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Del Llema could do nothing now but watch as the top anchor pin popped out of the slush and become airborne in a fragment of time that seemed to stretch out and then freeze while he considered the consequences. The tiny pin would now pass final judgment on his niche within creation, on all he was and all he would ever become.
Panic flooded his mind, surging in and commanding attention. Del Llema flipped back over his heels and pulled off the wall. Then the fear disappeared. Del Llema fell off the staircase, toppling over upside down. His climbing hardware flew out of his waist harness and dropped down the wall with him. He didn't yell or holler or even speak. Now just a creature of circumstance, he merged in a kind of harmony with the fall. The event purged his mind of all fear, bringing him a clarity that gauged the sum of all the previous events in his life leading to this one. He became immersed in a gesture of finality that evoked nothing more from him than absolute submission.
Alois dodged the barrage of falling hardware and gear. He too remained quiet, alert but calm, aware of the impending thrust that would soon reach him and yank him from the wall. He thought about releasing his line and saving himself, but his conscious wouldn't allow it. He'd stay tied on and became Del Llema's last marginal hope of survival; that somehow he'd hold the fall and stay anchored to the wall, a hope that was as impossible as taking his team to the summit now. He braced himself, burying his feet in the slush under him, holding tight to whatever meager handholds he could manage. But he knew, in seconds he'd fall free down into the surging acid rainfall, down the wall and into the burningmist of acid, smoke, gas and debris.
The slack in the crylon line ran out and the thrust from Del Llema's fall plucked Alois off the staircase with ease. He plunged headfirst down the ice wall. Del Llema tumbled below him. Long shards of blue ice passed him by as he fell, racing towards the tiny plateau at the junction of the wall and the staircase below. He could think of only one thing. Now, at the end of his life, clarity focused on the simple truth, the only thing that really mattered. All the dreams of conquest and power disappeared, like paper turning to ash in a fire pit. Nothing but powerful memories of Wintara brought him gratitude that he had been lucky to have have had her in his life.
Last on the line, TJ knew he was done for. There was no time to even release the crylon from his harness, to brace for the fall, to devise a plan of any kind.
A few seconds of panic wouldn't save his neck. There was nothing he could do now, nothing at all. He stayed still. He found his mind calculating the time left, the length of rope left before the slack ran out, before he too would be ripped off the wall ... thirty meters, twenty five, twenty one, nineteen. His mind flashed calculations in a calamity of impending doom, a helpless obsessive quest of meaningless proportion, just like always ... fourteen meters, thirteen, eleven, ten....