While Einar could not help but think Liz’s main stated reason for wanting to go down off the mountain rather less than legitimate, he did have to admit that they had a real dilemma on their hands when it came to Juni. Much as they might have come to trust her over the last weeks—just enough to turn his back on her now and then without getting that dreadful prickling feeling in his scalp, in Einar’s case, but seldom did the trust of another get too far beyond that point, with him—there was no telling exactly what she might do or say, or to whom, once she was back down there in the world and had allowed some of her wariness to fade. It was simply a risk they couldn’t take, and Liz was right in saying that they’d never feel—or be—secure again in the basin once she was allowed to return to society. Yet this seemed to him small reason to subject his family to the enormous added risks of venturing down there, themselves.
So, they had to clear out of the basin, but there were many places where they could go and start over, none of which involved leaving the high country altogether and taking a ride in the back of Bud Kilgore’s pickup truck. That was the stuff of nightmares, the quick road to a very nasty and definitive end for them all, and he was pretty sure that he wasn’t at all willing to take it. Yet it would be a way to break the pattern, and he knew that in situations like theirs, patterns killed. Would get them killed, eventually, when the enemy caught on, or had a lucky day, or the lighting worked out just right and allowed them to see the faint trace of a trail which had up to that point escaped their notice… Their current situation did indeed need a change if they were to expect longer term success at this endeavor, which, a child now involved, they had to make happen by whatever means necessary. So, Liz might have a point. Go down, break the pattern, leave as soon as feasible for another area where they had never been and were not expected to be, where passing aircraft would not represent such an immediate threat and life could go on with a bit more certainty—as much certainty as would ever be allowed those scratching out a meager living amongst the splendor and harshness of that high country world.
It was a risk, an enormous risk, and the fact that he would be on what for him might as well be considered alien territory—the world of highways, houses and humans, down there—frightened him perhaps more than anything else. Here, he was in his element, knew the place better than anyone they could send after him and maintained some semblance of control over the situation, however tenuous it might be and however surely it did not extend to the natural world around him, its whims and fancies and the odd blasting, freezing storm that had been known to arise unbidden and unexpected to crush the best-laid of plans. Yet, fear must not rule him. Had never been allowed to do so, and the moment he allowed it, he knew he was lost. Most times, the thing that seemed riskiest and most daring was exactly the one at which a person must spring, seize the moment, change the rules and…
It’s town, Einar! You’re talking about going down to town, letting Kilgore stuff you in the back of his truck and drive you somewhere, you and your family, and can you even imagine the number of ways in which that might go dreadfully, irretrievably wrong? Dozens. Dozens and dozens. And while you might get out of it alive if properly armed and with some warning, might get all of you out of it, where does that leave you, then? On the run again, in the valley, with half the Task Force directly on your tail, and you know how that one’s gonna end…
Liz was waiting, he suddenly realized, for him to say something, do something, make a decision, and he wondered how long he had been silent, speculating, keeping her wondering. But he wasn’t ready to make a decision. And did not have to do it just yet, either, for outside he could see that the sky was clear, and no one was going anywhere at all until another storm blew in.
“Let me think about it. Got to think about it. Can we come out here and talk again in a little while? No storm yet, so we got time…”
“You’ll think about it?” And before he could answer she was embracing him, arms nearly crushing out his breath, and on his cheek he could feel her tears.
“Yeah, I’ll think about it. Best not let the others know about this until we’ve made some decisions, though.”
“No. Of course not.” She let him go. Could feel that he was struggling to get enough air, and supposed the previously-injured ribs must still trouble him, from time to time.
“If we do it,” his voice low, weary, “we’ll need to cache most everything far enough from this place that we stand some chance of recovering it even in the cabin’s compromised while we’re away, get it all up into the timber where we can find it again, atlatl, darts, spear included, things like that so we won’t be starting all over if we end up having to leave out of the valley with nothing at all, as had happened before… Would have to take the rifle though. That, and the pistol both. And my knife, of course. Would want them with me when we hit the valley floor, and everywhere we might go down there, too.”
“What if we go into the store to buy a case of Nutella and a wheel of cheese to bring back up here with us? Might stand out a little if you’re carrying that FAL…”
She could feel him glaring at her in the darkness.
“I’m sorry. Not a good time for jokes, is it?”
“That was a joke?”
“Oh. Ha! Yeah, I’m pretty sure the parkas and gloves would give us away even before the rifle did. Better stay far, far from stores and people and such, if we ever do this. Big enough risk just going down there, in the first place.”
“I know. I would never. Was really just joking.”
“Yeah. Now another problem I’m seeing is this. What’s gonna happen if we cache most everything as we’re going to have to do, and then things don’t go as expected and we end up separated from most all of our possessions, including those needed to hunt and provide for ourselves out here? I can’t hunt with a gun, unless I’m hunting men and they’re right about to swam us and I got no other choice. Makes too much noise, too much chance for bringing the enemy down on us… So if that happens, and we’re prevented somehow from going on and visiting the valley with Kilgore, we’re in a real pickle. Right back where we started when we had nothing, and that’s one thing in the summer when nights are warmer and you can find things to eat, but right now…”
“I know. But in that case, we’d probably be working our way back up to the area of the cabin anyway, wouldn’t we, before hunger could become a real problem?”
“Would hope so, but there’s no way to know. Would depend on just what sort of thing it was prevented us from completing our original plan, and I can see lots of ways that could go… In any case we’d just have to carry with us at least the basics, fire, shelter, some dried food, just like we always do up here, and hope it would be enough to see us through until we could either work our way back, or get established somewhere else…”
“Well, I guess we’d just have to find out. If that happens. If we even go.”