A Troublesome Occurrence at the Lucky Comet Casino

Michael Panush

The practice of gambling, a practice utilized by nearly every organic race in the galaxy, is one that confuses me. I should clarify. The practice itself does not confuse me, for in my extensive databases are the complete rules, strategies, and histories of over ten thousand games of chance, ranging from Red Dog Poker to Planet X Drool of Fortune. It was my creator's belief that such information would be vital to my success. I am a robot sleuth, a detechtive by the designation of Iglitz Ronald Ops, or I. Ron. As an Artificial Private Investigator or A.P.I, it is my duty to solve mysteries and bring criminals to justice. My resilient steel body, comprehensive database and connection to the Interstellarnet grant me some success in my endeavors.

However, there are some mysteries that perplex even me, and the aforementioned practice of gambling is one of them. Gambling seems to me to be as wasteful an activity as devoting all of one's processing power to squaring pi. The odds are always against the gambler, and he will lose an estimated nine out of ten times. If a being wanted to earn money, I can list an estimated octillion ways of doing so without resorting to gambling.

And yet, it is not only an accepted practice throughout the galaxy, but there are casinos, large resorts that serve primarily to attract gamblers and separate them from their money. Entering one of these establishments seems as foolhardy to me as clicking on a personal message previously identified as including a virus, but these casinos are thriving businesses. One of the most successful of these casinos is designated as the Lucky Comet, and it was here that I, my creator and my secretary arrived to solve the murder of noteworthy gambler Wellington Belvedere.

The Lucky Comet was no misnomer. It was modified comet, the ice hollowed out and filled with a luxurious resort, restaurant and casino. Its owner, the Neptunian Nedapus Teeks, was one of the galaxy's wealthiest beings, and when he sent a shuttle to my office in Space Station Omega requesting that I come aboard the Lucky Comet, I was disinclined to give a negative response.

I sat in the red velvet seat of the shuttle, looking out the window at the passing ice fragments that followed the Lucky Comet. I counted six hundred and fourteen of them in the space of a second, some as big as a small moon. I was dressed in a manner acceptable for my profession – a battered trench coat, a fedora over my ovoid metal head, and a ray gun in a shoulder-holster over my suit. My yellow eyes turned away from the window and looked at my creator and secretary, who I would certainly classify as friends.

"Do you know why Mr. Teeks would want to hire us, I. Ron?" asked my creator, twelve-year-old boy genius Nathan Iglitz. He wore a white coat over his vest and striped tie. His brown hair was straight and thin, and he wore a pair of spectacles.

"Presumably to solve a problem of his," I explained.

"Well, yes, of course, but what kind?"

"Who knows, kiddo?" replied Shirley Sparks, my secretary. "I bet the big shot running a joint like this has all kind of skeletons in his closet. Maybe he'll have us clean one out." She wore a sleek silver sweater, and had red hair with more curls in it than even my advanced processor could count.

"Disposing of skeletons is not covered by my programming," I pointed out. "I believe this problem will involve something more difficult. I would suggest uploading programs on dealing with danger."

Even I did not know how utterly appropriate my comments were.

The shuttle dropped us off in Nedapus Teeks's private landing pad, on the underside of the Lucky Comet. The casino itself was a massive structure, suspending in space and wrapped round with ice. Large tunnels had been bored inside, giving access to the gold and white structure within. It looked like it had been built by people with lots of money who wanted to build an ostentatious and impressive structure. They had succeeded in this endeavor.

Nedapus Teeks met us in the lobby outside the landing dock, and motioned for us to follow him. "Thank Glorbogon you're here!" he cried, wringing his hands. He was approximately as tall as my waist, and like all Neptunians, was bright blue with long pointed ears exactly twice as tall as his head. He wore a white tuxedo, and though I scanned the fabric thirty times in the span of one nanosecond for dirt, I found none.

"What can we do to help, Mr. Teeks?" Nathan asked.

His voice was a shrill squeak. If my auditory receivers were extremely sensitive, it would have caused me discomfort. "Walk with me, kid, walk with me." Teeks headed down the hallway and we followed. Despite his short legs, he walked fast. Two massive bodyguards, Redskinned Martians in matching white tuxedoes, followed at us at respectful distance. From the bulges in their coats, I could tell they were carrying weaponry of some kind. "Now look, I'm a good citizen. I pay my taxes. And I think I deserve to deal with my problems in my own way, you follow me?"

"We are currently following you," I agreed. "What is this problem that you mentioned?"

Teeks sighed. "It's Wellington, Wellington Belvedere. He's the favorite son of some Terran agriculture moguls, old money. But Wellington don't like planting, so he tells his mom and pop to go screw, and he goes to earn his fortune at the card tables. Becomes a professional gambler and he's good enough at it to make a living. He's been hanging around my joint for a while now, keeping to the high stakes games." We walked across the red velvet carpet of the hallway, heading towards a private room. I saw two more Martian guards standing at the double doors.

As Teeks talked, I researched Wellington Belvedere on the Interstellarnet. I discovered that Teeks's comments were correct, except for one major detail – in the past year, Belvedere had been losing more games than he had won, causing him financial difficulties. I kept that information too myself, allowing Teeks to continue expounding on Belvedere.

"Sounds like quite the cool cat," Shirley said.

"Yeah, well, I guess he got curious." Nedapus reached the door. "Because this morning he got into a big game and about halfway through, his chest went and exploded." He opened the door and stepped inside.

Shirley looked in first and it took 1.2 nanoseconds for all the color to drain from her face. She covered Nathan's eyes and pulled him away before he could look. "Don't you go looking in there, honey," she said. "Ain't fit for you to see."

She was correct. Wellington Belvedere sat at one end of a round card table, with several cards and chips scattered on the floor. Belvedere had played his last game, because it is impossible to play games when one has been killed by a massive wound to the chest. His eyes were in open in surprise, and his right hand still clutched a pair of cards. Everything from his upper chest to his waist was a mixture of blood, muscle, and bone.

Nedapus Teeks shook his head. "Glorbogon's nose, I seen some bad things in my time, but this takes the cake! I couldn't take this kind of news spreading around the universe, keeping away the tourists! This sector's dangerous enough, what with Gentleman Jaxon and the Black Hole Gang on the loose, and this kind of grief is something I just don't need!"

"Gentleman Jaxon?" Shirley asked. "Who's that mug?"

"His full designation is Jaxon Sadow. He is a bank robber, native of Planet X, and in control of a large group of criminals," I explained. "Police estimate he is currently hiding in his sector." I looked back at Teeks. "He was not shot?" I queried. "Or attacked with a beamblade?"

"Nope. Game was going fine for him too," Nedapus said. "Even though he was going against the Quantum Kid, and I wouldn't put it past that two-bit hustler to try and keep an ace up his sleeve. No, he was just sitting there, playing his hands, drinking his drink—"

"That's it!" Shirley said, pointing to the martini glass in front of Belvedere. "He was poisoned."

I stuck a finger into the martini glass. From the droplets of liquid remaining, I was able to analyze the martini. "I am detecting trace amounts of gin, vermouth, lemon, olive," I stated. "And a Rigelian super-poison known as the Red Supernova. I deduce that this poison led to Belvedere's demise."

"I don't know, boss," Shirley said, giving me a grin. "Maybe it was the olive."

"No. It was certainly the poison." I turned to Nedapus. "You mentioned someone named the Quantum Kid. Elucidate."

"Real name's Quigley Gum. He's a card shark, a rounder who bounces around the galaxy and in and out of high-stakes games. He makes enough to get by, but he gets tossed out of the big joints because he's got a quantum computer in his skull, and he uses that to count cards. He's pulled off some cons too. A class act, this guy, and he always is figuring out some angle."

"It does not seem likely that this Quantum Kid would murder an opponent simply for the sake of a card game," I said. "I'm researching him currently, and he's played in an approximate four hundred games, all classified as 'high-stakes.' Something would have to make this one different for the Quantum Kid to act violently." I looked back at the martini glass. "What are the origins of these drinks?"

"That'll be the kitchens," Nedapus Teeks explained. "I paid top dollar for a crew of cookbots and they make everything. Then a waitress takes up either out to the main floor or up here to the special games."

"Then that is where we're going," I said. I left the room, Nedapus and Shirley following me. I faced Shirley. "Perhaps you could accomplish a separate task – examine Belvedere's room and see what you can discover."

Shirley nodded. "You can count on me, boss," she said. "What do you say, Mr. Teeks? You feeling better now that I. Ron Ops and his super sleuths are on the case?"

"As long as it keeps the press and the bulls off my back," Nedapus muttered, closing the door behind him. He touched the carnation in his lapel, an artificial flower which doubled as a personal computer. "Ah nuts," Nedapus muttered. "I gotta go. Johnny Camelot, damn spoiled crooning heart throb, is putting up a fuss. He brings in the bucks, but he always put up a fuss." He patted my shoulder. "I gave you and your pals full access to the Lucky Comet. Give me a ring when you find something."

"I will," I agreed. Nedapus and his bodyguards were already dashing off. I turned to Shirley. "You will examine Belvedere's room now?"

"Yeah," she said. She patted her purse. "Don't worry your metal head, boss. I got a girl's best friend right in here, loaded and ready to fire." She was figuratively referring to a snub nosed ray gun. Anyone attempting to hurt Shirley Sparks would find her a tough system to hack. She patted Nathan on the head. "You stick with I. Ron, Nathan, and have fun in the kitchen."

"Okay," Nathan said. "Goodbye, Miss Sparks!" He waved to her as she walked off down the hall, then looked up at me. "We're going to the kitchen, I. Ron? I don't know if I'm that hungry." He looked back at the closed double doors. "What exactly was in there?"

"A dead man," I said. I decided to try to create a pithy statement that would provide a good comment on the action. "It seems that for Wellington Belvedere, his supplies of the concept of random actions following a prescribed pattern, commonly referred to as luck, have been utilized to such a point that they are now gone, causing his death."

"Oh," Nathan said. "So, his luck ran out?"

"That is correct. He was poisoned." I walked to a personal transport tube on the side of the wall and winched open the door. It was brassy and gold, not like the dull, dusty tubes of Space Station Omega. I stepped inside, and so did Nathan. "We are going to the kitchen to find out more."

I would here consider creating a pithy statement, perhaps using culinary words, to relate the fact that danger awaited us in the kitchen, but I judge it not to be worth the effort.

The kitchens of the Lucky Comet Casino were large and well-stocked. I had records of starship docking bays that were smaller. All of it was filled with clean white cooking stations, ovens, grills, racks of knives, trays, piles of plates, rows of bottles and foods, and more. I counted approximately eighty chefs working in food preparation, each one a sleek Cookbot on silent rubber wheels, with a dozen arms tipped with knives, skewers, forks and spatulas, and white toques topping a featureless slab of a face.

"Gee, they sure are making a lot of food," Nathan said. He walked over to one of the Cookbots carrying a tray of cheese cubes, each with a silver toothpick. "Excuse me, sir? Could I have one of those, please?"

"Of course!" The Cookbot's voice was brassy and emotional. If I had the capability to do so, I would have rolled my eyes. "Eat up! What do you think? Tasty morsel, or tastiest morsel ever!"

"It's very good," Nathan agreed, taking a second cheese cube. "I. Ron, do you ever wish you could eat and taste foods? It's a very enjoyable biological activity. Maybe I could modify you to---"

At that moment, a cookbot wheeled by with a platter of Procyon Mudcrawlers. The wriggling white worms were floundering in a punchbowl of blood. Nathan's face turned green. "I have never harbored any such wishes," I told him.

"Well, I have!" the Cookbot cried. "Oh! To delight my palate with the finest flavors of the galaxy! To savor the scintillating scrumptious scraps which grace the plates of this restaurant! The very thought makes my internal machinery overheat in excitement!" He was about to roll past, but I stepped in front of him.

"Refrain from burning up right now, Cookbot," I said. "I need responses to some queries. Firstly, where are the martinis prepared?"

"Right there, friend!" the Cookbot said, pointing to a far table with one of his steak knife-tipped limbs. "The finest beverages in all of the galaxy, awaiting your consumption!"

If he had a visible speaking apparatus, I might have torn it off. I looked at the table, examining the rows of glasses. A Cookbot was filling them, using his various limbs to shake and stir each one for just the right amount of time. In a nanosecond, I realized that this course of action would provide no answers. Anybody could have entered the kitchen, dropped poison into a martini going up to the high-stakes game, and these mindless electric chefs wouldn't have noticed. They only cared about something if it was edible.

Nathan must have observed my frustration. "I guess it'd be pretty hard to figure out if someone had come here and poisoned one of the drinks," he said. "So, should we go and check on Miss Sparks, she how she's doing?"

"Correct," I agreed.

"Well, thanks for the cheese," Nathan told the Cookbot. He was exceptionally polite, and I have seen him offer gratitude to mindless machines approximately a million times. Perhaps that is what made him such a great inventor – his willingness to see his creations as individuals instead of tools. "It was very good. So long!"

"Oh no, you won't be leaving yet," the Cookbot said. "The food doesn't leave the kitchen until it's properly cooked. Only once you are transformed into a delectable delicacy fit to be devoured by the Lucky Comet's clientele can you leave the kitchen!"

Nathan shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir, but we're really not food."

"Oh yes, you are! I'm quite certain of that." The Cookbot raised a meat cleaver. "Now please refrain from struggling while I dice you. I'd hate to miss some of that tender flesh." He swung down the meat cleaver, attempting to drive the blade directly into Nathan's forehead. I grabbed the boy's collar and pulled him back, out of the way of the falling cleaver. The thick blade slammed into the ground and cracked the tiled floor.

"What's going on?" Nathan asked. "Why do they think we're to be prepared for food?" He answered his own question quickly. "Someone must have reprogrammed them. They seem like fairly simple models, so it wouldn't take long."

"They are simple," I stated. "But still dangerous. And strong in numbers." The Cookbot hurled exactly one dozen knives of varying lengths, sizes and degrees of sharpness, at me and Nathan. I grabbed a tray and held used it as a shield, warding off the blades. Still, one managed to plunge into my upper arm, hard enough to pierce the metal. I pulled out my ray gun and scanned the kitchen. All eighty of the Cookbots were rolling towards us. Some held miniature flamethrowers, while others wielded rolling pins or long knives.

I am primarily an unemotional being. I care for my self-preservation, and exactly three other things. One of those is the completion of the case. The other two are the continued safety of Nathan Iglitz and Shirley Sparks. I was not about to allow a bunch of extremely annoying Cookbots compromise that safety. It took me exactly four seconds to come up with a plan, and an additional second to begin putting it into action.

"Remain close to me, Master Iglitz," I told Nathan, and started dashing towards the ovens. Nathan followed, and several Cookbots ran after us, raising their small flamethrowers to transform us into flambeaus. I grabbed Nathan's arm and pulled him out of the way, then spun around and unleashed a salvo of seven shots into the Cookbots. My blasts burned through them, carving thick holes of molten steel through their bodies. They toppled over, whining the lists of ingredients for sautéed shrimp as they died.

I continued to run backwards, moving towards the ovens. Any Cookbot in my way was immediately filled with numerous holes, until they resembled a popular variety of cheese that originated in Switzerland. I reached the ovens and turned to the dials, twisting them on to produce as much as gas as possible.

"I. Ron, watch out!" Nathan cried. I turned my head in the same second a Cookbot smacked a heavy rolling pin into my skull. My vision blurred and my vision sensor cracked. The Cookbot raised the rolling pin again, but I caught it, then grabbed his neck and shoved him into the oven.

"We must leave immediately," I said. "Please, Master Iglitz, move with as speed as you can manage."

"Okay," he said. "Um, I. Ron. What are you planning to do?"

I now judged that the gas composition in the kitchens were sufficient for my plan. I decided to construct another statement that would cleverly describe my actions. "I am going to roast these robots in such a manner as to prepare them for a meal," I said, and then started running.

Nathan followed me, and we pounded for the double doors. A Cookbot slid into our way, about to cut my creator in half with a large steak knife. I blocked the attack with my hand, pulled the knife from the Cookbot's grasp and buried it in the culinary robot's metal face. I kicked over a table and slid it along the tiled floor, knocking down the Cookbots behind us. Then we reached the door.

In the same second, Nathan and I leapt forward and through the doors. I spun around and fired a single shot from my ray gun inside. It ignited the gas and the resulting explosion destroyed all of the Cookbots in a cloud of red fire. I grabbed Nathan, shielding him from the heat as it flew in a wave from the kitchen, like energy burning off of a dying star.

We had landed in the main hall of the Comet Casino, and the patrons stared at us in surprise. Several of the attendants rushed forward with fire extinguishers, ending the blaze with jets of supercooled water. I deduced that Nedapus Teeks would not be pleased about the destruction of his kitchen, and that he would be arriving within the minute.

I looked back at the Cookbots. "Looks like they are now charbroiled in a manner similar to the food they were preparing," I said.

Nathan nodded. "Yes, looks like it," he said. "Say, I. Ron, maybe I should work on your speech programs? You know, make your sentences a little shorter and more concise."

"Perhaps," I said. "But my combat programs clearly need no improvement."

"That's right," Nathan agreed. "They're swell."

As I predicted, Nedapus Teeks reacted to the destruction of his kitchen with rage. He called us to his office, where Shirley Sparks was waiting for us. Teeks's ears wiggled with apprehension, making a bend after each word.

"You busted up my kitchen pretty good," he hissed. "And now you're telling me you got nothing to show for it? Horns of Glorbogon, I thought hiring a private dick was supposed to save me grief!" His ears went flat. "So, what did you find out?"

"Nothing," I stated.

"Well, we know the killer knows we're here and is afraid of us, so that's something," Nathan pointed out. "Miss Sparks, did you uncover anything in Mr. Belvedere's apartment?"

"I got what could be lead, boss," Shirley explained. "Seems like Belvedere was in trouble, or afraid of something. His desk was empty, and the disintegrator had just been used, like he was roasting up everything down to his last notepad. I checked out his holocom, and he had deleted every single message on it, though he had been doing a lot of conversing."

"With whom?" I queried.

Shirley sighed. "Mr. Teeks, you ain't gonna like it."

"Give it to me straight," Teeks muttered.

"Every one of them messages was to or from Johnny Camelot."

I stood up. "So we should see him next." My research revealed that Johnny Camelot was as popular as electricity on highly-developed planets. However, his financial fortunes had been failing, due to a string of unscrupulous managers and high-profile scandals. I had enough articles of his fall from stardom from gossip magazines to rival the number of stars in the universe.

Teeks expressed his displeasure with our current plan. "Ah, don't go screwing with my golden throat, I. Ron! He's dragging in the customers, and I don't need no problems with him." He tapped a thin finger on the desk. "It's the Quantum Kid. That no-good schnook will have something to do with it, mark my words."

"Like all of your words, your last vocalization has been recorded," I explained, coming to my feet and reaching for my hat. "Let us visit Johnny Camelot." Shirley and Nathan followed me out of the room, and we left Teeks's office. From there, it was a short ride in the elevator to the penthouse suite where Camelot resided.

The suite was the exact size of the field used in the Terran sport Football. Numerous plush armchairs and couches, entertainment centers, hovering coffee tables and a fully stocked bar filled the room, all in garish colors that left my visual sensors reeling. We stared around in amazement after entering. "Mr. Camelot?" I asked, examining the leopard-printing on the nearest couch. "I am I. Ron Ops, a detective. I would like to ask you some questions."

"Ah, well, I'll be right on over then. Just, ah, hold tight a moment." Johnny Camelot floated out from a bedroom, resting in a cushioned hoverchair. Camelot was extremely fat. If he was placed near a large planet, it would be difficult to tell them apart due to their similar size. Camelot had somehow crammed himself into a white jumpsuit with holographic sequins, each projecting images of girls, palm trees, and flowers. His hair was slicked back behind his large head, and he wore a pair of dark sunglasses. "Now, what, ah, can I do for you?" he said, in his deep voice.

I projected two images of Wellington Belvedere, both before and after his gory demise. "You could begin by telling me the details of your correspondence with Mr. Belvedere before his murder," I stated.

Johnny Camelot's large cheeks sagged. "Ah, well, we was just talking about, ah, my music." He nodded rapidly, setting his flabby face to jiggling. "Here, let me fix you all some vittles and drinks, and we can discuss this like reasonable people." He hovered over to the bar and settled down, running his thick fingers across the counter. Four bowls and a large silver nozzle floated into his hands. He squeezed down on the nozzle, filling each bowl with chocolate ice cream. "I got it putting little banana and candy chunks inside. It's real good," he said, offering me a bowl.

"I cannot consume food," I said. "Looking at your girth makes me glad of that fact."

"I. Ron, please don't be rude," Nathan said, gripping my hand. "Mr. Camelot is a galaxy-famous singer and we shouldn't be rude to him." He took one of the bowls and handed the other to Shirley. "Thank you, sir," he told the corpulent crooner. "This looks very good."

"Yes, sir, little fellow, it is that," Camelot agreed. He held the bowl close to his mouth, and his little pink tongue lapped it up. After taking exactly 3.4 bites of ice cream, he nodded. "Now, I talked a lot with Mr. Belvedere. He had some business propositions for me, and some of them looked pretty good. But we weren't past the talking stage on most of them." He suddenly nodded his head. "Say, did I mention I was just robbed?"

"Really?" Shirley asked. "That's tough, Mr. Camelot. Can't trust no one these days." She walked towards them. "You know, I got all of your records. They're the Bee's Knees. You got a holocom in here? Maybe we could check the records, just to see what you and Mr. Belvedere were chatting about?"

Camelot grinned. "Well, I'd be happy to let you take a look at them normally, but that's just it – they're the thing that's been stolen. As a matter of fact, the thief left something, a little token of—" He was interrupted by five knocks on the door. "Oh, that'll be room service. I was feeling a little hungry so I ordered up some deep fried Martian turkey. Let me just go and—"

"I will answer the door," I said. "And retrieve your turkey." I did not trust Camelot. However, I did not think he had the necessary intelligence or drive to commit murder. I believed that the act of plotting and executing a large meal would make him fatigued. Still, I expected trouble when I opened the door.

I did receive trouble, in the form of a sawed-off plasma cannon firing both barrels directly into my chest. I was hurled backwards onto the carpet. Nathan stared in horror and Shirley and Johnny Camelot screamed. I looked up to see thick streams of smoke pouring from the wound, and though I was severely damaged, I did not go into immediate shut down.

The man who had shot me stood in the doorway. He was a tall man, dressed in a fringed khaki jacket and a broad-brimmed Stetson, with a silver visor covering his eyes. Two pearl handled revolvers rested on a gun belt on his hips, and he carried a sawed-off plasma cannon in his hands. He smiled, revealing that all his teeth were gold. "Howdy," he said, tugging at the bandanna around his neck. "Name's Reno. Which one of y'all is Johnny Camelot?"

He stepped inside, and everyone remained silent. Nathan tried to run to my side, but a Shirley put a hand on his shoulder and restrained him.

Reno grinned at her. "I'm just kidding. I know who Johnny Camelot is. Hell, I own all of his records!" He pointed to Camelot and laughed. "It's an honor meeting you, Mr. Camelot, a true honor. Shame about having to kill you, but them's the breaks, I reckon. See, I'm a hired killer, and I'm getting paid a mess of money to rub you out."

"I can pay you more!" Johnny cried. "Please, whoever hired you—"

"Ah, I ain't telling you that. Even if I'm gonna kill you all, and I will on account of I don't like leaving witnesses, a good assassin never reveals his employer." He smiled at Shirley and Nathan. "Why, what a pretty little lady and a handsome young man!"

While they were talking, I reached for the ray gun in my shoulder-holster. I grabbed the handle and pulled it out, but during the estimated .5 seconds it took me to aim, Reno spun around, drew one of his revolvers and shot the ray gun right out of my hand.

"Damn, boy, you one tough robo-hombre!" he said. He turned back to Shirley and Nathan. "Now, I gotta kill you too, so as not to leave any witnesses. Don't bother screaming. I put a sound dampener over the whole penthouse, so it won't matter none." He removed his hat and gave Shirley a golden smile. "Now then, little lady, what exactly are you willing to do to preserve your life?"

"You leave her alone!" Nathan shouted, and I was surprised by his anger. I had only seen him express outrage and hatred 6.5 times in my entire existence, so this was uncharacteristic of him.

Reno just laughed. "Hush, boy. Or actually, I'll hush you up myself." He placed the muzzle of his revolver to Nathan's forehead.

"Wait!" Shirley shouted. "Mr. Reno, I'll do whatever you want. I want to do whatever you want, actually." She walked over to the bar. "How about I fix you some drinks? No use killing anybody when you're thirsty, right?"

"Damn, girl, you got a good head on you." Reno grinned as he watched her move around to the bar. "Shame about me having to take it off." I attempted to crawl towards my fallen revolver, but Reno turned around and pointed his revolver at me. I froze in my tracks. Behind him, Camelot floated silently on his hoverchair and Nathan wrung his hands and appeared tearful.

Shirley got behind the bar and picked up a couple of glasses, then grabbed the ice cream nozzle. "Mr. Reno?" she asked. "I hope you like soft-serve." Then she raised the ice cream nozzle and sprayed a large stream of chocolate ice cream with banana and candy chunks directly into his chest. Reno was knocked backwards, tossed onto the couch by the high-powered spray.

At that moment, my internal repair mechanisms had completed its function and I was able to come shakily to my feet. I forgot about the ray gun and ran for Reno, just as he was coming to his feet. "Damn varmint!" he shouted, reaching for his second revolver. I slammed a fist into his face, knocking him down again. He responded by firing a single shot at me. I was able to avoid it, though it still banged into my shoulder and forced me back, straight into Johnny Camelot.

The singer's hoverchair rocked backwards, and then I grabbed it and swung it around. I pushed it over, sending Johnny Camelot straight down and onto Reno. "Oh, momma!" Camelot shouted, and Reno's scream ended as he was crushed by the sheer bulk of the rock star.

I waited a few minutes, and then pushed Johnny Camelot off of the hitman. He crawled away and pulled himself back into his hoverchair. Reno stared up at me and I grabbed his shoulder and hauled him up. "My designation is I. Ron," I said. "Allow me to remark on your current silence, when exactly four minutes and thirty-two seconds ago, you did not cease your chatter. Now who sent you?"

"I ain't telling, metal boy!" he said, snarling at me. "And you can count on that!"

"And you can count on another high-powered stream of ice cream going directly into your chest unless you cooperate," I said. I swung him around, making him face Shirley. She grinned and held up the nozzle, preparing to let loose another stream.

Reno grinned. "More ice cream?" he asked. "Why, Mr. Robot, I'm shaking all ready!"

"Pardon me." I turned to Nathan. "Nathan, could you please remove the sound dampener and alert Mr. Teeks as to what just occurred here?"

Nathan nodded. "Sure thing, I. Ron." He headed for the door, and then smiled at Shirley. "You were amazing," he told her, and ducked outside.

As soon as he was gone, I slammed Reno onto the counter and delivered a punch into his visor. I cracked it and continued pulverizing him for exactly two minutes before he decided to speak. His visor was shattered, both of his eyes were blackened, and seven of his gold teeth lay on the floor.

"He contacted me through the Interstellarnet, using an alias, but I hacked it and figured out who it was." He gulped. "Fellow name of Wellington Belvedere."

We all exchanged a glance. This case had just grown in complexity by precisely one hundred and fifty percent.

After receiving the necessary information, we tied up Reno and waited for Teeks and the casino security to arrive. They would lock him in a closet until they could hand him over to this sector's police, and they would presumably incarcerate him. Reno seemed very calm and happy about the whole thing, like it was a trip to the fair. "Hell, what are them coppers gonna do to me?" he asked. "Send me to prison? Shoot. I reckon there ain't not one jail in the galaxy that I ain't busted out of yet, and that's a fact."

Johnny Camelot, Nathan, Shirley and I stood in the corner of the suite as the casino security led him away. Nathan had brought along his tool bag and some extra parts, and was working at repairing the damage done by Reno's plasma cannon. He did not think the repairs would take long, and he could perform additional work once the case was finished and we were back on Space Station Omega.

Johnny Camelot used a dish rag to wipe the sweat from his broad brow. "Oh, momma, I ain't never seen such a thing," he said. "I wish I never was an intergalactic singing sensation. Assassination attempts, running out of money, room being robbed, it's getting worse and worse…"

The mention of the room robbery made me recall an important element of the case he had mentioned. "The token?" I asked. "Mr. Camelot, you explained that the robber had left a token of his action, perhaps allowing us to identify him. Please produce said token."

"Ah, right." Camelot reached into the pocket of his white jumpsuit. "Here it is."

It was a white piece of paper with a single letter written on it. That letter was an upper class 'Q'. It did not take an advanced positronic brain and a comprehensive database to realize who the burglar was.

"The Quantum Kid, boss!" Shirley said. "He's the one who done it!"

"Perhaps he will have some answers," I said. "Nathan, are the repairs nearly completed?"

"Just give me a second here," Nathan said, using a miniature wielder to reattach my chest-plating. He stood up and gave it a quick tap. "Okay, should be solid and ready to go, I. Ron," he said. "So, where is this Quantum guy?"

I looked up to see Nedapus Teeks walking towards us. He could only have looked more agitated if he was on fire. "Globorgon's horns!" he snarled. "It just keeps getting worse and worse!" He looked up at me. "So, what's been going on with Camelot? How's he mixed up in this?"

"I am not certain," I stated. "But he was in communication with Belvedere over something important. Something so important that Belvedere hired a killer to keep him silent. And then Belvedere himself was killed. Perhaps in an effort to keep him from speaking about certain matters." I paused. "Camelot denies he killed Belvedere but I do not trust him."

"He's out of his league," Shirley pointed out.

"And I'm out of luck," whined Teeks. He touched the rose in his lapel, bringing up a holographic display. "Okay. It looks like the Quantum Kid is hanging out on the main floor and --- goddamn it! He's raking in the dough from all the slot machines." Teeks's ears started to twitch and bounce again, like malfunctioning machinery. "You guys should get on down there and deal with him."

"That is acceptable," I agreed. I stood up, motioning for Shirley and Nathan to follow me. We walked down the hall to the nearest elevator, and took that down to the main floor of the casino. The case was rising in complexity at an exponential rate and I had no reason to believe it would stop before it ended.

The main hall of the Lucky Comet Casino was crowded with patrons, tables, slot machines and holographic advertisements for local entertainments and venues. Everything was in glowing neon, and it was similar to walking through an unkempt garden, where all the plants made noise and changed color. We followed Nedapus Teeks's instruction, walking down the main avenue of slot machines to find the Quantum Kid. It was not difficult to locate him.

He was strolling amongst the slot machines, reaching out almost carelessly and pulling one of the handles. He would yawn as he watched the one-armed bandit, as they are sometimes referred to, whir and clank, and then grin as it spat out a pile of coins. He caught shoveled them into the pockets of his tuxedo coat, looking both ways like a thief making away with loot.

I approached him as he was gathering his winnings and rested a hand on his shoulder. He was a slim man, clean shaven with wild black hair and a constant grin. He wore a rumpled black suit, the bow tie undone and hanging from his collar. He gave me an easy smile. "Easy there, boss. Just collecting my reward." Then he looked me over, and stared at Shirley on my right and Nathan at my left. "You're not casino security," he said, raising an eyebrow. He carried a poker chip in one hand and played with it constantly. I saw it spin and flip over in his hands exactly sixty-three times during our conversation.

"Your statement is correct," I said. "My designation is I. Ron Ops. I am going to ask you a number of questions and you will answer them."

He raised an eyebrow. "A mechanical sleuth?" he asked, letting the poker chip rest on his knuckles. "What will they think up next?" He leaned forward and I saw his eyes flash.

"I cannot predict the future of technological development. But I can predict that you took the data from…" I paused. The information was gone from my head. It had vanished like it had never been there. I could not find the words I needed. It was like trying to run a program and finding that it wasn't completely installed.

"Mr. Camelot's holocom, I. Ron," Nathan said, squeezing my hand.

His words filled in the gap. "Yes. You robbed Camelot's penthouse and took that information."

"Gee, ain't you the super sleuth?" Quigley Gum said, giving me a smile. "I see you found my note. God, Johnny Camelot's really gone downhill, huh? Used to be the brightest star in the galaxy and now he only thing he's raking in is weight." The Quantum Kid grinned. "Now, I haven't looked at this information yet. Got a little distracted by all these shiny machines."

My mind was drifting, like a piece of driftwood placed in the ocean. For some reason, I focused on the conundrum, the true mystery, that had been in my mind since we arrived here. "Why do you gamble?" I asked. "The odds are always against you. I can name an octillion careers that will bring you a more stable and more profitable income than gambling. Why do you, and countless other organic beings, gamble?"

The Quantum Kid's mouth fell open. "Boy, that's a tough one," he said. "You asking me why I do it?"

"Such a query would produce an interesting answer, I'm certain." Shirley and Nathan looked at me in confusion. Nathan seemed concerned at my state and Shirley stared accusingly at the Quantum Kid.

"Well, it's not exactly the money, I'd say. It's the thrill. The feeling that I'm living my life to the extreme, where everything hinges on the moment. It's about being independent, about having no boss but destiny. And let's be honest – it's about the money too. Sure, I can get some normal job, and work like a slob and live comfortably. But here? I'm on top the galaxy and I'm looking down."

Shirley suddenly stepped forward. "Look down this," she snarled, pulling her snub-nosed ray gun from her purse and slamming it into the Kid's ribs. He dropped his poker chip. "Now what'd you do to my boss, you rat bastard?"

"Nothing much, gorgeous. Just a little of the old Quantum magic." He grinned up at me. "I opened a connection with his internal processor, just to screw around a little. Just to let you know exactly who you're dealing with." He put his hand on Shirley's, pushing down the muzzle of her ray gun. "So let's talk business. I got the data you need to solve the case. Now, this chump change may satisfy an Average Joe, but an Average Joe, I ain't. I want all the payment for this job, and the credit too, and if there's any loot involved—"

"This transaction is acceptable." I broke eye contact with the Quantum Kid, letting my internal database return to normal.

"What?" he asked. "But don't you want the dough for—"

"This may sound familiar," I said. "Actually, it is familiar, because it is a repeat of a sentiment you previously expressed, but now in an ironic light – I don't do it for the money."

He grinned. "My kind of guy," he said. He handed me a small black plastic rectangle, and I scanned it with my eyes and downloaded the information. It took me exactly 5.5 nanoseconds to process it, and .3 more nanoseconds to come to grips with it. It meant that I, Shirley, Nathan, and every other being in the casino was in immediate danger.

The Quantum Kid, Shirley and Nathan stared at me, waiting for my answer. I gave it to them as quickly as I could. "The casino is going to be robbed," I said. "Cleared out of all the money it has. Preserving lives will not be a major priority of the robbers. In fact, they pretend to destroy the life support system and kill everyone inside."

"What?" Nathan asked. "We better warn Mr. Teeks!"

"How were Belvedere and Camelot mixed up in it?" Shirley asked, as Nathan dialed up Teeks on his personal holocom.

I looked up and saw Johnny Camelot floated towards us on his hoverchair. "We just wanted a little extra money, oh momma!" Camelot whined. "Look at me! My whole damn life spent in show business and what have I got to show for it? I can't reach across my belly and clasp my hands and my bank account's emptier than a black hole!"

"So you made a deal with the Black Hole Gang," I said. "You and Belvedere were their inside men, telling them everything they needed to know to have a successful robbery. In return, you would get a cut of the profits. You agreed to their terms, but soon you became suspicious of each other."

"Gentleman Jaxon called me up!" Camelot said. "Told me that Belvedere was gonna squeal, and the whole thing would fall apart! I, well, I couldn't have that. I asked if there was some way to take Belvedere out of the picture, without killing him. Jaxon, he sends me some liquid, tells me to slip into Belvedere's drink and it'll make him sick. I didn't know it would kill him! Oh momma, please forgive me!"

"If you didn't know what you were doing, the law will probably be a bit nicer to you," Nathan said. "You're still in a little trouble, but not that much."

"And you survived an attempt on your life," I said. "Jaxon must have told Belvedere the same thing, and he chose to have you killed. Jaxon was trying to remove both of his inside men, after they had served their purposes. It cuts down on his risk and raised his profits. Unlike most of the individuals here, Jaxon is not a gambling man."

"So when does he show up, boss?" Shirley asked me.

An atomic clock is included amongst my software. I checked it. "I must express my alarm," I said. "He's coming in exactly one—"

The rest of my sentence was inaudible, due to the large explosion that rocked the Lucky Comet Casino and tore apart the doors. A dozen of the Black Hole Gang stepped inside, all of them wearing matching dark vests, suits and bowler hats. Gentleman Jaxon Sadow stood at their head, holding an atommy gun. He was a native of Planet X, and had dark purple skin, nearly black, and a neat moustache. His men were a variety of different species.

"All right, ladies and gentleman!" Sadow said, exactly firing four bullets from his atommy gun into the air. "Now, let's all stand still and be nice and quiet while my associates relieve you of your valuables. And for god's sake, don't do anything stupid."

His thugs dashed forward, waving their guns and covering everyone, including the security guards. I saw one dash back, and his coat opened just a little. I zoomed in. Sure enough, he had a breath mask and a small gas tank clipped to his belt. I turned to the Quantum Kid, Nathan, Shirley and Johnny Camelot.

"Their plan is to shut down the life support, killing everyone. This attack is just a feint. The larger group of robbers is undoubtedly forcing their way into Teeks's office, to tamper with the life support controls."

"So we have to go there and stop him," Nathan said. He peeked out from behind the slot machine, watching as Sadow's gangsters strutted up and down the casino floor, pushing patrons aside like they, and not Nedapus Teeks, were the owners of the building. "But these guys will gun us down if we try and get away!"

"We need a distraction." The Quantum Kid rested his hand on the arm of Camelot's hoverchair. "And I think I just found one." He rapidly tapped out some instructions, and gave the crooner's chair a push.

"Whoa momma!" Camelot shouted, as his hoverchair zoomed towards the center of the room, spitting out huge amounts of smoke, fog, light, sparks, and other various elements, not dissimilar to a comet's trail.

The Black Hole Gang raced after him, firing their weapons in the air to calm everyone down. I calculated that it would take a good 30.4 seconds to slow and restrain him, and that was more than enough to make our move. I, Shirley, Nathan and Quigley Gum all dashed for the elevators. Unfortunately, we were not unobserved, as following events revealed.

We reached the elevator, and I directed it to convey us to Teeks's office. When we arrived, we saw the devastation wreaked by Sadow's gangsters. Two of Teeks's guards lay dead outside, their bodies pierced by six bullets each, fired into their center mass. Gentleman Jaxon's robbers clearly were not amateurs. I walked over to the door and it slid open automatically.

There was another dead man in the lobby, a secretary cowering behind her desk, and one of the Black Hole Gang standing watching. He breathing mask was already on, attached to a small air tank on his belt. He raised a plasma cannon and fired at me. "Eat this, you lousy mugs!" he shouted between the bursts of deadly plasma.

I ducked low and leveled my ray gun. "Consume this!" I replied and shot a ray blast into his shoulder. I took out some meat and knocked him down, and then we charged over to disarm him.

Shirley had her snub nosed ray gun out, and gestured with it towards Teeks's office. The doors were shut. "How do you want to play this, boss?" she asked.

"In a manner that will have our firearms shooting rapidly," I said.

Nathan sighed. "I really gotta get your speech programs fixed."

I kicked open the door and raised my pistol, scanning and firing within the same picosecond. There were three thugs inside, one holding the muzzle of his automatic against Nedapus Teeks's blue forehead, another covering the door with an atommy gun, and a third typing in commands to Teeks's computer.

I got caught with a ray between the eyes, frying his brain and killing him instantly and then leapt over the desk as an atommy gun blazed away at me. Shirley fired her own ray gun, striking the man with the atommy gun in the upper chest. The remaining thug continued pounding in instructions, and then fired his revolver into the computer itself before I could stop him with a fist under the chin.

"Cripes!" Shirley cried, looking at the fading, flickering readout. "That doesn't look good."

"It's not." Nathan dashed over to the screen and looked at the readout. He produced a keyboard of his own and clicked it into the computer. "He set the life support systems to overheat and crash in a matter of seconds." He worked swiftly to stop it, typing an estimated 300 words a seconds. "If I can just slow it down, and then maybe reverse the heating, we should be okay…"

Nedapus Teeks nodded vigorously. "Do whatever you can, kid! I'll double your paycheck, no, triple it!" He looked at the Quantum Kid. "Wait a minute! What's the big idea, dragging this no-good crook in here! He's probably the one behind this whole heist!"

"That is not so," I said. "The true culprit is Gentleman Jaxon Sadow."

"Well spotted." We all turned and saw Jaxon standing in the hallway, casually covering us with his atommy gun. "You really do have some heart, detechtive, and a little fashion sense too, I might add. I thought hacking the Cookbots would be enough to deal with you, and you managed to avoid ending up on their platters. But overall, you're just not very bright." I reached for my ray gun, but he fired fifty-three bullets into my midsection. I could feel that shut down was imminent. Shirley went for her ray gun, but Gentleman Jaxon kicked it out of the way. "It's quite foolish to pit yourself against me, you see."

"So it's a long shot?" The Quantum Kid fingered his poker chip. I saw him press down on it, and three metal spikes slid outwards, creating the weapon known a shuriken, or throwing star. "That never stopped me before." He hurled the weapon at Gentleman Jaxon and it struck the Planet X bank robber straight in the eye. He leaned backwards, screaming in pain.

The Quantum Kid and Shirley's fists shot out together, both ramming into Jaxon's face and knocking him against the wall. Shirley grabbed his atommy gun and pointed it at his face.

"Okay," Nathan announced, looking up from the computer screen. "I stopped the overheating and I'm directing away some of the excess heat. I also sent in a distress signal to this sector's police. They should be here pretty soon."

Teeks breathed a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank Glorbogon," he muttered. "By the way, did you ever figure out who iced Belvedere?"

"It was Johnny Camelot," I said. "But he did not intend to kill Belvedere, merely incapacitate him and he merely delivered poison given to him by Mr. Sadow, as Mr. Sadow will undoubtedly attest during a trial. He should get off with minor charges as an accessory to murder. Perhaps a large fine."

"Yeah, well, that's a large fine he can't afford to pay," Teeks pointed out.

"Don't you know nothing about showbiz?" Shirley asked. "This scandal's gonna make him more popular than anything! He'll be topping the charts, just like he used to be."

"So everything worked out?" Nathan asked. "That's good." Then he looked at the Quantnum Kid. "Well, except for you, sir. You risked your life, and you didn't really get anything out of it."

"Story of my life, kid," Quigley Gum said. "But I don't care. Even a little action is still action."

I heartily agreed with that sentiment.

-The End-

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