Chester didn't smile. 'But, Gina... if you're in, you're going to have to follow orders a mite more carefully. You almost screwed me good—stop that, I'm serious. This is extremely impor­tant to me, all right?'

Gina looked up at him and her face grew almost serious. 'Any­thing you say, Chester.'

Chester groaned to himself as they boarded the train. She had skill; she was better than most newcomers; she carried her weight and sometimes followed orders too. But she treated it like some kind of goddam game.

Alex Griffin took his shuttle seat and settled back with eyes closed and arms folded comfortably. He had long since learned the value of catching bits of rest where he could, and could catnap during minutes most people spent fidgeting.

He stretched, and heard popping sounds as muscles and joints woke up. Small wonder they were still half- asleep. Ten minutes earlier he had been snoring in his apartment at the Cowles Modu­lar Community, with the alarm buzzing in his ears. The third time it went off, it would refuse to shut up until his 190 pounds were lifted from the sensor in the mattress.

He opened a sleepy green eye and watched the rear monitor as the cluster of buildings receded from view. Five hundred Dream Park employees maintained residences in Cowles Modular Com­munity, nestled in the Little San Bernardino Mountains, fifteen kilometers and six shuttle minutes away from work. Griffin was on call twenty-four hours a day, three weeks out of the month, and he appreciated the convenience of CMC. But this morning was nothing special, just the usual 6:00 A.M. roust.

Alex rolled his wrist over to check the watch imprinted on his sleeve. (Expensive indulgence. Even drycleaning eventually messed up the printed circuitry.) Three minutes until the shuttle slid into the employee depot. He had about decided to close his eyes again when the picture in front of him changed.

The woman on the flatscreen might have been beautiful by the light of noon. At 5:56 A.M. she was evil incarnate. 'Morning, Chief,' she chirped, obscenely wide-awake.

'No. No, it isn't, Millicent.' Alex yawned rudely, remotely dis­liking himself for it. He ran blunt fingers through his light red hair and made a serious attempt to focus his eyes. 'Oh, what the hay. Maybe it is a good morning. Maybe it'll even be a good day. I'm sorry, Millicent. What's up?'

'Final prep for the South Seas Treasure Game tomorrow is the hottest item. You have some dossiers to go over.'

'I know. What else?'

She shook her head, her loosely curled afro bouncing a bit as she studied the computer display on a second screen offscreen. 'Umm... budget meeting with the Boss.'

He was definitely more alert now. 'Did I exceed Harmony's projected red last quarter?'

'Don't think so. Better not have. That's my department, and I don't make mistakes like that. Heh heh.'

'Heh heh. Well?'

'I think we're switching over from zero-base budgeting to some new system that Harmony is hot on.'

'Oh, Lord. What else? Don't I have a class to teach today?'

'Yes. One o'clock, right after a scheduled lunch with O'Brien.' Alex's face lit up. 'Hallelujah. A bright spot at last. Tell Skip to meet me at ‘leven-thirty at the White Hart, okay? And ask him to bring me the L5 specs. I want to see them. What about the class?'

'Standard Constraint and Detention stuff. For the new security people.'

'Right.' Alex glanced at his sleeve; the station was seconds away. 'Make me a memo. Standing arm bar, crossover toe hold for the ground work, and oh, let's say knife disarms. Right and left wrist locks with low kicks. I'll wing it from there. I'm almost in, now, hon. I'll see you in a few minutes, okay?'

'Right, Griff,' she said, flashing him a smile as the picture faded out.

The shuttle let him out in the central core of the 1200-acre Dream Park complex, two levels underground. Activity was heavy for this early, he thought. Then he remembered the Game. Odds were there would be five thousand dollars of last-minute work to be done, or ho didn't know the catch-up kings over in Special Projects.

Tunnels stretched off in all directions: up, down, sideways and maybe to yesterday and tomorrow if the Research Department had come up with anything since breakfast. Most of the people scurrying past knew him by name, tossing off a 'Hi, Alex,' or 'Sappening, Griff?', or 'Morning, Chief' as they ferried racks of costumes, or props, or electronic equipment to the different divi­sions. A cargo tram hissed in, and a crew of overalled workers and tiny humming cargo ‘bots rushed in to unload so that another shipment could hurry down the line.

He tossed a friendly salute to the guard at the elevator and pressed his right thumb against the ID pad. The door opened. Five or six people crowded in after him, and Alex controlled his an­noyance when only two of them put their thumbs to the pad for clearance. More memos, dammit.

It was 6:22 A.M., Thursday, March 5, 2051, according to Alex's desk clock. Propped on the clock was a sheet of fanfold paper, Millicent's printout of the day's obligations.

Alex doffed his coat and dropped into his chair. He punched a finger at the desk console. A hologram 'window' formed above his desk: a nameplate that read 'Ms. Summers,' and behind the nameplate a dark pretty face whipping around to answer the buzz.

'Millicent, can't I foist some of this off on Bobbick? How the hell is he going to earn his pay if I do all the work?'

'Marty is already with Insurance going over the damage report on the Salvage Game that ended yesterday in Gaming Area B. He should be free by about two this afternoon, or do you want me to...

'No, leave him on it. Listen. Do I have to go all the way over to R&D or can we take care of this mess by phone? Lord knows I've got enough paper to shuffle before eight. Check it out, would you?'

'Right, Griff…I'm pretty sure that'll go.'

Her face blinked out, and Alex punched for a display of today's 'paperwork.' Three columns of headings ran off the screen. An executive secretary and a deputy Security Chief and this much gar­bage still filtered up to him. Work first?

A slow smile played over his face. A little peek at the Park first.

He triggered the exterior monitor and watched the room swell with the darkened spirals of Dream Park. From the vantage of the monitoring camera the workers readying the Park for the day's visitors were ants streaming in and out of the long black shadows of early morning.

There was the somber shape of the Olde Arkham tour. (The kids loved it. The adults... well, an old lady with a heart mur­mur had damn near croaked when Chthulhu appeared to devour her grandchildren. Some people!)

Snakelike and far off around the edge of the Park the Gravity Whip coiled, offering a total of thirty seconds of weightlessness via computer-designed parabolic arcs. The monitor eye swept over to Gaming Area B, where the Salvage Game had been conducted.

That one was interesting. Partly in desert territory and partly underwater, it had involved twelve players for two days. Alex figured that the Game Master on that one would just about break even. It had cost three hundred thousand dollars to set the Game up. The twelve participants had paid four hundred a day, each, for the privilege of earning 'Gaming Points' for the fantasy charac­ters they portrayed and, not incidentally, for having the bejeezus scared out of them. Book rights presold, film rights likewise.

He couldn't pretend to understand the logic behind it. The va­garies of the International Gaming Society were totally beyond him. The players seemed to speak a foreign language. And this month they had two Games back to back!

The Games did help the Park, though. The Olde Arkham Tour had started as a Game, thirty or forty years ago.

There, now, that was more like it. The big shooting gallery over across from the Hell Ride was more his cup of tea. Alex slipped in there occasionally to knock off a few Nazis or dinosaurs or muggers. God, that was a realistic 'experience.' The R&D boys were incredible. And quite mad.

He thumbed the control, and the camera roved further afield. Over there- His monitor buzzed, and with a grimace Alex shut off the holo and answered the call. Muffle's voice spoke, but the congealing vis­ual image was of a guard Griffin couldn't quite place.

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