“This is Vera Durand with the Persona News Network.” Her voice was sharp and clear. Behind her were jagged rocks and a smooth marble terrace. Centered on the terrace was a staircase, leading down. “I am now broadcasting from Atlanticea. The dull roar you hear behind me are breaking waves. Once again, Atlanticea has been raised from the ocean by the power of the Holy Namestone. Not one hour ago, a figure appeared above the entrance to the Lesser Maze. She announced she was challenging for possession of the Namestone. The island promptly rose to greet her – yes, the Martyr has indicated that the challenger is a ‘person of the female persuasion’. She has already entered the Maze. All-band video broadcasting of the contest by the Namestone itself will begin momentarily.”
“Vera, who is the challenger?” ACNN lead announcer Richard Markovian asked.
“We don’t know, Richard,” Durand answered calmly. “The Martyr only revealed her gender. I caught a glimpse of her. We have this very short take.” Across the video screen flashed a figure. From behind, the figure was pale-haired and pale-skinned, seemingly short, and boyish in her build. “There were rumors that the League of Nations Elite Strike Team was going to try, soon, to recover the Namestone, but the solitary figure who entered the Maze is not a League Operative. The Namestone translocated me here before she entered. I had no interview with her. I don’t know why the Maze deemed her qualified to challenge.”
Kang returned to his chopping, the thump of his cleaver pausing only when he gave instructions to his assistants. “Benito, just keep making pizza shells. We’re going to have a huge business today. Nikolai, that cabbage was a bit mature; steam it an extra ten minutes. Wang, lower the sports video screens. Almost everyone will want to watch. Oh, there’s the announcement, Governor Molnar is cancelling public school sessions; ‘After all, the kids will be paying absolutely no attention’. Schools stay open so children have a place to be if parents are working. Charles, put that announcement ‘All Public Schools No Classes Today’ up on the Big Sign.”
There was a gentle tap on the counter. Kang looked over his cash register. Dorothy Schumacher smiled back at him.
“You looked distracted,” she said. “Is something wrong? Three takeout giant caramel chip cookies, please?”
“Ah, Miss Schumacher. The usual breakfast, the usual extra. You haven’t heard? Some woman is trying to do the Maze. You didn’t know in advance?” Kang asked. “Or will you be the next challenger?” She was a fine young woman, he thought, one who uses her gifts well and precisely.
“Me?” Dorothy giggled. “Challenge the Maze for the Namestone? Thanks, but I like being alive. I just have a few gifts. If I flew to Atlantis, the Martyr wouldn’t give me the time of day. You want gossip about the challenger, ask the people who take your private classes.” Kang lectured several evenings a week, she knew, on the hidden energies that underlay all gifts. His large classes appeared on video screens across America. He also gave entirely private classes to select students, many of whom were on their national persona teams, and some of whom were said to be wanted by members of those persona teams. Registration lists for private classes were well-kept secrets. “Atomic Tech might have no classes. Then I’m going to Tech’s library to study. As always, breakfast was excellent.”