Coolant leak. The warning klaxon called the words to Frinn’s mind, and the countless k-cycles she’d drilled for emergencies (and had actually needed to respond to them) meant she knew exactly what to do. Full stop, shut off all coolant valves, find the leaks, patch them, and reassess. The Little Lady was a couple of grand cycles older than Frinn herself, and she was often the one to fix a leak when it broke. Her father, the only other person on the ship, was supposed to be asleep, so it looked like this repair was up to her, as well.
It didn’t take Frinn long after shutting down the ship’s engines and collecting her gear to find the leak. Before she could even begin scanning the lines for cracks or fissures, she saw her father crumpled on the engineering deck near a computer terminal. Dropping the kit, she rushed to his side and tilted his face towards her. His skin was stiff and cold, and a light green frost covered his head and chest. He took a blast of coolant right in the face. She’d drilled for this emergency, too, which was all that kept her from panicking as she ran to the nearest emergency pack. She mashed a rebreather to her father’s face and set it on high. Taking a hypo from the pack next, she dosed him with an anti-toxin to clean his blood. Last step was to strap a scanner to his chest to check his vitals.
As the scanner blinked, she pressed a hand to her heart and took a deep breath. The faint smell of coolant in the air brought the other emergency back to her attention. Looking up to the terminal, she clearly saw the crack in the line. As she rose to grab the patch kit, her father groaned. Looking down, she saw his eyelids flutter. Beneath the rebreather mask, he groaned again. “Finish … the hand.”
It didn’t take long for his words to make sense. “No,” she whispered, leaping to the terminal. What she saw almost made her punch the screen. “No, father!” She spun around, but he was already unconscious again.
The shout came from the terminal. Setting her jaw, Frinn turned back around. “Harkan,” she gritted, “is not coming back to the game.”
Four faces, no larger than icons, ringed a digital table. Each face had a large number underneath, with another number in the center of the table and one more at the bottom of the screen. Damn you, father. You promised to stop.
“Then he forfeits his hand,” one of the faces declared.
“Not just yet, Rasnian,” the dealer said. “Under the rules, she can finish this hand for him if he’s been incapacitated. Would you like to take his place, young lady?”
“Wait just a millicycle, here,” Rasnian interjected. “Is she even old enough to play?”
Frinn leaned in close to the mic port and practically hissed at the faces. “I’m nine grand cycles; and no, I’m not taking my father’s place.”
“Nine isn’t old enough to play.”
“It is in Dog years,” another player murmured.
“She’s too young!” Rasnian insisted.
“Everyone just power down,” the dealer ordered. “This hand is mine, and I’ll decide who plays in it. Young lady,” his face turned back to Frinn, “have you checked how much your father’s in the red on this hand?”
Frinn looked at the totals and briefly scanned the game history file. If her father hadn’t already been unconscious, then she’d have probably knocked him out herself. Nearly every credit and debit they had, it seemed, was in the pot. The cards in his hand were good, but now it was his bet and there was nothing left to add to the bid. And he had about three cycles to get on his feet, or he’d have to forfeit everything.
“My father’s unconscious with coolant poisoning,” she softly informed the dealer. “He won’t be awake for at least twelve cycles. There’s no one else on the ship but me.”
“Well, it’s my deal, young lady; and at my sole discretion, I can let you assume responsibility for finishing this hand, this one hand. If you would like to finish the game, then you have until the chrono runs out to call the bet, raise, or fold your hand.”
Frinn clicked the mute button and watched the centi-cycles tick away, her mind racing. She wanted to be angry with her father, but she didn’t have time for that just yet. The bet’s too high to call, she said to herself. I don’t have anything left to add to the pot. That Rasnian fellow pushed a large bet in and now he’s trying to get me to forfeit; signs of a weak hand, or so my father would say. My hand is good, but how to call the bet? All that I have left is the cargo, but we don’t own it so we can’t add it. That just leaves …
She mashed the mic button. “I add the deed to my father’s ship. It’s enough to cover the bet and even push it up a few thousand credits.”
“Hold it,” Rasnian spoke up. “She doesn’t own the ship herself, so she can’t add it.”
“She can add anything her father owns,” the dealer replied. “Do you have a copy of the deed on file, young lady?”
“I’m uploading it now.” She typed some instructions into the keypad and waited.
The dealer’s face tilted downward as he read the file. Frinn looked at Rasnian, whose tiny face made it obvious that he was furious. His remaining credit total was below two thousand, so even if he only wanted to call, he’d have to add property of his own. The others had already folded, which made it a contest between the two of them. I just hope his hand isn’t bigger than mine.
“It’s a valid deed,” the dealer finally announced. The pot total went up, and all faces turned to Rasnian. “You have five cycles to call, raise, or fold.”
Frinn kept her eyes on Rasnian’s. Playing poker, her father had once told her, was like playing the game Blink: whoever had the stronger stare would win. It wasn’t the best strategy, but it was all she had. She hated poker, she hated that her father had been playing, and she hated that he had forced her into playing. However unfair her anger was, Frinn did her best to pour that anger through the screen into Rasnian’s mind.
And then she saw it; just the slightest twitching of his eyelids, and she saw, a bare micro-cycle before he said anything, that she had won. “Fold,” he muttered, pressing a button just offscreen. The total in the pot reverted to Frinn’s hand.
“Congratulations,” the dealer said, echoed by the two who had folded earlier.
“Thank you,” Frinn said simply. “I think it’s time to withdraw, now.” She didn’t wait for an answer as she started shutting down the account. She paused about half-way through the process and looked over her shoulder at her father lying on the ground. The rebreather was doing its job, keeping his chest rising and falling, and the scanner glowed an encouraging green, but he still was unconscious. Turning back to the screen, she opened a commlink between herself and the dealer. “May I ask you a question, sir?”
A short time later, she was kneeling at her father’s side, removing the mask and scanner. He coughed slightly as she helped him sit up and lean against the bulkhead. “What happened?”
“You breathed in some coolant. I fixed the leak and I fixed you, but we may be a little behind schedule getting to–”
“No, no, I meant with the game. What happened with the game?”
Frinn had tried to keep the anger at bay, but knowing that, after everything, he cared most about the game was too much for her. “I won,” she said shortly, and then rose to her feet and stormed to the bride.
“Frinn,” he called weakly from behind her. “Frinn, wait.”
She heard him rising to his feet, but she didn’t turn back to look. In the bridge, she started the engines up again, setting the speed for 20 haleys. Her father sat in the co-pilot’s seat, but she kept her eyes on the starfield in front of her.
“Isn’t twenty a little fast?” he asked almost apologetically. “We just had a coolant leak, after all.”
“I’ll do whatever I like with my ship,” she said, watching the stars stretch into lines and then blur together into a mass of color. It was always her favorite part of traveling in space.
“Yes, father.” Frinn didn’t even try to keep the edge out of her voice. “According to Mister Jody, the dealer in that last hand, as your stand in, I’m entitled to thirty percent of your winnings. The Little Lady isn’t enough to cover all of it, but I’m willing to let you keep the rest.”
“Frinn, are you out of your mind?”
That did it. She spun in her seat, almost flying out of it at him. “My mind? You promised you’d stop! You swore the last time that you’d never play poker again. How could you, after what happened? How could you forget what happened?”
“Frinn, this ship is falling apart. Even if we do ten more runs by the end of the tera-cycle, we’ll still be patching this thing every step of the way. That game, that hand, it was enough money to buy us a whole new ship, Frinn. I had to do it.”
“Well, you can buy yourself a new ship if you want, father,” she spun back around, partly because she didn’t want to look at him, but mostly because she didn’t want him to see the tears forming in her eyes. “I’m keeping the Little Lady. Mister Jody already helped me transfer ownership, and he even set me up a run in a few k-cycles. Go ahead, check your access codes; they’ve all been changed.”
Her father walked over and spun her chair around to face him again. His eyes were almost pleading, and for the first time since she could remember, he also had tears in them. Kneeling in front of her, his voice was barely audible over the hum of the engines. “I’m sorry, my dear. I’m so sorry about your mother. I should have been there, and I regret it every moment I’m awake.”
Frinn locked eyes with him, trying to reprise the game of Blink she’d played against Rasnian earlier, but it wasn’t working. “I’m sorry, too, father. You have a problem; and I don’t think this is the first time since mother died that you’ve ‘slipped’ and played a few hands.”
There was silence between them for what seemed a very long time. She watched the swirl of colors reflecting in his eyes, feeling the anger drain from her body. I’m just glad you’re still alive. She wanted to say it aloud, but couldn’t make her lips move any more. Eventually, he returned to the co-pilot’s chair, and they both stared into the swirl of subspace.
“You know, you’re not allowed to fly this ship on your own,” her father said finally. “Not old enough yet.”
“I’ll think of something.”
“You’ll need a crew.”
“Know any good pilots?”
“I know of a guy who needs a job; just lost his ship, but he’s got some money. With the right captain giving orders, he just might make for a fine second-in-command.” He looked over and gave her a soft smile, one that made him look about half his age.
The smile he used to wear when mother was around, she said to herself. “I’ll think about,” she smiled back.