A thousand feet below where Sam stood, gray sea foamed against the shore. Halfway down the tall spine, Satsky lay face down on the rocks, his pick still in his hand.
Sam negotiated down the jagged slope, stumbled on a rock, slipped on the slick surface. He landed on his side with a grunt, rolled with the fall, and lay dazed for a moment before scrambling to his feet.
“Doc!” He shook him, but the old man didn’t move. “Doc! Can you hear me?”
Satsky’s face was frozen; mucus-crusted icicles covered his mouth and stuck to his gray stubble. “It’s Sam! Sam Sawyer.” He blocked the hard wind and blowing snow with his body. Satsky’s eyes blinked open.
“Doc, what happened? Are you okay?” He tried to move Satsky’s icicle-locked mouth, then warmed the man’s face with his hands. “Can ya’ hear me? It’s Sam.”
The old man smiled thinly and closed his eyes.
“Shit!” Sam stared down at Satsky’s face, his mind for a moment blank. “Gotta get ya’ out a’ here.”
Sam wrapped his arms under the old man’s limp body and lifted him from the ground. Satsky wasn’t a small man, yet Sam was surprised how little he weighed. As he stood the wind gripped him like a vice and toppled the two back onto the hard scrabble.
“Oh God,” cried Sam.
He bent over Satsky’s form and with his gloved hand brushed off the rocks that had embedded in the unconscious man’s face and beard.
“I’m sorry,” he cried.
More carefully this time he scooped Satsky in his arms, cradling him while still kneeling. Another gust pushed hard at him from behind and he arched his back to protect Satsky from the vicious assault. A calmer moment in the storm’s fury came and Sam staggered to his feet, trudging at an upwards angle along the side of the hill towards the path. After an hour’s march he reached the path. Sam gently placed the still unconscious form onto the ground and sat. His arms burned as if they were on fire. His lower back cried from pain. He didn’t know how he was going to make the rest of the journey carrying Satsky. Still, he couldn’t leave him on top of this barren escarpment near the North Pole. It wasn’t clear to Sam that Satsky would live but he couldn’t just leave him to die either. The relentless wind howled and raged at him again. Pushing. Demanding. Hungry for obedience. It was so cold that night he had long ago lost all feelings in his hands and feet. With every ounce of strength he could muster he bent low and scooped the lifeless form back into the cradle of his arms and staggered again to his feet. Step by step he moved back to camp. He counted 100 steps at a time. Then he put the body gently back to the ground and rested. His arms were leaden limbs of burning ligaments. He stumbled again, spilling his cargo onto the rocks. He kneeled next to the limp form that had fallen like a rag doll and cried out into the black night.
The single LED light within Satsky’s tent dimly pierced the structure’s fabric like a dull beacon. He could make it now. With one last Herculean effort he cried out in anguish as he lifted the man’s body. He stumbled towards the light, then kneeled in front of the tent, Satsky’s lifeless body draped over his knee, and unzipped its flap.
Sam opened Satsky’s sleeping bag, pulled off the old man’s parka, rolled him onto it, and zipped it up. Satsky was still breathing. Sam collapsed on the tent floor and closed his eyes.
When he awoke, the blackness of winter was still upon them. He looked at his watch. 12 hours had passed from when he had returned to the tent. He struggled to push himself up off the tent floor but found his arms were useless. He bit his lower lip and forced them to do his bidding. His arms cried out in agony. Satsky’s eyes were open but did not move to look at him. Sam struggled to his feet and went outside to boil water and make some soup.
“Drink this.” He tilted the old man’s head, to ease the broth into him. “What happened out there?”
“It’s my heart,” the professor whispered.
“Your heart? Doc, ya’ got heart problems?” Sam realized that he sounded angry. He was angry. He wiped the professor’s thin smile with a napkin and turned his head away. His arms were shaking.
“No one knows. But it’s okay. I just pushed myself too hard.”
“Have some more.”
“No. No. I need to apologize.”
“Forget it. It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not okay.” He seemed to be trying to catch his breath. “I bullied you, tested you . . . unreasonably.”
“Shhhh. Seriously, you need to rest.”
“No!” Satsky lurched up onto his elbows and immediately fell back, gasping. “No.”
“Doc, the boat won’t be here for another month. I can’t help you if you don’t let me.”
“No. It’s happened before. I’ll be okay. Really.” He grinned, as if to reassure him, but Sam wasn’t reassured. “The doctors want me to have surgery, but I don’t have time. The treasure. The Ancients.” He winced.
“Take it easy, now.”
Satsky closed his eyes. They stayed closed, and Sam walked outside. The blowing snow had reduced the visibility to inches; he held on to the shaking tent. The warm yellow light within was the only dim beacon in a world of winter and white. Knowing he shouldn’t be out in this alone, he felt his way to his own tent.