-this woman… I was wrong. I am the lucky person here.


Eugen

Belfast’s pancakes hit the spot… Danke gott I’m not having those terrible dizzy spells now. The two large landmasses, Iceland and Greenland, peeked out of the mists as I carefully navigated my ship through them.
“Mein ältere Schwester,” Lützow approached me and stood next to me. “I-I heard you and the Commander are h-having…”
I smiled and turned to my cute little sister as she mumbled her words.
“H-Having a baby?” She finished her statement. “A-Am I going to be an aunt?”
I giggled and replied. “Ja, mein kleine Schwester. You’re going to be an aunt!”
Lützow began bouncing around and giggling. “I’m so happy for you, sister!”
She hugged me and giggled like a child. Haha… Hipper didn’t react this way. She mostly thought I’d make a terrible mother… I think I have a favorite sister now haha… just kidding~
“What will you name him? Or her?” She asked.
I honestly don’t know yet. Liebling and I haven’t talked about it much because of this entire ordeal... I scratched my head and shrugged my shoulders.

“Lady Eugen,” Belfast approached from behind and stood to my left. “I prepared a full meal for you in the canteen. Moreover, I believe it’s not good for you to stay out in the snow for so long.”
What a killjoy…
“Belfast, I can handle myself… alright?” I replied. “Also, full meal? What did you cook?”
Belfast took me by the hand and guided me to my canteen. She cooked eggs, steak, and… broccoli. And for carbs, she brought… buttered toast?
“Wow… er, I appreciate the effort but, I’m not particular with broccoli,” I said.
“Eat.” Belfast grabbed me by my left hand and forced me to sit.
“N-Nein!” I exclaimed in protest. “I’m not even hungry now… just serve me tea, Belfast!”
“Overindulgence in anything is self-destructive,” she said with a creepy smile on her face. “If you want you and your baby to be healthy, then you better start watching what you eat. I memorized five sets of healthy full meals and brought all the ingredients we will need beforehand, so please help yourself. Master specifically put me in charge of your meals, after all, Lady Eugen.”
I-I need to have a serious talk with the Commander about what I want to eat...
“Come, come,” Belfast forcibly took my hand and made me sit. She took a spoonful of all the stuff she made and fed it to me… M-Mist! “Eat.”
“B-But—”
“Eat.”
Belfast’s face transformed from a creepy smiley to a stare that pierces my very soul. She sat in front of me and observed as I continued eating her meal… it’s not bad actually. It’s questionable to make me eat while we’re on Level 1 battle stations but even I wouldn’t dare piss Belfast off when she’s like this.
After finishing my meal, Belfast flashed her menacing smile as she cleaned up after me...
Mein gott… the Head Maid can be terrifying when she wants to be!

“W-We need to have a talk about what Belfast feeds me,” I approached the Commander. I understand he just wants me and our child to be healthy but…
“Schatz, I put Bel in charge of giving you what to eat because you’re in a sensitive state right now…” He explained.
“But that doesn’t mean she’ll force me to eat what I don’t want to eat!” I replied. “Moreover, I’m fine… I’m not even drinking any alcohol or doing anything dangerous, really…”
“I just want to be sure,” he explained as he rushed over the beeping radar. “Petropavlovsk! I want you to get in front of Ayanami. The radar’s acting weird… it’s beeping but it’s all static!”
“Look, I know you’re worried…” I approached the agitated Commander. “But there’s really nothing to worry about. I’m fine!”
He’s been acting strange recently… It’s like he’s over-defensive over me or something. Even after he explained why he chose this route, it wasn’t part of the plan at first. It sounds feasible but I can’t shake the feeling that he purposefully altered the plan because of something else…
“What do you see?” He asked my little sister in a panic. “Ayanami! Back her up. Answer me, Petropavlovsk!”
I saw the Sakura Empire destroyer move behind my sister who seemed to be inspecting something we cannot see in the mist.
“Commander! Around twenty—no, forty! Forty mass-produced Siren ships incoming at twelve o’clock!” I heard my sister inform the Commander in panic.
“Level 3 battle stations! Get ready for anti-air, anti-sub, and anti-ship combat,” he commanded. “Nimi, Laffey, support Petropavlovsk and Ayanami. Belfast, get out there and provide smokescreen support for the vanguard. Javelin, rendezvous with the carrier group and tell them to send air support! Everyone, we’ll start retreating half-reverse after Belfast releases the cover smoke.”
I observed the battle according to the instructions the Commander gave me beforehand. My concerns can wait after this battle.
“Commander!” Lützow called him again. The mass-produced ships began following us back into the Strait as we pulled back at half maximum speed. “I’m detecting two large energy readings… I-It’s them!”
“Where!?” The Commander asked everyone. “Belfast? What’s keeping you from deploying your smokescreen?”
“Master, I have my hands full here…” The Head Maid replied as she shot back at a shadowy figure. This figure jumped right out of the cover of the mist and launched a well-timed roundhouse that tossed the Royal Navy Light Cruiser a few feet backward.
“Hahaha… I made a full recovery!” It’s her! “Hello guys! Did you miss me? It’s me, Purifieeeeer!!!”
Mein gott… the crazy Siren’s back.
“Bel, just deploy your smokescreen!” Why is the Commander so agitated?
“Yes, Master,” Belfast tried deploying her smokescreen but…
“BOO!” Purifier knocked her back again! Verdammt, how can Belfast deploy her smokescreen with this crazy lunatic on her?
“Commander!” Nimi frantically jumped sideways as torpedoes came flying out of the water. “I think I found the other one… it’s Lurker!”
“W-What!?” The Commander flabbergasted. “Shoot her down! Use your depth charges!”
“I-I’m trying, Commander!” Nimi desperately dropped her depth charges to try and hit Lurker.

BOOM!

“Ugh!” V-Verdammt… my rudder’s hit…!
“Commander…” Laffey contacted the Commander who was still reeling from the impact. “Suicide boats… incoming. Laffey will deal with them.”
Ayanami was sinking mass-produced ships as Laffey used guns to try and take down all the suicide boats incoming. Meanwhile, Nimi was preoccupied with finding Lurker who was having fun taking pot-shots at my ship… Verdammt, I can’t stay like this!
“I’m going out to help!” I tried to dash out of the room but… the Commander stopped me by grabbing my right arm.
“What are you doing?” I asked. “We’re in Level 3 battle stations. At this rate, we’re going to sink before the carriers get here. I’m going to go help.”
“No, you’re not!” He replied in a panic. “You’re staying here with me. I don’t want you in any combat situation.”
“Why!?” I flabbergasted. “How the hell can I protect you if you won’t let me go out there!”
“Just… stay!” He shouted.
“Look, what’s going on?” I asked. “You’re not acting rationally. Let me go!”
“No!” He replied. “It’s not safe out there! Stay here I’ll think of something—”
“Sure! And when you do, we will have sunk already!” I angrily replied. “I won’t overextend myself. Just let me help them!”
“Eugen!” He angrily shot back. “As your commanding officer, I order you to stand down!”
“Was zur hölle!?” I replied in an annoyed tone. “Alright. You’ve been extremely overbearing ever since Vestal talked to you privately. What did she say to make you act like this!?”
“Nothing.” He replied dismissively.
“Nothing? Just tell me!”
“Nothing! Just… just trust me, alright?”
“Nein! I won’t stop until I find out what—”
“She told me you and our baby might be in danger, alright!?”
I fell silent for a second. “Wha… what do you mean our child might be in danger?”

“I DON’T KNOW!”

H-He’s never raised his voice like this at me before… What is he so afraid of?
The Commander’s eyes began welling up with tears. “I don’t know… Vestal doesn’t know. Nobody knows if you or our baby will survive… it’s something about you having too much iron in your body and the baby not being able to handle it…”
I see… so that’s what he’s been going on about…
“I already almost lost you once,” he mumbled. “I am NOT letting you face the same dangers again!”
I took the Commander’s hand and held it tightly. “I’ll be careful… I promise.”
“No, I won’t let you take another bullet for me!”
“I won’t. We promised each other we’d go visit the Fatherland, right?” I replied with a smile. “Hehe… I already told you before, right? Don’t push yourself too hard… or you will die…”
Silently, the Commander hugged me as tears came streaming from his eyes. I hugged him back and patted his back. After a few seconds, he finally let go as he wiped his face clean.
“Make sure you come back to me… alright?”
I smiled and winked at my cute fiance. “Of course, Liebling… I have so much to do with you~”

The Commander got on one of my escape boats as he kept contact with us using his mask and radio. I took a deep breath and retook control of my ship, shrinking it back into my rigging. I plopped softly on the water as the Commander began giving us our orders.
“Eugen, back Belfast up first. Get rid of Purifier so she can release her smokescreen in peace. Laffey, to me. Those suicide boats will probably try and sink me first so make sure they don’t get close. Ayanami, back Laffey up. Nimi, forget about Lurker. She’ll come to us. Help me steer my boat.”
I saw Nimi rushing over to the Commander’s boat as she steered him clear of the torps Lurker launched as Laffey and Ayanami each protected him from the incoming onslaught of suicide boats. Good. He’s back in the game… Now, time to back up the Head Maid.
“Hahahaha huh?” Purifier finally noticed that my ship was missing. “Where’d that German tank go?”
“What are you looking at?” Belfast finally landed a hit on Purifier now had an annoyed face. The mass-produced ships closed in to help their superior. Not if I can help it!
“So there you are!” Purifier swatted my shell away as she fired back at me. “Wanna play again? Useless German tank!?”
“Hehe… the score is 2-0,” I teased. “I don’t mind playing with small fries like you~”
“S-Small fry!?” Purifier exclaimed in extreme annoyance. “THE HELL YOU CALLED ME!?”
I giggled and dashed further away from Belfast. The stupid Siren began following me like a cat chasing a mouse straight into a wall.
“Small… fry~” I teased her further.
“GRAAAGHHH!!!” Purifier shouted as she fired at me. This time around, I was able to maneuver around her shots properly since I’m not under the influence of their neurotoxins. That should be far enough!
“Now, Belfast!” I yelled at the light cruiser as I slammed my shields on the ocean surface, making a wave as large as me swamp Purifier momentarily. I’ll have to thank Bismarck for teaching me that trick.
“Thank you, Lady Eugen,” Belfast smiled as she finally released her smokescreen. She and I quickly retreated into the smoke while Purifier was dazed.
“YOU WON’T GET AWAY!” Purifier exclaimed as she, presumably, along with her mass-produced ships, entered the mouth of the Strait.
I stood next to the escape boat the Commander was sitting in with a grin. She fell for it.
As soon as Purifier and her mass-produced ships appeared from Belfast’s smokescreen, the Commander gave his command:

“All units: maximum firepower. FIRE!”

All of us began unloading our guns and torps at the incoming enemies, funneled into a tighter area by the natural geography of the Strait. Purifier frantically began dodging the shells but she got hit by a torpedo Ayanami launched!
“Grr… you little!” She growled.
Suddenly, it was raining bombs on the Siren side!
“We made it!” The Commander rejoiced as planes from behind us dropped their payload onto the unsuspecting Sirens!
“Commander! Javelin, reporting for duty!” Javelin came rushing from behind as the Sakura Empire and Eagle Union carriers followed. Sovetskaya Rossiya soon joined the bombardment as one by one, the numerous Sirens sank beneath the waves. After the waves of shells, bombs, and torpedos, Purifier stood alone before us.
“D-Damn it… I won’t forget this!” Purifier scurried away, probably scared of fighting superior numbers in the state she was in.
“Let’s give chase, Comrade!” Rossiya wanted to chase Purifier but the Commander refused.
“That wasn’t the main Siren force. Forget about Purifier; our allies need us. To the Atlantic!”

And with that, we have won the Second Battle of Denmark Strait.

Author's Note:
To anyone who actually knows anything about Naval Tactics, I immediately apologize haha... I didn't want to make the battles just butting heads against the villains so I tried to employ tactics I think would work but if it doesn't work that way IRL, I immediately apologize for my inexperience. Anyway, enjoy reading!
submitted by AkaneRiyun to AzureLane

10 years ago on this day I performed the world's highest skydive. Something so unexplainable happened that I was forced to keep my mouth shut.

In the summer of 2010, over two years before Felix Baumgartner's name splashed across newspapers and television screens for his supposedly awe-inspiring jump from the stratosphere, I broke the record for the world's highest skydive. A record that still stands, unofficially.
But for reasons explained below, my feat and my name were both wiped from the annals of history. I have been forced to keep quiet for all these years, to grit my teeth behind sealed lips as others steal the glory that is rightfully mine. Not anymore.
I deserve to have my story heard. Whatever be the consequences.
*
Ever since I was a child I have been a thrill seeker.
Reckless Ronnie, they called me. The kid who climbs trees, happily accepts dares to swim across frigid lakes, goes sledding down the dangerous incline of the tallest hill near his town, slides down rusted bannisters of stairs on his skateboard - that was me. I didn't do it for the respect or the adoration of my peers, I did it simply because it made me feel alive.
I grew up in a broken home. Lost my mother to cancer when I was 10. Lost my father to the bottle soon after. I had no future. No hopes. No dreams. Nothing except for that one moment where I'd step into the jaws of death, fear coiling like a snake in my stomach. That moment where everything else would fall away, and nothing but the here and now mattered. The risk of death kept me anchored to life, like the trembling glow of a lighthouse in the midst of a dark and turbulent ocean. I lived for those moments.
An adrenaline junkie to the core.
Growing up, I dabbled in numerous activities that sharpened my senses and made my heart race. Rock climbing, paragliding, whitewater rafting, scuba diving, water skiing; I was game for anything that could get my skin tingling. But nothing, and I do mean nothing got me going quite like skydiving.
I was 19 when I did my first solo dive. Saved up money from my job at a local diner to pay for it. I remember it all very well. The roar of the engine of the tiny Cessna, the wind lashing my face and making my lips quiver, the weightless feeling in the pit of my stomach as I plummeted to the ground, the sprawling view beneath me, the parachute tugging me upwards and making me drift in the air, and the way my knees wobbled when I landed. As I lay smiling on the dirt, trying to catch my breath while looking at the cloudless sky I had just dropped through, I knew I had found my calling.
Over the years I developed quite the reputation - a daredevil who was willing to do anything and everything with absolutely no regards for his life. And it was precisely that reputation, and my extensive skydiving experience that caught the attention of the owner of a large multinational corporation, who I shall henceforth only refer to as Damian (not his real name). He was rich and bored, his tentacles having spread far and wide, burrowing into the most obscure of ventures, sucking out profit from places no one would even think twice about.
As someone who had conquered the world, he needed a challenge. And he found it in the stratosphere.
The story goes that on a flight back home from a buisness trip to Hong Kong, he got chatting with his assistant over a bottle of Chardonnay. This assistant told him how he once met Joseph Kittinger, a retired USAF officer who until then had held the record for the world's highest skydive. The more Damien heard about Kittinger, the more excited he got. Everything about the project enraptured him, from the use of helium balloons and pressure suits to the complex physics challenges. He had found his next summit to be conquered.
He attacked the project with a passion, almost as soon as the plane touched the tarmac. He had set up a fund for the mission even before he had reached his office and quickly set about gathering a team of scientists to begin working on it. Next step - finding someone to actually make that jump.
It wasn't long before our paths crossed.
Admittedly, I was a bit sceptical about the whole thing. It all seemed too fantastical to be true. Riding a helium balloon to the edge of the atmosphere? Sounded exciting, but nonsensical. Like the plot of a bad sci fi movie. (I wasn't exactly the sharpest tool in the shed). But one meeting with Damian at the very same diner I worked at completely changed my perspective. He just had a way of explaining things that made even the most outlandish ideas seem perfectly reasonable. He introduced me to his team right after we finished our meal. It truly is impressive what can be achieved with money. There I was, meeting the top scientists in the country, to try and pull off an insane sounding jump, all because a very rich man was slightly bored.
I am not going to waste your time with the nitty-gritty of the project. Instead, I shall tell you just enough so that you can have atleast a surface level understanding of how this was done. For that shall be enough for the story that I'm trying to tell here today.
The project basically consisted of a teardrop shaped space capsule suspended beneath a gigantic helium balloon. The capsule itself contained an oxygen supply, a communications system, and some altimeters. The plan was that I would ascend to the stratosphere (which is far from the actual 'edge of space' as is widely misreported in Baumgartner's case) in that capsule and jump out wearing a pressure suit, which was nothing but a close-fitting garment with a network of thin inflatable tubes that would squeeze my body to make up for the decrease in atmospheric pressure.
See, the stratosphere is cold—the temperature can reach more than 100 degrees below zero. The air is also about 1,000 times thinner than at sea level, which means that without a pressurized suit, bodily fluids start to boil, creating gas bubbles that lead to mass swelling. If that happened, I would get knocked unconscious in about 10 seconds, and an unceremonious death would soon follow.
Before the jump, it sounded like the most terrifying thing that could possibly happen to me. Oh how wrong I was.
*
It was the perfect day for a dive. The sun rose over rolling mounds of sand and rock in the distance and thrust up into a mostly clear sky, painting wispy white clouds a dazzling shade of orange. But I was far too stressed to spare the mesmerizing sight anything more than a passing glance as I drove through the desert. I hadn't even eaten much that morning. Tension and excitement were squeezing all the empty space out of my stomach, making my insides churn.
I remember feeling overwhelmed by it all. We had done test jumps before, but we'd never gone that high. And seeing the bustle at mission control at the airport that had been shut down specifically for the mission, (courtesy of Damian), the nervous energy of the scientists, the cramped capsule, the enormous balloon - it all left me a little breathless. It was Damian who calmed me down. Brought over two mugs of piping hot coffee and took me outside. As we sat on two plastic chairs in the sun, drinking in the beauty of the desert, he talked to me about the historical importance of what we were about to achieve that morning. How this jump could prove to be a turning point in space research. But instead of making me even more nervous, the talk calmed me down. Damian just had that quality. Probably why I initially missed the fact that he had his own agenda for doing this. I really should have been more wary of him.
I ate a peanut butter sandwich before starting preparation for the jump. Damian insisted. Not right to make history on an empty stomach, he said.
Everyone at mission control clapped for me as I waddled over to the capsule. The pressure suit was something else. It was like my entire body was in a cast. As much as I was looking forward to the jump, I couldn't wait to get out of that damn suit.
As I climbed into the capsule, swinging the hatch shut behind me, my nerves seemed to settle. The familiarity of the inside of the capsule chased away the fear, and all that was left was an enthusiastic anticipation. This was it. This was what I was born to do. To go where no-one had gone, to do things no-one would dare to do. I was smiling inside my helmet. My radio buzzed with the voice of the scientist leading the project.
MC [Mission Control] - You ready, Ronnie?
R [Ronnie] - Yep. I'm pumped.
MC - (laughs) Awesome. Let's get this show on the road, shall we?
My stomach lurched as I began my ascent. More psychological than because of the actual lift-off. I leaned forward and saw Damian waving at me, his figure getting smaller and smaller by the second.
I began to drift higher, and the landforms seemed to mesh together until it became impossible to clearly differentiate between sandy plains and rocky hills. Whole states appeared and receded. Cities, forests, deserts, rivers - all just became wide swaths of vibrant colours. Just splashes of green, blue and brown everywhere. It was astonishing. For a while. The radio crackled.
MC - Bored yet?
R - Not yet. The view is too spectacular.
MC - It won't hold your attention for long. It's going to take you over two and half hours to get up there. You really should have taken a book with you.
R - (chuckles) That would be pointless. Can't turn the pages in this thing.
He was right. It did take me almost two and half hours to get up there. And I did start to get a little weary of the journey. I passed the time by chatting on the radio, humming songs and mentally going over what I needed to do when the balloon reached its maximum altitude. But soon the view outside changed, quickly drawing my attention.
I had reached 70,000 feet, and the sky had darkened. I wasn't exactly in space, but it certainly felt like it. I pressed my helmet against the glass and peered outside. Delicate cloud formations appeared below me. It felt like I was floating above an intricate lace doily. One that gently swirled like a slow moving cyclone.
I continued to climb. At 80,000 feet, the curvature of Earth became visible, its vast rounded edges tinted a blurry shade of blue. If only the flat earthers could see this, I thought to myself with a grin.
Soon after I crossed 100,000 feet Damian spoke through the radio and congratulated me for going higher than Kittinger.
The balloon continued to ascend, the altimeter ticking off each milestone in my upward journey. Finally, it came to a half. I didn't feel it happen, the stagnation in the reading was the only sign of the balloon's journey coming to an end. I quickly radioed mission control.
MC - … 150,000 feet? Are you sure?
R - Yes. Can't you see it on your end?
MC - (pauses) Wow. Didn't think it would actually happen.
R - (tense) What's that? Is everything okay?
MC - (static and then Damian's voice) Yes, Ronnie. Everything is perfectly fine. Are you ready to jump?
R - yeah… yeah. I'm ready.
MC - Great. I'll walk you through the process. Are your suit and chest pack cameras on?
R - Check. I can see the red lights flashing.
MC - Good. Disconnect the oxygen hose. And then pop the hatch open.
R - Roger... Done.
MC - Come out to the exterior step. And watch your head!
I felt my breath catch in my throat as I grabbed on to the bars at the side of the hatch and stood on the exterior step. Almost immediately I was hit with an immense vertigo. Made my head swim. I could see numerous layers of the atmosphere shimmering underneath my feet. The world seemed so far away. Entire regions just reduced to little specks on the ground. My heart hammered against my chest like a beast wanting to break free of its cage. I paused and gently turned my neck to gawk at the moon above me. It was enormous and shone with such intensity I was forced to look away in awe. No time to get distracted, I told myself.
I leaned forward. Exhaled. Let go of the bars and stepped out into the emptiness.
I began falling with astounding ease, even sinking into a swimming pool stimulates the senses more than that. It didn't feel like I was moving at all. Felt more like I was floating in vaccum. Directionless... But soon enough I picked up speed. Heard the deafening rush of air inside my helmet, even though I couldn't feel it on my face. I was going fast. So goddamn fast. I let out a scream full of joy as I continued to plummet towards the earth.
The suit was working well. Wrapped tight around me, potecting me from the insane drop in pressure up there. I spread my arms out, as much as the suit would allow and arched my back. Wouldn't want to spin out of control. That could end in disaster.
I kept on falling, picking up speed like no other man ever had. It was glorious. Every pore in my skin tingled. I wished that feeling would never go away.
But it did. In a horrific manner.
There was a loud boom, because of what I then thought was me breaking the sound barrier. It disoriented me, and my equipment started malfunctioning.
It was the faceplate of my helmet. It began wobbling and rattling around. Shocked the living daylights out of me. I had checked it repeatedly, but there was nothing wrong with it. And yet there it was, threatening to burst out of the helmet. I brought my gloved hands close to my face. To see what was wrong.
CRACK.
My stomach dropped. The helmet had cracked, blooming into a terrifying spiderweb of shattered glass. Wind gushed inside, lashing my face, even as I continued to zoom through the sky. It was at once cold, and hot. My cheeks burned. It felt like the very flesh on my skull was being sheared away. I shut my eyes as the wind stabbed at them and my teeth began chattering. I opened my mouth to scream, to radio for help and instantly breathing became almost impossible. My lungs and mouth tried to squeeze in air in spastic gasps. But it was too much all at once.
And then the helmet exploded. The glass flew out - and right into my face. Razor sharp shards pierced my flesh. Sliced my cheeks, cut my lips, slashed my forehead. Stabbed my eyes. Warm blood flooded down my face as I began screaming in agony.
Yet I continued to fall. And fall and fall and fall. No one was there to hear me. To know what had happened to me. I wasn't going to break any records. Was just going to be ignored as an unfortunate accident. That was the dark thought filling my head when the darkness took me.
*
I woke up with a startled gasp. Blinked. It was blindingly dark. Was I dreaming? Everything felt so light, like I was resting on a cloud. I tried to lift my head.
I swooned. Shook my head, brought my hands up to my stomach. I was still wearing that suit. But it felt weightless, like all the pressure had been released. Had I been brought down to the ground? Where exactly was I? I turned my neck. Thick darkness everywhere. Why was it so dark? Above me. To my right. To my left. Just darkness everywhere. Even beneath me...
Jesus Christ.
I was still floating. I was still up in the sky. I spun around and looked down, found myself face to face with an impenetrable darkness and bit back a scream. Where the fuck was the earth?
Panic began to set in. So I forced myself to calm down. And think. Think about what had happened, and where I could possibly be. I remembered falling, the faceplate breaking into pieces, the glass stabbing me. I brought my hands up, and touched my face. The glass was gone. How was I still breathing? A horrible thought crossed my mind. Was - was I dead?
It seemed to be the only rational explanation, as insane as that sounded. I was blind. Floating in an endless black void. No wind. No earth. No pressure from my suit. Nothing. What else could it be?
If that's what death was like, it was terrifying. The worst outcome possible. Fiery pits of hell were preferable to this. Floating like this? All alone? Forever? Nothing could possibly be worse. Maybe it was a hallucination. I clung to that hope like a chewing gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe.
Time passed by. Seemed like seconds. Days. Years. I couldn't say. But my sanity was beginning to fray. I screamed. I sang. I laughed. I cried. Anything that could end this soul crushing monotony. I waited for something to happen. For something to pierce this darkness and pull me out of it.
And then it happened, after what seemed like decades. I was trembling in fear, the kind of fear that seeps into your bones and wraps around your soul, refusing to ever part with it. I had wet my pants. My tear ducts had run dry. But the terror never let up.
I was in the process of trying to bite my tongue off, to try and end the suffering when I noticed it. Out in the far distance, something shimmered. A single pinprick of light in the inky blackness. I narrowed my eyes. It was pale, almost translucent. And it was moving towards me. How far away was it? I couldn't tell. But it was huge. Bigger than me. Much bigger.
I waited with bated breath as it drew closer. And closer. And closer. It seemed to glow. Bioluminescence? Was that a living creature? How can something be alive this high up? If I even was still in the stratosphere at all, that is.
It finally got close enough for me to notice what it was. But that only scrambled my brains in confusion. It looked a gigantic squid, its tentacles, bigger than my legs, flailing around maddeningly. As it drew nearer, it spread its tentacles far and wide, revealing it's gaping black hole of a mouth. Primal terror squeezed at my heart.
I didn't want to find out what it was doing. I tried desperately to get away from it. Swung my arms and paddled my legs like I was trying to swim far away from this thing. I didn't even know whether I was moving at all. Maybe I wasn't, or maybe I was too slow. For I soon felt one tentacle wrap around my leg, its many suction cups clamping down painfully.
I screamed. I flailed. I writhed. But it was pointless. I began to be dragged towards this eldritch squid-like monstrosity. My legs turned numb as they entered its mouth. Then my waist. My back. I lost all feeling in the lower half of my body. I was sobbing, red-eyed, snot-nosed as I was swallowed up.
Then I was out cold again.
*
The next time I woke up, I was back in the capsule once again.
The comforting pressure of the suit on my body calmed my nerves. It was okay. Just a hallucination. Maybe something went wrong with my equipment and the ascent somehow messed with my head. Yeah, that must be it.
I exhaled in relief.
MC - Is everything okay up there, Ronnie?
R - Yeah. Yeah. Perfectly fine. Just preparing to jump.
MC - Great. Now let me walk you through the process…
I froze as my hand reached for the hatch. It was small. Too small. Like a pet door. No way was I going to fit through that. Not in this suit. What?
R - (stammering) I think there's something wrong.
MC - What do you mean?
R - The hatch. It's too fucking small.
MC - (pauses) What are you talking about?
R - It's too small. I can't get out. Help!
Radio static filled the capsule as all contact with mission control was instantly cut off. Fear struck me like a bolt of lightning. I was trapped. Limited oxygen. No food. Suspended over 150,000 feet above the earth. I was going to die.
Why was this thing so small? I pounded on it with gloved fists in frustration.
Wait... What if this wasn't real? What if I was still stuck in that nightmare?
I regretted letting that thought enter my brain, because the very next second, I got my confirmation. My heart skipped a beat as the capsule rattled with a loud thud.
What in the world? Did something crash into the capsule? I bent over towards the tiny hatch, and pressed my helmet against the glass. And waited.
There was a wet squelching sound as something seemed to slither on the metal outside. It couldn't be, I thought. But it was. An enormous tentacle slid over the hatch and I saw dozens of hungry suction cups pulsating and pressing down on the glass.
No. No. No. No. No.
A horrible metallic groan rang out, and the capsule began to crumple. That thing outside was crushing it like a tin can. Metal panels began to contorted, nuts and bolts shot out like bullets, making me wince. A black liquid dripped inside, pooling around my feet. Was that - ink?
And then the capsule exploded. I dropped down through the newly created hole and began falling.
Again.
*
I was falling. Back arched, arms wide, zooming through the sky like a jet.
The world had suddenly come alive with colour around me. Blue sky, white clouds, brown dirt. All splayed out in front me. Swirling, shimmering, delighting my eyes.
The faceplate of my helmet was rattling again. But it was still intact. Thank God. My radio crackled.
MC - Ronnie. Ronnie. Is that you?
R - (screams) Yes. It's me.
Who else could it be? Tense moments passed in silence as I continued to fall.
MC - Ronnie. You need to release your parachute now. You are getting dangerously low. Do it. NOW.
Was I? How did I get this far, this quickly? I hadn't even noticed.
I pulled on the handle, felt an immediate tug and began drifting towards the ground at a much slower speed. Tears of joy pricked my eyes as I felt the ground coming closer towards me. Home sweet home. I reached for the dial at the side of my suit to depressurize it, so that I could steer the parachute. But it was broken. And thus I drifted off course. For miles.
I wasn't worried about it though. The team would find me. Besides, considering what I had experienced up there, this little inconvenience didn't bother me in the slightest.
The tightness squeezing my chest dissipated the instant I landed. The slight pain that rippled through my knees when my legs connected with the sandy dirt was the most pleasurable sensation I had ever felt. I smiled as I fell down on the ground.
I had no idea what had happened to me up there, if any of it was even real or not. But boy was I glad to be alive.
They found me after about 20 minutes. Plenty of spare oxygen was still left in the tank. Nobody from the team of scientists came to pick me up. In fact, I never saw any of them ever again. Any attempts to do so were immediately and sometimes violently shut down.
The people who actually came for me were private security hired by Damian. Mercenaries. They quickly cut the parachute off, depressurized the suit, helped me get out of it and loaded me into the backseat of the van. And blindfolded me, despite my vehement protests.
When they finally removed the cloth from my face, I saw that we were in the parking lot of a decrepit looking, yet heavily guarded building in the middle of nowhere. I was taken to a small room on the ground floor, where I met Damian and a stern looking middle aged man in a black suit.
They interrogated me. About everything that had happened in the sky, about what I had seen, felt, experienced. Every single bit of it. Afraid, angered and frustrated, I told them everything as well as I remembered, even though they refused to say anything in return. The black void, the tentacled monstrosity, the visions. Everything. They seemed especially interested, and in awe of, the squid-like creature I had encountered. Made me describe it. Repeatedly. After they were satisfied that they had extracted every bit of information they could from me, they let me go.
But not before Damian apologised for the secrecy and strongly insisted on my silence. Said that it would be in my best interest if I kept quiet. I recognised it for the threat that it was.
I had one last exchange with him before I was escorted out.
"Why?" I asked, exasperated. "Why do all this? What happened to me up there? Why were you so interested in this dive? I don't understand anything."
Damian smiled and shook his head. "I can't tell you that, Ronnie. I know it sucks, but I really can't."
"No." I said. "Please just tell me something. Anything. Or this is going to drive me mad."
He paused, seemed to mull over something in his head. "Okay. I'll tell you one little fact. The time."
"The time?"
"Yes. The time. The jump took you 29 minutes and 16 seconds to complete."
"... So?"
"As per the calculations of our scientists, it shouldn't have taken you more than 15."
I gawped at him.
"See. For over 14 minutes, you had disappeared from this world. Poof. Gone. Like you'd never existed at all. It's amazing, isn't it? Where were you, Ronnie?"
He smiled, patted me on the back and sent me off.
M
submitted by Mandahrk to nosleep