‘Almost,’ Rodger shouted against the wind, his cold fingers clutching the aluminium rungs of the rope ladder growing numb.
Frederick cupped his ear with one hand. He looked so small all the way up there.
‘Never mind,’ said Rodger, but the wind drowned his voice. He looked down on the white stones below. They looked like a path, about three or four metres wide and on each side, water, as far as the eye could see.
From the dimension machine where Frederick still sat, they had been able to see more. Further down the path there seemed to be more land, perhaps a string of islands. His safety harness was uncomfortably tight. He craned his neck to look down the path, as he clicked himself out of the safety line.
A strong gust made the rope ladder buckle like a rodeo bull. Rodger’s fingers slipped. And he fell. He twisted in the air, reached the stones below thigh first and cried out as the pain shot up his leg.
He did not know if he was better or worse off having landed on the stones. Perhaps better, he could not see what was below the water. He lay still on his side and felt his leg carefully with one hand. It was sore, but there did not seem to be any broken bones.
Gingerly he rose to his feet and looked up. The rope ladder was thrashing about in the wind.Frederickwas waving at him, his face paler than usual. Rodger gave him the thumbs up. Frederick shouted something. Rodger pointed to his ears and shrugged his shoulders. Frederick made the wait sign and disappeared into the dimension machine.
The machine looked like a hole in the sky and was equally impossible to manoeuvre. This would have been so much easier if they had just been able to land the thing.
Frederick came back with a whiteboard. In large letters he wrote:
‘Are you still up to exploring?’
Rodger gave another thumbs up.
‘You sure I shouldn’t see your leg?’
‘Sometimes you sound like my mother,’ muttered Rodger as he gave an exaggerated nod. Then he pointed down the path. ‘I’ll just go down to the first island,’ he said.
‘I’ll lower down some provisions,’ wrote Frederick, ‘wait there.’
Rodger tapped his foot as Frederick disappeared from view again. It wasn’t as if he was going out on a large expedition. He would be back before dark and sleep in the machine, no worries.
Frederick reappeared with a basket clipped onto a steel wire. He put it over the edge and sat back to lower it down slowly. When the basket neared him, Rodger placed himself underneath and reached up his arms to receive it.
The hole in the sky flickered out of existence for a split-second and the basket plumped onto Rodger’s head. Then forty metres of rope ladder added its weight to the basket and Rodger’s legs buckled underneath him.