I had my first wet dream when I was fourteen, and two days later I was
approached by the Avatar. Some parents try to interfere but mine had
learned the first time, with my brother, who is nearly a century older
than me. I knew they had noticed the stained bedclothes because they
suddenly became a bit distant and started leaving me alone a lot. I
thought they were trying to figure out how to have That Talk with me. Like
most adolescents I knew something about sex years before my body was ready.
And like most adolescents I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did.
They were actually leaving the coast clear so Prime Intellect could do
So like everybody of a certain age I found out that I could go anywhere,
do anything, even go places I'd never imagined and do things that were
utterly unbelievable. I could become a totally different person if I
wanted to, taller or stronger or I could even become a girl. I could turn
off any feelings or biological processes I found annoying and I could
enhance the ones I wanted to particularly explore. I left home
for a month and took a whirlwind tour so that it would know I was aware of
the options that were open to a sexually mature member of the species
Then I did what most people do; I went back home, walked to the outskirts
of town, and drew up plans for a modest but very classy villa. Prime
Intellect did the rest and I was a householder. My new neighbors and my
parents and my old neighbors came to my housewarming the next evening.
They complimented my taste in architecture and congratulated me and brought
mounds of Authentic food lovingly prepared at labor by actual human hands.
Several local girls made themselves obvious and toward the late evening
the adults mysteriously drifted away so I could be tempted. I let a
brunette named Lita accompany me upstairs. She was sixteen but small for
her age so we were about the same height. She started my education in the
arts of love in my own recently designed bedroom as the moons threw double
I was now a man, and in the tradition of my people I would
begin to earn a place in our society. One day I would marry Lita or some
other girl like her and have a kid like myself. For all those amazing
options Prime Intellect had shown me, it was the way I had been brought
up and I saw no reason to abandon everything that was familiar to me.
Boy was I wrong.
On my eighteenth birthday Prime Intellect delivered a big flat package of
paper, the kind of thing my people use for official announcements.
Inside was an invitation that I found a bit florid until Prime Intellect
verified its particulars.
Galan, I have asked Prime Intellect to choose for me at random a man
of your particular age and experience for an opportunity which is
considered a great honor in some social circles. An ordinary person
who wishes to visit one of the Twelve Casinos is allowed a once in a
lifetime free gift of a thousand units of our currency, the Bugsy.
In exchange for a week of your time which I promise will involve no
hardship or physical pain on your part I will pay you a million Bugsies,
which will allow you to live in style for a long time if you wish in an
environment where this is a great and highly restricted privilege.
A few of my neighbors knew of Piazza; he is one of the most famous people
in all of Cyberspace. He is one of the Twelve Wise Guys who remade the
casino industry in the dawning days of Cyberspace. Born before the Change
he and his friends crafted a vision of how the casino experience could be
perpetuated in a world where anybody could have anything just for asking.
-- Orville Piazza
Their answer was simplicity itself; their casinos are their worlds and while
you are visiting them you can't have anything you want from Prime
Intellect. You must buy everything with Bugsies. It is naturally considered
a great privilege to live in such an environment for any length of time.
There were of course other casinos; you could even have Prime Intellect
build you one just for asking, but that didn't mean you could get people
to visit. It wouldn't have the cachet of staying in Orville Piazza's
And oh yes, if you ever placed a bet in any other casino you were blackballed
from the Twelve for life, your Bugsies evaporated and your persona non grata.
You couldn't hide it, because Prime Intellect knows all and it tells all
when you agree to enter someone else's world. "Life" is a long time to
be blackballed in Cyberspace, and people take things like that seriously.
Some of my neighbors had visited one or another of the Twelve Casinos and spent the
thousand Bugsies you get just for being born and they reported that it was
"interesting." These casinos would be a familiar environment in some ways,
limited like our own world in the amount of magic you could demand. But
they were bent, I was warned, to bring out the worst in people.
Still the upshot was that it was a rare privilege so I had Prime Intellect
send me over.
To my surprise I emerged not in the famous casino, but in a Disclaimer Room.
These are common enough in Cyberspace but I had never been through one so
I read the sign closely. In the casino all my natural biological functions
would work normally, which is a tradition of my own people.
I couldn't leave except by making my way back to this terminus, or going through
an authentic Death experience. No Avatar sex; if I wanted to get laid, I'd
have to find an actual human to do it with, another tradition of my people.
All games were guaranteed by Prime Intellect to be random and unbiased.
My Bugsies were linked to me and could not be stolen, though under the right
conditions they could be given and/or scammed. Physical violence would be
permitted only in certified venues. I touched the acknowledgement and walked
I was in a bus terminal full of milling people. There was a bewildering
clash of dress styles; I recognized a few of them from my adolescence tour.
A big sign declared:
Piazza's Desert Sand Casino 50 kilometers
I realized there was a new bulk in my pockets. I reached in and found a
dozen three centimeter diameter tokens. They were white, red, green,
and black, labelled E1B, E5B, E25B, and E100B respectively. I added
them up and realized they were my thousand Bugsies.
- Crowded Shuttle Bus on hour every hour 20B
- Taxi with Annoyingly Talkative Driver 50B
- Limousine with Stereo Sound and Wet Bar 250B
- Individual Teleportation Booth 1000B
- Walking Free (water 1B/liter)
Near the teleportation booth there was an Authentic telephone labelled
"courtesy phone" which, amazingly enough, was free. I picked it up and
a nasal female voice answered, "Desert Sand Casino."
"I'd like to speak to Orville Piazza," I said.
Her mood changed instantly.
"You and half the rest of the world, honey," the receptionist said.
"I'm invited. I'm Galan Quarznap."
"Oh, I'm so sorry honey, let me put you through."
The phone went silent and then rang three times. A gruff male announced:
But he had already hung up. When I approached it the teleport booth
glowed green for me, and when I stepped in the far door went transparent
and let me open it.
"Mr. Piazza? This is Galan..."
"Ahhhhhh, of course my young friend. Don't tell me, you're at the terminal
aren't you? Let me run a comp for you. Okay, you have credit in the
teleporter, I'll meet you at this end in a couple of minutes."
The teleporter dumped me off in the VIP check-in lounge. A perky clerk dressed
in a whisper flashed me the most fake smile I'd ever seen and asked if I had
I signed the register and went into the casino proper, where Orville Piazza was
waiting for me.
"Quarznap, yes. You've been comped into the Mussolini suite, very nice digs.
For seven days. For your information, most of the signs in the resort are
designed to be confusing, but since you're a VIP if you touch any of them
they will become much more revealing and they will call a service avatar on
your request to show you on your way."
"That's nice," I said. "Are you a ... service avatar?"
She cringed. "Holy fuck no. Avatars have silver metallic skin. You can
see them a mile away. A lot of the dealers are avatars."
"I should hope so, junior."
"It's just strange to see a human doing such a, well..."
"I guess that's it."
"I'm busted out. There are faster ways to earn it back but I'm not that
hard up. Meanwhile a lot of people are watching you, Mr. Million Bugsies."
"Right. Out of curiosity, I suppose it normally costs Bugsies to stay in this
"Oh, no," she said earnestly. "To stay in a dictator suite you have to gamble.
But if you gamble at that level, you'd probably be losing thirty, forty thousand
a day. Give or take. And you'd have to have at least a million to stay
afloat more than a couple of days without busting out."
"Consider me properly grateful then."
Orville Piazza was the biggest, most corpulently unhealthful and all around ugly
person I'd ever met. My own people eschew what the elders call "big magic"
but most of us slow and eventually stop our ageing. Some of us will get a little
older and then regress, a few even back to adolescence. But why would anyone
allow themselves to get fat, slovenly, balding, and have badly aligned stained
teeth? Much less smoke cigars, when there were much more efficient and pleasant
means of self-stimulation?
"You are shocked at my appearance," he said, and while his voice scolded his eyes
The Desert Sand Casino was mostly an endless procession of tables; they offered
blackjack, craps, poker, and a dozen more obscure games. Most of the dealers
appeared human but had silver metallic skin. A few were actually human, I
guessed earning out more Bugsies like the hostess in the VIP reception area.
"It's a bit startling. Is there a reason?"
"My own rules, Galan. Casinos are about decadence and corruption. I have
never liked casino hosts with perfect smiles and measured patter. I want a
man who will gamble with me. Come, let me show you around."
There was an endless patter of voices; it was a large crowded place. There
were shouts in the distance and sometimes up close. Piazza seemed to be
listening as he talked to me, as if this was the music of the spheres.
"If this was a pre-Change casino you'd need earplugs," he said as we crossed
an open lobby. "They had these things called slot machines everywhere. The
rule was you didn't know the rules, you put in your money and pulled the handle
and crossed your fingers. They made all kinds of racket. A place like this
would have been filled with them, all clanging and jangling and driving you
deaf. The other Eleven casinos do have some slot machines, but I hate the damn
things and I won't have them in my place. My feeling is if you're gonna gamble
like that you might as well wirehead and get it over with."
We went through a secret door and climbed stairs to an overlook where you could
see just how huge the casino is. At the touch of a primitive switch we were allowed
telescopic binocular vision to zoom in on the action.
"Don't worry about it."
"You're probably wondering why I asked you here," Piazza said.
Piazza handed me a clipboard. He picked up a phone and said a few words,
then handed the receiver to me. "This is Prime Intellect," the voice on the
other end says. "You must read the contract and affirm it to accept Orville's
"I figured you would get around to telling me."
"Out in the world, in your world, you can be anybody. But not here. In this
world you have to be you, and I am a strict man so I abide by my own rules.
The one thing I can't do here is be someone else. More than that I can't be
someone who doesn't know what I know. I can't experience my casino the way
a newcomer would. I am nearly four hundred years old, Galan. In all that time
I have never left this place and I never intend to leave it.
"What I want from you is your experience. Are you familiar with sense sharing?"
"I've never done it, but I've heard of it."
"I will set you loose in my casino. Not with your million Bugsies, but with my
own line of credit. Do as you wish. I will experience what you experience and we
will be able to communicate unobtrusively. I will not control you, just listen
and advise. And for a week of this I will give you the million Bugsies to do
with as you will."
"How much money is a million Bugsies, anyway?"
"Five Bugsies get you the unlimited mediocre buffet. Remember, you have to
eat here or you die and get kicked out. For fifty you can get a pretty
decent restaurant meal. It costs thirty a night to stay in a small, mangy
room. A nice suite costs a hundred a night, and of course there are better
accommodations available. You've seen the rates for transport to the terminus.
Taking the place of an avatar at a job, like the receptionist you met, earns
you a hundred or so a day."
"It doesn't seem like many people would ever get a million then. You'd have
to work, what, thirty years without spending any?"
"There are other ways to earn more. Some people are gambling sharks. Some
are entertainers. If you're famous or put on an impressive show you can earn
a million in a few nights. You'll see we have quite a few high rollers."
"If you wish."
"Well let's do it then."
"I agree to let Orville Piazza voluntarily monitor my sensorium and open
subvocal communications with me for the next seven days. In return I will
have house credit for room, board, and gambling during the seven day period
and I will receive one million Bugsies of my own at the end of the seven
days. I now affirm this deal."
So I returned to the casino floor, theoretically a very wealthy man in the
local currency. I wandered around watching people gamble. There were little
rituals for buying in, for getting credit, for placing bets and getting paid.
--Excellent, Orville said. He now spoke inside my head without moving
his lips. He gestured toward the door. Go forth and explore. I'll give
you some hints if you want.
--I don't know how to play any of these games, I told Orville silently.
I found a crap game that wasn't too crowded and watched for awhile. Orville
explained the rules of the simplest bets. Craps, it turned out, was not one
game but nearly forty different games all played at the same time. Dealing
it was complicated, but one of the dealers was human.
--Don't worry. Wander over to the left and I'll teach you to play Craps.
--Difficult job, Orville told me. He makes nearly two hundred a day.
By the way, go ahead and ask for a marker.
I gestured to the human dealer
and he tapped the silver-skinned box man and a moment later they handed me
a stack of purple cheques. These were labelled 500B and it seemed to suck all
the air off the table when I received them. The other players were mostly
throwing red and green cheques around. By Orville's standards this was chump
change but at this table it was a fortune.
--Don't be shy, Orville said.
So I put two purple cheques on the pass line.
The shooter rolled an eleven and the human dealer paid me the equivalent of
two weeks of his own skilled labor, just like that.
The game had a seductive rhythm, ebbing and flowing as points were established
and then either made or missed. Many bets stayed up waiting for a particular
number to resolve them, sentinels of hope and despair as the dice rolled
around them. I progressed to making come bets and placing numbers and after
awhile I realized the table was annoyingly crowded, I had more than doubled
my marker, and I was ravenously hungry.
--Put your money on the felt and ask for color. You need to eat.
The dealer made change, combining all of my cheques into a few of very high
denomination, after taking out the original marker. Then he handed me two
gray cheques labelled 5000B, a couple of oranges labelled 1000B, and a couple
of 100B blacks.
--There is no point in someone of your stature sampling the buffet, but
why don't you eat at the steakhouse? That will give you some perspective
when you see what's available to the truly rich.
So I had steak and
a baked potato competently but not spectacularly prepared. At Orville's
insistence I also had a cocktail, a distilled liquor called Bourbon diluted
with orange juice. I was not unfamiliar with alcohol but it packed quite
Then I made my way to my suite. It took me asking a sign for directions
to find that there is a special elevator that goes only to the Dictator
Suites. Mine, the Mussolini, was second from the top. There were only
five. The elevator had an actual human operator.
--You should tip him.
Orville had been quiet while I ate and I was startled.
--He can help you with things. Toss him a black cheque from the crap game as
I did as Orville suggested and the operator flashed me a sly grin. I
wondered what sort of service I had just bought and then I turned around
and gasped. The Mussolini Suite was enormous; I could have entertained
a party of a hundred with elbow room to spare. I explored and found
seven bathrooms, five lushly themed bedrooms, and half a dozen other
richly appointed rooms.
--Well, what do you think?
I emptied my pockets and prepared to bathe. I thought of Orville watching
me through my own eyes and shrugged it off; it was the deal I'd made after
all. I looked at the cheques and realized that the ones I'd won at the
crap game were not the same as the ones I'd gotten at the terminus.
--Of course I could have had this back home just by asking for it, but
it would have been considered tacky.
--Here excess is prestige and prestige is displayed by excess. Every piece
of furniture in here was hand-made by a skilled human craftsman. There
are no copies anywhere. I paid almost ten million Bugsies to outfit just
this one suite.
--Orville, why are there two types of cheques? The thousand I got for being
born have "E" before the denomination and they're lighter colored.
That night I crashed on a bed the size of my hometown and dreamed of the crap game.
--Those are Earned Bugsies. There is a distinction between currency you earn
through labor and what you win gambling. You can't give earned currency to
other people; you can only spend it on casino services and wager it yourself.
--It's to prevent scammers from schmoozing the thousand Bugsies off of people who
think they won't ever visit and adding them together to augment their own bankroll.
What you earn is yours and can only be used for your benefit. What you win
at the tables is free money, though. You can throw that away in any way you
care to imagine and nothing will stop you.
The next morning, Bugsy taught me Blackjack. Blackjack is a much simpler game
to follow than Craps and a much harder one to play correctly; as Orville explained
there is a mathematically optimum strategy for any Blackjack game but almost
nobody ever plays it. It is even possible to beat the house by counting cards
but it takes a lot of effort.
--Back in the real world we used to harrass card counters, and one nice thing
about the new system is we don't have to. Some of our high rollers got that
way counting cards. But most of the people who try don't succeed; you have
to acquire a lot of money some other way and most people don't really play
Sure enough I busted and the dealer turned up another ten. Blackjack was not as
friendly to me as Craps and I played through another ten thousand Bugsy marker
without ever being up.
--I can see why, this is a pain in the ass. Do I hit this sixteen?
--Always hit sixteen against a ten. You've probably already lost it anyway.
--Normally you'd have to pay off that marker before getting another, but I'm
quietly paying it off for you so you can keep the cheques you won yesterday.
Someone playing at your level will be expected to have money for other
The Bookie had a huge area with its own low and high roller areas; if Blackjack
had seemed like a challenge this was like designing Prime Intellect from scratch.
The Bookie would take a bet on any real-life event that had an element of
uncertainty. The odds, Orville explained, were set by the Bookie to balance
the action, not the sometimes unknowable "true odds." So if you were smarter
than the other bettors you could come out ahead, and as with the card counters
some of the high rollers had come up in just this way.
--And I'm playing for your entertainment. Are you getting your money's worth?
--So far. Let's drift over and check out the Bookie.
I scrolled through the categories and my eyes glazed over. I could bet on
anything imaginable. I located the category for my own homeworld and realized
with a start that I could have bet on whether I would have accepted Orville's
proposal (fourteen thousand Bugsies had changed hands when I did), and now I
could bet on whether I'd finish out the seven days, whether I'd get laid,
and whether I'd ever return to the casino after I left.
--The Bookie will not accept bets where you have a clear ability to affect
the outcome, Orville advised.
BATTLE OF THE SEXES! a flashing sign announced. In the center of
the arena was an area blocked off by a transparent shimmering barrier.
Separated from one another in two small cages of this same barrier were
a naked man and woman. Each of them had a knife. All around people shouted
and waved and debated.
--I'm just amazed at what you can bet on. Where the hell do I start?
--Why don't we keep it simple and see if there's an in-house event. The
mini-arena is to your right, through those open doors.
In smaller print the sign announced that "Tamara vs. Ludlow" would be an
amateur class Death match, a knife fight to the point of biological death.
The fighters had had to put up money, ten thousand Bugsies, which the casino
had matched to create a forty thousand Bugsy prize.
Someone tapped me on the back.
"Ludlow's all in," a strange man advised. "If he loses it's back to bartending
if he wants to stay in the casino and try to raise another stake."
I made my way to the Fight Book and gave him an orange cheque to bet on Tamara.
I was advised that my bet would pay at 2.5:1 if I won; a lot of people were
banking on Ludlow's desperation and greater strength.
"Really. Seems like he's a bit bigger than the girl anyway."
"Yeah, but she's mean. He'll have to dance fast to keep from getting filleted."
Orville spoke up in my head. --Why don't you put a bet on the fight? Whichever
one you prefer. Say a thousand. There's nothing quite like watching a fight
when you have a stake.
At the appointed hour the small cage fields disappeared, leaving only the big
enclosure separating the fighters from the bettors. They circled one another
warily, probing for weaknesses.
"He has the reach on her too," someone said and I thought of my orange cheque.
Almost too fast to follow the woman launched herself away from Ludlow, bounced
off of the restraining field and flashed by him, slashing his chest. He swiped at her
but missed. The bettors shouted and cheered and jeered and blood began to run down his
belly as they squared off again.
--Don't they make some effort to match the fighters' skills? I asked Orville.
--Not really. The odds tend to sort themselves out accordingly, and who are we
to tell Tamara not to try to hang another dick on her wall?
"Surface wound," the man who had advised me said. "Lucky bitch."
He pressed her and managed to nick her a couple of times then she darted out from
the trap he was trying to set at the last moment, sliding beneath his reach and
slashing his ankle as he tried to turn. As she made to stand up he slashed
at her and cut her left arm pretty deeply. Then as he continued to swing she
lay back instead of standing up and jabbed upward with both feet, kicking
him solidly in the balls.
He howled, then she darted in, stabbed him in the left thigh and darted away
before he could react in his haze of pain. Blood began jetting out of the
wound, and she stood back smiling grandly. A few of the bettors saw the
writing on the wall and began drifting away from the arena.
"Fucking hell," the man behind me said. "Cut his fucking femoral artery.
Get up, man! Do something!"
But between his balls and his blood loss Ludlow was looking less capable of
doing something by the moment. Finally Tamara approached him and took his
knife; he was still alive but too weak to stop her. Then while he was
still conscious she castrated him. At that point the Book announced that
the conclusion was foregone and began paying out bets.
I collected my winnings and looked back. Ludlow had disappeared and Tamara
was holding her trophy high in her right hand, taking bows.
--I didn't realize you were serious about her hanging dicks on her wall.
I spent the rest of the day playing Mini-Baccarat for the table maximum. It was
as complicated as betting on a coin toss but a bit more teasing because of
the way cards were dealt and added up modulo 10 to get the result. The rules
for dealing an extra card for the "Bank" and "Player" hands were obscure but
our dealer had silver skin so I didn't worry about that. Several of the
people playing with me were keeping track of the results, looking for trends,
but Orville advised me that that was a fool's errand and I should just enjoy
staying in action without much thought.
--It's a common practice among fighters. Of course he'll have an organ when
Prime Intellect reconstructs him but she will keep her trophy, it's part of
the culture. By the way, congratulations on your perception; I'd have bet
on Ludlow myself.
--I feel like I need to take a bath.
--Bah, you didn't force them into that arena.
--Never seen so much blood in my life.
--She fought for you, Galan. Won you hard currency. I can guarantee that
the first thing she will do with her money is go down to the parking garage
and find some pathetic gimp to grovel for her.
--Parking garage? Why would you have a parking garage?
--Never mind. Let me show you Mini-Baccarat.
The next day I graduated to actual Baccarat, which is not played in the
low-roller areas of the casino. This was the same game as Mini-Baccarat
mathematically and in wagering, but it was staged with a degree of pomp and
grandeur that were truly impressive for a figurative coin toss. In the
full game there was actually a "Player" among the players who drew the cards
for the Player hand. You could still bet either player or bank, even if
you were the Player, but if you bet against yourself you were apt to clear
the table of money as the others waited for lightning to strike you.
The table minimum was five thousand Bugsies and I went through four markers
before I caught a positive trend. The players were of a different caliber
than those on the main casino floor. A human cocktail waitress served us,
and the jigger of aged Scotch whiskey I tasted on the advice of another
player went down with magical smootheness. On the other side of the table
a player was having her deliver lines of white powder each time she came by,
which he would snort through a straw.
--What is that stuff? I asked Orville.
Since I was doing it for him to experience, I took his advice. After I ran
out a fifth marker I decided I was tired of playing.
--Powder cocaine. Makes you feel like God for about twenty seconds.
My advice is to stay away from it and gamble instead. Much more fun.
I wandered around the high-roller area and stopped dead in my tracks when I
saw a Viking seated next to a naked woman at a Blackjack table. On second
look I realized the naked woman wasn't just seated next to him, her hands were
bound behind her back and she was chained to him by a collar and leash.
--Are you seeing this?
At that moment the Viking pounded the table and roared something that was
probably obscene in a language I didn't know, then he pressed a button on
his wrist console and the naked woman yelped. She stiffened and shook for
a few moments and then he released the button.
--Quite so. A luck slave, I'd guess.
--There was nothing like this downstairs.
--We generally try to maintain a certain level of decorum, but if you are
betting high enough, we will overlook a lot. And he is betting in ten thousand
Bugsy units. You could get away with dragging your luck slave across the
floor downstairs but most people down there can't afford one and those who
can wouldn't be caught dead among the yokels spending their first thousand.
--Wait a second, "afford?" How do you go about buying a person?
--Drift closer and I will explain something. You do realize that I am paying
you a million Bugsies to basically do what I want for a week?
--But that's not the same, you aren't humiliating me and...
I was speechless.
--Or torturing you when your luck is bad. I'd say you cut a better deal than
I finally tore myself away and drifted back to the restaurant area where Orville
had promised me a true delight. Not just a human chef but a human crew
prepared for me a four-course meal in the Cajun tradition that was just
superb; the wines and rum were handcrafted in individual batches and no
copies were made of anything. It was a one of a kind meal that nobody else
would ever experience, and I was given to understand that it cost almost a
thousand Bugsies. But even this wasn't the ultimate dining experience available
in the Desert Sand Casino; Orville said he was saving the best for last.
--How did he do that? I thought this was an Authentic environment for the
--Oh it's very Authentic, her collar can deliver an electric shock. I've
looked them up, he has a hundred thousand Bugsies in escrow for their contract.
I'd guess half of that is her basic fee and the rest is for penalties against
the likely case that he does something over the top.
--And how long does she have to put up with this for fifty or a hundred thousand
--Records say one week. She has three days to go. She can call it off early
but then she forfeits her fee; it's an interesting dynamic. The further
she goes the more he can abuse her because if she opts out she forfeits
any consideration for what she's already gone through.
--This is really sick.
--She is not a known masochist. Her fee would probably be lower if she was.
Also the Bookie will give odds of four to one on her bailing out.
The consensus seems to be that she will make it and collect her fee.
--Most likely you will find her downstairs, acting like a queen among people
who don't know about this and mostly wouldn't care if they did.
--You are feeling aroused. I hope you realize that casino keeps trained
people who earn their Bugsies by providing relief. At your level of play
their services would be comped.
I did not go to the parking garage, but I did flip through the directory and
at Orville's urging I picked out a very pretty lady who agreed to spend
the night with me and perform a basic range of sexual services. In the
minutes it took her to arrive I found myself remembering the Bookie who
would take a bet on whether I got laid during Orville's assignment. People
totally unrelated to me would trade money based on what I was about to do.
--I don't know how I feel. That whole scene to day with the Viking guy...
--Well I know how you feel, and you feel aroused. You've just never thought
about it before.
--It's not supposed to be possible to coercively control other people.
--And it isn't. They have to agree to be coercively controlled under terms
that Prime Intellect will accept. It won't accept a contract like that if it
doesn't think you understand what you are getting into.
--And your trained professionals will do things like that?
--Oh, no. Our trained professionals will roll in the hay with you and a few of
them will even play dominant for you if you crave that sort of thing, but if
you want someone to go under for you that spectacularly you need unearned
Bugsies and you need to go to the parking garage.
--I was going to ask you about the parking garage. Why would you have a
parking garage when nobody comes here in cars?
--Because the underclass needs a place to do its thing, and nobody wants them
doing it on the sidewalk out in front of the building.
When she arrived she was gracious and understanding, and she worked hard to
perform her duty. But as much as I thought of her tempting body, of the
other girls I'd bedded, even of the Viking and his slave my own body refused
to perform. In the end she slipped away and I drifted off to a fitful sleep,
dreaming of the button that would make the Viking's slave writhe in pain.
--Fuck gambling. Today I want to go to the parking garage.
These elevators went down, and opened into a canyon of bare white concrete.
It was indeed a parking garage, laid out with ramped floors leading from level
to level so that wheeled vehicles could be stored. But there were no cars;
instead a small city had been built of cardboard boxes, wood scraps, and other
waste materials. People milled around aimlessly until they noticed me.
--That's agreeable. I'd like to see it through your eyes anyway, and you've only
a couple of days left.
You need to go down a couple of levels, Orville advised.
I passed men playing games like Chess and Go. I passed people practicing
swordcraft with cardboard swords, and people practicing other fight techniques. I
passed people cooking food over trash fires and eating from much worn bowls.
A couple of levels down I found the prostitutes.
There were already other men here, a couple of whom were drifting back up with
women on their arms. I remembered the promise of the Disclaimer Room that
violence and theft were impossible, and quickly verified with Orville that that
was true here, too. Then I pulled four orange 1000B cheques out of my pocket
and fanned them so that all could see.
"Mister, a man who comes down here and flashes that kind of money doesn't
just want to get laid. What exactly do you want to buy?"
I had not really thought through the details of what I wanted to do, and I
realized that these ladies with their experience might help clarify my
focus. "I saw this Viking guy with a slave girl. He tortured her with
an electric collar whenever he lost. I can't stop thinking about it."
"Anything can get real expensive. Even more expensive than that if you don't
narrow it down some."
"I want power. I want to know that she has to do what I say."
The girl who had spoken up nodded. "Well, we got people here who do that,
though I'm not one of 'em. Power doesn't exist unless you demonstrate it.
What are you looking for? Pain? Humiliation? You want to slap her around
or you want to cut her up into little bits while she watches in a mirror? Or
you want to order her around and humiliate her? Or you want to take the magic
hardon pill and fuck her to death? You need to be more specific."
Another girl spoke up. "I went under for that guy once. Calls himself Ragnar.
Right fucking horrible bastard, killed me with an axe on my last day and laughed.
Turns out he planned to pay the penalty all along. I bet that's Ginelle with him now."
The girl looked as if she was thinking, and then I heard a voice in my head
that wasn't Orville's. It was Prime Intellect. She has accepted your
terms. Do you agree to put her fee in escrow in order to bind this contract?
"Bookie seems to think she'll make it."
"That's just all the guys betting to set the odds. I hope you aren't that
fucked up, Mister."
"I don't know. I don't think so."
Another new voice: "For two of those orange cheques I'll give you twenty-four
hours, any kind of sex, and any kind of whipping. Whipping's cathartic. Very
primal. Get it out of your system. Oh, and you can tie me up if you want. No
blood sport, no Death tricks, I opt out and keep the money if you go over the top."
"Be careful, Madri."
"Deal," I said.
I thought yes and two of my orange cheques vanished.
"Twenty-four hours," I said. "Let's get up to my room. I'm in the Mussolini
There was a muffled gasp from the ladies standing around, and Madri made a
perfect "O" of astonishment with her mouth. Then we made our way to the
elevators, and the Mussolini Suite, and the implements of pain which were
assembled for me at her direction.
Although her contract was only for a day she stayed with me for the rest of my
own obligation; I told her about Orville and we made an odd threesome out of it.
She shared my suite and shared my comps. She sat with me as I tried to learn
poker and lost my ass to a roomfull of sharks. She even asked me to
whip her again on my last night. Orville said she was a natural masochist
who would be making big bucks one day in the heavy trade, which was a fast
track to high-rolling celebrity.
When Orville's voice went silent in my head I tipped her ten thousand Bugsies
and sent her on her way. Shortly thereafter Orville Piazza graced the doorstep
of the Mussolini Suite in his own infamous corpulant physical person.
He was holding a cloth bag.
"Well that was amusing," he said. "Here is your fee, and we need you out of
the suite. You're welcome to stay at the casino under all the usual terms.
You're a rich man now."
He stepped aside and gestured; it was time
to leave. I took the bag and I took the elevator and I took the teleporter
to the terminus. From there I could go back through the Disclaimer Room
and then home, or anywhere else in Cyberspace, the vast overwhelming majority
of places where everything did not boil down to how much cash you had.
"It doesn't seem like I gave you a million Bugsies worth of excitement,"
"Oh, that remains to be seen. I wonder if you have stopped to consider exactly
what it is that gives the Bugsy its value?"
"I don't know. Because you limit the number of them?"
"Partly, but there really isn't much you can buy with Bugsies that you can't
have for the asking back where you came from. In the old days currencies had
to have something behind them to give them implicit value. Something you
could trade them for to demonstrate their worth. They had to be 'backed.'
"The Bugsy is backed by human misery. The one thing you can buy with a
Bugsy that you can't simply ask Prime Intellect for is the suffering of
another bona fide human being. Not a facsimile or a simulation or a recording,
but a real live person who feels as you feel. There aren't many places in
Cyberspace where you can have that at all, and most of them are expensive
in other very personal ways. You asked me why we have a parking garage;
that, Galan, is why we have a parking garage. The parking garage is the
Desert Sand Casino's version of Fort Knox."
Of course I could come back one day. Maybe I would. I was a rich man.
I could find another girl and own her for awhile.
On a whim I opened my bag and looked at the cheques. They were gray cheques,
very light gray. An unfamiliar shade. Every single one of them said E5000B.
Earned money. I could not give it to another person, for example someone like
Madri, in exchange for a period of servitude.
I closed the bag and made my way back to the teleporter. It ate one of my
gray cheques and gave me four orange in return, and I stepped through it back
into the casino.