He couldn't hear anything over his pounding heart and rasping gasps, but he knew the drones were still coming. The thickets were immersed in the canopy, shielded from the wan light of the cloudy day, and laden with dew, which soaked him from head to toe.
As he ran steam rose off him like clouds forming on the mountains over which he scrambled and plunged madly. In the back of his mind he considered the various reveals of his presence and movements, while he tried to maintain a tack towards the highway through the forest and keep his feet in the tangled brush.
They could hear him, and triangulate precisely - within a few meters - his location, speed, and trajectory. They could see the heat of his exertions in the dank wood. They could probably pick out every squirrel and songbird, along with the deer, and the wolves that hunted them, with infrared.
They could of course see him, where the gaps in the canopy and exuberant brush left him exposed - not much, in this thicket. They could smell him. They had better noses than dogs, actually.
He needed a miracle.
He didn't believe in miracles, so he kept running. While he knew his life was over if they caught him, it wasn't fear for his life, or of the pain they would surely inflict on him if they caught him, that kept him running.
He was just stubborn. Fuck them! He wasn't their property, some chattel like a slave in chains, and his refusal to just be a good little citizen had inevitably set him on this course. He ran because he was free, and that trapped him more than chains ever could.
He crested a rise, and gratefully descended, glad of the ease going downhill lent his escape. The brush thinned on the north side, and he picked up his pace, despite the incipient trembling of his abused limbs.
He could see too, and as the treetops revealed the sky in bits and snatches from his higher position, he spotted a helicopter angling across his path.
Probably the swarm controller. They had certainly considered his direction towards the highway, and were at the intersection waiting for him, or would be long before he could get there.
He needed to bypass the intersection, and since he wanted to get south, towards Anchorage, 40 miles away, rather than towards Fairbanks hundreds of miles north, he swung further to his left, straight down the draw.
A little creek meandered and tumbled through the thickets at the bottom of the draw, and he stayed above it, to move quicker in the thinner brush of the hillside. A wall of trees blocked his view as the draw flattened.
A road. Along the road an impenetrable barrier of thicket sucked up the light, and the creek disappeared into a culvert. Perfect! He plunged into the creek, and belly crawled in the icy water into the culvert.
The drones couldn't see his body heat through the roadbed above the culvert, couldn't hear him either, and if he didn't leave it, they'd be unlikely to find him.
Of course, he'd only be safe from them in the culvert, not from the icy water, and after about three minutes the hypothermia would stiffen his tired muscles and he'd probably never leave the culvert alive.
He needed hours, not seconds. The hunters would wait for him at the intersection, if their drones came up empty, but not for too long. They had beer bellies for a reason, and their churlish impatience would see them soon at home bathed in the propaganda the CFS broadcast, while they drank themselves into stupors.
As he slithered through the culvert, he pushed rocks and branches aside, and the pain of the pointy ends gave him an idea. He gathered enough material to make a little platform above the water in the culvert on which he could rest, dry.
It was only about 10 degrees above freezing now, and would be freezing before dark. If he stayed here, wet, he would be dead by then. Long before then. Night only lasted about 6 hours here in August, but that was forever when you were wet, still, and cold.
He stripped and wrung out his clothes. Sandy grit soon covered him, and gathered in all the most inconvenient nooks and crevices, promising severe discomfort throughout the night, so he used a sock to wipe himself as clean as he could, before putting each damp item back on.
He took stock of what he had with him. $27.38, a cheap, but well designed survival knife, his clothes. That was about it. No food, no electronics of any kind, no miracles.
At least the culvert offered shelter and clean water. After the disturbance he'd made washed away, he drank freely from it. No city sewer, the pristine creek was sweet and clear.
Soon, however, the gathering chill made up his mind for him.
There is a fact about men's lives that most women can never understand, and that all too many men realize too late. Men are disposable. The history of mankind is a litany of men being killed, en masse, in every violent conflict, and manner, that has ever been devised.
Young men are the offspring of the survivors, and those survivors are the killers, not the killed. When men are young, the surviving genes are dominant, and the surviving traits are those that potentiated the victories in wars of yore.
Men are impulsive, rash, aggressive, and tend to ignore the consequences of failure, because these traits favor the bold successes that have constantly laid the treasure of the world at the feet of conquerors throughout history.
His passion for living had thusly led him into this culvert, testing the boundaries and rules in place to keep would be conquerors from replacing the extant masters of the wealth of the world with new ones - men like himself.
He was evidence of this evolutionary force, and whether he lived or died would determine whether his genes survived, and his sons were born with his traits.
The test was upon him, and he embraced his fate as he crawled out of the culvert, steaming in the chill of the dark thicket.