Short Story Friday

Big Time Deals in the Big City

By Arbor Winter Barrow

 

Devina Gershwin knew every corner of the big city of Kestavan. It was a city the size of a small ocean and filled with just as many people as fish. Devi had been raised from birth in the slums on the outskirts near the deep, thick jungles of the rest of the planet. Kestavan was the only human habitable spot on the planet, everything else was ruled by the native species of wolflike packs that roamed the jungles. Large energy fields drew a line between the city and the jungle and neither mixed.

The spaceport at the center of the city was the heart of the tiny civilization in the middle of the galactic nowhere. The skyscrapers that had been raised around the spaceport turned the city center into a crown and the people who lived there were just denizens of a palace that churned around it.

The king of this place, the dealer of hands, of fate, and everything in between was named Gev Horrton. Gev Horrton was the oft-unseen king of this tiny patch of land, no one, especially as low class as Devi would ever get to meet him. Except under one condition. Every year on the summer solstice a city-wide card tournament took place and this year Devi was going all the way to the top. If she won every tournament from the lowest to the highest she would get the honor, if you could call it that, of playing against the king himself. That’s what she was going for, that was the challenge that was ahead of her. She was determined and driven to change her lot in life and she had the skills to do it now.

It had taken her nearly ten years to save up for the entry fee and the last bit came from the sale of all her worldly possessions. Her favorite speeder bike, her computer, her communicator, all of it was gone now. She had moved out of her apartment the day before the rent was due, and slept in the subway station that night. In the morning she had gotten up and taken the subway to the Central Office where entrants could apply for the tournament. In three short days she was going to the largest casino in Kestavan to crawl her way to the top.

Devi refused to be complacent anymore. This place was seen as a safe haven for every sort of crime and criminal and she had been raised as one of its pawns. Gev Horrton and his cronies had a tight grip on the city populace and anyone who dared try to change or question the tiny aspects of their society.

It wasn’t uncommon for feuds to end with one side ending up outside the energy field only to be eaten or killed by the native wildlife or just left to starve to death as little of the native plantlife was edible for humans. Her own family had gotten on the bad side of one of Horrton’s men and they had died out in the jungles. She had been left to fend for herself and if it weren’t for the kindness of a few strangers she would have died years ago.

She had a plan and that plan involved going all the way to the top and changing things from the top down. The populace was unhappy, but so few of them knew what to do about it. Devi had learned the hard way how to wheel and deal from the inside of the slums and the darkest corners of the city. She knew exactly the path she would have to take to get to the top, she had the play the game and had to make them believe that she was part of the game.

With her tournament entry fee placed Devi had only a handful of credits left.

Even with her skills and the amount she could make in one game it had still taken ten years to save up for the entry fee. It was a tournament for the super rich and a slumkid like her had a one in a billion chance at getting in.

This was the year, and in three days she was going to the top.

***

Devi spent her last credits on a nice, sleeveless suit and a nice meal. She was going to win in style and with a full belly. Nothing could crush her confidence. The day of the tournament she showed up to the entrance, flashed her entry chip and took her place among the other entrants.

Rithcards was the most popular and hardest card game in the galaxy. There were over a thousand cards in each deck and nearly as many ways to win the game. Each suit was four cards and the combinations you made from your hand over the course of the game determined the point values. Devi was good at it. She had been playing since her mother taught her as a child and she had learned to count cards before she had learned the names of the constellations in the sky.

She had supported herself for all of her 22 years by playing small games in the dark backrooms of the city. Even though gambling was far from illegal and most crime was given a pass, some of the games she had played were so high-risk Gev Horrton himself would have come down hard on the people playing. Devi had won just enough games to fill her pockets and keep a roof over her head but not enough to draw attention to herself. A master rithcard player would be easily noticed in this city and she wasn’t ready to make her name known until the day of the tournament.

The tournament bracket lit up the ceiling of the main room and Devi found her name easily at the bottom of the lists. She was an unknown and that was fine with her. A loud chime echoed across the room. “Places everyone!” A woman said over a loudspeaker and the room filled with the initial conversations and card shuffling.

Devi looked at her first opponents and breathed a sigh of relief. As much confidence as she had in her abilities as a rithcard player she could see the green gills on these people. They had the money to get themselves into the tournament, but not the skill. She would defeat them easily, but at the same time she didn’t want to draw too much attention to herself too quickly. There was a chance that if she displayed too much skill too early on that the tournament heads would find a way to eliminate her from the game permanently.

The tournament had five rounds, of seven games each, and for the first round the tournament room had over 1000 tables with 5 people each. In the fourth round, the winners with the highest skill points over the course of the tournament would be in the fifth and final round. The winner of the tournament would get to play one-on-one with Gev Horrton himself.

Here’s what you need to know about Devi’s skill, she was a thinker, she was a skilled card counter, and capable of figuring out the micro-expressions of the players around her.

The first round she didn’t wipe the floor with her opponents but let them think she was struggling along with the rest of them.

The second round she was in a whole other world of competition, these people actually had money and skill. But all the same, she hid her abilities. WIth the second round Gev Horrton’s men were watching her and every other player. One of these people, the best of the people, would be the one to go against Horrton. It was their job to look for possible opponents that might actually be a threat to Gev Horrton. She nearly lost as many times as she won, she let herself float in the middle of the pack, letting others take the limelight and yet others to crash and burn. As the fifth and final round began Devi didn’t let an ounce of fear mar her confidence.

In the fifth round, all her opponents were long time players, skilled, and probably nearly at the same level of criminal renown as Gev Horrton himself. It wasn’t uncommon for an unknown like herself to rise in the levels, but it happened rarely and with every round she won, she saw the attention wavering in her direction.

One of her opponents in the final round suddenly stood up and threw up all over the table. The woman was staring at her drink like it had betrayed her. Devi was suddenly aware of the fact that Horrton’s men had been the ones bringing the drinks. This woman had done little to hide her very significant skill and therefore was now being taken out of the game for it. She was eliminated from the game as she fell to the ground and started having a seizure.

Devi grasped her cards and breathed deeply.

And she triumphed. She won the tournament by what most would call the breadth of a hair. Devi had played the game. But she hadn’t won yet. They weren’t worried about her, they weren’t even concerned that some unknown player that had apparently lucked her way to the top. They all assumed that she would be defeated by Gev Horrton. That was their mistake, that was Horrton’s mistake.

They began the one-on-one, and Devi paid little attention to the crowd that milled around watching them. She knew some of their faces from having played against them, and others she didn’t. She put all her focus on Gev Horrton. He walked down the aisle of tables waving at everyone like the king he thought he was. She knew the moment before he sat down what his tells were, she knew the moment he was given his cards, what weaknesses he would have, she knew when they put down their first suit of cards just what she needed to do to win.

They played seven games. She won some, she lost others. And as he did, in the final game, in all his arrogance and hubris Gev Horrton pulled his gold plated owners chip out of his jacket and placed it on the table.

“If you win this round, you win it all,” he said. The move was supposed to make his opponents nervous, to make them make mistakes, and to push too hard. Devi had watched all the games on the GalaxNet in the past 15 years and knew this tactic so well.

“I have a philosophy, Mr. Horrton.” Devi said, looking at her cards. Her face betrayed none of the emotions she felt roiling in her gut. She would only have one chance at this.

“And what’s that, Miz Gershwin.”

“Devi, please,” Devi said amiably.

“Devi it is then.” Gev Horrton nodded his head.

“Power without compassion is the heart of a dying star.” Devi placed one card down face up and began the flip the next. “Eventually the equilibrium breaks and the star goes nova.”She didn’t break eye contact with Gev and saw his face begin to pale. She placed a finger on her last card and turned it over.

“A system that is so unbalanced cannot be sustained. And your system is now mine.”

The four cards on the table were one of the most unlikely combinations in the game, and also the most valuable. She had won by a landslide and the open-mouthed horror on Gev’s face was so sickly satisfying.

“Impossible! No! You’ve cheated!”

Devi raised her hands and wiggled her fingers. She had intentionally worn a sleeveless shirt that day so as to prevent any worry of cheating.

Gev looked at his secretary but the man was as ashen faced as Gev was. Gev had arrogantly walked himself into a corner and Devi had trapped him.

“Impossible!” Gev said and shot to his feet. He yanked at the gun on his secretary’s belt and pointed it at Devi. “You won’t get away with this!”

Devi slowly lifted herself to her feet and let a smile twist her mouth. It was not a kind smile. “I have won fair and square, Mr. Horrton. You agreed to this, and I think they are ready for a change.” Devi nodded at the men and women who made up Gev Horton’s cohort of bodyguards. She knew all their faces, all their names. They had all been children like her, torn from their families because of Gev’s tyranny, thrown to the literal and metaphorical wolves. It had taken ten years to save up for the tournament and ten years to recruit and maneuver over 300 men and women into the service of Gev Horrton. She had done more than won a card game and the city, she had won the hearts of its people. Two of the bodyguards were holding a vid camera and the feed was broadcasting across the city. Horrton had been in his castle and on his throne for so long he had lost touch with the elements that had gotten him there, and Devi had taken full advantage of that.

Gev’s hand shook and the gun trembled. His finger was dangerously close to the trigger. Devi just continued to smile at him and reached over the table where he had placed the city control chip. The gold glinted and the cool metal felt heavy in her hands.

“Don’t worry, I’ll make sure you’re taken care of for the rest of your life somewhere where you can’t hurt anyone else.”

***

“Devi of pack Gershwin,” the wolf-like creature said and stood on its hind legs. The Veskers towered around her but Devi wasn’t afraid. She had been friends with these people from a very young age when they had saved her from the treacherous jungle where her family had perished.

“I have done as I promised. The city is yours,” Devi said and held up the gold chip.

The Vesker leader was named Kissk. He had been no more than a pup when he had found her as a child and brought her to his people. She had befriended them all and grew to love them as her own family.

“No, Devi of pack Gershwin. It is yours. We are a simple people. Now that we know of the worlds beyond the stars we too would like to become part of this society. Some of us will return to the jungles to live out our lives, but others, like myself will integrate into this society and make it ours from the inside out.” Kissk waved a paw at the Veskers behind him and they howled in agreement.

In the years since Kestevan had been built one of Gev Horrton’s primary suppression tactics had been on the sentient species of the Veskers. If the United Planetary Society had found out that this man had built a city on planet belonging to a civilization of pre-spaceflight peoples they would have sent an army to stop him and liberate the planet. Anyone who found out about the sentience of the Veskers or tried to send information off-planet was killed before any information they had could reach the responsible people.

“You will be our liaison, you will be our teacher, and you will be the leader of this city until such time that one of us understands it enough to take over. This is your oath?”

“This is my oath,” Devi said and grinned up at Kissk.

Devi waved at them to follow her and the pack of Veskers trailed after her past the opening in the shield wall and into the city.

The End

 

Finder and Follow Arbor Winter Barrow

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arborwinterbarrow.com

 

 

2 thoughts on “Short Story Friday

  1. victoria970243351 says:

    Thanks for sharing! Arbor’s story is a fun, unique read!

    Liked by 1 person

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