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
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
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
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?'
'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!'