There's a poster tacked on the wall: mountains with snowy crests, green fields below, a spray of wildflowers — yellow, violet, iridescent blue. In the black border on the bottom is the word ESCAPE. Brandon lets his gaze settle on the image while he rests, just until he can figure out what to do next. He needs to find the main camp. Surely someone will be there.
He imagines what the crisp air would taste like on top of that mountain. The pain has slipped away entirely now, and that's nice. His fingers grow numb. Then colors drain from the wildflowers until they, and everything around them, turn gray.
Brandon's hand drops from the couch. The Skym bobs overhead for a long time, its signal transmitting to the screen three feet away, until at last its battery wears down in the gloom-ridden room. It settles gently to the carpet and its red eye blinks off.
PROSPECTIVE CONTESTANT: RIVER ADAN
AGE: 17 HEIGHT: 6'0"
EYES: BLUE HAIR: DARK BROWN
STUDENT, ONLINE EDUCATION, CLALLAM COUNTY, WASHINGTON
JAMES IRWIN, UNCLE
ELEANOR IRWIN, GRANDMOTHER
PARENTS DECEASED, ACCIDENTAL DEATH/CAR ACCIDENT
SECOND-ROUND INTERVIEW (EXCERPTS)
INTERVIEW CONDUCTED BY SUPERVISING PRODUCER
HITCHENS: Now is the time in our interview when you can ask any nagging questions you might have for us.
RIVER: How much longer will all this take? I figured since you guys came to me, asked me to apply, there wouldn't be this whole process.
HITCHENS: Well, there's another interview, and the psych eval, and if you're selected you'll have the wilderness survival training. Though you hardly need it, you'll have to participate in the training if you're selected. Liability and all that. It's fundamentals — fire starting, shelter building, that kind of thing. Should be a piece of cake for you. Otherwise, the selection process is variable. So, I'd guess another week and then we'll do some paperwork.
RIVER: My uncle is the one who really wanted me to do this. I'm not so sure.
>HITCHENS: He told us you'd be perfect for this when we spoke to him. And I have to say, your application is the best of the bunch. It's good stuff, River. You're not second-guessing, are you?
RIVER: I don't know. We're on camera the whole time?
HITCHENS: That's right — our Skym cameras will follow your entire journey on the show, transmitting the whole thing in 3-D on a virtual-reality platform.
RIVER: So they're, what, like a drone camera?
HITCHENS: Yes, but much more sophisticated. The Skym recognizes your face, your clothes, it zooms in and out with changes in your expression, and it's programmed to stay with you at all times, no matter what.
RIVER: And the cameras are self-sustaining?
HITCHENS: They require very little maintenance. You only need to change out the solar battery chargers once a day, and charge the supplemental battery. They do the rest of the work.
RIVER: That contract said something about the show possibly taking a year. It's a lot to think about.
HITCHENS: Yeah, there's no set time frame. We're not a traditional television show, we don't have a network to answer to. We plan to stream on every media platform for as long as you kids stay out there surviving. And it'll be hard, but think of the payoff. Not just the money — you'll have great exposure. You'll be famous.
RIVER: I don't care about money. My parents had insurance. And I don't want to be famous.