Even further months back
Charlie had lost his body. Most of it. They graciously allowed him to keep it during the game, though he had lost the legs three hands previous, and now owed them his arms and the nuclear-powered torso. The only thing he had left to him was the helmet he lived in and the little dry-erase board he kept to communicate. Zoetrope didn’t mistake this move for kindness, though; they merely granted him the opportunity to lose more.
“Hard to play cards without your hands, boy, so you hang on to those until we’re done,” the winner said, and they all laughed.
Zoetrope watched the door, fidgety, her rifle across her lap. She made like she were cleaning it, but was ready to snap it back together in an instant should the need arise.
Charlie’s opponents were a motley group. The richest among them, a heavyset fur trader from the inner worlds, sat smiling, a tidy sum still on the table before him. The other two were mercenaries who worked for the trader, guards for the rougher parts of the caravan’s journey into the boonies. One of them had done well, but the other grumbled, little better off than the spider.
“Bad enough you got the damn hat and sunglasses-” the loser whined.
“Again with the hat and glasses,” said his partner with an eyeroll that nobody could really see.
“-but the spider don’t got even a face! How can I tell he’s bluffing?”
The fur trader leaned forward, squinting at Charlie. “Jetson, this boy’s got more eyes than all the rest of us combined. Should be easy!” He and the other merc laughed.
Charlie tossed the key to his helmet on the table. The fur trader eyed the key, then eyed his own all-in bet. “I’m not sure, boy. I don’t really have an arachnid on my crew, know what I mean? Might need more than this. Or we can just call it a night here…”
Charlie hesitated, then placed his dry-erase board on the table. More than just a method of communication, it was his service. The table went quiet. The human eyes at the table went to Zoetrope, who fought to keep the panic from her face. She shrugged.
“Oh come on!” yelled Jetson.
“You in, Jet?” the other mercenary, who had already folded, grinned. He would probably walk away with most of his pay for the trip, but Jetson was looking a bit broke. But the sheer amount of cash on the table, and the prospect of an arachnid underling, was too much for him. He fished in his pocket and came up with a docking port card.
“Shut up!” he shouted at his friend. He looked at the spider. “My shuttle. It’s a little old, and it’s small, but it’s in good shape.”
“I think we can all accept these wagers,” the fur trader said. His smile was frozen in place, a little tight. We’ve got him, Zoetrope thought. She saw one of Charlie’s back legs twitch and quickly looked to the others, but didn’t think anyone had seen it. It was too late anyway. The bets were made. There was only the reveal.
They all eyed each other. Jetson’s hands shook.
“Let’s see ‘em, people,” said the second merc, who was enjoying the game immensely more than the three people playing.
Each of them laid their hands down in turn. Expressions shifted. The fur trader looked wistful. Charlie looked…like a spider. Jetson quivered.
“You just won, Mr. Jetson. Congratulations,” his employer said. The trader leaned back to light up a pipe.
“What the fuck?”
“You just won, dumbass! Hah! You lucky sumbitch!”
Jetson seemed at a loss for words, evidently never having won anything before in his life.
Charlie’s leg twitched. Zoetrope clicked the rifle together. All eyes went to her, narrowing in suspicion.
“Ain’t nothin’ personal, boys,” she said.
Charlie jumped to his feet, heaving the table into the air. Chips, keys, and people flew, but Charlie snatched the ones they needed out of the air. Zoetrope leapt to the door and struck it wide with the butt of her rifle.
“Let’s move, Charlie Spider!” Charlie’s massive metal body swept past her, into the dark, dusty street beyond. The mercs and their boss scrambled to find their feet as she followed her friend out the door. She paused just long enough to deliver a shot into the control panel, and the building’s automatic defenses triggered. Heavy slabs of metal fell into place over the windows and across the entrance. She heard the bartender inside yelling about how much it would cost just to have the security system reset.
Zoetrope Jones didn’t care. As they ran for the launch pad hangers, Charlie tossed her the keycard to their new shuttle. They had a ride now.