31 August 2012

"Poker Face"

By Curtis C. Chen

"It's a trick," Adkins said. "He's reading your expressions or something, looking for reactions to what he says. Like some fake carnival psychic."

"It ain't a trick!" Berk said. "Rosebud, close your eyes."

"Fine," Roseler said, and closed his eyes. "McCue's looking for a... four to make a straight flush. Anderson wants a jack for three of a kind, or a five for two pair. And Gray..." He opened his eyes. "Gray's a good poker player."

"What do you mean?" Berk asked. "You can't read him?"

Roseler nodded. Gray's face was as still as stone, but more than that, his mind was masked. Roseler could tell there were thoughts moving inside that head, but he couldn't get a good sense of what they were; it felt like looking through a fogged-up window, or trying to hear voices behind a thick door.

This was obviously not just a put-on for the card game. But Roseler wasn't going to tell on Gray. Not yet, anyway.

"It takes some practice, but anyone can do it," Roseler said, not taking his eyes off Gray. "You don't think about your specific cards. You look at them, and then you forget about them."

"How the hell do you play when you don't know what you're holding?" Adkins asked.

"Think about it. You don't see anyone else's cards, right? You're guessing at what they have based on what they do. So you just need to decide what you're going to do in response. The cards don't enter into it at a certain point. It's all about psychology."

"But you can tell if someone's bluffing," Gray said. "Right?"

"Sometimes," Roseler said.

"Officer on deck!" Adkins shouted. All five sailors jumped to their feet as Ensign Young stepped into the doorway.

"As you were," Young said. He thumbed the stack of file folders he was carrying. "I'm looking for Seaman Gray and Seaman Roseler. And I trust this is just a friendly game of cards here."

"Yes, sir! Just playing some bridge, sir!" Adkins said, a little too quickly.

Young looked around. "Five for bridge?"

"We're teaching Rosebud," Berk said.

"He's terrible at bidding," McCue added.

"Well, you'll have to work on that later, Roseler," Young said. "Master Chief needs you and Gray to come help with a thing."

Roseler frowned. "Um, why the two of us in particular, sir?"

Young shrugged. "Some kind of magic thing. Your intake files here say you both tested positive for aptitude."

Gray stiffened, and Roseler felt his own stomach knotting up.

"That may be, sir, but I've never had any formal training," Roseler said.

"Me neither," Gray said. "I don't know how useful we would be—"

"I'm sorry, did I give the impression I was making a request?" Young snapped. "Report to Master Chief Erickson, and he'll tell you what's up. That's an order. Got it?"

"Yes, sir," Roseler and Gray replied in unison.

"And take these files with you. Dismissed." Young pushed the files into Gray's arms and turned to the other three sailors. "So, you boys play Hearts?"


Image: Tangled Aces by Domiriel, September, 2011