In order to keep growing with my writing skills, I’m trying to do writing prompts again. This sci-fi one was more fun than I thought it would be. It’s not a great story, but I think this short story is entertaining. Let me know what you think.
The Prompt – An intergalactic poker game among five players of different races goes wrong when one is caught cheating. (Inspired by ridethepen.com)
Barika coughed and waved away a billow of acrid smoke. Xir-bing chuckled derisively and blew another cloud of smoke generated by the cheroot protruding from his grossly wide mouth.
She hated this fat slug with his pallid, glutinous skin and blob-like limbs. Every time he moved, his body made irritating farting noises. The worst part, though, was his condescending attitude—as if slugs had some sort of superiority on the evolutionary scale.
She hated the other three players at the poker table only a little less. Jerut constantly picked at his elephant-like snout and made loud barking noises every time he won. The antennae on Kefer-bobala-or-something-or-other seemed to have a mind of their own as they oscillated this way and that. His temper seemed to oscillate as well. One moment he was chirping happily and the next he was buzzing angrily. Yet his moods seemed to have nothing to do with how his game was going.
And then, of course, there was the long-necked being from the faraway Umbar region. She couldn’t even begin to pronounce his name. It was some sort of odd combination of clicks and whines. People here called him The Braggart because that’s all he did. And it didn’t help that he had valid reasons for it. He was highly intelligent, a great fighter, and one of the best pilots this side of the galaxy.
What she hated more than these oafs, though, was having to play this crater-driven game. It never should have come to this. Never.
She grimaced as she picked up her five cards. One-by-one, she spread them out in a tight fan. Two one-eyed jacks seemed to wink at her. Then a five, a seven, and a ten. Well, at least the jacks gave her hand some promise.
She masked her rising hope as she threw in her bid and discarded two cards, keeping the jacks and the single ten. Keeping a straight face was apparently important in this game. Unintentionally expressing a tell could force a player bankrupt faster than a Mortovodian businessman.
None of the other players had a tell as far as her inexperience could see. At first, she thought Kefer-blah-blah was just trying to throw them off, but betting against his moods did no better than betting on them. Maybe his antennae picked up too many melodrama’s coming in off the entertainment stream.
Jerut scratched his nose this time. Was that a tell? And if so, did it mean he had a good hand or a bad one? His expression gave nothing away.
Craters, she hated this game. Poker was for low-level beings, beings who thought they could actually hit the jackpot through luck and deception.
But she was desperate, and not for the money. There was a whole lot more at stake here than the precious metal that her own people mined in spades. How in the hell did she get herself into this crater-driven mess, anyway?
She scowled over Jerut’s shoulder at her commanding officer who sat at the bar drinking some sort of vaporous liquid. To say Captain Terchini was a pilgarlic was a vast understatement. And it wasn’t just because of his bald head and pungent odor. It was with the way he thought so highly of himself despite being the most pathetic being in the galaxy.
No one took him seriously—that is no one but the league she served. His promotion to captain had to have been an act of pity on their part. After all, if it wasn’t for him, they wouldn’t have lost the Orb of Sharina to begin with.
That’s what she was playing for—the Orb of Sharina. Xir-bing had it and wouldn’t sell it. The crater-driven slug didn’t need it. It was a worthless trinket to everyone else but the League of Remnants. For the League, it meant the difference between life and death. Yet he refused to sell it to her. And it was all because of Terchini and his pitiful way of trying to strong-arm a creature with more brawn and surprisingly more brains.
Kefer-blah-blah passed out the next round of cards. She picked up her two, careful not to let the two creatures sitting on either side of her see them.
She unfolded her hand and her heart leapt. It was about time she got a winnable hand. She glanced quickly at the others. Hopefully, none of them noticed the sudden change in her emotions.
Xir-bing bet big. Jerut and the other two folded. It wasn’t the first time the slug had tricked her by placing such a large bet. She glanced over at him and gave him her dirtiest look yet. Her frown had two purposes. One, she wanted him to know how much she despised him. And two, she hoped to throw him off and make him think she had a terrible hand.
He laughed mockingly and threw in five more chips. “Call.”
Craters. She’d been hoping get him to go higher so she could get him to gamble the Orb.
She slapped down her hand. Two jacks and three tens. Xir-bing chuckled again and set down three aces and two twos.
Craters, craters, and more craters! She ground her teeth and swallowed down the bitterness rising from her throat. She hadn’t won a single hand against this slug and his constant smile and mocking noises were grating her nerves.
Something glistened from behind his bulbous ear, something that didn’t have the sheen of a worm to it. Her frown deepened as she stared intently.
The slug’s smile faded. His beady eyes bored into her as if in a challenge. She would have turned away had her curiosity not been so piqued.
“What is that?” she said in an accusatory tone.
“What? Nothing.” The slug’s wide mouth turned down and he squirmed in his seat.
“It is too something.” She stood. “I can see it.”
“No, it’s not! It’s not anything.”
She snatched at it. The slug was surprisingly fast in his attempt to stop her, but not fast enough. The item, whatever it was, came off easily. She stepped back and examined the small metallic thing in her hand.
The Braggart craned his long neck and looked at it too. He blinked his eyes a few times and then jumped to his feet. “It’s a mind-reader!”
“What!” Jerut barked as he slammed his fist down on the table.
Kefer-blah-blah’s buzz ripped through the room. It was so loud that she felt the vibration of it in her bones.
Xir-bing stood and pointed at her with his stubby extremity. “You had it in your hand all along! You only pretended it came from me, like some charlatan magic trick!”
If not for his panic-stricken expression, his accusation might have been believed.
Jerut stood so quickly that his chair fell. “Guards! Guards! Guards!” His words came out in yelps as he waved his hands, or paws, in the air. “Help! We’ve been hoodwinked.”
Xir-bing slid back with his fat stumpy feet. His little round eyes darted around, as though looking for an escape.
“Oh, no you don’t.” The Braggart grabbed Xir-bing’s round slimy arm.
Xir-bing struggled. The Braggart did some fancy move that she didn’t even know was possible. The slug fell to the floor with a big wet thwack.
Guards swooped in and one jabbed his shock-stick into the slug’s gut. Xir-bing howled in a sickly way that sounded like a cross between a crustacean in boiling water and a mastodon in distress.
She smiled. It’s just what the fat slug deserved. But her smile quickly faded. What about the Orb? How would she get it now? Craters.
“Xir-bing!” she said in a sweet sing-song voice. It made her spirits dance to see the fat slug looking so distraught in his metal cage. “Poor little wittle Xir-bing-ling,” she added in mock pity. “Slugs don’t like small spaces, do they?”
Xir-bing’s wide mouth drooped and his bulbous head fell in shame.
A grin stretched across her face. The small space was bad enough but slugs disliked metal even more. It made them slip and slide everywhere no matter what form their wormy bodies tried to contort into.
“Didn’t your mother ever tell you that gambling never pays?” she said in a still-chipper tone as she stepped closer to the cage door. “And neither does cheating?”
“Xylerians don’t have mothers,” he replied in a defeated tone.
“Awe. That’s too bad. I guess you had to learn the hard way, huh?”
Xir-bing’s pallid skin turned red and his beady eyes suddenly flared. “You lost too. There’s no way you can get the Orb now.”
“Isn’t there?” she said in mock concern.
“It’s in my quarters and you can’t get it. It’s mine.”
“Now, now,” she replied as though talking to a naughty child. “That’s no way to talk to someone who has the means to bail you out of here.”
The neckless slug tilted his head in such a way that indicated she had his full attention.
“Remember the amount of Retonian metal I offered you for the Orb earlier?”
“Yes,” he said warily.
She tittered ironically. “Well, it just so happens that the amount you still owe for bail after all your accounts have been depleted is just half of that amount.”
His wide frown deepened. Apparently, he didn’t like where this was going. She was loving every moment of it.
“Anyway, I figured that if you tell me how to get the Orb, I will pay that amount and get you out of here. That is, of course, once I actually have the Orb in my hand and after you sign a document declaring me the rightful owner.”
Xir-bing’s body pulsed. There was no other word she could think of to describe it. One moment, he seemed to swell like a balloon, and the next he was back to his normal size. She supposed he was probably breathing heavily, but the slug had no nose—at least not a discernable one.
Her heart thumped in her chest as she tried to discern his emotion. Minutes passed, or it seemed like minutes, anyway.
Suddenly, he stood. “You Retonian pirate! You’ll never get that Orb. Never!”
She clenched her teeth. A boiling heat flushed through her body. “Fine.” She turned abruptly as though to leave.
“Wait!” he said with a hint of desperation in his voice.
A smile crept over her lips and she suppressed it before turning slowly back to him. “What?”
The slug pulsated again, but only a few times. “If I tell you how to get the Orb, how do I know you’ll actually bail me out?”
She cocked one of her eyebrows. “You don’t. But what choice do you have? The amount you need is more than you can obtain while sitting in this cell. Your winning personality leaves you with no friends to help you. Either you trust me and hope I keep my promise or you stay here and rot for the fifty days they say it will take for you to make up the rest of your bail money.”
Redness crept into his sickly pale skin again. And he held his breath, or whatever it was he did when he pulsated, so that his glutinous skin stretched to the point where it might pop.
She couldn’t help but to rub in some salt. “By that time, you will be nothing but a shriveled sack of skin.”
He deflated. “Fine. I’ll tell you.”
“Good. I’m glad we can work things out.” She pulled back her shoulders and gave him her best smile. “You realize, though, that if you had just sold me the Orb to begin with, you wouldn’t be in this mess? You’d have more money instead of none.”
His beady eyes turned to the floor.
“Gambling simply doesn’t pay,” she added. “And Retonians always get what they want.”
© September, 2017 by Dawn Ross