“This still doesn’t make any sense. So far, you two have taken turns politely informing me of new rules each ‘hand.'” Hope’s frustration with the unfamiliar game was made obvious by her loss of composure. Sarcasm, like beading droplets of water, clung to her words. “And by sheer coincidence I’ve managed to lose each one. The only reason I’m disinclined to believe you two aren’t conspiring against me is the lack of Kip’s petty giggling.”
Kip shifted his eyes from his hand to Hope, but only momentarily; his shoulders shrugged as he looked back at his cards. Katerina’s hand lay face-down on the table—alongside several pieces of the disassembled LE-4 pistol she was busy cleaning. Without turning her eyes from the barrel she was inspecting, she retorted, “Gerry told you the same rules he told us, honey.” Kat squinted down the barrel, then blew a puff of air through it. “Not our fault if you didn’t listen.”
“Fine. I’ll keep going.” As Hope pushed a scrap of paper toward the center of the table, Kip shook his head and dropped his cards. “It’s just you, ladies. I’m out.” Kat slid the barrel into its casing, set it propped up on the table, and lifted the corner of her bottom card. “Three Queens. Doctor?” Confident in her impending victory, Hope beamed as she placed her cards on the table and spun them to face her opponent. “Two Kings and two eights!”
Hope’s excitement didn’t elicit the reaction she was hoping for; Kip sucked his teeth while Kat closed her eyes and brought her hand to her brow. “Davai… Three of a kind beats two pairs, Hope.” Hope wasn’t having it. “No. Not again.” Kat took the notes from the table while Kip started collecting the cards to shuffle. “Listen, Doctor; wasn’t it you who wanted to play this ‘old Earth game’ to… what was it… ‘enjoy some Human culture for once?’” “Don’t start. I’m going to check with Gerald. He’s the only one here who played this game back on Earth, and the only one of you spacers I trust not to trick me.” Kip made a short show of pretending to be offended, but gave up as Hope walked out of the mess hall. “This doesn’t seem worth it, Kat. Y’all don’t even seem to be having fun, anyway.” “Fun? I’ll have fun over the next two weeks as Hope does my chores.”
Hope didn’t need to search the ship to find Gerald—she didn’t even check his quarters. Upon entering the engine room, she spied a toolbox on its side next to an open panel. She hardly had to peer into the crevice to see a worn-out shoe and oily pant leg.
“Gera–” she started, but the sound of a falling spanner and a shouted curse cut her off. “What?! Hope, is that you?” Hope winced as she watched the leg twist and contort. “Y-yes, sorry, you don’t need to come out… I, er, had a question about the Poker game you tau–” “You’ve got to be kidding me. Just stop playin’! We should’n’t’a even bought that deck on Phobos. Waste of credit! I said it then, I’ll say it now! Those twerps told you it di’n’t even have all 52 cards in it, right?”
Gerry’s whining continued, but Hope’s attention stalled as she lost herself in her memory. “Hold on… Phobos?” Something didn’t add up. “Gerry, we haven’t been to Phobos for… well, we haven’t been there while I’ve been on the ship.” A rumbling chuckle echoed out of the open panel. “Well how’d little Katya tell ya she got it? Did she amaze ya with tale ‘a her mountainous courage, pryin’ it outta some dead 4-SEC merc’s cold fingers?” Gerald snickered to himself, but didn’t hear anything in response. “Doc? Hope? Eh…” He didn’t waste time picking up his spanner and getting back to work.
The mess hall door slid up as Hope stormed in. “Phobos. You’ve all been to Phobos before!” Katerina let the hammer of the pistol slide forward and placed it on the table. Kip, surprised by the sudden return of the doctor, lost control of the cards while shuffling, sending them careening across the room. “You told me we couldn’t go to Phobos because of a bounty!” Kip pushed his fingers through his hair and loudly sighed. “Well, uh, yeah… since we picked you up…” Katerina smiled for the first time during their game. “Yeah, sweetie. Your bounty.”