The Imperiled Actress
Celeste dropped through four feet of empty space, but she clung to Thelonius with all her might and he managed to keep hold of the chain with his feet. Upside-down now, he swung her down to the anchor line, giving a howl of pain as he tried to use his injured arm to help keep her in place. Celeste gripped the line for herself, worming her way up as best she could. She saw that his eyes were unfocused and his face slack in an intensely human-like expression of pain and exhaustion. Celeste suddenly found it impossible to think of him as a mere primate: he was a friend who had saved her life at least twice. Now it was time to return the favor.
The muscles in her arms burned and shook with the effort of simply holding her own weight aloft, but she steeled herself and grabbed Thelonius’s wool vest to pull him in closer to the chain. He managed to hug the line with his good arm and tuck his bad one against his chest, wincing pitifully with each pull towards safety. Together, they made it the last few feet to the flattened top of the pylon’s spire. The trooper below them fired once more, narrowly missing Celeste’s hand as she reached back to pull Thelonius up after her.
Atop the pylon, a hundred feet in the air, Thelonius collapsed, too weak to do anything but clutch his shoulder and draw agonized breaths. Celeste, panting and weak from her exertion, knew that the trooper would be scrambling over the edge in only a moment.
Lunging to the far side of the pylon, she seized the loop of the chain with her fingers and heaved with all the muscles in her legs, back, shoulders, and arms, but it was drawn tight like a lasso around the spire and made heavy by the weight hanging from it. Strain as she might, she could move it only an inch at a time, and all the while she could feel the rhythmic rattling of the trooper working his way closer. One of her nails broke, tearing high from her cuticle and leaving a tender white patch of soft skin along the tip of her finger. In another time and another place, she might have fainted from the pain, but now she was far beyond concern for proper behavior or lady-like appearance. Her only reaction was to spread her legs into a wide base and grunt as she forced the chain up through the last few grinding inches.
The chain ripped free from one corner of the pylon, snapping tight a split second later. It was still hooked by one corner, but in a moment it began clinking and wiggling again, which meant the trooper was still climbing towards them.
“Thelonius,” she called. “Look out!”
The chimp man opened his big brown eyes to study the situation. If he continued to lay there when the chain came loose, it would lash across the top of the pylon and sweep him over the edge. Without needing an explanation, he rolled himself over the chain to the safe corner of the spire’s top.
Celeste looked back to see the trooper’s hand emerge over the edge, ready to pull himself up. She grasped the chain and gave it one more jerk to free it from the corner. Instantly it whipped out of her hands and drained away over the side. She heard the trooper’s scream as he plummeted away, but she dared not look.