him down the steps, into magic.

The line for the Chamber of Horrors moved forward in fits and starts. The air was already warm; Acacia wore her sweater draped over one slender arm.

One thing she noticed, that she had seen on her first trip to the Park, and had verified on return trips: children were far less blown away by Dream Park than were their parents. The kids just didn't seem to grasp the enormity of the place, the complexity, the expense and ingenuity. Life was like that, for them. It was the adults who staggered about with their mouths open, while shriek­ing, singing children dragged them on to the next ride.

Acacia had worked hard to get Tony to join the South Seas Treasure Game. Dream Park was for kids, he'd said; Gaming was for kids who had never grown up. Now she chortled, watching him gawk like a yokel.

There were dancing bears, and strolling minstrels and jugglers, magicians who produced bright silk handkerchiefs and would no doubt produce tongues of fire as soon as it got dark. A white dragon ambled by, paused to pose for a picture with an adorable pair of kids in matching blue uniforms. Overhead, circling the spires of the Arabian Nights ride, flew a pastel red magic carpet with a handsome prince and an evil visier struggling to the death atop it. Suddenly the prince lost his balance and dropped toward the ground. Acacia heard the gasps of the spectators, and felt her own throat tighten. An instant before that noble body smashed ig­nobly into concrete, a giant hand materialized. The laughter of a colossus was heard as the hand lifted him back to the flying car­pet, where he and the visier sprang at each other's throats once again.

Acacia sighed in relief, then chuckled at her own gullibility. She swept her hair back over her shoulder and took Tony's arm. She felt happier than she had in months.

'It's all so... elaborate,' Tony said. 'How do they keep it all going? Jesus, Acacia, what have you gotten me into? Are the Games this, this complicated too?'

'Horrendously,' she confirmed. 'Not always, but we're dealing with the Lopezes this time, and they're fiendish. The real heart of the Games is the logic puzzles. But look, you're a novice. You just concentrate on having fun, okay? Swordplay and magic and sce­nery.'

Tony looked dubious. Acacia could understand that. He knew as much as she could tell him about Gaming, and it was daunting- Dream Park supplied costumes, makeup, prosthetics, and char­acter outlines if necessary. The players supplied imagination, im­provisational drama, and, bluntly, cannon fodder. The Lore Master acted as advisor and guide, group leader and organizer. In exchange he or she took a quarter point for every point made by an expedition member, and lost a quarter point for every penalty point. A good Lore Master would make or break a Game. Experts like Chester were kings among their kind.

But the Game Master was God.

If he could justify it by the rules and the logical structure of the Game, he could kill a player at any time. Most Game Masters sought a 'vicious but fair' reputation, and did what they could to make any Game a fair puzzle. After all, players sometimes flew from the other side of the world to compete. To send them limp­ing back to Kweiyang after half a day's adventure would be bad business for everyone, Dream Park included.

So the Game Master chose time, place, degree of fantasy, weap­ons, mythology and lore (generally from a historical precedent), size of party, nature of terrain and so forth. He might put years of work into a Game. Then, maliciously, he would conceal as much of the nature of the Game as possible until the proper moment. It guaranteed maximum disorientation of the players, with some­times hilarious results.

'Hey, would I have talked you into something you wouldn't like? You'll love it. Stick with me, kid,' Acacia boasted. 'I've got over sixteen hundred points in my Gamelog. Another four hun­dred and I'll be a Lore Master myself. Then I can start earning back some of what I've put into these Games. Trrrust me!'

'Who are you going as?'

She hadn't quite decided that. In the six years since she first learned to forget the debits and credits for Ease-Line Undergar­ments ('So snug, you'll think a silkworm has fallen in love with you!') Acacia had shaped and recorded half a dozen fantasy char­acters: histories, personalities, special talents... 'Panthesilia, I think. She's a swordswoman, and tough. You like tough women?'

'I may need one for protection,' said Tony.

The Chamber of Horrors line had pulled abreast of the building that housed it: a crumbling stone castle with large, leaded glass windows. In the gloom within, one half-glimpsed monstrous shapes moving.

There were five other waiting areas for the Chamber of Hor­rors, but this was the only one marked 'Adult.' Its twenty occu­pants looked about them in uneasy anticipation. The room might have been more comforting, Gwen Ryder thought, given the tradi­tional paraphernalia: cobwebs, creaking floors, hidden passages with heavy footfalls echoing within.

But the waiting room was lined with stainless steel and glass, as foreboding as a hospital sterilizer. There was no sound but for their own breathing and the shifting of feet.

A woman spoke at her elbow. 'Excuse me, but didn't I see you in the subway? With the Garners?'

Gwen turned, with some relief. The waiting room was getting to her. 'Yes, that's right. We're for the South Seas Treasure Game.'

The woman was in her mid-twenties, in fine shape, darkly hand­some verging on lovely. 'So're we. I'm Acacia Garcia. This is Tony McWhirter.'

Tony nodded and smiled, and shook hands with Ollie when Gwen introduced him; yet he had a lost look. Gwen pegged him as a novice, a possible liability in the Game to come. Novices some­times expected a Game to be as simple as daydreaming... until they found themselves in someone else's expertly shaped night­mare.

He looked hard, though. Not burly, but very fit. Gymnastics muscles, maybe. At least he wouldn't poop out in the first battle. In contrast, Acacia's attitude seemed almost proprietary. 'Is this getting to you too? The last time I was here I didn't get any higher than ‘Mature'.'

Ollie asked, 'What was that like? Was it fun?'

'Fun? No! They gave us a legend of the Louisiana Bayou-a girl who married into a swamp family to settle her father's debt.'

A small, Mediterranean-looking man standing next to them showed interest now. 'Did the story end with her fleeing through the swamp with her sisters-in-law in pursuit?'

Acacia nodded.

Ollie shook his head. 'What's so bad about that? Everybody's got in-law problems.'

There was a ripple of laughter, in which the small man joined. He waited until it died down to comment: 'The problem becomes worse if you've married into a family of ghouls.'

Ollie swallowed. 'That seems so reasonable.'

A low, mellow tone reverberated from no visible speaker, and the circular door slid open. A voice said, 'Welcome to the Cham­ber of Horrors. We are sorry to have kept you waiting, but there was a little cleaning up to do.' The group filed into the room, and Tony McWhirter sniffed the air.

'Disinfectant,' he said, certain. 'Are they trying to imply that someone ahead of us-?'

'They're trying to fake us out,' Acacia said hopefully.

'Well, it's working.'

A speaker hissed static and coughed out a voice. The voice was electronically androgynous, and as soft as the belly of a tarantula. 'It's too late to leave now,' it said. 'Yes, you had your chance. Yes, you'll wish you had taken it. After all, this isn't the children's show, is it?' The voice lost its neuter quality for a moment; the laughing implication in the word children was feminine and some­how disturbing. 'So we won't be giving you the Legend of Sleepy Hollow. No, you're the brave ones. You'll go back to your friends and tell them that you've had the best that we can offer and, why, it wasn't so bad after all...' There was a pause, and someone tittered nervously.

The voice changed suddenly, all friendliness gone from it. 'Well, it's not going to be like that. One thing you people forget is that we are allowed a certain number of... accidents per year. No, don't bother, the door is locked. Did you know that it is pos­sible to die of fright? That your heart can freeze with terror, your brain burst with the sheer awful knowledge that there is no escape, that death, or worse, is reaching out to touch you and there is no­where to hide? Well, I am a machine, and I know these things. I know many things. I know that I am confined to this room, creat­ing entertainment for you year after year, while you can smell the air, and taste

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