Even Odds

Author : S. Clough aka Hrekka

She bent the corners of the cards up off the table, as if checking their values. She didn’t even see them – her focus was on Mayweather across the table. She’d memorised her cards as they were dealt, and trusted her memory implicitly. If you couldn’t trust your own mind, what could you trust?

Tag glanced at her, lips slightly apart. Her knowledge of the Saurian’s body language was sketchy at best. This made bluffing against him somewhat of a nervewracking experience. He was sitting to her left, and to Mayweather’s right. She ignored his gaze, instead maintained her watch on Mayweather. Before the game started, the three of them had made the Duarcher put on a Faraday helmet – it meant that his face was hard to read, but he couldn’t use the hardware in his skull. No-one could be sure that the room was camera-free. Remontoire had already folded, and was currently gazing desolately at his ever-diminishing stack of chips. He was the only other baseline human that she’d seen for days.

Mayweather gave a long sigh. He pushed his cards forward.

“Fold.”

“I call,” she said, turning to look at Tag.

Tag turned his cards over. A straight: three, four, five, six and seven. She flipped her cards over with one finger, revealing four twos.

“Win,” she said simply, tilting her head and smiling.

Tag stood slowly, and reached round his belt. There was a metallic clink. Stepping backwards, he raised a stubby handgun and pointed it straight at her.

“No you didn’t,” he said.

A blinding flash dazed all the players momentarily. Tag fell to the floor, scrabbling for his weapon. Remontoire had pulled a little guassgun, and the slug had punched a two-centimetre hole in Tag’s firearm. She didn’t know whether to put this down to spectacular accuracy or spectacular inaccuracy on Remontoire’s part.

She kicked Tag’s gun away from his groping fingers, and turned, planting her foot on the back of his head, smashing his face into the floor. He twitched, and went limp. Remontoire landed a crack on Mayweather’s neck with the butt of his gun, and the unfortunate mark slumped across the table. She emptied Tag’s pockets, and Remontoire relieved Mayweather of everything he had.

She went to the door, and called to their associates in from the corridor. Two burly men quickly dragged the unconscious Mayweather and the bleeding, moaning Tag outside.

Rem dropped his gun back into his holster. They dumped everything on the table, along with all the cash. Sitting down opposite each other, they carefully split the pile between them, with two smaller piles forming for the heavies who were even now dealing with the other players.

She stood, and shook Remontoire’s hand.

“A pleasure doing business with you.”

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Greetings from Tarpoint

Author : Frank Ruiz

It’s my favorite Super oldie playing from the speakers above: “I think we’re alone now…” The lights are just right, bringing the girl out against the dark room, making the furniture behind her suggestions; a white body rising from black waters. Slick red 12 inch hydraulic heels. She’s got some new adjustable tits. I can tell because they’re way high. They’re set to a C. She sees me frown and flicks her wrist out like she’s checking her old timepiece. Now they’re D’s. Her eyes stay steady brown. She’s got no color changers there and her hair looks real. She must be new to this trade.

“Not here to buy, ma’am.” I say. Her heels drop to the floor and the tits deflate. “I’m with the Temporal Watch Service.”

“Time cops. What are you here for? We just opened.” She closes her open robe. “How would we ever be associated with a paradigm aberration?” She reaches one hand between her legs and hugs herself across the chest with the other. “All we got here is a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” She gives me her business smile.

“In a minute, a man will come through that door looking for a trick. He is not what he seems. This man is actually an escapee from the planet Tarpoint. Bred in a genetic lab for the purpose of killing that planet’s rodents, he gained sentience and bolted. His flesh releases an airborne pathogen upon excitement that will kill anything.” I walk to her. “On this planet, he is a famous person. You would never turn him down. But what he’s got in him and what you’ve got in you mix together to create a plague that wipes out the whole galaxy. We’re talking diseases from thoughts.”

She puts the work grin away. I can tell she doesn’t believe me but doesn’t want trouble. “All we got here is beaver, honey. You do whatchoo gotta do, sweetie. Make sure none of my girls get hurt and I’ll treat you right myself later.” She flicks the wrist, turning off the lighting system, then walks away, returning the room to mundane.

“See you in a bit, brown eyes.” I sit on a soft sofa across from the door and think about my blue eyed wife and the boy.

The door creaks open all the way, shoving light into the room. A man shuffles in, loosens the tie on his collar.

I unsafe my gun. “Good afternoon, Mr. President. Greetings from Tarpoint.”

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The Business Acumen

Author : David E Hoffee

T. Claudius Swifford sipped arabica from the back of his vintage, metal-colored, chauffeur-driven Triton Mercedes as it swooped to meet the maglev. He briefly recalled the scone and juice he’d been served for breakfast as he perused the Singapore vids. In the tiniest moment reserved for himself, he thought, am I eclectic, or eccentric? And as the chauffeur attended his door at the parking level of Swifford Industries, Mr. Swifford couldn’t help but pause for a moment to honor the economic masters who’d come before him. This was the top of the world–a fine place to be.

Mr. Swifford could afford very large, very thick glass doors at the entrance to his office. He could also afford someone to open them. That someone was Reginald Tolucci, or just “Reggie.” For seventeen years, Reggie opened and closed and polished and secured for Swifford Industries, while he lost four kids and a wife to the water. “Not covered,” they told him, and he had to watch them slip away, while he opened–closed.

In the office, Mr. Swifford’s stock vids hovered in their places. Elsewhere, Mark Yager’s double-toast tried to return, as the never-on-time transit careened and rattled. Swifford Industries swallowed Yager in white, as he assumed the team-leader position, floor seventeen, area three, or just 17/3. Yager’s numbers had been incredibly good during the first two quarters, but the fourth-quarter projections were harpooning third-quarter business. Yager’s team saw confidence, not the toast, trying to escape. Upstairs, the weather had left a fine mist on the Triton Mercedes. Yager’s brow was shiny, as he felt the absence of numbers echo through his brain.

Team 17/3 could barely contain themselves during a brief spike at 1400 hours; but alas, the toothpick economy didn’t last, and by 1630 hours, comm wanted Yager at the top of the building, floor 1, level 1. That would be Swifford’s office.

Yager adjusted his posture, dredged up confidence to argue for his team. Mr. Swifford waved his hand, and a screen disappeared. Yager smiled his winner’s smile.

“Mr., um, Yager, is it–yes,” Swifford droned, “where, sir, are your numbers?” He shifted left in his massive leather seat.

“We bring you here, teach you, give you water, juice, and FOR WHAT? How many times has this been?” And Yager unconsciously stepped back, off-posture, off-smile, and Swifford lept up and drew in a single, fluid motion, center-mass, dead on, one shot from the company-issue pearl-handled .45 in another tribute to the mighty business integrity gone by.

The glistening, metal-colored Triton Mercedes hums at 1700.

“How was your day, sir?” Reggie asked, as Mr. Swifford approached the door.

And, as T. Claudius Swifford always replied, “Reggie–it was a fine day for business.”

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A Useful Trinket

Author : Z.D. Erickson

Boyd pressed himself tightly to the crumbling brick of the library’s colonnade. As the thin layer of scaled fiber-optics bent the light of distant streetlamps around him, his mind raced.

There’s an old thieves adage; The theft itself is rarely difficult. It’s getting away with the merchandise that becomes problematic. He had always found this to be eerily true, until now.

Bypassing the lab’s security protocols had taken almost a year of research and planning. Not to mention the money he’d had to shell out to that pissant Timothy Marcus. The boy’s ability to infiltrate complex computer systems was near-legendary, and unfortunately he knew it. Just the thought of that smug, pimply grin set Boyd’s blood to boil(was I ever that pompous, even at fourteen?), but he couldn’t question the little snot’s efficacy. When the time had come, it had been as simple as snatching a fresh-baked pie from a midsummer’s windowsill.

And now, even with a fleet of helicopters circling the campus like hungry buzzards and facing a small army of ground troops armed to the teeth, the ease of his escape made Boyd laugh silently to himself. His new prize truly was worth every penny he would get for it.

When William Garner had first brought him the job, he’d laughed in his face.

“They’re willing to pay almost fifty mil for an enhancement suit? They must be off their respective rockers Bill.”

“It’s not just any old enhancement suit my good man(Bill’s was a true rags-to-riches story, and now that he’d started making some real bread he’d wrapped himself in this insipid, forties era nouveau-riche persona. Phrases like “my good man”, “I do so detest…”, and “those poor, underprivileged wretches” were now all too common.), from what I could figure out it’s the be-all-and-end-all of current military technology. It not only monitors all vital functions, it stores a plethora of synthetic hormones, designer neurotransmitters, and recuperative enzymes. They’re released into the bloodstream in response to tissue damage, alterations in CNS activity, or on direct command. It also renders the wearer resistant to extremes of temperature. It has a mixed gas delivery system that allows one to function under assault from aerosolized bio-weaponry, or even underwater. It’s lightweight, but bulletproof, and has joint actuators that increase the wearer’s speed, strength and maneuverability tenfold. And, get this old chap, it has a fiber-optic skin that makes it almost completely invisible under normal conditions. At worst it will keep you up and running under brutal conditions. At best…you’ll be unstoppable! And it’s under development in a biotechnology lab at MIT, so security won’t be as bad as all that.”

And so here he was, suited and booted, and everything Bill had said was true. Boyd didn’t know if the adrenaline rush he was feeling was from the thrill of the chase, or as a result of the suit’s enhancement mechanisms, but he had never felt more powerful in his life.

He might decide to keep this prize after all.

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Red Tape

Author : Pyai (aka Megan Hoffman)

“Ms. Anderson,” the bot said as he leaned forward, his fingers steepling and making little chinking noises of metal against metal, “tell me once again why you are requesting such a drastic career change?”

Lori shifted uncomfortably in her seat. “I’m missing my children grow up. I can’t put in more 80-hour work weeks and see them as much as I want. I need this eight to four job as a file clerk so I can focus on my family.”

The bot’s eyes gleamed from beneath burnished chrome. The pattern was disturbing. File 6198742 had been the 216th this month requesting a file clerk transfer, from every profession from teacher, mechanic, actor, and now to the leading cola company’s CEO. Algorithms sifted through the bot’s head matrix, trying to place the pieces together.

“The Inquiry has no objection to this career change. You will receive your new assignment Sunday evening.”

A look of relief that even the Inquiry bot couldn’t miss flashed across the woman’s face as she quickly exited.

It was quite by accident that this Inquiry bot PN-42 discovered the answer to the question every Inquiry bot had been running through their systems. The bot’s mechanic was reading an antique book one day. The bot, always practicing its Inquiry skills, learning to improvise and detect lies, started asking questions.

It wasn’t until the mechanic spoke about a global nuclear war, much like the impending one slated for early next month, that the bot realized the old man had stumbled across an answer.

“That’s right,” the mechanic had huffed a little, “convicts and file clerks. The only groups surrounded by enough walls, paper and red tape to withstand even a nuclear winter.”

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