29 January, 2016

29 January 2016

Indistinct, muffled by layers of cloth and his position pressed into the ground, Einar struggled to make out words, to be certain beyond doubt as to the owners of the voices , but he could not.  Could not see out, either, aside from a very small half moon shaped opening at the top of the bag, and though he very much wanted to see out, he hardly dared risk the movement necessary to facilitate it.  Legs were all cramped up from the flight, knees drawn up to his chest as they had been to allow him to fit in the bag, and it bothered him, for he knew quick movement, should it become necessary, would be a tremendously questionable thing just then.  Well.  He could, at the very least, create a distraction and hopefully cover Liz's escape with Will, if it came to that.  For which he would need his hands.  Flexed his fingers, tried to find a bit of warm flesh against which to press them, restore some mobility, but without much success.   Didn't seem to be a whole lot of warmth left anywhere, and though he was not shivering, he knew he probably ought to have been.

A stirring in the dirt near him, could not see its cause but knew he had earlier heard Liz's voice coming from that approximate spot as she quieted Will, and he twisted around in an attempt to get a look, finally spotted the other bag.  That was it, explained the sounds he'd been hearing.  Liz, it seemed, was very carefully attempting to wriggle over nearer him, difficult, he could only imagine, with Will crammed in there beside her and they still presumably having a need to appear as inert cargo, should anyone else be watching.  Having no sense that anyone was particularly nearby at that moment and wanting to know if she had been able to see anything he was about to speak to her when the sound of approaching boots cut short his efforts.  A few heavy footsteps, then silence.  Einar inched his hands downwards, finger resting beside the rifle's trigger, though not in a position anywhere near what would have been ideal, its stock braced hard against the tops of his feet.  Nothing ideal about the situation at all, but at least it was something, gave him some hope of being able to resist should the situation not be as it seemed.

More footsteps, some scuffing in the dirt and then a heavy boot made contact with Einar's ribs, not too hard, but hard enough that he had a difficult time restraining himself from making a physical response.  Succeeded, lay still, waiting.

"This the stuff I ordered, Kiesl?  Is it all here."

It was Kilgore; Einar relaxed slightly.

"Yep, it's all here.  Air mail.  Special delivery."

"Is it still...alive?"  He again poked Einar in the side, a bit harder this time.  "Don't seem too lively to me, and no way I'm payin' for deceased cargo."

The pilot laughed, took what sounded to Einar like a step to the side, placing himself between his cargo and the tracker.  "Hey, cut it out.  You break it, you buy it, alive or not.  Only I was under the distinct impression that I was doing this on a pro bono basis, no so no pay coming my direction, one way or the other..."

"Oh, you'll get paid, alright.  Show up at the house next Saturday whenever you get back into town, and we'll have some elk steaks on the grill.  How's that for pay?"

"More than adequate!  Ok, got to get back in the air.  Have to be in Flagstaff in less than an hour."

Receding footsteps, and Einar, finally assured that they had no unfriendly company, rolled to his stomach, bringing him a few inches closer to Liz.

"You guys doing...ok in there?  Will ok?"

Her voice came quickly, quietly.  She sounded more anxious than he felt, and he wondered why, wondered what he was missing.  "Yes, yes, fine.  He slept most of the way.  You?"

"I am ready."


"Ready if...but Bud and Roger...I think they're alone so it's ok."

"You're really cold."


"Hang on, we'll be there soon."

A strange conversation, Einar could not help but think, and there were other things he wanted to say, but words seemed rather difficult to come by, and besides, there were the footsteps again, and he braced himself as Bud and Roger each took an end of the bag and tossed it into what he presumed must be the bed of a truck.  Liz and Will were next, that transfer much more gentle, a slam of the tailgate, some strange rustling as the tracker fiddled with sheets of some crinkly substance above them, not quite plastic and not quite metal, from the sound of it, and they were moving.

Wriggling and squirming, Einar managed at last to work one of his hands up to the top of the bag and out the hole where he could work on opening the thing.  Took a long time but he got it at last, a rush of colder air meeting him.  The truck, as he had guessed, was equipped with  a camper shell, cover from above, so no reason to remain concealed in the bag.  Above them Einar found several layers of mylar bubble insulation, which accounted for the crinkling after Bud had loaded them and whose purpose, he could only surmise, must be more to help prevent detection of their thermal signature from the outside than to keep his passengers warm.  It was freezing in there, pressed as they were against the metal of the truckbed.   He was freezing, anyway, and he struggled to get up into a sort of crouch  in the hopes of having less of him in contact with the bed.  Did not work, limbs largely refusing to respond and he left flopping rather unceremoniously back to the ground.  Well, it was progress, anyway.  At least he was no longer confined in the bag, could watch through a small crack where tailgate met truck, hopefully see in time should things start going wrong.

16 January, 2016

16 January 2016

Roger had done what he needed to do to fully conceal his cargo, and to keep it that way even at the other end when the bags would be unloaded, had insisted that everyone needed to stay inside for the duration of the flight, but he had left things fairly loose at the tops, both for the purpose of air exchange  and, if need be, to accommodate the barrel of Einar's FAL.

As the flight went on Einar wished he could see out, wished he had a parachute, the idea of landing in an unfamiliar place with no foreknowledge of the terrain, cover and possible escape routes, and doing it with his family, beginning to seem a risk hardly worth taking.  Too late to do much  about it.  They were committed, now.  Liz was near him, speaking softly to Will, who clearly wanted out of the bag, and to be exploring—and in all likelihood flying—the plane.  Einar smiled, tried to reposition himself slightly to alleviate a growing pressure on his ribs where he had ended up lying on a raised ridge of metal.  Did not work too well, so he let things be as they were.

Tired.  Had not noticed it until the plane had been airborne for some time and he, of necessity, lying still, but now it came over him as an inexorable force, heavy, all encompassing, so that after a time, nothing he could think of to do in that confined little space seemed to have the power to let him go on resisting it.  Wanted to talk with Liz, plan, as well as they could, how things would go on the other end, but the weariness was very strong, and though it went against all of his instincts he figured it might be best to go ahead and allow himself a bit of sleep.  Perhaps for half an hour, forty five minutes, no more.  So he would be alert and ready at the other end, when things could really get interesting.

Liz wanted to talk, too, tried, but could not get Einar to answer with any reliability.  His voice, when he did respond, was muddled, sleepy, and before long he stopped responding altogether.  It was cold up there, a lot colder than she had imagined or expected, and she was worried for him, wished the bags were sleeping bags, and that they had all been able to share one.   Will was unhappy at the confinement, wanted very badly to escape the bag and explore the unfamiliar wonders of the plane, so that she had quite a job keeping him still and reasonably content, and had little time to think about Einar for the last hour of the flight.

When finally Liz  got Will to settle down and  sleep and was able to wonder about Einar again, she found herself unable to rouse him through either speech or jabs to the spine with her elbow, but was reassured somewhat by the sound of his breathing, the occasional chatter of this teeth, until at last those things, too, were silent...  Finally she managed to wriggle around so that she could press her back against his—still, not shivering, and she knew he should have been, frigid as the high altitude air had become—enough warmth, she hoped, to make a difference.

Sagebrush, oak brush, alkali soil.  He could smell it, could feel its grit between his teeth as he lay where Roger had heaved him upon unloading the plane of its contraband cargo.  Arms cramped up at his sides, hands beneath his chin, clasped around the rifle, and its presence was reassuring, even though he found himself at the moment neither in the position nor the condition to use it, had such been necessary.  Couldn't feel his hands at all, face all stiff and strange, and he supposed he must have ended up a little chilly after the flight.  Liz was there beside him.  He could hear her speaking softly to Will, telling him to wait, to keep quiet, that they could get out very soon, but not quite yet, and then in the distance he picked up the grumble of an engine, vehicle creeping along in low gear, stopping.  He twisted his head sideways, fought to get an eye up to the little hole at the top of the bag where light was getting in, managed at last and could see out, if barely.

Kilgore.  It was Bud Kilgore who got out of the truck, boots stirring up white dust as he walked over to the plane.  Boots were just about all Einar could see of him, but the man's identity was in no doubt, and the coiled knot of readiness in Einar's middle eased just a bit. This part, at least, appeared to be going according to plan, but there were too many variables, too much he did not know and over which he had not the slightest modicum of control.  Well.  A little late to be worrying about it, so, according to plan, he kept still and waited, did nothing to reveal his presence in the bag should someone be watching from air, ground or space.

Silence for far too long, as far as Einar was concerned, then the muffled sound of voices at what seemed a great distance.

05 January, 2016

5 January 2016

They did not have to wait long.  Shortly after first light and before the sun came up Einar thought he could begin to hear a distant hum, faint, intermittent because of the terrain but then he was sure, pressing himself, and Liz and Will, up against the trunk of a dense, low‐branched fir so as to avoid detection until they could get a good look at whatever was skimming the treetops.

Roger—for it was indeed Roger, and he appeared to be alone—made one low pass of the meadow, banked, doubled back and set the little plane down neatly in its center, coming to rest safely but with little room to spare just before the trees, turning, positioned for takeoff before powering down.  Unmoving, Einar watched as the pilot exited his plane, walked once around it, scanning the treetops and settled in, leaning, facing their hiding place, looking as if he expected to be there for a while.  Not much else they could do, Einar realized, to assess the situation, and little purpose in further waiting; the point of decision had come.  He turned to Liz, who met him with such a mix of hope, excitement and pleading in her eyes that even he, who normally found himself all but oblivious to such visual cues from other humans, could not miss or misinterpret her desires.

"You really want to do this..."

"I want to do it.  Let's do it, Einar."

"What about the raven?"  Muninn, who sat silent and solemn on Einar's shoulder, cocked his head and chortled softly at the mention of his name.  

"Take him.  He could make the flight, couldn't he, if we kept him still and quiet?"

Einar nodded, and Liz pulled off her stocking cap, handed it to him.  "To put over his head and keep him still.  So he doesn't panic.  Do you need one, too?"

A slight hint of a crooked smile from Einar, though his eyes were very still when he looked at her, almost frighteningly distant.  He shrugged, shivered, shook his head.  "Been in plenty of planes.  I'll make it."

He left the timber then, rifle at the ready, approaching Roger from his blind side, behind the plane, Liz and Will waiting in concealment until he gave them the signal.

"You're alone."  He spoke not three feet from Roger's left shoulder, causing the pilot to crouch and whirl on his heels, simultaneously drawing a pistol whose presence Einar had suspected, but not been able to see, from the woods.

"Doggone it, man!  Why you son of a slub‐skegged, glabrous‐pated, midden munching GOAT!   Yeah.  Alone.   Hey, you almost got yourself shot right there.  What were you thinking?"

Einar shrugged, leaned back against the plane.  "Just testing your responses, that's all."

"Right.  I'll thank you for it later, huh?"

"Right.  Now, what happened to the others?"

"Two of 'em took Bud's truck and headed for Arizona by highway, last night.  Wanted to get there ahead of us and check things out, make sure it was all as they had left it, and besides, this gives me more leeway with cargo."

Sounded ok to Einar, and he beckoned for Liz to join them.  Roger watched her walk, tilting his head and critically examining her pack.

"This is not gonna be the ideal sort of weight distribution, especially for up here in the mountains.  Better if one of you could ride up front with me, but that isn't a good idea, so we'll make it go.  Need to put both packs up front, though, and anything else heavy that you've got with you."

The pilot hefted Liz's pack, then Einar's, estimating weights.  "Good," he grunted, "good and heavy, help with balance.  The lot of you together probably weigh...what?  Twelve or thirteen for the little one, and maybe one‐seventy, one‐seventy‐five‐between the two of you?"

Einar gave a humorless chuckle, shook his head.  "Not even.  Knock off another twenty and you might be getting close."

"Yeah.  Good.  Helps a lot, today.  Got to fix that real soon here ya crazy heap of animated bones, but not before this flight, ok?  No eating before the flight."

"Got it."

"Now.  I'm staying low so you folks'll have plenty of oxygen, but it's gonna be cold.  You need to get anything else out of these packs before I load 'em, warm stuff for the flight?"

"Nah, I'll be...."

"Yes, we do."  Liz was already digging in her pack, pulled out Will's blanket and another hat for herself, tried to get Einar into another layer but he was too busy walking around the plane, crouching, inspecting.

"Hey, that's my job," Roger snarled in mock outrage.  "Get away from my plane."

Einar stood, stretched.  "I didn't touch anything.  Just looking for transponders."

"Transponders?  Find any?"



"Speaking of transponders, your truck still out at the airport?"

"No, I took it to Bud and Susan's last night and left it.  Kinda seemed like some funny business going on there yesterday at the airport with the service trucks and all, but nobody had tampered with it.  Didn't seem like a good idea to leave it there indefinitely, especially after somebody supposedly heard reports on a police scanner about one of the airport trucks going missing yesterday...didn't want to arouse anyone's suspicion."

"Went missing, did it?"


"Well, they'll find it...eventually."

"I bet they will."

"So if you moved your truck, I guess you got the crates..."

"Look for yourself."

Einar looked.  No crates.  Relieved.  Would have felt so trapped in one of those crates.  So confined.  Besides which they would have messed up the load even further made weight distribution more difficult.  Which must have been why Roger finally decided against their use.  The concept, though, had been a useful one.  Concealment.  Given the nature of the cargo, concealment of some sort was essential, and now they would be left to use the duffel bags which lay folded and ready.

Roger was ready to go, peering up at a few high streamers of cloud which had recently appeared from behind the horizon, and looking anxious.  "We doing this?"

One last glance at Liz, at little Will, entirely enthralled by the plane and striving his hardest to reach up and touch a wing, and Einar nodded, took a step towards the plane and nearly fell when he stumbled over some not‐quite‐visible irregularity in the soil.  Roger caught him, a firm hand on his wrist.

"You sure you're ok, man?  You kinda feel like ice.  Maybe you should eat before the flight."

"Huh?  No, I'm fine.  Let's get airborne, before your cargo changes its mind..."

Into the bags, then, they slithered with some difficulty in the close confines of the plane, Muninn secured somewhat unhappily in Liz's hat, Will going in with Liz and Einar taking the rifle with him, despite some degree of consternation from Roger, who really did not want holes in his aircraft should such be at all avoidable...  They were ready to go, then, roughness of the meadow beneath Roger's tundra tires, a bump as they left the ground and then the smooth nothingness of rapid ascent as the powerful little plane climbed, banked, headed south.