"Well, folks, I've got some bad news: Bob, Sandy, and T'par cancelled, so we don't have enough people for two games of bridge. There's five of us, so that's too many for one game. What should we do instead?" Jenna Parnell asked. The group was meeting in a small storage room that some of the junior officers had appropriated as an unoffical rec room. Besides Jenna and Ming, the assemblage included Ensign Varn, a Lurian from Engineering; Lieutenant (jg) Cody Yellowhorse, from Security; and Lieutenant (jg) Ciara Tierro, a Trill from Medical.
"How about Yahtzee?" Varn suggested.
"You always want to play Yahtzee, you lug!" Yellowhorse complained, though Ming gathered that the relationship between the two men such that they could verbally beat each other to a pulp and still be the best of friends. The Lurian confirmed this by slapping Yellowhorse on the back with a blow that would have knocked anyone else but the big Lakota Sioux security man to the floor. "Be glad I like a game *you* can actually win!!!" he laughed. Cody groaned.
"Why not that old boardgame based on ancient Earth real estate?"
"Oh, Monopoly? Half the time we end up arguing over the rules!!!" Jenna replied.
"We could try poker," Ciara suggested.
"Yeah, right--with two telepaths in the house?" Cody replied. "I like both of you guys but I wouldn't trust you with a deck of cards!!!"
"Actually, there's no need to worry," Ming said. "I reviewed the rules for bridge before coming tonight. If we'd played one rubber, with two telepaths at the table, we stood the risk of them teaming up and using betting signals. In poker, they're competing with each other, and therefore it's not in either party's interests to cheat."
"I like your thinking!" Jenna smiled. "Poker it is!" Jenna walked over to a portable replicator. "One set of poker chips, please," she said. The chips in their carrier materialized.
They drew cards to see who would deal; Varn got high card. He cut the deck and shuffled, dealing the cards. Ming took a look at his hand: two queens and two fours. *Two of a kind--not a bad hand, but--*
~Careful, Ming!!!~ someone reminded him telepathically. ~Some of us can read minds, you know!~
~Who is this?~ Ming thought back.
~Ciara! Varn still thinks in Lurian, but he can read your hand as well as I can! Be careful!~
Ming looked up at Ciara, who winked and smiled back at him.
"I'll draw," Ming said. He discarded a king and got another queen. Ming made very careful to hide the fact that he now had a full house.
Everyone else dealt or stood as they desired. Ming raised the stakes by throwing in another chip. Varn matched him. Ming tossed another chip into the pot. "I'm out," the Lurian said, folding. Everyone else folded. Triumphantly, Ming laid down his hand. "Full house," he said, smiling.
"Damn!!!" Cody exlaimed. Everyone else groaned. Ciara smiled at him again.
"Okay, the new guy takes the pot! Ming, you get to deal!"
The game went on for hours; as is the case in a running game, Ming won and lost his pot several times over. Ming had managed to take in a prodigious amount of synthetic rice wine. He opted against the real thing, both in an effort to focus on his game and to avoid any more embarrassing moments. "If you'll excuse me, friends, I need to find the facilities," he said.
"There's a restroom down the corridor, about two doors down," Cody said.
"Thanks!" Ming stepped away and left the little room. *These seem like great people!* he thought. *A lot better than the folks on the Von Braun!* That his own insecurities may have prompted much of what had transpired in his previous posting never occurred to him.
Ming returned to the room. "Everyone ready for another round?" he asked cheerfully.
"Actually, I think it's time for another twist," Jenna said. "How's everyone for strip poker?"
Cody had been drinking the real stuff for a while. "Ssssure! Why not???"
Varn grunted. Nudity meant somewhat less to Lurians than it did to most other races, but the lack of a female Lurian amongst the group meant his interest was strictly clinical.
"Hmmm..." Ciara said, looking a bit the worse for wear herself. "That might be a little difficult in my case. I'm not wearing anything right now as it is!"
"Huh?" Ming said. "You look fully dressed to me!"
"Oh--I forgot to tell you!" Jenna, who was completely sober, broke in. "Ciara's half-Tanzaran! She can shapeshift!!!"
"No point in wearing clothes if you have to shift out of them at some point," Ciara explained. "Otherwise I'd forever be having to retrieve abandonned uniforms all over the ship!" The group laughed.
"Shift into something for the new guy!" Cody--an obnoxious drunk if ever there was one--urged.
Ciara nodded, and slowly shifted--into Karissa Bentara. Ming felt a little uneasy. More than a little uneasy, in fact. The rest of the grup applauded as Ciara returned to her usual form.
"What about you, Ming? Up to a little action?" Jenna said, sensing his unease and pushing onward inspite of it.
"Actually, it is getting a little late. Maybe I should be going. Thanks for the game! I really enjoyed this!" Ming said as he got up and left. "I'm looking forward to next time!"
The door closed behind him. "What's eating him?" Jenna asked.
"I am not adept at reading human minds, but I think there's something bothering him. I sensed that he was truly enjoying himself until your proposal--and that he's one who could use the enjoyment. I for one would like to see Ming back," Varn said. "He's much better company than that Katayama fool!"
"Yeah! He's grrrrreat!" Cody said as he passed out cold on the card table.
"I think I know what might be bothering him," Ciara said. "I think I should talk with him." With that, she left the table and headed out to the corridor to find Ming.
Jenna and Varn remained at the table, staring over the unconscious form of Cody.
"Okay, Varn, ante up!" she said as she shuffled the cards.
Ciara looked around the corridor for a few minutes but did not find Ming. "Computer, locate Lieutenant Ming Wang," she said.
< Ming Wang is in his quarters
*Well, it is late. He probably went to bed. We'll talk later,* she thought. And as she thought that, she felt certain of it.