Before Einar could gather himself to make his dash from the tree island--he had it all planned out, was taking the chopper first, dart through the windshield while concealed from the two men on the ground by the timber, then picking them off one by one as they rose, distracted by the floundering machine--the helicopter banked sharply, moving itself definitively out of range as it hovered over the valley, lower, lower until nothing remained visible but the sun-flash on its rotors. Not good, not part of the plan, and Einar struggled to release a bit of the action-ready tension from his muscles. Had almost been too late; already his first dart would have been in the air had not the grabbing, gripping tangle of branches prevented anything but the slowest and most deliberate of movements in exiting the timber.
Chopper wasn’t coming back, not right away at least, seemed to have found something of interest down there below the ridge crest, which left Einar wondering whether he ought to go ahead and take care of the two men up in the rocks, get them out of the way before the great beast made it s return. His chances of surviving the encounter would seemingly be better if he wasn’t faced with having to take on both groups at once, though at the same time, he had been counting on the distraction of the failing chopper to ensure that the pair’s attention was firmly focused in another direction when he made his move, reducing the chance they might see where he had come from, go looking for Liz in the event something went wrong and he wasn’t able to take them both right away. Easing around until he once more had the men within view he trained the binoculars on them. Still sitting, still--one of them, at least--watching the timber where the elk had disappeared. The other, the older of the two, had got into his pack and appeared to be preparing lunch. If they were armed, it was not obvious. Certainly did not appear to be keeping weapons as handy as he would have done, had he been hunting himself…were, in fact, apparently settling in for a nice long lunch, sandwiches and apples and thermoses of something warm--he could see the steam--emerging from the two packs to join them on the rocks.
Einar looked away. They were behaving inexplicably casually for men who were on the hunt and closing on in deadly human prey, and he couldn’t make much sense of it. Expected the casual behavior was designed to get him off his guard, but could hardly believe a team would behave that way, in light of their mission, unless… His eyes swept the undulating, snow-patched contours of the ridge, searching out the low places that might conceal a man, additional islands of stunted timber in which a sniper team might have secreted itself during the night as they slept, and while he was able to dismiss several such as possibly harboring the enemy, others he was not so sure about. Which complicated things greatly, as it meant he had no way to reliably get out in the open where he could make use of the atlatl, without risking exposing Liz’s hiding place to anyone and everyone who might be watching, and that, he must not do. Not unless he was certain that he’d identified and could reasonably expect to take every one of them…which left him in a rather bad place. Stuck. Pinned down, awaiting the return of the chopper and the inevitable advance of the ground teams.
Fine fix you’ve gotten yourself into this time, Einar. What were you thinking, spending a night up on an exposed section of ridge like this, like you were on a casual camping trip or something…chances are they probably picked up your infrared signature in the night while doing some routine surveillance, satellites or drones or something, no way you could have heard or seen or picked up on the fact that their eyes were on you but you should have known, should have expected, never should have come out here, and now here they are, and you with nowhere to go…
While Einar lay there speculating and attempting to plan, Liz had taken the binoculars and was carefully surveying the pair that remained sitting in the rocks slightly above them. It was the first good look she’d had at the men, and--blinking, shaking her head in disbelief but quite sure of herself, she crept closer to Einar, whispered in his ear.
“Einar! That’s Oscar Bennington! The older of the two. I’m absolutely positive!”
“Who’s Oscar…ah! Antenna Guy? Yeah, I remember him. The one I was just sure was tracking me a couple years ago in a basin a good ways from this one, using that weird antenna rig to follow a transponder they’d somehow got into my clothes or my pack or my body, even…couldn’t figure out how they could have done it but had no doubt at all that was what was going on…until the feds showed up and shot the fellow in the arm!”
“Yes, that’s him. His name’s Oscar Bennington and he was working for the Division of Wildlife at the time, doing some sort of study of elk calving habits, and I guess the guys in that helicopter must have thought he was you, and armed, and that’s why they shot at him. He wasn’t happy about it, went to the press and had his say more than once about how badly he thought the search was being run, so we can be pretty sure he’s no friend of theirs, to this day! No way he would sign on as part of the search.”
Einar blinked slowly, trying to take in what she had just said. “Bennington. Huh. Hopefully he’s still with the DOW, and they’re just up here to take a look at the elk…our elk, the doggone buzzards…but better to be looking at the elk than at us. Doesn’t mean we’re out of danger, though. They get a look at us, get any hint that they’re not alone up here, and we could be right back in the situation I thought we were in a few minutes ago, feds on the way up here and us with no good way out. Hopefully they’ll hit the road pretty soon, but until then…”
“Yes, I know. We wait. We’ll be fine, we’ve got plenty to eat, got some water left.”
“Shouldn’t plan on eating too much more until we get more water. Could be in for a long wait if they plan on sticking around for the day, and it won’t do to go getting all dehydrated and coughing and giving ourselves away just because our throats are dry. Only way we’re gonna be getting water right here is if it rains, which it kinda looks like It might in a while here, but I guess we better hope it doesn’t, these trees being our only shelter…”
“Alright, we can wait. Wait to eat, wait to move…if we wait, they will surely go along soon, and we can get down to that draw where we have more cover!”
Wait they did, the helicopter making no return, a fact which brought Einar great relief, until he discovered the reason for its departure. Building and billowing high and black-bottomed behind the ridge just out of their sight, a major afternoon storm system had been gathering, no distant rumble of thunder sounding to herald it’s approach. The first hint Einar and Liz had of the weather change--aside from the disappearance of the chopper--was in the curls of breeze that blew sharp and restless over the yellowing grass of the ridge, singing in the timber and bringing with them a few scattered splashes of rain, herald of what was to come. Not far from them on the ridge, the two men could be seen hastily setting up a tent, but they did not, much to Einar’s disappointment, seem the least interested In hunkering down for the day just yet, donning crisp, wind-crinkling green-black rain gear and going out to scout once more for elk, one above their position on the ridge and the other--Oscar, Einar was pretty sure, though they didn’t look terribly different from one another in their rain gear--meandering along below them, in full view of the route they’d so carefully crawled that morning, hugging the low wall of rock after discovering that they were not alone. Looks like we’re not going anywhere at all, for the moment…