Chapter 96 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At eleven minutes before eight o'clock, Jim and Lori approached the Saturn Cafe. Jim was wearing a white shirt and white slacks, and Lori was wearing a black dress. She had her hair tied back in a single, long braid.

They stopped, and stood before the door. Lori looked at the small icon of Saturn, then at Jim. Jim said nothing, but merely gazed at the door with a blank expression on his face.

"What is this?" asked Lori.

Jim seemed to return slowly to consciousness. "Oh," he said, "This is the Saturn Cafe. It's very exclusive. The management is deciding whether or not to let us in."

Before Lori had a chance to reply, the door clicked. "Ah," said Jim, "in we go."

The Cafe was crowded. The synthesizer music pulsed heavily under the noise of the people. Jim steered Lori towards a small table in the corner. A waitress moved through the pools of light and arrived at their table. "What can I get you?"

"I'll have the Chicken Kiev and a C-tea," said Jim.

"OK," said the waitress. She noted his order and then looked expectantly at Lori.

"Oh," said Lori, "I don't know. Um, I guess I'll have a salad."

The waitress floated away. "This place is amazing," said Lori, with a dazed tone in her voice.

"Pretty cool, huh?" Jim reclined in his chair.

"Yeah," said Lori, sitting up and looking around in every direction. "The lights, and the music... and the people!"

Jim simply smiled. The waitress brought him his C-tea, and he sipped at it slowly.

"What are they doing?" asked Lori. She pointed at a group playing Icehouse.

"They're playing Icehouse," said Jim.

"Oh, cool! I've heard of that, but I've never seen anyone play."

"You want to learn?" asked Jim.

"Oh, can we?" said Lori.

Jim was already removing Icehouse pieces from his concealed drawer and setting them out on the table. "OK," he said, "The pyramids can be played in either of two ways: standing up or lying down. If you play them standing up, then they are defending, and they can be anywhere on the table. If you play them lying down, then they are attacking, and have to be pointing at standing up pyramids."

"OK," said Lori.

"You get three sizes. The small ones count for one, the middle-sized ones for two, and the big ones for three. For an attack to be successful, there have to be more points worth of pieces in the attack than the targeted defense piece is worth. At the end of the game, you get points for all of your standing up pyramids that survived attack, and for all of your attack pyramids that succeeded in icing what they were attacking."

"How do you keep your standing up pyramids from getting attacked?"

"Well, you have to build defenses that attack pieces can't get through." Jim built some example Ice Fortresses on the table, and showed Lori how attack pieces could breech such defenses. Then he showed her how such attacks could be foiled.

"Now remember, this all happens in real time. You can play whenever you want. You ready to start?"

Lori was fairly confused, but she agreed to go ahead and play. Jim played very casually in order to give her a chance, and they frequently stopped to discuss the finer points of the rules. He had a hard time getting her to understand which pieces could be removed during over-icing, and also what it meant to be in the Icehouse. But by the time their food arrived, she had a pretty good understanding of the game, and was also enjoying it very much.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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