the Arcade of the Gods
Walking around in dry, not to mention less dirty, clothes tended to attract less negative attention around here, Shades noticed. At least now he no longer looked like a drifter or a fugitive. He had rearranged his gear, stuffing smaller items in various pockets, discarding his work pants and shirt (deciding to make up some story later about how he lost them in the chase), as well as some other junk, so he could flatten his backpack and wear his jacket over it. Thankful that he had his homework locked down for this weekend, so he didn’t have too many textbooks to dispose of. Had checked himself in the restroom mirror and decided there was nothing more he could do.
The mall had turned out to be even more massive than he expected, seemed somehow bigger on the inside than it had on the outside. He had wandered the halls for over an hour, but so far he refused to step in anywhere. He scanned the progression of storefronts, but there were no familiar names in sight. Along the way, he had seen stairways, elevators, escalators, all suggesting multiple floors. At last, he came out into a giant atrium, with several levels stretching above and below him.
So far, though, he hadn’t seen a single indication of what time it was. According to his own watch, it was well after two. He should have caught the Top Ten, a quick shower, and at least a couple z’s by now.
When he reached the atrium, Shades took an escalator up, deciding to explore this place from top to bottom. If ways had opened to this place, he felt a growing hope that John might have ended up here, as well. If the hitchhikers didn’t get him first. But there was nothing he could do about it in this world, and if John did end up here, this mall would be a likely destination, a place to come in out of the cold. He told himself that perhaps tomorrow they would embark on an even bigger adventure than they had originally planned as he looked over the side.
From the top level, those at the bottom of the atrium looked almost as small as bugs, and he wondered exactly how many floors there were.
On this level, he found an arcade. Club Positronic, proclaimed the half-Arabic/ half-alien neon-green script flowing over the entrance. The outside looked fairly modest, but the interior was anything but. Inside he found a dark maze of video game consoles, illuminated by fluorescents, black-lights and strobes. Hard techno music blasted out of speakers along the ceiling, and he quickly spied several TV screens, some showing music videos, some showing games in progress so others could watch the action, all mounted near the same height as the speakers.
The more Shades looked around, the surer he was that he must be, had to be, dreaming this, so dazzled was he by the sheer variety of games. Some he hadn’t seen since he was a child, others that looked like some mad geniuses’ vision of the future. Signs pointed to various sections: 8-Bit Oldies, Old School, Analog Alley, Kombat Klassics, Head-2-Head, and Dance-A-Tron were some of the signs he spotted.
His upward gaze revealed that he was still seeing only half the picture. Through gaps in the ceiling, he could see a whole other level above, with wide walkways crisscrossing over the first floor, and more machines at the junctions. It took him a couple minutes, but his exploration turned up a spiral stairway leading up to one of the junctions.
Up top, the air was hotter and heavier, the music louder, the lights brighter. Now that he knew what to look for, he spotted several more stairways scattered throughout, even an elevator door. Not only were there more games, but pool and air-hockey tables, banks of pinball machines along two outer walls, as well as vending machines and a couple tables. Along with a notice that all food and drinks were to be confined to that area.
It was almost like being a little kid again, he had to keep reminding himself that he had precious little money to his name right now, and couldn’t blow it on tokens.
As he drifted from section to section, he thought about how the revolutions and evolutions of computers and console systems had begun to undermine the arcade scene. It was getting to where people were less willing to fork over fistfuls of quarters when they could just pay one price to play as much as they wanted. Though he could sympathize with that sentiment, he also thought it rocked that there were still places where strangers gathered to play like this.
The Arcade of the Gods, he thought as he shifted from one game to the next, shifted from fond memories to future visions, his friend’s situation left to simmer on the backburner.