Copyright ©Hans Olsson
The sun was born and so it shall die
So only shadows comfort me
I know in darkness I will find you giving up inside like me
Each day shall end as it begins
Vnv Nation - Further
The form was lying on the table. He'd filled in everything apart from his signature. If he filled it in and sent it off, then he'd really be one step closer to the poker tournament at King's Hope. He laid down the pen, closed his eyes and contemplated his decision for the hundredth time. Sending it didn't necessarily mean that he'd got in, although that's what he wanted. Wasn't it?
His grief for Moa was behind him. He was one of the first generations that grew up in this changed world and he only vaguely remembered how it had been earlier, mostly through the eyes of his parents. Now they were gone and hadn't left very much behind apart from the feeling of having no control over their lives. To be taken to the hospital and having an abortion forced upon them was of course terrible, he'd understood that when it happened. But allowing it to destroy them was another matter. He'd identified that feeling within himself and learnt to master it. Because he knew there were many ways to steer your own life in whatever direction you wanted. There were merely different levels of difficulty. Nonetheless, his parents had become so bitter due to Moa that it was like a piece of grit in his shoe. For the most part he didn't notice it at all, but occasionally it crept under his heel and if he didn't take care of it, it would rub up a blister that sometimes took weeks to heal. The scar would always be there.
Taking part in the tournament at King's Hope was a radical move, that much was true, but if he succeeded then he'd be able to make up for everything that was missing from his life. Doors would be opened to completely new … Well, what? He didn't know for sure, but he knew it was worth the chance. What did he have right now? A job he was sick to death of and which only added cosmetic value to his life and to the world. And not that much else.
He opened his eyes, picked up the pen and signed the application. Then he put it in an envelope and sealed it.
When he left his flat with that paper in his hand, the air felt fresher and cleaner outside. As if the envelope in his hand was a sieve that filtered out the decay that lingered between the buildings. A few minutes later he confidently popped the envelope in a post box.
The numerous conversations that had laid over the hall like an oppressive blanket had almost completely silenced. The players that remained looked even more abandoned sitting by their tables. The table that Peter sat at was relatively full with three people.
This made the large number of guards very apparent as they stood along the walls. They probably needed that many when there had been one thousand players. Now they resembled grotesque mannequins standing in long rows in the periphery.
The speakers beeped, and the Boss's voice came through.
"The break is now over, and the tournament will continue. Thirty-four players chose to opt out. Altogether, they had 28 million in chips that are now forfeit. King's Hope wishes all of you that remain good luck. May the cards fall to your advantage."
Nobody at Peter's table had dropped out from the tournament and the dealer button started moving once again. Shortly afterwards the guns fired by the stage, which meant that at least he wasn't last on the list in The Book. The relief of getting this far was overwhelming, and it helped calm his stomach and reawakened his senses. He now had 950,000 left, Montagu 1,000,000 and Vivika 820,000.
It took a couple of hands before he was once again dealt cards that he was prepared to bet his life on, A♦10♠.
This time he had the large blind, and Vivika was first to act.
"Bet 150,000," she said and counted up her chips.
"Call," Montagu quickly responded.
He probably had a real hand. Peter looked once more at his cards. He did too, and after the slow stretch before the top hundred it was once more imperative to accumulate chips to gain a chance of moving on.
"Raise to 300,000," he said.
"Call," Vivika said quickly and pushed in another pile.
"Call," Montagu added.
This was his chance to make a comeback if the cards fell right. Do or die.
Ivan rapidly lay out the flop, J♦7♣9♦.
No help. Had the others made any hit?
"Check," Montagu said.
Peter held his breath. "Bet 450,000," he said. Just then, over three thirds of his stack were in the pot.
"No," Vivika said, discarding her hand.
Montagu eyed up Peter's remaining pile. "Call," he finally said.
The turn was Q♠.
"Check," Montagu said and knocked demonstratively on the table.
There were two straight draws. Did Montagu also have one? Despite the fact that Peter had prepared for the end, in reality even before he'd set foot in the casino, it suddenly felt unfair. Had Lady Fortune finally abandoned him? He wanted to glean more information from Montagu before taking the final decision.
"Check," he said.
Ivan turned up the river, K♠.
On the table lay J♦7♣9♦Q♠K♠.
Peter breathed out through his nose, relieved. The king, you must always place your hope on the king.
"Check," Montagu said and peered at Peter's pile of chips.
"All-in," Peter replied and pushed his chips in over the line.
Montagu leaned back in his seat. He picked up his cards and looked between them and Peter.
"No," he said in the end, and tossed them over the line.
Peter turned up his ace and showed the others before collecting the chips he'd won.
Something happened to Montagu after that hand. On several occasions he matched the big blind but folded directly if anyone raised after that, as if he'd suddenly changed his mind and didn't even want to wait for the flop. He wasn't tilted, more … careless. He did manage to win a pot from Vivika, and this meant that the chips became a little more balanced around the table. That only lasted for a short while, and both Peter and Vivika had noticed Montagu's change in strategy. They methodically hoovered up his chips. It didn't take long until Montagu had placed himself in a hopeless situation and went all-in before the flop. Peter had 7♣7♥ in hand.
"Call," he said.
Vivika pulled out and left them both to their fate.
They turned up their hands and Peter grimaced when he saw Montagu's K♣J♥.
The flop was 3♣A♥8♦.
Ivan burned a card and revealed the turn: 6♦.
Peter held his breath.
The river was 8♥.
Montagu hung his head in dismay as the guards came and took him away. And there was one less player before the final table.
"I'll remember you, Montagu," he whispered.
His ears rang when the guns were fired, and he yawned by reflex to clear them. He looked around again and could state that the number of players was diminishing at a steady rate. There can't have been more than fifty or sixty left.
A few hands passed in which Peter and Vivika did nothing more than exchange blinds. Vivika broke the pattern first by betting 150,000 pre-flop when Peter was holding J♣8♦. He judged it to be alright to go heads-up.
Ivan turned up a rainbow: 6♣K♥8♠.
He had a pair. What hand or range would Vivika play?
Vivika didn't have much left and she knew it. "All-in," she said with determination.
Peter leaned back and thought. She'd made up her mind quickly, and he had the feeling that she just wanted to get him out of her way rather than having a really strong hand. Was his own hand up to the task?
Nobody remembers a coward.
That thought hit him with full power, and when he coupled it together with the feeling he had about her hand then there was no question.
"Call," he said.
She pulled a face when she heard his decision and then turned up her cards: 7♥8♥.
Peter revealed his hand, J♣8♦, and leant forwards with his hands beneath his chin.
Ivan dealt the turn: 9♠.
Vivika sat up straight in her chair. Her brow was damp with sweat and her eyes were tired.
Ivan burned the last card and turned up the river, 3♣.
On the table lay 6♣K♥8♠9♠3♣.
Peter wanted to say something comforting, but he didn't. What was the point? He looked down at the table instead when the guards came.
"I'll remember you, Vivika," he murmured as she disappeared.
Just then a guard arrived behind Peter, stretched over the table and started picking up his chips. His total stack was now 2,770,000. It was unbelievable when he thought about it, so he tried not to. Ivan and the guard also exchanged his smaller denominations, and finally he'd gained ownership of one of the most valuable chips. This was a yellow-green chip, like some kind of venomous beetle, worth 500,000. Once again, it was time to move tables. Peter stood up and tried to make sense of his thoughts. Gun shots could be heard from the stage.
Most of the players were spread out at a small number of tables. The clicking of chips had reduced in volume and almost completely vanished. Hardly a voice could be heard. At a nearby table he spotted Korhart and suddenly felt sick. He truly hoped someone else would knock him out.
"Follow me," the guard demanded, and led Peter onwards.
They stopped by table twenty-six where two players were sitting, but one of them stood up just as Peter sat down. The guards were there straight away and led him to the stage.
The player who was left was Simon "Dr. Tongue" Zamn, number 4,491, and he had 1,100,000 in chips. The croupier at the table was called Nova, a blond woman with icy blue eyes. Peter had the dealer button in front of him and thereby the big blind. Nova dealt their first hand.
Peter looked down at 3♣3♥. Definitely worth seeing the flop with.
"Bet 150,000," Simon said.
Nova turned up the flop, 8♦5♠Q♠.
"Check," Peter said, clearing his throat to hide the fatigue in his voice. A pair heads-up was really good, and statistically Peter ought to have the better hand more often than not despite not making any hit on the flop. But his gut feeling told him that Simon had noticed his weakness.
"Bet 160,000," he said, and Peter folded.
They exchanged similar sums back and forth for a few hands as they both tried to get grips on one another. After a while, Peter realised that Simon was the player that was so far most like himself. They both seemed to reason and look at each other's chips in the same manner, which made Simon really dangerous. Shots were now coming much less frequently. After a quick survey of the hall, he saw that there couldn't be more than ten to fifteen players left. If he survived Simon, then maybe …
Shortly afterwards the speakers sprang to life. "It's now 10 pm and the blinds are going up to level twenty-seven, 30,000-60,000 and the ante is 10,000. King's Hope wishes you continued good luck."
"What would happen if we stopped playing?" Simon wondered all of a sudden.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, what if we just stopped betting against each other and waited for the final. Then chips would swap places, but neither of us would risk being knocked out."
"Sure," Peter said doubtfully, plucking at his chips, "but there are a few problems with that. Firstly, it didn't work before the top hundred. Sooner or later someone gets restless and bets. Especially here, where most people are tired." Peter yawned to emphasise his point. "Secondly, we both have to sit at the table all the time, otherwise all the chips will end up at one player. Unless you're not suicidal and discard hands, of course," he added, grinning. "And thirdly, our stacks will be tiny compared to the others' when we get to the final table."
"I suppose, that's the prisoner's dilemma," Simon said, biting his lip. "You know, the two prisoners that face two choices. If one of them testifies against the other and the other is silent, then the first one will go free and the other ends up in jail for ten years. If both are silent, they both end up in jail for six months. And if both of them testify against the other, both of them get two years. Both prisoners must make a choice, but they don't get to know the choice of the other."
"What happens, then?"
"It depends whether they are looking after their own skins, or what's best for the group. If they are egotistical then they'll want to minimise their own sentence and then it's better to snitch on the other one. But if both of them cooperate and keep quiet, then the result will be the optimum for both of them."
"I see," Peter agreed aloofly. "Best that they cooperate."
"Right! So, what do you think?"
"We're at King's Hope," Peter said sadly. "We can't share the sentence here. Sooner or later, one of us will have to walk the blue march, you know that."
"I know," Simon answered glumly and looked away. "I just though … What if that happened at the final table? Do you think it would work if the last remaining two didn't do anything?"
"I don't think so. It'll be just like the two prisoners, apart from the fact that there's an even greater motive to look after your own skin. If nothing else, the blinds will eventually become too big."
"Yes, I suppose so. Maybe I should have opted out from the tournament," Simon sighed. "It was a good idea anyhow, don't you think?"
Peter nodded and remained silent. They exchanged small pots with each other during the next hour. It had passed 11 pm before they were both dealt hands that were worth playing. The blinds had increased to level twenty-nine, 40,000-80,000 and the ante was at 10,000. In the background, the guns went off from time to time.
"Bet 240,000," Simon said. He had the dealer button.
That was a third of his stack. Peter peered down at 9♣A♥.
"Call," he said, wondering what Simon had.
Nova turned up the flop, 8♠5♥9♦.
The top pair on the table.
"Check," Peter decided.
"All-in," Simon replied almost immediately. Peter sat up. This was the first hand in a long while where Simon had been so aggressive and where he had cards to resist with. The time had come.
"Call," he said.
He turned up his cards, 9♣A♥.
Simon revealed his: J♦J♣.
Two shots were heard from the stage at the same time as Nova dealt the turn, 4♥.
Peter stretched his tender back until his ribs cracked. This wasn't good. Simon leaned forwards, stroking his forehead.
Nova turned over the river: A♠.
Peter had two pairs against Simon's single pair.
"Oh," he said, disappointed. "You're already famous, you know. We were talking about you and your royal straight flush before you came over." He ran his hands through his hair making his hairline pull back with the movement. "I wish I'd gotten to see the sun once more with my own eyes. Oh well. Don't give up inside, you end up making bad decisions if you do. Farewell, Mr. Royal." Simon stood up and followed the guards to the stage. Another guard assisted Peter with his chips.
"I'll remember you, Simon," Peter whispered as the shot went off.
Peter now had 3,870,000 in chips. If anyone had told him an hour ago, he'd have laughed at them. The guard signalled at him to follow and led him to table eleven, which was situated close to the stage. Three players were already sitting there. He slid down into a chair between two of them.
To his left sat a slender man with glasses, pale brown hair cut in a bob, and a grey waistcoat with a checked red shirt underneath. His name was Dana "The Key" Solomon, number 301. Dana had a large pile before him. Peter estimated that he had about 12,000,000 in chips.
To Peter's right sat Ryo "Loz" Morito, a Japanese man with spiky silver-coloured hair. Peter was certain it was the same man he'd seen earlier. He was wearing a leather jacket with shoulder patches and a high collar that reached up in line with his ears, hiding a couple of well-groomed sideburns. His green eyes shone like a predator's. He wore silver bracelets on his arms that rattled as he moved. He had number 55 and had a terrifying 17,000,000 in chips.
A poker hand was currently being played, but the players involved were playing slowly and carefully, and checked after waiting for long periods. Peter then spotted the last type of chip, the one that was worth 1,000,000. It was blackish-green, like a heavy, exotic gemstone. There were already several of them in play.
Diagonally across from him, to Dana's left, sat a woman with ice-blue eyes and with a yellow ribbon woven into her short-cut red hair. She had a dress that shimmered in green and gold, it suited her well. Her name display told him this was Carmilla Delugi, number 7,103 and she had about 5,000,000.
Shortly afterwards, another player came ambling along. A short woman with a pale blue skirt and green top. Her dark brown hair was combed to one side. She sat down a few seats to the left of the croupier. The display announced that her name was Sirielda "Windborn" Walker, number 483. She had 10,000,000.
As Sirielda packed up her chips, a gun shot was heard and a metallic silence blanketed the hall. Peter looked up and saw how two more people were approaching. As they got closer, Peter saw that it was a guard, and behind him M. "The Reactor" Korhart. Korhart's face appeared to be chiselled from stone, and his dark glasses were like lanterns of darkness. Korhart sat silently on a seat between Sirielda and the croupier. The guard struggled to lift up his tray of chips onto the table. Peter squinted and estimated the amount to be about 21,000,000. Insane.
"It is now 11.14 pm. We have now arrived at the final table. Six players remain. King's Hope wishes you good luck and may the best man or woman be victorious this year."
Peter studied his opponents, memorised their features. It was improbable. Of ten thousand players, he was one of six who had made it to the final table. He was short-stacked, but anyhow here. Now there was only a short stretch between now and coming home alive. All he needed to do was to climb five mountains. In the bigger scheme of things, it was almost insignificant. At the same time, he thought to himself miserably, it meant that very many had been expended for no purpose. Lennart was gone. Mads and Howard too. Only he was left, and the shadows drew close around him. But somewhere ahead was the sun, a blinding sphere to seek after. He'd fight as long as he could to keep the darkness out.