Yik sat alone at the controls for nearly twelve hours before anyone else started moving on the ship. He had eaten half of the sweets from the restaurant to keep awake and was relieved to hear someone in the hallway. The ship moaned a little as he stood up and peered out into the hall. Either Mark or Sam had just disappeared into the kitchen and Yik snuck over to see who.
Mark sat at the table with a bottle of water and a deck of cards. He look up when Yik sat down across from him, then went back to shuffling the cards.
“This ship sounds weird.” Yik finally ventured to break the silence. Mark stopped shuffling.
“I’m not used to small vessels, so I can’t really tell.” Mark shrugged and went back to shuffle. The ensuing silence seemed suffocating and Yik struggled for a new conversation topic.
“Why do you have cards?” He asked.
“My family sent me them… I don’t usually have anyone to play with. I tried teaching Calvin, but he has… had no poker face. Or maybe he did.”
“I know how to play.” Yik offered. Mark stopped shuffling and looked at him.
“Yes. The other cadets taught me at the academy, but then they did not want to play when I won.”
“I have doubts about your story, but I suppose we could play a hand or two to kill some time. Got anything to wager?”
“I only have my clothing.”
“No thank you…” Mark shuffled the cards one final time, “We can play for questions.”
“How do you wager a question?”
“Okay maybe it’d be more accurate to say we’d wager answers. Used to do that to break the ice at parties. Winner gets to ask any question and the loser has to answer honestly. Every round you can up the number of questions to raise your bet.”
“What kind of questions?”
“Like what the hell this “dessert incident” I overheard Sam talking about is.”
“Oh. I could just tell you.”
“That’s no fun, now let’s play.” Mark started dealing the cards and Yik picked up his hand warily.
His tail twitched violently of its own accord and Mark raised an eyebrow at him, but he put two cards down on the table and Mark exchanged them without a word.
“Do you want to raise?” Mark asked after a few minutes of Yik staring at his cards.
“I will call. That is the right term?”
“Yeah. I’ll call too, show me what you got.” Mark lay down his hand face up, a pair of twos with a jack high card. Yik spread out two pair and grinned.
“I win! Now what?”
“I guess you can ask me a question if you want.” Mark started shuffling again. Yik made an odd face and was silent until Mark started dealing out cards again.
“What do you think of that man?”
“Mitchell, the accursed one.”
“Oh, him. I dunno, he’s a bit crazy right now but his kid is missing so that’s kinda understandable. I don’t really know him. That enough of an answer?”
“I suppose.” Yik surveyed his hand and put one down to exchange. Mark cast a surreptitious glance at his tail as he gave Yik a new one but it was perfectly still.
“Call or raise?”
“If I raise, that is two questions?”
“Or one big question would work too.”
“I will raise.”
“I’ll see your two questions. Lay ’em down.” Mark set down two pair this time, barely edging out Yik’s two pair, “Alright, tell me about the dessert incident while I shuffle, I’ll think of a second one after that.”
“There was this boy at the academy, he could not climb the wall during exercise, so they say ‘If he does not climb the wall on his own by the time the sun sets nobody gets dessert.'” Yik was staring up at the ceiling now as if reciting something an oath from memory, “So our group thinks we will stay and encourage him. He does it just before sunset and we go for dinner, but the mess hall is closed and they say it’s time for lights out.”
“So you all missed out on dinner?”
“Two of the boys went to ask if we could get some late dinner but they say ‘if you are not there at dinner time you do not get dinner.’ We tried to explain we were supporting the one boy, and they say ‘that is no excuse.'”
“That’s pretty lame, you’d think they’d encourage you to work like a unit and support each other.”
“Later that night, we realize they never intended to give us dessert. Dessert is handed out with food right away, and dinner was right after that. We would have missed out on dessert anyway, even if it only took him a short time. They punished us even though he did it.”
“That was the dessert incident? Why would they call anyone in over that?”
“Oh no, that was just the start. The next day we revolted, took over two-thirds of the academy. They called him in to try and take me out because my boys put me in charge.”
“Two-thirds of the academy?”
“My boys were very good soldiers, we were a good team. That is the only thing I miss about the academy.”
“And they had to call in someone to take you out? What was he supposed to do?”
“The accursed one is very infamous, lots of secret work and very highly respected. He was supposed to shoot me in the head, but he and Saha negotiated instead.”
“So you kind of owe him your life.”
“The one thing we both agree on, I might have been better off dead.” Yik looked very serious for a moment and Mark focused on handing out the cards instead.
“Alright, so that’s the dessert incident. If you’re not at the academy anymore, what do you do now?”
“I find work. I am good at basket-weaving and one time I helped build a bridge over a river. I had to swim the rope across because it was windy.” Yik traded in three cards and his tail sat perfectly still.
“You can swim?” Mark swapped out the cards and exchanged a couple of his own.
“You humans keep forgetting we are not your little pet creatures. I am a good swimmer. I do not like being cold and wet though.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that.”
“And here I thought it was just Sam being dense, never thought the rest of you were accidental racists.” Vortran appeared in the doorway, startling the kitchen’s occupants.
“I’m not racist… It’s hard to change mental associations is all.” Mark said defensively.
“I’m kidding, jeez. What are you guys playing?”
“We are playing poker with questions.”
“Winner gets to ask questions. Want in? We only just started this hand.”
“Sure, deal me in.” Vortran climbed up into one of the unoccupied chairs and Mark dealt her a hand.