"That happens to be the address of the Atlas Games Parlor. Your brother Steve probably spends most of his working day there, when he has enough cash to get in. I know the place. It's a cheap joint where the payoffs are low but easy. It's the kind of place a low-budget man would frequent."
"You mean Steve's a gambler?"
Hawkes smiled. "Most Free Status men are. It's one of the few ways we can earn a living without getting a work card. There isn't any gamblers' guild. There are a few other ways, too, but they're a lot less savory, and the televector surveillance makes it hard for a man to stay in business for long."
Alan moistened his lips. "What do you do?"
"Gamble. I'm in the upper brackets, though. As I say: some of us have the knack. I doubt if your brother does, though. After nine years he wouldn't still be working the Atlas if he had any dough."
Alan shrugged that off. "How do we get there? I'd like to go right away. I----"
"Patience, lad," Hawkes murmured. "There's plenty of time for that. When does your ship leave?"
"Couple of days."
"Then we don't need to rush right over to the Atlas now. Let's get some food in ourselves first. Then a good night's rest. We can go over there tomorrow."
"But my brother----"
"Your brother," Hawkes said, "has been in York City for nine years, and I'll bet he's spent every night for the last eight of them sitting in the Atlas. He'll keep till tomorrow. Let's get something to eat."
They ate in a dark and unappealing restaurant three blocks from the Central Directory Matrix Building. The place was crowded, as all Earth places seemed to be. They stood on line for nearly half an hour before being shown to a grease-stained table in the back.
The wall clock said 1732.
A robowaiter approached them, holding a menu board in its metal hands. Hawkes leaned forward and punched out his order; Alan took slightly longer about it, finally selecting protein steak, synthocoffee, and mixed vegetables. The robot clicked its acknowledgement and moved on to the next table.
"So my brother's a gambler," Alan began.
Hawkes nodded. "You say it as if you were saying, so my brother's a pickpocket, or so my brother's a cutpurse. It's a perfectly legitimate way of making a living." Hawkes' eyes hardened suddenly, and in a flat quiet voice added, "The way to stay out of trouble on Earth is to avoid being preachy, son. This isn't a pretty world. There are too many people on it, and not many can afford the passage out to Gamma Leonis IV or Algol VII or some of the nice uncluttered colony-worlds. So while you're in York City keep your eyes wide and your mouth zippered, and don't turn your nose up at the sordid ways people make their livings."
Alan felt his face go red, and he was happy to have the trays of food arrive at that moment, causing some sort of distraction. "Sorry, Max. I didn't mean to sound preachy."
"I know, kid. You lead a pretty sheltered life on those starships. And nobody can adjust to Earthside life in a day. How about a drink?"
Alan started to say that he didn't drink, but kept the words back. He was on Earth, now, not aboard the Valhalla; he wasn't required to keep ship's regs. And he didn't want to be trying to look superior. "Okay. How about Scotch--is that the stuff MacIntosh was drinking?"
"Fair enough," Hawkes said.
He signalled for a robot waiter, and after a moment the robot slithered up to them. Hawkes punched a lever on the robot's stomach and the metal creature began to click and glow. An instant later a panel in its stomach slid open and two glasses appeared within. The robot's wiry tentacles reached in, took out the drinks, and set them on the table. Hawkes dropped a coin in a slot in the robot's side, and the machine bustled away, its service completed.
"There you are," Hawkes said, pointing to the glass of amber-colored liquid. "Drink up." As if to set an example he lifted his own drink and tossed it down in one gulp, with obvious pleasure.
Alan picked up the little glass and held it before his eyes, staring at the man opposite him through its translucent depths. Hawkes appeared oddly distorted when viewed through the glass.
He grinned. He tried to propose a toast, but couldn't think of any appropriate words, so he simply upended the glass and drained its contents. The stuff seemed to burn its way down his throat and explode in his stomach; the explosion rose through his gullet and into his brain. For a moment he felt as if the top of his head had been blown off. His eyes watered.
"Pretty potent stuff!"
"It's the best there is," Hawkes said. "Those boys really know the formulas."
Alan felt a wave of dizziness, but it passed quickly; all that was left was a pleasant inner warmth, now. He pulled his tray toward him and attacked the synthetic meat and vegetables.
He ate quietly, making no attempt at conversation. Soft music bubbled up around them. He thought about his brother. So Steve was a gambler! And doing poorly at it, Hawkes said. He wondered if Steve would want to go back on the ship. He wondered also how it would be if Steve did agree to go back.
The old comradeship would be gone, he realized sadly. They had shared everything for seventeen years, grown up together, played together, worked together. Up till six weeks ago they had been so close that Alan could almost read Steve's mind, and Steve Alan's. They made a good team.
But that was finished, now. Steve would be a stranger to him aboard the Valhalla--an older, perhaps wiser man, with nine solid years of tough Earther life behind him. He would not be able to help but regard Alan as a kid, a greenhorn; it was natural. They would never be comfortable in each other's presence, with the old easy familiarity that was so close to telepathy. That nine-year gulf would see to that.
"Thinking about your brother, aren't you?"
Alan blinked. "How did you know?"
Grinning, Hawkes said, "A gambler has to know how to figure things. And it's written in permoscript all over your forehead anyway. You're wondering what the first face-to-face meeting's going to be like. I'll bet on it."
"I won't cover the bet. You'd win."
"You want to know how it'll be? I can tell you, Alan: you'll feel sick. Sick and bewildered and ashamed of the guy who used to be your brother. But that'll pass. You'll look behind the things the nine years did to him, and you'll see your brother back there. He'll see you, too. It won't be as bad as you're expecting."
Somehow Alan felt relieved. "You're sure of that?"
Hawkes nodded. "You know, I'm taking such a personal interest in this business because I've got a brother too. Had a brother."
"Kid about your age. Same problem I had, too: no guild. We were born into the street sweepers' guild, but neither of us could go for that, so we checked out and took Free Status. I went into gambling. He hung around the Enclave. He always wanted to be a spacer."
"What happened to him?"
"He pulled a fast one. Starship was in town and looking for a new galley-boy. Dave did some glib talking and got aboard. It was a fluke thing, but he made it."
"Which ship?" Alan asked.
"Startreader. Bound out on a hop to Beta Crucis XVIII. 465 light-years." Hawkes smiled faintly. "He left a year, year and a half ago. The ship won't be back on Earth again for nine hundred thirty years or so. I don't figure to be around that long." He shook his head. "Let's get out of here. People waiting for tables."
Out in the street again, Alan noticed that the sun was low in the sky; it was past 1800, and getting along toward evening. But the streets were not getting dark. From everywhere a soft glow was beginning to radiate--from the pavement, the buildings, everywhere. It was a gentle gleaming brightness that fell from the air; there was no perceptible change from day-illumination to night-illumination.
But it was getting late. And they would miss him back at the Enclave--unless Captain Donnell had discovered that Alan had gone into the Earther city, in which case he wouldn't be missed at all. Alan remembered sharply the way the Captain had calmly blotted the name of his son Steve from the Valhalla's roster as if Steve had never existed.
"Are we going to go over to the Atlas now?"
Hawkes shook his head. "Not unless you want to go in there alone?"
"I can't go in there with you. I've got an A card, and that's a Class C joint."
"You mean even gambling places are classified and regulated and everything?"
Hawkes nodded. "It has to be that way. This is a very complicated society you've stumbled into, Alan. Look: I'm a first-rate gamesman. That's not boasting; it's empirical truth proven over and over again during the course of a fifteen-year career. I could make a fortune competing against beginners and dubs and has-beens, so they legislate against me. You make a certain annual income from gambling and you go into Class A, and then you can't enter any of the lower-class joints like the Atlas. You slip under the Class A minimum three years in a row and you lose your card. I stay over the minimum."
"So I'll have to go after Steve myself. Well, in that case, thanks for all the help, and if you'll show me which Shoot I take to get to the Atlas----"
"Not so fast, son." Hawkes grasped Alan's wrist. "Even in a Class C dump you can lose plenty. And you can't just stand around hunting for your brother. Unless you're there as a learner you'll have to play."
"So what am I supposed to do?"
"I'll take you to a Class A place tonight. You can come in as a learner; they all know me. I'll try to show you enough about the game so you don't get rooked. Then you can stay over at my place and tomorrow we'll go up to the Atlas and look around for your brother. I'll have to wait outside, of course."
Alan shrugged. He was beginning to realize he was a little nervous about the coming meeting with Steve--and perhaps, he thought, a little extra delay would be useful. And he still had plenty of time to get back to the Valhalla after he saw Steve, even if he stayed in the city overnight.
"Well?" Hawkes said.
"Okay. I'll go with you."
This time they took the Undertube, which they reached by following a glowing sign and then an underground passageway. Alan rode down behind Hawkes on the moving ramp and found himself in a warm, brightly-lit underground world with stores, restaurants, newsboys hawking telefax sheets, milling swarms of homebound commuters.
They reached the entrance to a tube and Hawkes handed him a small oval object with figures engraved on it. "That's your tube-token. It goes in the slot."
They passed through the turnstile and followed signs indicating the West Side Tube. The tube was a long sleek affair, windowless, shaped like a bullet. The tube was already packed with commuters when they got aboard; there were no empty seats, of course, and everyone seemed to be jostling everyone else for the right to stand upright. The sign at the end of the tube said, Tube X#3174-WS.
The trip took only a few minutes of seemingly effortless gliding, and then they emerged far on the other side of the giant city. The neighborhood they were in was considerably less crowded; it had little of the mad hubbub of the downtown district.
A neon sign struck his eyes at once: SUPERIOR GAMES PARLOR. Under that in smaller letters was: CLASS A ESTABLISHMENT. A robot stood outside, a gleaming replica of the one he had tussled with earlier in the day.
"Class A only," the robot said as they came near. "This Games Parlor is for Class A only."
Hawkes stepped around him and broke the photo-contact on the door. Alan followed him in.
The place was dimly lit, as all Earther pleasure-places seemed to be. Alan saw a double row of tables spreading to the back of the parlor. At each table was an earnest-looking citizen hunched over a board, watching the pattern of lights in front of him come and go, change and shift.
Another robot glided up to them. "May I see your card, please?" It purred.
Hawkes passed his card before the robot's photonic scanners and the robot clicked acknowledgement, stepping to one side and letting Hawkes pass. It turned to Alan and said, "May I see your card, please?"
"He's with me," Hawkes said. "A learner."
A man in a dirty gray smock came up to them. "Evening, Max. Hinesy was here already and told me you weren't coming in tonight."
"I wasn't, but I changed my mind. I brought a learner along with me--friend of mine name of Alan Donnell. This is Joe Luckman, Alan. He runs this place."
Luckman nodded absently to Alan, who mumbled a greeting in return.
"Guess you want your usual table?" Luckman asked.
"If it's open," Hawkes said.
"Been open all evening."
Luckman led them down the long aisle to the back of the big hall, where there was a vacant table with one seat before it. Hawkes slid smoothly into the seat and told Alan to stand behind him and watch carefully.
"We'll start at the beginning of the next round," he said.
Alan looked around. Everywhere men were bent over the patterns of lights on the boards before them, with expressions of fierce concentration on their faces. Far in the corner Alan saw the pudgy figure of MacIntosh, the Keeper of the Records; MacIntosh was bathed in his own sweat, and sat rigid as if hypnotized.
Hawkes nudged him. "Keep your eyes on me. The others don't matter. I'm ready to get started."
Hawkes took a coin from his pocket and dropped it in a slot at the side of the board. It lit up. A crazy, shifting pattern of colored lights passed over it, restless, never pausing.
"What happens now?"
"You set up a mathematical pattern with these keys," Hawkes said, pointing to a row of enamelled studs along the side of the machine. "Then the lights start flashing, and as soon as they flash--at random, of course--into the pattern you've previously set up, you're the winner. The skill of the game comes in predicting the kind of pattern that will be the winning one. You've got to keep listening to the numbers that the croupier calls off, and fit them into your sequence."
Suddenly a bell rang loudly, and the board went dead. Alan looked around and saw that all the other boards in the hall were dark as well.
The man on the rostrum in the center of the hall cleared his throat and sang out, "Table 403 hits us for a hundred! 403! One hundred!"
A pasty-faced bald man at a table near theirs rose with a broad grin on his face and went forward to collect. Hawkes rapped sharply on the side of the table to get Alan's attention.
"Look here, now. You have to get a head start. As soon as the boards light up again, I have to begin setting up my pattern. I'm competing against everyone else here, you see. And the quickest man wins, usually. Of course, blind luck sometimes brings you a winner--but not very often."
Alan nodded and watched carefully as Hawkes' fingers flew nimbly over the controlling studs the instant the tables lit for the next round. The others nearby were busy doing the same thing, but few of them set about it with the air of cocky jauntiness that Hawkes wore.
Finally he stared at the board in satisfaction and sat back. The croupier pounded three times with a little gavel and said, "103 sub-prime 5."
Hastily Hawkes made a correction in his equation. The lights on the board flickered and faded, moving faster than Alan could see.
"377 third-quadrant 7."