If I let them go on about Alan Scarpio and whether or not he was actually Californiac, the winner of the sixth iteration of the game, we'd be here all night. Again.
I nodded in the direction of a blond curly-haired woman standing near the front door, and she turned out the lights.
Her name was Chloe. She was a good friend of mine. She worked for the Magician.
The arcade was the Magician's place.
It was an old speakeasy that had been converted into the arcade-slash-pizza joint back in the 1980s. The pizza oven had died more than a decade ago, so now it was just an arcade. Nobody understood how the Magician had been able to keep the place running through the rise of home-based and eventually handheld computer entertainment, but keep it running he did.
Walking into the arcade was like walking into another age.
The brick walls and exposed pipes in the ceiling clashed with the bright video screens and sharp 8-bit sounds of the arcade games, resulting in a strange yet perfectly comfortable blend of anachronisms.
Chloe called it eighties industrial.
The Magician was out of town on some kind of research trip, but he never came down for these things anyway.
He'd started letting a few of us use the place for meetings after the eighth iteration of the game. The Magician's arcade became a kind of de facto clubhouse, an informal gathering place for those of us who remained obsessed with the game long after most everyone else had checked out.
I pressed play on the reel-to-reel recording, and the voice of Dr. Abigail Prescott filled the room.
...The level of secrecy surrounding the game is concerning, as are the number of candidates...STATIC...it's chaos from the trailhead to the first marker, no algorithm can track its logic...CRACKLE... I've heard the underlying condition of the game described, metaphorically, as a kind of fluid, like the cytoplasm or protoplasm of a cell...STATIC...It had been dormant for a very long time when the first clue showed up in 1959. It was something in The Washington Post, a letter to the editor, and the lyrics of a song by the Everly Brothers that, when combined, provided the first indication that the game had returned. A student at Oxford put everything together and brought her professor into the thought matrix at Cambridge...CRACKLE...the name Rabbits was first used in reference to a graphic containing a rabbit on the wall of a laundromat in Seattle. Rabbits wasn't the name of that specific iteration of the game, just like it's not the name of this one...as far as any of us can tell, the games themselves—at least the games in this modern variation—don't actually have names. They're numbered by the community of players...STATIC...should be warned, we have reason to believe that the reports of both physical and mental jeopardy have been, in fact, underreported, and...STATIC.
The following was allegedly written on the wall in that laundromat in Seattle in 1959, under the hand-scrawled title MANIFESTO, and above a hand-stamped graphic of a rabbit:
You play, you never tell.
Find the doors, portals, points, and wells.
The Wardens watch and guard us well.
You play and pray you never tell.
There it was. Rabbits. The reason they were here, looking for some new information, a clue, anything that might lead to evidence about the next numbered iteration: Eleven, or XI.
Had it started?
Was it about to start?
Had the tenth version really ended?
Had anybody seen The Circle?
I let the echo of Dr. Abigail Prescott's words hang there dramatically for a moment, and then I continued with the Q&A section of my presentation.