She woke with a cold shiver, as something pressed chill against her left nipple. The last thing she remembered, she thought muzzily, was…what? It felt like she was pulling herself up through a thick tunnel of taffy, as she worked towards wakefulness. So groggy. So disoriented.
A sudden hissing sounded near her head, and a sharp and unpleasant tang met her nose. With a sickening snap, and a roil of her stomach, she was suddenly totally awake and aware.
The disembodied voice came from nowhere, and everywhere. Her eyes moved around the small space. She looked like she was in an airlock, sans window.
Remembering came with wakefulness. She’d been on the bridge of her small scout-about, when an alien creature had materialized right in front of her. There’d been only a moment to gasp, before it had shot her with some strange gelatinous goop. The blue stuff had hit mid-chest. Moving to wipe it away, she’d been shocked to discover that her limbs were locked in a sudden stasis. In seconds the blue gel had completely covered her and she remembered the sensation of falling, then nothing.
Another shiver, and a soft tinkle came to her ears. What the fuck?
She moved to sit, realizing at last that she was naked, and that there was a dull ache in her left nipple. A small ring lanced through it, with a bell hanging down, thus the jangle. Though she searched for a way to remove the item, it appeared to have no opening.
“You will need to earn your tag. For now the bell will signal your whereabouts. Your release to habitat suitable for your breed commences in 1 minute, standard.”
“Wait! What the fuck is going on here?” she yelled, her hand on the panel before her.
“Don’t be caught; earn your tag.”
There was a chime, not her bell, and a sudden whoosh of pressure against her ears. In seconds, she felt the floor fall away, and all merged into a pale gray fog.
When the fog cleared, she stood on a grassy knoll. The sun was shining in the clear blue sky. Turning full circle, she saw a meadow before her, a forest behind. In the meadow, tall grasses waved. In the trees, shadows beckoned.
“Don’t get caught, female, earn your tags.” What the fuck did that mean? At the farthest point from her, the air distorted, and she heard the sound that presaged her displacement from what must have been a holding cell.
“Your hunter has arrived. You must evade for one standard hour.”
The voice was gone.
Dropping to her knees, she slithered through the grass trying to not create a ripple in the grass. There was no way to tell if the hunter had seen her, but her head told her that the trees was likely the safest place to hide. Then again, isn’t that what most hunted would think? She crept around the bottom of the small rise she’d been on, looking back at her telltale trail.
Quickly she headed for the woods, reaching the firmer loam there in minutes. Doubling back, she returned to where the trail divided, and headed there. It ended at a small pond. No way to tell how deep it was, she made tracks in the mud to the water’s edge, then backed and turned away, to the grass trail. Hopefully her hunter would think she had come this way, turned away, and headed to the woods. Back she went, leaping across her trail, and into the water, covering her breast with one hand to quiet her bell. Fucking bell! It was cool in the water, but bearable. She walked deeper, grabbing at reeds as she moved along the edge. By pure luck she discovered that they were hollow, the one in her hand breaking as she slipped on the bottom muck. An older reed, it was broken at the top as well, blackened and ruined.
She felt suddenly, that time was closing, the hunter would be close, and wrapping her hair into her hand, lest it float to the surface and betray her, she sank down amongst the reeds until only her eyes could see. She held the reed steady, amongst the other reeds, and set one end in her mouth. Trying to breathe slowly through it, she heard the faintest rustle in the grass.
He emerged upon the path she’d trod, then looked carefully around at the muddle of tracks she’d made. He was gorgeous, tall, tanned, dark of hair, and muscular. She nearly gasped as she saw a tag on his right nipple. Instead, she held steady, hoping to not create ripples with each breath. After what seemed an eternity, he stood, gazed around the pond, and turned back to the trail.
She had a feeling he’d turn back, and moments later, she was glad she’d remained in place. He leapt into the area, gazing around the pond with brilliant eyes. She imagined dark skies, stars through her viewfinder, and ignored the cold that was making her skin shrivel. A moment, another, and he moved off again, this time at a trot. She counted seconds until she reached 300, then slowly rose, backing one step at a time, away from the pond where she’d first entered, and eased out of the pond upon a flat rock. Grasses towered above her, and she sat for a moment, shivering, holding her bell quiet. Awkwardly, she moved off, into the grasses, squatting, clutching her bell, and hoping to find where he had emerged into the scene.
It took forever, rough vegetation scraping along her skin, to move across the meadow. Her legs cramped, she felt the persistent annoyance of mud drying under her toenails, and she smelled horrible. At long last, she found the rocky outcropping poking up from the meadow. Clambering up upon it, she peered over the edge, trying to see across the long, rolling grassland and into the dark wood beyond. She heard a shout, and saw him. He emerged from the forest, his body radiating annoyance.
The air around her filled with fog, and she heard a voice speak.
She awoke in her cell, clean, sweet-smelling, and hungry. As she sat up, she felt heaviness in her breast. Touching, she realized that her bell was gone, and a shiny tag was in its place.