art by ShotHot Design
Men of Wealth
by Ross Willard
Thomas stared at the cards in his hand. He bit his lower lip and worried it between his teeth as he eyed the pile of black rock that lay halfway between himself and his opponent.
"Dammit boy, you in or not?" Drawled the old man.
"I told you, Geezer, I never played like this before. You gotta give me a minute to think, here."
Geezer shook his head and rolled his eyes. "It's the same damned game you wasted your money on whenever we stopped by the station. Ain't like you've gotta relearn the rules or nothin'."
"The ones on the station were computerized," the younger man countered. "It organized your number for you, told you how many cards were still in the deck. Hell, it even told you what your best play was, statistically speaking."
"And you still managed to lose all your money." Geezer snorted. "Seems to me the best advice it could've given you was to quit while you were ahead."
He seemed to realize what he was saying just as the words were coming out of his mouth.
Thomas's jaw clenched and he turned his gaze reflexively to the floor in shame.
"Dammit, boy, I didn't mean it like that."
There was a softness to the old man's voice now that Thomas had never heard before.
"I know." Thomas forced himself to look up. "Doesn't mean it isn't true."
Geezer sighed. "But it isn't. Don't you think I'd let you know?"
"It was a stupid risk."
"Of course it was. But that's what we do. We gamble."
The older man's face broke into a grin, exposing a jagged row of teeth and gums. "Now that's a damned ignorant thing to say. What the hell do you think this job is, boy? It's nothing but a lifetime of bets. You spend your life savings for a ship that was scrapped before your grandfather was born, and hope that you'll be able to make it run. You scrape together enough money for fuel, and pray that you find an asteroid worth mining close enough that you can fly back. You think you're the only man out here who lives on the edge? I could've gotten a job on any of the planets. I came out here because I needed the excitement."
"But you're always so careful," Thomas countered. "I've never seen you waste anything. Not money, not food. Nothing."
"That's because I already made my bet. I put every chip I had on the table before you and I ever met. I've just been waiting to see how it all turned out."
The smile faded from the old man's face as his words echoed in the tiny room.