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The Dark Edge


Taken by Force


Hidden from View


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A DIFFERENT KIND OF GAME

The steps curved down to a massive door of dull metal, with red rubber seals all around. Marassa stood before the door and rapped four times. The door opened just a few centimetres ajar.

Eddon couldn't get a clear view of anything in the room beyond. There was only an impression of moving coloured light. But he could hear the voice speaking to Marassa through the narrow crack. It was the soft soapy voice of Mr Criven.

Criven sounded annoyed, and Marassa became annoyed in turn. Eddon didn't bother trying to follow their exchange. He turned his attention to other noises from further within.

In the first place, there was a continuous background of ambiance music -- but very different to the jump-music playing upstairs. This was an eerie sequence of very pure notes, plunging across huge intervals up and down the scale.

Then he heard voices calling out. One voice belonged unmistakeably to Amphister, while two other voices had the distinctive quality of alien speech-production. Eddon thought he recognised the two Quespians, Ja-ja-voi and Di-di-voi. They were questioning Criven about what was happening.

'Okay!' Marassa turned to address Eddon, Ryle and Recka. 'Keep your guns in their holsters. We're going in now.'

She had evidently won her exchange with Criven. The massive door swung slowly wider. Marassa pushed forward with Eddon close on her heels.

It was like a padded vault inside. The Underzizz was about half the size of the Zizz, with a low ceiling supported on solid piers. Rotating lights cast ever-changing patterns of orange, red and blue.

Eddon advanced between the piers. There was a strange sweet smell in the air. The floor was covered with a kind of velvety green baize and the walls were quilted with thick florentine, softly bulging and studded with buttons. Perfect sound insulation, thought Eddon to himself. He felt as though he had entered a homeostatic chamber, completely self-enclosed and cut off from the outside world.

One by one, the whole party entered: Ryle and Recka, Lassinda, the rest of the Udsers, then Heffel. Criven closed the door behind Heffel. Ryle and Recka began searching around like bloodhounds off the leash.

Amphister and the two Quespians stood staring at the newcomers. But none of the other people in the Underzizz paid any attention. They were too deeply absorbed in the games they were playing. They sat in machines not unlike the machines upstairs, wearing similar VR helmets and gloves.

And yet these were no ordinary sensi-feel machines. They had no silverglitz or swirling lights, no decoration or labelling of any kind. Their sides were mere bare panels of steel. There were about twenty of them, grim hulks embedded in the floor.

'Hey!' It was Recka calling out. 'I know what it is, Inspector! It's these machines, isn't it?'

Eddon nodded.

'What are they?' Ryle still hadn't worked it out.

'They're hidden down here because they're illegal!'

Again Eddon nodded.

'You mean --?' Ryle looked around in surprise.

'Yeah,' said Recka. 'These are goddam victim-games!'

 

 
   
   
   
 

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Richard Harland.