14 Safe and Savage

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Once again, I feel that strange wave of disbelief, the depersonalization that constantly makes me question whether I am dreaming. I experienced it again after struggling to add up the cards in my hand. Not hours ago I was fighting for my life now I am fighting to stay conscious during this game of blackjack.

"Hit me," Steve says.

Radames obliges and deals him a four of clubs.

"Bust," says Steve, solemnly packing his cards into a neat pile.

"Hit me," chirps Ana, after checking the card under her ten of clubs.

Radames deals her an ace of hearts. She peeks again, brow furrowed.

"What are the face cards worth again?" she asks innocently.

Josh smirks and sips his hot chocolate.

"Those are worth ten," Radames gently informs.

"OK," she peeks again. "And what's the ace worth again?"

Radames smiles, I can tell he likes her.

"That's the most valuable card," he says. "It can be either a one or an eleven, whichever you need. That means," he turns her cards over, revealing the queen of spades; "you've got twenty-one!"

"Oh right, I'm sorry it's been so long since I played cards," she says, blushing and giggling.

It's nice to see her smile again. Considering all that has happened, I don't know how she can still conjure a bubbly exuberance. I'm beginning to realize she isn't as dumb as I initially thought, just pragmatic and blunt.

Josh hasn't said much since his father rejected him but he seems to be taking it well. Turns out his parents were divorced when he was young and the man wasn't a big part of his life. He seems to accept all that is happening, opting to adapt rather than ask for an explanation like the rest of us. The admirable stoicism in his eyes tells me he's going to be OK.

Radames was happy to see me but he will never know just how relieved I was to see him. He and Steve had no idea how bad it was. This neighborhood is mostly poor and the few users here most likely work in the city. I didn't go into detail when I recounted the events. The idea that Emplant users have become homicidal lunatics was enough to chew on.

The Internet is still down and it appears no one is competent enough to broadcast the news. We have the TV on anyway. It's hanging from the wall in the corner, showing only static. The gentle hum has been helping to lull me to sleep.

I realize it's my turn and tap on my cards. Radames places a king of diamonds on top of my jack of clubs. I flip my cards over revealing my twenty-one.

"No, Tomas. You had blackjack," says Radames, removing the king of diamonds. He couples the remaining two cards, the jack of clubs and my first card, the ace of spades.

Ana snickers, "You counted it as one when you should have counted it as eleven. You suck worse than me, man."

Jack laughs from his spot in the corner. He's been there since we arrived, scribbling in his notebook. I toss my cards into the pile and join him. This is a good opportunity to learn more about our mysterious hobo.

"What are you writing?" I nod to the book in his hand.

"I'm trying to figure out what happened," he replies, concentrating hard.

I come close enough to peek at the page before he snaps the book shut. I catch a glimpse of a few doodles of naked women.

"You're going to figure it out by drawing naked ladies," I quip.

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