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Ace in the Hole

Under creative commons license-- some rights reserved

For my first post here, my first and so far only paid submission. Published on a coffee can! You'd have to know me to know how appropriate that is.

Ace in the Hole
Bill Rogers

"It's a stupid custom," Memtok said.

I shrugged and picked up the cards again. "Even on a planet with two suns, Michaelmas comes only once a year. Besides, I like to see how my slaves think."

She snorted. "You only play against three. How can that tell you how four hundred slaves think?"

"The fact you don't know how, young lady, is one of the reasons you're only an overseer."

Fact is, I've always thought that in any group there are only three or four people whose thoughts really matter. But I wasn't going to give Memtok any hints. Dealing with her, I always keep in mind what my grandfather used to say. He said "There are two secrets to keeping slaves down: First, don't tell them everything you know."

I dealt my own card first. "King of spades. Possible straight flush. Plowleader Jurgen, three of diamonds, possible straight. Serving wench.. Gwendeth, isn't it? Eight of clubs: Possible two pairs, three of a kind, or full house. And finally you, Stuart, four of diamonds, also possible two pairs, three of a kind, or full house."

I peered at my cards and smiled, rather obviously. "Well. I wager another hundred." A hundred ounces, silver; nothing to me, but a lifetime of tips and gifts for a slave.

Jurgen scowled at me. Did he actually think I would cheat him of his petty store of chips, after I'd given them to him in the first place? He put his cards on the table face down, pushed back in his chair, and folded his arms in front of him.

"I presume you fold?"

Jurgen nodded at me, his eyes flashing hate.

"Oh well. Enjoy the money, then."

Gwendeth bit her lip hard. Trembling, she pushed chips into the center of the table. "I see your hundred," she said. It took all she had, except for twelve lonely little tenth-ounce chips.

"I see your hundred, and raise you ten," Stuart said, pushing in his chips. He smiled at me. His eyes looked strong and confident.

I scowled at my cards, making a show now of not being sure they were good enough. Finally I nodded. "I'll see your ten, and raise you.. two hundred."

Gwendeth gasped. Stuart looked startled. "But neither of us have that much!"

I shrugged. "The game is poker, people. If you can't see my bet..." I reached forward to rake in the chips.

"Wait," Gwendeth said. "I bet my life."

I made myself gape at her. "You understand what that means. If you lose, I'll have you thrown out of the dome. However you die, it won't be pleasant."

"I understand, Master." Her voice trembled, but even so there was power in it. And her eyes! So full of fear and tears, and yet so fierce!

I smiled softly. "I accept. Stuart? You can make the same bet, if you wish."

He laughed with something like devil-may-care gallantry. "I know enough not to stake my life on YOUR cards. I'll win my freedom some other way."
"You fold, then?"

"I fold."

I nodded. "The betting is closed, then." I looked across the table at Gwendeth, the lowly serving wench. "What do you have?"

She turned over her hole card. It was the eight of hearts. "Two pair," she said. Her voice trembled, but those eyes. Ah, those eyes!

I laughed, hard and loud. "Aces and eights! The dead man's hand. Nobody bets on aces and eights!"
She just sat up straighter. "I have lost, then?"

I smiled and shook my head, tossing my hole card aside. "No, Gwendeth. I can't beat the cards you hold. You're free. Take your money, take your papers, and leave any time you want. There'll be a ticket waiting for you at the spaceport, to the main-line planet of your choice."

She sagged back in her chair, but that fire never went out of her eyes. "Thank you, Master."

"Not Master now, Gwendeth. Just Carl."

"Thank you, then, Carl." She didn't gather the chips. They didn't stand for real silver, after all; they stood for a spreadsheet entry. But that was real money, and hers now.

"You're welcome. Farewell, and may the Gods smile on you."

Gwendeth smiled. "Farewell, Carl. Thank you."

"And Stuart, Jurgen, thanks for a fine game. I'll see you in your usual places tomorrow, I presume?"

"Yes, Master," they each said. But something seemed to have gone out of them, even out of Stuart. I had been sure he would be trouble, if anyone was. Well, it just shows you can't tell the tough ones by their looks.

Memtok watched the slaves leave. "You let her win," she said, reaching for my hole card.

"Perhaps," I said, grabbing her wrist. "But you weren't in the game, and you didn't pay for the right to see this card."

She glared, but she nodded and left.

I turned out the lights and stood there for a moment, thinking and smiling. Poor Memtok. She'll never understand that however brutal you may be, some people are just too fierce to enslave. You have to get rid of them, one way or another. And money is only money, after all. It's very easy to replace. A lot easier to replace than, say, blood.

I knew Memtok would come back to look at the cards, so I shuffled them. She would never know what I'd had for a hole card.

Was it the ace of diamonds? Was it something else? I won't tell. But please remember, we were playing with MY cards.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License.


Inaccurate Poker

First off, I dig the concept of using the willingness to gamble to weed out the people who will be hard to enslave. Very cool idea, and should be expanded.

But the poker is terrible! Seriously, write about stuff you know in real life. So if you want to write about poker you should actually PLAY it. I recommend playing a "no limit texas holdem tournament". Practice online for free, then try your local casino or cardroom for a real tournament.

But if you don't want to do that, at least change it when the character says "I call you...and raise you". You must either call OR raise, but never both.

Also, poker is played "table stakes"; which means you cannot be raised more than the amount of chips you have in front of you. If somebody raises more than the amount you have, then you can only win an equal amount of their chips, and their remaining chips are given back to them regardless of who wins the hand.

That said, I think the story is weakened by the use of Poker..especially hollywood poker. Use some other gambling game, maybe even a simple one that you make up yourself!

(grins) Now I know how

(grins) Now I know how other authors feel when I pan a movie because it's set in 1942, but they're using B-17Gs. Everyone knows the G-model B17 didn't come along until 1944!

I appreciate your comments and I'll use them, one way or the other, if and when I rework this story. Thanks.

I'm reluctant to give up poker BECAUSE of its Hollywood version. It's so well known from a bajillion Westerns, even though (I believe) for most of the Old West the game they played was Faro. But yes, if I continue to use it, I'll have to get the details straight.

Perhaps you'd volunteer your knowledge in this area to The Community here? There's an idea I should suggest to someone, if I knew whom. An Expertise Exchange.

Thanks again!

Here's a 3rd vote for expansion.

Yeah, Hafoc, this begs for an expansion. I don't see nearly enough of the world but I see the eyes and to a small degree the motivatons of the people. Two suns? Michaelmas? Slaves? It's good because it's a snapshot into the world and draws us in. I see alot of mileage from this. SO, when you gonna flesh it out?

- C R T
--------------------------------------------------------------- - music//yoga//blather///and more on a blog no one reads!
"you know, once you've been to fucking detox, the prospect of lolling around talking shit about post

The details of the world

The details of the world were just a few things I threw in to make it not-Earth. And now I've gone and brought up a whole 'nother set of questions, and if I answer them, we'll have another world. Funny how that happens.

I don't know when I'll flesh it out. What you have here is all I know about that world. Really. I'll put an order in with the Muse and see if she gives me anything more about it.

But in the mean time, I've got six complete unpublished novels I'm trying to whip into printable shape, so that my friends at least will be able to get copies from I suppose I'll announce here when they're available, in case anyone wants to see them. I do intend to have them on a web page of my own, and may post the chapters here too, so that nobody will ever have to pay a cent to read them if they don't want to.

Anyhow, all of that, and getting a web site running, will take a while. Since I've never done either, I don't really know how long.

Intriguing... One definitely

Intriguing... One definitely gets pulled into the world you have evoked here. And I agree with the comment that asks for even more! This is a scenario that could be pushed a hundredfold.

And why and how did this come to be published on a coffee can??

It was a writing exercise.

It was a writing exercise. One of those things writers throw out to each other. The subject was gambling for your life. What would you be willing to bet your life for?

So it sat around.

Some time later I got looking in a writer's market website and noticed there was some market for short-shorts. One of these was a coffee company called Story House. Their gimmic was that they would put the start of a story on the outside of the can, but you had to buy the coffee to read the rest of it. Questionable-- I doubt people read cans in that much detail in the store. But they paid. And I had a couple short throw-away pieces of a suitably semi-inspirational nature. So I sent this in.

They made their money back in coffee I bought for relatives. Or most of it. Paid nearly $100, which is a good rate on a per-word basis!

Well, congratulations to

Well, congratulations to you!

I gotta say I would be tickled pink to have some of my work published on a coffee tin. It would be perfect, really: the reliable liquid friend that is coffee has kept me up and focussed on writing so very many times.

I look forward to reading more of your work.

Expand, expand!

First- in poker, traditionally, when someone can't cover the bet it's customary to let them bet on "credit"- ie. if they win the hand, they don't get the whole pot- they give whatever they couldn't put in back to the person loaning it to them. There's some technical term for this that I've forgotten.

That sort of detail could enhance the story- does he try and indebt his slaves more? Does he not offer them this courtesy?

Details, details, details. At about 500 words, this is barely a sketch, and there's so many important things we don't know. Yes, yes- published on a coffee can, I know. You don't really have much more room, but there's so much room to extend this. Not in terms of the amount of story, but the amount of characterization. Obviously, our main character has some affection for Memtok. Some general relationships with his slaves- and the social conventions among slave owning societies are generally baroque and complex to cope with the awkward situations generated by owning other human beings.

Also, remember- he cheated so that she could win. She paid to see his cards. She might not notice, but the other slaves were definitely right to call him on it- hold that moment longer, because it's a very dangerous moment.


Not Responsible

I hadn't thought to do

I hadn't thought to do anything more with this. To tell the truth, it was just one of those writing circle exercises. The subject was "You Bet Your Life," or some such. Just what would you bet your life for?

So an evening's jotting. Then I found a coffee company that wanted short shorts, and I sent it. Wouldn't you know that a bit of throw-away writing would be the bit that sells?

But you're right-- I could do more with this. I'm not sure what yet, but thanks for the suggestion.

I find myself saying this

I find myself saying this over and over. This is cool. There's a great world just waiting to open up behind this little event, with a couple of clearly interesting, deep characters with ideas and motivations of their own, but we don't get much of that from the text.

Could use more description, physically, of the surroundings. I see a lot about what kind of money they have, but not what it looks like or feels like. It's hard to grasp the room they're in. You say we're on another planet, but then I get that bit of information about slaves, and I'm drawn in two directions at once as I try to mentally furnish the stage.

I know it's never interesting to prattle on about the world, but it's one of the things an SF audience is looking for when they read. (Or at least I certainly am.) I feel like you're keeping secrets from me. Two suns? Other planets? *And* slaves? Plus, playing poker for your freedom is one of the coolest things I can possibly imagine. Seriously. Hook me up, man. Aching to know what's going on here.

That's two votes for expand

That's two votes for expand it. :) Thanks. This was a writing exercise, a little throw-away piece. I was surprised that it sold. (Actually, I'd been trying to sell stuff for years; nearly surpised me to death, it did.)

I cut it down a bit to fit on the coffee can. But yes, I could expand it. And perhaps I should.

Whether this is an uplifting story about the strength of the human spirit, or a cynical tale about how to control people.. or both.. not sure.

Liked it the way it is

Expand? I don't know about that. Figured I'd pay you a visit after your comment on my piece. :)

I see you have a bit more "answers" in this story but as everyone else have said, you've left quite a bit out. That said, I had no problems with it. I understood it for what it is: a flash fiction (or whatever faddish term they're calling them these days) of some sort .. there's a rich world to be explored and you've captured just the barest essential for a story.

Loved it!