The Fortune Hunter
First the stone walls of the coliseum rumbled so violently that Maia’s hanging cage rattled and jounced. Then an echoing boom sounded somewhere in the distance, followed by a scream so loud it seemed as if the sky itself was splitting in half.
The animals in the other cages didn’t like the noise at all: first they went deadly quiet and then, almost in unison, a half-dozen different species began barking, howling, caterwauling, and trumpeting.
“Hey!” Maia pressed her face as far between the bars and tried to raise her voice above the din. “Hey! What’s going on out there?”
She knew it must be serious because her jailor, the lazy-eyed squad leader whom she hadn’t quite managed to ditch in the underground tunnels, didn’t even spare her a glance. Instead, he gripped his shotgun—the weapon he had stolen from her—and hurried out of the room. Whatever was happening, it was obviously not to the Nazi’s liking.
Intermittent thunder of gunfire and frenzied battle-shouts soon echoed in from the arena beyond. Her neighbor in the nearest cage, a saber-toothed cat, gave a throaty roar and reached a muscular forelimb through his bars, flexing its humongous claws in her direction. Maia didn’t need to be a linguist to realize what this meant: don’t mess with me.
“Hey, don’t blame me for being locked up,” Maia said back. “I’m in here missing all the fun too, you know.”
She shook her bars once more for good measure and then sank back to study her cage. This had not been built in a German factory: it was hand crafted using native species of wood and twine, probably constructed by one of the slave-workers the Nazis had conscripted from the local tribes. Each of the bars was securely lashed to a panel of cross-beams, and each panel in turn strapped to the others with thick, hardened twine. The front panel was tied in a way that would allow it to swing outwards, but this was held closed by a padlock and chain. The combination of cage and chain was simple, light-weight, and as effective as it was uncomfortable.
Maia fingered the padlock and cursed her captors. They had removed the lock-picks from the inner pocket of her cargo pants, and von Wartenburg had instructed them to impound her hairpins and the extra wire she had sewn into the sleeve of her khaki shirt for just such occasions.
She couldn’t pick the lock with her bare fingers, but maybe there was another way.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” Maia said to the smilodon. It responded with a growl and another slash of its claws, which was exactly the reaction she had been hoping for.