To Serve The Master

By Zeb Carter

sfgenreTerry Winstone sat back in the recliner, ignoring the big screen before him.

I'll just rest here for a minute, he thought, that's all. I deserve it after mowing the lawn, he argued. He exhaled loudly, as though to prove the point.

The inner judge was unimpressed. You won't need to reach for the remote in the arm of the chair, then, will you? it chided.

Terry hissed. Why did you have to bring that up? I told you I only want to sit for a moment, get my wind back.

He shook his head. Who was he fooling? Then, the serpent that never slept uncoiled, winding itself around the crumbling anger, transmuting it to fear. Oh fuck, was all he could manage, before the tidal wave of anxiety drank him up.

Adrift on a stormy ocean of peptides, Terry watched helplessly as his hand crept towards the remote, bidding the will of the true master. One clumsy nudge and the screen beamed larger than life. The initial sensory input made him swoon — the gambling channel had something for everyone, and they were all winners it seemed, smiles wide open, fists shaking wads of cash. There were the animals, horses, dogs, sewer rats versus cats, or cobra versus mongoose … the permutations seemed endless. Of course, you had all the sporting games too, including variations openly inspired by spartan dreams and caligulan nightmares.

Terry had seen and done it all; he knew where the real thrill lay. So did the serpent within, of course. Automatically, the gambling channel provided a holographic interface, allowing Terry to more easily make his hamfisted choices.

He had to choose quickly, he knew, and something big. Somewhere close by, getting closer with every breath, was another, much larger, tidal wave of dread. He pretended to reason, talking himself through the selections as though it was his intellect at work; his own will:

Alright then, if we're gonna do this, we have to make it worthwhile — there's no backing out at this point.

The last was true at least. It had him now.

In a last ditch plea to the empty room, Look, I'll have two chances in three of winning here, and enough to do something nice for the family. So shut the fuck up, will you, and let me concentrate.

No one was fooled, of course.

It's just a simple numbers game. All I have to do to win is land on black.


Terry pawed at the holoface. The ball dropped, raced through the slot, and skidded around the spinning wheel, bouncing madly.

The judge shrank, the serpent writhed and bloated, filling every space of the room.

Then it was all over:


Terry screamed, pounded the armrests. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

The wave pounded him mercilessly; his world faded.

The carnival was over.

“Mummy!” shouted five year-old Betsy from the doorway. “Daddy's been gambling.”

Terry stared mutely at his daughter, rubbing his knuckles raggedly against his chin. His wife Betty appeared behind the daughter.

Her voice was low, dangerous: “Terry, you promised,” as she fumbled with a jar of tomato paste, even simple everyday chores a task.

In the background, a cheerful voice announced that payment was due in twelve hours.

Betty's lips pursed. Looking at Terry's own fingerless hands, she shook her head in disbelief as she backed away. “Well, where does this leave us?”

Terry couldn't answer; his daughter was so beautiful, her own pink chubby fingers now clutching at her mother's dress.

Another wave struck, him, and another. Mentally gasping, he struck out, anything would do. Through a haze, he muttered weakly, “There's always double or nothing.”

But they were the serpent's words, not his own.

And yet —

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About The Author

Zeb Carter

Zeb writes:

Last week, on a whim I submitted some of my own musings to ‘Nuke’, and when I checked back today — my time in my ‘verse, which is plus six years comparative to you — I saw that he had published some of them! I wasn’t even sure the contrived email and attachment would get through, let alone end up published on your internet of things. (BTW - We have nothing quite like your ‘net, but we’ve gone far further into the solar system than you have. Figure that!)Now that I know a connection is possible, I thought I’d tell you a little more about myself and where I’m from. So, from the beginning…

Hi. My name is Zebuline Carter — that’s Zeb for my friends or Zeb-you-leen if you want to get formal — and I’m a forty-two year old former astronaut now working as an administrator at Farside, on Luna. Farside is a research base, where innerscopes are just starting to peel back layers of our sheath of the local multiverse. Because our work is so sensitive to em influences, Farside is situated within a one hundred klom diameter exclusion zone.

In my late teens I earned a double major in aerospace and business but passed over grad school for civilian astronaut training. As a kid I collected coupons from cereal boxes until I had enough for my first telescope, and built scale models of all the commercial shuttles and orbiters. Growing up, I’d always felt slightly out of place, like I was meant to to be somewhere else and part of me already was — until, that is, I had my first trip into low orbit aboard a high-riding intercont-cruiser, or ICC. That was a high-school graduation present from my Uncle Jim, and during the fifteen minutes of freefall I found that other part of myself, grabbed it tight, and never let go since.

Did I also mention I’m 180 cents tall with bobbed chestnut hair? Or that because of heart damage from a bad landing, I’m also marooned in low gravity? But heh, there are now six bases around Luna, supporting a permanent population of around twelve thousand Lunans, and a transient population of several thousand tourists and stopovers returning form the outer system, so it never gets boring and I don’t get lonely. And living in low G means I won’t age or sag as fast, either.

Until next time —


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