Saturday, November 7, 2015

No Such Luck

I hate Sam Barton. But if he were a hotel, he would absolutely have a five-star rating. He had about a week's worth of clothing for me, just lying around. "I bought it for someone else," he admitted. "She's working for the Chinese space agency now."
One thing that I didn't realize was how much work Sam had, just taking care of his captives. There were four of us, and we weren't allowed to leave our rooms, save on special occasions. So Sam brought us all three meals a day, of surprisingly high quality. 
He walked in, tray in hand, the door locking behind him. It was quite an impressive lock. No keyhole, no passcode. He opened it by tapping it with his wallet. Likely some sort of ID card in there.
He gave me what he must have thought was a cool, roguish smile. "I've been told my grilled cheese sandwiches are excellent," he said.
"I want to see my brother."
"Why do I want to see my brother? Because he shares about half my genome, and I've known him his entire life, and he's probably scared out of his mind by now."
Sam seemed to think for a moment. "You can talk to him for five minutes. But I will be in the room. After that, I have important business to attend to."
Sam unlocked the door, and led me through his home. I knew he had a gun in his right pocket, and that I wouldn't stand a chance against him even if he didn't have the gun, and that I had no chance of taking his gun, and that even if I did have his gun my odds were iffy. He was a muscular man who spent his time breaking into houses. My most intense physical workout had been volleyball practice every week.
Sam opened a door, again, by tapping his wallet against the locking mechanism. Could I take his wallet? I had spent a few hours deducing how to be a good pickpocket. But there is a difference between robbing some random pedestrian and stealing from the kidnapping bounty hunter who is already on his guard. Plus, at the end of the day, there was still a cyanide capsule in my arm.
Gabe turrned around and saw me. "You know, I thought you might come to save me. I just sort of assumed you would be better at it."
I smiled. MAD or not, he was still Gabe. "Wouldn't have been necessary if you'd been a little less obvious with your late-night Googling, little brother." I hugged him. "How are you holding up."
"Eh. He has a tablet with all of Wikipedia on it that he lets me use. I got bored, and started writing a chess algorithm, then I got bored of that before I could finish, and tried to write a program to get from one Wiki article to another in the fewest number of links. Got bored of that, and started designing a Terminator- the kind from the first movie, not that liquid metal thing- then I got bored of that, and was in the middle of writing this really cool computer virus when you showed up. Why, what have you done today?"
"I finished 'The Fellowship of the Ring'."
"Really? That's it? No science or anything? You're not locked up any more Allegra. Well, you are locked up, but by someone who's totally fine with you using your gifts."
"If I used my gifts, you know what would happen? I would think of all the cools ways you could modify a bacterium to grow faster. Then, it would get released into the wild, and start infecting the local wildlife. That happened to someone I met in J.S. Greenberg. Or maybe I'd steer clear of biology, try to make a nice set of flame-retardant cloths for firemen. But I'm busy, and can't focus, and I end up releasing toxic chemicals into the environment. Also happened to someone I know. Or maybe I try to modify a bacteriophage virus to change the genome in a specific bacterium. But I'm sloppy, and it also affects humans, and it kills six people. We aren't careful, Gabe. It's our nature to take things to fast. And when you take things too fast, you make mistakes, and people get hurt."
"But how do you do it," Gabe asked. I thought I sensed his voice cracking. "There's just so much to think about. How can you push it all out of your mind."
"Well, it helps to find a really long-winded fantasy story." I did get caught up trying to figure out how to make a real-life dragon, but it was a scientific dead-end. Nothing that big could possibly fly and shoot fire. Energy constraints.
"Does it stop hurting? The constant flood of ideas, supplanting one another?"
Gabe nodded. "So," he said, "how did you find me?"
"Sam was monitoring you with a piece of spyware on your computer. I just tracked it back here."
"Hmm. Okay, I think I see how that would work. And you wouldn't just have barged in without a plan. What, did you threaten to blow us all up with a bomb, and then Sam called your bluff."
"No. Virus designed only to affect your kidnapper."
Sam's watch started beeping. "Let's move out, Allegra."
"Bye, Gabe. Don't worry, I'll get us out of here."
"Who knows. Maybe I'll get us out of here first."
"You'll be out of here soon enough," Sam said.

Sam came into my again, later, at six twenty-three. "I was thinking everyone could play a few hands of poker. You interested?"
I looked at 'The Two Towers.' After seven hours and sixteen minutes of reading, I had only gotten twenty two pages in. It was safe to say that the book hadn't grabbed my attention. "Sure."
Sam brought me down to some sort of living room. Gabe and Daniel were already there, along with a woman I didn't recognize. "Allegra, this is Joanne Peterson. Joanne, this is Allegra Complex."
"Hey," she said.
"Hi," I responded.
Sam sat down. "Texas Hold'em. You all know the rules, right."
We nodded.
"Great. Five thousand dollar buy in." Sam handed us each a pile of chips. 
"I don't have that kind of money," Daniel said.
Sam laughed. "Don't worry. I'll spot you. And at the end of the night, I'll have all my money back."
"And if you don't," Gabe asked. "Do we get twenty-five grand."
"If you can beat me, and everyone else at this table, sure, you're entitled to it."
We played a few hands. I took stock of what I had observed. Daniel was too aggressive. Joanne was too conservative. Gabe was good, although he was always trying to count cards. "You know he shuffles them, right," Daniel asked.
"That does make it difficult," Gabe said. "Probably why you can't pull it off."
"I can calculate probabilities to eleven decimal places."
"Wow," Gabe said. "That's really impressive. I bet you'll never run out of chips in the eleventh decimal place."
We played some more. One time, there were three hearts on the table, and I had a heart in hand. I decided to bluff a flush. I threw a thousand dollars into the pot. Sam called me.
My heart pounded. What if he had an actual flush? Or, really, anything? My hand was garbage in actuality. Gabe threw his money in too.
Another round. This time, it was Sam who threw money into the pot. I didn't know what to do, so I folded my hand. "I'll call you on that," Gabe said. They showed their hands. Gabe had a triple, Sam had a two pair.
"You have a tell," he told me. "You do too, Sam. I mean, a real tell, in addition to the fake tell you're trying to use to throw me off. You aren't fooling anyone with that rubbing between your eyes routine."
"Sam was rubbing between his eyes," Joanne asked.
"Yup. Whenever he things someone is watching."
The game wore on. Daniel's stack of chips began to dwindle. "It's luck," he explained. "I calculated the probabilities."
"You know," Gabe said, "I once wrote an artificial intelligence to play this game. It was significantly more artificially intelligent than you."
"Gabe," I said. "No need to be rude."
He rolled his eyes. "Just making some innocent conversation."
We played some more. Daniel ran out of money. Joanne wasn't doing so well either. I was still in, although I had no illusions about my chances against the likes of Sam and Gabe.
We played some more. Joanne ran out too. "You know," Sam said. "I can't help but comment that Gabe has a rather larger insight into Allegra's psychology than I do."
"Yeah. Possibly because I don't trail her by a hundred IQ points."
Sam frowned a bit.
"Don't worry. I was just kidding. IQ isn't a valid measure of intelligence once your was far up the scale as we are."
I love Gabe, and he's my brother. But he has been known to be a little obnoxious on occasion.
Anyways, the game wore on some more. Pretty soon, I was broke. "Ooh," Gabe commented. "The final showdown. Quick poll off the audience, who's rooting for me."
I raised my hand. Joanne's hand followed. Daniel's stayed solidly down. "Cool. Sixty-six percent support. Actually, Daniel, could you calculate it out to eleven decimal places for me?"
Sam had fourteen thousand, two hundred dollars. Gabe had the remaining ten thousand eight hundred. Certainly not a decisive advantage, but still noticeable. They played some more, Sam slowly gaining on Gabe. Eventually, Gabe thrust his entire pile of chips into the center. "All in," he said. "That's eight thousand six hundred. If you match it, you'll have seventy-eight hundred in the bank." He thought for a second. "Actually, Daniel, could you just check that to eleven decimal places for me?"
Sam matched Gabe, and they showed their hands. Gabe had a straight. Sam had another two-pair.
"Hahahaha," Gabe said. "Muahahaha. Hahahaha. Cower before me, mortal."
"I think that constitutes excessive celebration," I said. "As well as an offensive stereotype."
They played some more. Sam continue to build up his stack, bit by bit. Pretty soon, they were even again. Eventually, Sam was in the lead. "Let's try this again. Another all-in."
"Well, you can't get lucky twice," Sam said, matching my brother.
"You actually can," Daniel corrected."I estimate the probability of his winning this hand at fifty-four point eight three six percent."
"First of all," Gabe said, "that wasn't even close to eleven digits. Second of all, if you could actually do that, you wouldn't have been the first person to go out."
Sam won that hand, thus winning him the game. "Sorry to disappoint ladies," Gabe said. "I'm sure I'll strike a greater blow against our hated captor next time. Heck, I'll take you out to dinner with my winnings."
One by one, we were escorted back to our quarters. I was the last to be moved. "Allegra," Sam asked. "I doubt you have the expertise in the field that I do, but who do you think would be interesting in purchasing your services. And how much do you imagine they would offer?"
"Probably a biotech company. Or maybe the military would want me to make biological weapons."
"I wouldn't have you do that," Sam said. "I know you don't like to hurt people with your inventions."
"So sweet. And to answer your second question, I imagine that I could fetch around five or six million dollars for you."
"Well," Sam said, "that's what I was expecting too. So I'm wondering if you have any insight as to why XCom would offer me ten times that amount."
"The semiconductor manufacturer? No idea. Maybe Tom Markovitz wants to branch out. I mean, the whole company has been built on his inventions. Maybe he wants to bring in a new type of MAD. Although that wouldn't explain the interest in me, specifically."
"Well," Sam said. "I hope you have fun there. The handoff is in about a week. You'll be working in a town near San Francisco."
"Will Gabe be coming with me? I imagine a company like XCom would have an interest in him."
"No such luck," Sam said. "No such luck." 

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