She wasn’t getting warmer, as she’d hoped. The new graduate rubbed her hands fiercely together, let off for one second long enough for her to breathe into her hands. Her breath came out in billowing puffs. She went back to her vigorous routine, doing it twice over, before she crossed over her chest, and curled up, putting her knees against her forehead. “I’ll make it through this. I’ll show everyone I can do this.”
Mentally, Gianna went through what the government officials had left her with: Thermal underwear, her normal light jacket and jeans, a bottle, 4 blankets, and what she was most thankful for, a Scott Pyramid Tent. Coughing lightly, she stood up and started jumping up and down and crouched once more to look over the food they’d given her. “This is easy,” she shrugged. “I’ll just stay indoors for two more days, and be good as new when they pick me back up.”
The wind howled just then, making Gianna jump. Laughing giddily at her foolishness, she unzipped the camouflage bag. A gasp left Gianna’s mouth. “No, no, no, no, no, this can’t be it!” Her body started to shake, her eyes widened, and she sat back, rubbing her arms. “Stupid, stupid. I know there was more. How could they do this?” Then she thought. Very easily. After all, the officials didn’t have these tests just for the fun of it. There were only so many high positions - real jobs - to be had. Of course they’d want the greater portion of the population to be Slavers (or the Farmers and Miners, as they called the grueling death of a job.) Gianna couldn’t be one of them. She wanted to live more than the normal 10 years of being a Farmer, Miner or Mechanic. Her dream was to be a doctor. “Just like the other half on earth. But that doesn’t mean squat.” But taking some of the little food they’d left her with was too much. It’d be nearly impossible to stay warm with so little nourishment. “They must have taken it when I was hunting.” Though Gianna realized how foolish that hope had been. Zilch had been her luck. She shook her head, making her black curls go wild. “ I need to get by with an apple and granola bar. Better get some water now.” She wasn’t used to talking to herself, but the habit had been taken up a couple days after they’d dumped her here. Taking out the second bottle they’d left in the bag, she stood up, tensing as she undid the front door.
It was the wrong time of day, the wind was in the wrong direction, and she walked right into it. Gianna’s face turned bright pink immediately, and she quickly knelt to help fight against the bitter wind that made her entire body ache. Using the bottle, she scooped up the snow that was piling up unbearably fast. Not even bothering to screw on the cover, she threw it back into the tent and pulled the door sheets together with all her might, or that’s what she tried to do. The wind blew her back into the tent, along with frosty snow. The coughs came louder this time, to the point where Gianna was unable to breathe for a few moments. How ridiculous, to die because of a cough. Then her breathing came back, making Gianna’s heart swell. Looking out, she saw the sun had peaked, which brought Gianna’s hand up, and forced her to lower her eyes. In the distance, a dark spot showed itself, painted one among a large, white canvas.
An animal? No, what animal could live here, on this deserted ice chunk, with that colored fur? A fellow graduate? Gianna’s green eyes smiled, “That’s even sillier than an animal.” She remembered what the government officials had said five days ago. ‘Each graduate will be placed on an Antarctic chunk, for one week, and since the specified test isn’t about teamwork, but about surviving on one’s own ingenuity, it will be one individual on each chunk.’ At that moment, both her parents had turned their eyes to her, standing among the group of adults; Parnella’s brown eyes bored into her own, asking if this was the only way, Sampson’s own looking proud. Gianna had noticed a watery film lifting though, even then. When the testing place, time, and date had been announced, and Gianna was free to say her goodbyes to her parents, her father had looked around at the crowd. Always trying to mask every emotion.
“Now, remember to keep warm, and don’t take any risks.”
“This whole test is a risk, Par,” Sampson had gruffly voiced, swinging his hand in a quick jerk.
A water drop ran down her mother’s face. Her chin shook, but only for a moment. “We know you’ll make it.” She was pulled into her mother’s embrace, when her cheek started to itch from the wool clothing and the lemon perfume consumed Gianna’s nostrils, making her want to choke, or perhaps it was the feeling in the pit of her stomach that had made her want to pull away.
“How do you know?”
“Because you’re my daughter,” Sampson replied curtly. “And don’t you forget it. If you give up on yourself, you give up on us, and I won’t have it. You hear?” His voice cut through her as the wind did now, making her want to run or do anything other than let it sink in.
The wind swayed, preferring a different direction to show its might to. Praying a thanks, Gianna tightly shut the tent, closing the snow, wind, and memories from the confines of her home. Looking at her bottle, she noticed it hadn’t melted much. “Gonna have to build a fire or something.”
A scratch, a shuffle, some disturbance she heard from outside. An animal was tearing the outside of Gianna’s tent! The scraping, shuffling, never ceased. Being as quiet as she could, Gianna took the DiamondBlade Pinnacle I Skinner from her food bag, ready for a fight. The yellow cloth, the only wall between her and the predator, flipped to one side roughly. Her knees were bent, the knife in her right hand, posed and ready, her eyes deadly serious.
A great mass of clothes greeted her. The black ski mask, bulky black coat, thick gloves, and snow boots were all indicative of something other than what she was expecting. It spoke.
It coughed, “Sorry, mind if I come in?” Without waiting for a reply, the giant stomped in, creating an even bigger mess in her once-dry tent. It grappled for the doorway flap and easily shut out the cold, leaving little room for the two of them. The ski mask came off as Gianna took notice of how many layers this one had on. He was set. Why’d she been left with so little compared to this competitor? Why did she see the competitor in the first place?
“Hey, you going to stop daydreaming and listen?”
“Uh, yeah, what are you doing here?”
“I’m here because someone needs help.”
She shrugged, “So?”
His brows furrowed and his mouth thinned, “I was told you’d want to help. You’re gonna be a doctor, right?”
She remained silent.
He let out an exasperated sigh and looked at the ceiling of the tent, then turned completely serious. “John got hit bad. We were out hunting. Got a bear’s attention.” Nodding his head towards the door, he explained, “He’s about two miles from here. I tried to stop the blood, but it’s too large for something simple. We need somebody else to hold him down while he gets fixed. You gonna help or not?”
“Two miles in this weather?” She couldn’t help it. This was about surviving, not working together. She wasn’t dressed well like he was. There was a high chance of her getting frostbite. What if this boy wasn’t telling the truth? He’d be leading her away from the warmth of her home.
His eyes narrowed as though he knew all that was going through her mind. “Aw, I don’t have time to talk this way with you. He said you wanted to be a doctor, and this is what doctors do. He’s your friend, and just ‘cause you’re afraid to get a little wet and cold, you’re gonna leave him to die?”
With that straight talk, he turned and practically tore the flap, and once out, placed the mask back on. His gait was speeding up, the earth shook as he travelled in the direction of the dark spot Gianna had noticed just a few minutes earlier. She chewed her lip, lines wrinkled her forehead, fists clenching. Don’t take any risks. This would be a risk. But so would not going. It’d be risking someone’s life, if that life were actually in danger. She ran, leaving the yellow flap wide open, uncapped bottle, everything. “Hey, wait up! I’m coming, stop!”
The wind was as fierce as ever, having changed direction to come smack the two in the face. Giant, Gianna’s made-up name for the boy, had slowed just long enough for her to catch up, and then both kept running against the wind. Gianna was still able to give thanks for something; the sun wasn’t in her eyes, so she was able to see the navy blue Scott Tent ahead a long time before they came near enough to touch it. There was evidence of a fire in front, the stones and black sticks still there, ready to be used once more.
Giant wasted no time in nurturing the fire back to life as Gianna tried to grasp at the fold to open the tent. Her hands felt numb and clumsy, but her heart was alive. The fire spat at the cold, creating a small source of heat as the flap came undone, and John’s bloodied shirt showed signs of what Gianna was here for. Her eyes found John’s. “We’re going to make it through this together.”