She did not own a timepiece for they had long since become a relic in society, but still her internal clock and rumbling stomach told her that more than the allotted hour had passed.
Perhaps he’s testing me… this phase does assess my endurance, after all… She thought, despite her growing doubts. I’ll wait just a little longer. Then – if there’s no sign of him – I’ll have to press the panic alarm so he lets me out.
She traced patterns in the snow with a twig to while away the time. Soon, she was surrounded by stick figures of dashing men and beautiful damsels. So long as I’m in their midst, I’ll be safe, she thought.
Though the biome did not contain a sun or moon to mark the passage of time – for the designers had automatically regulated the biosphere’s time to replicate Rankoor’s own – she could tell that twilight had fallen. The sounds around her had changed substantially: birds hooted in a snowy forest to her right; four-legged creatures skittered around alarmingly close so that dark shadows danced in and out of her field of vision. She had always been afraid of the dark and now did not seem like the time to grow accustomed to it. She closed her eyes and whistled to herself, but still she felt no solace. I’ve got to get out of here, she decided.
Before she could talk herself out of it, her hands deftly reached for the tracking device around her wrist. Click. The sound was comfortingly familiar in her alien environment. She stared upwards and willed the aperture to open; for the krackurr’s friendly beak to peep through and squawk.
She counted the seconds and marked each minute with a fierce dash in the snow until all the stick figures appeared disfigured and sad. If he had only briefed me with the truth, I wouldn’t feel so scared. She tossed the twig away and stood up, the back of her dress wrinkled and damp from her stationary activity. I’ve got to vanquish my fears, and fast; I may be here for a while, I guess… Her stomach was protesting too frequently to ignore, so she edged towards the forest to find a thick branch that could be fashioned into a spear. Within the first hour of being within the biome, she had pocketed a sharp-edged stone as a reminder for the structure’s peculiarity; the stones of Rankoor were always uniformly oval in shape, she had realised.
It did not take long for her to find a branch worthy of her schemes. She immediately returned to her original dwelling in the snow and hastily crafted a makeshift spear from her raw materials. Though she tore her skin several times on the rough stone, she barely grimaced, for the previous phase had strengthened her against the sight of blood. To think that all my life, I believed underage Rankoorians would die if they inflicted wounds upon another soul. I guess they told us anything to prevent the blood from flowing in the orphanage. Not that it helped much with the bigger kids, she pondered. Though her mind constantly relived the days spent in state care, now, she shook her head furiously and continued to focus on the task at hand, for she knew that her worries would lessen once she had sustenance in her stomach.
Within a few more minutes, her handiwork was complete. Without stopping to admire her weapon, she squatted in the snow and moved quietly to a row of thick bushes that had previously caught her attention. Though its stems were littered with purple berries whose scent reminded her of life before the orphanage, she had the sense to avoid them, for – upon seeing them – her brain had immediately recited an old rhyme:
Beware the baleful berries,
Looking sumptuous and sweet.
For if you eat a bad one,
It is death you will surely meet.
She hummed the tune softly, forgetting that her life depended upon how stealthy she could be in the coming minutes. But as soon as she caught sight of a burrow hidden beneath a shrub, her voice faltered and she quietly hid herself above its entrance, not caring about how uncomfortable the shrub surrounding her was.
Though her left hand was sweaty with fright, she held the spear poised above her shoulders and readied herself for a long wait.