Deal Me In


A science fiction story in Red Scythe by Gary Bloom

Characters: Scott West, Tud Lom, Hyde Fellows, Sadie North

The mess in the Red Scythe complex was rarely particularly quiet. Late at night, however, things could get a bit raucous from time to time. Trash talk was markedly rampant this evening. Tudor Lom, Hyde Fellows and another man were drinking whiskey and playing Da San at one of the round, plastic tables. The third man, his long dark hair drifting over pale features, seemed to be having the most fun. He was certainly the loudest of the trio.

"So, there," Scott West piped up, wandering over to the table of veterans, "how do I get dealt in?"

"Dealt in?" Lom smirked. "You ever played before, Scott?"

"Of course I've played before!" West feigned a sense of injured pride. "I've played Da San plenty of times; certainly been in enough games to whip up on a bunch of old men."

"Well," Tudor turned to the dark haired man, "you're the elder at the table Alex, so it's your call."

"If that lump had really played before," Alex answered, "he'd know it's a damned three man game, and stop askin stupid questions."

"Now hold on-"

"Ah don'tchoo worry your pretty little head none, meat. You n me, we'll find ourselves a third later on, after the men are done playing, and I'll be happy to take your money then."

All three men laughed heartily. Returning their focus to the game, each essentially dismissed West. Alex and Tudor were currently working against Hyde. The whiskey was running low, and the game picking up pace. They were all rather annoyed when the obviously finished conversation was picked back up again.

"That's skata! I've played in 4-man tournaments at least three times on Mars"

"No self-respecting man plays Da San with four, gamozo," Alex spat. "Those are just gimmick games, meant to suck in you cowards who can't play a real man's game."

"He's not wrong," Lom shrugged.

"Ah, from the mouth of Alex Rich himself," Hyde smiled. "Your wisdom must be catching, old man!"

Hyde threw four cards down on the table. In succession, he showed a run of six, seven, eight and nine.

"Ben zona!" Rich swore.

West was momentarily forgotten again as the other two men's attention was dragged more wholly into the game. With Fellows, the bidder, holding only three more cards, it had just gotten more difficult. And much closer to the end.

"Well, well," Scott quipped, "looks like you'll be done soon enough anyway!"

All three men looked up. Hyde Fellows winked. The other two shot him glares of varying intensity.

Sadie North grabbed the cocky technician by the elbow and dragged him from the table. The young woman hauled him out of the mess entirely. As they went, the pair heard Hyde jibe, "he's not wrong either, Tude!" When she'd pulled him down a corridor, and around a corner, she finally came to a stop. Frustrated, she roughly shoved the youth up against the wall.

"What are you doing? Do you have a death wish?" She put a finger in his face. "Don't pester those men. I know you think it's cute, and maybe the boss thinks you're funny, but there's a line to cross. Especially with Alex Rich. You don't want to cross it."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever," he waved her off. Shoving himself off the wall, he headed back towards the mess. "Who is that guy anyway? He's not new, 'cause they wouldn't treat him that way. First time I've seen him, though, and I'm not that new."

"He runs facilities," she answered, falling into step next to him. "Doesn't come out too often during the day hours. Too much work to do. He's behind the scenes, making sure you can breathe."

"He's much too chummy with the pilots to be a hermit. Hides during the day with some lame excuse. Weird guy, either way, I'll bet. All pale and what not. What's with the stupid name?"

"What's wrong with his name?"

"Alex Rich? Come on," West scoffed, "haven't you ever heard not to trust a man with two first names?"

"He was born Alexander Richard Hardbarger. Figured that his last name might be a little too distracting, so he'd drop it. Tried to figure out which of his names he preferred," she shrugged, "decided he liked both names, and went with Alex Rich. That's about it."

"Hardbarger?"

"Yeah," she smiled sweetly as West stopped walking, "as in the boss' older brother."

"Skata!"

"Yep, pretty much," she chuckled, slapping him on the back. She turned and began walking in the other direction. Calling over her shoulder, she said, "Best of luck buddy!"