The mountain climbing contest was being held on the cliffs in front. Dan paled as his eyes climbed them. A sheer rock face stretched hundreds of metres vertically up, in places leaning outwards. Then the cliff became icy, its smooth gleaming surface winking in the light. The snow-covered peak was so high, it was almost out of vision.
Dan and Sara could see no handholds on the smooth cliff.
“How on earth does anyone climb that?” Wondered Sara.
Andy replied: “You’ll be amazed! Today you’ll see four of our best climbers tackling it. This is finals day.”
“We had several heats a few days ago, which we missed because we were on Earth –”
“– or near it anyway!”
Dan was quiet and Sara explained why to Andy and Gribol.
“Really?” Queried Gribol. “We can fix that, you know!”
Sara asked, “What, fix his fear of heights?”
“Absolutely!” Andy declared, “We’ll do it after the competition.”
Dan’s heart sank, and even though Sara tried hard to re-energise him, he still felt nervous.
The four contestants were introduced to huge cheers from the enthusiastic crowd. Teresa was tall, slim and moved like a ballet dancer; Thelma was slightly smaller and stocky, and made a show of flexing her muscles; Dhureen was extremely petite and seemed hardly tall enough to be able to climb the rock face.
The only boy in the competition was Winkles, a tall stringy character with a slouch and a permanent smile. He winked at the crowd.
“That’s why we call him Winkles,” said Andy in an aside.
All of them were clad in the familiar violet body suits, but wore thin climbing shoes studded on top and on the soles with short spikes, curved like tiny claws. These gleaming spikes studded fronts and backs of their gloves, and pads on knees and elbows.
Gribol said: “The diamonds help their grip on the climb!”
“Diamonds!” Exclaimed Sara. “These are diamonds?”
Andy replied: “Yes, they need something pretty tough to hold their weight.”
Before Sara could ask the question, Gribol said: “We get the diamonds from Ganymede, one of Jupiter’s moons, where your scientists think there’s a layer of ice under the surface –”
“– but it’s not ice, it’s diamonds–.”
Sara said: “And you hoover them?”
They laughed: “We hoover them!”
The starter lined the four climbers up at the base of the cliff, and Sara wondered: “Don’t they have any other equipment?”
Gribol puzzled: “Other equipment? What other equipment would they need?”
“Well – to climb that cliff. Surely they need something to hang on to and pull themselves up?”
“No, that’s the point really, this is mind over matter.”
Sara looked doubtful, and Dan withdrew further into himself. She nudged him: “Come on Dan, this isn’t like you! Snap out of it!”
“I can’t! I’m feeling ill at the thought of the height of that rock face. Look at it!”
As they looked up, the starter blew a small horn, and the blast let loose a huge whoop from the crowd.
What happened next was unbelievable. Teresa walked up to the cliff, sized up the sheer climb and stood very close to the rock. She stretched her arms high over her head, gripped the wall with her diamond spiked hands, and began to clamber, her fingers, elbows, feet and knees a blur as they pulled her body upwards at an amazing pace.
Thelma crackled her knuckles as she approached the cliff, and calmly jumped upwards. She caught a near invisible handhold, swung her body round in a circle and hurled herself up, swinging through 360 degrees. She briefly anchored herself with her diamond studs and repeated the same movement, again and again.
The tiny figure of Dhureen meanwhile began to climb sideways, like a crab, using fronts and backs of her hands, together with the soles and tops of her shoes. She moved so fast, her hands and feet merged into one.
Winkles, watching all this with an amused grin, turned to the crowd who cheered him loud and long. He winked and turned back to the cliff. He walked forward, put his right foot up high in front of him, and began to run up the cliff, feet pumping furiously, hands swinging effortlessly by his side. He occasionally straightened his rapid climb with a touch on the rocks with left or right hand.
Sara gasped: “I don’t believe I’m seeing this – it’s totally impossible!”
Andy said: “Nothing is impossible if your focus is right.”
Gribol continued: “This is what these guys do! Their training is geared to the climb – it’s all they think about and their energy carries them up as much as all the physical skills.”
“Mind over matter!” They chorused.
As they spoke, the four contestants reached the long stretch of ice. Teresa and Thelma were virtually together in the lead, and Winkles was about to pass Dhureen. The figures above them were almost too small to make out, and Sara was scrunching her eyes to see better when a gigantic screen beamed a hologram of the action directly in front of them.
The crowd cheered the close-up of the four climbers. Suddenly, Thelma slipped as she swung herself on to the ice face. They saw her lose her grip and she began to plummet downwards. Teresa shot a hand out to catch her but missed.
At that second, Winkles caught Dhureen up, and they stopped, linked arms and smoothly broke Thelma’s fall, Winkles swinging her back up the ice face.
The crowd roared their approval, and the race went on. They made slower progress on the ice, and the four chose different routes.
Teresa kept moving up in a straight line, her slim body hugging the cliff face even closer. Thelma, recovered from her fall, changed technique. She bunched her body up tight on the ice, hands close to feet, and sprang upwards like a jumping frog. She moved to Teresa’s left to avoid bumping into her.
Dhureen’s crab-like climb slowed, like the others. She made fewer movements, but stretched her leading left leg and arm in longer motions. She moved to Teresa’s right.
Winkles was amazing. He stopped dead at the end of the rock climb, digging in the tops of his feet and his palms, absolutely tight against the surface.
The crowd held their breath while he casually scanned the icy expanse ahead.
He stretched into a star shape for perfect balance, bent his knees, and pushed straight up, running again, arms and legs widespread.
The crowd roared again as he passed both Thelma and Dhureen, catching Teresa up directly above him. He moved slightly to her left to overtake, and the huge screen clearly showed her grin as she matched his move, blocking his advance.
“This’ll be fun!” Andy declared.
Winkles sidestepped to his right and Teresa followed. He moved swiftly further right and again she blocked him. He ran on the spot for a second, and suddenly burst upwards, diagonally left, too fast for her to respond.
However, while this private duel played out, both Thelma and Dhureen caught up, and they reached the final snowy section in a line abreast.
Gribol jumped up and down in her seat, and Sara was riveted by the action.
It was strange, but nobody now cheered any individual. Applause was for the skill of the climb, not the climbers. So when Dhureen’s sideways movements thrust her ahead of the others, she was cheered loudly, as was Teresa when she caught her up.
Thelma now changed technique to the same style as Winkles, arms and legs pumping through the deep snow. This acted like a signal for Dhureen and Teresa, and suddenly all four were sprinting towards the summit, side by side.
Incredibly, they ran in perfect harmony – left right left right left right left right, each step pushing them through the cascading snow at terrific speed.
The snow they disturbed fell like a white waterfall.
Teresa’s height seemed to be helping her, and the hologram showed her inch slightly ahead, but Dhureen, sensing this, increased her rhythm, breaking the perfect timing they had achieved, to catch her. Thelma’s face reddened with effort as she too stepped up her stride length to keep pace, and all of this began to leave Winkles behind.
The hologram showed they had about a hundred metres left to climb, and for the first time, Sara could see the finish line, a ribbon coloured exactly like a rainbow, fluttering at the top of the snowy slope.
The three girls, now dead level, increased speed together, and Winkles was a clear ten metres behind. The camera focussed on him momentarily, and his arms and legs pumped furiously in a blur, his face calm and relaxed, a slight grin playing round the corner of his mouth. He caught the girls up in seconds, slowed to their pace, and all four crossed the finish line together.
The slow motion replay showed them automatically adjusting to their different heights as they crested the line so that the crowns of their heads broke the tape together. As they did so, it dissolved, leaving the four competitors alone, catching their breath on the flat snowy summit.
The crowd went wild, cheering and clapping each other on the back.
“Best race we’ve had for years!” Shouted Andy.
“Fantastic finish!” Exclaimed Gribol.
Sara, face flushed, and sore from all the backslapping, hugged Dan in her excitement, and he too joined in the celebrations, though hesitantly.
He said: “They deliberately dead-heated!”
Sara nodded: “I know! I know! What a great way to end the race!”
The atmosphere was electric, and they played replay after replay of the final hundred metres. Over the final few metres, the four moved as one, perfectly in tune with each other at the most pressured, competitive and tiring part of the race.
Sara shook her head in amazement, and Andy said: “Yes, that’s what’s possible when you work as one.”
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