“September eighteenth, 2152. No, September the nineteenth, 2152. Or maybe it’s the twentieth. Or the twenty-first. Bloody hell, I’ll start again.”
Malcolm Reed sat in his own little personal patch of the NX-01’s catwalk. “Stupid neutronic storm,” he said to no one. “It’s messing with my bloody PADD.”
“What?” asked Sophie Creighton, who had her own personal patch nearby.
“Huh?” asked Colleen Romanov, who was next down the line. And so on and so forth as eighty-some-odd crew members, who were cheek by jowl in the catwalk, could hear every snort, every word, every sneeze and every breaking of wind.
“Nothing, nothing,” Reed said, a bit annoyed.
“Wanna join us in a round o’ poker?” asked Tripp Tucker, coming over.
“What are you wagering?” Malcolm asked.
“Desserts from our ration packs.”
Malcolm had been saving his. For what, he did not know. There was little point to it. It was just something to do, a bit of discipline amidst the chaos of hanging around on top of however many degrees of plasma, just to ride out a neutronic storm. He looked over his stash. Cheese Danish. Cherry cobbler. Chocolate pudding. New York style cheesecake. So it had been four days, and it was the twenty-first. “I suppose I’m in,” he said, smile tight. At the very least, perhaps he could dump the Danish and the alleged cheesecake. Being lactose intolerant, they were of as much use to him as wheels on a rowboat.
Hoshi Sato and Tristan Curtis were also playing. They made room, as much as they could, and he sat down with his stash. Curtis dealt the cards. “Okay, deuces are wild, pretty ladies,” he winked at Hoshi, “are also wild and nothing else. Ante up, one pack apiece.”
Malcolm looked over at his cards. Two fours. An eight. A jack. And the last one was a queen. He tossed in the alleged cheesecake.
The others anted up, except for Curtis, who raised to two packs. “Uh, vanilla ice cream and, er,” he read off the pack, “pineapple cobbler.”
Malcolm kept his poker face but had to admit to himself that he almost unnaturally lusted after the pineapple cobbler. He didn’t even like artificial pineapple, but it was something to strive for. “I’ll see your pineapple cobbler,” he said, tossing the Danish in.
“Too rich for my blood,” Tucker said, tossing his cards down.
Other crew members were coming over. “Hey Sophie,” Rob Slater said, “I got extra room near where I’m sleeping.”
“Yeah, in your dreams, Slater.”
Hoshi said, “I’ll see your Danish and raise you, um, broccoli.”
“Broccoli? One doesn’t normally eat that for dessert,” Malcolm said.
“You do now,” Hoshi said, “It’s all I’ve got.”
“I’ll see your broccoli and raise you a creamed corn,” replied Curtis.
“I’ll match your, ugh, creamed corn with cherry cobbler,” Malcolm replied, wincing at the thought of creamed corn.
“All right,” Curtis said, “read ‘em and weep.” He had three threes.
Hoshi just had a pair of tens. Malcolm turned his cards over. “Two fours, too bad,” Curtis said, starting to rake the packs over to his place.
“Uh, no, Tris,” Hoshi said, “Queens are wild, remember? So I think Malcolm’s got three fours.”
“Huh? Yeah, I guess he does. Sorry, Lieutenant.”
“It’s all right.” Malcolm took the pack of pineapple cobbler off the top and gave the remainder of his winnings to Hoshi. “Here, you won’t have to use broccoli next time.”
He walked back to his cramped little area – everything reeked of eighty-some-odd crew members who hadn’t showered in several days – and consumed his treasure in private.