by Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
by Timothy O. Goyette
Odds on Revenge
Timothy O. Goyette
Kamen strutted into the bedroom, his smile glistening in the darkness. Protective shielding kept him safe from snipers and diffusion glass from spies. There was no reason to keep it dark, but the dark was his friend. Looking out on the hue and glitter of the city he could imagine himself sultan, the game master of the world. Yes, even the masters would worship him as the ruler of chance.
His routine was to open the door, stride seven steps in, and jump, lofting himself into the feathered softness of the bed. The comforter and bedding would fly up, burying him as it gently settled back. He savored it like a cat.
He was on step six when the door closed. The quiet rustle of clothing came from behind him.
"Who's in here?" Kamen demanded as he turned.
The figure remained consumed in the shadows.
"Lights!" Kamen called. Nothing happened.
"I've learned some stuff since we last met," came a man's voice.
"Who are you? What are you doing in my place?"
The man moved from the shadow enough for Kamen to make out the silhouette. The intruder had a handgun. "Let's just say, I'm an unhappy mark come to repay ya."
Kamen folded his arms over his chest and gazed harder at the shadow. "Look, bum, you take your chances at the games, just like everyone else. Take your losses like a man. You know, I've had a good day, and I'm in a generous mood. So, I'm willing to cut you a break. I'll turn my back and go to bed. If you're out of my suite before I get there, I’ll forget you were ever here."
"You know there are worse things than death. I can make sure you experience each and every one of them over the next decade or so. Why don't you just run along, before I get ugly?"
"Been there, done that. Now it's your turn."
Kamen took a few steps back and sat on the foot of his bed. Bums and losers were irritating, never seemed to know what was best for them.
"Okay, let's say that you actually have the guts to kill me. The security in this place will be down on you in ten seconds. Barely time to get to the door. You'd never get out alive."
"What makes ya think I intend to survive?"
The shadow tossed an object into the light. About the size of a grapefruit it rolled to within a meter of Kamen. He knew little about ordnance, but recognized it as a remote activated bomb, big enough to incinerate everything in the room.
Kamen's fingers sunk like daggers into the mattress. "Okay, buddy, let's think about this. There’s nothing to gain by killing both of us. You'd have no chance to gloat, to relish in your accomplishment."
"Lights!" called the figure, and the lights sprang to life.
"You control my systems?" If he controlled the lights, he may have the defensive systems too, projectiles, gas, stunners. Kamen’s dinner turned in his stomach.
"Now, How's about you and me talk."
The man wore baggy clothes, worn with patches on patches, and none of it was clean. The creature smiled. The few teeth he had were crooked and gray, a beard scragged about his face.
Kamen shook his head. "Who are you?"
"Let me refresh your memory." The man pulled up his sleeve revealing a black and red brand.
"I've never owned a slave, what's that supposed to mean to me?"
"How many do ya sell into slavery?"
"Well," Kamen coughed. "Common practice in a high stakes game. The masters are the ones that deal in slaves. I only play games. Besides, you had to agree to the stakes before the game. Full disclosure and what not."
"How many Kamen? You can't remember me cause I'm just one of hundreds, or thousands?" His voice rose as he spoke. "Look at me!"
Kamen stared into the man's face. Wrinkled, with some scars, it barely appeared human. "Sorry," he said, shaking his head.
"No!" Kamen jumped from his bed and lunged towards the door.
The man struck him on the shoulder with the side of the gun. Pinpricks sprinkled down the right half of Kamen's body and he fell with a thud. He lay on the floor, his right arm and leg twitching uncontrollably.
The man leaned over him. Gently he said, "Neat, huh? Nobody‘s going to wrestle this away from me in a fight. One of them genetic keys."
Kamen only groaned.
"Ya got a nicer place here. I remember the old dump. Yup, got it all lock up in here." The man tapped the side of his head with the gun. "Kamen’s game room was hardly better than the rest of the dives, but ya played high stakes.
"When did ya move up town?"
Kamen's body settled down, but he didn't respond.
"It's great what a hacker can do. Even transfer savings into junk bonds, or commodities, or one of them startup companies that die in their first year." The man smiled.
"What do you want?" Kamen groaned.
"That's more like it. See, we can work things out. All we've got to do is talk like gentlemen." He stood and forced his toe under Kamen's chest. With a pointed thrust he rolled Kamen over onto his back.
"I've gone over it, in my mind, for the past eighteen years. The only way for you to win that game was to cheat. So what I want is a game, a fair game."
"I never cheat."
"Very well, let's play." The intruder pulled out a deck of Caso cards.
"That's right. You, me, and a deck. We play one hand. Ya win; I take my bomb and go away. I win and I do to ya what ya did to me."
Kamen burned as a chill swept over his body.
"Ya were happy to take me on before."
Kamen stared at the man, chin firm. In high stakes a gambler wagered his freedom against a fortune to last the rest of his life. Kamen had always been the house, risking monetary loss.
“The masters, they worship randomness, chaos, whatever. Games of chance are religious ceremonies to them, and a rigged game is sacrilege.”
“You’re a big man with the masters. The player who can’t lose. Heck, you’re the closest thing they got to a prophet. What do ya think they’ll do to ya when they find out you’re a fraud?”
“The masters know that I run a clean game. Accusations from a loser will be discarded without consideration.”
“Got it all figured, Kamen? Well the, what’s to lose? And if ya win, I'll go with all my embarrassing questions.”
"How do I know that you'll keep your end, once I've won?"
The man wrapped his fingers into Kamen's collar and twisted, forcing his fist into Kamen's throat. "I'm not the guy who cheats kids out of their lives. Ya don't get it. I'm going to beat ya fair and square. Just to show ya that in a fair game, you'd lose."
Kamen was wheezing, gasping for breath as the man drug him from the floor and led him into the living room. The man sat him down at the gaming table. Then took the opposite chair. He set the gun by his right hand and the bomb to his left, and began shuffling the cards.
"Now, ya cut, I deal."
"Wait a moment. You shuffled. Even if I cut you can deal yourself anything you want."
The man's smile became icy. "House rules, remember."
Kamen swallowed. Forcing all doubt back, he reminded himself that the bum couldn’t possibly win.
The man passed the deck to Kamen, who tapped the top to pass. It was rigged, cutting made no difference.
"Ya sure ya want to pass?"
"Deal the cards."
The cards flew back and forth, building two piles. He was good; Kamen couldn't see him pulling from the bottom of the deck. Kamen had seen the best, but this bum was smooth.
Kamen's hand was average. A pair of Otans would let him take the early lead, unless the bum had dealt himself a Ritdan.
Kamen sat back and steadied his head. Looking over his hand he focused on the bum’s cards. The nano-machines that made up his ocular implant whirred about in his retina. Instantly he was locked in on the back of the cards. Auto ranging would handle the focus from then on.
Kamen relaxed as the micro sensors brought back images of the inside of the cards. In a moment he would be locked onto the printing on the other side of the cards. His pleasure was only manifest by a slight rise of his pulse.
The final image entered his brain as a cobweb of random figures. The lines and figures seemed to swirl in a way that made him dizzy. They flowed around a central point where a single word was written: loser.
Kamen stiffened and sucked in a quick breath. Immediately her knew it was a mistake. Come on idiot, he chided himself. Perfect demeanor was one of his trademarks.
He looked up to see the bum’s smile broaden.
Kamen touched his chest, scrunched his face a little and said, “gas.”
The bum continued to smile. “Your play,” he said.
Kamen focused on his hand. He’d have to win this the old fashioned way. The bum probably expected him to lead with the Otan. The Otans could be held in reserve and sprung when least expected. It's anticipating the opponent that leads to victory. The rest of the cards were unremarkable. Kamen threw out an Inti, a mid level card, forcing the bum to play higher to take it.
Another Inti came flashing out of the bum’s hand. Kamen sat back. The bum's face was ice, too good to give anything away.
"Okay," Kamen said reviewing his cards. He could throw a lower card and give up the trick or play higher to draw out a larger card. The bum was good at dealing and holding his face, but only amateurs match cards early in the game. With a stacked deck he could be leading to a single trick game, constantly matching, then topping at the end.
That suited Kamen well; he could build up and use the pair of Otans to double trump. With a stacked deck he was sure to loose anyway. Why not go out in a blaze of glory.
Kamen threw a Jentax, two points up.
Another Jentax, just like he figured. The bum was predictable; it would be easy to finish him off.
Kamen added a Lim, starting to move into powerful cards.
Instead of another Lim the bum threw a Mokko, the trick was his. Obviously he had miscounted cards or something. Mokkos were closing cards, saved to the end.
The bum sorted through the trick.
"Remember, you can't put the Mokko back in your hand," Kamen said.
The bum's gray face stared back at him, behind glistening eyeballs. "I'm here to win, not to cheat." He threw the Mokko across the floor. It landed leaning against the base of the bar.
"Your play," he said.
Kamen hadn't lost any valuable cards in the exchange. He shrugged it off. He would pull out the bum’s strategy with conservative play. He tossed an Aublek, lowest of the low.
The bum sucked it up with a Lim, and quickly added it to his hand.
"Too bad you haven't got as much strategy as you have guts."
The bum smiled, "It's my game."
The bum didn't seem to have a strategy. He sacrificed good solid middleweight cards to pick up the lowest level. The bum’s hand grew as Kamen's shrunk. The bum obviously didn't realize the advantage of being the one going down. Kamen smiled inwardly keeping his face stone.
Three cards left and his lead. Kamen shuffled them around in his hand and his mind. Ether and two Otans, he shouldn't split the pair, but if he led with the Ether he may be forced to throw on of the Otans. If he did that and the bum captured it, he’d lose for sure.
Kamen tossed out the Ether.
Instantly the bum counter with another Ether, the dolt! No one in his right would counter facing just three cards. The bum just threw the game. Kamen's heart took a sudden leap. He forced his breathing down. As soon as he played the Otan the bum would try to take the trick. The stupid fool thinks he’s won the game. Kamen couldn't wait to see the reaction when he trumped with the pair of Otans.
A long droning sigh came from Kamen as he tried to sound dejected. The Otan landed gently on the Ethers.
A snorting laugh arose from the bum as he tossed another Ether on the Otan. "Trump!" he called.
Kamen allowed himself a grin. The drama played out; the last card was his winner. He threw it down, staring at his opponent’s face. "Trump, this!"
The bum’s face went slack. He looked up to Kamen, solid and severe. "Ok" he said and threw another Ether on the pile.
Blood drew from Kamen's face as the card fell. “A triple, a triple! You lousy, cheating bum.
Slam, Kamen's chair hit the floor as he bolted up. "All right, where are you keeping them?"
"What?" the bum played ignorant.
"You're not fooling me. This match is invalid, I will not be bound by its outcome." Kamen slammed his fist on the table.
"I'm no cheater. Ya don't like to lose, tell ya what. We play again, double or nothing."
"Why would I want to play with cheating scum like you?"
"Ya deal this time."
Kamen paused in mid rant. "What about house rules?"
"House just made new rules." The bum smiled his ragged smile.
"What do you have in mind?"
"Ya win, I leave. I win, I get all ya stuff." He waved his hand around. "Everything."
"If I deal, I get to use my own deck?"
"I'm you're guest. Do as you please."
Kamen raced to the bar and pulled a deck from behind it. He usually kept it there for party tricks. A quick scan revealed that they were unaltered; he’d be able to read through them. "All right then, let's see if you can do it twice."
Kamen played to the bum’s hand, drawing out the mid level cards and eating up everything else. He thought about how he would come down on that bum. Simple execution would be too good. No, he'd have him sent back to the slave pits, with an additional infirmity, unable to defend himself.
The game went quickly. Kamen was down to his last card, a Zetto, the only one in the deck. Considering it was his lead, there was nothing the bum could do. He tossed it down.
"Nice game. Now, why don't you get out of my place."
The bum slowly took the gun and placed it in his jacket pocket. Grabbing the bomb he lifted it in his left hand. It clicked and whined as he pressed a button.
"Wait, look you made the rules. You said that you'd keep your end of the bet. I don't want any trouble."
The bum put the bomb on the table and looked up at Kamen. "Ya have a strange way of trying to avoid it."
The lights on the bomb faded. "No hard feelings though," Kamen sputtered. "Please take a bottle of something with you on your way out." He’d have the bum followed. A few blocks away he’d be stunned and tossed into a trunk, packaged for a trip to agony.
The bum gently pulled at the sides of the bomb, and it fell in half. An elliptical black device was inside.
"I'm certain that you can find better places to play with your toys."
The bum stroked it. "No, this is the best place for this toy. Don't know its real name. Let's just call it a master-cam."
Ice ran through Kamen's veins. "A what?"
"It's a device the masters use to check for cheating. It tracks the relative position of every card within three meters."
Kamen turned up the corner of his mouth in a smile of malice. "I played a perfectly fair game. Not one chard was taken from my sleeve, or palmed, or stacked, or dealt from the bottom.
"Now, as I was saying: take your toy and..."
"This one has a special modification," the bum interrupted "It has an electro-magnetic signature tracker."
Kamen's fists clenched.
"As you know, a dampening field around the table blocks normal surveillance equipment, so peaking over someone’s shoulder has been eliminated. Other counter measures keep resonance based and electronic marking from being effective."
Kamen walked to the bar. Directly behind the bum he wrapped his hand around a pewter decanter of tonic. The metal leached any warmth left in his fingers.
The stupid bum kept on babbling, unaware or not caring that Kamen was about to crush his skull in. He would claim it was self-defense. The bum went wild after he lost. The device, which Kamen never knew was anything but a bomb, just happened to be crushed in the struggle.
Kamen's smile returned.
"But, you can't block visible light or the players can't see to play the game. So, I figured that you had to be using some kind of advanced optical analyzer."
The statement froze Kamen at the top of his swing. Could he really have figured it out? The only other people who knew, including the inventor, were dead.
Kamen quickly ran through the odds. His best chance was to kill the intruder and go with his story.
The metal club arched down upon its victim. It landed with a delightful thud. Blood oozed from the wound as the body slumped over the table. Kamen struck again and again, making sure to finish the job.
He would need to have the place cleaned, he thought as he wiped the blood on his robe. Turning the decanter over, he opened it and pored himself a drink.
The door slid open with a hush sound. The tall angular body of a master entered, surrounded by three men. Kamen dropped his drink. The glass shattered on the floor.
The door was the only way out. The protective windows were sealed shut. Under the bed, in the closet, there was no place to hide.
"You should have let him finish," came the synthetic voice of the master.
"He attacked me..." Kamen stuttered. "It was self-defense."
He thought of the shattered glass on the floor. "I only needed the drink to steady my nerves before calling for security."
"Your victim was about to say that the device transmitted its data to us in the next room. The whole event was viewed by us, and recorded. We even managed to identify your ocular implant."
Kamen gripped the nearest chair to steady himself. The men closed in on him. He had trained himself to look defeated, vulnerable. It built confidence in his opponents.
The closest man reached out to take his arm. Kamen swung around the chair, hitting the man in the side and lunged through the opening.
Time to retire. He ran for the door. Once on the streets he'd disappear. There was enough hidden cash to sustain him in a low profile.
The master stood in the doorway. Kamen allowed himself a grin. Their technology allowed them to conquer the galaxy, but one on one they were weaklings.
Kamen bowled into the ribbon body of the master. They fell through the doorway in a heap. It may have been a mistake, Kamen realized. In a second the thugs were on him.
He thrashed and kicked at the body and arms of the master. In an instant he rolled free.
As he jumped to his feet, the master shoved something in his face with a mist spraying from it. It was sweet almost sticky and caused him to cough.
He leaped away and headed down the hall. He still had a good chance to get away. The emergency chute was a meter away when he fell to the ground. His body twitched for a few seconds before it lay still.
His arms and legs numbly sat on the floor. He heard footsteps closing on him, but his body was limp. "Move, move!" he yelled. But his limbs lay still.
The eel-like face of the master came into view as he was rolled over.
"Don't worry. The effects are not permanent. You will soon be fully able to work in your slave hold"
"Wait, I've got money. I'll make you rich, all of you, just let me go."
The master click something in its own language and spit upon Kamen.
"It was a setup all along. But, why didn't you stop it before I killed your stooge."
"It was his wish. As a valuable slave, he would not have been allowed to die. Utterly wasteful"
Kamen's face went white and he began mumbling incoherently
"That's right, Kamen, humans are simple to repair. A little maintenance and you'll go on for ever too."
"But, what about my money, homes, belongings? The bum can't.." Kamen trailed off.
"He played the first game fair, no cheating, so legally it all belongs to him."
"Yes, but as his estate it goes to his sister. His only living relative"
"The sap," Kamen said.
The master kicked Kamen in the ribs. "He is a hero. He played pure chance and skill, and won his death. Do not speak of him again. Your vile tongue is not worthy of his name.'
With that, the master reared to his full height and Kamen was dragged off to eternity.
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by Raymond Coulombe, Michael Gallant, Timothy O. Goyette
by Timothy O. Goyette