I woke minutes after midnight; day five had started without me, but not by much. I bundled up my bedding, switched off the light, and headed back to the base camp carefully, stalking low in the tall grasses that filled the clearing. I carried my black backpack on my back, emptied again, and waiting to be filler with more supplies.
When I reached my cabin, I stepped inside and closed the door quickly and quietly. The walls of boxes were there and I shuffled through my index quickly, looking for more breathing equipment and food stuffs. With my pack freshly filled, I shut the door carefully behind me and then jumped when someone cleared their voice behind me. I turned carefully.
"Ace, was it?"
"Mr. John. What a nice... surprise. What can I do for you?"
He stared at the pack on my back, trying to figure out what was inside, his fingers literally twitching to open it up and find out. "Oh, I was just checking to see if you were still with us. Haven't seen hide nor hair of you since the opening ceremony. Robert and I were starting to wonder if you were playing at all, or if you'd been frightened off."
"No sir. Just taking care of business in a way that works best for me. I'm surprised John-Paul hasn't said anything..."
"He's a troublemaker too, you know; not much unlike yourself, I imagine. Vouching for you when you don't even have a fortress to show for it yet. We found your little deer trail, but for all this you've just been hiding in the woods. What are you up to young man?"
"Sorry, that would be telling. If you don't mind, I really must be going."
"Oh, but I do, very much indeed."
"My condolences, I really wish I could help with that. But since I can't be disqualified at this point unless I'm found to be breaking some rule, you really should let me go. It's your game, you should know that."
"It's not my game." He started laughing, and it wasn't a pleasant sound. "You thought this game was my brainchild? You are very much mistaken. I'n just here to make sure the sponsors' money is well worth all the trouble we're going to. The idea, well, if you can believe it, was something out of a fictional story one of the other judges found."
I didn't bother asking who. He wouldn't tell me, I knew, I'd have to figure it out for myself.
"Don't bother asking, I wouldn't say who or where it was found. That would be telling."
"I wasn't planning on it, sir. Now, regardless whether you mind or not, I really must be going, and I don't appreciate being detained here unless you have some reason to hold me, any accusations of rule-breaking."
"Not yet, but soon enough I'll find something, you can be sure of that." He clapped me on the shoulder as he turned to go and I frowned.
I double-checked to make sure I'd locked the door behind me, and then started crossing the field. The backpack straps bit into my shoulders uncomfortably, and I paused, crouching lower, to adjust them. They slipped up higher, and the right strap pressed something small uncomfortably into my shoulder. I sat, removing all the weight from the shoulder straps onto the ground behind me and fumbled at it with my fingers.
A small pellet was clipped to my coat, and I was sure it hadn't been there before. I pulled it off, examining it with my fingers and the moonglow. A radio beacon.
"You yellow-bellied devil you," I whisper silently to myself. "I'm not sure whether to be surprised you thought of this, or unsurprised you bothered trying."
I stood and strapped up again, turning and heading for the cabins once again. I dropped my bag inside my cabin, climbed onto my roof, and took a look around. I couldn't see anyone lurking around, nor the person I was actually searching for. I decided to wait. The night was warm enough to not need my sleeping bag, a good thing since I'd left it in my hole. I laid on my back watching the stars and moon and watched eagerly for the dawn.
It peeked slowly over the horizon, and my eyes adjusted at the same rate to brightening sky, and I rolled over, looking for some sign of movement. There he was, up and moving bright and early. John-Paul walked through the rows of cabins unhurriedly, and occasionally stopping to chat with candidates who chose to spend the night in them instead of out in the woods. He slowly made his way toward mine, at the outermost edge and closest toward the game field. He sat with his back against the wall, watching candidates start to make their way once again to their fortresses-in-progress.
I crawled to that same wall, making no effort to keep my movement silent, and dropped down beside him.
"You're making quite a stir among some of the judges. They don't approve of you, I hope you know."
"I do. Mr. John came by last night as I was picking up supplies and started making trouble."
He didn't glance at me, though I knew he wanted to, and I gave him props for that effort. "Should I ask?"
I plucked the pellet out of a pocket and handed it to him.
I nodded. "Do me a favor."
He held his hands in front of him, wrists together.
"I know, your hands are tied. This is an easy one. Give it to Zeke and Yin. They'll know what to do with it."
"Do I need to tell them who it's from?"
"No, they'll know when they figure out what it is. And if they don't, then they're not the group I should have formed a pact with."
John-Paul nodded. "Anything else you need?"
"I think it's probably too much to ask--"
"Ask it anyway. I'll let you know."
"My food supply. Today, there's no problem getting food, since I've been caught out here in daylight, something I'd never intended. But when I'm here at night, I need access..."
"There is someone who would be happy to help with that."
"Hmm?" I couldn't resist glancing at him, quirking my head.
He caught me looking, and smiled. "Just because Mr. John is winning some of the judges over to his side when it comes to ruling against you doesn't mean you don't have other staff rooting for you, if not for your sake, then to spite Mr. John."
I looked back over the game field and away from him. "That's reassuring."
"Good, because I'm not going to say who they are, especially with this little bug in play."
I nodded again, stood, and wandered off to get some work done. First to the cafeteria, and then some modifications in my cabin.
I grabbed a duffle from my cabin and slung it over my shoulders, walking casually to the cafeteria. I entered, and found them serving more than the traditional breakfast since the last time I actually bothered to eat here. Sandwich bags were stacked high on an otherwise abandoned cashier's stand. Bags for fruit were on another, and rows and rows of water bottles on a third. Snack and health bars still in their cases but clearly labeled on the outside were going quickly, but I saw staff carrying more supply out as I watched.
I took generously from the fruit and water bottles, and avoid the crowds at the heath bar queue by standing by the storage room and snagging three boxes from an emerging staff member. They may have thought I was offering to help, but I took all three boxes with me back to my cabin, where I emptied what would fit directly into my duffle, and the rest added to my boxes labelled "Food."
Instead of letting my day go to waste, I pulled out some spare digging equipment, slid the bunk bed out of its place, and started digging. This was meant to be nothing more than a contingency plan, regardless how far I managed to get, and down was the first order of business. Fortunately, the foundation of the cabin was limited to several vertical supports instead of an entire poured base, and I dug well past the bottom of those cement patches before heading toward the game field. I kept a close eye on the time, as I had more important work to do on my base. When dusk was at long last close approaching, I placed a special radio-marker at the end of the tunnel so that I could find it from the other end, and returned to my cabin. I replaced the floor-boards and the bunk bed over the whole, and with a close eye on anyone who might be watching, shifted my pile of freshly moved dirt out into the field where it wouldn't be noticed. Ias nearly midnight before I strapped on my backpack, grabbed my duffle of food stuffs, and cautiously started the trek back my to base.