18 March 2011

"It's Better to be Lucky"

By Curtis C. Chen

Everything smelled like smoke. Jenna wondered how she was going to get it out of her clothes and hair—like all Regulans, Harold would be able to identify the hydrocarbons and know exactly where she'd been. She hadn't wanted to use the casino, but Dr. Caffrey had insisted it would be the fastest way to launder his payments to her.

Jenna pushed the flashing button on the slot machine again. She just had to lose the rest of this stake to fake a gambling habit, and she could go home.

A row of glittering sevens ratcheted into place, and the machine went crazy.


The manager's office smelled of old wood and oiled leather. Jenna wondered if he was going to comp her a room. She had heard casinos sometimes did that for high rollers. That would be convenient; she could get cleaned up without putting suspicious motel charges on her credit card.

A stocky man came in and sat down behind the desk. He smiled at Jenna with dead eyes.

"Hello, Mrs. Pokorny. I'm Mr. Wick. It seems we have a problem."

"Did I do something wrong? I'm sorry—"

"No, Mrs. Pokorny, nothing like that. In fact, the casino apologizes for any inconvenience you may suffer as a result of this incident."

Jenna couldn't read Wick's face at all. That scared her. "What do you mean?"

Wick sighed. "That slot machine downstairs should not have paid out for you. Not your fault, of course; these things are random. But it does complicate things."

"I was supposed to lose money today," Jenna said, understanding. "Not win it."

"Exactly," Wick said. "This is not a situation we anticipated."

"But I don't want the money," Jenna said. "You can keep it. Dr. Caffrey's going to pay me more than enough just for scanning Harold's brain."

"Well, that's very generous of you, Mrs. Pokorny," Wick said, "but all our slots are wire-locked. The gaming commission already knows the Seventh Heaven machine has paid out. They'll want to know who won the jackpot, for tax records."

Jenna's heart sank. "That's going to be public information?"

Wick nodded. "Now, there may be an easy way to resolve this situation. If we can identify some service you can provide to us in exchange for the balance of your winnings, we'll be happy to call it even. But I can't imagine what you could do that might be worth five point three million dollars to my organization." He paused. "Except for one thing."

Jenna swallowed the lump in her throat. "My husband."

"No, Mrs. Pokorny! We'd never ask you for that. Who do you think we are?" He leaned forward. "You can keep your husband. We just want one of his Regulan friends, alive, for Dr. Caffrey and his associates to study. Just one alien. Maybe an in-law you don't like, somebody who won't be missed. We're not picky. Do you think you could do that for us, Mrs. Pokorny?"

Jenna felt lightheaded. She saw hazy spots flashing around Wick's head, and then she fainted.


Photo: Slot machines! by David Zeuthen, September, 2006