Monday, 21 June 2010

Down & lost

This follows on from The Race.

*****

Nate opened his eyes and blinked. A cloudless blue sky stretched above him. The sun beat down on him, but it was totally devoid of warmth – he was freezing cold. His head was throbbing with a steady rhythm, as if it were caught in a vice that had been set to periodically tighten and loosen like an ancient instrument of torture.

He tried to sit up, but only managed to gasp as pain lanced through his chest, radiating from just under his right armpit. He settled back again with a low moan. He ran his tongue across the roof of his dry mouth. He didn’t taste any blood. It wasn’t a torn lung, then. Must be a cracked rib.

Nate flexed his fingers, feeling something dry and powdery and cold crumble under them. he gingerly raised his right arm from the elbow, and turned his head so he could look at it. He managed both actions without adding to his pain. That’s a relief – no other broken bones or vertebrae, at least.
He was holding a lump of snow – dry, powdery, freezing cold snow. He was lying on a snowfield.

“Well, well, looks like Sleeping Beauty’s awake.” The sky above Nate was cut off by a familiar, square-jawed, crooked-nosed face. Shane glanced disapprovingly at the lump of snow in Nate’s hand. “I hate to tell you, mate – this ain’t quite the moment for a snowman, y’know.”

Shane wrapped his arm around Nate’s shoulders and lifted him into a sitting position. Nate winced as his rub burned. “Anything broken?” Shane queried. “Rib,” Nate gasped. The frigid air burned Nate’s throat, making speech difficult.

“Yeah, well, it could’ve been a lot worse,” Shane grunted. “You passed out when we blew out of the Sukhoi. You were drifting out of control. All I could do was keep you in sight. If you’d landed on one of them boulders you would’ve broken a lot more than a rib.”

The two of them were on a wide, sloping snowfield, periodically broken by rocky outcroppings which shouldered through the snow. They were facing downhill, and Nate could see the snowfield peter out onto a rocky plain dissected by little streams which emerged from under the snowfield itself. The rocky plain disappeared over a ridge. Beyond the ridge rose range after range of steep-sided, snow-capped mountains, fading into the distance.

“Where are we?” Nate wheezed.

Karakoram Mountains,” Shane replied. He was standing in front of Nate, hands on his hips, looking at the faraway mountains. “China’s about twenty clicks north-west, that way” – he poked his thumb over his shoulder, uphill – “Pakistan ‘bout the same distance north-east, that way” – he hooked his thumb to his right – “and India about fifty clicks south” – he nodded straight ahead.

Nate frowned. “So who owns this area?”

Shane’s shoulders rose in a shrug. “The local warlord.”

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