(Page 1 of 5)
"Great," I said. I didn't want to spoil the mood with a lot of talk. I was scared out of my mind, and more excited than I'd ever been in my life. How many people can say they were the first to do something? Not many. I would be one.
Trent was more obvious in his support. "This is gonna be major! You got your tunes?"
Trent had insisted I take a music player with a variety of my favorite songs. The player added less than a gram to the weight of the suit.
Sally and Trent were bundled against 50 below temperatures. I looked at them through their oxygen masks. Trent smiled. Sally did not. I wanted to give them each a hug. My pressure suit was far too bulky so I patted them on their shoulders. They saw my face clearly through my plastic helmet. I smiled reassuringly. Sally nodded.
They turned me to face the edge. Beyond the gray rock of the plateau, below the deep purple sky, the planet disappeared. Even the bright light of late-morning Iota could not banish the shadows of the crevice. This cliff stood higher than any on Earth. It was higher than any on Mars. It dwarfed anything back in our home system by two orders of magnitude. This gash in the surface of America was the deepest known hole on any body in any system, extending from the dry sparse plateau known as the Butlerian Highlands down into the deepest part of the planet's surface, two-thousand kilometers below. Not two thousand meters. Two thousand kilometers – the distance between New York and Miami. A long way down. Someone with a dark sense of humor had named this abyss the Pit of Hades.
I ran as fast as I could for the edge and jumped.
As one of the original settlers in the Iota system, I remember Earth gravity. I grew up in it, spent most of my life in it. This felt wrong. It was too much, as if I was falling in fast forward. Every second, the gravity of this overlarge world pulled me eleven and a half meters per second faster. My reptilian brain believed the problem was the bulky suit, that it was dragging me down into the inky shadows of the chasm, that I should remove it and fall at a more reasonable acceleration.
I ignored that part of my brain.
After the first minute, I reached 700 meters per second.
Falling on Earth, eventually you attain a speed known as terminal velocity. This is when the drag of the air balances perfectly with the pull of gravity. You can't fall faster than that, about fifty meters per second. I was comfortable with that speed. I skydived for years back on Earth. At fifty meters per second you can watch the ground rise to meet you, calmly waiting to pull that ripcord.
I was already falling much faster than that. The atmosphere on America was far thinner than Earth. At this high altitude, just few thousand meters below the Highlands, it was thinner still.