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Sequel: Storms in Utopia

Martyr's Run

Playing the Game



The glass doors slid open.

I sprung off my right foot and bolted through.

Charging into the great, white corridor, I was initially overwhelmed at how big and bright and weird it was. I had seen this place on TV so many times; different, but so similar. And yet, being in here, it was so much bigger, so much brighter—bright to the point where I could feel myself squinting after only waking up so recently—and so much more daunting.

Even wearing trainers, my feet clanged on the metal grating on the floor. I didn’t know what the purpose of the grating was; was it simply easier to move and remove than normal flooring? Or was it because some of the traps were sound-activated, or so that opponents could hear me coming?

Opponents. Did I have any opponents? Hartnett hadn't mentioned it, so I had to assume I didn’t. Not every episode of Martyr’s Run featured more than one Dreamer; it depended on how many had been caught in recent weeks. But did she normally mention if a person had opponents? I’d seen it on TV enough times—inadvertently, of course, although when it was someone from your own base, you felt compelled to watch it—but I couldn’t remember if she mentioned it or not.

From past experience, I realised that the best way to get through the Run was not to go mindlessly charging off in any random direction. That normally led to someone either getting trapped or maimed by some hideous obstacle, or just to them getting hopelessly lost. No. The trick was to take things steadily. Martyr’s Run demanded respect.

Starting at a brisk walk, I scanned each path as I walked past the turn-offs. Some were evidently traps—you’d have to be stupid not to notice. But at the same time, the public wanted a good show, and so there were unlikely to be any hugely nasty traps this close to the starting point. Otherwise they’d spend two hours and fifty-five minutes just watching a guy wrestle with a giant net or try to climb out of a giant chasm that had opened up in the ground.

Therefore, for now, I was relatively safe.

I started off by scanning for anything useful that I could use, keeping to the ‘main’ pathway, and looking into each turn-off individually. Often, there were items to pick up on the way round—sometimes weapons (which usually indicated that there was an opponent in there with you, although sometimes were used as a way of pretending that there was an opponent when there actually wasn’t and, therefore, making the contestant needlessly paranoid), and sometimes various objects that would, in some way, help you fight a particular obstacle or get out of a particular trap.

Reaching the end of the main path, it forked off left and right. Glancing down each road, they seemed identical, so I plumped for left, and headed down at a jogging pace.

I was no more than a couple of metres into that tunnel before a large white wall slid smoothly into place behind me, blocking me off from the main path. Once it had stopped, it looked exactly like any of the other walls in this place.

I wasn’t planning on heading back to the main path anyway, but the sudden turn of events sent fear pounding through my heart. The extra walls were generally put in place to confuse contestants, so that it was hard, or impossible, to become familiar with your surroundings. It also made it harder—if you needed to go back the way you’d come, you couldn’t simply turn around; you had to find another way. Sometimes there was another way; other times, you were sealed off from that section of the Maze forever.

The fear made me hurry and I broke into a run, rounding a corner at speed, anticipating some kind of nasty trap at every possible moment. I was constantly alert, ready for anything and everything.

That was one of the worst things about the Run. It was psychological. It got inside your head. The people who made it out never seemed quite the same again. The Maze was known to send Dreamers insane; make them forget everything they fought for; make them turn against each other; make them panic and scream and beg for help.

But knowing this, I was determined not to let this insanity infect me.

It wasn’t easy. Running faster, I rounded a corner and had to back up short, smacking my hand into the wall to stop my body from catching up with my feet. Barely a foot in front of me, a panel of metal grating had slid away, leaving a great, gaping hole in the floor. Peering down, I could see only darkness. I had no idea whether I was on the bottom floor of the Run or whether there were more floors below me, but I decided there was no way I was risking jumping down there. Normally, the Maze spanned multiple floors, built in a sort of cube-like structure. Occasionally, they did one that was entirely situated on only one level just to confuse contestants, but most of the time, there were anywhere between two and about eight different floors, each housing their own unique terrors. Sometimes, contestants were put into the Maze on the bottom floor, sometimes the top, and sometimes somewhere in between.

Therefore, for all I knew, the exit could lay down that hole, but it was more than likely a trap, so I decided it was not worth risking.

Backing out of this dead end, I turned right and headed along, now slower and more cautious after my near miss. From that moment onwards, I jumped at every shadow, including my own. Anything that deviated ever so slightly from the bright, white, featureless walls was, to me, a threat. Every time I saw a camera, I instinctively did a double take to make sure it wasn’t a trap—some strange gun or laser beam on the wall, for instance.

Eventually I came to a blank, white flight of stairs leading upwards. So there was definitely another floor above me then.

Heading up, mostly because the ground floor seemed a bit rubbish, I had only moved one pace away from the top step when a metal grating slid into place over that staircase, cutting me off from the ground floor.

Two seconds later, though, another grating opened up in the floor about thirty metres further down the long path I was currently standing in. It revealed another staircase leading back down to the ground floor.

And then I heard the rumbling behind me.

I spun round to face a great, smooth boulder rolling towards me. It must have been six feet tall, and wide enough that it just about touched the walls on either side of the path.

In other words, if it caught up with me, I was squashed.

Panic set in and I tried to lunge forward in the opposite direction, the boulder thundering towards me like a storm from behind, but my legs seemed frozen in place. Screaming at myself in frustration, I forced them out of their paralysed state and began charging down the long, straight path. Thirty metres ahead was the other staircase leading downwards that had opened up after the previous one had closed.

I charged, running at full pelt, but it felt too slow. The boulder was gaining on me with every passing nanosecond, travelling faster than any human could run. Heart pounding fit to burst and tripping over my own feet in fear, I shot down the path. I could practically feel the boulder behind me, metres from my back, then feet from my back, then inches.

I made it to the staircase and dived down onto the top step. The metal grating that had slid open to reveal the staircase was not wide enough for the great, shiny boulder to follow me down.

I was less than three steps down the staircase when every step instantly flattened out, turning it into a slide. Shocked and out of control, I slipped onto my back and was thrown down the smooth, polished surface, back to the ground floor of the Maze.

Landing awkwardly at the bottom of the stairs-turned-slide, I leapt to my feet, whipping round, eyes ready to burst with the amount that I was forcing them open, scouring the area for traps. The manmade boulder lodged itself at the top of the stairs, trapped in the hole in the floor, but unable to get through to chase me. It also blocked me off if I wanted to get back up to level two, not that I’d be able to climb up the slide anyway.

Staggering slightly, I turned and began running. It didn’t matter what I’d told myself at the beginning; I was hopelessly lost. The Maze was huge. I was completely disorientated. I couldn’t tell whether I was running towards, away from, or parallel to the way I’d come in. As for the exit, I was no closer to finding that than I had been when I first charged through those glass doors.

Rounding a corner at random, I saw that, a few meters further down, a metal hand reached out of the wall, about a metre off the floor. Clamped in the metal fingers was a small object.

The hands were always the indication of an item that might be of some use to a contestant. Getting closer, I realised that there was a gun on offer to me. I had no idea what sort of gun it was, but a gun was a gun, right? Removing it tentatively but swiftly from the clamp—occasionally, removing something from the clamps would trigger a booby trap, but nothing seemed to happen this time—I examined it for a moment, and then carried on my way at a jogging pace, safely stowing the gun in my pocket.

Did that mean that I had an opponent? Or were the creators of the Maze merely trying to make me think I had an opponent, therefore making me paranoid? Or would the gun come in handy for a particular trap or obstacle? There was no way of knowing, and it was fear of the unknown that scared me the greatest. I was becoming increasingly paranoid. At every moment, the walls seemed to be closing in around me, the ceilings pressing down from above, the air slowly being sucked out of the room. It was like I was slowly asphyxiating. Paranoia, coming hand in hand with fear, gripped me tightly, refusing to let go. There were demons in this Maze.
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