Beard Second

Five nanometers into the past, hanging just out of eye and earshot, a card table floats in space beneath a single suspended bare light bulb. It is extremely uncertain from where, exactly, the light hangs. The evident paradox is wholly in keeping with the rest of the tableau.

Seated at the green baize table, although seated is perhaps the wrong characterization, two figures pore silently over a game of cards. One is blue. The other is dead. Both are motionless, absorbed in the game. Unspoken tension swims around them as a greenish aura...

Sudden movement. The game-worn surface in front of Callie disappeared under a showy fan of extremely covetable face cards.

"Hah! Royal flush!"

She stuck her tongue smugly at Furlonger and, beaming beatifically, employed all ten blue arms to haul towering stacks of poker chips toward her.

Furlonger slammed his failed hand down in disgust. The violent gesture nearly ejected his precariously-balanced helmet, and dashed a shower of multi-coloured tokens - the piddling remains of his stash - bouncing into the dark void surrounding.

"Christ! Ist dat all you do, you verdammt gotts, over dere auf Hindu Himmel? Sharp cards all day long?"

"Und während der Nacht, too!" Callie shot back, grinning mischievously. "You wanna go again?"

"Yer goddam-n rrright!" he snarled.

Callie shuffled and motioned Furlonger to cut the deck. Wincing as if he expected the act to unleash a foul odor, he hesitated, then deftly lifted a third of the pile. As he glowered at Callie suspiciously, she lifted half of the remaining stack to let him replace his, then plunked hers on top. She dealt with all of her hands at once, flicking two neat piles of cards, face down, in a blinding whirl.

Furlonger slowly thumbed his hand open, very close to his face, scowled a little, then risked a glance down past the side of the table into the blackness below them. When he spoke, worry thickened his accent.

"Vat you did. It is verking, do you t'ink?"

Callie shifted her attention down over her left arms, to some unseen point in the void. She nodded.

"I think so."

She studied the darkness for a few more seconds. From somewhere distant, both could make out Milo and Lenore's faint grunts and squeals. She met Furlonger's eyes over her cards.

"Aren't humans funny?"

Furlonger regarded her quizzically, looking remarkably steely for a guy who was melting.

"Oh. Sorry!" She giggled charmingly. "I keep forgetting you were one for awhile."

He grimaced, pulled cards from his hand and flipped them onto the discard pile with disdain.

"I von't even dignify dat mitt a response," he growled. He still looked stiff, but the apology seemed to mollify him. "Draw three, bitte..."