The helicopter did not immediately approach their ridge top, made a pass, first, up the valley, rotors flashing in the sunlight as they looked down on it from above, leaving Einar to hope it might pass them by but he knew better, knew it was headed for their ridge, for them, had to be, none of it a coincidence, not the men who had spooked the elk and certainly not the great bird that had come out of nowhere so shortly after their reaching safety once more beneath the trees, and as he painstakingly worked to squirm himself into a better position, more concealed, deeper within the shallow but matted cover of timber that shielded them from detection, he found himself very glad he hadn't been coughing much at all that past night, not nearly as much as he had before starting up onto the ridge, for surely the waiting men would have heard him. No sooner had the thought occurred to him, though, than he felt that insidious itch at the back of his throat, took a hasty sip of their precious little remaining water in the hopes of quieting it and, when that didn't work, stuffed a few fir needles into his mouth and chewed them for their bitter, acidic juice which, fortunately, did the trick. Liz was watching him, looking for direction and he wished he had some direction to give her, wished he could see clear a way out of the situation, out of the trap that their little shelter had become, but he could not. Couldn’t breathe, either, ribs digging mercilessly into his side and putting him back into the pattern of incredibly rapid, shallow breaths he had been struggling so to avoid over the past few days, felt that cold, tingly sensation creeping up the back of his neck and knew he’d better find a way to get more oxygen, consciously slowing his respirations and breathing through the pain, beginning to reverse the dangerous slide towards unconsciousness. And then it was upon them.
Nowhere to go, no time to do it, even had there been, and Einar pressed himself as well as he could into the needle-covered ground, hardly enough room to do it, couldn’t actually lie down, as closely clustered as were the tiny, matted firs of their little island, and the best he could do was to wedge himself into a contorted position by which a hip and a shoulder touched the ground, and the contortions hurt his ribs terribly, but he was hardly feeling it by that point. Liz--watching him and more aware than he of his distress at the change in position than he was, himself--wanted to help, tried to pull aside one of the stiff, stubborn-dead branches that was pressing into his side but he waved her away, quietly urging her to get herself as well as she could onto the ground. And don’t look up, whatever you do, don’t look up or your face’ll stand out all white and visible in all this mess. Even more constricted than he by all the turns and twists and the strong, grabbing hands of the timber Liz struggled for a moment to get down lower and then was still, the beast nearly on top of them by that time. It hovered, not quite directly over them as near as Einar could tell but over the ridge's edge and the timber into which the elk had disappeared, low; they could feel the wind of its rotors, dust in the air, rock-grit between their teeth. Einar never found it easy, to say the least, discussing the things Liz had brought up in their brief but extremely serious conversation just before the appearance of the helicopter, always found himself carried back to some extent to the horrors of his time in that little bamboo hut by such conversation, whether initiated by Liz, Bud Kilgore or simply carried on as a dialog within his own goofy brain, and when that happened he almost without exception began losing track of time, of his place in the world, had to struggle to bring himself out of it but this time was worse, a great deal worse with that chopper making an appearance and hovering over them, and he fought hard to maintain his ties to the present. Knew he must do it, for Liz and for the baby. Figured it might help if he could get a look at the chopper, and he squirmed slightly onto his side, squinted out through the heavy tangle of evergreen until he caught a glimpse of the beast, a small white Jet Ranger--not much of a beast, really; didn’t look all that threatening, as such things go--with a crisp yellow stripe along its side.
Thing wasn't moving, seemed set on hovering there between them and escape until by the sheer force of its existence it drove them running in an blind frenzy out into the open, and in a half second of near panic Einar realized that in giving his full attention to the aerial intruder he'd quit watching the camouflaged pair up in the rocks, hurriedly worked himself around so he could get a glimpse of them, half expecting to find the men closing in on the little cluster of firs, weapons ready and the tangle of evergreen branches preventing him from using his atlatl to stop them.Chopper might be a distraction, just there to draw our attention as they work their way in close and neutralize us, dart guns or dart spears or poison gas or something, and I’m not gonna… men hadn't moved though, when finally he caught sight of them once more, had, if anything, just lowered themselves a bit in the rocks to avoid the worst of the rotor wash, and it puzzled him, led him to believe that though they were almost certainly up there after him and with a rough idea of his whereabouts, they must not yet have a fix on his exact position, must not yet know which tree island sheltered him
Good, gives us some chance to...what? What does it give you a chance to do? If you were here by yourself the course of action would be pretty clear, but you’re not and...ah, doggone it Lizzie, I’m not letting them take you, gonna find us some way out of this one... No way presented itself, though, no additional escape route he had previously overlooked; if they took off running, crawling, leaving the shelter of the trees in any way while that beast was in the air, they would be seen, no question about it, and then it would all be over, leaving them trapped out in the open and able to take perhaps a man or two--ha! Forget that, I'm taking down that chopper--before they took him, took them, and then there would be no baby, life ended before it was able to fully begin, and that thought filled Einar with a quiet fury such as he had seldom ever known; those men were going to die, all of them, every last one, and he would lead Liz to safety down in the nearby timbered draw before reinforcements could arrive, break their trail and go on the run again, give them all another chance at life, if a slim, grim, winter-pressed one...
He turned to Liz, got her attention with a hand on the shoulder. "You stay here. I do not want you for any reason bringing little Snorri out there into the line of fire. I've got a plan. Stay put, keep an arrow ready in case I come running in your direction with one of them still following me, and be prepared to run for the draw. I'll be back for you, and I'll be in a hurry."
"What are you going to do? They don't even know we're here, do they?"
"No, not yet, not that they're letting on, but I don't trust it. If they don't know, they will soon enough, when they finish searching the timber over there and start on the tree islands, one by one, probably using infrared. Plenty cool enough up here for that to be effective, even through this covering of timber. But it's not gonna come to that. They're not gonna have time to find us, and if they happen to see something, sure aren’t gonna have time do anything about it. Not gonna make it through the next ten minutes." And they likely wouldn't have--Einar all stirred up from his earlier conversation with Liz, possessing a fully formed plan and entirely bent on their destruction--had not events intervened.