Einar did not want to stop, but with his feet seemingly unwilling to stay beneath him anymore and both Juni and Liz insisting rather strongly that he sit for a moment, he had little choice in the matter. Better take advantage of the situation, he figured. Had hardly been able to communicate while on the move, anyway. Had barely been able to breathe, actually, that last little while, but that was one he did not care to admit, even to himself. The swollen legs and feet were one thing—tremendously uncomfortable at times, but he was accustomed to discomfort, and been able to live with the difficulty—but if fluid was beginning to leak into his lungs, or whatever it was apparently doing… No. Not letting his mind go in that direction. Had to keep focused. He wished they had maps with them. Would have liked secure from Juni whatever knowledge she might have about the about the alleged “white box” areas where she claimed the search had not been active, nor was to her knowledge likely to be. Whether to regard these spots as areas of refuge or as potential future targets for more intensive searching should leadership change down at Task Force HQ, he had not yet entirely decided. The matter could be viewed either way, but that could be settled at a later time. He needed that information. But they had no map, having seen no need of it on what was to have been a short excursion after a long-frozen elk, and such details would have to wait until after they reached the cabin. Which they were not going to do just sitting there, and he wanted to get to his feet and continue the climb, but not while he was being watched, on the chance that it might take more than one try.
They were staring at him, these women, and he didn’t like it. Muninn, you big old vulture, where are you when I really need you? I know you’re kinda shy of the new person, and are probably back there feasting on that elk and guarding whatever’s left of it, besides, but maybe you could take a little short break and swoop in here for a minute, anyway? The bird did not come though, and Einar wished he could be invisible, or, barring such unlikely possibility—had tried all his life, invisibility being a tremendously beneficial skill considering some of the locations and situations in which he’d spent good portions of his time, only occasionally meeting with success—that he could at least stop swaying and trembling so, as it seemed to be alarming them some, and he did not want to alarm them. Really just wanted to talk about white boxes. Best give it a try.
“Need to know some specifics on those areas they’ve searched, and the ones they haven’t. Said you saw them. Think you’d be able to show us on a map?”
“Yes, I’ll be able. Told you I had them pretty much memorized, from the time I’ve spent out here wandering and exploring them. Do you have a map? I’ll show you.”
“You don’t have a map?”
“Not with me. Like I said, this place was my second-to-last to explore, and I only do one per outing, so I’ve been able to get in the habit of not carrying a map, most of the time. Including this time. I’ve got things all charted out on my maps, and was afraid what they’d think if they ever met me out here, searched me and found one of those maps on me. You may think it’s foolish, trying to travel out here without a map, but I’m pretty new at this, and that was the only really secure way I could think to do it.”
Einar was, though a bit bemused at the young journalist’s strategy, at the same time somewhat impressed by her courage and forethought. Travel through that high, rough country, in the winter and without a map must not have been an easy thing in the least, but the fact that she had taken security considerations in mind at all he found to be a rather unusual and encouraging thing, hoped he wasn’t making a mistake by believing her words, for he was more and more beginning to believe.
“No, not foolish coming without a map in this case. Pretty rough I’d imagine, but not foolish. Only way to do it, especially when you’re operating off a stolen map whose contents are way above your pay grade… Would have been better just to leave well enough alone, though. They could have followed you. Could have caught on to your strategy and started shadowing you whenever you went out, which means they may be watching right now, just waiting for us to lead you up to the home place and stop moving for a night or so before they close in and strike. This is dangerous stuff up here.”
“I know it is, but I’ve taken every precaution. Every time I’ve gone out, I’ve camped the first night down low and watched my back trail, mostly avoided fires, and this time, I started out on a popular cross country ski trail for the first few miles and only left it when it went through some heavy trees.”
Einar remained silent, face a non-committal mask, and though Liz knew his answer would in no way reflect the fact, she could see from the lack of disgust and disdain in his eyes that he did have some appreciation for Juni’s efforts, perhaps even a measure of respect.
“You’ve taken every precaution? You really think that’s enough? Taking every precaution? Got no concept of how these searches work, have you? Your precautions probably look like big neon signs to those federal boys, if they’re taking the trouble to look in the first place! Big blinking arrows. ‘Here she went! Here she went! And she didn’t want anybody following her…’ And what do you think that means to them? Yeah. Means you know something, suspect something, means you’re a target and now we’re targets too, and you got no right to go painting a target on my son’s forehead!”
“That’s not why I’m up here. Not what I’m trying to do.”
“Intentions. It’s not always about intentions. Lot of times it’s results that count, and nothing more. Nothing else. Fella can have the best of intentions, but…”
Liz did not like the sudden hollowness in his voice, the dangerous direction in which such a conversation could potentially head. The deed was done, their little paradise invaded and though she was, when she stopped to think about it, every bit as angry at Juni’s having taken from them the only stability and security they’d had in a very long time—more, perhaps, for in addition to worrying about Will during the move that was now inevitably coming, she had Einar to think about, for he surely wouldn’t think about himself, and though he would pour every bit of himself into the effort, it might in the end prove more than he could take, just then—she saw little purpose in stewing over it. They needed whatever information Juni could provide, but as for her questioning Einar or getting into deep discussions with him on one subject or another…well, she saw little good that could come of it. But Juni was curious. Seemed to have sensed that Einar was not talking about the present situation anymore, not solely, anyway, and she was drawn to that strange ambiguity, that hint of a riddle and a puzzle to be solved like a shark to blood, keen instincts telling her that here, if she could dig deep enough and question in a manner subtle enough never to be mistaken for questioning at all, was the real story. And she meant to find it.