The Arcturian swam with the current until he reached the great rock anchoring the gravel bar. This stood firm against all pressure. He clung to it, then raised himself upon it until he could look down over the edge of the falls.
His eyes closed momentarily in sheer relief. Bethe lived. She had somehow managed to avoid the chaos at the base of the drop, and she was now fighting to escape the hold of the whirlpool created by the falls.
His joy was short-lived. The situation was still desperate. The spacer was trapped, unable to break out of the water’s hold, and very soon now, her strength would fail or she would be smashed against one of the many huge rocks littering the place.
Her cause was not lost. Another approach could win her free...
There was no point in trying to shout directions to her. Between the roar of the falls and her own efforts, she simply would not be able to hear and piece together enough of what he said to guide herself out of her peril, even if her muscles and skill were equal to the task.
Once more, Sogan dove into the Maiden, into the place where the river surged over the edge of the hard rock shelf forming the falls.
His was a studied descent. He did not crash down the major face of the cascade as Bethe Danlo had done. Rather, he slithered along the channel where they intended to bring their boat. Varn went down fast despite his efforts to check his fall, but he kept control of himself, squirming his supple body around boulders and other obstructions so that he took no real hurt, and he hit bottom before fear had time to build into a significant force inside him.
It was impossible to remain on the surface in that place of impact, and he made no effort to do so. The War Prince went under, riding with instead of fighting the command of the Maiden, all the way to the bottom of the deep trench excavated by the eternal pulverizing force of the falling water.
The fear that had held off earlier began to grip him now so that he had to battle himself to keep it from taking control of him. The pressure of the dropping water and the currents it engendered were both worse than he had anticipated. Getting away from this place into which he had cast himself would be no simple matter.
The fall itself was a veritable wall because of the force and volume of the water involved. He could not pierce it. Worse, instead of turning outward when it struck bottom, the whole of it spun inward until it hit hard against the cliff and from thence shot upward, fashioning a vicious trap for a swimmer unfortunate enough to find himself within it.
Once again, the War Prince did not attempt to fight the river directly, knowing any such effort to be foredoomed. He worked his way diagonally through it, wielding his will with iron force to control his lungs’ ever-more-urgent demand for air.
He tried to figure out how Bethe had made her escape, what route she might have taken and the method she had used to gain it, but he gave the effort up even as he began it. The Commando-Sergeant had never been here. She had either jumped or been thrown out beyond the foot of the falls, or she would not now be alive and still fighting for her survival.
He went on grimly. All this water had to be exiting somewhere, making way for that coming after it, and the sweep of the outlet current was probably no minor power in its own right. It should be able to help him considerably if he could manage to position himself correctly within it.
To do that, he must first find it—before his hold over his lungs gave out and before he was struck by some debris missile tearing down from above...
The pressure pushing at him eased suddenly, almost too suddenly, but he identified the cause in time to benefit from it. The outflow was surprisingly gentle, but he followed it. When the turmoil lessened perceptibly, he surfaced to find himself in the quiet main pool of the waterfall.
Once his lungs’ hunger for air had been satisfied, Sogan shook his head to clear some of the water from his hair and eyes. He saw his quarry almost at once. She was clinging to a tall, smooth-worn tooth of stone rising out of the wild water near the whirlpool’s inner edge.
The woman, in her turn, felt a surge of joy at the sight of him. She had been certain he would never win free, that the falls would be his death.
Whatever her relief, she did not lose her head. There was no sense in both of them dying here. “Varn, head for shore!” she shouted. “There’s no getting to me! You can make it to land from where you are.”
“Not a chance, Sergeant!”
The Arcturian swam as close as he dared to her without falling into the grasp of the fierce current pummeling the tall stone.
He could reach her, he decided after several minutes’ close study, but not without enormous effort and a great deal more good luck than Bethe Danlo had enjoyed thus far. It was as much as he could manage to hold himself in place even in this comparatively still spot.
There was another way. “Give me your hand if you can,” he told her. “I will try to pull you free.”
Bethe bit her lip when she looked at the distance separating them, but she tightened her grip on her support with one arm and extended the other to him.
Varn stretched as far as he could in an effort to grasp that pathetically tiny hand, but the space between them was too great.