The first thing I did was tear into the loaf that had been left for me. My hands were shaking and covered in alien blood, but I ignored that in favour of stuffing my face. I stopped myself a third of the way through so I wouldn’t get sick, and went to pry Critter off the carcass. He was so big now that I needed two hands to move him.
With Critter tucked under an arm, I set about building up the fire. Then I chugged a ridiculous amount of water, balanced my half-eaten loaf on top of a couple of the logs, and let Critter down. He immediately went back to the carcass. I would have to work around him.
I took out my hand-axe and turned to face the carcass. I set upon it without finesse or efficiency, but with enough heart to make up for both. I assure you, my motivations were purely culinary.
The flesh was easily cut even with my tools. I soon realised I had made a mistake by leaving my clothing on, but at that point my shirt was drenched. Not a big deal, it had too many holes from Critter anyway. I made a mental note to cut it into usable strips for rope or something, then continued with my task of gutting the creature. The anatomy was familiar to a point. The digestive tract was easily identifiable, with two very elastic stomachs leading to a long and tortuous hindgut. But there was no indication there was a different large and small intestine. I cut the entirety of the gut out, and Critter had a thorough feed before I realised that I could have used it for something.
In the rest of the abdomen there were a series of very flat looking organs. There were two solid and heavy organs in a squarish shape, which I decided were livers for no special reason except their texture. There were several soft and squishy organs sitting just under the chest cavity, which I gave to Critter as they were falling apart in my hands. And there was a series of large swollen sacs right near the anus that not even Critter would touch. I chucked them in the latrine which was once again clean. There was no evidence of kidneys or a bladder, or even an obvious reproductive system.
I put the livers on pieces of rock right by the fire, and went back to the creature. Curiosity had me open up the creature’s chest. I cut through soft cartilage to find a single chest organ that encircled yet another stomach. I cut them out and looked at the huge chest organ. It was bleeding profusely. The monstrosity had lots of blood vessels, and was muscly on the outside, and spongy under the surface. I couldn’t decide if it were a heart or a lung, or both. Whatever it was, it was still meat, and I put it next to the livers to cook.
With the organs gone, I could see the structure of the creature’s bones. It had a spine, though it wasn’t quite like any spine that I knew. This connected to broad, flattened ribs that didn’t meet on the creature’s underside. A thick layer of muscle encircled everything right down the entire torso. This creature seemed to be optimised to be able to swallow huge mouthfuls of food.
Around the time I was preparing to cut the head off to look inside, I realised I had perhaps veered away from my intended purpose. I distracted myself by cutting off one of the hind legs to cook, then managed to break my hand-axe cutting off the creature’s horns. I watched dully as it splintered apart in my hands, but was quickly mollified by the aromatic reminder of food. Besides, they had given me new sphere stones to play with. Surely there would be more flint amongst them. Other changes to the enclosure included plenty more of the faux logs, and the wall had been cleared of my attempts at proving sentience.
The livers quickly became my favourite food in the universe. They were flavourful, rich, and smooth in texture. The chest organ, on the other hand, was full of gristle and had an acidic flavour. I put it aside, if I wasn’t able to eat it tomorrow when I was hungrier, Critter would.
As I waited for the leg to cook, I washed myself as well as I could and took off my outer shirt. It had been beyond repair for a while now. I set it on the log pile out of Critter’s reach to deal with later. I checked my injuries. The cut on my foot could be dangerous if it got infected, but I didn’t know how to prevent it with what I had on hand. There were spots around my ears that were tender, but they had stopped bleeding. My hair had been armour enough to prevent the majority of damage from the creature’s bite. My forearms were the injuries that bothered me the most. I couldn’t look under the magical arm shackles, but they throbbed with unseen bruises. Pins and needles ran up the length of my right arm. I didn’t remember it hurting that much when I was pulling away from the Wisp. All in all, things hurt, but I couldn’t do anything about them. So much for first-aid training. The thought that I would be much more useful (and also not in this mess) if I had been accepted into my chosen degree flashed across my mind bitterly before I banished it. I shook myself and got back to business.
The leg of meat was ready. It wasn’t cooked well; charred on the outside, and rare near the bone, but I ate what was edible and cooked the rest a bit longer. Critter was still interested in the food, cooked or not. He seemed to have some sort of bottomless stomach, and I expected that in the morning he would have grown. I still hadn’t figured out where he was leaving his waste. We shared the rest of the leg, cracking the bone with my hands to find a woeful amount of marrow, and fell into a satisfied doze for the rest of the afternoon.
I finished the stone axe through the night. I ground, sharpened, and polished it as best as I could, and was surprised at how much of an edge it was able to take. I used half one of the bamboo sticks as the handle, making the hole for the axe-head with my smaller flint tools and fire like I was sure I had seen on a video one time. It was my best creation yet, and apparently, my keepers agreed, for the achievement sound rang out and I received another loaf. I set it with the other half I had left out of Critters reach. He was otherwise occupied, but it couldn’t hurt to be cautious. With a surplus of food for the first time since I had been here, it was difficult to remember to be careful with what I had. I had been wasteful enough with how I had dealt with the carcass, but I didn’t know how I would be able to preserve it anyway.
I tried my axe on some of the logs with satisfying results. I even tested it on the wall, but not full force in case it broke. In what I estimated were the early hours of the morning, I fell asleep gratuitously sharpening my new axe.
In the morning, there was a small but definite mark where I had used my axe on the wall. I stared at it. I ran my thumb over it and felt its impression.
Critter and I split the chest organ for breakfast. I hardly noticed the gristle. I was too preoccupied with the mark my axe had made. I didn’t even care about the bruises that purpled out of either side of the silver shackles on my wrist, for there, right there on the wall of my enclosure, was the proof that my captors weren’t invulnerable.
I was quite content that day and the next. The cut on my foot was healing well. I had plenty of food, and as I discovered, the possibility for escape, however small, did wonders for motivation. After making a replacement for my flint hand-axe, I worked on several more spears. I turned my holey shirt into lengths of cord, using some of it to hold up my increasingly loose pants. I even tried training Critter, but it didn’t take.
If things would stop trying to kill me, I suspected I might even enjoy this place. As it was, things were fine. It was bearable. “Most things are,” my mother had said. I had always taken this as an empowering statement on human potential for endurance. It was only after everything that happened that I had come to realise the “just” was implied.
I had decided to be patient in my escape attempt. I didn’t yet have enough data to know the best way to go about it, and didn’t want to end up having my tools confiscated or something before I had to fight whatever new alien creature they threw at me. Besides, if the pattern of three days in between fights kept up, I would have plenty of time to regain strength and test out my axe if need be.
The “get ready” chime that woke me that night proved me wrong, and demonstrated that I was unstudied in the sacred ways of constant vigilance. It was still dark in my enclosure. I scrambled to grab my axe and one of my spears, and tucked the former into the cord holding up my pants. As the wall opened, my enclosure was suddenly flooded with light.
I didn’t move. I half knew what would happen, but it was no good assuming, I had to know. Sure enough, the Wisp appeared in front of me, and my arms slammed together painfully. My grip on the spear failed me and it dropped to the ground as I was pulled to the doorway. This time, I couldn’t resist. The pressure was too great, and I couldn’t get leverage with my feet.
As the Wisp dragged me slipping and twisting out the entrance, I mentally prepared myself for whatever alien environment I would find myself in next. But I couldn’t ever have been prepared to see the familiar landscape that appeared before me now.