Marcus couldn't honestly remember the next bit. It was a continuous, strained effort against the cold, desperation, physical and mental exhaustion, and a complete and utter misery in everything, until he had lost the will to live - not the expression, no, literally lost the will to carry on, to climb one more frozen stretch of cable, to cling on when he could just hurl himself into the wild abyss, and be devoured by the snow.
The wolves became quieter. They had stayed behind, staking their chances with those still on the pylon. At first Marcus had worried that they would follow the four up, but they had not, and he had stopped caring - and almost missed them. The wilderness was silent, too silent, save for the craking of the cable, which weakened with every body on it.
Jessica had made them go one at a time to save stress on the cable. Marcus now noticed that she had taken the four smallest people in the group, and wondered at her genius. And she was brave, too: he watched her, determined, dogged, as she crawled along the cable in the cold, probably weighed down by her ski jacket - and Marcus knew how hard it was.
And how relieved he was when his ski boots touched the icy floor of the summit, where, on ordinary days, he would ski off, and round, close to the cafe, and down the piste...
Wishful thinking, now. Marcus was the first up, so he looked around. The control room was dark and silent, and Marcus walked to it, and then noticed - the door was open.
Why would they leave it open? They usually shut these things. Perhaps they had forgotten?
Marcus crept inside. What his eyes saw - for the second time that day - made him remove his ski goggles in disbelief.
Two men lay where they had fallen, in brown, congealed pools. The closest looked asleep, but he was cold and stiff as a boar, and very much dead. Marcus had never seen a dead body before - certainly, he'd had the usual heart dissaction in Biology, and he'd seen roadkill - but this was different. It was so much closer, somehow.
Presently, Marcus couldn't register shock - just an unspeakable numb feeling and a morbid curiosity. He approached the first, stepping over him gently, in the cramped control room.
The second sprawled across the controls. Marcus looked him over, anxiously. He began to feel a rising sickness in the back of his throat. This was horrendous.
And just when Marcus was about to leave, all set to throw up outside, he almost slipped, and set his hand by accident on the second man's shoulder.
It was warm.
Marcus' legs felt shaky. He felt like screaming, or being sick, but he didn't know which one to do first. The man gazed at him with glassy eyes. The mouth was partially open.
And it rasped.
Marcus knew no more. He careened out of the little control room, and, as Jessica jumped down from the cable, he was on his knees, and violently and pitifully retching.