Al followed them inside, unhindered by the closing of the aperture. He had to crouch so that his head didn't vanish through the 'roof' since the cavern was not quite high enough to stand upright in.
"Everyone okay in here?" he asked cheerily, pleased with himself that he had managed to prevent the pair from being buried alive, and fully expecting an affirmative answer once they got their breath back. He moved the handlink round from side to side until its gaudy lights illuminated the pair, for the benefit of the leaper and himself.
Sam loosed his hold on Becky-Lou and disentangled their limbs, then proceeded to check them both over for injuries. He pulled off his gloves for greater dexterity and stuffed them back in his pockets.
Becky-Lou let out a little whimper.
"Are you hurt?" Sam was instantly alarmed and attentive, kneeling up to one side of her and leaning over to look closer at her prostrate form.
"I – I don't think so, not really." She sniveled. Rolling onto her back, she sat up and pulled her knees up in front of her. They were both grazed, but not deeply, as were her palms. "They sting a bit." She flinched as Sam examined her legs for further damage.
"Nothing broken." He decided, and then turned his attention to the top end of his patient, looking in her eyes for signs of concussion or any other undesirable conditions. "Does your head hurt at all, or your neck?" He put his hand gently round behind her head to feel for swelling and/or knotted muscles.
"Nah-uh." Becky shook her head, "I'm fine, thanks to you. Again!" She looked into his eyes adoringly, and then suddenly mirrored his move by grabbing his neck both sides with her fingertips and pulling down his bandana, then locking him into a passionate full-on-the-lips kiss.
"Ahh, the gallant knight gets his reward from the rescued damsel!" chuckled Al, lighting a celebratory cigar.
Sam couldn't have replied if he'd wanted to, he could barely breathe. He tried to pull away before she brought him tumbling down on top of her, and ended up rocking back to sit on his haunches.
"Aaarrhh!" A hasty readjustment had him sliding sideways, shifting his weight onto his posterior and reaching down to grab his left foot.
"-Sam what is it?" questioned Al in chorus with Becky-Lou's
"-B-J, what's wrong?"
"Must have happened when we fell," Sam replied, almost to himself. The injury had passed unnoticed at first, numbed by the cold and blotted out by the adrenaline rush of the narrow escape and his concern for Becky-Lou. He was all too aware of it now though.It was poetic justice he supposed – it served him right for his earlier deceit. His ankle was badly sprained, and swelling up rapidly. Before long, his shoe was unbearably tight, and although he knew it was probably a bad idea, he gingerly removed it, and the thick sock he wore beneath. His discolored ankle throbbed painfully. Becky-Lou gasped at how much it had ballooned in size.
Al frowned. "Oowwie buddy, I bet that smarts."
Ignoring his friends trite comment Sam deftly unbound his wrist, and with Becky-Lou's help he tightly re-applied the bandage to support his injured foot.
Having consulted his hand link, Al confirmed Doctor Beckett's self-diagnosis.
"Ziggy says it's just a nasty sprain, Sam, not a break, thank God." Al drew deeply on his cigar to help steady his nerves.
There was no way he was going to able to fit into his shoe again, but Sam carefully eased the sock back on, though it made him wince with pain to do it. It was better than exposing his toes to almost certain frostbite, which was still a distinct possibility in any case.
So was hypothermia - especially since their clothes were damp through from their tumble in the snow (conducting 250 times as much heat away from their bodies than if their clothes had been dry) - and with it the risk of dehydration. They needed to drink; to replace lost fluids. He was worried about Becky-Lou's sugar levels too. He remembered that during the day she had stashed some candy bars in her coat pocket, and he encouraged her to turn them out so that they could take stock of supplies. She had three and a half bars, all high in sugar content. Not knowing how long it would take him to dig them out, he decided to ration them, but broke a chunk off the half bar and made her nibble on it. Though their helter-skelter ride down the mountainside had burned up a lot of Sam's energy, he declined to join her in her snack.
She needed no prompting to don the mitts that had also come from her pockets.
Ramming his hands into the pockets of his own parka Sam felt B-J's cigarette lighter, the one Becky-Lou had bought him for Christmas. Raising himself up as far as his bad foot and the low ceiling of the overhang would allow, Sam picked out a large stalactite and gently applied the flame to its tip, catching the precious drops of liquid in the cup of his other hand.
"Here, drink." He instructed Becky-Lou. She obeyed unquestioningly.
He took the next dose for himself.
"Best preserve this for later." He declared, putting the lighter off, unsure how much fuel remained. After the brief welcome glow from the tiny flame, the cavern seemed darker still.
"I'm scared, B-J," Becky confessed, snuggling up to Sam, trembling like an aspen tree in a strong breeze. Sam knew that cold, as much as fear, was making her shake. He removed his padded jacket, and wrapped it snugly round her bare legs.
"Don't worry," he reassured her, rubbing her arms to improve the circulation, "the worst is over now."
He looked to Al for confirmation, even as he crawled back to the entrance to ascertain how thoroughly they had been entombed. His foot throbbed with every inch he moved, but he resolutely disregarded the pain.
Al obligingly lit his way with the beam from the hand link.
Becky-Lou called after him, not wanting to be separated in the pitch dark of her perspective. He told her to follow, but not to get too close to where he would be working, as he didn't want to accidentally bury her!
Whilst Al attempted to coax the relevant information from a predictably uncooperative Ziggy, Sam began digging at the snow wall. He'd barely penetrated a couple of inches when his fingers began to ache with the cold and damp.
"Becky-Lou, throw me my gloves, please," he called back over his shoulder, and she obliged, aiming at where she thought his voice had come from. She was a remarkably accurate shot, as one of them caught him on the back of the head.
"Thanks, hon." He offered, his tongue only slightly in his cheek.
Once he'd put them back on, Sam began scooping the snow vigorously, like a dog digging for a particularly succulent bone. The exercise helped to warm his chilled bones. Al tapped his cigar, and ash fell from the end, vanishing into the snow Sam was shoveling.
"Let me help, B-J," suggested Becky-Lou after a few minutes. Sam hesitated, and then decided it may help to warm her too.
"Okay, but if you get tired or dizzy, you stop and have some more candy, understand?"
"Surely." She conceded.
"Don't call him Shirley!" Al responded automatically with a chuckle, remembering the standing joke from one of his favorite comedy films. Sam shot him a confused look, but didn't bother waiting for the explanation, instead returning to the task at hand. Soon the two of them had settled into a rhythm, and the hole grew deeper and wider. Sam expected at any second to break through to the surface, but the further they dug, the more unending the barrier appeared to be.
After a while, Becky was having obvious trouble keeping up with him, though to her credit she didn't complain. He called a snack break, once again declining to join her. She protested that he needed to keep his strength up too, but the last thing Sam needed was her slipping into a diabetic coma half way down the slope. He didn't think that he had the energy to carry her, especially not with how his foot was throbbing. He'd have enough trouble walking as it was.
He decided it was best for her to retreat back into the main chamber of the cavern, and told her to shore up the entrance of their escape chute by packing the snow he was shifting into a tight wall. She was unlikely to manage a very thorough job, but it was a precautionary measure rather than an essential, and it gave her something to do where she could feel useful and work at her own pace.
Sam had disappeared waist deep into the blockade, and his digging slowed as weariness crept upon him. He continued valiantly though, vanishing further within his tunnel, inch by inch. He kept talking to Becky and making sure that her answers were coherent. So far, he was content that they were each holding up pretty well, though to Al, both were starting to sound ever so slightly slurred in their speech.
Sam's gloved hands, saturated by snow, were too uncoordinated. He pulled off the gloves with his teeth, but working with bare hands, his circulation soon failed. Pausing to ram his hands under his armpits in an attempt to warm them helped to return the circulation, but with the blood flow came excruciating pain.
If he could just break out of this icehouse and get them down the rest of the mountain side, they could go back to that lovely blazing fire and get their chilled hands round some nice big steaming mugs of hot cocoa. The thought spurred Sam on to renewed effort.
"That'll do for now, Sam." Al instructed him suddenly, much to his relief. He ached all over from his efforts, and the numbing cold. Nevertheless, he was puzzled that his friend should tell him to stop.
"I know I'm close, I can feel it." Sam enthused. "Just give me a minute or two more; I'll have us on our way in no time." Sam continued to shovel slowly.
"Best not, Sam." Cautioned Al. "Ziggy says it's well below zero out there now, and the wind is so bitter you'd both freeze to death before you got fifty paces. You'd most likely get lost in the dark too. Ziggy gives odds of 93 percent that you should wait it out until morning. Your instinct is good; you're within a couple of inches of the surface. Enough to keep the wind out for the night, but not so much that it'll be hard work to finish tomorrow when the rescue team are outside to guide you back." Al looked away for a moment. Then he turned back and grinned at the leaper with practiced joviality.
"Hey, buddy, it'll be just like the old days, when we were carving out the Imaging Chamber, remember? You know, how we'd work half the night in that cavern, and then sleep where we dropped, 'cos we were too tired to haul our butts back to bed…"
Sam shook his head. He couldn't remember much about the Project due to the Swiss cheese effects of leaping, but more than that, he was having trouble remembering anything at all. He was so tired. It had been a very long day.
The penetrating cold had helped to deaden the pain from his foot, but it was still a nagging ache.
Reversing out of his tunnel, Sam wriggled over to where Becky-Lou had been working. She wasn't working now; she was eating the last piece of the last bar of candy.
"Time to go?" she mumbled.
"Not yet, hon." Sam contradicted. "I don't know about you, but I'm too bushed to hike down the mountain right now. Time for a quick rest first."
"Good thinking, Sam. No need to worry her with the dangers out there."
"Huh?" Sam looked bewildered, not comprehending what his holographic friend was babbling about.
"Sure, if you say so." Becky-Lou didn't seem bothered either way. She had snuggled back under Sam's jacket, and now pulled it tighter round her legs.
She shivered violently.
Sam was shivering too.
Now they had stopped the physical exertion, the chill of the wee small hours was seeping into their bones, despite the windbreak that was still in place.
Becky-Lou's teeth started to chatter.
Sam rubbed at her arms and legs again, getting the blood flowing to warm her up. He rubbed vigorously at her stomach and back too, to make sure her core temperature kept pace.
When he'd rubbed her torso and thighs until he was breathless from the effort, he asked, "H-how does th-that f-feel? Any w-w-warmer?"
"A- a- a little," her teeth were still chattering, though not as loudly.
Sam's own hands were trembling uncontrollably like a drunk with the DT's.
Sam was a good enough doctor to realize that it was no longer a question of whether or not they would succumb to hypothermia, but how badly. He calculated they were already in the mild stage, deep-body temperatures of between 34 and 35 degrees. He had to do everything in his power to minimize the dangers of deterioration.
"T-t-t-time t-to ap-ply s-s-s-some SB-B-W, I th-th-think" he declared through his own chattering teeth.
"SBW? Wh-what on-n earth is th-that?" Becky-Lou wondered aloud.
"ESS…B-B-B…Double...W. Sh-shared b-bodily w-warmth." Sam explained. "We s-sort of ins-sulate each other from th-the c-c-cold. Reduce the s-surface area for the cold air to at-attack. Here, y-y-you lie d-down near the snow bank we've cre-created. Tight p-packed like that, it's quite a g-good insulator – th-think of igloos. Okay, now I'll lie d-down b-behind you in a sp-spoon hu-hug."
"Spoon hug?" Becky-Lou knew the cold was muddling her thoughts, but she swore she'd never heard Bobby-Joe talk so weird before.
"Yeah, we sn-snuggle t-together with our bodies curled up, like th-this, like spoons in a cutlery tr-tray." Sam cinched his body in behind Becky's, encouraging her to bring her knees up towards her chest and curl up as tight as possible, covering her legs with his jacket again. He matched his position as closely as he could to hers, and curled his arm around her waist.
"Cosy." She giggled, and grabbed his wrist, planting his hand further north, up under her coat, and giving it a squeeze, so that he was forced to knead her round breast.
"That's better." She breathed, almost seductively, twisting her head round to kiss his nose.
"Oooh boy!" Sam hastily removed his hand from her soft and yielding bosom, though not before he'd felt her firm, erect nipple (whether from arousal or from the cold he couldn't say.) He was perturbed at his own body's reaction to her closeness, and her willingness - nay eagerness to encourage him, and the sensual smell of her hair…
"Ooooh boy!" he repeated, torn between the desire to retreat, and the desire to respond, and the self loathing that he should even think of desiring to respond.
'Back off B-J!' he silently told the leapee within him. 'I can do without your rampaging hormones right now, I've got enough to worry about.'
"This is n-neither the t-t-time, nor the p-place, honey." He told Becky-Lou firmly, soothing her hurt expression with a peck on the cheek. He didn't want another attack of her histrionics.
"But… but what if this is the…the only time we have, B-J? What if we die - here, t-tonight? I wanna… make love to you. I want you… to make love… to me. I want to be yours - completely. I don't wanna d-die without knowing what it is like to make love with you."
All the time she spoke, she was planting kisses on his face, and had slipped a hand down behind her back to explore his inner thigh, and squeeze his buttocks, whilst gyrating her own to rub against and tantalize his instinctively swelling manhood.
"Oooooh b-boy!" Sam hadn't felt this disturbed by a leapee's influence since Lee Harvey. If he hadn't known the importance of maintaining their body temperatures, he'd have scuttled as far away as their little prison would allow. Despite his loins urging him to go ahead, he had no intention of taking advantage of her.
"C'mon, Bobby-Joe. I'm sure it'd warm us up real g-good." She purred, "In fact, I'm already getting heated." Becky-Lou started unfastening her jacket, and trying to rip off her clothes, kicking off his jacket from round her legs.
"She's really got the 'hots' for you, Sam." Teased Al.
Sam realized with dread that she had already slipped into the moderate hypothermic stage, where victims often become convinced they are too warm instead of too cold, and behave irrationally - hence her wantonness. Every incidence of hypothermia was unique, and consequently it was virtually impossible to gauge or predict its progress accurately.
"M-maybe so, but we'd c-cool d-down a lot f-f-faster afterwards," he told her. That was a fact. Skin to skin contact at chest level may be the most efficient way of sharing body heat, but the loss of heat from removing their clothes was liable to more than counter it here, as would the natural heat loss that followed the activity she was promiscuously proposing, particularly for the male in the partnership.
Sam fought to get Becky-Lou bundled up in her clothes again, despite her abusive objections. Though still damp, they were better than exposing her to the cold air of their cavern. She struggled and protested, but feebly, pouting when he won the fight and had her cocooned again.
"Besides," Sam insisted, "we're not gonna die. I'm gonna get you out of here, I promise. And when the t-time is right we'll f-find someplace more romantic for our f-first time. I want it to be sp-special, n-not like th-this."
'And I want it to be you and the real B-J - preferably on your wedding night.' He added to himself.
During this exchange, Al had been struggling to control his amusement at Sam's discomfort, whilst feeling real sympathy for his dilemma. Lucky for Becky-Lou she was coming on to the ultimate Boy Scout. And boy was she coming on strong. The real B-J would probably have had less self-control, and run with his urges, which they would most likely both have regretted in the morning. Except of course that they never got in this fix in the original history; but had they done so, chances are Becky-Lou would have been right and this would have been their last night together.
Al had read Sam's changing expression as his friend glanced at him; a pleading "how do I get out of this one?" look, followed by a "don't you dare make any lewd comments" reproaching look. Though she was undoubtedly a 'looker', and Al was rarely one to pass up the opportunity of a romantic encounter, he knew that in Sam's place, he too would have declined the tempting invitation.
"Change the subject, Sam. Play charades or something," was the best he could offer.