The rain pounded on the exterior windows of the casino building. The line for the poker tables was on the 56th floor. A lucky number, he supposed. A flash of lightning in the night illuminated the sleek black skyscrapers with neon accents that reached like fingers towards the sky as far as the eye could see. It wasn't real, though. It was all an illusion of bad weather to keep the gamblers inside the casino as long as possible. Ironically, it was the blazing hot sun of midday that brought him inside. Honestly, rain and darkness would be a welcome relief.
The poker floor woman at the front desk was requesting to scan the identification of the next in line. He swiped his hand over the desk and heard her speak a name.
"Jackson Blackwood? Shall I put your initials down for 1k/3k credits?"
He blinked. In many years as a government agent, he had gone by many names. Since retirement, he couldn't even really recall if this was a genuine legal name, or just some protective alias so that he could live out the rest of his days in interminable boredom.
"Just put down O.M.C. for Old Man Coffee." He replied.
The floor woman's hand flew up to her ear in the unmistakable motion of someone receiving audio communications. These were the sort of poor quality implants they forced the working class to endure at a corporation the size of a city like Cyber Bet Syndicate.
She frowned at the screen displayed in front of her eyes, visible to O.M.C. as brief flashes of green light. "Sir, we'll need you to wear a jammer for your cybernetics for game security, please."
She apologetically handed him a clunky metal headpiece that was probably full of the head lice of a thousand greasy gamblers. O.M.C. obligingly put it on grumbling about how his old implants gave him a headache anyway, and followed the swishing black miniskirt of the floor woman as she guided him to his poker table.
With the jammer in place, there was a relief from headache, but also a familiar buzzing and pressure of the constant mind control efforts of Cyber Bet Syndicate. A sensation that made the mind slippery and sticky at the same time, like syrup, always seeking the next thrill. The slot machines suddenly seemed louder, and the sports betting on the blaring televisions arrested his attention. He shook his head and muttered. If he was able to withstand the same technology from the Russians and the Chinese government, this corrupt corporation's machinations were nothing to him.
He took a deep breath and relaxed into a chair at the table. Cheapskate that he was, he was going to wait until he was forced to pay the minimum amount before joining the game. Though he was mostly here to try to find a cheap thrill in retirement, he also enjoyed using his old skills of reading people. The first person he read, however, was not at his table. He noticed a jingling of keys.
"Who is that?", he asked, stopping a passing cocktail waitress, "and, hey, could I get a coffee?" He tossed her a black chip. The harried waitress paused to regard the retired gentleman who was wearing a long duster coat, and glanced over her shoulder at the source of the jingling keys. It was a young girl with impeccable makeup and spiked black hair with green stripes. Her narrow eyes regarded a clipboard intently and reached for a pen in her bright, high visibility vest.
Smirking at his interest, she replied "That's Veronica Shade, our new I.T. gal." She bustled away with her tip. O.M.C. ignored the patronizing demeanor of the waitress. He wasn't interested in getting lucky with the young gal. He was more enchanted by the fact that she looked identical to the daughter he lost at that tender young age of barely 19. Fresh out of corporate run schooling and disillusioned by the inescapable dystopia of capitalism, her death had looked like a suicide, but O.M.C. couldn't let himself believe it. He had too many enemies and she was too perfect. Soft, beautiful Asian features just like her mother.
O.M.C. leaned back in his seat, metallic hand dangling behind his chair to carefully regard the wan form crouching near a slot machine that bordered the poker room. Veronica produced a small tool kit from one of the cargo pockets on her rugged work pants. O.M.C. rolled his eyes at the idea of a slot machine being serviced without armed security. Unobtrusive Veronica was being ignored by all the bustling staff around her. You can go anywhere you want if you wear an orange vest, a ring of keys, and a purposeful expression.
The chip runner arrived with small, glowing chips stacked magnetically in rows and placed them in front of him just as the waitress returned with a cup of green tea instead of the coffee he had ordered. O.M.C. wrinkled his nose.
"Sir?" the dealer was offering up a scanner installed on the same wrist upon which a shuffling aid was bolted into his forearm. "Please scan your player chip." O.M.C. bristled.
"Check my I.D.", he countered, "I've got a government exemption from your cheap implants." He watched as green light flickered in front of the dealer's apathetic gaze and noticed the slow head shake of an underpaid employee who wouldn't be aware of the nuance of the law. Feeling his fists start to ball up, O.M.C. allowed himself the distraction of glancing back over towards Veronica, just in time to see a government agent pinning her to the floor as gamblers meandered by with vacant gazes to the next available slot machine.
"Forget this," O.M.C. mumbled to nobody in particular at the poker table, as he bucked his chair out from underneath him and stuffed his magnetic chips in an interior pocket of his long desert duster. He'd recognized the Gaming Control Agency enforcement officer immediately. Max Sperling had been his boss before the international government suddenly reassigned his fellow agents. His agency dealt with the domestic threats posed by the infinite monopoly of Cyber Bet Syndicate stretching across the desert wasteland high rises that used to be government managed cities.
As he approached the duo, Agent Sperling was pulling Veronica off the floor. The sickening pull of the slot machine lights formed a ball in O.M.C.'s stomach, so he shaded his eyes from their glow and pulled off the jammer.
"Max! Long time no see. Need a hand?" O.M.C. proffered a metal hand to either shake or help handle the perpetrator. Max's eyes widened, and his grip didn't loosen on Veronica while he pulled O.M.C. in for brief side hug.
"Just the man I wanted to see, actually." Max slicked back his hair with one hand and beckoned O.M.C. to follow them as he pulled Veronica down an adjacent hallway. "I've been looking for you for a gig we're doing here. But you must be... uh... travelling quite a bit. You still going by Blackwood?"
Spreading his large metal palms, O.M.C. chuckled. "I'm just Old Man Coffee at the poker tables now, trying to find a cheap thrill in retirement. And yeah, everywhere I go it's the same so why the hell would I stay in one place?"
The trio had reached a random hotel room meant for gamblers to find a place to pass out mere meters away from the action. Max ushered them inside and released a surprised Veronica's wrists as she sat down in a chair by a window that was now displaying bright sun to wake up even the most hungover hotel patron.
Max cut to the chase. "I need both of you. Ms. Shade's hacking skills and Agent Blackwood's experience and cybernetic enhancements to go after Cyber Bet Syndicate. They've been laundering money for the mob at the poker games in exchange for cheap mind control implants for employees and patrons. We need proof of our theory and confirmation of who is involved.
Ms. Shade, I can offer you complete amnesty from the thefts that would otherwise see you fitted with those exact mind control implants. Mr. Blackwood, I can offer you a generous payment for this brief gig." O.M.C.'s eyes slid away from his old friend's.
"I don't need money. I'm doing fine at the tables. It's already keeping me alive much longer than I'd planned." Max's eyes were pleading as he leaned forward to catch eye contact. "Jackson, this would be like a do-over with your daughter, punishing the very corporations that drove her away forever."
They both glanced over at Veronica, as if she would be the tiebreaker. She cleared her throat delicately. "Gentlemen, you have a deal, as long as you can catch me first." She pinched a small, glinting object in her right hand and the sun glaring through the false window flickered off, the screen swinging open to reveal a darkened hallway through which Veronica darted to make a hasty escape. Max and O.M.C.'s eyes met for a moment and, for the first time in a while, O.M.C. managed a real grin.
Thank you for reading!
We can keep Inkspired for free by displaying Ads to our visitors. Please, support us by whitelisting or deactivating the AdBlocker.
After doing it, please reload the website to continue using Inkspired normally.