27 October, 2015

27 October 2015

No one slept much that night, Einar relieved after his watch by Bud, but remaining near his post, listening.  The night was not quiet, but all of the sounds, so far as Einar could tell, were coming from some great distance off, from the area of Clear Springs.  Head nodding, sleep wanting to come, he fought it, struggled to stay alert.  Liz was sleeping, or appeared to be, Will with her over near Susan where the junipers were at their thickest, and he was glad to see her getting some rest.  Rose, stretching, holding himself rigid against a series of cramps which gripped the muscles of his lower legs, eased some by movement, and he moved.  A small sound in the darkness, a faint scraping of rock on rock, and he froze, listening.  Bud.  Recognized his pattern of movement, steps with a slight limp in them, probably remarkably similar, Einar realized, to his own.  Except that Bud was heavier, steps more solid, feet more firmly connected to the earth.  The tracker stopped, swiveled, froze, knew he had been heard

"What are you doing, Asmundson?  Supposed to be getting some sleep.  Your turn'll come again soon enough."

Einar said nothing, silently crouching on the rocks beside Kilgore, squinting into the darkness, past the trees and out across the sagebrush flats that lay between them and the murky glow of Clear Springs.  Bud got the message, words or not, and let Einar share the watch without further objection.  Roger, by common agreement, was to be allowed as much sleep as he might be able to manage, his being the duty to pilot the plane sometime the next day.

Morning, light barely beginning to show on the horizon when Einar rose stiff and shivering from his post and went to wake Liz, anxious to be on the move and gain, hopefully, a few extra hours during which to scout the area around the airport.

Four hours of walking, that's all it took.  Would have been less still, had they not needed to put so much time and energy into carefully choosing the most well concealed routes, sometimes necessitating an additional half mile here and there.

Einar's focus sharpening as they neared town, the world seemed to crackle around him, every detail alive, moving, imprinting itself on his consciousness without any deliberate effort at observation on his part.  Useful, this effortless alertness, but at the same time nearly unbearable as they neared town and the man‐made sights and noises increased.  Too much information, too much to sort out, and Einar wished rather desperately to be able to turn around and retreat into the quiet, concealing safety of his hills.  Could not do that, must not, paused and used his breath to slow everything down for a moment, give him some room to think.  Better.  Still nagged at him, but at least he was able to shove to the background the increasingly frantic feeling of the thing, concentrate once more only on the details that mattered.

Five minutes later they topped out on the ridge and saw through a screen of junipers the airport stretching out below them at the edge of the wide, flat basin which held Clear Springs, destination nearly reached, and Einar stopped in his tracks, wanting more than ever to turn back.  The thought of what he must do next, what they all must do...it took him right back to the moment when he had decided to walk out of the jungle after his escape from captivity, that morning three weeks into his escape when he had taken that leap of faith and stepped out into the open in front of the wire...only this time, there were no friendlies waiting for him, no hope of being reunited with the men beside whom he had fought...

It had been hard enough that first time, even though he had known logically that he was walking into the presence of friends.  He had still fully expected a bullet to rip into him the moment he was spotted, had almost been able to feel it as he took that first step out into the burnt clearing that surrounded the camp, and that bullet had been the best case scenario, because the other involved his being captured and returned over the border to that squalid swamp, to the bamboo cage for another round of interrogations...  He shuddered, hunched his shoulders against the sudden physical sensation, real and immediate as the rocks beneath his feet and the sage‐scented wind on his face, of the ropes about his upper arms, pulling them back into that impossible position, arms nearly jerked from their sockets.

He blinked, scrubbed the sweat from his face with a rough swipe of a hand, did his best to swallow the sense of rising dread.  Mostly succeeded, started moving again, but it left him queasy, unsettled, a situation not helped by the realization, as he took his turn with the binoculars before their final approach, that Roger's plane was well over on the far side of the airport near the hangars, nowhere at all near the trees or any other sort of cover...

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