Roused from his near-stupor—pleasant, if potentially deadly; at least he’d been getting some rest—by the realization that he was looking at a light which almost certainly could not be part of the natural order of things, Einar struggled to his feet, rubbing stiff legs and working to restore some flexibility to numbed hands and arms before making his way to the edge of the rocky little plateau out front of the cave entrance, crouching in the snow between two little limber pines and squinting to get a better look. The light was not moving as that of a vehicle might have done, nor did it possess the live, flickering quality of firelight. What, then? Was he misunderstanding the terrain over there, mistaking its meaning in the uncertain light of the setting moon? Perhaps it really was a star that had caught his attention, or a planet, more likely, as its light neither blinked nor flickered, but as he watched all such notions were dashed by a slight jerk and then a definite if somewhat irregular sideways movement of the light. Not flying. At least the thing was not flying, movement far too bumpy to be explained in any way other than a vehicle of some sort moving over rough ground, and for another moment Einar crouched where he was, puzzled, half paralyzed by the cold and thoroughly captivated by watching that light.
Needed more information, finally made himself tear his eyes from the far side of the canyon and hurry, best as he was able, back into the cave. Coals still orange, giving off some light when he blew on them, and briefly he crouched to shiver over their lingering warmth, hands able, after a long half minute, to manipulate the zipper on his pack. Felt around for the binoculars, found them, slipping the cord over his head lest he drop them in the snow—or over the canyon wall—and lose them for good. Creeping once more past the remnants of Liz’s fire he briefly fought an urge to curl himself around its warmth and rest for a while, won, squirming back out into the open air of the night and searching somewhat frantically for the light lest it have disappeared in his absence. For a moment he was convinced this was the case, chiding himself for having taken the time to go after the binoculars instead of keeping his eyes on the thing and watching to see where it disappeared, but then there it was again, appearing smoother this time, and moving with a bit more speed. Finding it with the binoculars he sought to steady himself, elbows on knees as he studied the intruder.
Just a light at first with no definition, he was able to make out no details until the thing stopped again and he saw the distinct if distant shadow of one man and then another as they passed in front of the light. The vehicle itself was still concealed from any hope of sight by the darkness and the glare of its own light, but considering the snow depth over there on the far side of the canyon and the fact that he saw the single light and no other, Einar could only surmise that he must be looking at a snowmobile with two riders. But why? What were they doing over there, and why—even more mysteriously—were they moving at night? For these puzzles he had no answers, and the lack of information disturbed him, inevitably left him wondering if perhaps the search had somehow been reactivated, ended up on their trail and tracked them to the canyon’s rim.
Seemed unlikely, highly unlikely, but to dismiss the possibility would have been foolishness, and looking away from the light for a time to allow his eyes to adjust one again to the night, he scanned the rim, trying to remember precisely where he had first noticed that light. Not far from the spot where they’d begun their descent, it seemed to him, not far at all, and considering the state of near-sleep from which he’d had to pull himself on first becoming aware of the appearance being out of place—well, who knew for how long it might have remained there stationary before he’d noticed its existence? Long enough, perhaps, for those two men to have seen their tracks in the snow, searched around and found the spot where they’d begun their descent down into the canyon. They had not stayed, however, to follow the trail, if indeed they had spotted it, but had moved on by what Einar estimated must now be at least a mile, making periodic stops and leaving their machine to explore for periods of ten to fifteen minutes, each time. Rather strange, all of it, and not a little unsettling.
Wished he could get over there and do some reconnaissance, find the spot where the men had been camping and trace their steps at each stop, see if he could determine their purpose up on the rim and how great a threat it might represent to his family and to the massive quantity of moose meat they had left down in the canyon… He knew, though, that aside from there being little chance at all of his making it down one side and up the other before the men had entirely cleared out of the area—would take him a good eight to twelve hours, under present circumstances, if he pushed himself rather harder than would be reasonable—any such action on his part would likely do more to expose them to further danger and even to discovery than would simply staying put.
Not that he had much choice at the moment, anyway, when it came to staying put, for as he’d been fully focused on the light and its possible meaning the fever had begun creeping back unnoticed and now was in full swing, Einar sweating and shaking in the chill air, steam rising from his clothing where he’d opened his coat for a bit of coolness. Strange sight, and it made him laugh a bit, mind starting to seriously wander and the light on the far rim—which had again begun moving—seeming to dance and shimmer most oddly, now on the ground, now hovering in the air until he nearly managed to convince himself of the existence of flying snowmobiles.
In an instant of confusion the thought became utterly terrifying, for it meant they could breach the canyon and be outside the cave in a matter of under a minute, should they see him…which they certainly would, equipped as they would be with night vision goggles and infrared scopes on their rifles and then he looked up and was sure he saw the thing coming at him, light advancing quickly across the gulf of open space that was the cabin, and he turned, ran, meaning to reach his rifle before they could arrive.
Liz met him at the cave entrance, grabbed him by the shoulders—trembling and soaked in sweat, skin like ice where it had been exposed to the effects of evaporation and the bitter night air—but he brushed her off, slipped inside and somehow managed to find the rifle on his first try in the complete darkness, back outside in under five seconds. Crouching in the snow beside a tree he growled at Liz to keep behind him, rifle trained on the advancing specter of that light, ready, waiting for the moment.
Liz’s voice soft behind him, “what is it, what do you see?” and he couldn’t imagine how she was missing it, wished she’d be quiet so as not to interfere with his concentration, but she was persistent, had a hand on his shoulder now and was repeating her question.
“Light,” he breathed, “coming right at us. Got to stop them. You better get down.”
She did not get down, instead tightened her grip on his shoulder, twisting a bit so that he could not be at all sure of reliably hitting his target, and the move infuriated him, intentional as it seemed to be. “I see the light. Way over there on the other side of the canyon. It’s not coming. Can’t come, because of the canyon. Looks like it’s just sitting on the ground, there. What is it? A snowmobile?”
Suddenly a bit less sure of himself, Einar let his grip ease slightly on the rifle, light, when he studied it, no longer seeming to move quite so quickly towards their position, and he was confused—until Liz repeated her question about the snowmobile. Yes, it was a snowmobile, he’d been sure of that, and of course snowmobiles could not fly, could in no way cross thousands of yards of open air in mere seconds, as he’d seen the thing doing, and when Liz put a hand on the rifle he relinquished his grip, got shakily to his feet.
“Yeah, snowmobile. Been watching it for a while. Keeps stopping, two guys getting off and looking around…don’t like it.”
“No. Me either. What do you think they’re doing over there? We didn’t see sign of recent traffic of any kind, before dropping down over the rim…”