Several miles Einar had traveled in his quest to get up and out of the canyon without being detected by anyone who might have responded to the bat scientists’ radio call, and though he had as of yet seen no sign of any such presence, his caution was not diminished. Last thing he wanted was to lead anyone back towards the shelter, and his family. Now, flat on his belly on a slab of sun-warmed limestone he studied the canyon floor with binoculars, careful to keep the glasses well beneath the shade of an overhanging limber pine so there would be no chance of giving away his existence—let alone his position—with a flash.
Nothing. Nothing but the slow, meandering course of the creek as it threaded its way between clumps of still-leafless willow and red osier dogwood, blinking and flashing occasionally as it foamed over rocks and beaver-felled trees. Quiet down there, no movement save the wind in the marsh-grasses that were already springing up green and impossibly brilliant along the watercourse, waves of white as it passed through their midst. The sight was mesmerizing, sun warm on his back and Einar kept his watch for quite some time, muscles relaxing under the gentle and persistent ministrations of the sun and body finally warming to a degree that it no longer needed to tremble just to generate sufficient heat to keep vital systems operating. Tired. Didn’t let himself feel it very often, didn’t dare, but now the full force of the thing hit him and before long it was all he could do to keep the binoculars steady and prevent his head from drooping, eyes closing, sleep coming. Like a reptile, you are. Big goofy lizard soaking up the sun. Quit it. Can’t be falling asleep now.
Rolling to his side he sat up, scooted over into the shade of the limber pine, not trusting himself to remain awake should he stay in the sun. It was then, changing position so that he was looking down from a bit higher perspective, that the movement caught his eye. At first he thought it was simply an unusually strong gust of wind parting the shiny, light-reflecting stems of the swam grasses along the creek, but when he took a second look it was plain that the movement originated somewhat beyond both the creek and the boundary of the grass, in the scrub oak up the other side of the canyon.
Binoculars quickly settled the matter, two human forms coming sharply into focus as they struggled up through the brush, heading for a steep rockslide that extended some hundred and fifty feet up from the canyon floor. He could not tell at first whether these were the two who had surprised him upon waking, could not, he was somewhat alarmed to discover, call up in his mind the exact detail of the clothing worn by those two, but several minutes’ observation and a better look at their packs and gear confirmed their identities. Good news, he could only surmise, that there did not appear to be additional people in the canyon. The pair had perhaps decided it was too difficult to climb out of the canyon on the side they’d been trying, and were returning to camp to go about it another day, or another way, or both.
Seemed then that he might be safe to begin the long walk which would take him up along the entire length of the rim and back to the shelter, and his family. Einar, weary, aching and by then having been without food for rather longer than he could really afford under present circumstances, would have liked to take the situation at face value and start walking, but he knew better, considering what was at stake. Really ought to devote two or three days to keeping watch on his back trail and on the situation back at the rim-camp, make sure no helicopters were brought in, no search dogs in the canyon, and only after that time decide he was safe to head home without worrying about pursuers on his trail. Fact remained that he had been seen, and even if the scientists had not realized just who they’d stumbled across in the canyon that morning—must not have, or the choppers would already be swarming the place—someone else might realize later, when they told the story back in camp.
Which, if you think about it, is a real strong argument for getting out of here without further delay, getting out while you still can. Be way too easy to get boxed in here in this sort of terrain, especially if they somehow run you back down into the canyon. Could be the end of you, and even if you know you’d put up a good fight, make a good end and don’t mind the idea too much…well, Liz and that little boy are kinda counting on you to come back. That’s how you left things with them. That you’d come back. In the interest of making it back, you’d better be moving pretty quickly here, taking reasonable precautions about your backtrail but not waiting around for a search to start.
Uninterested in spending any more time arguing with himself, Einar retreated from his limestone ledge, and started out. Knew he’d have to be careful traversing the rim on that side, both because of the camp full of people on the opposite rim who might spot him if he didn’t keep himself well back from the horizon, and the as-yet unidentified towers with their mysterious antennae that he and Liz had seen spring up during their first visit to the canyon. Would have to work his way between the rim and the area potentially covered by the towers, careful not to pass too close to either danger.
Much of the rest of the day was taken up with travel, Einar not moving with tremendous speed due to the necessity of caution, but making good progress nonetheless, so that by the time the sun began dipping towards the horizon, he was no more than a mile from being parallel to the biologists’ camp. Here beneath a cluster of limber pines he sat down for his first real rest since being startled awake that morning and ending up momentarily immobile in the presence of his potential enemies. A shudder at the memory, knuckles pressed to his temple as if to push back the persistent headache which remained as souvenir of the unpleasant incident as he slid the pack from his back and took a seat, back to one of the trees. Quiet. Everything quiet around him as he rested, and his thoughts turned to Liz, and to Will, a weary smile creeping over his face. Would be seeing them soon. If all went well.
Must have been the miles covered that day. Or the time spent lying under the rocks as he observed the camp two days prior, or on the limestone ledge that morning. Couldn’t know for sure but Einar did know that his legs just weren’t working properly when he got up to move on from his rest spot, to cover another mile or two before dark. Had for the past hour or so been resorting to physically lifting his legs up and over logs and other obstacles with his arms at times, an exhausting routine whose necessity he had tried at first to avoid by simply applying more focus to the act of walking, had hoped that, and the rest, would be enough to set him straight. It had not worked, muscles simply refusing to respond in the way he would have expected and he falling more than once when his upper body ended up traveling forward more quickly than his legs could manage to keep up with. Frustrating, especially when his arms, too, began wearing out, shaking uncontrollably from the effort of lifting his legs time after time. Not working. Not the way a person was intended to move, and though he kept telling himself the trouble had to be almost entirely in his head, laziness of some form, failure to apply himself and surely something he could overcome with enough effort, his efforts seemed to be producing no appreciable results.
Needed water. Had forgotten about water since the events of that morning, and perhaps this could explain in large measure his current difficulty. No water up there on the rim, not that he had yet discovered, but there was snow, and choosing a clean-looking bank in the partial shadow of a stark-branched aspen grove he lowered himself to his belly on the ground before it, pressing cupped palms into the soft, mossy soil and waiting for them to fill with melt-water. Did not take long, and the stuff tasted good, so good that he repeated the process several times, pausing between just to breathe and to rest his forehead against the good cool, damp ground. Smelled of life, that ground did, awakening life as things thawed and seeped and the soil came alive with shoots and plants and growing things, and he grinned at the thought of it, took another long drink and got up.
Tried to get up. Leg muscles apparently weren’t the only ones not wanting to cooperate, and it took him several minutes and a bit of quick strategizing before he was able to get his legs under him, and rise. Well. Simple solution to that one. He simply wouldn’t do any more lying down. Mustn’t do any more, and though he did his best to put the thought aside as he started off along the rim once more, he really didn’t know if he had it in him to make that return trip, now.