Squinting into the daylight, Einar crouched just outside the mouth of the cave, waiting for his eyes to adjust and hoping his still somewhat dazzled eyes were playing tricks on him. Could be, as they felt all crusty and heavy, only able to open about halfway after a night which he was sure must have left him rather thoroughly dehydrated, despite Liz’s efforts, and he pressed a lump of snow between his hands, waiting until it was hard and icy with most of the air squeezed out before sticking it in his mouth. Snow eased the dryness that had been sticking his tongue to the roof of his mouth, helped his thirst some, but did not, unfortunately, change the sight that greeted him on the far side of the canyon.
The towers—three, in all—were somewhat under twenty feet tall, not particularly substantial and reminded him at first of the sort one might see in the backyard of a ham radio enthusiast, but the antennas were all wrong, were not, in fact, something with which he was at all familiar, even when he held his breath to steady things down, and studied them with the binoculars. A distance which he estimated to be just over two miles stood between the two outlying towers, third one roughly centered between them and all perched rather precariously on the canyon rim, as if in a bid for maximum range. He’d seen enough, at least for the moment, easing back into the dark security—false security, and you’d better be thinking of a way out of here without too much delay—of the cave. Inside, Liz had lit a candle and was in the process of building a morning fire, coals from the previous night having finally finished dying. With a gentle hand on her arm, he stopped her.
“Can’t have a fire this morning. There’s something you need to see.”
“What I need to see is your arm. Let me get this going so there’s more light, and then I’ll have a look. How is it feeling this morning?”
She tried to put a hand to his forehead to check for fever, but he dodged to the side. “Arm’s fine this morning, everything’s fine with that. It’s the towers that are the problem. Three towers over there on the canyon rim, and I know it had to be the guys with the lights last night, because…”
“Hey, listen. I don’t know if you remember it, but you spent most of the night passed out because of that fever, and while I’m so glad it seems to have left you this morning, let’s just take things slow for a while. Give yourself some time to adjust to being awake again, alright?”
“No, probably not alright. Not until we know what those towers are about. Don’t recognize the antennas they’ve got on there, don’t know if they have anything to do with us, but we sure can’t be sticking around too long to find out.”
“What antennas? I don’t understand what you’re talking about. I wish you’d sit down and drink some water.”
He handed her the binoculars. “Go have a look, and you’ll see. Those guys on the snowmobile last night…well, now we know what they were up to.”
While Liz was gone, Einar packed, working by the light of a single candle and doing his best to get all their bedding efficiently rolled, stowed and ready for travel. The food he left out, knowing Liz would be wanting some breakfast before their departure. Where they would be going, he was not sure. Assuming the towers held some sort of monitoring equipment which might conceivably detect their presence, the wisest course seemed to have them heading quickly back down into the canyon where terrain would prevent its working, but how to get there without leaving them exposed on the way was a thing that would need some puzzling. He wasn’t even entirely sure that there existed another way down that did not involve retracing their steps through the draw by which they had ascended. Oh, there would be other ways, were always other ways, but in this case, they might require a good deal of rope.
Maps spread on the cave floor Einar studied them, looking for options, looking to buy some time should the appearance of the towers herald something more immediate to come. Did not appear to be too many options at all, as far as leaving the little shelf which held the entrance to their current cave. No going up, for sure, not without some serious climbing, and while traversing might have been an option, the map told him that they would likely as not end up cliffed-out and forced to descend to a point near the canyon floor, if they were to try it for too far. Down, then, back down the way they’d come, and he’d have to hope the narrowness of that rocky, timbered draw would do enough to shield them from any threat posed by the towers and the instruments they might support.
Liz was back, and looking pale in the candlelight. “What are those things? They weren’t there yesterday…”
“I don’t know what they are, and have no way to tell if they’re involved with any sort of renewed search…but you know that we have to assume they are. Have to get out of here.”
“But the drop bag, and the meat…?”
“I don’t know. But since the only good way out is down, we’ll be back down in that area before we head off to wherever it is we’re going. Can pick some things up on our way by, if it doesn’t look like anyone else has been around there, yet.”
“It’s happening again, you think? The search? I don’t see how they could have found us!”
“Don’t know that it’s happening again, but if we let our guard down, and it is… Got to find another place. Cave would have been snug and dry against the weather, would have given us a real good head start on keeping warm through the rest of the cold weeks, but at this point, it’s just not worth it. Maybe never was, I don’t know. Could be I was thinking wrongly to ever bring us here to the rim, where people might be expected to explore now and then, and near caves that might be known by others.”
“I don’t know. It’s a pretty remote-looking place. Where do you have in mind for us to go, if we can’t stay here?”
A long silence, Einar securing the sleeping bag under his pack and stashing most of the food in Liz’s, leaving out only a few pieces of jerky for breakfast. “Don’t know yet, I’m sorry to say. Still working on that one. On the map, looks like there’s an area of real heavy timber up beyond the head of this canyon, and if we can get there while staying out of sight of those towers-things, I think that’s where we ought to head.”