The Gambling Gods
By J. J. Dewey
Zork was an angry young god. He had just lost his last planet in an intergalactic poker game.
Poor Zork. Poor, poor, Zork. He had no kingdom — and what was a god without a kingdom? A god has to have a kingdom. A god has to be worshipped. A god has to rule and reign.
He had nothing. He was now higher than the mortals only by his possession of eternal life, but he was the lowest of the gods. Never in the eternities had a god blundered so. “Never, never, never,” he told himself.
He should have known. The older gods were wiser, more knowledgeable, intelligent. They could predict circumstances that he couldn’t. His father had warned him against gaming. For the past six trillion planetary revolutions of Zork’s youth he had been warned. His father’s words echoed over and over in his mind: “I don’t know how individuals like Elu, Keilie, and Zee ever got to be gods. It’s getting so a good god can’t have any peace. One is always being tempted to gamble with his kingdom, which brings on the possibility of the supreme punishment. All gods were at one time good, but eternity can change things. Remember Zork. There are bad gods. They’ll take you for every planet, moon and star you have.”
Zork recalled how it all happened. He was riding his favorite comet past the Ring Nebula in Lyra when some mysterious power surpassing his own drew him off course. He was drawn right into the Royal Casino of the Gods within the nebula.
Hundreds of galactic revolutions ago the gods of the surrounding universe assembled here for peace and rest, that is when all was well with their created populous. Each God who desired membership in the resort donated a portion of his star systems for the celestial haven and had the privilege of spending his own seventh day there, made sacred by himself.
Eternities ago the Royal Palace of the Gods (as it was called then) was the perfect place for a good god to get away from it all. Here he could quit worrying about how the hell all of his mortals were going to make it to heaven. Many gods feared they would have to enjoy heaven alone so they often used the Royal Palace as an escape mechanism.
Within the Royal Palace was beauty surpassing any mortal’s comprehension. The structures within the nebula were made of the white matter of the stars themselves and the refinement, magnificence, and elegance were in a dimension discernable only to a god. A mortal could not see the beauty, and if he could it would be of no worth for he would have no understanding.
It used to be that the gods enjoyed the companionship of one another in the palace and drank drink and ate celestial food prepared by their angels. They talked over the latest affairs of the state and their real estate problems. Here the gods were able to discuss with those of their own intellect which provided the social balance even a good god needs. They shuddered at the thought of an insane god. The servants of such a being may as well go to hell. The Royal Palace made for a well-rounded god, they thought.
For billions of mortal life spans things went pretty darned good. The weak god gained strength from the strong gods, the young gained knowledge from the old, and the bashful were greeted and shown around by the others. Thus, all mortals in the universe were provided with a well-rounded god and everyone was happy.
Then Lord Elu had to spoil the whole thing. Being the forgetful god he was, he just plum forgot about some of his planets, and by the time he came around to see how the people on it were doing, a thing called gambling seemed to have spread around. The mortals enjoyed it enormously. Even Lord Elu thought it looked fun so he decided he’d liven the Royal Palace up a bit for the first time in eternities and show everyone how it worked.
He started with bingo.
It’s such a mild game, he told the other gods. And after all we need some kind of new recreation around here once in an eternity. Remember. The purpose of this place is to provide for a well-rounded god.
His motion was carried with minor resentment.
Many of the gods found great pleasure in this new sport. Just what they needed, they thought.
But they soon grew bored of playing the same game over and over and wanted something new.
Lord Elu introduced the slot machine and the majority of the gods rejected it and replied, “It sounds like something an adversary would inject in the mind of a mortal. We’ll have no part of it. We must set an example for those mortals over whom we preside.”
But many of the gods wanted the game, and it was only a short time before gaming instruments were secretly established. It worked like a chain reaction. Within a few mortal life spans every game the gods found their mortals had created was installed in the Ring Nebula in Lyra.
The more respectable gods, of course, resented this but could do nothing about it since any manner of contention was forbidden among them. They shivered at the thought of the supreme punishment.
Soon the loud laughter, the merry making, the gambling among their fellow gods caused the good gods much irritation. The thought of a god falling for the temptations of a mortal was unheard of in the previous eternities and the majority of the gods, being pretty good fellows, moved out to the planetary nebula in Camelopardos in order to maintain their good standing.
After that, the gambling gods had the Ring Nebula in Lyra all to themselves and had what a mortal would describe as a heck of a good residence.
By and by the gambling gods decided to change the name of the place. Let’s not continue calling this haven a mere palace. It’s a casino. A royal casino.
Thus it was named: The Royal Casino of the Gods, Inc. Esq.
From that eternity of the gambling, gods gambled like mortals and lived like triumphant devils. Every so often a god would lose his entire kingdom and would get kicked out wearing only a ring of stardust and by the time Zork happened to be happening by, only an elite group was left. Some of them had kingdoms numbering over a dozen galaxies while the outcasts had none. The losers had to start again from scratch and build a new kingdom from the sub-atomic particles drifting aimlessly between the galaxies. They would have to go through that process of building up again. First create hydrogen atoms, fuse them to helium, and…
As a rule, each god was a ruler over one galaxy and his glory was determined by its size and the goodness of the mortals therein. Everyone was happy. But now Elu and the rest had to spoil the whole thing by winning from their fellow gods. Elu considered himself champion of the universe, for he had twenty-six galaxies, six nebula, three star clusters, and oodles of stray stars and hydrogen clouds. Because of his gross negligence, all of his mortals had become stupendously wild, and the disintegration of a precious planet was a frequent occurrence if the mortals were not set in order by a higher power.
It was a frequent occurrence on Elu’s worlds.
Yes, Lord Elu had more kingdoms than he knew what to do with, but was he satisfied?
Was his thirst for power never quenched?
Did he want more?
Yes, of course.
Thus Lord Elu, who considered himself the head of the bunch, placed guards for the sole purpose of sighting young tenderfeet whom they figured could be tempted into a friendly mortal game of something that would involve some real estate. These young gods were always looking for an easy star cluster.
Thus Zork was spotted and drawn into the entrance of the casino. Elu greeted him personally, nice and friendly-like.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” said Elu in as hearty of tone as he could muster in the vacuum of space.
“You’ve come to the right spot m’boy. We wish to welcome you and escort you around our casino. The Royal Casino of the Gods. You can’t get classier than this, boy. You just can’t… Come one in and I’ll show you around.”
“Yes, I’ve heard of this place. My father…”
“Pretty nice, eh boy?” Elu butted in as the pearly gates were opened.
“It is. It really is,” gasped Zork. His mouth was opened at a relaxed width.
“It’s a roof over our heads. Keeps the meteors away,” said Elu.
Zork stared. It was beautiful. Really.
“What’s your name, boy?” said Elu.
“Zork,” Zork barfed up on the third try.
“Well, Zork, just don’t stand there suspended. Follow me. It’s not every day a young one like you gets in here. We don’t check I.D.’s if the customer looks really respectable.
Zork couldn’t resist. There was no harm in browsing. He parked his comet and entered.
“Pretty nice machinery we got here, eh Zork?” said Elu with an opened hand in the direction of the celestial slot machines.
“I guess,” said Zork. “What are they?”
“It’s a machine to fortune,” Elu said as if he had gained his entire wealth through it. “All you do is put in a star coin (each god as coins which are individual deeds to his planets, stars, galaxies, nebula, etc.) and pull the lever, and if the windows show any of those emblems on the side you get back more than you put in. Go ahead and try ‘er out.”
“I don’t …”
“Go ahead,” said Elu with friendly persuasion.
“What’s one star compared to my millions,” thought Zork and gave the machine a try.
The windows showed a planet, star and a moon. Three star coins rolled out.
“Hey! That’s pretty neat. Pretty darn neat,” said Zork. “Maybe I’ll try again. Do you mind?”
“Go right ahead,” said Elu, sounding as much as possible like he didn’t mind.
Zork continued for awhile and was coming out about even.
“Just exactly whereabouts is your kingdom located?” said Elu with business curiosity.
“The third region in the forty-seventh sector, code 100110101111-A,” said Zork, watching the windows with anticipation which made Elu feel good inside.
“I’ve been there before,” said Elu with lust in his eyes. “You’ve got a nice little galaxy going for you there. Rich in hydrogen clouds, too.”
“It’s a living,” said Zork automatically.
“Say,” said Elu in a different, more enthusiastic tone, “how’d you like to join us in a little game we’re brewing up. Mortals most universally call it poker. No matter what planet one goes to, it’s called poker. Never figured out why.”
“Yes, that’s what most of my mortals call it. That is odd. The game looks fine and all that, but I don’t know. I don’t want to risk much.”
“Bet with hydrogen atoms if you like. We just play for our enjoyment. A god needs some recreation.”
“The game does look fun,” said Zork. “Ok. Maybe I’ll risk a few hydrogen atoms.”
“That’s the sport,” said Elu. “Come on in here, and I’ll introduce you to the boys.”
They entered a majestic room within which were a number of tough-looking gods. They were seated around a table.
“Fellow gods,” said Elu. “I wish to introduce you to Zork. The aspiring young god from the forty-seventh sector. Zork meet Chi, Zee, Keilie, Sardon, and Mu-Si.”
They all exchanged nods. Instant friendship.
“Say,” said Chi, “Isn’t that your pop who owns Andromeda?”
“Why yes. Yes it is,” said Zork.
“Mighty fine pop you got there boy. Yep, mighty fine. And I might say he’s got he’s got a great kingdom going for himself. Its magnificence surpasses the Milky Way in size, but not glory. That is a terrific pile of stars.”
“The Milky Way,” said Keilie. “What a kingdom! Wow!” He slapped his fist into his hand.
“You can give up on that one,” said Elu. “Well, Zork, shall we commence our recreation?”
Zork sat hesitantly. He still didn’t know whether to trust them. In fact, he knew from the words of his father he shouldn’t. But what was the harm? He wouldn’t risk more than a few atoms.
“Wow,” Keilie continued, “I say that Jehovah really has it made with that Milky Way under his belt. You know when we own that galactic coin so that we’ll really be running smooth.”
Elu gave Keilie an ice cold stare. “What do you mean ‘when’?” he said not quietly. “Do you think Jehovah will just come give you the deed to his eternal work? Do you?”
“Ohhh,” said Keilie. “I meant ‘if,’ he said humbly. “If we owned the Milky Way we would have it made.”
“Say what you mean from now on,” said Elu. “No wonder I always wipe you out in this game.”
“You what…?” said Keilie sounding like a western gunfighter.
“Simmer down,” said Elu. “Remember the supreme rule: No contention.”
“Yea, sure,” said Keilie looking at Zork, clearing his throat.
“Shall we play?” said Elu.
“Let’s” said Keilie.
“We open with a hydrogen atom,” said Elu.
“A what?” said Sardon in a gasp.
“A hydrogen atom,” said Elu gnashing his teeth, pronouncing the words in a tone of god’s laughter. “We play for sport. Remember?”
Sardon had a blank look on his face.
“Yea. Remember?” said Mu-Si.
“Oh. Yea. Sure,” said Sardon. “I remember. Sport.”
“I presume you know how to play after having watched your mortals,” said Elu to Zork.
“Yes, I believe I’ve watched them enough to recollect,” said Zork, a little uneasy. He had watched mortal card sharks on TV.
“Good god,” said Elu as he dealt the cards and commence a game of the gods.
Zork was quite enjoying himself. He was coming out about even and didn’t have to worry about not doing so.
Elu had as pleasurable and content of a look on his face as he could force.
The others were looking a little bored, especially Keilie. He was sitting on the edge of his chair, nerves showing, seemingly perturbed, biting his immortal thumbnail to no avail. It was immortal, and he couldn’t chew it off.
Finally, “Let’s get this show on the road,” said Keilie. “If the kid doesn’t want to go any higher than hydrogen atoms — boot him out. If we don’t get some adventure in this game I’m outta here”
The other gods nodded and mumbled among themselves to show they were of the same opinion.
“I’m not a kid,” said Zork. “I’ve got a kingdom that many older gods would trade theirs for.”
“Then maybe you’ll play poker like a mature god,” said Keilie.
“I’m sure he will,” said Elu in a voice of confidence. “Won’t you Zork?”
“Well, maybe we can play for double or nothing,” said Zork.
Keilie started to protest, then he thought: Double or nothing. Two, four, eight, sixteen … two to the one hundred and thirtieth power. “Yea,” he said. “Yea. Now you’re thinking. We open with two hydrogen atoms in this game, four the next, and so on.”
“No,” said Zork. “I just meant…”
“I gotta admit it kid. You’re smart. Smart. OK everybody, we play by the kid’s rules. A couple dozen games, and we’ll be in the big time. Then we’ll go into stars.”
Zork didn’t like being called the kid, and he frowned at Keilie.
Keilie just smiled back and said, “Yep, I gotta admit it kid. You’re on it tonight.”
“What makes you think it’s night?” said Chi.
“Mortals always play poker at night,” said Keilie.
“It’s an eternal day around here. Besides, we aren’t mortals,” stated Chi.
“Quiet!” said Elu, and he dealt the cards.
They continued playing.
Cards were cut and dealt and cut and dealt. They played and they played and enjoyed themselves tremendously. Except for Zork. He was a bit nervous. Even so, each seemed to be winning an equal amount of the time. Zork won the thirtieth game.
“Well, Zork,” said Keilie, “it looks as if you just won yourself 1,083,572,324 hydrogen atoms in one whack.”
“A pretty striking number,” said Elu like a father.
“Yea,” said Zork, “but it’s still less than one trillionth of a gram.”
“Been studying math have you?” said Keilie. “You needn’t worry then. You’ve got trillions of tons of that stuff.”
They played forty more games, and they opened in grams.
In ten more they reached into the pounds. Eleven more and they were in tons. Fifty more and they played in trillions of tons, and Zork was doing pretty good.
“I don’t know about this,” said Zork. “It’s higher than I wanted to go. I think I’ll quit while I’m ahead.”
“You can’t quit now,” said Elu. “You’ve got to give us a chance to catch up. It’s part of the game.”
“Maybe,” said Zork, “but I don’t want to lose my hydrogen clouds, or my kingdom.”
“We’ll see you fellows,” Zork continued, “and don’t try and stop me. Remember the supreme rule on contention.”
Elu wanted to grab Zork and tear him apart, but the thought of the punishment for breaking the supreme rule nearly made him wither with fear and trembling.
Then good old Keilie came through: “No more kids!” he shouted banging his fist on the table. “Nothing makes me want to throw my throne in a vacuum more than a gutless mama’s boy spoiling my fun. No more bottle sucking kids. From now on we check I.D.’s. From now on we don’t allow anyone in unless they’ll agree to play for a t least a planetary revolution.”
“Quit calling me a kid,” said Zork. The only thing preventing him from slugging Keilie in the mouth was fear of the supreme punishment.
“Let’s finish our game without the kid,” said Keilie ignoring Zork. “Maybe we can enjoy ourselves now.”
“I’m not a kid,” Zork nearly screamed.
“He who playeth like a youth, is a kid in my book,” said Keilie.
Zork was irritated. He was as mature as the rest, and he knew it. He sat back in the game, and things really got underway. In a second of a god’s time unexpected words were uttered from Zork.
“What’s the matter, Keilie? You afraid to bet half of your kingdom? Huh? What’s the matter? No guts?”
“Just a minute kid. Just a minute.” Keilie snapped for a servant to bring him a box from drawer SQY.
The servant returned with a cigar box from which Keilie took one cigar and lit it in a very mortal fashion.
“You’re out of your head,” said Mu-Si. “That’s a mortal habit. It’s unhealthy.”
“We’re gods,” said Keilie in a raised voice of authority. “Nothing’s unhealthy for us. We’re playing a mortal game, and I’ll smoke a mortal cigar.”
“Mortals smoke because they’re nervous,” said Zork. “You’re delaying things, Keilie. You haven’t got enough guts to bet like a mature god.”
“You listen,” said Zork, getting braver, “I’m taking you on for half of your kingdom.”
“Are you with us?” said Elu.
“I’m thinking,” said Keilie. “You haven’t got so much at stake. With your good luck you’ve won all kinds of kingdoms, but I’m down to my last.”
“You wanted the kid to bet,” said Elu.
“OK, OK,” said Keilie, a might perturbed. “Half of my kingdom.! I’m in.”
“I’m folding,” said Chi.
“Me too,” said Sardon, Zee, and Mu-Si.
“OK kid, show your cards,” said Keilie, biting the hell out of his cigar.
Zork showed four galactic queens.
Keilie’s cigar dropped limply out of his mouth, and unexpectedly, he slammed four island universe kings on the table and grabbed for the star cluster coins.
Keilie was taking so much pleasure in scooping up the coins that it made Zork feel bad.
But he should have known. The usual happened.
“Not so fast there,” said Elu as he laid down a royal flush in moons.
“Ho hum,” said Elu. “Another game, another kingdom.” He lazily palmed the winnings toward him.
“Damn!” said Keilie, squeezing his cigar into burnt ashes under the pressure of his immortal hand.
“Now, now, now,” said Elu. “We mustn’t get angry. Remember the supreme rule.”
“Yea … sure,” said Keilie.
“Darn,” said Zork to Elu. “Now you’ve got half of my kingdom.”
“So he has, kid. So he has,” said Keilie. “Ha! Ha! Ha! What are you going to tell your pop now kid? Huh? What are you going to tell him?” He laughed about a half minute longer before he stopped. Then he added seriously, “Don’t feel bad kid. He’s won a lot more than that from me. A lot more.”
“Don’t worry boys,” said Elu taking one of Keilie’s cigars and lighting it with friction from rubbing his index thumb and finger together. “There’s plenty of opportunity to get it back.”
“Not today,” said Keilie. “No. Not with my luck. Some other time maybe but not now.”
“You’re quitting?” said Elu astonished. “I never thought the time would come.”
“I never thought my kingdom would get so low. I’ve got to start using it sparingly.”
“Well, we’ll see you, sport,” said Elu, articulating sport like a dirty word.
“I’m not leaving. Just going to hang around.”
“Go ahead,” said Elu, “but the rest of us and Zork are going to have a little fun — eh Zork?”
“But I can’t lose the rest of my kingdom,” said Zork.
“And you can’t let your pop know what you have lost either,” said Elu.
Maybe you can win back more than you lost,” said Elu.
“Yea,” Keilie butted in “maybe you can. That’s it. Go ahead. Clean the house out.”
Zork couldn’t tell whether Keilie’s tone was for or against him. “I…” Zork couldn’t think of anything to say.
“Relax and make yourself comfortable,” said Elu. And the rest of the gambling gods prepared to play.
“This time I’m not going to bet such a large gob at once,” said Zork.
“That’s the stuff kid,” said Keilie. “I’d kinda hate to see you lose all your glory in one whack. Do it a little at time so you can enjoy going broke.”
“Shut up,” said Elu as politely as he could with clenched teeth.
“Are you going to shut me up?” said Keilie.
“I might. I just might,” said Elu.
“Just try it,” said Keilie.
Elu pointed at Keilie with his cigar, smoke coming from his mouth as he spoke. “If it wasn’t for the supreme punishment, I’d cram a white dwarf star down your throat.”
“You’re a big man with words,” said Keilie. “Punishment or no punishment — you’d still be chicken.”
Elu’s cigar smoldered in his hand. He stared at Keilie in cold silence for about thirty seconds, then dealt the cards.
“Man you sure are mad, aren’t you?” said Keilie to Elu with lots of voice variety.
Elu closed his eyes tightly and mumbled something to himself, then audibly he said, “We open with a star.”
The game proceeded as Keilie expected. Chi, Zee, Sardon, and Mu-Si won and lost just enough to keep them happy. Zork got a few good hands, but did rotten bluffing. He lost bit by bit, each time close enough to give him hope of winning the next game, and the next, and the next… Each time he lost more until he knew he had to keep playing at all cost — as long as there was hope of winning.
“Gee, that’s too bad, you’ve lost everything,” said Elu in his fatherly tone which was becoming annoying to Zork. “Have you got anything at all left?”
Zork held a planetary coin in his palm. He was just about ready to cry.
“Too bad kid. It really is,” said Keilie. “Elu’s a big man, you know. I’ll bet he’ll let you gamble away your last coin if you want.”
Elu gave Keilie another cold stare, then kindly said to Zork, “It is your only chance for salvation. We could play for it if you like.”
Zork didn’t say anything. He just motioned for Elu to deal.
For one time no one really wanted Zork to lose, and when Zork got his hand he felt as if the whole universe was against him. A pair of black craters was all he had. He slapped them on the table and walked silently away.
“Zork,” said Elu, “We haven’t shown our cards yet.”
Zork didn’t seem to hear. He started walking out the pearly gates toward his single possession — the comet.
Elu looked at Zork’s hand spread on the table and he understood.
“Bye kid,” said Keilie. “In a way I kind of liked you.”
Elu went to the door to the heavens and issued his final statement, “That’s the way she goes sometimes, boy. Come back after you build up another kingdom. We’ll accept you with open arms — sucker.”
Elu didn’t know whether Zork heard him or not. Zork was off on a comet, and he was gone.
The defeated young god drifted through space a long, long time doing nothing but feeling sorry for himself. After he did enough of that he decided he was just plumb foolish for not taking his father’s advice. Yep, Zork was an angry young god.
After Zork pouted and cursed himself sufficiently, he decided he needed advice. He just couldn’t go back to his dad and bluntly tell him that he blew his whole kingdom in a poker game. He would go see his god — godfather — that’s what. He would pay Jehovah a visit. Jehovah was just about the best god in the universe to get advice from, besides, he was a good friend of his dad. Often, when Zork was younger, he would visit Jehovah, for he would tell him some of the darndest things his mortals would come up with. Yes, the door was always opened for Zork in Jehovah’s kingdom, and now he was glad he had a friend.
“Well, hello there Zork. Hello there boy,” said Jehovah, greeting him with opened arms. “It’s been a long time. It’s surely good to see you again.”
“It’s good to see you too,” said Zork, just above a whisper.
“Well, Zork, you look a bit more mature, a bit older. Your eyes have a shade of experience in them. How is the young god and his thriving kingdom anyway?”
“That’s what I wanted to see you about.”
“Something’s troubling you, isn’t it Zork?” said Jehovah in fatherly friendship. “Your kingdom?”
“I no longer have a kingdom,” said Zork.
Jehovah said nothing. His understanding eyes told Zork to continue.
“I suppose you’ve heard of the Royal Casino of the Gods,” said Zork.
“No! No, No, No. You lost your kingdom to Elu.”
Zork bowed his head shamefully.
“Oh,” said Jehovah, “Why do the gods have to fall for weaknesses of mortals? Gambling only tempts the supreme punishment. How can Lord Elu have any joy from a kingdom he did not earn?”
“I was a fool,” said Zork. “I don’t deserve to be a god.”
“You’re much more worthy than those in the Ring Nebula,” said Jehovah. “What are your plans now? You could start all over again from scratch, or maybe I could help you with a job.”
“I don’t know,” said Zork. I feel pretty worthless right now. It may be wrong, but I would like revenge — or a least get my kingdom back.”
“And if you can’t what will you do?”
“Build a new one I guess. Say! I heard you built the main part of yours in just six days.”
“That’s six days according to my reckoning of time. And that’s nearly an eternity. Kept me busy all the while, too.”
“I can’t let my father find out I lost my kingdom,” said Zork, “and creating a new one is my only chance. That is unless I had some capital. Then I could win back my old one.”
“And you want a loan?” asked Jehovah.
“I don’t know,” said Zork, a bit frustrated. “I guess not. I would probably lose it and could never pay it back.”
“That’s true,” said Jehovah, but on the other hand that’s the only way to redeem your kingdom without breaking any moral code. I’ll tell you what — I can give you a chance to win it back.”
“But I don’t want to risk any of your kingdom. My conscience won’t let me.”
“You won’t be,” said Jehovah and he handed Zork the galactic coin to the Milky Way.
Zork trembled at the thought of the value he held in his hands. “Why this is the galactic coin to all your kingdom. I wouldn’t trust myself a light second with it.”
“To tell the truth I wouldn’t either if it weren’t worthless,” said Jehovah. You see, Zork, the Universal Center has a new thing going. For a small light year payment they will keep the deed to all of one’s possessions. This does away with the burden of keeping track of the coins. All of mine are now useless. I was thinking of keeping them for keepsakes, but now they may be put to a much better use.”
And the gambling gods don’t know they are useless?”
“That’s right, Zork.”
“Would it be right to gamble under that false pretense?”
“If you don’t win back more than is rightfully yours,” said Jehovah. “You spent an eternity creating your kingdom and you have a right to own it. For that matter, you should have sought nothing which requires no effort. I get much more satisfaction and reward from my kingdom than Elu does from all of his put together. That’s what really counts.”
“Yes…, I guess you’re right. I wouldn’t have known what to do with more kingdoms if I had them. One just plays to be playing I guess.”
“You will take the coins and do your best?”
“Yes. Yes, I will,” said Zork. “I surely will. And I’ll try and not lose your galactic coin. I know it means a lot to you.”
Jehovah put his right hand firmly on Zork’s shoulder and stared at him with all sincerity. “Come back later and tell me all about it. I’d like to just have a good talk with you. It’s been a long time.”
“It has. It’s been too long, Jehovah. I’ll be back soon.” Zork jumped on his comet and gave thanks as he sped away in happy determination.
“What’re doing back here?” said Elu, greeting Zork with a pressured frown on his lips.
“I’ve come to play some more,” said Zork in questionable modesty.
“With what? Punk,” said Elu. His mouth look like an ugly wrinkle. He wasn’t so friendly this time, Zork thought.
“I’ve got plenty to play with,” said Zork.
“You couldn’t have built a new kingdom in this short time,” stated Elu in utter disbelief.
“No, but I obtained one,” said Zork and held out the galactic coin.
Elu gasped. He gasped twice, three times.
“Zork. Zork m’boy,” Elu again said in his fatherly fashion. “Don’t stand there suspended. Come be with us. All our friendship and love is waiting for you.”
“Boys,” Elu said to the other gods as he and Zork walked into the game room. “Our friend Zork’s come to be with us. Isn’t that nice?”
The other gods mumbled to themselves, and Zork couldn’t decide whether they thought it was nice or not.
“Show them what you have,” said Elu. Zork didn’t like his elbow.
In all meekness Zork revealed the galactic coin to the Milky Way.
The gods looked pale and funny for awhile. Keilie was finally able to barf up a sentence, “Kid. Kid, what’d you do? You know stealing’s against the eternal law.”
“He couldn’t have stolen it,” said Mu-Si. He would have the eternal punishment wrought upon him. We can see he doesn’t.”
“How’d you get it kid?” said Keilie.
“Details, details,” said Elu. “He’s got it hasn’t he? He’s unchanged isn’t he? Sure he is. He must have obtained it fair and square. Now let’s have a little game.”
The other gods seemed to agree with Elu’s haste and prepared to play.
Elu pulled out the finest chair for Zork and seated him as gentle as a new bride.
Zork gave thanks and no one could tell whether he meant it or not.
“Is everybody ready?” said Elu.
“No, not quite,” said Keilie with an expressed look of decision. “I’ll be right back.”
“Well, are you going to play, or aren’t you?” said Elu.
“You suppose?” said Elu in disdain suspicion.
“I think I’ll go check my computer. You know I’m getting down to my last few stars; I’ve got to be careful.”
Elu laughed in belittlement. “As usual it won’t do you any good. You’ll lose. You’ll lose like you always have. Then your mortals will have a good god.”
“I’ll beat you,” said Keilie. “The rule of Elu is hell, and I won’t have my mortals living in hell. That is until they deserve it.”
Elu laughed in an unfunny and wicked way.
Zork watched Keilie walk away, and now he was beginning to respect him somewhat, and also feel some pity.
“Ahem. Well, let’s start, shall we?” said Elu. “Keilie wouldn’t feel right if he didn’t start in the middle of things. Shall we open with stars, Zork?”
“I guess so,” said Zork. He was rather nervous.
“Good. Good,” said Elu and he dealt the cards.
Zork received a rotten hand so he thought he’d try bluffing. He was the only player to keep his original hand. Elu took one card, apparently without his usual confidence.
Zork raised a thousand stars!
Chi, Zee, Mu-Si, and Sardon folded.
Elu stared at Zork from the opposite side of the table, trying to hold his surprise. “That’s the spirit, boy. That’s the spirit,” he said with lowering enthusiasm. Then he stared into Zork’s eyes intently and infernally to the extent that Zork felt a slight burning in the backside of his head. With unexpected eagerness he saw Zork and raised.
Zork saw and raised with an apparent lack of confidence he cursed himself for showing.
Elu saw and raised.
One more time, thought Zork. He saw and raised.
Elu saw and raised.
Zork gulped (audibly).
Zork gnashed his teeth.
“What’d you have?” said Mu-Si to Elu.
“You’ll never know. Never.” Elu let out a “Ha!”
“A five of craters high,” said Keilie looking over Elu’s shoulder. You hear that kid? A measly five of craters.”
Zork looked at his six of moons and cursed himself and this time gnashed his teeth beyond a mortal breaking point. (Fortunately, a gods teeth are also immortal and indestructible.)
“Too bad, kid,” said Keilie. “You just gotta read more poker books.”
“What’d your computer say?” said Elu, consciously holding his mouth in a frown.
“It said I’d win if I play my cards right. … A little humor there.” Keilie nudged Elu and the frown was no longer a conscious endeavor.
“You won’t,” said Elu slowly and spitefully.
“Let me sit in and we’ll see,” said Keilie with the confidence of a kingdom.
“Sit in,” said Elu in a raising tone which sounded as if he meant go away.
“If you don’t want me I’ll leave,” said Keilie in a controlled pout.
“Sit in,” said Elu, this time demanding.
Keilie sat, someone dealt, stars were raised, and Zork lost. Elu was out-bluffed! Keilie was the victor. A thousand stars!
“Nothing like a good easy victory from amateurs,” said Keilie.
Zork was beginning to look like a child who had just lost his candy to a bully. However, Elu’s loss saved the tears.
“I guess the law of averages is bound to let you win once in awhile,” said Elu in a disturbed tone of voice. “But as long as it remains a law, I’ll come out ahead in the long run. The smart ones always do.”
“Yea. Sure,” said Keilie. “Deal.”
Keilie won again. And again!
“Something’s wrong,” said Elu. “You go away — then come back and take the pile. If you’re breaking one of the rules — remember the supreme punishment.”
“I’m still the same old Keilie. That should be proof.”
“Maybe you’re too ignorant to realize you’re cheating,” said Elu. “Sardon, run a check on these cards, and bring me back a new deck.”
Sardon found them a new deck and left for the lab.
“Now maybe we can have an honest game,” said Elu.
“Yea, I’d kinda…” started Zork, but no one was listening.
“Just deal the cards,” said Keilie. “That is unless you want to cut out.”
“You’ll be the one cutt’n out, bare in hydrogen clouds,” said Elu.
“Yea, Sure,” said Keilie mockingly.
Elu dealt with his lips pressed to a frown. Keilie took four cards and then folded, leaving his single star coin for the ante.
And so it was. Keilie seemed to fold at the right time and raise at the right time.
A planetary revolution passed. Keilie won all the Milky Way from Zork and two kingdoms from Elu. Zork was out of the game now. His eyes looked like hot jelly.
“You must be cheating,” said Elu to Keilie. “You must, you must.”
“Now, now, now,” said Keilie. “The stars have just changed in my favor.”
“Hell!” said Elu.
Keilie’s mouth looked like a straight line. Still somehow it looked like a smirky smile to Elu.
“I can’t understand it,” said Elu. “You must have found a means of cheating not included in the rulebook.”
“Sure,” said Keilie. “That’s what they all say. You want to quit while you can?”
“If I were a mortal I’d wring your neck,” said Elu. “Better still — if you were a mortal I’d send fire out of heaven to burn the hell out of you.”
“Words, words. Always words. If we were both mortals, you’d be hiding in alleys to keep out of my way.”
“Shut up and deal.”
Keilie dealt. Elu had an ace of stars high and threw away four. His four new cards made for a royal flush in stars! “Oh boy, Oh boy,” thought Elu.
“What the…,” said Elu. “It’s almost as if…”
Sardon walked in. “Sure an interesting lab,” he said. “There’s all kinds of stuff down there. Somebody just got done tinkering…”
“The cards?” butted in Keilie. “What’d you find?”
“On the level. You must be winning fair and square.
“Maybe,” said Elu in a tone that nearly made Keilie shake. “We’ll play another game and see.”
The cards were dealt, thrown away, taken up, and Elu had a pair of deuces. “Damn,” he thought. “Maybe I’ll try bluffing.”
Elu raised a million stars.
Keilie saw and raised. He smiled.
Elu saw and raised without his usual confidence.
Keilie saw, and raised a kingdom.
Elu looked mad as hell and folded.
“It’s too bad,” said Keilie, eyeing the coins as he palmed them toward him. “Too too bad.”
Elu stared at Keilie, his eyes ice cubes, and thought in an evil of concentration, “Keilie — you’re a dirty lowdown rotten cheat.”
Keilie glanced up sharply in alarm.
Elu smiled and thought, “It’s just as if you read my thoughts. You don’t’ do that now do you Keilie?”
Keilie looked scared as hell.
“What’s that on your ear?” said Elu to Keilie.
Keilie got up and started backing away.
“I said what’s that on your ear?”
Keilie was mum. He shook his head and continued backing away.
“You were tinkering in the lab. What did you make?” said Elu.
Keilie put out his hands in a motion to stop Elu, but he didn’t. He put forth no fight after Elu jumped on him.
Something was screamed about the supreme punishment.
Elu struggled with Keilie until he stole the object from his ear. Elu put it to his ear and was silent for a moment, as if he were listening for something.
“You’re worried. Aren’t you Keilie? I can read your thoughts with this thing. There’s nothing in the rulebook about reading thoughts, but it’s as lowdown way to cheat as any. I’m taking my star coins back.”
“I won them,” said Keilie. “I shall keep them. I have that right.
“You cheated and I’m going to tear you apart,” said Elu, charging toward Keilie in a slow heavy walk.
Keilie shook his head slowly in half revolutions and backed away.
“Don’t do it,” the other gods cried to Elu. “Don’t. The supreme punishment! No! No!”
But Elu grabbed Keilie, threw him down, and beat him — and beat him with mortal blows in the face and body. He squeezed with immortal strength at the neck, and kicked the body, and pounced on the body, and tried to destroy the body of Keilie — to no avail. He was immortal, immutable, and indestructible.
Keilie didn’t fight back. He knew.
But Elu kept kicking and swearing at Keilie and beat him again in the face. And beat him. And beat him.
The gods cried, “No. No!”
Elu kept beating Keilie. Harder — harder! Trying to destroy. Smashing! Tearing!
Then it happened.
Slowly at first.
The supreme punishment!
Elu was changing, changing. Slowly but visibly hanging. The rate increased the same as does a bonfire grow from a single flame.
The horrible form shrieked away from Keilie and withered with pain, whimpering, whimpering.
The gods around Elu were struck with grief and terror. Their souls ached with remorse for him and they knew — they knew that eternity would never quite heal that ache. Being gods, having a perfect conscience, they knew they would be tormented forever by the very though of Elu’s punishment. Elu was now an adversary, without glory, without possession, an eternal ruler of darkness.
“Elu — why? Why did you do it?” shouted Kellie in a shaky voice. “Oh — ‘m sorry. I couldn’t lose my kingdom. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Elu shivered and whimpered like a kitten in dry snow. His glory was gone, and the countenance of the other gods was pain to him, as if the molecules of his spirit were rebelling, breaking apart, tearing, reshaping.
“Do something for him,” said Zork. “Anything. Hurry!”
“Get a shield,” said Mu-Si.
“A cage?” said Sardon.
“No. Something opaque.”
“Get it. Hurry!”
Elu’s trembling was somewhat lessened, somewhat at ease when he was concealed in the blackness within the container Sardon had found. At first the box trembled slightly, then quieted like a motor shut off. The god’s knew Elu’s pain was gone…. And his glory.
The gods stood around the box for a while, heads lowered, bowed in humility, in shame, and in grief over their fellow god, and his kind of death.
“It won’t happen again,” said Keilie. “We can’t let it. We must quit gambling. It tempts the supreme punishment. I’m taking my original kingdom — my original kingdom only and return to eternal life the way it once was. From now on I’ll be a good god and take good care of my mortals. And I’m for dumping this casino and turning it back into a palace. Anyone disagree?”
No one disagreed.
“So it is,” said Keilie. “And I’m for having no more kingdom than is rightfully ours. Anyone disagree?”
No one disagreed. They looked at the box. It trembled slightly.
Zork looked up. “Then you won’t be upset when I tell you that the galactic coin to the Milky Way is no longer valid.” The deed is with the Universal Gatekeeper.”
“Why you little…,” but Keilie caught himself. “No — no, I couldn’t have taken it. Not really. Especially not now. I don’t even want the coin. Here, you take it.”
Then Zork nearly cried with a realization, “I lost all my kingdom. What am I going to tell my father? I can’t tell him what I did.”
“You don’t have to kid. Elu doesn’t have a kingdom anymore. The rules say that he who suffers the supreme punishment shall have his possessions fairly divided by that person against whom the crime was committed. That’s me kid. You can have your kingdom. So can everyone else who left here godforsaken.”
Zork’s eyes looked like melting ice. “Thanks Keilie. You have a good heart. You’ll be a great god yet. Thanks. Thanks…”
“It’s nothing, kid — nothing.”
“What are we going to do with Elu?” said Mu-Si.
“Give him to the kid,” said Keilie. “He can take care of him to earn his kingdom back.”
“But what’ll I do with him?” said Zork.
“It’s up to you kid. Anything you want. Just find him a home.”
Somehow Zork didn’t mind Keilie calling him a kid any longer. He was getting to like the way he said it. They shook hands, said goodbye, and parted.
Drifting through space on a comet, thinking: A home. Where could Zork find a home for Elu? A good home? Why I’ll bet Jehovah could give him the best home there is, thought Zork. I’ll ask him when I return his galactic coin.
“Zork, Zork. It’s good to see you again so soon,” said Jehovah. He put his hands firmly upon Zork’s shoulders. “You won back your kingdom?”
“No,” said Zork, “but I regained it. I got it in a tragic way. An awful way.”
“Ohhhh! No, no. The supreme punishment?”
“The supreme punishment,” confirmed Zork.
“They tempted fate with a mortal game,” said Jehovah. “It had to happen. I hoped it wouldn’t, but that inevitable end was not preventable. Perhaps the others are a bit wiser now.”
“I believe they are,” said Zork. “They’re changing the casino back into a palace.”
“Good,” said Jehovah. “If our old friends return I might spend my Sabbath day there for relaxation.”
“Sounds good!” said Zork with a slight look of happiness.
“What are you going to do with Elu?” said Jehovah.
“I’m hunting a home for him. Any suggestions?”
“I’ve got some young green planets coming. You could leave him off on one of those if you wish.”
“Yes. I might do that.”
“Fine,” said Jehovah, “and do come back soon after you do. I would like to have a talk. It’s been so long.”
“It has,” said Zork. Perhaps we could meet at the Royal Palace on your seventh day.”
“That’s great, son. I would like that very much. … And would you bring your father?”
“Sure would,” said Zork. “I sure would.” Zork got on his comet.
“That’s tomorrow,” said Jehovah.
“We’ll be there,” said Zork.
And Zork was gone.
Zork traveled for a long, long time hunting for a good planet for Elu — a fruitful planet, a living planet, a warm planet.
At last! Through the void eternity of the Milky Way he found it. Green and fruitful. Just right! A third planet.
“Here you go,” said Zork. “Rest in Peace. No hard feelings.” And Zork dumped him in the thick atmosphere.
Elu skipped across the outer fringes of the blanket of air, sank within and fell downward, changing, changing.
He lit in a fruit tree.
He crawled down the trunk on his belly in his new ungodly form. No arms. No legs. A scaly skin. He crawled and withered his way. His thick skin scraped the bark.
Evil, hatred, revenge, and bitterness boiled within him and scalded his mind. He saw a man. A woman.
The universe above was still and quiet and looked down upon the mute turbulence.
Posted Sept 23,2007, First written 1962
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