Mad Crab Mojave: Chapter 24

In which Jones starts to question his lead

A few plates of food and a cup of coffee later, Jones felt like a new man. He pulled out the notebook he’d found in the Virtual Vegas server room. He’d glanced through it a few times at the airport, but was too grumpy to make any sense of it. It might have important details about the Virtual Vegas immersion software. With luck, the notebook would help him understand what Mad Crab was doing there. He was starting to worry. Mad Crab might be on a crime spree completely unrelated to the military grade quantum supercomputer.

The notebook had belonged to one of the technicians. They’d printed their name on the front page, along with their title - Sensory Architect. Most pages just had unlabeled boxes connected with arrows. Jones flipped to a random entry. Four boxes, six arrows, and a single word, underlined five times: RECON??? Another page seemed to have notes for a manual database backup. There were lots of garbled strings that looked like passwords. Most of the writing was completely illegible. 

Shouts broke through his analytical fog. Jones looked up and saw security guards hurrying towards the poker tables. “Easy,” the ranger was calling. “Let’s all take it easy now.” Jones pocketed the notebook and went to see what was going on.

The cyborg, Tasty, was sitting at the poker table with his hands raised in the air. A massive pile of poker chips sat in front of him. Security guards surrounded him. The other players sat frozen, hands slapped protectively over their cards. The dealer stood with his arms crossed, displeased.

“We’re going to need you to come with us to the office,” said one of the guards.

Tasty shook his head. “I won it fare and square,” he said, drawing out his words. “Just because you’re not used to it doesn’t mean it can’t happen.” 

“We need to review your methods,” the dealer insisted. “The derivative markets are not pleased. We’ve got a dozen traders demanding that we roll back the whole game. According to their models, the fix was in.” 

Shaking his head with amusement, Tasty put his cards down on the table and eased his armored bulk to his feet. The guards shrank away as he used his prosthetic arm to sweep his pile of chips to the floor. A small crowd of onlookers formed.

“I was here the whole time, he didn’t do a damn thing wrong!” Fred, the ranger, circled the edge of the group, trying to get between the guards and the cyborg. The guards shouldered past him and led Tasty away through the crowd. Fred tried to follow, but one of the casino staff held him back.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jones saw two women in black. Each wore an upper body exoskeleton. They were the same cyborgs that he’d seen get on the shuttle bus at the airport. They wound their way through the crowd towards the back wall. Taking advantage of the distraction, they slipped through a staff door. 

The assembled crowd watched Fred to see what he would do next. His face was ruddy with distraction, and he clenched and unclenched his fists. Then, coming to a conclusion, he deflated.

“Just because you’re a cyborg doesn’t automatically mean you can count cards,” Fred mumbled. He wandered off, morose. The crowd began to break up. The dealer found more gamblers to take the empty seats. 

Once more, everything was calm. Jones headed back to the buffet. Free refills. It was the stuff of dreams. His phone buzzed, and he looked at it. It was a text from Agent Moss.

“Reassigned Marvin to another case. Rendezvous canceled.”

Jones considered a pithy reply, but thought better of it. The threat of Federal prison still loomed. His nose tickled. A faint scent of electrical smoke wafted through the dining area. He looked around, thinking it might be a burning omelette. But the egg chef had trained in Brazil, and showed no trace of concern. 

The smell grew stronger. Fire alarms went off. Emergency lights blinked, competing with the blinding din of the slot machine displays. The egg chef paused, then abandoned his post. A loudspeaker went off. “PLEASE PROCEED TO THE NEAREST EXIT. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.”

Finally, the crowd in the room grasped what was going on, and people started to surge towards the front doors. Smoke was starting to fill the room from all sides. It was getting hard to see. Jones started coughing. People dropped to their knees and started crawling, tripping others trying to run. Jones hugged the wall, avoiding the densest part of the scrum. 

At the doors, a few employees still tried to check people’s balances to make sure no one owed the casino money. Edging past them, Jones made it through the vestibule and back out into the parking lot. He bent over, hands on his knees. He regretted, more than anything else he could recall from his recent past, that he had not tried one of the Brazilian omelettes before the place burned down.