Like half the world, I was captivated by the unbelievable achievements of Felix Baumgartner and the Stratos team this week – equal parts hi-tech science and seat-of-the-pants daredevil. But for me this global event felt surprisingly personal, since there’s a little-known link between this incredible, record-breaking leap from space and Jaspa’s Journey.
We’re all familiar with the idea of movies having deleted scenes, particularly in this age of DVDs and Blu-ray discs, which often include them in the Special Features section. Yet I wonder, how many people realise that books also have deleted scenes?
When Rich began writing Jaspa’s Journey 2: The Pride of London, he wanted a way to introduce Britain’s capital to an audience who might be unfamiliar with her geography. His solution was to have Bisckits emulate a parachute jump made by Captain Joseph Kittinger of the US Air Force.
On August 16th, 1960, Captain Kittinger jumped from a balloon at a height of 102,800 feet (31,333 metres) above the desert of New Mexico. Several of the unofficial records he set that day – including highest parachute jump and fastest speed by a human – stood for over fifty years, until Felix Baumgartner’s jump from 128,097 feet (39,044 metres) on Sunday. And Colonel Kittinger (as he now is) was there not only to see it, but as part of the support team.
In Rich’s version, Freefall, Bisckits obviously makes his jump over London instead of New Mexico. And, so he can describe what Bisckits sees, Rich has him falling face-down, whereas Kittinger’s decent was in a seated position, because of his equipment. And did I mention Bisckits’ skydive only happens in his dreams? (Thankfully!)
In the end, it was decided that Freefall didn’t really add anything important to the story of The Pride of London, and so was left out. But in celebration of the historic jumps by both Felix Baumgartner and Joseph Kittinger, we’ve decided to present it here in my blog. Although it didn’t make it to the final version of the book, I still really enjoy it. I hope you will too…
Chapter 1. Freefall
Bisckits stares down on London – 50 kilometres east to west, 40 kilometres north to south. Home to nearly 7½ million humans, and who knows how many Ses. He holds up the little finger of his right hand, and the entire city disappears behind its tip.
OK, perhaps down needs some clarification, since if Bisckits was much higher, up and down would cease to have meaning. For Bisckits’ viewpoint is thirty kilometres above the ground!
That’s right… It does say thirty! 30! Three-zero! And yes, it is supposed to be kilometres, although you can call it 30,000 metres, if you prefer!
He’s so high the horizon is curved.
He’s so high he can see over 630 kilometres in every direction!
He’s so high five whole countries lie within his view – England, Wales, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg – along with sizable chunks of five more – Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, France and Germany. He can also see the whole of the Irish Sea, the English Channel and substantial portions of the North Sea and Atlantic Ocean.
But none of that’s important, for Bisckits is only up here to see London. And she’s set out beneath him, like a big map. A really big map! With large bits obscured by clouds.
Now, 30 kilometres up can be a little hard to imagine. So let’s put it into perspective: Bisckits is almost three times higher than airliners fly!
So it’s just as well he’s not in an airliner…
He’s in a tiny metal basket swinging gently beneath an enormous helium balloon!
Oh! And he appears to be wearing something akin to a space suit.
But since the temperature up here is around ‑45ºC, and there’s nowhere near enough air for him to survive, this is definitely a good thing.
Bisckits peers over the side of the capsule, and his stomach fills with butterflies. Yet he feels inexplicably drawn towards the doorway of this miniscule platform floating near the edge of space.
He stares down at the Earth, so very far below, and is almost overwhelmed by the beauty of it. The rich greens and browns, vibrant blues, overlain by wispy whites. Shuffling forwards, the young Giraffeses stands at the brink, his toes sticking out over the precipice.
He takes a deep breath…
…And steps off into the void!
The wind rushes past, but other than that Bisckits has no real sensation of speed. He’s simply too high. The gap between him and the Earth is shrinking rapidly, but the ground is so far away that Bisckits has no way to tell just how quickly he’s travelling.
Hurtling headfirst towards the ground, arms tucked in to his sides, he’s as streamlined as a fighter jet and almost as fast.
He looks down on London. Even from this height, he can clearly make out the meandering River Thames, efficiently slicing the city in half, north and south. Like a monstrous snake, it slithers eastwards through the capital, writhing and squirming, twisting and turning in great sinuous curves and loops, all the while getting fatter as it strikes for the sea.
Bisckits’ world shrinks, as he continues to plunge earthwards. By 15,000 metres, the horizon is just 435 kilometres away, its curve much less pronounced. Yet Bisckits hardly notices, transfixed as he is by London. He can already discern the prominent lines of the major roads and railways, distinguish the green swathes of the larger parks scattered amongst the chequered, dull-grey blanket of buildings, and see the glint of sunlight on the murky waters of the winding river, angular docks and ornamental lakes.
He dives through 10,000 metres like a living, breathing missile. He can now pick out the multitude of bridges striding over the ever-widening Thames. Road bridges, rail bridges, even footbridges. Crossing back and forth, they chop the mighty river into manageable chunks.
5000 metres flashes past as London swells beneath Bisckits, the pattern of her streets rapidly coming into focus. Still, the River Thames remains centre stage, a pulsing artery flowing through the heart of the city. The falling Giraffeses can identify every detail of the river’s course, every twist and turn.
The Thames approaches London from the west, but two kilometres south of Bisckits, at Battersea, it swings north and spears straight for the capital’s heart. Yet after passing through the six arches of Westminster Bridge, which currently lies directly below the daredevil Giraffeses, the Thames begins to curve back to the right, so that by the time it reaches Blackfriars Bridge, another kilometre and a half downstream, it’s resumed an easterly course.
For five kilometres the river holds this bearing, before embarking upon two great loops through the Docklands of London’s East End. Finally, the Thames turns eastwards once more, threading through the Thames Barrier – a series of six dam-like gates that can be raised to protect London from flooding during very high tides. Then, leaving London in its wake, it heads for the North Sea.
Approaching 4000 metres, Bisckits finally spots his landing site, Jubilee Gardens, a small grassy square just 125 metres across. It’s located near the old County Hall building on the South Bank, the riverside strip that runs along the inside of the bend between the bridges of Westminster and Blackfriars.
Like a Giraffeses-shaped rock, Bisckits drops towards the Gardens. But he should enjoy this adrenaline rush while it lasts. Because his freefall is almost over.
As he passes 1500 metres, Bisckits reaches back with his right hand. In one fluid motion, he grasps the tiny pilot-chute and throws it out behind him. The mini parachute acts like an airborne anchor, dragging his main chute out of the streamlined protective pack on his back.
As soon as it hits the airstream, Bisckits’ canopy begins to open. To grow. Billowing out above and behind him like an inverted sail.
With a tremendous lurch, the Giraffeses is snapped upright. He feels like he’s suddenly being wrenched upwards by his shoulders, rocketing back towards the platform from which he so recently leapt, which is now well over 28 kilometres distant… Straight up!
In reality, the rapidly inflating parachute acts as an enormous airbrake, slowing his headlong plummet. Saving his life. And at the speed Bisckits is travelling, it’s got its work cut out!
But in less than five seconds our intrepid aviator goes from falling to flying. His insane nosedive becomes a graceful glide, thanks to a wafer-thin piece of fabric. Like the enormous rectangular wing of a guardian angel, it spreads above him. Whilst beneath his gently swaying feet, London waits with open arms.
Bisckits floats downwards in lazy spirals, as he catches his breath. Down here, closer to the ground, the innumerable sights of London battle for his attention. To the east are the immense skyscrapers of Canary Wharf and the City of London, Tower Bridge and the unmistakeable dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral. To the north, not far from the river, Nelson’s Column rises proudly above Trafalgar Square, whilst in the distance, the open green expanse of Hampstead Heath, London’s highest point, rises above the entire city. To the west, Bisckits spots Buckingham Palace, nestled safely between St. James’s Park and Green Park, the leafy corridor continuing virtually unbroken through to Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens beyond. And to the south, the characteristic chimneys of the redundant Battersea power station stand like four white pillars supporting the heavens.
The list of wonders is endless.
And yet, as he begins his final descent into Jubilee Gardens, Bisckits finds his eyes drawn to just two of them. The first is only a few hundred metres away from his landing site across Westminster Bridge: the intricate and distinctive façade of the Houses of Parliament, one of London’s most historic landmarks. The second is closer still, overhanging the Thames at the very edge of Jubilee Gardens – the technological marvel that is the big white wheel of the London Eye, one of the capital’s most recent and yet most recognisable attractions.
With the ground coming up fast, Bisckits pulls down hard on both steering toggles, flaring his canopy. The affect is amazing. It’s as if he’s hit the brakes and come to an almost complete stop in midair.
The little Giraffeses hardly feels his feet touch the ground. He’s had bigger jolts climbing down off a wildebeest. Two quick, short paces forward and he comes to a halt, his parachute collapsing gently behind him. From a dizzying height of 30 kilometres to a safe touchdown in under five minutes!
Wow! What a rush!
Welcome to London, Bisckits.
If you enjoyed this ‘deleted scene’, go to my Books page for information on where to download the full version of Jaspa’s Journey 2: The Pride of London.