Chapter 47 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

On a Friday night early in November, The Four walked into the Saturn Cafe. With them was Jim. On their way in Jim snagged a copy of the City Paper, a free weekly newspaper that catered to the hip (and the would-be hip), large piles of which were deposited in front of the Cafe and a thousand other drop points in the City every Thursday afternoon.

They went to The Four's usual table, and The Four set up for a game of Icehouse. Jim pulled up an extra chair near their table and started reading his City Paper. Mandy, one of the Android Sisters, appeared and took their order. Five C-teas and a plate of Tringos. Tringos were triangular chocolate sandwich cookies similar to Oreos but with a lighter, less bitter chocolate.

In addition to her Saturn headpiece, Mandy was wearing a tight fitting gown with a severely asymmetrical skirt. The left side of her gown was a full length dress, sweeping down from her hips to drag on the ground, but the right side was very short, virtually a mini-skirt. The gown had a very dramatic diagonal cut and exposed her right leg quite attractively. The neckline was similarly asymmetrical, low cut only on the left side of the bodice. The fabric was a metallic gold material which shimmered when she moved.

Cindy and Wendy were also working at the Cafe that night, and when they drifted in it turned out that they were wearing gowns identical to Mandy's except in color, Cindy's being silver and Wendy's the color of copper.

While The Four went to war at the Icehouse table, Jim read his paper. He perused the Personals carefully, but found none worth responding to. The majority were placed by Single White Males, and the few he saw from Single White Females sounded either fat or boring or both.

At 37 minutes after 9 PM, a group of people entered the Cafe. Jim noticed them immediately because among them was the beautiful red haired woman with the red camouflage jacket he had seen on the subway and followed to New Xi City. The group included several other redheads.

"Hey Dave," whispered Jim, "when you get a chance, check out the people who just came in. They're from Mars."

Dave nodded, and when he got to a point in the game where he felt he could divert his attention, he looked at the group Jim indicated.

They were five, three men and two women, four of whom were Martians. They were seated at a table near The Four, and were starting a game of Icehouse. Each of the players had carried his pyramids in a special case and withdrew them with extreme care. One person's set was made of polished black onyx, and he carried it in a long wooden case lined with velvet. Another player's set was made of crystal, and the third, one of the women, had a set made of silver with intricately carved scrollwork inlaid with gold leaf. The fourth player's set was as noticeable as the others, not for its elegance but for its crudity. He was an older man who was balding, and the hair he did have left was of a very rich red. His set was made of rough plaster of paris. It was lumpy, painted with glossy red paint, and had obviously seen a lot of use. The woman with the camo jacket wasn't playing, but sat near him, watching the game with detached interest.

When Dave had finished playing all of his pieces, he announced that his pad was clear and left the table. This was risky, since the game was not over and with his attention removed, the other three could gang up on him and possibly put him in the Icehouse, but Dave was confident in his position and more interested in other things anyway.

He wandered over to the Martians' table to watch them play. They were good, and Dave was impressed. Dave was also impressed by the long haired Martian in the camo jacket, and smiled broadly at her. She smiled back, and said "Hi there," in a warm quiet voice.

"Hello," replied Dave. "Your friends are good."

"Mmm, yes, they are," she said, and then laughed.

Dave smiled, and then said "What's so funny?"

"Nothing," said the woman.

The balding man hissed irritably at Dave and the woman, though he didn't look away from the playing field. Then he played a couple of his tired looking plaster pyramids.

The woman stood up and silently walked off. Dave followed her, and they sat down at a table near the synthesist's pit.

"Sorry," she said, "They don't like noise when they play."

"I understand completely."

Suddenly the woman reached up, grabbed a tuft of Dave's red hair, and tugged on it gently. "This isn't fake, is it?" she said, smiling.

Dave sat back, startled both by the question and the fact that she touched him. "What?" he said in surprise.

"The color I mean. You haven't been dying this hair, have you?"

"No, of course not, why would I do that?"

"People have their reasons."

Dave shook his head slowly in confusion.

The woman stuck out her hand. "My name is Christina," she said as they shook hands, "but most people call me The Martian Princess."

"Pleased to meet you. I'm Dave."


There was a moment of awkward silence.

"How'd you get a name like the Martian Princess?" said Dave.

The Princess made a noise that was a combination of a laugh and a sigh. "Do you know anything about the Children of Mars?" she said.


"OK, good, then you know that people with red hair are descendents of the ancient race that once lived on Mars, right?"

"Uh, right."

"And the more red the hair is, the stronger the birthright. So partly it's because my hair is very red and very long. I look more Martian than most."

"I must say that you look like a Princess," said Dave.

"Hmmm. Yes, that's what people tell me. Anyway, it's mostly because of my Dad."

"Who's your Dad?"

"He's that guy over there," she said, pointing at the balding man. "He's called the Emperor of Mars. He organized the Children of Mars, and is the leader of the group. I don't know how he managed to get that title for himself, but since he did, I became a Princess."

Dave chuckled. Bert came up to the table, munching a Tringo, and growled at Dave. "You lost, Peter won. Next round," he said.

Dave looked helplessly at the Princess. "Don't let me keep you from your game," she said, standing up.

Dave reluctantly wandered back to the table where Peter, Paul, and Bert waited to begin the next round of Icehouse. The Martian Princess followed, and watched as they played. She stood beside Dave, and during the game they quietly continued their conversation.

Jim, who had been enviously regarding Dave's successful interaction with the Martian Princess, finally decided to leave. He paid Mandy for his drink, tucked his City Paper under his arm, and wandered out into the empty streets.

Around 11 o'clock, the Emperor of Mars and his fellow gamers stood up and made ready to leave. Before joining them, the Martian Princess dug into the small canvas shoulder bag she carried and extracted a business card. It was red, and had imprinted on it a picture of Mars. Above this was "The Martian Princess" and at the bottom was an address and a telephone number. She handed the card to Dave, smiled broadly, and then quickly joined the others as they slipped out of the Saturn Cafe.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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