Bangkok Roulette, by Nigel Woodhead, An interactive science fiction novelette
In a near-future society obsessed with gambling and games-consoles, the anti-hero, Fat Bob, travels from New York to Bangkok for some well-earned R&R. He soon learns that some of the locals indulge in a far more deadly form of gambling, for the privilege of dining on taboo delicacies.
This experimental story, which will appeal to fans of Philip K. Dick, benefits from six alternative hypertext "sting in the tail" EndGames. (It's a Lose-Lose scenario for Bob, the dice are loaded, all the chambers of the gun too. Bob gets his just deserts, one way or another.... You choose!). Ebook includes hyperlinked EndGames. Are you feeling lucky ???
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Bangkok Roulette - Free Sample
Fat Bob caught the stratoliner from NYC to the Thai capital BKK. Security was
tight on check-in, hell, they even x-rayed his shoes. The stratospheric cruiser
would cut the previously arduous journey to a couple of hours - not much longer
than his regular commute out to the suburbs. Not that he often managed the
regular commute. What with the last couple of years spent largely on consultancy
postings. It had cost him far too much quality time, not to mention his second
marriage. Now he was going to catch up for a little lost fun and play a few
games. Maybe even get a few smart moves and gambits uploaded to his IDchip to
improve his handicap a bit. He was beginning to drop behind some of the other
guys in the office. And for catching up on lost time, there was no beating the
stratoliner. You could leave NYC in the evening, local, and get to BKK in the
morning. Local again, of course.
He didn't resent the high security. You couldn't be too careful, not since the unfortunate incident at Canaveral, on the eve of the Mars Landing. Two hundred of the world's super-rich and most celebrated, onboard just such a ram-jet, had been hijacked by puritanical Anti-Luddite terrorists. Their flight had been turned into a missile that had fallen with ballistic velocity on the Launch Centre, killing nearly two thousand of the assembled dignitaries, including many of the President's personal friends and family. All as a protest against harmless games console technology, or so they had claimed.
Bob gazed out of the porthole at the stratosphere, cradling a brandy glass in his fist. He felt proud. It was good to be alive, good to be American again. The most recent of several short, sharp surgical wars in the Middle East had restored national pride, and settled a few old scores. New York's airport, NYC, had come to be known affectionately as "Nike", the Victory Airport. Named, of course, after the Ancient Greek goddess Athena Nike, symbolising victory by the founders of western civilisation over the hordes of the East, the Persians. Though most Americans assumed that it was actually named after a popular brand of sports shoes and gaming gloves. No matter. The terrorists and spoilsports had been pacified, if not entirely placated, and there were things to celebrate again.
Then, in the decade that had passed since the meltdown at Canaveral, Western industry had worked a couple of nice scams, a campaign that had become known as the Cult War. Playing on the oriental cultures' universal and insatiable love for barter, and for gambling, they had come up with a selection of technological must-haves, crowned by the Gamble-Boy® handset. Irresistible. Even more so than the call of the imams and the mullahs. Market forces, thought Bob, chuckling to himself. There was a rich irony in there somewhere. Kasbah spirit. Barter and gambling were two sides of the same coin - invest at a price, in the hope you can sell later for more. It had caught on fast, meeting a universal need. So much so that the internationally recognised CHIPS token system had ad become the de facto global currency. Kerching! Win-win! With the majority of males between the ages of seven and seventy hooked on the little palmtop terminals, interest in the drab flavours of fundamentalism had plummeted. Even WASP had been forced to open its arms to the GambleBoy craze, now offering various forms of interactive prayer and multiple-choice personal confession.
And everyone who'd shrewdly bought a few shares in the IPO had bagged a winner at 100-1, or more. Bob had been one of those lucky ones - that is, the ones fortunate enough to have a little foreknowledge of the product from the design specs and marketing plans. TO the extent that he was now able to permit himself the occasional luxury getaway, brief but addictive tasters of the high-rolling lifestyle of the rich and famous - such as many of his CEO-class clients lived - one to which he aspired, but which in all probability he would never be able to afford full-time. Not unless he got really lucky.
The last few months, on a personal level, had been an uphill struggle, but henceforth the game was going to go Bob's way. All the games, in fact. He was going to make sure there were a few back doors and hidden traps built in, that only he knew about. He sat back, calculating odds, jotting down rules and scenarios, planning the objectives of his schedule, attaching weightings and risk factors, tapping them all in to his palmtop gaming console cum personal organiser with a tiny stylus. Like all true patriots Bob took a more than healthy interest in online sports. Quality gametime.
To be truthful the leather recliner was a little narrow for a man of his not insubstantial girth. The needle-shaped rocket plane had imposed a few design constraints. But it was a small sacrifice for the speed, and all other creature comforts were quality assured. One flew through the thin mist of the outer atmosphere, under a blue-black heaven, pampered by impeccably demure hostesses, and tempted with the world's finest wines and liquors. Plus a top of the line entertainment suite, everything from wraparound arcade games to a full immersion casino suite, all tastefully integrated with the recliner. Now that was what Bob called an executive chair. He could even take some personal pride in it. Early in his career, he'd worked on the stratoliner's vastly ambitious launch program himself, one of the President's flagships for Fortress America. Of course there had been Air Force applications for the technology too… But who could have guessed that some of the bombs would end up being human.
Bob flicked through the Thai guide book, marvelling at the photos of gold-tipped stupas and wats, as they called them, the Thai temples with their domes and turrets. Hell, he thought, the little temple boys and girls looked kind of cute. And they were friendly people, so he'd heard, with quite different values to those of WASP, (Worldwide Adventist Spiritual Partnership, the official national church back home). A good destination for some discreet R&R. Or so his colleagues whispered in the coffee-area. A good place to cut some bespoke gamescode.
The crime section of the guide was less comforting. The streets of the Thai capital were thick with thieves, apparently, and all manner of confidence tricksters. There were a thousand scams for extracting the tourists' chips, often without them even realising that they'd been swindled. Glass gems, waxed cotton or even synthetics passed off as silk, counterfeits of every imaginable brand and commodity. As for electronic and entertainment goods…. Whole markets offered them at a fraction of the price of the real thing, and in flagrant violation of world trade and copyright treaties. But the guides warned against taking a casual, unaccompanied foot tour. Or dabbling in fake goods, especially hi-tech ones.
Bob scanned on, a faint frown forming. Perhaps most disturbingly of all, the book warned how, in the last couple of years, the tourists themselves had started to disappear, along with their valuables. Spirited away, often without trace. Their fate didn't bear thinking about. There were rumours of human experimentation in illegal pharmaceutical labs… various kinds of degrading slavery… forced participation in interactive snuff vids… or just plain old execution to get rid of the witnesses or to settle gambling debts. Life was cheap, cheaper than a fistful of pirated deevids, it seemed. Take an organised tour from a respectable agency, the book advised, in the strongest of terms. Bob nodded to himself, as the hostess offered him a generous top-up to his Hennessy Paradis brandy. Hey, with lemonade it beat the hell out of Southern Comfort.
He had hardly finished his plate of lobster balls when they touched down. Pretty big balls, those lobsters, he chuckled. Maybe it would do something for him in that direction too. Every little helped. He slid into the linen jacket the cabin steward retrieved for him, and stepped off the plane into the sultry air of the BKK VIP arrival suite. There, he retrieved his leather flight bag without incident. So far so good. The Customs scan was a brief formality, the uniformed paramilitary clerk nodding him through subserviently. They knew better than to cause a potential diplomatic incident with US IDchip bearers.
Now he just needed a cab into town. The neons above several boutiques were already responding to the presence of his IDchip, making customised offers of fixed-price limos. Special deal for GambleBoy stakeholders… That sounded good, no chance of a rip-off there, surely? He paid his fifty chips and was issued with a thin sliver of red foil, his ticket. The girl behind the counter gestured towards the exit, and made the traditional prayer-like greeting to him as he left.
A crowd of people waited beyond the barriers, mainly Thai from the look of them. Some held boards carrying names of the executives they had come to meet. Others, with cameras, were apparently reporters, hoping the glimpse of famous faces among the disembarking rich folks. A commissionaire in a blue peaked cap and epaulettes signalled to him, pointing eagerly to the red slip he was carrying. "Airport Expressway Official Limos," he said. "Sawwadee! Welcome, honoured guest!"
"Hell, that's mighty kind of you, sir," said Bob, relieved that it had been so simple to link up with his ride.
"Just this way," indicated the commissionaire, gesturing with a gloved hand towards a thoughtfully discreet side exit, away from the gaze of the crowd and the inevitable press gang of assorted, insistent, thick-skinned and badly washed hustlers.
Outside it was even hotter, and very humid. Bob felt the dampness permeate his shirt almost at once. And a tingle in his spine, coupled with the illusion of the scent of burning amber, signalled that his IDchip thought he was entering a non-certified environment. He chose to ignore it.
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