Inside the cave was actually very cool and spacious. It was a nice break from the pounding heat of the open desert that they had been riding through all day. When they finally had all of their cargo unpacked and inside the cave, they realized the task they had before them.
“Wow. I didn’t realize how much stuff we actually brought”, Pete finally said.
Jane patted him on the back and replied, “Well, bud, nobody said saving the future of the human race was going to be easy.”
Pete ignored all of this and began the enormous task of organizing the binders and blueprints that they had spent the last two weeks putting together.
Several hours later, the friends had actually made a lot of progress. They had almost half of everything organized according to Pete’s plan. But they were exhausted from the days’ ride and the job that they were doing now, so they were all sitting on the floor of the cave and drinking from their water bottles.
Kasib broke the silence and asked the question that had been on all of their minds.
“So, let’s say Pete is right and Mombozi actually does what we’re all worried about. What if none of us make it out alive?”
Keith had an answer for that. “Then it’s easy. The world is screwed. But at least we won’t be around to see it.”
The group sat in silence for a few minutes. Jane finally spoke up. “I don’t know about you guys, but when we leave here, I’m not going to leave my family’s side for a minute. I can’t protect them from everything, but if something happens, at least we’ll be together.”
That sobering thought hung in the air for a moment before Pete replied, “That’s why I’m staying.”
The other three all looked up simultaneously, but it was Keith who asked, “Staying where? Here? Bull.”
“I’m serious. I understand you guys need to get back to your families. But what am I rushing back to?”
Jane put her hand on Pete’s shoulder and said, “What about Julie? I know things aren’t great between you two right now, but I know she wouldn’t want you alone out here.”
“It’s over. We both know it. I’ll always care about her, but I’m not cut out for marriage. I’ve known it for some time now, but she finally wised up. At least we both realized it before we went through with the wedding. If I went back now, I would only make things worse. Besides you guys, I’ve screwed up every relationship in my life. The one chance I have to make a difference in this world is making sure the contents of this cave survive if and when the worst happens.”
No one knew what to say to that, so silence filled the cave once again. They all knew and loved him, but they had been a witness to Pete’s ambitious, obsessive nature, and the toll that it took on the people around him. He was a brilliant man, a giving friend, but he was right. Other than the people in this cave, he had pushed away almost every other person in his life.
“Just give me a few minutes guys”, Pete said before walking over to a dark corner of the cave. His friends watched him go, before getting up and continuing to organize the material that they came here to store.
When Pete was sure that his friends could no longer see him, he set down his backpack and kneeled down in the dirt. He took out an object from the backpack and examined it closely before placing it inside a hole at the base of the cave wall. He then stood up and walked over to re-join his friends.
“Sorry guys. Just have a lot going through my head right now.”
“Come on, Pete. You don’t have to explain anything to us”, Kasib explained.
The group continued their work for a couple of more hours when Pete stood up and looked at his watch.
“Wow, it’s getting pretty late. There’s not much left to do here, guys. Why don’t you all go ahead and start heading back home? I can finish up here.”
Jane walked over to her friend before asking, “You’re not thinking about staying out here now are you?”
“Not for good. But I do want to set up some kind of living space if I’m going to be spending a lot of time here in the next few months. I’ll probably stay here for the next couple of days getting everything settled, then I’ll head back home and gather more supplies. But I won’t come out here for good unless it looks like things are really getting bad in Marwan.”
The others looked uncertainly at each other, but were each anxious to get back home.
“Alright, buddy. That’s your call. But hurry back. I’m ready to take you up on that free beer offer”, Keith said while getting his supplies together.
“It’s a deal.”
Pete’s three friends gathered their backpacks and shook his hand, for what they hoped wasn’t the last time.