Primax came out of her sleep stasis the next morning, and met the teenager’s gaze.
“You’re going to Heteroptera Duel in a few days! Aren’t you just SO excited?” he said sarcastically.
Primax stared back at him with intensity, hating him and his father. She turned her head away, suddenly starving. She collapsed, cringing in a near circle. The teen ran out for his father, who came back in with some potted flowers and feeder crickets. Primax looked up as the crickets began to fall towards the dirt, and bouncing around the glass, frantically crying for help. Primax shook her head at the thought of killing and eating the crickets, but her stomach overruled her mind. She lurched forward, and plunged her mandibles into the cricket, making him cry out in pain. She quickly devoured him, and finished off the other one, and drank some nectar from the flowers.
“See? She’s better. You didn’t feed her though, and I’m afraid if you neglect to do that, she won’t make it through the first five minutes of the battle.” The father said. Primax looked at the entomologist in fear and disgust.
“What’s going to happen to me?” She wondered.
The day passed quickly, and the night before the Duel settled. Primax scuttled worriedly around the cage. Over the past few days, she’d been fed strange new foods, and already she was larger in stature and more powerful.
“Primax! Primax!!” A voice whispered from the top of the cage.
“Who’s there?” Primax said. She looked at the ceiling, and saw a housefly zoom down to her feet.
“My name is Nare. I don’t have long to talk to you. But there are a few things you must know about the Heteroptera Duel. It’s a battle to the death when they stick other captive insects in a much larger terrarium and wait for one victor to emerge on the top. Sometimes there isn’t ever a winner, but there usually is. Here’s your secret; form alliances immediately. Otherwise you’re dead or just another enemy to kill. If you’re the last ones standing, then break the alliance and kill them to get out of there; sabotage can be useful sometimes. If you do win, expect to go in every year until you die. I have to go now. Good luck, Primax!!” Nare finished and zipped out a gap in the screen and squeezed his way through the hatch.
Primax sat in disbelief, thinking of who she was up against. Images swirled in her mind of massive insects, battling each other and climbing out the carnage the victor. She nervously slipped into her sleep stasis, burrowing deep into the dirt as if it could keep her safe.
Primax stirred hours before dawn. The teen tossed in his bed, snoring and muttering things about a girl.
“You sick animal.” Primax hissed at him. She started to pace around the cage again, trying to desperately plot her quick escape. The boy had replaced the old screen with a slightly frayed one, with only a hole big enough for a housefly or wasp. The hatch had been sealed as well, leaving Primax locked in the glass until the time of the Duel.
She crawled back into her burrow, craving the company of other ants. Millet flashed in her mind, leaving a mark of her face. Primax shook aside the image of her little sister, and tried to remember what Nare had instructed her.
Form alliances immediately… If you have to, KILL them… Sabotage can be useful sometimes… Nare’s voice echoed in her head, pounding his instructions further into her brain. She settled down further, slipping into her sleep stasis again.
A pounding snapped Primax out of her stasis. She caught a glance of the boy slamming a spade into the dirt, and prying it up to find her. The blade plunged into the dirt in front of her, sealing the burrow shut until the spade angled towards, tilling the dark earth. Primax hurriedly began to dig some more, but the spade slammed in front of her again, and flipped her into the softer dirt. She flailed her arms around, trying to flip over. Tweezers snapped around her waist, and she was yanked out of the tank, and dropped into a plain white box. The boy closed the lid, and started walking with a happy skip.
Primax fell onto the bottom of the box, sliding from side to side as the box rocked around. The rocking stopped, and a loud roar followed by slams of doors sounded in the air. Primax huddled in a corner, her antennae twitching outrageously as she picked up the scents of the past victims.
The car continued for a half hour, until it ran onto a gravel drive, and pulled to a stop. The doors opened again, and Primax could feel the box was lifted again. The lid was opened slightly, as if to allow Primax to see her new home for the next few days.
A huge, glittering glass dome covered a large splotch of green, making Primax think of a jungle trapped inside of a crystal.
“Good thing I got permission to get here first. She’ll get used to her new environment soon, and maybe establish some sort of home or trap.” The father said as he opened the door, letting the muggy air sweep towards them.
Primax gasped for breath, but soon accustomed to the atmosphere inside the biosphere. The boy set the box on the ground, and shook Primax out, making her fall on a fern. She instantly scuttled away, searching for shelter and a source of water. She located a dark, protected area under a leafy thorn bush, next to a small concrete pond, and she waited for her adversaries to arrive.