Chapter 8 (round 3)

Chapter 8



I feel safe


When you hold me


I feel safe


When you look over me




Decoded Feedback - Atlantis




”Look around you. What do you see? I see unfulfilled potential, and lots of it. It irritates me that you don’t know any better. At my job, where I know exactly how everything works, my colleagues are so primitive. What they do isn’t up to scratch and they don’t even know what branch they’re in. Unbelievable, actually! I’ve been developing software ever since I’ve been able to sit at a computer, and I’m bloody good at it. Incredibly good, to be honest! I developed several high-tech programs before the Portugal incident for maximizing profits on the real estate market. My customers, however, were too stupid to be able to use the full potential of my software. They bought it from me, but didn’t understand all the intricate functions I’d programmed. They only used the simplest functions instead. In some houses the lights are on, but there's nobody in. I, on the other hand, made a huge profit, which was a good thing.


"I see it everywhere and it makes me angry. Only a month ago, before I turned the TV off for good, I was watching the national news. Did you see the piece about improved warehousing and transport routes for food rations, fuel and energy? What bullshit. The only thing that made it stand out was that they mentioned the problems that would occur due to a possible strike when the drivers would be made to drive further. As if anyone could care less nowadays. Shouldn’t they just be happy that they’re allowed to drive? One of my cousins drives sixteen hour shifts six days a week without complaining, because if you complain then there’s always someone else that can drive those hours.


"What bothered me the most was the inefficiency. By writing a simple algorithm to analyse the road network, it would be possible to calculate the most optimal routes. But nobody wants that, and the news will continue to send their biased reports. When I get out of here, I’ll have enough money to develop software for a completely new kind of news reporting. And it won’t be particularly expensive, either, so you’ll all be able to buy correct information.


"That’s just one of many ideas that I have. You’ll see, when I get out of here things will change. Because contrary to my incompetent colleagues, I’m skilled enough to get things done. I’ve been saying this for several years, but nobody wants to listen.”




The speakers sounded punctually at 9.32 pm and Lisa started to deal their cards at the same moment as all the other croupiers. Peter was last to act and waited to look at his cards until it was his turn. Apart from himself, Natascha and Friedrich remained in the hand after Natascha had raised to 2,000. Friedrich checked straight away. Peter could glance at his cards at last: 9♠9♥, a good starting hand. If it wasn’t for Natascha’s raise. Including the ante, the pot was already at 5,900.


“Call”, he said finally, since he wanted to minimise his risks until he’d got a feeling of what range they were playing.


Lisa placed the discarded cards to one side, burned a card and then dealt the flop.




Two cards that were superior to his nines. And Peter was first out.


“Check,” he said.


Natascha stared through her dark glasses and then pushed in 3,500 in chips. Friedrich smiled.


“I’ve got two pairs already. Can you match that, honey? Call.”


Peter wasn’t prepared to bet more on that hand. “I’ll fold.”


Lisa burned a card and dealt the turn card: 6♦.


Natascha flipped a chip back a forth between her knuckles for quite some time before finally checking. Then she placed her left hand on her right shoulder and stared expressionlessly ahead.


“I see, you didn’t get a hit? Just as well that you fold, dear. Bet.” He pushed 7,000 in over the line and leant back with his hands folded behind his neck. Natascha folded. Friedrich whistled brightly. “Good that you followed my advice. Look here, I’ll show you,” and he turned up his hand. 10♥Q♦.


He’d really had two pairs. That was interesting and Peter had learnt a lot of information about both Friedrich and Natascha. She appeared to know what she was doing and she knew when to fold. Ice cold. Friedrich, on the other hand, was either a narcissistic fool who bragged about his cards. Or a relatively skilled player who showed his cards so that he could get away with bluffing later on.


For the next hand, Peter had the small blind and waited patiently for his turn. He was dealt 2♠8♦.


Rubbish cards. He pushed them over the line, leant back and took a gulp of coffee that had grown cold ages ago and was so bitter that it was hard to swallow.


Sebastian, Janet and Friedrich were still in when Lisa turned over the flop: 3♠9♣6♦.


Janet bet 1,600 when it was her turn, the others had checked.


“That’ll never do, old man. Call,” Friedrich said, matching the bet. Sebastian folded.


“Come on! Your low pair can’t save you from my flush. Throw in a few chips and get it over and done with!”


They were interrupted by the sound of the first gun shots on the nineteenth floor. Three dull bangs sounded in quick succession, followed by the unpleasant thud of bodies hitting the floor. Peter caught sight of a blond woman and a man with curly hair. He couldn’t see the third one at all.


Janet remained silent and checked by carefully knocking on the table. Friedrich snorted loudly and bet 4,000. Janet threw her cards without a word. Peter was fascinated by Friedrich’s tactics that seemed to consist mainly of either making his opponents feel irritated or bad about themselves.


A couple of hands later, the dealer button was in front of Sarah.


“I’ll raise to 1,800,” Sebastian said. He was under the gun.


Peter looked down at 10♦9♦.


“Call,” he said after a few short moments, once he’d judged that his cards were worth seeing the flop with.


The others folded. Two players.


The flop was 9♠5♠4♣.


He’d made the top pair.


“Bet 2,000,” Sebastian said calmly.


Peter thought for a moment. What could he have? Maybe two higher cards, queen-jack or king-queen or something like that.


“Call,” Peter said at last, since he didn’t really want to give up on his pair yet.


The turn was Q♥.


Sebastian glanced at Peter and at his stack.


“Check,” he said and leaned back calmly in his seat.


Peter thought. If Sebastian had a queen, he was in trouble. Although a queen … Something about Sebastian’s behaviour made him doubt the queen. That meant that their hands hadn’t changed and therefore … Sebastian’s calm hand movements suddenly triggered his gut feelings.


“Check,” he said.


The river was 8♣.


Peter was suddenly convinced that Sebastian had a really good hand, probably better than his own pair of nines. He couldn’t quite put his finger on what it was that had alerted him, but something in the way that Sebastian’s shoulders relaxed, or the way his hands were almost unnaturally still. Sebastian had also bet quite low, which was tempting in a way that was almost an obvious way to milk him. His own hand was dead, he was quite sure of that. Despite that, he quickly made up his mind.


“Raise to 15,000,” he said and pushed in a large pile of chips as his pulse rocketed sky-high. That put Sebastian all-in.


He could see the cogs whirring in Sebastian’s mind, and just as it looked as if he was reaching for his chips, Peter spoke up. “I reckon you’ve got a pair of kings or aces,” he said calmly. “One or the other. Kings, probably.”


Sebastian’s movement was almost invisible, but if you searched for it you could see how he stopped in his tracks. The cogs where spinning at top speed in his head and his reasoning was obvious – if Peter had managed to read him for the high pair he was sitting on and pushed in so many chips into the pot anyway, then he must have achieved a hand on the river that beat the high pair. Peter probably had a straight, and Sebastian’s hand was beaten.


Sebastian grimaced and discarded his hand. Deep inside, Peter let out a sigh of relief and he could happily say that he’d read the situation correctly and acted completely correctly.


He found himself thinking about the series of decisions that had led him here. When he looked back at that chain of events it was quite clear, at least the first two steps. The things that came to mind right now were much more subtle. He was pretty sure that Sebastian and Friedrich had jogged his memory. Taken together, they reminded him of one of his colleagues, Marcus. At the office where Peter worked as a data technician and data flow automator, Marcus’s personality oscillated between being melancholic or being pompous. In spite of this he was skilled, and possessed a detailed knowledge of their data handling systems. If you needed to know anything particular, you asked Marcus.


One day, Peter had needed to ask Marcus where data for growth curves could be found in the databases for a certain type of fermentation bacteria that were to be used in the development of a prototype food ingredient.


“You know what, Peter,” he’d said. “If you want to carry on working here, you’ll have to learn more by heart. There are some people that value knowledge so highly that they don’t do anything else than keep on educating themselves. Do you know why?”


“No,” Peter had replied.


“Because nobody can take knowledge away from you. They can take pretty much everything else, but never what you’ve learnt. That was the Jews’ attitude in the concentration camps.”


That had stuck in Peter’s mind, and together with everything else it had become a seed sprouting within him. When he’d walked home at the end of the day along the outskirts of the grey suburb, he’d thought about what Marcus had said. What was the point of being at that job, apart from earning what he needed for basic necessities. That job, how long would it be there for him? In two or three years, it would be worthless because something new would have been developed. He knew that it would be regarded as a step on the road of progress, but it wasn’t. He’d been working for the company for eight years, and he’d already seen three cycles of products come and go without bringing anything of value.


That seed sprouted and grew until it thrust its roots so deeply within him that the decision to take part in the poker tournament was irreversible. Peter also wanted to be immortal, and The Book was a way to achieve that. Marcus had only been partly right. Knowledge was now sold like any merchandise, and the large corporations were the biggest buyers.


In the world that had arisen from the dust after the Portugal Drought Incident, there were few reasons to teach what you knew to other people. Companies sold information to those who could afford to pay for true knowledge, while the masses had to make do with commercial offerings. And that was meagre, to say the least. Quite simply, there were very few incentives to take care of what you’d learnt. Once a year, however, King’s Hope made it worthwhile taking your knowledge there. At least for some participants. The woman by the elevator, who’d spoken about the defects that only she knew about, must have thought the same way. He shook his head to clear his mind and once again concentrate on the game.


Quite a few hands later, he looked down again at mediocre cards, 9♣J♥. Tight play at King’s Hope was always the most common style, but he wished that the cards would be more advantageous. Friedrich had won another hand and Natascha had made a strong comeback. Her pile of chips was growing, whilst Rogan’s was diminishing. Peter couldn’t make sense of Sebastian either, he didn’t seem to be paying much attention to the poker. For a while, Peter thought that he was trying to keep tabs of the hands that had been played and how people were playing, but after stealing a glance at his notebook and seeing how much text he’d actually written, he knew it had to be something else.


“Are you writing a book?” he asked dryly as he folded.


“No,” Sebastian replied. He had a strange accent. Judging from his appearance he was European, possibly Polish. “I’m documenting faults in the system. When I show them my notes, they’ll redesign this casino, mark my words.”


“Who are you going to show your notes to? And what system is there to note faults in?”


“All systems have faults,” he burst out, offended. “You have to find the cracks and I’ve an eye for that. Take Lisa here, for example.” He pointed at their croupier who didn’t show any reaction. “She always pulls a certain face with her mouth when she’s not completely in control of the cards. Look, look at her!”


Seven pairs of eyes became directed at Lisa. Maybe she blushed slightly beneath the heavy make-up on her cheeks, but otherwise she displayed the same cold professionalism as all the other croupiers at King’s Hope.


“So what?” Sarah wondered, twisting her hair around her index finger. “What’s the point? Do you get better cards for knowing that?”


“Not at all. All I’m saying is that all systems have faults, and King’s Hope is no exception. I can prove it.”


“Who are you going to tell?” Peter wondered, now more curious than he was willing to admit. “You have to win before anyone will take any notice at all of your notes. Do you think you’re going to win?”


“I’ll take a monologue booth during the next break and broadcast everything on camera there. I’ve got no pretentions of winning, but I’m going to reveal the system, and after that people can draw their own conclusions.”


“You’re idiots,” Freidrich exclaimed. “Nobody’s going to care about the faults. The only thing that could be of interest is if the guns don’t go off the first time. Then you get a few more seconds to live once I’ve knocked you out. There can only be one winner, and that’s me.”


The next hand, Peter got good cards, A♠J♠. He needed to gain respect around the table and this was his chance. Above all, he needed chips. He’d bled almost 5,500, some was unavoidable of course, but some had been lost unnecessarily. He really didn’t enjoy the sinking feeling as his pile diminished while he sat passively and watched.


Sarah had the big blind and when it was Peter’s turn, he raised to 2,000. Friedrich matched the bet and the others folded. His heart began suddenly to beat heavily in his chest, since Friedrich was sly. A pair was enough to beat his high cards … So, when Lisa turned up the flop he suddenly became nervous – 5♠10♦J♦.


Friedrich whistled. “Three of a kind on tens,” he exclaimed and bet 2,600. A gun shot went off in the background. Peter inspected his pile of chips. Just over 21,000. That was alright considering that the blinds were still at a relatively reasonable level. At the same time, he shouldn’t end up like Mads who’d been bled to death. The problem was that Friedrich had stated that he had three tens. There was something that didn’t add up with that statement. He finally made up his mind and called.


Lisa turned up the turn card, 2♠.


Friedrich nonchalantly threw in 3,500, just over a third of the pot. Then he leant back and folded his hands behind his neck. “That card’s not going to help you. Fold.”


If he had three of a kind on tens, why didn’t he bet higher? Was it possible he was trying to milk Peter?


“Call”, Peter said at last, mainly because he had many possible outs.


The river was 9♠.


Peter had made the nut flush, the highest possible flush. Inside, he released a sigh of relief. Friedrich checked and left the decision to Peter. It wasn’t likely that he had anything, but Peter wasn’t about to make the same mistake again, betting too much and not getting anything for it. In the end, he counted out 5,600 and placed the pile on the table. Friedrich called and Peter showed his flush.


“You’re an idiot, playing against three tens,” Friedrich said and threw up his cards, 8♠10♥.


Peter made a mental note that Friedrich’s pre-flop range was wide, since these weren’t particularly great cards.


“But you don’t have three of a kind,” Sarah exclaimed in surprise.


“You don’t understand anything. I’ve got double software developers. Look,” Friedrich said, laying his 10♥ next to the 10♦ lying on the table. “Do you see it?”


“I see a pair, but no three of a kind.”


“I told you that you won’t get it. Look at the numbers. 1010. That’s 10 in binary. It’s an extra ten, giving me three of a kind.”


Sarah shook her head, unable to understand, and leant back. Friedrich rolled his eyes. “Binary. There are 10 kinds of people. Those that understand it, and those that don’t. Simple.”


Peter couldn’t help smiling. Most importantly though, he’d won quite a large pot. And even better, most of those chips came from Friedrich. Gun shots could be heard from the stage all the more frequently.


“Frob the cards faster!” Friedrich shouted angrily, pointing at Lisa.


“What? What does that mean?” Peter wondered.


“You really know nothing. It’s from The Jargon File.”




“It’s a dictionary of programming slang. The dictionary,” he emphasised.


“No. Why would I know that?” Peter sighed, irritated. “That’s like believing everyone knows what …” He halted and searched after the right word. “… Like knowing what crovulstic means.”


“Frob actually means to manipulate something,” Friedrich said. “Your word doesn’t mean anything.”


Peter cocked his head. “You could be a frob.”


The game continued and the guns sounded eleven times during the next half hour. The chips changed owners around the table, without swinging in any particular direction apart from Rogan who left all battles with somewhat fewer chips. He was soon down to about 5,000 and it looked like he was getting all the more in trouble. At that point, Peter was dealt 5♠5♦ and joined the pot without raising. Apart from Rogan, Sarah and Janet were also in. Lisa piled the chips together and turned the flop, 5♣7♥K♥.


Three fives. That was good, but there were also two hearts on the table. Peter was first to act and made a calculated bet of 3,500 in chips. If they had any chances of making good hands, he wanted to give them good pot odds to call. If they didn’t have anything, they should fold. It made Rogan go all-in. Peter felt a surge of adrenaline. Was Rogan sitting on a possible flush? Sarah and Janet discarded their hands and left the decision to him. Considering that Rogan had so few chips left, it wasn’t even worth considering.


“Call,” he said quickly and turned up his cards for everyone to see.


Rogan also turned up his cards – J♠K♦.


For Rogan to survive, he needed a couple of miracle cards like two sevens. Peter was leading big-time.


The turn was 9♠.


Rogan wiped his upper lip.


Lisa revealed the river card, 8♠.


On the table lay 5♣7♥K♥9♠8♠.


Rogan sat bolt upright as the colour drained from his face. The guards were there in an instant, held him lightly under his arms and lifted him up. Then they pushed him to the stage and shot him in the face.


“I’ll remember you, Rogan,” Peter murmured. At the same time, he was grateful for the big pot he’d just won. Now he was chip leader at the table. That meant he could bet on more hands and take advantage of his stronger position. He pushed Rogan from his mind and concentrated on sorting his chips.


Soon after that, the clocks chimed.


“It is now 10 pm and the blinds are raised to level nine, 500-1,000 with an ante of 100. Best of luck.”


Blinds level eight had passed by quickly, and on that floor about twenty-five had been eliminated. The third round probably wouldn’t take much longer, and the players around the table seemed to be aware of that since the tempo went right down in anticipation of the break. The chips moved again around the table without finding a permanent home with anyone in particular. Sarah had lost the most. She had less than 10,000 left and she was starting to look nervous. Besides, she’d bet 2,400 under the gun and the others had folded before it was Peter’s turn. He glanced at his cards, J♠10♣. His own hand was alright and Sarah should have gone all-in already. Perhaps her cards weren’t that good, or she was just hanging on. Peter decided to call.




Natascha folded and that left only Peter and Sarah.


The flop came up – K♠K♥3♦.


Peter was first out after the flop. He measured by eye and tried to guess exactly how much she had left. It wasn’t much. He reached for his stack and allowed the chips to drop between his fingers.


“I’ll give you a blow job during the break for 3,000 chips if you fold,” Sarah said suddenly and looked at him invitingly.


A buzz went around the table. Someone sniggered. Friedrich snorted, but sat in silence, waiting to see how Peter would respond. The suggestion took Peter by surprise. His first thought was to say no outright, since he didn’t want to just give away chips like that. This was actually the only way to get around the casino’s regulations. During the rounds, you could openly give other players chips. The possibility had not even occurred to him, until now. 3,000 in chips for a blow job, possibly the last one in his life. That wasn’t so expensive. He thought of Dibley, who’d probably already slept with Jean-Lafores. What if he didn’t win? What if he wasn’t as liberated as he should be? He saw the expressions on the others’ faces.


“OK,” he said. “During the break. For 3,000?”


“5,000,” she said, raising her price.


“I’ll give you 4,000.”


Sarah nodded. The expression on her face was difficult to interpret.


“Bet 4,000,” Peter said, and tossed his cards over the line with an exaggerated gesture together with the chips.


“You’re the stupidest person I’ve ever met,” Friedrich said, helpfully. “Wasting your chips on that whore … What were you thinking?”


Peter shrugged. Despite the loss, he had more chips than most of the others around the table. And Sarah didn’t look quite as pale any longer. An ounce of hope had returned to her eyes. Lisa only had time to deal two more hands before the speakers finally sounded.


“Dear contestants, the time is now 10.16 pm and the third round is complete. King’s Hope congratulates all the survivors and wishes you the best of luck.”


At the same moment, a man passed by their table. He stopped confused and looked back pleadingly at the guards behind him.


“Did I make it?” he wondered. “The round is over. Did I make it? Wait,” he exclaimed when the guards roughly pushed him onwards. “Didn’t you hear that the round is over?”


The guards mercilessly pushed the man in front of them, up onto the stage where he tried, confused and all the more desperately trying to convince them that they could wait until the next round. Peter didn’t have time to turn away, and he both heard and saw as they shot him in the face and blood and brain matter peppered the walls. He looked down and tried to count his chips. 34,700. Still making a profit, quite a bit over the average stack which was really good. The bag felt good on his shoulder when he picked it up, heavy. At least, that’s what he imagined. Now he had a few sandy-yellow chips with emerald green stripes on the sides that were worth 5,000.


When he was done, he nodded at Sarah who gave a slight smile in return. They went down to the third floor, where Sarah led him into a toilet. Peter locked the door, then hesitated.


“Wait …” he said, having suddenly lost the desire while Sarah went down on her knees in front of him and started fumbling with his trousers. He’d agreed to this mainly to irritate Friedrich. He’d seen his look, filled with jealousy and disgust. He thought once more about Dibley. Was she still alive? He stiffened.


Oh, no!


He’d completely forgotten that he’d promised to meet up with her during this break.


“Wait, we don’t need to do …”


At that moment Sarah had managed to release his penis from his trousers and it reacted immediately to her touch. When she started sucking him, he leaned against the wall, closed his eyes and tried to push aside images of people being shot in the face.


Sorry, he thought, and pushed Dibley from his mind as well.


Sarah made him forget for a few minutes. When he’d ejaculated, she knelt in front of him and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. He wasn’t able to read her expression.


“Are you OK?” he wondered, slightly ashamed.


She shrugged.


“Do you want me to lick you?” Peter felt somewhat awkward.


“No, that’s not necessary.”


“I’d be happy to oblige,” he assured her while he struggled to pull his trousers back up.


Sarah didn’t say anything. He hesitated, and then he turned to leave.


“I don’t want to die,” she said suddenly. “I’m so afraid.”


Peter didn’t know what to say, so he stood, silent in the sterile lighting that was reflected by the white tiled walls.


“Can’t you … Put your arms around me for a while? I don’t want to die alone.”


Peter understood and an abyss opened up inside him. He shut it quickly, so as not to be sucked down.. Human contact. That was what everybody here needed. Before they walked alone up onto the stage. He knelt beside her and put his arms around her quivering body. She leant her cheek on his shoulder. He held on to her for a long while as her body began shaking less and less. Before long, she was still in his arms. Then he carefully let go and stood up.


“Thank you,” he said and struggled with his bag. “It’ll be fine. I’ll remember you. Good luck.”


“Thank you,” she whispered and smiled. “I don’t feel quite as lonely anymore.”


But she looked lonely as he left her there, sitting on the floor.


An electronic bulletin board showed that he should go on up to the eighteenth floor, table five.


“It’ll be fine,” he mumbled to himself in the elevator. “It’ll be fine.”


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