A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace

Originally Published
Mon May 19, 2003 at 09:31:12 AM EST

I had my first wet dream when I was fourteen, and two days later I was approached by the Avatar. Some parents try to interfere but mine had learned the first time, with my brother, who is nearly a century older than me. I knew they had noticed the stained bedclothes because they suddenly became a bit distant and started leaving me alone a lot. I thought they were trying to figure out how to have That Talk with me. Like most adolescents I knew something about sex years before my body was ready.

And like most adolescents I didn't know nearly as much as I thought I did. They were actually leaving the coast clear so Prime Intellect could do its explaining.

So like everybody of a certain age I found out that I could go anywhere, do anything, even go places I'd never imagined and do things that were utterly unbelievable. I could become a totally different person if I wanted to, taller or stronger or I could even become a girl. I could turn off any feelings or biological processes I found annoying and I could enhance the ones I wanted to particularly explore. I left home for a month and took a whirlwind tour so that it would know I was aware of the options that were open to a sexually mature member of the species Homo Sapiens.

Then I did what most people do; I went back home, walked to the outskirts of town, and drew up plans for a modest but very classy villa. Prime Intellect did the rest and I was a householder. My new neighbors and my parents and my old neighbors came to my housewarming the next evening. They complimented my taste in architecture and congratulated me and brought mounds of Authentic food lovingly prepared at labor by actual human hands.

Several local girls made themselves obvious and toward the late evening the adults mysteriously drifted away so I could be tempted. I let a brunette named Lita accompany me upstairs. She was sixteen but small for her age so we were about the same height. She started my education in the arts of love in my own recently designed bedroom as the moons threw double shadows.

I was now a man, and in the tradition of my people I would begin to earn a place in our society. One day I would marry Lita or some other girl like her and have a kid like myself. For all those amazing options Prime Intellect had shown me, it was the way I had been brought up and I saw no reason to abandon everything that was familiar to me.

Boy was I wrong.


On my eighteenth birthday Prime Intellect delivered a big flat package of paper, the kind of thing my people use for official announcements. Inside was an invitation that I found a bit florid until Prime Intellect verified its particulars.

Galan, I have asked Prime Intellect to choose for me at random a man of your particular age and experience for an opportunity which is considered a great honor in some social circles. An ordinary person who wishes to visit one of the Twelve Casinos is allowed a once in a lifetime free gift of a thousand units of our currency, the Bugsy. In exchange for a week of your time which I promise will involve no hardship or physical pain on your part I will pay you a million Bugsies, which will allow you to live in style for a long time if you wish in an environment where this is a great and highly restricted privilege.

-- Orville Piazza

A few of my neighbors knew of Piazza; he is one of the most famous people in all of Cyberspace. He is one of the Twelve Wise Guys who remade the casino industry in the dawning days of Cyberspace. Born before the Change he and his friends crafted a vision of how the casino experience could be perpetuated in a world where anybody could have anything just for asking.

Their answer was simplicity itself; their casinos are their worlds and while you are visiting them you can't have anything you want from Prime Intellect. You must buy everything with Bugsies. It is naturally considered a great privilege to live in such an environment for any length of time. There were of course other casinos; you could even have Prime Intellect build you one just for asking, but that didn't mean you could get people to visit. It wouldn't have the cachet of staying in Orville Piazza's casino.

And oh yes, if you ever placed a bet in any other casino you were blackballed from the Twelve for life, your Bugsies evaporated and your persona non grata. You couldn't hide it, because Prime Intellect knows all and it tells all when you agree to enter someone else's world. "Life" is a long time to be blackballed in Cyberspace, and people take things like that seriously.

Some of my neighbors had visited one or another of the Twelve Casinos and spent the thousand Bugsies you get just for being born and they reported that it was "interesting." These casinos would be a familiar environment in some ways, limited like our own world in the amount of magic you could demand. But they were bent, I was warned, to bring out the worst in people.

Still the upshot was that it was a rare privilege so I had Prime Intellect send me over.


To my surprise I emerged not in the famous casino, but in a Disclaimer Room. These are common enough in Cyberspace but I had never been through one so I read the sign closely. In the casino all my natural biological functions would work normally, which is a tradition of my own people. I couldn't leave except by making my way back to this terminus, or going through an authentic Death experience. No Avatar sex; if I wanted to get laid, I'd have to find an actual human to do it with, another tradition of my people. All games were guaranteed by Prime Intellect to be random and unbiased. My Bugsies were linked to me and could not be stolen, though under the right conditions they could be given and/or scammed. Physical violence would be permitted only in certified venues. I touched the acknowledgement and walked through.

I was in a bus terminal full of milling people. There was a bewildering clash of dress styles; I recognized a few of them from my adolescence tour. A big sign declared:

Piazza's Desert Sand Casino 50 kilometers
Transportation Options:
  • Crowded Shuttle Bus on hour every hour 20B
  • Taxi with Annoyingly Talkative Driver 50B
  • Limousine with Stereo Sound and Wet Bar 250B
  • Individual Teleportation Booth 1000B
  • Walking Free (water 1B/liter)
I realized there was a new bulk in my pockets. I reached in and found a dozen three centimeter diameter tokens. They were white, red, green, and black, labelled E1B, E5B, E25B, and E100B respectively. I added them up and realized they were my thousand Bugsies.

Near the teleportation booth there was an Authentic telephone labelled "courtesy phone" which, amazingly enough, was free. I picked it up and a nasal female voice answered, "Desert Sand Casino."

"I'd like to speak to Orville Piazza," I said.

"You and half the rest of the world, honey," the receptionist said.

"I'm invited. I'm Galan Quarznap."

Her mood changed instantly.
"Oh, I'm so sorry honey, let me put you through."
The phone went silent and then rang three times. A gruff male announced:
"Domino One."

"Mr. Piazza? This is Galan..."

"Ahhhhhh, of course my young friend. Don't tell me, you're at the terminal aren't you? Let me run a comp for you. Okay, you have credit in the teleporter, I'll meet you at this end in a couple of minutes."

"Uh, thanks."

But he had already hung up. When I approached it the teleport booth glowed green for me, and when I stepped in the far door went transparent and let me open it.


The teleporter dumped me off in the VIP check-in lounge. A perky clerk dressed in a whisper flashed me the most fake smile I'd ever seen and asked if I had credit.

"I'm Galan..."

"Quarznap, yes. You've been comped into the Mussolini suite, very nice digs. For seven days. For your information, most of the signs in the resort are designed to be confusing, but since you're a VIP if you touch any of them they will become much more revealing and they will call a service avatar on your request to show you on your way."

"That's nice," I said. "Are you a ... service avatar?"

She cringed. "Holy fuck no. Avatars have silver metallic skin. You can see them a mile away. A lot of the dealers are avatars."

"You're human?"

"I should hope so, junior."

"It's just strange to see a human doing such a, well..."

"Menial job?"

"I guess that's it."

"I'm busted out. There are faster ways to earn it back but I'm not that hard up. Meanwhile a lot of people are watching you, Mr. Million Bugsies."

"Right. Out of curiosity, I suppose it normally costs Bugsies to stay in this suite?"

"Oh, no," she said earnestly. "To stay in a dictator suite you have to gamble. But if you gamble at that level, you'd probably be losing thirty, forty thousand a day. Give or take. And you'd have to have at least a million to stay afloat more than a couple of days without busting out."

"Consider me properly grateful then."

I signed the register and went into the casino proper, where Orville Piazza was waiting for me.


Orville Piazza was the biggest, most corpulently unhealthful and all around ugly person I'd ever met. My own people eschew what the elders call "big magic" but most of us slow and eventually stop our ageing. Some of us will get a little older and then regress, a few even back to adolescence. But why would anyone allow themselves to get fat, slovenly, balding, and have badly aligned stained teeth? Much less smoke cigars, when there were much more efficient and pleasant means of self-stimulation?

"You are shocked at my appearance," he said, and while his voice scolded his eyes twinkled.

"It's a bit startling. Is there a reason?"

"My own rules, Galan. Casinos are about decadence and corruption. I have never liked casino hosts with perfect smiles and measured patter. I want a man who will gamble with me. Come, let me show you around."

The Desert Sand Casino was mostly an endless procession of tables; they offered blackjack, craps, poker, and a dozen more obscure games. Most of the dealers appeared human but had silver metallic skin. A few were actually human, I guessed earning out more Bugsies like the hostess in the VIP reception area.

There was an endless patter of voices; it was a large crowded place. There were shouts in the distance and sometimes up close. Piazza seemed to be listening as he talked to me, as if this was the music of the spheres.

"If this was a pre-Change casino you'd need earplugs," he said as we crossed an open lobby. "They had these things called slot machines everywhere. The rule was you didn't know the rules, you put in your money and pulled the handle and crossed your fingers. They made all kinds of racket. A place like this would have been filled with them, all clanging and jangling and driving you deaf. The other Eleven casinos do have some slot machines, but I hate the damn things and I won't have them in my place. My feeling is if you're gonna gamble like that you might as well wirehead and get it over with."


"Don't worry about it."

We went through a secret door and climbed stairs to an overlook where you could see just how huge the casino is. At the touch of a primitive switch we were allowed telescopic binocular vision to zoom in on the action.
"You're probably wondering why I asked you here," Piazza said.

"I figured you would get around to telling me."

"Out in the world, in your world, you can be anybody. But not here. In this world you have to be you, and I am a strict man so I abide by my own rules. The one thing I can't do here is be someone else. More than that I can't be someone who doesn't know what I know. I can't experience my casino the way a newcomer would. I am nearly four hundred years old, Galan. In all that time I have never left this place and I never intend to leave it.

"What I want from you is your experience. Are you familiar with sense sharing?"

"I've never done it, but I've heard of it."

"I will set you loose in my casino. Not with your million Bugsies, but with my own line of credit. Do as you wish. I will experience what you experience and we will be able to communicate unobtrusively. I will not control you, just listen and advise. And for a week of this I will give you the million Bugsies to do with as you will."

"How much money is a million Bugsies, anyway?"

"Five Bugsies get you the unlimited mediocre buffet. Remember, you have to eat here or you die and get kicked out. For fifty you can get a pretty decent restaurant meal. It costs thirty a night to stay in a small, mangy room. A nice suite costs a hundred a night, and of course there are better accommodations available. You've seen the rates for transport to the terminus. Taking the place of an avatar at a job, like the receptionist you met, earns you a hundred or so a day."

"It doesn't seem like many people would ever get a million then. You'd have to work, what, thirty years without spending any?"

"There are other ways to earn more. Some people are gambling sharks. Some are entertainers. If you're famous or put on an impressive show you can earn a million in a few nights. You'll see we have quite a few high rollers."

"Including me."

"If you wish."

"Well let's do it then."

Piazza handed me a clipboard. He picked up a phone and said a few words, then handed the receiver to me. "This is Prime Intellect," the voice on the other end says. "You must read the contract and affirm it to accept Orville's terms."
"I agree to let Orville Piazza voluntarily monitor my sensorium and open subvocal communications with me for the next seven days. In return I will have house credit for room, board, and gambling during the seven day period and I will receive one million Bugsies of my own at the end of the seven days. I now affirm this deal."

--Excellent, Orville said. He now spoke inside my head without moving his lips. He gestured toward the door. Go forth and explore. I'll give you some hints if you want.

So I returned to the casino floor, theoretically a very wealthy man in the local currency. I wandered around watching people gamble. There were little rituals for buying in, for getting credit, for placing bets and getting paid.
--I don't know how to play any of these games, I told Orville silently.

--Don't worry. Wander over to the left and I'll teach you to play Craps.

I found a crap game that wasn't too crowded and watched for awhile. Orville explained the rules of the simplest bets. Craps, it turned out, was not one game but nearly forty different games all played at the same time. Dealing it was complicated, but one of the dealers was human.
--Difficult job, Orville told me. He makes nearly two hundred a day. By the way, go ahead and ask for a marker.
I gestured to the human dealer and he tapped the silver-skinned box man and a moment later they handed me a stack of purple cheques. These were labelled 500B and it seemed to suck all the air off the table when I received them. The other players were mostly throwing red and green cheques around. By Orville's standards this was chump change but at this table it was a fortune.
--Don't be shy, Orville said.
So I put two purple cheques on the pass line. The shooter rolled an eleven and the human dealer paid me the equivalent of two weeks of his own skilled labor, just like that.

The game had a seductive rhythm, ebbing and flowing as points were established and then either made or missed. Many bets stayed up waiting for a particular number to resolve them, sentinels of hope and despair as the dice rolled around them. I progressed to making come bets and placing numbers and after awhile I realized the table was annoyingly crowded, I had more than doubled my marker, and I was ravenously hungry.

--Put your money on the felt and ask for color. You need to eat.
The dealer made change, combining all of my cheques into a few of very high denomination, after taking out the original marker. Then he handed me two gray cheques labelled 5000B, a couple of oranges labelled 1000B, and a couple of 100B blacks.
--There is no point in someone of your stature sampling the buffet, but why don't you eat at the steakhouse? That will give you some perspective when you see what's available to the truly rich.
So I had steak and a baked potato competently but not spectacularly prepared. At Orville's insistence I also had a cocktail, a distilled liquor called Bourbon diluted with orange juice. I was not unfamiliar with alcohol but it packed quite a punch.

Then I made my way to my suite. It took me asking a sign for directions to find that there is a special elevator that goes only to the Dictator Suites. Mine, the Mussolini, was second from the top. There were only five. The elevator had an actual human operator.

--You should tip him.
Orville had been quiet while I ate and I was startled.
--He can help you with things. Toss him a black cheque from the crap game as you leave.
I did as Orville suggested and the operator flashed me a sly grin. I wondered what sort of service I had just bought and then I turned around and gasped. The Mussolini Suite was enormous; I could have entertained a party of a hundred with elbow room to spare. I explored and found seven bathrooms, five lushly themed bedrooms, and half a dozen other richly appointed rooms.
--Well, what do you think?

--Of course I could have had this back home just by asking for it, but it would have been considered tacky.

--Here excess is prestige and prestige is displayed by excess. Every piece of furniture in here was hand-made by a skilled human craftsman. There are no copies anywhere. I paid almost ten million Bugsies to outfit just this one suite.

I emptied my pockets and prepared to bathe. I thought of Orville watching me through my own eyes and shrugged it off; it was the deal I'd made after all. I looked at the cheques and realized that the ones I'd won at the crap game were not the same as the ones I'd gotten at the terminus.
--Orville, why are there two types of cheques? The thousand I got for being born have "E" before the denomination and they're lighter colored.

--Those are Earned Bugsies. There is a distinction between currency you earn through labor and what you win gambling. You can't give earned currency to other people; you can only spend it on casino services and wager it yourself.


--It's to prevent scammers from schmoozing the thousand Bugsies off of people who think they won't ever visit and adding them together to augment their own bankroll. What you earn is yours and can only be used for your benefit. What you win at the tables is free money, though. You can throw that away in any way you care to imagine and nothing will stop you.

That night I crashed on a bed the size of my hometown and dreamed of the crap game.

The next morning, Bugsy taught me Blackjack. Blackjack is a much simpler game to follow than Craps and a much harder one to play correctly; as Orville explained there is a mathematically optimum strategy for any Blackjack game but almost nobody ever plays it. It is even possible to beat the house by counting cards but it takes a lot of effort.

--Back in the real world we used to harrass card counters, and one nice thing about the new system is we don't have to. Some of our high rollers got that way counting cards. But most of the people who try don't succeed; you have to acquire a lot of money some other way and most people don't really play right.

--I can see why, this is a pain in the ass. Do I hit this sixteen?

--Always hit sixteen against a ten. You've probably already lost it anyway.

Sure enough I busted and the dealer turned up another ten. Blackjack was not as friendly to me as Craps and I played through another ten thousand Bugsy marker without ever being up.
--Normally you'd have to pay off that marker before getting another, but I'm quietly paying it off for you so you can keep the cheques you won yesterday. Someone playing at your level will be expected to have money for other things.

--And I'm playing for your entertainment. Are you getting your money's worth?

--So far. Let's drift over and check out the Bookie.

The Bookie had a huge area with its own low and high roller areas; if Blackjack had seemed like a challenge this was like designing Prime Intellect from scratch. The Bookie would take a bet on any real-life event that had an element of uncertainty. The odds, Orville explained, were set by the Bookie to balance the action, not the sometimes unknowable "true odds." So if you were smarter than the other bettors you could come out ahead, and as with the card counters some of the high rollers had come up in just this way.

I scrolled through the categories and my eyes glazed over. I could bet on anything imaginable. I located the category for my own homeworld and realized with a start that I could have bet on whether I would have accepted Orville's proposal (fourteen thousand Bugsies had changed hands when I did), and now I could bet on whether I'd finish out the seven days, whether I'd get laid, and whether I'd ever return to the casino after I left.

--The Bookie will not accept bets where you have a clear ability to affect the outcome, Orville advised.

--I'm just amazed at what you can bet on. Where the hell do I start?

--Why don't we keep it simple and see if there's an in-house event. The mini-arena is to your right, through those open doors.

BATTLE OF THE SEXES! a flashing sign announced. In the center of the arena was an area blocked off by a transparent shimmering barrier. Separated from one another in two small cages of this same barrier were a naked man and woman. Each of them had a knife. All around people shouted and waved and debated.

In smaller print the sign announced that "Tamara vs. Ludlow" would be an amateur class Death match, a knife fight to the point of biological death. The fighters had had to put up money, ten thousand Bugsies, which the casino had matched to create a forty thousand Bugsy prize.

Someone tapped me on the back.

"Ludlow's all in," a strange man advised. "If he loses it's back to bartending if he wants to stay in the casino and try to raise another stake."

"Really. Seems like he's a bit bigger than the girl anyway."

"Yeah, but she's mean. He'll have to dance fast to keep from getting filleted."

Orville spoke up in my head. --Why don't you put a bet on the fight? Whichever one you prefer. Say a thousand. There's nothing quite like watching a fight when you have a stake.

I made my way to the Fight Book and gave him an orange cheque to bet on Tamara. I was advised that my bet would pay at 2.5:1 if I won; a lot of people were banking on Ludlow's desperation and greater strength.

At the appointed hour the small cage fields disappeared, leaving only the big enclosure separating the fighters from the bettors. They circled one another warily, probing for weaknesses.

"He has the reach on her too," someone said and I thought of my orange cheque.

--Don't they make some effort to match the fighters' skills? I asked Orville.

--Not really. The odds tend to sort themselves out accordingly, and who are we to tell Tamara not to try to hang another dick on her wall?

Almost too fast to follow the woman launched herself away from Ludlow, bounced off of the restraining field and flashed by him, slashing his chest. He swiped at her but missed. The bettors shouted and cheered and jeered and blood began to run down his belly as they squared off again.
"Surface wound," the man who had advised me said. "Lucky bitch."
He pressed her and managed to nick her a couple of times then she darted out from the trap he was trying to set at the last moment, sliding beneath his reach and slashing his ankle as he tried to turn. As she made to stand up he slashed at her and cut her left arm pretty deeply. Then as he continued to swing she lay back instead of standing up and jabbed upward with both feet, kicking him solidly in the balls.

He howled, then she darted in, stabbed him in the left thigh and darted away before he could react in his haze of pain. Blood began jetting out of the wound, and she stood back smiling grandly. A few of the bettors saw the writing on the wall and began drifting away from the arena.

"Fucking hell," the man behind me said. "Cut his fucking femoral artery. Get up, man! Do something!"
But between his balls and his blood loss Ludlow was looking less capable of doing something by the moment. Finally Tamara approached him and took his knife; he was still alive but too weak to stop her. Then while he was still conscious she castrated him. At that point the Book announced that the conclusion was foregone and began paying out bets.

I collected my winnings and looked back. Ludlow had disappeared and Tamara was holding her trophy high in her right hand, taking bows.

--I didn't realize you were serious about her hanging dicks on her wall.

--It's a common practice among fighters. Of course he'll have an organ when Prime Intellect reconstructs him but she will keep her trophy, it's part of the culture. By the way, congratulations on your perception; I'd have bet on Ludlow myself.

--I feel like I need to take a bath.

--Bah, you didn't force them into that arena.

--Never seen so much blood in my life.

--She fought for you, Galan. Won you hard currency. I can guarantee that the first thing she will do with her money is go down to the parking garage and find some pathetic gimp to grovel for her.

--Parking garage? Why would you have a parking garage?

--Never mind. Let me show you Mini-Baccarat.

I spent the rest of the day playing Mini-Baccarat for the table maximum. It was as complicated as betting on a coin toss but a bit more teasing because of the way cards were dealt and added up modulo 10 to get the result. The rules for dealing an extra card for the "Bank" and "Player" hands were obscure but our dealer had silver skin so I didn't worry about that. Several of the people playing with me were keeping track of the results, looking for trends, but Orville advised me that that was a fool's errand and I should just enjoy staying in action without much thought.

The next day I graduated to actual Baccarat, which is not played in the low-roller areas of the casino. This was the same game as Mini-Baccarat mathematically and in wagering, but it was staged with a degree of pomp and grandeur that were truly impressive for a figurative coin toss. In the full game there was actually a "Player" among the players who drew the cards for the Player hand. You could still bet either player or bank, even if you were the Player, but if you bet against yourself you were apt to clear the table of money as the others waited for lightning to strike you.

The table minimum was five thousand Bugsies and I went through four markers before I caught a positive trend. The players were of a different caliber than those on the main casino floor. A human cocktail waitress served us, and the jigger of aged Scotch whiskey I tasted on the advice of another player went down with magical smootheness. On the other side of the table a player was having her deliver lines of white powder each time she came by, which he would snort through a straw.

--What is that stuff? I asked Orville.

--Powder cocaine. Makes you feel like God for about twenty seconds. My advice is to stay away from it and gamble instead. Much more fun.

Since I was doing it for him to experience, I took his advice. After I ran out a fifth marker I decided I was tired of playing.

I wandered around the high-roller area and stopped dead in my tracks when I saw a Viking seated next to a naked woman at a Blackjack table. On second look I realized the naked woman wasn't just seated next to him, her hands were bound behind her back and she was chained to him by a collar and leash.

--Are you seeing this?

--Quite so. A luck slave, I'd guess.

--There was nothing like this downstairs.

--We generally try to maintain a certain level of decorum, but if you are betting high enough, we will overlook a lot. And he is betting in ten thousand Bugsy units. You could get away with dragging your luck slave across the floor downstairs but most people down there can't afford one and those who can wouldn't be caught dead among the yokels spending their first thousand.

--Wait a second, "afford?" How do you go about buying a person?

--Drift closer and I will explain something. You do realize that I am paying you a million Bugsies to basically do what I want for a week?

--But that's not the same, you aren't humiliating me and...

At that moment the Viking pounded the table and roared something that was probably obscene in a language I didn't know, then he pressed a button on his wrist console and the naked woman yelped. She stiffened and shook for a few moments and then he released the button.

I was speechless.

--Or torturing you when your luck is bad. I'd say you cut a better deal than she did.

--How did he do that? I thought this was an Authentic environment for the most part.

--Oh it's very Authentic, her collar can deliver an electric shock. I've looked them up, he has a hundred thousand Bugsies in escrow for their contract. I'd guess half of that is her basic fee and the rest is for penalties against the likely case that he does something over the top.

--And how long does she have to put up with this for fifty or a hundred thousand Bugsies?

--Records say one week. She has three days to go. She can call it off early but then she forfeits her fee; it's an interesting dynamic. The further she goes the more he can abuse her because if she opts out she forfeits any consideration for what she's already gone through.

--This is really sick.

--She is not a known masochist. Her fee would probably be lower if she was. Also the Bookie will give odds of four to one on her bailing out. The consensus seems to be that she will make it and collect her fee.

--And then?

--Most likely you will find her downstairs, acting like a queen among people who don't know about this and mostly wouldn't care if they did.

I finally tore myself away and drifted back to the restaurant area where Orville had promised me a true delight. Not just a human chef but a human crew prepared for me a four-course meal in the Cajun tradition that was just superb; the wines and rum were handcrafted in individual batches and no copies were made of anything. It was a one of a kind meal that nobody else would ever experience, and I was given to understand that it cost almost a thousand Bugsies. But even this wasn't the ultimate dining experience available in the Desert Sand Casino; Orville said he was saving the best for last.
--You are feeling aroused. I hope you realize that casino keeps trained people who earn their Bugsies by providing relief. At your level of play their services would be comped.

--I don't know how I feel. That whole scene to day with the Viking guy...

--Well I know how you feel, and you feel aroused. You've just never thought about it before.

--It's not supposed to be possible to coercively control other people.

--And it isn't. They have to agree to be coercively controlled under terms that Prime Intellect will accept. It won't accept a contract like that if it doesn't think you understand what you are getting into.

--And your trained professionals will do things like that?

--Oh, no. Our trained professionals will roll in the hay with you and a few of them will even play dominant for you if you crave that sort of thing, but if you want someone to go under for you that spectacularly you need unearned Bugsies and you need to go to the parking garage.

--I was going to ask you about the parking garage. Why would you have a parking garage when nobody comes here in cars?

--Because the underclass needs a place to do its thing, and nobody wants them doing it on the sidewalk out in front of the building.

I did not go to the parking garage, but I did flip through the directory and at Orville's urging I picked out a very pretty lady who agreed to spend the night with me and perform a basic range of sexual services. In the minutes it took her to arrive I found myself remembering the Bookie who would take a bet on whether I got laid during Orville's assignment. People totally unrelated to me would trade money based on what I was about to do.

When she arrived she was gracious and understanding, and she worked hard to perform her duty. But as much as I thought of her tempting body, of the other girls I'd bedded, even of the Viking and his slave my own body refused to perform. In the end she slipped away and I drifted off to a fitful sleep, dreaming of the button that would make the Viking's slave writhe in pain.

--Fuck gambling. Today I want to go to the parking garage.

--That's agreeable. I'd like to see it through your eyes anyway, and you've only a couple of days left.

These elevators went down, and opened into a canyon of bare white concrete. It was indeed a parking garage, laid out with ramped floors leading from level to level so that wheeled vehicles could be stored. But there were no cars; instead a small city had been built of cardboard boxes, wood scraps, and other waste materials. People milled around aimlessly until they noticed me.
You need to go down a couple of levels, Orville advised.
I passed men playing games like Chess and Go. I passed people practicing swordcraft with cardboard swords, and people practicing other fight techniques. I passed people cooking food over trash fires and eating from much worn bowls. A couple of levels down I found the prostitutes.

There were already other men here, a couple of whom were drifting back up with women on their arms. I remembered the promise of the Disclaimer Room that violence and theft were impossible, and quickly verified with Orville that that was true here, too. Then I pulled four orange 1000B cheques out of my pocket and fanned them so that all could see.

"Mister, a man who comes down here and flashes that kind of money doesn't just want to get laid. What exactly do you want to buy?"


"Anything can get real expensive. Even more expensive than that if you don't narrow it down some."

"I want power. I want to know that she has to do what I say."

The girl who had spoken up nodded. "Well, we got people here who do that, though I'm not one of 'em. Power doesn't exist unless you demonstrate it. What are you looking for? Pain? Humiliation? You want to slap her around or you want to cut her up into little bits while she watches in a mirror? Or you want to order her around and humiliate her? Or you want to take the magic hardon pill and fuck her to death? You need to be more specific."

I had not really thought through the details of what I wanted to do, and I realized that these ladies with their experience might help clarify my focus. "I saw this Viking guy with a slave girl. He tortured her with an electric collar whenever he lost. I can't stop thinking about it."
Another girl spoke up. "I went under for that guy once. Calls himself Ragnar. Right fucking horrible bastard, killed me with an axe on my last day and laughed. Turns out he planned to pay the penalty all along. I bet that's Ginelle with him now."

"Bookie seems to think she'll make it."

"That's just all the guys betting to set the odds. I hope you aren't that fucked up, Mister."

"I don't know. I don't think so."

Another new voice: "For two of those orange cheques I'll give you twenty-four hours, any kind of sex, and any kind of whipping. Whipping's cathartic. Very primal. Get it out of your system. Oh, and you can tie me up if you want. No blood sport, no Death tricks, I opt out and keep the money if you go over the top."

"Be careful, Madri."

"Deal," I said.

The girl looked as if she was thinking, and then I heard a voice in my head that wasn't Orville's. It was Prime Intellect. She has accepted your terms. Do you agree to put her fee in escrow in order to bind this contract?

I thought yes and two of my orange cheques vanished.

"Twenty-four hours," I said. "Let's get up to my room. I'm in the Mussolini suite."
There was a muffled gasp from the ladies standing around, and Madri made a perfect "O" of astonishment with her mouth. Then we made our way to the elevators, and the Mussolini Suite, and the implements of pain which were assembled for me at her direction.

Although her contract was only for a day she stayed with me for the rest of my own obligation; I told her about Orville and we made an odd threesome out of it. She shared my suite and shared my comps. She sat with me as I tried to learn poker and lost my ass to a roomfull of sharks. She even asked me to whip her again on my last night. Orville said she was a natural masochist who would be making big bucks one day in the heavy trade, which was a fast track to high-rolling celebrity.

When Orville's voice went silent in my head I tipped her ten thousand Bugsies and sent her on her way. Shortly thereafter Orville Piazza graced the doorstep of the Mussolini Suite in his own infamous corpulant physical person. He was holding a cloth bag.

"Well that was amusing," he said. "Here is your fee, and we need you out of the suite. You're welcome to stay at the casino under all the usual terms. You're a rich man now."

"It doesn't seem like I gave you a million Bugsies worth of excitement," I said.

"Oh, that remains to be seen. I wonder if you have stopped to consider exactly what it is that gives the Bugsy its value?"

"I don't know. Because you limit the number of them?"

"Partly, but there really isn't much you can buy with Bugsies that you can't have for the asking back where you came from. In the old days currencies had to have something behind them to give them implicit value. Something you could trade them for to demonstrate their worth. They had to be 'backed.'

"The Bugsy is backed by human misery. The one thing you can buy with a Bugsy that you can't simply ask Prime Intellect for is the suffering of another bona fide human being. Not a facsimile or a simulation or a recording, but a real live person who feels as you feel. There aren't many places in Cyberspace where you can have that at all, and most of them are expensive in other very personal ways. You asked me why we have a parking garage; that, Galan, is why we have a parking garage. The parking garage is the Desert Sand Casino's version of Fort Knox."

He stepped aside and gestured; it was time to leave. I took the bag and I took the elevator and I took the teleporter to the terminus. From there I could go back through the Disclaimer Room and then home, or anywhere else in Cyberspace, the vast overwhelming majority of places where everything did not boil down to how much cash you had.

Of course I could come back one day. Maybe I would. I was a rich man. I could find another girl and own her for awhile.

On a whim I opened my bag and looked at the cheques. They were gray cheques, very light gray. An unfamiliar shade. Every single one of them said E5000B.

Earned money. I could not give it to another person, for example someone like Madri, in exchange for a period of servitude.

I closed the bag and made my way back to the teleporter. It ate one of my gray cheques and gave me four orange in return, and I stepped through it back into the casino.

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