Making Your Own Luck
by Martin Lochman
The casino was nearly empty. Apart from our little group sitting at the
Poker table there were maybe ten other visitors including a couple of
decently dressed Erdonians playing roulette and craps, a trio of
Liktonians trying their luck in Blackjack and two members of an unknown
species occupying the slot machines. They must have been either
absolutely inebriated or not particularly smart since they had been
persistently feeding the machines for the past thirty minutes without
winning so much as a single credit.
That there were so few individuals willing to waste their precious
financial resources on games of chance would be completely
understandable -- it was Thursday and nearly midnight -- if not for the
fact that the casino was amongst the most famous establishments of its
kind in the entire Orion-Cygnus Union territory. It was located on
board of a gigantic space station called Gemini 8
which orbited a very sparsely populated planet IPR-23-001 (I was almost
convinced that the designation actually stood for "Inhospitable Piece
of Rock" as those words would perfectly describe living conditions on
the surface). The orbital station was the entertainment hub of the
entire sector and thousands upon thousands of travelers from every
corner of the known Universe visited it every day. I somehow doubted
that the vast majority of the population experienced a sudden
revelation and started pursuing less expensive hobbies. Instead, I had
a feeling that the newest tax laws were to blame.
Further pondering about the economic conditions of my fellow citizens was interrupted by the dealer.
"Your turn, sir!"
The gentle reminder was directed at one of my opponents. He was sitting
at the opposite side of the table and for the last minute or so he had
been staring at his cards and emitting a nearly inaudible rattling
noise that made it sound as if he was choking on a piece of food. If he
was a human, such noise would constitute a sufficient reason to be
worried about his well-being. However, since he was a proud
representative of a species that was much more related to insects than
to Homo Sapiens and as such had a different idea of verbal and
nonverbal communication, no one seemed to be especially concerned. If
anything, I would say that his prolonged indecisiveness was starting to
make other players -- myself included -- mildly annoyed.
Just like in all previous rounds, the insectoid (I had never managed to
remember the official name of his species that consisted of twenty
seemingly random consonants) didn't appear to be too bothered by the
dealer's hint or growing impatience of his opponents. He fidgeted
around in his chair, looked at the cards on the table, then back at the
cards that he was holding in his crooked appendages and repeated the
process three more times.
For the love of god, just do something already!
As if hearing my thoughts -- fortunately, telepathy wasn't on the list
of the insectoid's capabilities -- he stopped producing the annoying
sound and extended his second pair of appendages to push a respectable
amount of chips towards the center of the table.
"I call," he said. His voice sounded like fingernails scratching on a
chalkboard and those two words were barely understandable but I decided
not to dwell on that. After all, I wanted to honor at least one of my
New Year's resolutions -- in this case limiting racism towards
non-humanoid life forms to an absolute minimum.
The last, fifth card landed on the table. The dealer gave us good
thirty seconds to consider our chances before he flatly repeated the
same three-word phrase. This time, however, it was aimed at me as I was
the first player.
Quite frankly, these constant prompts were almost completely
unnecessary and began to irritate me a bit. Unlike the insectoid no
other player was taking that long to make their move, yet the dealer
evidently felt the desire to emphasize that the ball had to be kept
rolling. I wasn't aware that poker is played with a clock!
With the cards that I had I didn't need any time to think.
"All in!" I said nonchalantly, pushed my chips forward and leaned back in the chair.
The furry entity that was sitting next to me followed my example. This
was nothing unexpected -- Takkans had the reputation of being the
biggest gamblers in the known Universe. They would literally sell their
own mother just to play another round. I remembered reading stories on
the Galactonet about a certain captain of a cargo ship who supposedly
lost the vessel, crew and a half-million credits worth of supplies in a
game of Yahtzee.
The fine gentleman against whom I had the pleasure of playing today
wasn't faring any better. Apparently, over the course of the last three
days on Gemini 8 he had managed to gamble away almost all of his
savings. Any reasonable individual would have called it quits long
before this game but the Takkan seemed dead set on proving that his
luck would eventually turn around. For his own sake I hoped that he had
at least already booked a return ticket to wherever he had come from.
Up next was the Liktonian. His people came from a star system that was
barely thirty light years away from Earth and unlike the vast majority
of the station's inhabitants they were genetically similar to humans --
based on the research conducted shortly after the first contact they
were even more closely related than chimpanzees. If it weren't for the
grey skin color, distinctly pointed chin and a smaller, lighter frame,
they would be basically indistinguishable from us.
Liktonians had joined the Orion-Cygnus Union relatively recently, after
decades of fighting the economic crisis, widespread corruption and a
half-dozen other social issues. They barely met the accession criteria
and already within the first three years requested financial
assistance. Attitude-wise, they were generally very distrustful,
apprehensive and borderline paranoid when it came to their personal
capital. There were exceptions, of course, as demonstrated by those few
in the casino but I was still a bit surprised when this particular
Liktonian opted for going all in as well.
Maybe he wants to pay off some of that national debt himself, I
thought and tried to imagine how he would react to losing everything in
a blink of an eye -- especially considering the fact that up until this
point he had been playing it very safe.
Dealer's gaze briefly stopped at Gina who was apart from yours truly
the only other representative of mankind at the table (and most
probably on the entire station). She was one of my oldest friends but I
hadn't seen her in a while, that is, until I ran into her yesterday in
one of many bars on Gemini 8. We had drunk, shared stories and towards the end of the evening decided to meet in the casino the next day.
At the moment, Gina was no longer in the game, having lost everything
in the previous round to the insectoid. I remembered that as a child
she had been a sore loser and judging from the death stare that she was
giving him now this hadn't changed much.
And so it was once again the insectoid's turn. Staying true to himself
he took his sweet time deciding his next move. His exoskeleton was
rapidly changing colors, going from brown to red and back which
indicated maximum excitement. This time I couldn't say that I blamed
him for being so hesitant -- he had won last four rounds and was
currently in the lead. When it looked like the dealer would have to
give him another reminder the insectoid gently nudged his chips forward.
The tension in the air became almost palpable.
Here we go, flashed through my head. I stole a glance at Gina
and noted that the previous angry expression had been replaced by
"Show your cards, sir!" the dealer said and looked at me.
I gave him a slight grin and placed my cards on the table. I had an
Eight of Hearts and Nine of Hearts, that very nicely complemented the
Ten, Jack and Queen (also of Hearts) from the community cards...
forming a Straight Flush!
Feeling like a winner -- the probability that the second highest hand
would be beaten in the same round was virtually nonexistent -- I
allowed myself to relax and watched in anticipation what my opponents
held in their extremities.
The Takkan reacted exactly as I had expected. He swore loudly in his
native language (the only word I was able to understand could be
translated as a very indecent nickname for female genitalia) and
theatrically threw his cards on the table. They landed face up and I
saw that he had only a Three of a Kind
-- definitely not enough to win most of the rounds that we had played
that evening. Innate propensity to gambling aside, going all in with
such a weak hand bordered on sheer stupidity but I highly doubted that
he would want to hear that.
The Liktonian's chances at winning turned out to be slightly better,
however -- as he had just learned -- words like "slightly" or "almost"
didn't mean much in a game like this. The color in his face took on a
very pale shade of grey as he sat there, staring at the table in what
could be best described as a mixture of disbelief and shock. For a few
long moments he didn't move and I wasn't sure if he was going to pass
out or get a stroke but then a duo of cards fell down from his shaking
hand -- he actually had a Full House.
All eyes turned to the insectoid.
Unlike my other two opponents who now had to start getting used to the
fact that their personal wealth took a steep dive he didn't look
nowhere near as astonished by what I had just presented. Granted, he
was still very excited as I could see on his exoskeleton but his
previous restlessness and nervousness seemed to have completely
evaporated and something like serenity settled in. It was almost as if
he knew that...
He laid his cards on the table, nicely aligned so that at first
everybody could see only the top one. It was a King of Hearts. I felt
like someone just reached into my stomach and squeezed.
A thin crooked appendage moved the top card aside and revealed an Ace.
Ace of Hearts.
Son of a bitch! That damn oversized beetle actually won!
Admittedly, I wasn't the only one who was downright flabbergasted by
the sudden turn of events. Both the Takkan and the Liktonian appeared
to have momentarily forgotten about their desperate situation, Gina's
expression fully corresponded with my current state of mind and even
the dealer took a little while to announce: "We have a winner!"
While the insectoid was enjoying his moment in the sun my mind was
racing. If I was religious, I would have probably thought that some
higher power chose to punish me for a lifetime of sins but since I had
zero belief in an omnipotent being in any shape and form I was looking
in the direction of logical explanations. The insectoid's winning
streak, the combination of cards that allowed him to conveniently beat
my hand, his sudden change of attitude... Of course!
You sneaky little bastard!
It made sense now. Good fortune had nothing to do with his success but the question was: What did? How did he manage to cheat?
I knew it wasn't something as obvious as card marking or controlling
the card shuffler machine remotely -- the casino's anti-cheating
technology was far too advanced to allow that. That he was colluding
with the dealer also seemed highly unlikely. No, it must have been
something else, something innovative.
I looked him over, head to toe (or in his case: head to claw). To
insectoids the concept of clothing was alien so he was pretty much
sitting here butt-naked, making it impossible to conceal anything. He
had only two things on him -- a standard wrist computer and a small
egg-shaped pendant on his neck. At first glance it appeared
inconspicuous, much like a regular piece of jewelry but then I noticed
that it was giving off a faint glow. There were also two barely visible
buttons on the side. Bingo!
I immediately got a vague idea what it could be and if I was right I
needed to find a way to get my hands on the pendant. So I got up and
started walking towards the other side of the table where the insectoid
"Well played, buddy!" I said with as much sincerity as I could muster.
"Those are some nice cards you have there. Congratulations... "
Two steps away from his chair I pretended to trip and as I was falling
I grabbed hold of the pendant and ripped it off his neck. Landing on
all fours on the floor, I pressed the buttons a couple of times until
it beeped sharply and stopped glowing.
I quickly got up to my knees, just in time to see as the air just above
the insectoid's cards shimmered and the winning combination
disappeared, replaced by a Four of Spades and Seven of Clubs.
It was as if the entire casino suddenly fell quiet.
The insectoid's exoskeleton turned yellow and he looked like he was
going to say something. Before he had a chance to do so, however,
dealer's voice broke the silence: "Sir, you are hereby eliminated from
the game. You will be escorted outside and explained further actions."
I didn't even notice the three members of casino security until they
were standing right behind us. They weren't armed but still more
physically imposing than the disgraced cheater who finally managed to
open his mouth and start protesting. Since it didn't look like he was
going to get up on his own accord the security guys simply picked him
up and practically carried him away, ignoring his pathetic pleas.
Although cheating wasn't punishable by the OCU law, it meant an
immediate lifetime ban so our dear insectoid wouldn't be setting foot
in this casino again. I also had a feeling that he would have a hard
time visiting most of the gaming establishments anywhere since their
owners liked to share information on potentially harmful elements of
this kind. Well, as they say: If you play with fire...
With the insectoid gone, only one thing remained. The dealer turned to me.
"Congratulations, sir! You are the winner!"
Music to my ears.
Less than an hour later, Gina and I were sitting in a bar and enjoying
a nice glass of the finest Erdonian wine. It had taken some time to get
everything sorted and the chips cashed in the casino. I was quite
surprised that they let me keep the entire winning amount including
what the insectoid had accrued and didn't distribute it amongst all
players instead -- but I certainly wasn't going to complain. Their
house, their rules!
Watching Gina play with the glass I could tell that there was something
on her mind. I was sure that it wasn't about the money; I had promised
to give her back what she had initially put up and then some and she
"What is it?" I asked.
She set her glass back on the table. "How did you know that he was cheating?"
"To be perfectly honest, at first I didn't. Only when he beat my
Straight Flush I knew that something wasn't adding up. I mean: What are
the chances of having so many high ranking hands at once?"
"Close to none," she said. "And the holoprojector?"
"That wasn't difficult to figure out. He had to be using something
state-of-the-art otherwise he would have been caught the minute he
walked in the casino. My guess is that they will be doing some upgrades
there pretty soon."
"I guess so," she said and smiled, content with the explanation.
"Still, you had some damn good cards at the end. I wish I had been so
I smiled back at her. There was one thing -- one last piece of the
puzzle -- that I hadn't told her yet since at first I wasn't certain
that I should. But Gina was one of very few friends that I had these
days so I decided to go with it.
"Actually, that... " I leaned towards her and in an elegant motion
pulled two cards (that were virtually indistinguishable from those used
in the casino) from my left sleeve.
Her eyes widened in awe.
"...wasn't entirely about luck."
© 2018 Martin Lochman
Bio: I am an emerging author who lives in Malta and works as an
academic librarian at the University of Malta Library. My short stories
and flash fiction appeared in Ikarie, a Czech science fiction literary
magazine, Theme of Absence and on 365tomorrows.com.
Email: Martin Lochman
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