This scene is near the end of the series. The final battle is raging in the underground tunnels of Aristillus. A dozen vast invasion ships have landed, swatted aside most Aristillus Defense Force resistance, and are advancing…but the ADF forces are still hanging on, thanks to their better intel and tactics, and the fact that lunatic anarcho libertarian Texans and Nigerians don’t give up too easily.
The protagonist of this scene is Hugh Haig – one of the snotty SWPL college kids, loyal to the PK regime on Earth.
== 2064: Kendo Coffee, Aristillus, Lunar nearside
Hugh crouched behind the counter. To his left there were three other pedestrians who’d been caught up in the fighting and had sought shelter here – a middle aged Chinese woman and two American guys around his own age. To his right the barista sat on the floor, his store apron rucked up over his knees, and leaned back against a plastic bin labeled ‘coffee grounds’. Hugh took a deep breath. For the first time in ten minutes he smelled something other than burning electrical insulation. The smell of dark roasted coffee was incongruous against the gun fire and the muffled crump of explosions out in the tunnel. Hugh turned to the barista “Can you unlock the back door? We could go out through the service tunnel.”
The employee shook his head. “Look”. He turned the slate he was holding in his hands around so that Hugh could see it. On the screen was a storefront administration screen. “Pressure in that tunnel is low …and falling. Someone must’ve blown an airlock. We have to stay here.”
The barista turned the slate back around and started typing. Hugh wiped nervous sweat from his forehead and tried to make conversation. He looked at the name-tag on the uniform. “So, uh, Dave. Sending emails to friends…just in case?”
The barista looked up at him. “What? No. I’m at FuTrade. I’ve got 50 grams on the fighting here being a small skirmish. I’m putting another 250 grams – that maxes out my ALL of my credit cards.” He grinned lopsidedly. “If I win, I’ll be able to set up my own coffee shop. And if I lose and we all die, I don’t have to pay any of it back.”. His bravado seemed forced, but Hugh envied him even that.
They lapsed into silence, punctuated only by the explosions and ripping machine gun fire in the main tunnel. Behind them there was a beep and Hugh looked over to see a flashing red light over the store’s back door.
The barista looked up, saw where Hugh was looking and looked at the door himself.
“That means the back tunnel is in hard vacuum now. We’re here for the duration.”
* * *
Hugh sat on the tiled floor behind the counter, his back against a bank of drawers. Dave the barista leaned back against the bin of coffee grounds. Outside the store several rifle shots cracked.
Hugh tried to calm his breathing and turned to Dave. “Do you think this is going to be over soon?”
Dave nodded. “Can’t tell for sure, but I think so.” He looked down at his slate. “This thing outside seems like a skirmish, and from the betting, the major PK advances are through near Little Nigeria, through Lower Landing, down to Goldwater section on level four -”
“Wait – how do you know that?”
Dave spun his slate around. “It’s the betting boards I told you about. Look at this one. This is for ‘Lai Docks seized’.”
Hugh looked. The page said that there was a 3% chance that the docks had been taken by the PKs.
“Yeah, I see it, but that doesn’t answer my question – how does anyone know that? Where is that information coming from?”
“Well, say that that I was at Lai Docks, and I looked around and saw that the docks were undefended, and PK troops were advancing. And the board says that there’s only a 3% chance of PKs there, when I know that they’re absolutely there? I could bet 10 grams and get a 97 to 3 payoff. That’s like,” he paused to calculate, “around 300 grams I’d make.” He pointed at the screen. “But the Lai Dock board is dead. No one is saying that there are PKs there.”
Hugh looked closely. The page listed six participants. “But what if I decided to bet on that and said that there were Peace Keepers there?”
Dave tapped the screen “While sitting here? And not knowing anything about it? OK, see this guy, EagleGust_Fan_1 ? He’s got 100 grams saying that there are no PKs at the docks. Dude’s risking that much money? He’s GOT to have hard data on Lai Docks if he’s betting like that. He’s probably sitting right there. You’d lose all your money.” Dave paused. “And worse than that, you might screw up the ADF.”
Hugh blinked. “How would that screw them up?”
“The ADF would be stupid not to be watching these boards, right? I mean, the boards show what’s going on. You ask me, I bet ADF is watching and pulling troops away from Lai Docks and sending them to level four.”
“Are you sure about that? I think the ADF would be smarter to have – I don’t know – like, tactical experts or something.”
Dave shrugged. “I’m not sure. But what sort of experts are better than on-the-scene observers?” Dave paused. “But, you know, if you want a side-wager, on whether the ADF brass are reading this- ”
“No, that’s OK.” Hugh furrowed his brow. An idea was coalescing, but – no – it couldn’t be possible. “So when you bet on the battle in the tunnel here -” As if to punctuate the comment two grenades exploded seconds apart with loud CRUMPs. Hugh waited until there was relative quiet again. “If you changed your bet, or added more money, and bet that there was a major incursion here -”
“I can’t – I’m all tapped out now. And, actually, if you do want to make me up on that bet about the ADF brass, I’d need to negotiate -”
Hugh waved it aside. “No, that’s OK. But what would the ADF brass do if you changed your bet from ‘minor firefight’ to ‘full scale invasion’?
Dave shrugged. “I’m in for 300 grams right now. That’s a ton to me, but not much in the grand scheme of things. If I was the ADF brass and saw a 300 gram bet, I wouldn’t change my strategy at all. There’d have to be a lot more betting than that to make me really change my mind.”
Hugh pressed on. “But if there was a bigger bet -”
“Well, if there was enough, and I was the ADF brass, I’d probably pull reinforcements from somewhere else. I’d decide that, I dunno, maybe the peaker attacks on Lower Landing or Goldwater are feints, and move troops here.”
Hugh nodded. “Can I bet like you did – that there’s a minor firefight going on out there?”
Dave shrugged. “You can – but look at the odds. When I bet I got in at 50%. So my 300 gram bet is going to pay off with a 300 gram profit. Right now there are a dozen people all betting that it’s a minor firefight, and the odds are 94%.” He pointed to the slate. “See? So if you bet 100 grams, you’re only going to win around 6. Barely worth it.”
Hugh nodded. “I’ve got one last question – what name do I -”
Dave shook his head. “I know what you’re thinking – no, there’s no way to prove it’s you, so once the battle’s all over you’re not going to get any medals or recognition. But nothing can stop you from bragging. Sure as shit, if we survive this, I’m going to let EVERYONE know that I called it!”
“Can I -” Hugh was interrupted by few desultory shots. The firefight was winding down, but it wasn’t over. “Can I borrow your slate?”
* * *
Hugh took Dave’s slate, logged in, and started clicking.
* * *
Drops of sweat beaded on Hugh’s forehead but refused to fall in the low gravity. The data rate back to Earth was much slower than usual, and the machine gun fire outside made every minute seem to take hours.
The slate beeped and Hugh looked down, then exhaled. There. Finally. It was done. He’d liquidated his entire trust fund. He’d started with money at Fidelity, but he needed money at Lunar Escrow and Trade. Thus the dance. First a transfer from the account in Boston to the account at Graubundner Kantonalbank in Switzerland, courtesy of a FinCEN authorization code from his mother. Then a transfer from there to to Dongguan Capital. And from THERE, finally, to LET.
He’d moved small disbursements this way before, and it had never seemed that much of a hassle. And it hadn’t been – in the quiet and calmness of the apartment. Here, though, with the PKs and some wildcat militia shooting at each other thirty meters away, the number of steps, and then the waiting, was torturous.
Hugh reached up and wiped the sweat from his forehead. Now the final step. He brought up the FuTrade website and turned to Dave. “So if I bet that this battle -” he waved his hand at the shattered front of the storefront “-is a minor skirmish, I can make my six grams, but it won’t affect ADF plans, right?”
“You’ve got it.”
“And if made a mistake and bet that this was the main thrust -”
Dave looked at him oddly. “Be careful when you punch in the bet. You screw up and bet that this is the main thrust, and you’ll lose all your money AND the ADF will probably send troops to the wrong place.”
Hugh nodded, then hit the button.