Indescribable sensation enveloped him. Light, brighter than what his visor could dim, filled in through his eyes. Cato briefly wondered if this was a hand reaching from the Manda, pulling soul and thought from his failing body as fire ate into his flesh. Then an all too-real feeling in his toes, stomach-turning nausea. His feet left the staircase decking and he felt ‘propelled’. Air sucked free of his lungs. There was brief pressure boiling up from his heart, roaring across his ear-bones. Heat snapped to cold.
Snow and glacially frozen stone slammed up at them.
A drift cushioned their brief fall and Cato went spinning down the slope of the mountainside. Disorientation was worse than any pain; all his senses were in riot, trying to translate the stupendous switch in environment. The frigidity rode up through his limbs, briefly invigorating, quickly turning to thickening chills that sapped his mobility. They skidded across rough granite patched intermittently with ice. Laira was limp in his arms. He looked round helplessly, struggling to draw back fresh breath, seeing at last a jag of hard boulder blocking their way. They rebounded off the rock; his grasp faltered, Laira slipping away down the long hill. Beyond her at a hundred yards, the mountain face dropped off abruptly.
Cato forced air into his lungs, pushing hands and feet into rock crevasse, and threw himself forward. He sped after her, swiping for one of her wrists. They were eighty yards out from falling. Their fingers touched briefly. Sixty yards, now forty. At ten yards to the cliff edge, Cato wrapped his arm around her elbow and yanked her back into his hold. With supreme effort, he drew and activated Oilseller’s vibro-edged. Cato stabbed it through the granite until its high-frequency edge lost speed and could slice the earth no more. Laira’s boots dangled over the daunting fall.
“Come on…!” Cato groaned. He crawled them away from the edge, pulled and sheathed Oilseller away; his lungs felt fit to burst. Compared to young Laira, whom now he noticed wasn’t breathing.
“…Ad’ika?” Cato rolled her over. Colour was leeching from her cheeks. He peeled back her eyelids and found the pupils and iris nearly unresponsive. A blued-out tone was beginning to seep up and spread from her collarbone. Faint heartbeats answered his careful probe of her carotid and jugular arteries but life was fading. Helplessness gripped him. “Nayc. …Nayc!”
He sloughed off his jacket, rolled it, and propped it under her skull with her mouth kept slightly ajar. Her tongue popped free of her airway, lolling back behind her teeth. Forced steadiness in his hands. Slipped the helmet aside, brushed her jacketing away from her chest and knotted one hand over the other. His prosthetic palm settled on her breastbone as he began heaving and pushing to a beat time in his head. Every thirty compressions, he paused and pressed their mouths closed, shutting her nostrils, and then exhaling twice. Cato ignored that she tasted sweet, an edge of flesh-salt on her lips, her perfume wafting up at him. The compressions resumed as he tried to instill blood pressure, willing her heart to beat again and taking no pleasure from their brief kisses so he could swell her lungs with breath. “Come on, now… Come on… Ad’ika, I’m trying, please…”