The break in the snowstorm which had allowed Bud and the others to walk out was ending, flakes again starting to swirl heavily outside the windows late that morning as Susan made her case. The situation. Einar’s condition and the fact, despite his recent willingness and effort in that direction, that he didn’t seem to be improving. Seemed, in fact, to be going the other direction, and pretty rapidly. Liz, predictably, would hear nothing of it, arguing that after several days of eating both his mind and body were, she knew, struggling to adapt to regularly receiving larger amounts of nutrients again, but he was sticking with it, making progress and would be just fine if they had to take off sometime over the next few days. Susan laid a hand on her arm, waited until Liz met her eyes.
“You really believe that? That he’d be just fine out in this storm covering ground at the pace you know you guys would have to keep up…”
Liz looked away. “No. He’d say he was, carry all our gear and lead the way, but it would probably kill him, wouldn’t it? At some point he’d know he was slowing us down and he’d stop, send us ahead and make his stand there, do something that couldn’t be undone…”
“Yes, almost certainly. Let us do this for him, Liz. So it doesn’t have to go that way.”
“But what about the practical considerations? I mean, unless you’re going to keep him restrained somehow around the clock so you can keep feeding him on some regular basis for the next few days…well, he’ll fight you every time. He’ll kill himself fighting. Or kill you, or Bud. You’ll have to… Oh, what am I saying? Can’t believe I’m even considering this! No. No way. He won’t consider it justified. In his mind, nothing would justify someone doing a thing like that to another person without their consent. Forcing it on them. Nothing. And I don’t know that I disagree with him.”
“I’m not sure I do, either, in principle, in most cases. But maybe when a person wants to live, really wants to, but just can’t quite get there, get to doing the things required to go on living because their condition is getting in the way of keeping up with those things…just maybe that is an exception.”
“Maybe there can be things that have more value to a person than going on living at any cost.”
“Of course there can. But he wants to live. I’ve overheard some of your conversations. Wants to be there to help raise his son. I’ve heard him say it in so many words, but his mind keeps getting in the way, just because he’s too malnourished right now to make the connections and keep himself moving in the right direction, and each time he tries, it seems something comes up and he stops eating again. You know that. You’ve watched the pattern, over and over again. Either way, this isn’t the time to debate philosophy. Or even ethics. It’s time to think of Will and what will give him the best chance in all of this.”
“Yes. But even if it were justified for that reason, if it would help Einar be more physically ready to face conditions out there and make a successful escape with us, I know it will remind him of…things probably better not remembered. Make him think he’s right back in some of those really bad situations he was in before, and that really won’t be helpful at all when it comes to evading the enemy. He needs to be present. Here.”
“He already remembers those things though, doesn’t he? Thinks about them almost every day, gets lost in them a lot of times…”
“Lack of nutrition is making it worse, lessening his ability to tell the difference and making it more likely that he’ll get stuck in that world of unreality, all the more often. If we can just give him what he needs for a few days, hopefully he’ll be a lot more able to stay in reality and not slip back into that state quite so easily. Bud says there may not be much time before things get serious and we have to figure something else out to keep the three of you hidden. Once that time comes, it’ll be too late for any of this. Let us do it.”
“It’s not my decision to make.”
“No, maybe not. But he’s in no shape to make the decision, right now…”
“He’d certainly say he is. Just ask him. He’d say he’s sharper than ever.”
“He’s barely conscious.”
“If I allow this, he’ll never trust me again.”
“That will be his choice, of course, but I think with his brain working a little better and allowing him to think more clearly—he may even be appreciative.”
“Oh, no. You don’t know him like I do. He would never.”
“It’s a risk you’ve got to take, I think.”
Liz turned away, scooped Will up as he zoomed by in animated pursuit of Susan’s cat and went to stand at the window. She couldn’t do it, couldn’t participate. Susan had an argument, but her first loyalty was to Einar—and to his son, but how can protect the son by assaulting the integrity and autonomy of his father?—and she knew what he would say to all of this.
Bud, however, being a good deal less troubled by philosophical concerns, had not waited for an answer from anyone else and was already working over an apparently unconscious Einar when Liz and Susan returned to the kitchen—Liz hoping he’d be awake so she could have a minute alone with him to discuss the matter, see what he would have to say about the suggestion on the chance that he might voluntarily agree and if not to warn him of Bud’s intentions—leaving both of them to wonder exactly how he might have come to be in that state. Liz was worried about a dart, but Susan assured her that Bud had promised not to resort to that. Einar never even stirred as Bud strapped him down to a board which he had cushioned with a foam camping pad, lengths of two inch wide webbing padded with folded towels in the hopes that this might prevent him injuring himself too badly when he did wake and almost inevitably begin struggling…
Everything ready, Bud nodding to Susan—Liz realized then that she must have already agreed to help—who left the room to retrieve the necessary supplies. Bud stayed with Einar, allowed Liz to sit beside him, where she held his hand and hoped desperately that he might wake before things could be carried any further, Will watching her in confusion and Muninn the raven presiding rather skeptically over everything from his perch on a nearby chair rail.
Concealed beneath her on the floor Liz could feel the solid contours of Einar’s knife, retrieved from the kitchen counter and hidden there when Bud had momentarily glanced away. She was of half a mind to use it without further delay, free him from those straps, and she probably would have done it, had he been awake…