5.4

“Melons, really. Neither of you?” Mark frowned, not even looking at his cards.

“They make my face sticky.” Vortran said. Yik nodded in agreement.

“But they’re delicious.”

“Too sticky.” Yik said, trading in two cards. Vortran swapped them out for him.

“You ready to go yet?” Vortran looked pointedly at Mark, who traded a couple of cards.

“One.” Mark was first to speak.

“Call.”

“Call.”

“Such a confident hand, lay ’em out.”

Mark barely edged out the other two and gathered up the cards again to shuffle.

“Okay… Well I know how Yik and Mr. Sunshine met, how about you?” He looked at Vortran.

“Oh I met him back while he was in the military.”

“I got an entire incident out of Yik, it even has a title. I’m gonna need more than that.”

“I am also curious how you know the accursed one. Your kind does not normally spend time around military units.”

“What do you mean *my* kind?”

“We’re not saying you’re a bad seed or anything, but Pascals have a bit of a reputation. Legal issues and what not.” Mark stopped shuffling and took a big gulp of water.

“I ought to take offense at that, we aren’t all troublemakers.”

“You’re avoiding the question.”

“No I’m not.” Vortran shifted uncomfortably, “I told you how we met.”

“So what were you doing that the military got involved?”

“It wasn’t anything I was doing, I was at the base he was staying at for a bit.”

“What were you doing at a military base?” Yik asked.

“This isn’t twenty questions.”

“Stop trying to evade the question, we want the whole story. How’d you end up on a military base to meet him?”

“I was… taking stock.”

“Taking stock, or *taking* stock?”

“That’s really racist.” Vortran frowned at Mark. The others looked at her expectantly and she sighed, “Fine… I was stealing supplies and he caught me. Happy?”

“So did he arrest you?”

“What? No! He wasn’t an MP, he just happened to come across me.”

“So what happened next?”

“He made me put everything back and took me out for drinks.”

“Seriously?” Yik seemed more surprised than Mark at this.

“Sam’s a bit eccentric but he’s a good guy. He didn’t want to get me in trouble. Are we gonna play some more or what?” Vortran huffed.

Mark shuffled a final time and dealt out cards again, “Okay Yik, if you could have any super power, what would you have?”

Yik looked down at his cards very seriously for a moment, “I would want time powers.”

“Time powers?”

“To make things slow or fast… then when I have a boring job, it goes quickly. And I do not have to wait for things.”

“Huh. I guess that makes sense.”

“Can I get a couple cards?” Vortran shoved two cards at Mark, still slightly irritated.

Mark swapped out one card while Yik kept the hand he was dealt.

“I bet one.” Yik said as soon as everyone had received their cards.

“Call.”

“Raise one.” Mark said.

“Call.”

“…” Vortran frowned down at her cards, “Call.”

When Yik set his hand down it was obvious he had one immediately.

“That’s what I get for taking a risk… two each.”

“Hmm… What is your family like?” Yik asked nobody in particular.

“Do you mean me or Vortran?”

“Both.”

“You can go first, Mark.” Vortran climbed out of her chair and grabbed a bottle of water for herself.

“Nothing much to say really, couple younger brothers, one’s studying to be a lawyer, the other is looking at military. My folks are both retired teachers. Not a lot of extended family, we’re a pretty small group.”

“Do you see each other often?”

“I call them sometimes, try to visit every couple years when I can. Sometimes work is too busy to get away.”

“Saha would have my hide if I did not keep in touch.”

“I thought she cut you off?”

“From money, not from family. I call her every couple weeks at least.” Yik tried to shuffle the cards but couldn’t get the deck to mix and gave it to Mark again, “And what about you?”

“I don’t know how much you guys know about Pascals, we aren’t exactly big on family. My mom’s eaten 27 of my 29 siblings. The three of us who had sense to keep away don’t really keep in touch.”

“Brutal.” Mark said, shuffling the deck casually.

“Eh, if we weren’t so aggressive there’d be so many we’d overrun the place.” Vortran shrugged.

“That would be bad.” Yik agreed.

“One more each, then.” Mark nodded at Yik.

“What superpower would you have?” Yik asked Mark.

“Telepathy. In my line of work reading minds would make things way easier.” Mark started dealing cards. Yik looked back and forth between him and Vortran, who yawned suddenly and took another sip of water.

“Why do you not want the accursed one to know you are female?”

Vortran choked on her water and nearly fell out of her chair coughing.

“Gods-dammit Yik! What part of secret don’t you get?” She growled at Yik, who shrunk a little in his chair.

“You’re female? Okay now I feel a bit racist.” Mark stopped dealing cards and hunted around for a towel to dry up the water Vortran had coughed onto the table, “But it’s a fair question. You keeping something from your best buddy?”

“You can’t say anything to him.” Vortran pointed a threatening claw at Mark, “Not one word!”

“Fine, fine. But answer the question.”

“I am sorry, it has been bothering me and I want to know.”

“Ugh.” Vortran drank some more water to clear her throat and sighed, “Look, Sam’s mom drilled chivalry into him pretty hard. If he knew I was a girl he’d treat me different, and it took me a long time to get this close to him. I don’t want to ruin our relationship.”

“Relationship?” Mark pried a little.

“I mean our friendship, shut up.” Vortran looked ready to throw the water at Mark but stopped herself, “Deal the stupid cards.”

Mark dealt the cards and the table fell into an awkward silence. They swapped cards in silence and after what felt like an eternity the door opened into the hallway.

“So this is where everyone is.” Sam rubbed his eyes groggily, “Poker? Whatcha playing for?”

“Questions.” Mark replied. Both he and Yik couldn’t help looking at Vortran, who looked ready to sink into the floor.

“Mind if I join?” Sam seemed unaware of the tension in the room as he grabbed himself a water and sat down.

“Now here’s a man I’d like to ask some questions, let me deal you in.” Mark said, cheering up a bit. He dealt Sam and hand and swapped out three cards for him.

“I can’t spill any classified information, but other than that I’m up for it.” Sam grinned a little.

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