She woke up mid-air, in her nightgown but her body was still paralyzed from the deeply induced sleep.
"You must...find you way out," said the controller in a voice that slithered over the syllables.
Veronica sucked in a gulp of air and her eyes opened wide but could see nothing in the pitch black. Her arms and legs pinwheeled for purchase on anything, but her position remained static in the microgravity. She screamed.
"Shhhhhhhhhh," said the controller. "You won't get out any faster."
"Where am I!?"
"In a maze."
"There is a prize. If you find the exit, your species will survive. Your planet won't be so lucky...either way."
"You should get started...before you run out of oxygen with those greedy lungs."
Veronica rushed her breaths, then held them.
"It's just a dream. I just have to wake up. Just a bad, bad dream--"
"It's never a dream, little creature."
Veronica closed her eyes and felt the air around her--warm with occasional cool tendrils--it had a direction, a flow. She breathed entirely through her nose--no smell, no odor, no clue. She reached her arms slowly above her head and felt for anything to grab onto, but there was nothing. She moved her legs and feet in the same way, but nothing. Swim, she thought, then put her hands again above her head and alternately swept her feet back and forth. The cool air increased but she couldn't tell if she was moving.
Her hand met something sharp and cold and it went into her palm.
"Aaah!" She felt the warmth of her own blood welling up, then smelt its iron scent. "What is that?"
Veronica pulled herself closer and her other hand scraped against sharpness.
The rest of her body came to meet the surface, but with less damage, and she clung there, unsure what to do next.
"What is this place?"
"It is a maze."
"Who are you?"
"I control the maze."
Veronica thought about this a moment.
"What are you?"
"Not one of you," said the controller.
"Is this a test?" she asked.
"It's a game."
"Am I in space?"
"You should keep going."
"I want to know why I'm here."
"If you refuse to play you forfeit the game and your species dies."
"You say 'species' like you're not human."
"How do you know English then?" asked Veronica.
"It's not hard to decipher the infantile chatterings of an inferior species."
Veronica blushed at the insult.
"Do you forfeit?" asked the controller.
"No," said Veronica instinctively, but mostly believing the whole thing was some elaborate ruse. "Can I have some light?"
"Ah, yes, your primitive little orbs cannot see in this frequency range."
There was a soft repetitive clicking sound, then a blinding light. Veronica shielded her face in the crook of her elbow. When her eyes adjusted a bit she ventured to look out, and saw a large lit orb floating in the middle of a spherical space made of obsidian which was embedded almost entirely with the jagged teeth of many animals including some so large that the animals they belonged too could never have lived on Earth. The sphere was punctuated with dark holes of various sizes, and in the space itself floated other people, unconscious, and partially cocooned in a fine layer of black silky filament. Veronica shivered.
"Who are they?" she asked quietly.
"The rest of your species."
"Oh." Veronica felt numb; her fingers, feet, and face tingled. "If I find the exit, they will live?"
There was a brief pause.
"You're just going to make them run the maze, aren't you?"
"Then there is no prize," said Veronica. "And no incentive to win. You have already decided my fate...our fate."
"You don't know that for sure. You don't know what the exit leads to."
"I suspect it's just an airlock to open space."
"You make the assumption you are in space."
"There's no gravity."
"There's always gravity, even if your slimy brain can't detect it."
"What if I come after you? What if I take one of these teeth and cut my way through to you, and kill you! What do I get then!?" Her voice was shrill and reaching, her face strained and pale. "What do I win?"
Her answer was a rumbling coming from the smaller holes, then the stench of rotting leaves and vinegar. There were faint squeals. Veronica pulled herself closer to the wall breathing hard. The holes erupted with an oily, reddish liquid; the smell was intense and rank and Veronica gagged. Great globs of the liquid floated into the middle of the sphere, undulating as they traveled, and doused the sleeping humans in their path. Then out of the holes came flesh--snaking, writhing bodies of pink, purple, white, and black, speckled and slimed red. They did not move smoothly, they were not like snakes or worms, but were angular, jointed, like legs going on for far too long, and the skin was marked by protuberances that were clearly the limbs and skulls of consumed humans.
Veronica's fingers shook violently and she lost her grip. She scrambled to get back to the wall but in her fear she forgot how to swim the air. She fell into a liquid glob, and breathed it in, filling already aching lungs--she coughed and gagged and tried to flail free of it, but then the bodies found her by her heat, wrapped around each limb and her neck, and they pulled in opposing directions. She tried to scream, but was dead before she could expel her lungs.
The bodies squeezed the acquired parts, opening large pores on their sides let the pieces slip in to be digested. Then the orb in the center of the sphere dimmed and winked out, and the bodies returned to their holes to await the next participant.