Somehow Lucy’s fall was controlled and she emerged in a large circular room landing gently on her feet. Screens on the walls showed a range of outdoor and indoor views of the Maze and of other places. A door slid open in the wall and a woman emerged. She was tall with brown skin and a head of dark very curly hair that formed a huge mane about her head. She wore faded blue jeans and a white T-shirt with a picture of the Maze on the front. On bare feet she walked over to Lucy.
“I am impressed at how quickly you got the Nim arithmetic references.”
“Thanks, and who are you?”
“Currently, I am the Spirit of the Maze. I was originally one of the Spirits of Freedom.”
“Do you mean like the Spirits who defeated the alien Slavers? That was a thousand years ago and you’re still alive? Wow, that is very heavy-duty! How am I supposed to believe that?”
The Spirit started to glow with a golden light and her clothes changed to a flowing set of robes. Then after a few moments the light dimmed and she changed back to her original appearance.
“That is so cool! You looked just like those images we have of the Spirits of Freedom. How can you still be alive?”
“I am not human; I am a construct and if my body wears out I can replace it.”
“And do you have a name?”
“You can call me Moona.”
“Did I solve the Maze or have you just grabbed me for fun?”
“Both. You solved the Maze faster than anyone has for hundreds of years and I wanted to meet you. The Maze has devices built into it that can scan people’s memories and make a judgement about their character and it reported that you are a very special person. Normally, the winner doesn’t meet me at all but leaves with a fanfare and a small trophy, although that hasn’t happened for a long time.”
“Hundreds of years? How long have you been in the Maze?”
“I have been here for about five hundred years.”
Lucy paused to process this and just couldn’t.
“So am I the first person to have got the Nim-sum reference for hundreds of years?”
“No, it doesn’t work that way. I change the underlying problem of the Maze every so often to keep it interesting.”
“Those sundials, though, they are all about the Nim-sums aren’t they?”
“I can change them. They are not permanent. It’s a bit like being able to change my appearance. The whole Maze has a measure of flexibility in its substance.”
Lucy thought about all this for a moment, “Can you change the inside of the building, you know, it’s structure?”
“In addition to rearranging the doors, which is done by automated systems, I can make other changes to the building.”
“What are all these screens?”
“As you can see, some of them show the inside and others the outside of the Maze. They can give me views of many places in the Broken Isle. Because of these screens I know about the Acquis and their lust for power. They have found a way of attacking the Broken North and start bringing them into their hegemony. This is very bad. The Visitors were ethically opposed to the notion of one group dominating another. Indeed, when humans started emerging from their places of safety they were pleased to help them but feared that in the end their greater technological knowledge would result in domination and that is why they departed.”
“But they left behind lots of their technology.”
“Not really. A few places like this, which are mostly for entertainment. They are impossible to reverse engineer at the current human technological level and, indeed, when humans have reached the stage when they can get past the Maze’s defences, they won’t need to.”
“I notice you said ‘mostly’ for entertainment?”
“Yes. There is also the purpose of monitoring human activity and searching out individuals like you.”
“To what end?”
“In circumstances like these humans need special people to take on leadership roles.”
“That’s very nice, but I’m hardly in a position to exercise any kind of leadership. I am a fugitive from the Acquis and I need to keep my head down, not seek power.”
“That is true. However, a moment will come when your circumstances will change and when that happens, come here to me and I will help you.”
“Is this some kind of prophecy? Do you know something about my future?”
“No, a prediction based on the data I have available. When it will happen I don’t know but I suspect sooner rather than later. Anyway, I think that is enough for now. On the table in front of you is a small replica of the Maze. It is your trophy. Take it and I will let you out.”
Lucy was lifted by some invisible force out of Moona’s chamber into the Maze. A set of doors opened, giving her a direct route to the outside. As she emerged a great fanfare seemed to come up from the very ground sounding like a series of giant organ notes. Her team and other people around the Maze cheered and applauded. Grace ran up to her, “Olly! You did it! You solved the Maze,” and threw her arms around her.
Travelling with the Circus gave its members a false impression of the impact of the occupation by the Acquis. Each time they stopped at a new venue, Honest George visited the most senior Acquis officials in the area and gave them several complimentary tickets for the best seats and this was generally enough to keep them from doing any more than the expected inspection and search of the Circus. However, there were occasions when the Acquis made their supremacy felt. A number of times Acquis soldiers tried to have sex with some of the girls on George’s team. So far George had managed to use his good offices with the senior Acquis officials to dissuade them. Also, it was a general rule that members of the Acquis would not engage in the open free-fight challenge but sometimes they would insist and it became difficult to say “No” and, of course, they had to be allowed to win.
Ten days after Lucy’s solving of the Maze, two drunk Acquis soldiers insisted that they be allowed to take part in the open challenge. Earlier in the show Lucy had taken part in a demonstration of sword-fighting. The swords were real Japanese style single-sided blades and at the end of the piece this had been proved by the sword fighters each slicing easily through a large melon. Sitting in the audience with her sheathed sword she enjoyed the admiring glances of the young men seated near her. Ricardo was offering the public challenge tonight and Lucy was there to offer moral support. She and Ricardo had become close friends. They were not lovers; Ricardo was gay.
Honest George tried hard to insist the soldiers did not pursue their challenge but the conversation turned nasty. One of the soldiers took out his gun and pointed it at George, “We are the Acquis! We are the masters here! We will say what will and what will not be. Now bring on your fighter and let him do his worst!”
The other soldier stripped off his tunic and boots, handing his gun in its holster to his companion. He stepped onto the red square in the fighting circle and waited for Ricardo to enter the blue square. The fight-master made introductions and offered the traditional option to leave the fight with honour, then he dropped his hand and said, “Fight!”
The soldier immediately launched a fierce attack on Ricardo, who fended it off easily. The fight continued in this way with the soldier constantly attacking with no finesse and poor self-protection. Ricardo hit him hard a number of times, hoping to dissuade him from his amateurish approach but he just kept on coming. He missed his footing a couple of times and stumbled, exposing himself to what in any normal fight would earn a disastrous counter-attack but Ricardo just stepped away and let him get up. The soldier had a couple of friends in the audience that had joined his companion and they were cheering him on just outside the circle. The fight-master tried to get them to back off but they just jeered and pushed him away. Ricardo was desperate to end this pointless fight. Several opportunities had presented themselves to hit his opponent hard enough so he wouldn’t get up. In the end his temper got the better of him. When the soldier stumbled, Ricardo went in for the knockout. He kicked the soldier hard in his groin and as he doubled forward struck several hard blows to the face. As the soldier fell to the ground the fight-master came on and started counting. The soldier made several attempts to get up but was still down when the count reached ten and the fight-master declared Ricardo to be the winner. As he held up Ricardo’s hand the soldier had managed to get to his feet and stumbled over to his companion, “He cheated!” he screamed pointing at Ricardo and he reached for his gun holster, took out his gun and fired it at Ricardo. Three shots: two in the chest and one in the face. Ricardo fell to the floor, dead.
Lucy leaped out of her seat and ran towards Ricardo. The soldiers saw her coming and the one holding the gun turned towards her. She pulled the sword out of its sheath and held it aloft, screaming as she continued to run. The sight of this woman with shear madness in her face holding a wicked looking sword and sounding like a banshee incapacitated him momentarily and by the time he recovered it was too late. He raised the pistol to fire at her and with one sweep of the sword she cut off the hand holding the gun. He stared in horror at the stump of his arm, pumping blood and didn’t see the returning sweep of Lucy’s sword that severed his head from his body. The other three soldiers were initially transfixed by this attack but were now reaching for their guns. She stepped in amongst them raising the sword and chopping down cutting deep into flesh, severing limbs and slaughtering all three of them.
“Are there any other Acquis in here?” she shouted at the audience, “Bring them to me! Don’t let them get to their guns.” Following some scuffles in the audience, four Acquis members, two in uniform and two just known as Acquis officials, were dragged up to the fighting circle. It was clear that the audience wanted them dead and were shouting, “Kill! Kill! Kill!”. Lucy took the fight-master’s microphone. “No, we are not butchers like these Acquis. Their presence in our land is an insult and they deserve death but I will not give it to them. I can’t give Ricardo his life back and I won’t sully his passing with more killing.” She looked at the four Acquis quivering with fear held hard by members of the audience who had the kind of grim faces that spoke of a desire for murder. “You four will bury Ricardo out in the field. You will do it with respect and after that you can take the bodies of these worthless apologies and do with them what you will.”
She went over to Ricardo’s body and kissed his shattered face. Then she turned and ran out of the tent and towards her quarters. She realised she didn’t have long and needed to get away as soon as possible. As she got to her carriage in Honest George’s train she heard George puffing and panting behind her, trying to catch up. She stopped, “I am so sorry George. This will not go well for you.”
“Oh, I think you will be surprised what this Circus can weather. The fact that we didn’t kill the four from the audience will work in our favour. By the next season this will be forgotten and we’ll be back on the road. You, on the other hand, will be hunted and hounded. You need to get away now. Do you know where you will go?”
“Yes, but it’s best I don’t say it out loud. Don’t worry about me, I will be OK.”
“You will be sorely missed Olly. Lucy, that’s you real name isn’t it?”
She nodded and he enveloped her in a great bear-hug.
“Go, now. It’s only a matter of time before some nark tells the local police what has happened. I will go back and try to gain a measure of control.”