‘Alright, get your blinds in, you two,’ said Drake as he began to deal two cards to all six players seated at Cortez’s dining room table.
‘Ah yes,’ muttered Sadek. ‘Goodbye, chips I’ll never see again.’
‘You could surrender now,’ he said with a smirk.
‘I might, but it wouldn’t be to you.’ She jerked her head to the right. ‘You’re not tonight’s card shark.’
Josie Logan looked a bit bashful. ‘I’m just happy to be invited.’
‘I think we got scammed,’ said Kharth. ‘That whole, “oh, I’m just an academic, I don’t know how to play poker.”’
Josie’s smile was apologetic. ‘I never said I don’t know how to play poker.’
‘More fool us, then,’ Kharth said, ‘inviting maybe the best mathematician on board.’
‘I shoulda thought of that,’ Cortez allowed, tossing in a chip. ‘Check. Y’know, considering the Doc earned her place here ‘cos she was a stone cold badass figuring out how we were existing in fifteen hundred dimensions at once.’
Drake scoffed at Kharth. ‘Don’t let Thawn hear you suggest she’s not the best.’
‘Lieutenant Thawn’s an excellent programmer,’ said Josie. ‘Um, I’ll raise you ten. I think her grasp of probability would make her an excellent poker player.’
‘I’m not playing poker with a telepath,’ said Sadek. ‘And why do you have to keep bullying us when we’ve not even seen the community cards?’ But she tossed in a chip anyway.
‘There’s more to poker than numbers,’ said Lindgren, tossing in her chips. ‘We should be happy we don’t play with the Counsellor.’
‘He’s not a walking lie detector,’ said Kharth.
‘What makes you say that?’ Sadek’s eyes were beady. ‘You walk around lying all the time and he doesn’t point the finger at you?’
‘Now why,’ wondered Kharth, ‘when we’re playing poker, would I discuss my ability to deceive?’
‘I’m gonna say what we’re all thinking,’ said Drake. ‘We’re talking about if a Romulan can lie, and there’s no good direction for that conversation. Time for the community cards.’
The moment the three were down, Sadek swore. ‘Oh, hey, I’ve got a pair of eights, like everyone else. Fold.’
‘You know, there’s nothing to lose from checking at this point,’ Josie pointed out.
‘My dignity begs to differ.’
Josie’s gentle smile remained as the betting reached her. ‘I’ll raise twenty.’
Sadek tossed a hand in the air. ‘I rest my case.’
‘I think I rest my cards, too,’ sighed Lindgren. ‘Fold.’
Kharth’s gaze was level, though, locked on Josie. ‘I’ll see that twenty. Raise you another twenty.’
‘They’re bullying us,’ said Cortez in a sing-song voice, but matched the bet.
Drake sucked his teeth. ‘And they’re bigger than me. Fold.’ Josie met Kharth’s raise, and he lay down the fourth card. ‘Two of Hearts; could lead into a flush but unless someone’s sitting on their own Twos, nothing in the bag.’ His gaze went to Josie. ‘Doctor?’
‘Oh, um. Raise you twenty, Lieutenant, Commander.’
Kharth glanced down at her cards, but otherwise her expression didn’t shift. ‘I’ll match that.’
‘And I think you’re both bullies,’ said Cortez, ‘but you’re very rich bullies. Fold.’
‘One last card.’ Drake smirked, and flipped over a Jack of Diamonds. He gave a low whistle. ‘Would you look at that. Guess you’ve both got two-pair, jacks and eights. So much for that promise of a flush with hearts.’
‘You sure you shuffled, Connor?’ said Lindgren with a gentle grin.
‘Don’t you get all uppity at me just ‘cos we’re now the same rank.’
Josie bit her lip. ‘I’ll raise you ten, Lieutenant.’
Now Kharth hesitated. ‘You’ve got a damned jack, don’t you.’
‘You know I can’t possibly answer that. But, now I know you probably don’t have one.’
Cortez laughed. ‘Oh, you’ve got her on her heels.’
‘She could have an eight,’ Sadek pointed out. ‘She could have two eights.’
‘Come on, Lieutenant.’ Lindgren shuffled in her seat. ‘It’s only ten to find out.’
‘Yeah,’ said Drake. ‘Can you live with not knowing? With the possibility she’s stone-colded you?’
‘That’s definitely not a verb,’ said Kharth, gaze still level. But she drew a slow breath and plucked up a chip. ‘I see your ten. And raise you ten.’
‘Oh dear,’ sighed Cortez. ‘Someone let pride get involved.’
‘There are many possible very good hands the Lieutenant could have,’ said Josie simply. ‘But I’ll meet that.’
‘Alright,’ said Drake as Josie’s chip hit the pile. ‘Showdown. You were last to raise, Saeihr, so it’s on you first.’
The corner of Kharth’s lip twitched, and down she set her cards. ‘Queen of Spades… and an Eight of Diamonds.’
Drake laughed. ‘Full House, eights and jacks!’
‘Okay,’ said Cortez, blinking. ‘Maybe not pride.’
‘I swear,’ muttered Sadek, ‘if Josie’s got us all on her heels because she shared everyone’s lousy two-pair…’
‘I didn’t lie to you, Lieutenant,’ said Josie calmly. ‘I don’t have a jack.’ She put her cards down. ‘I’ve got two.’
Kharth stared. ‘What in Vor’s name -’
Drake clapped. ‘Four of a kind! You had a full house the moment those community cards went down!’
‘That,’ said Josie, apologetic even as she took the pot, ‘was far more a hand of luck than skill. It was statistically improbable she’d beat my hand at first; it became statistically impossible with that last jack.’
Cortez snickered. ‘I don’t know, you baited me and Saeihr into handing over our money rather than running scared.’ But she glanced at Kharth, at her frown, and shook her shoulder. ‘Unclench, you lose sometimes.’
‘I’m not -’ But Kharth looked up, and raised her hands apologetically. ‘I’m sorry, Doctor, I’m not being a sore loser. That was a hell of a hand.’
Sadek took the cards, her turn to deal. ‘Something on your mind?’
Kharth grimaced. ‘You know I don’t like to complain about the captain.’
‘Why not? I do it all the time.’ Sadek started to shuffle. ‘And remember the rule of the poker table: this is a sacred and secret space.’
‘Because if it’s not, I’ll get people being sad they’re not invited,’ said Cortez, ‘and I don’t need that in my life. Refill on drinks?’ She hopped to her feet and pointed about the table. ‘Beer? Beer? Beer?’
‘If you give me that swill I’ll spit in your cards,’ said Sadek. ‘The doctors will have more white wine.’
Lindgren leaned forward, looking at Kharth. ‘I think this is the perfect place to complain about the captain.’
‘Yeah,’ called Cortez from the replicator. ‘I included the cool senior staff and the cool civvie because anyone else would look offended if we talked shit about Rourke, or feel awkward gambling with a superior officer.’
Kharth sighed. ‘We’re getting a new senior staffer,’ she said. ‘A new Officer of the Watch.’
Sadek frowned. ‘That’s just the bridge equivalent of a hall monitor on the day shift or substitute teacher on the night.’
‘Don’t sound confused,’ said Drake, ‘that’s obnoxious as hell.’
‘And it seems the role’s mostly an excuse to get a day-job,’ said Kharth tautly, ‘for our new Hazard Team leader. Which is what this Lieutenant Rhade will be.’
‘Great,’ Drake pressed on. ‘You don’t gotta pull a zillion shifts.’
Cortez returned, doing a masterful job of holding two beer bottles in either hand, a fresh wine bottle tucked under her arm. ‘Someone help me with this before I make my table delicious.’ But as Sadek took the wine and Lindgren took the beer, she cast a concerned look at Kharth. ‘Connor’s right, you know. This is a load off your plate, not a punishment.’
Lindgren nodded. ‘He wanted a dedicated HT leader since coming aboard. This is a burden off the Security Department.’
Josie poured her glass, lips pursed. ‘You think it’s a sign he doesn’t have faith in you? In my experience, Matt – Captain Rourke – isn’t coy about that kind of opinion.’
Kharth had a swig of beer, obviously already regretting bringing this up. ‘I can’t do my job as Chief of Security if the CO doesn’t have faith in me.’
Sadek sat forward, gaze unusually serious, and that was what made everyone shut up and look at her. ‘Josie’s right. More than that, I’ve known Matt for over twenty years. He was a security officer in the Dominion War, a Security Chief of one of the most high-intensity starships I’ve ever served on for five years, ran an investigation team for four, and commanded a frigate focused on running down criminals. And taught security and criminological theory at the Academy.’
‘That doesn’t really make me feel better.’
‘My point is that you’d be hard-pressed to find an officer with more experience than him, more opinions than him, on starship security. You think he doesn’t have the highest standards for who his security chief is? Especially on a Manticore-class; we fly around on a giant gun, and the most important thing about that for Matt isn’t knowing how to shoot it, it’s knowing how to not shoot it. If you’re his Chief of Security, it means he’s got more trust in your professional skills than maybe anyone aboard.’
Kharth’s jaw clenched. ‘He didn’t pick me.’
‘He could have got rid of any one of us when he took on Endeavour permanently,’ said Sadek, starting to deal. ‘And would have got rid of you in a heartbeat if he didn’t think you were good enough. Him getting an HT leader isn’t about not trusting you to be Security Chief. It’s freeing you up for the job he thinks is, frankly, more important. Now, ante up.’
‘You should have drunk synthehol,’ Thawn scolded Drake the moment he took his post at helm the next day.
He gave her a sidelong glare. ‘What makes you think I didn’t? What makes you think you knew what I was doing yesterday?’
‘I don’t need to be telepathic to tell you’re nursing a hangover,’ she said, nose tilting up. ‘And of course I know about the poker game.’
‘It’s not – we can only have so many -’
‘Oh, please. I don’t want to go,’ she said, and Drake was almost convinced. ‘But it makes it very easy to tell just how irresponsible you were the night before a morning shift.’
A glance over his shoulder confirmed Valance, who had command, wasn’t paying him the slightest attention. He leaned towards Thawn, voice dropping more. ‘We’re in the middle of Federation territory. We’re flying from A to B. Nothing’s going to happen until we rendezvous with the Hotspur tomorrow.’
Had he been more alert, he might have noticed her expression flicker. As it was, she went unchallenged as she adjusted her controls. ‘Anything could happen, and you’re not at your best.’
‘Nothing’s going to -’ His console blatted at him and he drew back, blinking at it.
Valance looked up from behind him. ‘Mister Drake?’
‘I – uh, just something popping up on the navigational sensors, I…’ He tapped his controls, trying to focus through his dry mouth and thudding temples. ‘Not sure what it is…’
Valance stood. ‘I need better than “something.”’
‘I know, Commander, I just…’ He tried to run a quick analysis to no avail.
Thawn cleared her throat. ‘It looks like a minor sensor glitch from here. I’m correcting it.’ And the alert notification disappeared from his display.
Valance sat, brow furrowed. ‘Very well. Conduct a diagnostic of our navigational sensors, Mister Drake. We don’t want more of this.’
‘Yes, Commander.’ But Thawn had been too perky, and he glared at her once he’d lost the XO’s interest. ‘What did you do?’ he hissed.
‘Me?’ Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. ‘A minor glitch like that should have been easily picked up by the helmsman. But if it wasn’t so minor, then you really should run that diagnostic.’
That meant that a shift where he could reasonably stare at his display and delay serious work until later while he recovered now needed intense attention. Drake’s eyes narrowed. ‘Are you so allergic to fun you take it out on me?’
She gave an innocent shrug. ‘I’d call it a lesson, but you’re assuming this isn’t my fun.’ But at his continued glower, she rolled her eyes. ‘Fine. Patch the diagnostic through here and I’ll compare it to the last readings, but you have to check my work!’
‘Yeah,’ he muttered. ‘I’m definitely gonna do that when you invented this job for both of us.’
‘I know, it’s like we’re colleagues who have to cooperate,’ she said in a light voice. ‘How novel.’
And despite himself, he smirked.
Rourke liked taking the chance to people-watch in the lounge. But he soon remembered why he didn’t do it very often, as he hadn’t been sat down with a coffee for more than five minutes before he was approached. ‘Commander Airex.’
‘Mind if I join you, sir?’ asked the tall Trill, clearly not about to take no for an answer, and sat down.
Rourke reflected on how annoying it was that people assumed being on your own meant you weren’t busy. ‘What can I do for you?’ he said, trying to sound rude without actually being rude.
‘I’ve heard we have a new transfer incoming.’ Airex shifted his weight, obviously uncomfortable. ‘I wondered as to the justification for such an officer serving as Officer of the Watch.’
Rourke ground his teeth. ‘Have you been talking to Kharth? No, stupid question, that, isn’t it.’
Airex stiffened. ‘Sir, my concerns are my own. I had hoped with our latest assignments focusing on exploration and diplomacy, we wouldn’t be looking to expand this ship’s already significant tactical capabilities.’
‘And bringing in a Hazard Team leader, instead of over-working Kharth, is too far?’
‘I have no concern with you bringing in someone to lead the Hazard Team,’ said Airex, which Rourke read as Airex not giving a damn about the Hazard Team at all. ‘But I’m less convinced by such an officer as one of our major shift commanders.’
Rourke opened his mouth, shut it again, then settled on, ‘Why?’ It was better to make Airex dig his own grave than leap to conclusions which would make him indignant, even if they were accurate.
‘Do we need more tactically-minded officers at this level of bridge command?’
‘To begin with, that’s not all the job’s about,’ Rourke sighed. ‘Lieutenant Rhade will play a supporting role on the bridge on an everyday basis, but, yes, will be officer of the deck for minor shifts and in the absence of myself, Commander Valance, or you, Commander. And that doesn’t make him third officer; that’s still Commander Cortez, and Lieutenant Kharth will still be above him in the chain of command. He’s hardly going to be leading Endeavour. It’s an advisory and support position, and a condemnation to the graveyard shift.’
‘It’s traditionally one for up-and-coming young officers, which Lieutenant Rhade -’
‘Yes, you’ve seen through my cunning ruse, Commander – I needed a pretext to lure in a Hazard Team Leader, which is the main reason I’m recruiting this Rhade fellow. But he’s perfectly well-qualified – two years on the Warspite, four years deputy security chief on the Hotspur, not to mention being a graduate of Starfleet Advanced Tactical Training -’
‘That’s my concern.’
Rourke’s jaw set. ‘Having listed the five officers who have seniority over Lieutenant Rhade, only myself and Lieutenant Kharth are tactically trained. Commander Cortez is barely a line officer. Where, exactly, is Endeavour over-stocked in command staff who’ll shoot first and ask questions later? Do you think so little of Lieutenant Kharth?’ Bringing Kharth back into this was petty, but pettiness was being covered by Airex already and Rourke fancied sharing.
‘I didn’t make that accusation against Lieutenants Kharth or Rhade.’
‘How about me, then?’ Rourke snapped before he could stop himself, and sat forward. The die was cast now. ‘After all, this is another thinly-veiled complaint about Endeavour not being sufficiently research-focused for your liking.’
‘You’re putting words into my mouth, sir.’
‘Then explain to me why Lieutenant Rhade isn’t qualified for the job. Frankly, he’s over-qualified.’ This guy is going to have the worst welcome to a new assignment ever. ‘Explain why this isn’t you thinking I’m not cerebral enough to be a starship commander, that I’m too prone to acting without thinking.’
Airex worked his jaw. ‘I never said any of that, sir.’
‘You’ve not needed to.’ Rourke finished his coffee and slammed the mug down. ‘You’re a snob, Airex. You’re also wrong, but I’m not going to indulge your misapprehension as if I have to meet your standards to be a worthwhile captain. Commander Valance got over her issues; time for you to, as well.’ But he had no more patience for this, no desire to hear the defensive screed he knew Airex was winding up for, and got to his feet to leave.
So much for people-watching.