(Page 1 of 7)
Maze of B'rckt by Acton Bell
SUMMARY: On an alien world a metaloid must face a strange alien intelligence. Sword and Planet.
Someone was following Seraphin. If the metaloid's face had possessed features, she would have smiled with anticipation. As it was, the living metal glinted momentarily as she passed beneath a weak and flickering street lamp.
Only a fool or an innocent would leave the safety of Main Town to follow a metaloid down into the Refuse where even the Cosmo Guard feared to tread. Innocents bored Seraphin and she had no time for fools.
She touched the butt of the dragoon holstered at her hip and stepped into the Maze.
Some long extinct alien intelligence had formed the gigantic maze from the ground of B'rckt, creating walls that towered far into the sky and stretched for over twenty miles. Later, human settlers built their capital on the plain that overlooked the Maze, that they might look down upon it and not feel the shadow of its oldness upon them. When humans were the Lords of the Stars no more, but merely survivors, they had found shelter in the Maze with the other outcasts of the Universe, burrowing into its walls to escape the harsh elements of B'rckt.
No one had truly mapped the Maze. Something in it prevented most eyes from seeing it as it truly was.
The Maze was haven and arena, proving ground for the survival of the fittest. Few who were not its children exited once they had entered.
Seraphin was one of the few. She turned a corner quickly, her dusty brown cloak swirling about her. The thousand eyes of the Maze watched silently and waited.
The steps hesitated, stopped, then came on slowly, as if there maker had only realized where he had come.
As soon as the follower moved past, the metaloid leapt from her place of concealment. Between one breath and the next, Seraphin's shadow was forced to kneel on the ground, muzzle of the dragoon between his eyes.
Seraphin's optic sensors observed the sweat that beaded the gengineered's brow, registering its trembling. An inner chamber slave not often sent beyond the master suite's walls Seraphin judged. A loyal messenger, but one easily replaced if circumstances fell out so.
"Mercy, Master!" cried the slave in pure High Tone. "My master would speak with you!"
The dragoon remained in place. "Name your master and his business. And speak softly that the Maze might not hear."
"Arzaela." The slave's voice was almost non-existent, and its trembling increased. "I know not why she sent me."
Seraphin holstered the dragoon and the pulled the terrified gengineered to its feet. "Lead on," she said.
Arzaela. A name to make the bravest tremble. A star rover, a city plunderer, a world destroyer. Once she had been a Power. She controlled the fate of many a world and even the agents of the Cosmo Guard feared to challenge her.
But time had taken its toll and now Arzaela was but a shadow of what she had once been. She retreated to B'rckt, played at smuggling, dabbled in extortion and murder, and moved in secret among the houses she kept in Main Town, pretending she was still the most wanted woman in the universe.
It was to a modest house that any spaceport worker might own, that the slave led Seraphin.