Once Liz was finished with her chores she returned to take the little one, who had some time prior finished getting enough sun, it seemed to Einar, and had begun growing a bit chilly and restless in the fresh air streaming in from outside, a situation he’d remedied by wrapping the child securely in the wonderful luxurious softness of the rabbitskin blanket and holding him to his chest, where little Will had had promptly stopped fussing and gone back to sleep. Hardly wanting to disturb the sleeping child Liz was nonetheless anxious to take him and head back to the bed for an attempt at feeding, for her milk had begun coming in that morning, leaving her uncomfortable and anxious for some relief. Despite the inevitable discomfort the arrival of the milk was itself a relief, for the child had visibly lost weight since birth--normal, she knew, but a bit alarming nonetheless as legs and arms began looking a bit stick-like, ribs showing--and needed to begin putting it back on as soon as possible. Which Will was perfectly willing to do, waking and eating most enthusiastically the moment she presented him with the opportunity. He would, she knew, be growing in no time, and the more he ate, the more volume her body would produce, in response. A good system. She hadn’t really thought much about it before, but--reminding herself of the fact as she tried to keep her mind off the discomfort of being so full of milk, a sensation she knew ought to pass after a day or two--realized now the incredible providence of always having the baby’s food ready and available for him at any time of the day, heated to just the right temperature and perfectly suiting his nutritional needs. Couldn’t have designed a better system if she’d tried, and she had to wonder about the hassle so many mothers put themselves through down there in civilization, all the mixing and measuring and heating and boiling of bottles, just to deliver what was in all ways an inferior--and rather expensive--product. Well. No understanding people and their ways, as Einar would say…
Speaking of Einar, she had quite forgotten about him since taking Will from his arms, glanced over by the door--closed now, sun having moved on--to find him lying there on his back beside the half empty soup pot, arms crossed over his chest and eyes closed. He looked cold. Looked dead, actually, head back, mouth slightly open, and for a moment the sight frightened her. She called to him, tremendously relieved when she saw him stir, shiver. Einar, very nearly asleep, or something like it, heard Liz’s words dimly and from what seemed a great distance, knew he needed to get moving, get up and make more soup so she would have plenty of supper, make certain they had plenty of firewood for the night and get the cabin good and warm so he could perhaps relax for an hour or two that night in the bed without needing to be up tending to one thing or another--wasn’t sure it would be a good idea to try and do his third sleepless night in a row, even if he’d had a good reason, which at that point he really didn’t--but he’d felt he had to be still for just a moment first, if he wanted much chance of keeping to his feet once he stood. Liz was saying something, trying to get his attention, and he got himself rolled over onto his side, turned to her.
The expression on Einar’s face when he met her eyes so resembled that which Liz had occasionally seen on the infant’s over the course of that past day as he waited hungrily for the milk to come in--forehead wrinkled in what looked like worried concentration, eyes wide and staring as he searched for her, and, unlike the child, cheeks sunken, face hollow--that she was for a moment taken aback, shook her head to get the two images separated once more.
“Aren’t you going to have that soup? It could go back on the stove for a while, if it’s gotten cold…”
· · · ·
In the days leading up to the wedding, there had been much debate between Roger and Bud on where, exactly, the insertion ought to be made, much studying of maps, photos and discussion of what Bud remembered of the terrain. Kiesl was all for dropping them in the fairly wide expanse of the basin, itself, an area which posed less risk than many others of leaving them hung up in trees or--worse--slamming into one sheer rock face or another should the notoriously unpredictable winds of the are intervene to throw them off course in their descent, but Kilgore wanted to choose a point further from the cabin, hike in. Each option held its risks--more hiking meant leaving more tracks, a longer trail, something which might be seen from the air should the search send over an aircraft as they had, despite his efforts at preventing it, been doing after storms in recent days, but a closer insertion seemed to hold the very real possibility of driving the couple out into the snow, fleeing and without shelter, when they could surely least afford to be doing so. He knew the state Einar had been in upon their last meeting, and while he hoped things might have improved some, since, the prospect seemed only marginally likely. Best not to alarm him with the presence of a nearby plane. Better to risk the hike. It would mean trekking in with a minimal load, not carrying everything he’d been working so carefully to prepare and package for a separate drop, but that was alright; they could go back for it, after introductions had been made and he was certain that he and his bride, especially his bride, were going to survive the encounter with what was arguably one of North America’s most dangerous living creatures--provided he was indeed still living; having seen Einar some weeks prior, Bud knew there was little certainty--and be welcomed up at the little mountain cabin.
The packing and planning had, on Bud’s part, been going on for weeks, Susan getting in on it over the days since he’d let her in on their somewhat unconventional honeymoon destination, and by the time the morning after the wedding arrived and they ground slowly down the steep, slippery driveway in Roger Kiesl’s pickup, they were as ready as they were going to be. With Susan weighing by Bud’s estimation somewhere just over half the safe limit for someone making a tandem jump with him, he figured they could risk making up a bit of the extra weight in cargo, attaching a forty pound rucksack full of items which held the highest priorities to her harness planning to teach her, on the way up in the plane, how to release it in an emergency, making sure he could reach around her and do it, too, should she panic and be unable to remember the procedure. Doubted she would do any such thing, level-headed as she had remained throughout the many months of their acquaintance to date, but one never knows how folks may react the first time they’re tossed out of a plane…so he knew he had to be ready. In addition to the rucksack strapped to the front of Susan’s harness beneath the reserve chute, Bud had stashed two pairs of lightweight snowshoes, essential for travel up in the deeply snowcovered high country that time of year, in a carefully secured weapons--case at his side, ready for use when they reached the ground. The standard method, as Bud knew--no arctic jumps in the jungle or the bundu, that had come later--was to secure the snowshoes to the outside of the soft weapons case, but as he’d chosen for them the smaller, slightly less long modern shoes rather than the old cumbersome long-tailed military magnesium version, securing them inside the case seemed the best option.
Piercingly clear sky just beginning to brighten in the east and the stars tracing their slow, unblinking paths overhead Roger flew the newly married couple that morning up along the high red ridge that stretched unbroken for so many miles far above the basin and cabin, Bud’s first choice of drop zone, but the two of them quickly ruled it out when they got a look at the size of the cornices that overhung the ridge’s edge, seemingly along most of its length. The things were massive, passage through them--clear even to Bud with his limited experience with winter mountaineering--a major risk and almost certain to launch a slide should one attempt to navigate them in their newly snow-covered state. Time for Plan B, which in this case stood for Basin, not Bud’s first choice but, in that high, rocky and heavily timbered country, one of the few alternatives left them and the only other he’d gone over in detail with Roger, their pilot. Basin it was, then, a few quick words between them confirming the plan, Roger buzzing the area surrounding the tarn at just over five hundred feet to give Bud--and himself--a firsthand look at the lay of the land, and allow Bud to drop the carefully packed cargo bag full of the additional supplies they’d brought. Drop done--the cargo chute was white, duffel white, the thing disappearing from sight just as soon as it got down there against the snow, but it had appeared to be right on course, winds relatively calm and with the drop having been made from such a low elevation, Bud had no doubt he’d be able to find and recover the bag--Roger circled, making one lazy loop and then another as he climbed to somewhere just upwards of fifteen hundred feet, a bit low for the sort of jump they were doing but Kilgore had nearly as much experience as anyone he knew, Susan didn’t have enough information to know she ought to be afraid, and they’d be just fine.
Out of the plane, drogue chute deployed, world rushing up at Susan as she struggled to get her breath, face protected from near-instant frostbite in the thin, sub-zero air by goggles, silk balaclava and a windproof one of heavy fleece atop it, hood of her ski suit cinched down tight beneath her helmet and it seemed a very long time before the jerk and snatch of the main chute slowed their fall to a graceful drift as the ground approached, Bud releasing the rucksack and weapons case when the time came and steering them to a reasonably smooth landing in the snow not far at all from the snowcovered flatness of the frozen little tarn, which had been his target, Susan struggling to rise as Bud freed her from the harness so she could move on her own, pushing up her goggles and floundering about in the snow, laughing, exhilarated.
“Oh, I want to do that again! Can we go up and do it again?”
Bud got a bit stiffly to his feet, landing having been slightly more difficult for him because of the lingering effects of his leg injury that past summer, but all things considered he had not done badly at all, and would be in fine condition for the hike they had to make. Not a terribly long one, but sure would seem like it, due to the potential danger involved. He grinned at Susan, freed the main chute and began gathering it in. White, just like the cargo version, but he still didn’t like it to be lying out there for anyone and everyone to see, any longer than was absolutely necessary. “Not right now my lady, got distance to cover, but I can assure that we’ll jump together again in the future! Yep, you did great. No panic, no fuss, kept your brain in your head and feet under you when we hit the snow…looks like this may have been just the first of many for us! Now,” he handed her the weapons case, an olive drab creation of soft, wool-lined canvas with a number of straps and buckles to allow for various rigging options, perfect size for a rifle and not bad for snowshoes, either, “how about you get our snowshoes ready while I take care of the pack situation and find a place to stow this chute, and we’ll be on our way?"