Though Einar was reasonably certain he did not want to hear what Susan had to say, didn’t especially want Liz hearing it either, lest she find the proposal--whatever it was--greatly tempting and herself disappointed if they weren’t able to take advantage of it, he supposed they might as well listen. Appreciated the fact that Susan had, it seemed, waited to talk to the two of them together about it, rather than plying her influence on Liz in his absence and attempting to convince her one way or another on the matter, knew he could be misinterpreting that aspect of things--was pretty adept at misinterpreting most people’s intentions, really, and had been all his life; puzzling critters, those humans--but believed from Susan’s words that she had indeed waited until that moment to bring the matter up for discussion. Taking his leave of Susan, he returned to the cabin.
“Looks like you better come on out here, when you’re done with the water. Susan’s got something in mind she wants to talk with us about, both of us, and it looks like she’s kinda anxious to get started.”
Liz gave him a strange look--wasn’t like him to be so cooperative, especially in arranging a meeting whose purpose she could only guess he would not find to his approval--smiled and rose from the spot where she had been sopping up a bit of spilled water from the barrel-filling. Guessed perhaps he might still be a bit strange and sleepy after his brief time of sleep--a good possibility, as far behind as he had by his own admission been--and though such circumstances would normally have left him more reticent, reserved and bull-headed, she could only be thankful if this particular time they had somehow allowed for the opposite. By the time they got back outside Kilgore was there also, he and Susan having taken seats on logs that were destined to become part of the woodshed, having left spots opposite them for Einar and Liz to sit. Way too formal-looking as far as Einar was concerned, and he wanted to bolt, get out of there and take Liz with him, but he’d agreed to listen, and listen he would.
Hobbling over to one of the remaining logs and taking a seat, he stared blankly at a spot somewhere between their two guests--that gap contained the trunk and near branches of an almost perfectly-framed little fir tree, as things happened, and the image was quite pleasing to him, seemed better than wondering which of the two of them he was supposed to look at, and for how long, as he knew he tended either to not look at people, which they seemed to interpret as either disinterest or dishonesty, while it was certainly neither, or to stare at them so intently that they mistakenly read a threat in his eyes, and looked away, themselves, so he kept his focus on the tree--waiting for someone to speak. Susan, it seemed, was to be the designated spokeswoman. Made sense. Einar had a strong suspicion that the thing they were about to propose, or one much like it, had already been offered them by Kilgore on a previous visit, and refused, and he shuddered almost imperceptibly at the memory-shadow of that visit. Had been terribly sick with the infection in his foot, then, had feared his ability to refuse unwise offers of help might thus be somewhat compromised, and, the night after Kilgore had set forth his proposal to meet the two of them down at the highway with a van and transport them out of the area, he’d endured a terrifying and amazingly realistic dream about just how very wrong such an endeavor could go, and he shook his head to clear it of those images, didn’t particularly want them coloring his understanding of what he was about to hear. Yet, they inevitably would. Susan seemed to be waiting until she was sure she had his attention, so he looked up, briefly met her eye.
“I’m absolutely amazed at what the two of you have accomplished up here. You’ve really turned this basin into home, taken the things available and made a life up here in a way that very few would be able to do. I just can’t get over it, and I’m so proud of you, Liz, seeing how you’ve adapted to this life and learned the skills you need to get along out here, and Einar, you’re clearly a very good teacher. It shows. With the baby coming, though, and winter coming even sooner…well, have you--both of you--thought through all the additional challenges that are coming your way? I know you can meet them if anyone can, but Mr. Kilgore and I have been talking, and we’d like to make you an offer.”
“Right,” Kilgore took over, looking square at Einar though meaning his words for both of them. “You know my friend Roger Kiesl, the one who was flying over here in the little green and white plane a week or so ago? Well, he’s got a good bit of experience flying tough missions in out of the way places, busting embargoes and running blockades--ha! Those were the days! Though he was flying a bigger plane in those days, too…only so much hardware you can fit into one of them little DeHavillands, after all--and sneaking in under the radar with loads of weapons and all that, flying back out with loads of sugar and corned beef and such for export…what I’m trying to say is that Roger’s good. Real good at what he does. If he can get weapons shipments past the Russians and the Portuguese and the doggone United Nations, well, I do believe he can get some stuff in here to you kids undetected.”
“What Mr. Kilgore is saying is that we want to get a list from you of what you most need, so it can be delivered to the basin now, and throughout the winter, if the two of you find the idea agreeable. What do you say?”
No! That’s what Einar had to say, no, we do not find the idea agreeable, not at all, this being a totally different situation from the ones you described, in that we are the sole targets of the enemy’s entire operation, and they’ve got an awful lot of resources to devote to finding us and us alone, no way, terrible idea, if a bold one, and something I’d sure be signing up to participate in, was I in Bud or Roger’s position, and not my own… But he kept quiet for a minute, contemplating the best way to say it.
“Sounds like you folks have put a good deal of thought into this, and I thank you, but any plan that involves repeated outside contacts with us or our location seems like a sure way for us--he folks aiding us--to end up getting caught, and it simply isn’t worth it, worth the risk, we’ve been managing like this and will go on doing it. I just can’t trade my family’s security--and freedom, and lives most likely, if you carry things through to their likely conclusion--for the promise of food and supplies. Just can’t do that. Appreciate the offer, but gonna have to say no.”
“Aw now Asmundson, you know many a small foreign country has been supplied this way when the entire world said it could not, must not be done, and…”
“We’re not a small foreign country, Kilgore.”
“If I had my way, you would be. Asmundsonland. Huh. Nope, don’t have much of a ring to it, have to come up with a different name, but you get the idea. Small sovereign mountain kingdom. Can I come live here, if it ever comes to pass?”
“You can live here now, so long as you don’t get anywhere within a thirty mile radius of us. Or fly any more planes over our heads. Ever. Our country, our airspace.”
Kilgore nodded. Alright. Yep, we figured you’d say that, and you’re right, no matter how good a fella is, there’s some risk in the repeated contacts that kind of a system would entail. So we got another proposal for ya. No--hey!--don’t be giving me that look, just sit right back down there and hear me out. Not gonna hurt you to listen. There you go. Good. Now here it is. Kiesl’s landed that little plane in a lot of tight spots, and this basin you’ve got down there would be far from the tightest landing he’s ever made. Plenty of open grassy area for him to use. So my thought is, how about we give you folks some time, week or two if you need it, and then Roger and I’ll fly up here and you can hitch a ride. Right from the basin. We can take you…heck, there’s pretty much no place we can’t take you, given a little time and ingenuity. With my connections, I could arrange transport and get you pretty nearly anyplace in the world, or if you want to keep it a little simpler, and more local, Roger can just fly you to the next county. Or Idaho. Or maybe Canada, Alaska, anywhere you’d like, let you get a fresh start at things”
Jumping in before Einar could refuse, Susan continued the argument. “Wouldn’t you like to be able to relax a little, to slow down and enjoy this change in your life--the baby--without having to worry so much where the next meal is going to come from, whether you’ll have enough warm clothes to make it through the winter, watching every plane that passes over and wondering if it’s the one that’s going to see some sign of you and get the search back on your trail again…wouldn’t you like to have a little break from all that? Just focus on each other and your new family member?”
“Yeah, think about it. You been out in the field for a long time, Asmundson. Everybody needs some down time, a few days of R&R once every…let’s see, what has it been now? Three years? Four? Even if you don’t want it, I bet your lady wants it for you, for both of you, especially with the little one coming--don’t you want to be able to give that to her?”
Einar shrugged. “Sure. But that’s not life. Not our life, not out here. Life we’re living comes with its costs alright, but if you don’t pay them…well, you just don’t last long. We’re getting by. Will keep at it.”