For quite some time Einar sat, half in a daze as he went on very slowly warming and watching the little one smile in his sleep, conversation flowing around him but he not at all a part of it, drifting, dreaming, mind wandering through the pages he’d just read, transcript of his debriefing. Strangely, the matter with Andy was not foremost in his mind just then; perhaps his having discussed it with Liz had freed him, to some extent, of the need to continually rehash it, at least for a time. Instead, the memories that rose hot, stifling and irrepressible to surround him, drag him down, were those of the moment-to-moment details of his life in that cramped bamboo enclosure, things which had seldom been too far from the surface over the years, rising from time to time to trouble his nights and turn familiar places into strange, alien worlds in which he could not hope to find his place but these memories had, with the reading of his first-hand account of the thing, asserted themselves with a renewed detail and insistence which he could not help but find somewhat overwhelming.
In that state he might have gone on drifting for a very long time indeed, eyes glazed, every joint in his body screaming with the strain of the thing and mind very far away, had he not been brought very sharply back to something like full awareness when talk turned to the ridge, to plane rides and Arizona. That got his attention. But it hadn’t been what he’d at first thought. Far from trying once more to convince Liz to come with them on that ride, Bud and Susan seemed simply to be going over their own plans to make the connection, a rendezvous the chance for which, having missed two opportunities in as many days due to the storm, it was sounding as though they’d be waiting nearly a week. Good enough. Kilgore’s leg could use the healing, and for her part, he knew Liz enjoyed having Susan’s company, her occasional help with the baby and probably liked having someone other than himself with which to converse, as well. So she ought not mind the extended visit.
For his part the development was slightly troubling; house was plenty full enough with the three of them, and he figured he’d have to be spending a good part of the coming week outside, just to have some room to breathe. Would have been doing so anyway though, he was pretty sure. So, no loss. But now they were talking about something else. Talking about him, and he didn’t like it, them carrying on as if he wasn’t sitting right there, listening, disagreeing. Really ought to stick to other subjects, and he wanted to tell them so, but seemed a bit mired down at the moment, unable to convert thought to action. So they kept on, Susan worrying about his heart and Liz corroborating her concern with mention of little incidents that really ought to have remained between the two of them, if that--things which he was surprised, in fact, that she had ever noticed in the first place; guessed he hadn’t been getting away with quite as much as he’d thought--until at last he managed to rouse himself sufficiently to get his ideas into words. Wanted to allay their concerns, get the conversation turned in another direction.
“No need…” he started out, interrupting, “to make a big deal about any of this. Just got cold out there and then started warming too quickly when I got in by the fire. Would have kept further from it, but didn’t realize just how chilly I’d got, out there. Happened to me before, once or twice. Once even worse than this, before I really knew what was going on. Nearly got me, that time. Have to warm slowly when you end up that cold, let the warm and cold blood mix real slowly as you come back up to temperature so you don’t get a reaction like this. It’s good now. No more problem. You can all leave it be.”
Susan shook her head. “I know you’re right about some of that. The quick warming can’t have helped, but I’m not sure that’s all that was going on. Your heart was doing unusual things, and…” she took his arm, had trouble finding a pulse and put two fingers to his neck, instead, “still is. Can’t you feel it?”
Einar sat up a bit straighter, fixed Susan with a piercing and somewhat defiant stare as he wrapped bony arms about his middle in an unsuccessful attempt to still his trembling so speech could come a bit more clearly. No luck. Was freezing, feeling colder than he had since coming in--goofy thing; often happened that way--and he grinned a bit sheepishly at his inability to do anything about it. No one else seemed to see the humor. “How do you…know the things it’s doing are unusual? Might be entirely usual, for me. What would you say to that?”
“I would say that you’re fooling yourself if you think any of this is ‘usual,’ normal or even remotely alright. I don’t find the fact that you’re getting used to having abnormal heart rhythms from time to time the least bit reassuring, and neither should you. Your heart stopped beating a few minutes ago, or pretty nearly so. You didn’t have a pulse that I could detect, and you weren’t breathing. You know what that means. You might well have been dead right now if we hadn’t…”
“Well then, thanks.” A rather curt reply, and though he meant it--had certainly lost contact with the world for a space, and if she’d helped bring him back, well, he supposed he ought to be grateful--he did not entirely believe Susan’s assessment of the situation. Figured she was exaggerating things, trying to scare him into…something whose details were not yet clear to him, but he supposed they would soon become so. Wished it could all wait. He was tired, bone-cold and feeling a bit confused, didn’t want to try and argue with her just then, or with anyone else, because he did not know what they wanted and dimly feared deception, entrapment of some sort.
“She’s right, Einar.” Liz wasn’t letting it go. What did they want from him? He felt trapped, world closing in around him, glanced over at Kilgore but the tracker wouldn’t make eye contact, appearing intently absorbed in tending to a broken snowshoe strap. “That wasn’t your usual trouble with warming too fast. It looked like something more. Susan wants to take a look at you, just listen to your heart for a minute and check a few things. Will you let her?”
“Why? I’m still here, and I’m getting along just fine. No need to…”
Her voice was low, urgent. “Just let her check. Please.”
He shrugged, kept still as Susan rolled up a sleeve and pulled something out of her bag--apparently intent on poking, prodding and discovering every last thing about him--his eyes narrowed, teeth gritted, fists clenched and every instinct telling him to run. Now.