The Redcards: 2- Fortunate one

Fortunate one

Dale Fox finished work early and slipped out of the power station. His supervisor was occupied on another part of the island and the others within the facility were all busy fixing a fuel leak. Even so, Dale opened the door slowly and scanned the nearby buildings and jungle for any sign of a black uniform. Bryce and his hated security operatives were always on the lookout for rule-breaking; and attending a poker game while technically on duty was certainly that. Satisfied that he was safe, Dale trotted across open ground and into the safety of the treeline, smiling to himself. He was not only guilty of playing poker, but of organising the games.

It was becoming an addiction. Not organising. Not playing. Winning. Because that first game with the local men all those months ago had just been the beginning. And now he didn’t even think about why he got a king when he needed it, or a heart or a club, a spade or a diamond. He just knew that, more often than not, the cards went his way. He didn’t win every time; he just won far more than could ever be considered normal. In fact, some of his winning streaks were so good that he occasionally lost on purpose – just to make sure the other guys kept playing.  

        Dale hurried through the trees, staying in cover and always keeping an eye out for black uniforms. Wolf Chang and his leadership team had pressed forward with developing the island and it was now a very different place. Despite the virus ravaging the world, Chang had allowed more qualified, useful individuals to join his project. He also still possessed the core team that had been present when the crisis began. Given the unpredictable carnage unleashed across most of the world, the reclusive billionaire now had even more reason to fulfil his dream of a safe, isolated hideaway. Dale had no doubt that every one of the four thousand or so people with him were grateful to be there.

Because the population was now permanent, there was an increased need for accommodation and small ‘neighbourhoods’ had grown up, some with their own nicknames. The area where Dale lived with wife Marie and daughter Julie was one of basic workers’ housing. This wasn’t exactly a priority for Mr. Chang and the buildings were closely-packed, made from corrugated iron and other cheap materials. This had given rise to the name ‘Slumville’, though no one ever dared used that term in front of Mr. Chang or any of the senior leaders.

        Spying movement, Dale halted and ducked down behind a sprawling fern. Walking along one of the many paths that criss-crossed the island were two loaders in orange overalls. There was no reason to fear them but Dale didn’t want anyone seeing him sneak into the Ace High. This was a grand name for a very humble place. The gambling den was an old store room that was never used because of a rat infestation. The players didn’t mind seeing the odd rodent if it meant they could play their games in peace. When Bryce and his security team had realised that the gambling was affecting work flow, Chang had immediately outlawed it. But that hadn’t stopped them. Ace High was in a neglected quarter of Tech Ville, an otherwise busy area of machine shops, laboratories and computer suites, where many experts were employed.

Once the loaders were past, Dale at last left the trees, ducked under a water pipe and approached Ace High. He gave the coded knock and was ushered in by Angelo, a burly construction labourer who lived with his brother not far from Dale in Slumville.

        ‘Half hour game?’ suggested Dale.

        ‘Fine with me,’ replied Angelo.

        ‘Cool,’ said Erica, a computer programmer with a severe fringe and a collection of film-related t-shirts. Today it was Jaws.

        ‘Just waiting for Gina then,’ added Dale.

Though only four were playing today, there were about twenty regular gamers in the elite band granted access to Ace High. It was now clear to Dale that he was not the only ‘gifted’ gambler on the island. Some of them were even beginning to form groups of similarly ‘talented’ folk. Many played poker and other games of chance to boost their earnings. Some had even figured a way to make money from basketball or soccer. They had an uncanny knack of getting balls through hoops or in nets; and weren’t afraid of betting on themselves.

One man who’d made more than most was a Russian architect named Dmitri Fedorov. By his own admission, he’d been an average basketball player before but was now one of the best on the island. Mr. Chang was very keen on his workers being occupied by constructive leisure time and there were good facilities and popular leagues for both basketball and soccer. Fedorov was known to have made a small fortune betting on his team, prompting Dale to have a quiet word with him about being more discrete. Fedorov had clearly not forgotten the poker game in which Dale took more than five hundred WOK off him. His response had been to swear viciously at him: in Russian and English.

Dale considered the members of Ace High to be his team. They were all so lucky that games of Texas Hold ‘Em produced remarkable hands; straights and flushes were common and every player had landed at least one royal flush. Their games were thrilling.

Yet they rarely discussed their ‘gift’ or how it had been bestowed upon them. Dale reckoned they didn’t want to know; and he wasn’t sure he did either. When Marie brought up the subject, he tried to avoid it.

Gina arrived. A Nigerian programmer, she made sure the door was locked behind her and joined the other three. They sat on stools around a cardboard box, where a new pack of cards was waiting. All four also threw in their WOK cards. WOK was the currency used on the island and the cards came with an in-built transfer facility. Erica had worked out a way of keeping their transactions private but Dale knew this was another risk. As Angelo began shuffling the cards, Erica doled out the coloured buttons they used as counters; each relating to a certain number of WOK.

‘You okay?’ Dale asked Gina, noticing she seemed preoccupied.

‘I guess,’ she said, running a hand across her dreadlocked hair, some of which was adorned with coloured thread.

‘Come on,’ said Dale. ‘What is it?’

He had known her a while and felt sympathy for her predicament. Though virtually everyone on the island had left friends and family behind, Gina had suffered more than most. She was a senior programmer and her supervisor had refused to let her leave when the crisis broke out. By the time she persuaded him that it was a matter of life or death, international flights had been grounded. She was one of five siblings, all of whom were back in Lagos with her parents.

‘Some of the coms stuff I’ve seen on the system,’ she said glumly. ‘An American aircraft carrier just drifting because there’s no one left aboard alive. People on rafts trying to cross the South China Sea. Pleas for help from dozens of countries around the world. Worse than that – the silence from dozens more.’

‘I hear you,’ said Dale. ‘Anything on Nigeria?’

‘Nothing good.’

Dale sighed. ‘Don’t remember the last time I heard a plane overheard. It’s got to be pretty bad out there.’

‘Guys, we come to here to forget all that,’ said Erica. ‘Time to play.’

Dale’s wife Marie had done a great job with their house. Even though the building materials were substandard and the three-room dwelling was very hot in the summer months, she had made it liveable. She and Dale had ‘liberated’ a small air-con unit and she’d persuaded her supervisor to give her a tablet for young Julie to do her homework on. Every child on the island went to school and every adult had to work. Though she was a visual artist by trade, Marie had accepted a job in the cafeteria. She’d cried after the first day but Dale was glad that she now seemed used to it. And she hadn’t abandoned her art; their house was decorated with imaginative sculptures made from waste materials.

As he sat down to eat shredded beef and noodles with his wife and daughter, Dale wished he could boast about his latest win: two hundred and thirty WOK, no less. But he didn’t want his wife to know about his illegal activities.

‘How was school?’ he asked.

‘Okay,’ said Julie. Her accent had already changed five times since she’d enrolled; she was surrounded by youngsters from all over the planet. Dale and Marie agreed that Chang had done a good job with setting up the school. There were only a few trained staff but others had volunteered to teach in their specialist areas.

‘Albert Musa was crying all day,’ added Julie.

‘Misses his mother,’ explained Marie.

‘Ah,’ said Dale, certain that this would be another of the many hard-luck stories that abounded on the island. Everyone had them but he knew was luckier than most: and in more ways than one.

‘It’s quite a nice evening,’ he said once he’d finished his noodles. ‘How about a walk?’

There were a couple of routes they liked and this time they went out to the North Headland. On the way there, they passed the many fields and greenhouses established by the island’s food production teams. Though he had acquired huge reserves of provisions, Wolf Chang was determined that at least half of their food be homegrown. Once past one of the solar panel arrays, Dale and his family followed a coastal path. They spotted a drifting canoe in one of the coves and a a distant ship far out to sea.

When Marie and Julie turned inland to pick some flowers, Dale followed them. Ambling around, he suddenly felt something very hard under his right shoe. Lifting it up, he saw what looked like red glass catching the dying sun. Dale bent down, brushed some soil away, then levered the object out of the ground. It turned out to be a multi-faceted red crystal unlike anything he had ever seen.

‘Wow!’ said Julie. ‘That’s pretty.’

                                        *

It wasn’t just pretty. Deciding that he already kept enough from his superiors, Dale reported the find to the island’s survey team. For a few weeks, he heard nothing directly, but rumours began to circulate. It became known that the scientists had uncovered more of the crystals and that they had made some incredible discoveries. Other than that, solid information was hard to come by.

One day, five weeks after he found the crystal, Dale was summoned from a job fixing power cables to see his supervisor, Vice-Director Goldman. A strange incident occurred on the way. As he passed a warehouse, Dmitri Fedorov stepped out from behind a corner. The tall, bearded Russian poked Dale in the chest.

‘You tell me I can’t earn from my gifts but then you take all you can? I’m watching you, Fox.’

Fedorov then spat on the ground and marched away.

Wishing he’d said something, Dale composed himself and hurried over his supervisor’s office. When he entered, he found himself face to face with not only Goldman but Michael Dubois, Head of Operations; and Rachel Perez, Head of Research.

At Goldman’s invitation, Dale sat down opposite his three superiors, unsure what he was going to hear.

‘Morning, Dale,’ said Dubois. ‘You well? The family okay?’

‘Fine, thank you, sir.’

‘Good.’ Dubois turned to Perez, who spoke up.

‘The crystal you found is one of several hundred in that field. Some are close to the surface, others buried, but not too deeply. And it seems that isn’t the only field on the island. There may well be tens of thousands of them here.’

‘I see.’

‘You will have noticed how light the crystals are. That’s because they’re composed of a material previously unknown. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t go into the details but they possess another property that renders them exceptionally useful. And valuable.’

‘Quite a stroke of luck then?’ said Dale.   

‘Certainly,’ said Dubois. ‘Mr. Chang is fascinated by this find. And grateful. Mr. Goldman hear tells me that you’re performing well. How would you feel about a promotion?’

Author TheWolf
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