USS VINDEX - NCC-2474-A
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The Brain Trust Foundation

Posted on Tue Aug 1st, 2017 @ 10:08pm by Commander Akiva ben-Avram & Major Storr Garlake & Lieutenant Kazyah Linn & Lieutenant JG Nealey Snowdon

Mission: S2E1 - Secrets
Location: Shuttlebay
Timeline: MD 100; 1800

The fold out poker table struck a peculiar sight next to the open hangar door. Up till now, this had been his little secret--shared only with his Belgian pastry. Ryland decided that in order to entice regular attendees to his weekly poker game, he needed to up the ante. And that meant in addition to his full complement of frosted brews and boxed cigars, they needed a thrilling environment.

It would also ingratiate people into giving up their secrets. The Chief Intel Officer and himself were interested in secrets; the XO moreso in keeping an eye on the both of them.

Everyone else who joined the Brain Trust would either be foils to disguise the attempt or marks who, if all went well, would be pumped dry of credits and intel by evening's end.

Ryland always set up a Brain Trust at each posting. The fact that he had unofficial sanction from members of the senior staff only sweetened the pot. That he had to play ball with whatever harebrained scheme had been hatched between the XO and CIO didn't matter to him--he had been able to set this up weeks sooner than usual.

As he sat there cutting and reshuffling the deck, he saw Akiva was the first to arrive.

"Evenin', Commander." Ryland shot him a sly look over his bridge shuffle. "Glad you could join us."

Akiva had been standing a bit straighter in recent days, but signs of the old anxious man were still there. Clearly he wasn't sure whether or not he should be present for this.

"Thank you." His tone was curt as he deliberated between standing or sitting.

"Take a seat, for goodness sake," Ryland said, sliding an empty chair toward him with his foot. "You're making me nervous."

Akiva frowned at him at first, but then nodded and sat down. "How is this going to work?"

Ryland raised an eyebrow. "You tellin' me you dunno' how to play poker?"

"No, it's not that," Akiva said with a shake of his head. "I meant what we're really doing here."

"Shut up about that," Ryland said firmly. "No disrespect, Commander, but as of now you just forgot all about that. All we're doin' is having a friendly unsanctioned game of cards, and the more you act like you got a spur up your butt, the shorter that game is going to be. Play it cool, or failing that, quiet. Capiche?"

Akiva's frown turned to a glare, but again he only nodded.

A few moments passed and Kazyah Linn walked into the room, his dark gray tank top set against his favorite bleach washed jeans.

"Well, look who the cat dragged in," Ryland mused. "Pull up a chair and join us, Oedipus Kaz."

"That is a disgusting reference from human mythology," Kaz said, his eyes sliding towards the pilot.

"And no surprise that you'd be familiar with it," Ryland said with a wink. "As I was tellin' the Commander here, we're all on our best behavior. We aren't here to get no one's dirty laundry list. We're just here to take a load off, have some fun, and maybe win some credits between throwin' back cold ones and gossiping."

Ryland's grin turned sly. "And when I say 'gossiping,' I mean like a hen house full o' clucking chickens. If anyone decides to start spillin' their guts while chewin' the fat with us, well, that's just part of being buddies, now ain't it?"

"You're so subtle," Kaz said, his tone dripping with sarcasm as he took a seat next to Akiva.

"I think we got it already," Akiva said with a petulant tone from his chair. His eyes lingered over Ryland's case behind his chair. "Do you have drinks in there?"

"Now we're talkin'!" Ryland clapped his hands and slid his cooler between his feet. "Pick your poison, Commander."

Akiva shrugged. "Anything hoppy."

"Uh oh," Ryland said with mock surprise. "Where did this guy come from, ordering a man's drink?" He slid a brown bottle across the card table to a scowling Akiva and turned to Kaz.

"Somethin' for you, or are you flyin' our boy home tonight?"

"I don't drink alcohol," Kaz said. "It dilutes the senses and alters your frame of mind. I'm sure you can appreciate that someone like me would prefer to have my wits about me at all times."

"I thought only men were invited to this thing!" Storr said, jovially mocking Kaz and clasping the Lieutenant's shoulders after he rounded the hangar door wearing gray chinos and a white polo, tied together with a brown belt and brogued shoes. While he might be "meeting the boys," he still looked to present himself well. That, and he knew that Jaya would be waiting for him when he returned and wanted to give her a visually-pleasing reason to stay up. Flipping a chair around, he sat and snapped at the cooler behind the supposed brains of the operation. "Something dark...don't trust a drink I can see through."

"Oak-barrel bourbon and Cardassian ale coming up," Ryland said. He slid the stygian concoction over to Storr. "I call it the Gul Bladder."

Garlake took the glass and held it up to the light of the shuttlebay, the black hole-like properties of the drink swallowing all luminance surrounding the dark liquid and he swore that his vision blurred at the edges of the glass. He harrumphed and took a long pull before setting it down with a satisfied *twack* on the table; long, smokey notes were immediately chased by a bright, acidic chocolate note followed by a oaky finish. A fine drink indeed.

"If you lose this card game as bad as I think you will, Ryland, there's still a job out there for you as a bar tender." Storr said, raising the glass to the smug pilot.

Nealey was the last participant to arrive. She hadn't played poker in a while but she wasn't the worst player in Starfleet. Pausing to see who else was present before taking her seat Nealey was looking forward to seeing just how rusty she was - or whether she would get lucky.

"Good evening gentlemen," Nealey said.

"It is now." Ryland flashed a wide grin. "So glad you could join us, lil' lady. A little feminine company was just what we needed in this man huddle. Hope you brought some credits though." Ryland winked as he added, "We play for keeps."

Kaz rolled his eyes. Storr snorted.

Nealey tittered to herself and looked at the Shuttlebay Manager. She was aware of his fight with José in the shuttlebay but chose not to say anything about it. Tonight was a night for her to enjoy and hopefully win a few credits without losing too many of her own.

"Oh I've got enough - but it's your credits I'm thinking about and what I'm going to spend them on" Nealey replied.

"Tall talk," Ryland quipped. "You'll owe us a shot for that in a minute." As he reached deeper into his cooler to retrieve miniature shot glasses and a large, square bottle of dark brown liquid.

"But let me take this moment to welcome each and every one of you to the Brain Trust. It's a weekly poker game that I host at every duty station where the best and brightest of the crew get together and bitch about everybody else over a friendly game of poker."

Ryland set the brown spirit bottle on the table and lined up shots.

"Rule number one: don't talk about the Brain Trust. What's said over this table stays at this table."

He poured whiskey into each shot glass as he spoke.

"Rule number two: make a boast, take a shot."

Ryland slid a full glass over to Nealey. It sloshed a bit over the rim.

"Bottom's up, Shortcake."

Nealey merely nodded once and raised the glass before downing the contents in one go. Whiskey wasn't her first choice drink but she didn't mind a glass or two of it when the occasion called for it.

As the other glasses were handed out, Garlake took his and drank it, eyes closed as he enjoyed the firey, spicy notes tickle the back of his throat as the all-to-small shot disappeared. It was a bit thinner than the Scotches that he enjoyed but still hit the spot. Setting the (thankfully) nigh-indestructible glass back on the table with more force than he intended, Storr splayed his fingers together and reversed them in a stretch.

"Let's get this party started."

Ryland shuffled the deck, held it up to Akiva at his side for him to cut. Before Akiva could take them, Ryland pulled the cards back at the last second and cut them single-handed.

"The game is Texas Hold'Em, nothing blind or wild, and sky's the limit," Ryland said over the bridging deck. When they shuffled back together, he dealt two cards to each person and then himself.

"Here's the flop."

He tossed three cards onto the table--7 Diamonds, 3 Hearts, 10 Diamonds.

"Dealer's left starts the bet," Ryland said while looking to Akiva.

"Uh..." Akiva peeled back the top of his cards and looked at the cards on the board. "I'll Check."

Ryland scoffed. "Fine. Bet's to you, Spook."

"Twenty," Kaz said without looking at the cards that lay in front of him. He picked up two of the 10 credit chips he had in his stack in front of him and tossed them into the middle of the table.

Storr snorted. Taking a quick look at the flop he flipped up the top edge of his two cards before letting them slap back onto the table. "Twenty," he said, letting the single chip bounce towards the center of the table before turning to Snowdon. "Bet's to you, shortcake," he said with a grin and a wink.

Kaz's eyes slid towards Nealey.

Nealey lifted her two cards up just enough for her to see what they were. Deciding it was worth playing them she decided to bet and placed a chip of her own in the centre of the table. Acknowledging the Marine's grin and wink with a cute smirk she then spoke.

"Twenty" Nealey said.

"Don't feel like raising?" Kaz asked the girl.

Nealey threw another chip into the pot in the centre of the table and looked at Kazyah before looking back down at the two cards she had on the table in front of her.

"Atta' girl'!" Ryland said with a hoot. He flicked three chips onto a short stack next to the pot, one at a time. "Call."

Akiva looked at everyone, then peeked at his cards one last time. "Uh... fold."

"Pfft! Go big or stay home, brother." Ryland took a swig from his beer while Akiva shoved his cards toward the middle of the table. "What about you, Kaz-anova? Shortcake raised you."

The Intelligence Officer smiled as he followed suit, tossing in the appropriate amount of chips, and another two on top of that. All eyes fell to Storr to call, raise, or fold.

Garlake chuckled as he thumbed the five credit chips and nonchalantly tossed them into the pot. "Call...Here's looking at you, kid."

Nealey paused and matched Storr's bet. She placed five chips on top of each other neatly and slid them into the growing pile in the middle of the table. She chose to remain silent as she took a sip from her glass of wine.

"Now we're talking." Ryland grinned as he dealt the next card.

"Here's the turn." The upturned card showed 8 Diamonds. "Since Junior Skipper here folded on the last round faster than Ladies Night, the bet's to--"

"I've had about enough of that," Akiva interrupted.

Ryland slowly turned his head to stare at Akiva, his mouth frozen open to stare at Akiva with utter surprise. "I... beg your pardon, Commander. Enough of what?"

"I've been a good sport, but I'm telling you now I've had enough of your snide jabs and barbs." Akiva gulped but did not relent his stare.

"Akiva, it's all in good fun," Kaz said, looking over at the man in an attempt to defuse the situation.

"Well, hello, Commander," Ryland said with a mocking laugh. "Nice to finally meet ya!" He turned back to the others before adding, "Too bad your big boy pants didn't come on before you folded on the flop."

"Lieutenant Dedeker..." Akiva bristled in warning.

"Hey, I'm just saying, I know that Starlight Princess you snagged from Stellar Cartography is one tough cookie, so if you fold early and often with her, then we'll never get to hear the pitter-patter of lil' green Hebron feet running--"

Ryland's words were cut off by Akiva's fist across his mouth.

"I said that was enough!" Akiva was up and over the table in a wild tackle. He and Ryland crashed to the deck atop one another. Akiva had Ryland in an Abir chokehold with his wrists crossed over Ryland's throat in the aleph pattern.

Kaz immediately jumped out of his chair. Wrapping his hands around Akiva's shoulders, he placed a foot on Ryland's side and pulled the two officers apart. "This is enough!" he said, his voice raising just loud enough to be heard over the commotion.

"That is my wife he's talking about!" Akiva shrugged off the restraining hands. It took a moment of looking around until his outburst registered in his own ears. "I think I'm done here," he said before storming off.

Kaz sighed, placing his hands on his hips as he watched the Commander leave, making no effort to stop him.

Nealey didn't say anything - although she knew that this particular incident was way beyond even Ryland's own standards. Remaining in her seat Nealey quickly reminded herself of her two cards before taking another sip out of her glass of wine.

Garlake wasn't sure what to make of it. Being a Marine, he had naturally seen (and participated in) more than his fair share of fisticuffs but only one had ever involved the MCO or MXO (or their Fleeter equivalents, for that matter). It was a story for another time but needless to say, the gravity of the situation was quite different. Ryland, Akiva, Kaz...the whole thing seemed like something out of a night of one too many single-malt scotches. It was over before it began and the First Officer had turned on his heels leaving the four of them mostly dumbfounded. And wait. Did Akiva say WIFE?!.

Storr shook his head trying to clear his thoughts; it seemed that tying the knot was all the rage these days when before the ship's unofficial nickname was the USS Loveboat. He chuckled at the thought that he and Jaya started the trend and Dedeker was the first to find his voice among the group.

Ryland rubbed his throat and jaw. "Well, now it's a party!" He set his chair back up and slid into it. "Kaz, check or raise?"

Rolling his eyes, Kaz walked back to the table, flicking his stack of chips towards the center of the table. "You can be a real prick, you know that, Ryland?"

"You would know," Ryland quipped before looking to Storr. "What's your bet, jarhead?"

He chuckled and shook his head. "Hard on the outside, empty on the inside...mostly correct, I'd say. Then again," he continued, matching Kaz's bet, "we might have a trick or two up our sleeves." Storr flexed for emphasis with a laugh, the elastic on his polo's sleeves straining against the man's beefy biceps.

Again Nealey matched the bet. She knew she had a decent chance providing the next card was in her favor - but it would be luck of the drawer.

"I think I chose wisely" Nealey muttered.

Ryland peeked at his cards and considered his bet for a moment. "So how about that new Russian pork roast of a doctor? Sickbay just ain't the same anymore."

The MCO grunted. He hadn't met the new, new, new doctor and wasn't in any hurry to. He always cherished the Marine's relationship with their Starfleet medical counterparts but he honestly was tired of building bridges there to simply have them wash away every couple of weeks. Storr made a mental note to revisit the subject in a month and see if his misgivings were warranted.

"Sorry, haven't made my way to the chop shop recently," he replied with indifference.

"I haven't met him yet" Nealey responded.

Ryland pushed a tall stack of chips toward the middle. "Call."

Deck in hand, Ryland flicked the top card down onto the table. "And here's the river."

King Spades.

"And there we have it: 7, 8, 10 Diamonds, 3 Hearts, King Spades, and bet's to Kazanova."

Without hesitation, Kaz threw a 50 chip into the center. He looked towards the Marine for a moment before he finally picked up the two cards that sat before him and looked at them for the first time this hand.

Ryland watched Kaz for any tells and got nothing. "Playin' it cool, huh? Let's see if War Hero here has the stones to keep alive now."

Storr creased back the top of the two face down cards and inwardly grimaced. Could he keep up the bluff? Shrugging, he flicked a 50 chip into the pot. "Make sure you're talking about something you have experience with, zoomie," he replied back to Ryland before turning to Nealey for her bid.

Nealey looked again at her cards and those on show before tossing a 50 chip from her pile into the ever growing pot in the middle. She didn't particularly care who won at this stage although she was hoping it wasn't Ryland. Her sort-of boyfriend José had told her about the scuffle they had in the shuttlebay and Nealey genuinely didn't know what to make of it.

"Gettin' rich up in here," Ryland said. He tossed two 50's into the pot. "What do you say now?"

Kaz sat there for a moment, looking around the table. Leaning forward, he tossed in another 50 chip. "Call."

The Marine sighed and pushed back from the table in an exaggerated way. "You Fleeters run too rich for my blood. I'm out." Flicking his cards over, a lowly 9 of diamonds and 2 of clubs laying now-unloved before him.

Checking her cards again along with those on show Nealey tossed two 50 chips into the pot. Finishing her glass of wine Nealey helped herself to another glass before attempting to break the fairly awkward silence that had descended onto the game.

"So...does anyone have any interesting gossip to share?" Nealey asked.

The MCO guffawed. "I should be the one asking that question! It seems like everyone has gone insane since my trip back to Earth...the sooner we can get underway the better."

"Well I've heard a rumour there was a fight in here but the XO broke it up..." Nealey replied.

"Yeah, one sum-bitch or another had his ass handed to him," Ryland said, then he started fanning himself with his cards. "Is anybody else feeling a lil' flushed in here?" He threw his cards down, revealed to be the Ace and 2 of Diamonds. "Read'em and weep, boys."

"I heard about that fight," Kaz said, turning over the two Kings he had but giving no sign of annoyance at losing. "I heard you wiped the floor with the other guy," he said to Ryland. "But I also heard that you may still be charged for the incident."

Storr's eyes narrowed as the cards came up one at a time. While he had no solid basis, there was a coppery bite in his mouth...cheating made him taste blood. Cheating (like insubordination, he reminded himself as he looked to Kaz and his cards) were capital offenses and it was obvious why. While it might not be so obvious to him why they were not now, it was quite obvious why men like Storr were no longer issued swords.

Nealey said nothing and placed her cards on the table. With the six of diamonds on top, she moved it to one side to reveal a nine of spades.

"Oh well. Looks like I wasted my credits...again" Nealey sighed.

"That's just fine, Shortcake," Ryland said as he swept up his winnings in his arms. "I'd be more than happy to make it up to you later." His eyebrows wriggled at the last part.

"Sorry. I have plans which involve someone else...in fact he's meeting me right after the game" Nealey responded.

Ryland scoffed and shrugged. "Your loss. It was a pity offer anyway."

He began reshuffling the deck. "What say we up the ante this round?" Before anyone could respond, he tossed a 10 chip into the center of the table. "Same rules as before with a blind bet of 10."

After cutting the deck himself, he asked before dealing, "Who's in?"

Nealey pulled a face and shook her head at Ryland. She wasn't planning on walking away until she was out of chips - it was all or nothing for her.

"Oh I'm in alright. I want to win my money back from you before my hot date arrives" Nealey replied.

"Ante up then," Ryland said, gesturing toward his own blind bet of 10 in the middle of the table. He looked at the two others. "And you boys?"

Kaz sat there for a moment. He hated gambling. It was a ridiculous past time that preyed on people's hopes for a positive outcome. He looked around the table, assessing the group, and soon decided that nothing would be accomplished from those sitting at the table.

"I'm out," Kaz said, standing from the table. "I'm sure I can find someone more interesting to do."

"Make good choices!" Ryland called after him. He turned to Nealey and Storr. "Looks like it's just us for this hand. Make your wagers." A smirk played at his lips. "Surely I won't win every hand."

 

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