'Research and Development, Gruff,' Muffle's voice said.

'Right.' Name and background fell into place now. This would be Albert Rice calling from his guard station between Files and the technological monster known as Game Center.

Rice was strong and smart, quick to volunteer his services, and Griffin sometimes felt a twinge of guilt at not warming to the man. Maybe just jealousy, he mused. Rice cut a handsome blond profile, almost pretty, and several of the secretaries in Protective Services had bets going to see who would score with him first. In the year Rice had been with Dream Park, nobody had yet col­lected.

Something was bothering Rice. He seemed agitated; he kept shifting his feet.

'Yes, Rice, what's the problem?'

'Ah, good morning, sir. Nothing wrong here at the post, but-' He hesitated, then blurted, 'I just got word that my apartment in CMC was vandalized.'

Griffin felt himself coming to attention. 'When was the report filed?'

'Only about a half hour ago. Lock broken, and some stuff scat­tered around, the cop said, but they didn't take my electronics. I'd like to see what is missing.'

Griffin nodded somberly. 'You don't have any crazy friends over there in R&D, do you- No, scratch that.' They weren't that crazy. 'You'd better take the rest of your shift off. I'll get some­body over there to fill in in about twenty minutes. Check out then. What's going on over there?'

'Mostly prepping Game Central for the South Seas Treasure Game.'

'Yeah, that looks to be a monster. Listen, would you like to make up the hours you'll lose this afternoon?' Albert Rice nodded enthusiastic agreement. 'Good. Put in for the night shift, and check back in at midnight. We'll work you eight to five for a few days, all right?'

'Right, Chief.'

Alex signed out and blanked the image. He popped on the inter-office line and Millie appeared, smile neatly in place. 'Millie, send me the dossiers on the Game tomorrow, will you?'

'Right, Griff.'

The printer on his desk began hissing immediately, and sheets of fanfold paper arced slowly up and folded themselves into a neat pile. Griffin shook his head. How could Muffle be so cheerful every morning? Ho ought to steal a cup of her coffee and send it to R&D to be analyzed...

He tore off the first set of pages.

The picture of a handsome, dark-skinned young man with a neatly trimmed beard looked somberly out of the holo. Details were in the opposing corner. Name: Richard Lopez. Age: 26. Gaming position: Game Master.

Oh, well, then this once-over of the file was purely perfunctory. Lopez would have been put through a complete security and tech checkout. Anyone who walked into Gaming Central was cleaner than boiled soap. And sharp, too. Evans, the girl who had guided the recent Salvage Game, had had three years at MIT on top of the Masters degree she picked up in Air Force electronics school. And that was only Gaming Area B. Area A was twice as large, and the Gaming Central was three times as complex. Lopez would be very good indeed. Griffin would make a point to be there when Lopez and his assistant entered the control complex tomorrow morning.

His assistant? A tallish oriental girl with short black hair and shining white teeth smiled shyly from the page. Mitsuko 'Chi­chi' Lopez. Twenty-five, and a quick skim of the dossier confirmed that she was superbly qualified to copilot the four-day jaunt ahead.

Birds of a feather, Alex guessed. Probaby met in Dream Park; might even have been married in one of the Dream Park wedding chapels. Those could be interesting ceremonies; the wedding guests might include anyone from Glenda the Good Witch to Bluebeard to Gandalf to a Motie Mediator. Angels were popular.

Who else? Ahh... the Lore Master. The Lore Master, the Chester Henderson. Henderson ran parties through Dream Park about three times a year, and would come out from Texas even for a relatively small outing. Generally his way was paid by the players or the Game Masters or their backers.

Hadn't there been some trouble with Henderson about a year ago? Alex skimmed down the sheet. Chester Henderson. Thirty-two years old (though he seemed younger in the picture. His deadly-serious look was almost daunting). Had been to Dream Park thirty-four times, and was considered a valuable customer.

Here it was. A year ago, Chester had taken an expedition into 'the mountains of Tibet,' hopefully to bring back a mam­moth. The party had met disaster, three out of thirteen surviving, and no mammoth. Chester had dropped several hundred Gaining Points, threatening his standing in the International Fantasy Gain­ing Society. And who had been Game Master on that ill-fated ex­pedition?

Aha! Richard Lopez. Chester had yelled Foul to the I.F.G.S., and they had passed down the decision that although something called 'snow vipers' were unusually lethal, all of the nasty tricks used against the expedition were within the rules. Lopez was given a warning, but Henderson had lost three hundred and sixty-eight Gaming Points. Even more interesting: until this year, Lopez had operated anonymously, as a 'mystery Game Master,' carrying out gaming negotiations through his wife Mitsuko. Henderson had de­manded a face-to-face meeting for this year's Game, and the I.F.G.S. agreed.

This, then, would be the first time two legends had actually met. Alex leaned back in his chair and considered the ceiling. This sounded like a grudge match, it did. And grudge matches were al­ways interesting.

Chapter Two


Acacia was antsy. She had been growing progressively more eager since they boarded the subway in Dallas. Now she tugged at Tony's arm, pulling him away from the check-in counter while he tried to put his wallet away. 'Come on, Tony! Let's get in there before the crowds clog up the works.'

'Okay, okay. Where do we go first?'

Memories glowed in her face. 'God, I can't decide. Chamber of Horrors? Yeah, there first, then the Everest Slalom. Love it love it love it. You will too, spoilsport.'

'Hey. I'm here, aren't I? There's a fine line between sensible emotional restraint, and the withdrawal symptoms of a stimulus junky denied her fix.'

'You're a wordy bastard,' she said, and took off running down the tunnel entrance, pulling at his arm with both hands. He laughed and let her tow him into daylight.

The impact of Dream Park came suddenly, just beyond the tun­nel. From the top of a flight of wide steps one could see three multi-tiered shopping and amusement malls, each twelve stories high, that stretched and twisted away like the walls of a maze. The space between was filled-cluttered-with nooks, gullies, walkways, open-air theaters, picnic areas, smaller spired and domed build­ings, and thousands of milling people.

Acacia had seen it before. She watched Tony.

The air was filled with music and the laughter of children and adults. The smell of exotic foods floated in the breeze, and mixed there with the more familiar smells of hot dogs, cotton candy, melted chocolate, salt water taffy and pizza.

Tony was gaping. He looked... daunted, overawed, almost frightened.

Clowns and cartoon figures danced in the streets. From this dis­tance it was impossible to tell which were employees in costume, and which were the hologram projections the Park was so famous for.

Tony turned to Acacia and found her looking at him, waiting for his reaction with a self-satisfied smirk. He started to say some­thing, then gave up and grabbed her, swinging her in a circle. Other tourists stepped politely around them, avoiding flying feet.

'God. I've never seen anything like it. The pictures just don't do it. I never imagined...'

Her smile was warmer now, and she clung to him. 'See? See?' Tony nodded dumbly. She laughed and pulled

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