Richard tried to reinvent the woven basket but realized the scrubby brush in the desert wasn’t going to yield the next plant to take over cotton or hemp. He managed to make a small basket, but he couldn’t carry very many rocks in it, and it would take the better part of a year to get one stone shelter built. Even if he did manage to get a shelter built then there was no container he could carry water in, or store water of he did manage to carry it. A one hundred mile long aqueduct seemed to be as farfetched as anything else he had come up with, but he managed to get a mile of it built before the math took over. A mile had taken the better part of a Summer, which was four months, and the windmill had to work the entire time, day and night, for the water to reach the end of that mile and by the time it reached that point, the water was barely a trickle. Richard built a small pool there, and wondered how many more he would have to build before he reached half bin ten. The math, always the math, did him in. The distance was too great, the time not enough, and the goal too far away. As hard as getting here at been, to reach a level of security no one else in the world had achieved, Richard discovered he could not escape it.
Richard thumbed through his survival manual and laughed out loud at the section on getting rescued in the desert. There would have to be someone who was looking, he had written, and they would have to know where to look, and you would have to do something so they could find you, and you had to live long enough to be found. Mostly Richard wondered about who had survived, if anyone had, and he wonder what sort of person might be found, other than someone like himself.
A decade or so ago, he had thought about building a radio transceiver but had abandoned that idea as something that might attract the wrong sort of attention. The equipment lay in a heap in the cavern but there was no way to power any of it. He had brought a generator along but the stationary bike he had planned to use as a power source had never made the trip. The windmill? Even if he could get the generator up to the top, find some way to get the blades to turn the turbine he would need wiring he did not have to run from the radio to the turbine. Richard went through his supplies carefully and discovered he had everything on earth he needed but wire. So what if he did have wire? What if he did get the radio running? What if he contacted the outside world and it was every bit as bad as it had been when he left, and it hadn’t gotten any worse? Who would he speak to? What would he say? He was one hundred miles from the middle of nowhere and no one even knew he was still alive. As he looked through his equipment, Richard realized he didn’t have anything at all that resembled a microphone or any way to broadcast.
Richard set up a homing device, as well as a small blinking light to guide him back to the cave whenever he went out exploring at night. He expanded his territory to include a cave to the South of where he lived, and another small hiding place to the west of that one. But all of this cut just seven miles off the trip back, and was no help to him at all. His home cave still had many tunnels and caves within to explore, and Richard made a map of the cavern on the main cave wall. He suspected that somewhere deep inside the system, the Southern Cave and the Home cave were connected but he couldn’t prove it yet, because the water. Too much water down below and not nearly enough above. Richard laughed at the irony, but after he stopped it echoed time again off the cave walls.
One night Richard struck out west of Home Cave, and took enough water to stay out for the day if he found a suitable hiding spot. The western part of his territory was the smallest because of a rift in the desert floor that lay in that direction. The rift was nothing to trifle with in the daytime, and Richard had no intention of getting near it at night. But the moon was full again, and Richard felt like filling in that part of his map. “Here there be dragons!’ he had written on that side of the map, and it wasn’t far from the truth. A beaded lizard had taken a swipe at Richard the last time he ventured near the rift. An hour passed, and another, but Richard found no way into the rift that looked inviting. He had learned to cast rocks into the darkness and discern what lie in the shadows by how the rocks sounded when they hit. Sand and rock and harder rock and softer sand and a piece of tumble weed but there was nothing there to indicate to Richard e could venture down into the rift. Maybe there would be an experimental aircraft that crashed, and he could find some wire. This was a dream of his, the wire, and Richard did realize he was as likely to find a UFO as some useable wire, but this was the desert. The desert rewarded patient men because it killed all others. Richard looked at the stars and they told him he was an hour away from Home cave, and it was three hours before dawn. It was time to go.
Richard climbed on top of a small escarpment and looked towards Home Cave and there blinking slowly but faithfully, was his homing light. It was a clear red color and Richard hoped it lasted for a while longer, not that he distrusted the stars. Then he saw the second light, the one that was moving. So totally transfixed at the sight of a light, Richard didn't know the rattlesnake was there until he felt the fangs buried deep into his left calf.