Eclipse 14

“Miss Schumacher, you are a woman of iron will,” Kang continued. “There hasn’t been a real challenge since that chess player, 50 years ago.  You aren’t going to watch?”

“Kniaz Kang, whoever it is,” Dorothy said, “she is going to be degraded, hideously wounded, shredded, and in the end beaten to death and blown to pieces.  Unless the solid shadows eat her.  I couldn’t stand to watch.  I’m not afraid of doing something dangerous, if it’s gift-true, but watching someone die—I can’t face that.”

“I can’t, either,” Kang answered. “Which is why I am not facing a video screen, and why there is no sound behind this counter.  The contest will be over this afternoon, if not sooner.  At three o’clock there will be bright sunlight everywhere in the world as the Maze marks its newest prey.  Then I can watch the news again.”

The sports screens now showed the Namestone’s video broadcast of the challenger, someplace in the Maze.  The view was always from behind.  The challenger’s hair hid under a stocking cap, with strands of yellow gold peaking from underneath.  She wore a long-sleeved blouse and long trousers tucked into her boots.  Her garb was an off-white, tight enough to show solid shoulders, a tight waist, and wider hips.  Her face was never seen.  Very briefly, she had passed by a wall whose stone blocks had a historically-known height.  The challenger was close to six feet tall.  Kang was puzzled.  This woman did not look like the challenger Durand’s cameraman had filmed.  She was too tall.  Her hair was too yellow.  Her build was not so boyish.  Were there two challengers? Or had the Maze somehow tricked the cameraman?  The Maze was notorious for doing such things. 


Early afternoon.  Kang stood in his restaurant, intervening as need be to maintain the flow of food and drink to his customers.  He’d opened both kitchens, called in all the cooks and part-timers, but keeping ahead of the take-out and delivery crowd had been a struggle.  All that time, he never looked at a video screen.  Someplace out in the Atlantic, someone was about to die, horribly, pursuing a hopeless quest older than history.  Kang couldn’t hide from his windows, though, windows that were brighter when the defenders of the Maze did well, dimmer when the challenger advanced.  The same was true all around the world. 

Suddenly all went black outside.  He couldn’t resist glancing at the news feed. “Bangkok – sky is pitch black.  Rio de Janeiro – the sun just went out.  Imperial Vienna – only street lights illuminate the Ringstrasse.  This is Vera Durand on Atlantis.  It’s a planetary total eclipse.  Not three minutes ago, the challenger was losing in hand-to-hand combat.  She was grappled and unable to break free.  Suddenly everything went dark.”

“Vera,” Richard Markovian said, “The Maze must have won.  Where is the Sun?”

“Here on Atlantis, even the stars have gone dark.” Durand’s cameraman panned across the terrace. “You see me because my trusty cameraman has his own lamp.  Wait, I’m getting video from the Maze again.”

About George Phillies

science fiction author -- researcher in polymer dynamics -- collector of board wargames -- President, National Fantasy Fan Federation
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