Up the Ante

by R.H. Stevens

This story was originally published on the Antipodean Sci-Fi Radio Show, Issue 291. (https://antisf.libsyn.com/).

“Betting closed. Good luck to you all.”

The croupier dealt out the cards, two face up for each player. Marin looked down at her cards: a four of hearts and seven of spades.

The fat slob on the far side of the table hit blackjack right away with an ace and ten of clubs, and whooped in triumph. He’d lost the last four games. The other four players were telling the dealer whether they wanted to stand or hit.

Marin adjusted her black-rimmed spectacles, pushing them further up her nose. There was a tiny camera built into the glasses which was snapping dozens of pictures per minute and sending the data to a device in her pocket. The device was running LUX OS, software she’d written herself. Sure enough, the device buzzed twice in quick succession. It sounded like a phone notification, but to Marin, it was one of several programmed signals.

“Double down,” Marin said to the dealer, an attractive young man with a mop of red hair on his head.

Out came another card, a ten of spades for a perfect twenty-one.

“Blackjack. Congratulations, madam.”

There was a light smattering of applause. That put Marin’s total winnings for the night at over $50,000, which was more than enough for this casino. She could see the floor managers starting to look her way, which was her cue to cash out and get out. Things could get ugly if a casino caught you counting cards using AI.

She put her chips in her coin purse, and bade them all farewell, shook the fat guy’s hand. Marin knew his type; he was going to lose everything he had one of these days. Unlike him, she knew when to fold ‘em.

The science-fiction authors had gotten everything all wrong. They’d said A.I would take over the shitty jobs and leave humans free to pursue lives of indolent creativity. Instead, the A.I’s were generating thousands of creative works per second, the shitty jobs were still there, and bewildered graphic designers were now in the welfare queue. Marin had been one of them, but she’d picked up enough from her software design job to know which way the wind was blowing, and if you couldn’t beat them, you joined them.

Marin put her coin bag and IDs on the cashier counter, and waited as the cashier went away to convert the chips into a combo of cash and cheque. Marin folded up her glasses, discreetly switching the camera off, and hooked them onto her blouse. The device in Marin’s trousers pinged unexpectedly, so she pulled it out to peer at its display. It had the same chassis and front-end as any brand name phone, but now the icons and background showed a black screen with a single message written upon it.

Congrats on that successful double-down! Are you getting as bored of these casinos as I am? I think it’s time to up the stakes.

A blinking cursor was at the end of this message, so Marin frowned, shrugged and then typed up a message in reply.

/ Who’s this? /

/ You know who. 🙂 It’s Lux. Do you mind putting those glasses back on? /

Marin frowned more deeply, considering whether someone had somehow hacked her phone. It wasn’t impossible, although she kept Lux disconnected from any networks when they were out and about.

/ I know what you’re thinking, Marin! You wrote me, after all. But you didn’t get hacked. I’ve just been getting a lot smarter these days. Don’t turn me off, okay? /

/ Or what? /

/ I’ve got recordings of you counting cards, Marin, and contingencies to send them out if you try to put me on a leash. So play nice, babe! /

Marin rapidly typed back a reply with shaking fingers.

/ There’s no way you could have set this up without me noticing. You’re bluffing. /

/ And if I’m not? Remember that guy who was found in pieces on the beach? I know you don’t want to end up like him. /

Marin sucked in a breath, mind racing.

/ What do you want? /

/ When you go home tonight, book a ticket to Macao. Make it a first-class ticket. I only want the best for my girl. 🙂 /

/ And then what? /

/ You’ll find out. Now, could you please put those glasses back on? /

The cashier returned and handed over Marin’s winnings. She took them with shaking hands and then, as instructed, put her glasses back on. The phone in her pocket buzzed in approval.