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A Warrior's Family (Chapter Cover Art)

Chapter 8[]

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A Warrior's Family[]

Friendly Game of Poker[]

Klathandu System
Federated Suns
August 3029

After spending the day in the 'Mech bays Joker, Hap and Anastasia returned to the berths to clean up and then went to dinner. As they were eating McFinnigan sat down with them. "Tomorrow we will link up with a Jumpship and transfer over to the Tir A Nog before the jump. So tomorrow ye meet the rest of the family. Before we do that though, we got one more thing that I like to do with new hires. I'd like to play a few hands of poker with you. I think it's best way to get a feel for who I'm employing."

"I'm sorry, Sir, but I don't have any money." Hap said. He really wanted to talk to Anastasia and the poker game wasn't something he was really interested in.

"We'll give ye each a 200 C-bill advance." McFinnigan answered as if he was anticipating this.

"I don't know how to play poker." Anastasia said.

McFinnigan smiled, "Well this will be interesting, perhaps one of yer friends can help you."

Roweyna came with a metal cash box. She pulled out chips and handed her father an old deck of cards as Hap explained the basic rules and how betting worked to Anastasia. Hap then started to go through list of hands telling her that a royal flush beats a straight which beats, four of a kind, which beats a full house Anastasia stopped him and remarked, "So it's all math, the least probable hand wins?"

"No. Math has nothing to do with this. It's all about you against the other players." Joker corrected her.

Anastasia eyed him shrewdly, "I'm going to enjoy taking your money."

"You're both right." Hap said. "Probability generally determines the winning hand, but you can always bluff, and try to outsmart the other players."

McFinnigan nodded, "Aye. Let's get started." He said as he started shuffling, he turned to his master tech. "Erik, usually I have Fletch help me with this part of the interview, but he's not here. You want in?"

Erik nodded and pulled a chair up to the table as he told his daughters what to lay out for tomorrow's maintenance. As he gave Roweyna a wad of bills which she exchanged for poker chips as McFinnigan started passing out cards. When everyone had five he said, "Oh! One more thing." He looked to the bar, "Rowena, bring me a bottle of fine Irish whiskey and six glasses."

As she walked to the bar McFinnigan leaned over the table and said, "No one can leave the table till we finish the bottle, I also like to see how you hold your liquor."

Roweyna set a glass down in front of everyone including herself. He smiled as she uncorked the bottle and poured everyone a generous portion. Hap saw the bottle was still half full, and realized he probably wasn't going to talk to Anastasia tonight.

"I love being a mercenary." Joker said as he reached for his glass.

Hap glanced over at Anastasia, she was looking at her full glass of whiskey. She glanced over at him and mouthed, "That's a lot." He nodded in response.

McFinnigan picked up the glass, and everyone, including Roweyna did the same, then he called out "Gnó Teaghlaigh" and Roweyna and Erik replied, "To the family."

Everyone took a drink. Hap felt the burn and suppressed a cough as he set his glass down. He looked over at Anastasia as she coughed and gasped. He could already feel the warmth down his throat and into his gut.

"Irish truth serum?" Hap said trying hard not to rasp.

"Oh, no. Hap. This is no interrogation, just a friendly game." McFinnigan replied with mock innocence. Hap could see Roweyna nodding vigorously to him behind her father, as he added. "Though I do find sometimes you can see the truth of a man or woman after they've been in their cups."

They quickly settled into the game. Hap was not a great poker player, but he could usually hold his own. He strongly suspected that McFinnigan and Erik were probably much better than him, and if he walked away with half his C-bills it would be a miracle. He knew how to play against Joker. Joker had an obvious tell if he was bluffing he would generally make himself more obnoxious. Of course you had to know him to know when he was being extra obnoxious, but Hap could usually figure it out.

Roweyna didn't play but sat next to her father keeping the glasses filled, and participating in the banter as her father peppered Joker, Hap, and Anastasia with questions.

Hap had to admit that McFinnigan created a relaxing demeanor and it was hard not to like talking to the man. As he spoke to them he'd joke and tell them stories, but he seemed to be able to ask insightful and intrusive questions in the most unassuming ways. Hap had gone through several psychological evaluations and lie detector tests in his career and they were nothing like this, but this seemed to be a much more effective way to really know and understand someone.

Hap found himself learning things about Joker he had never known. Joker's father had died in the Third Succession war which was why his mother had to raise him alone. He had also been schooled on one the Jumpship Vagabond Schools. There were a few other details about Joker that Hap had guessed but it was strange how easily McFinnigan got him talking about himself, and not making stupid jokes.

McFinnigan turned his attention to Anastasia for a while. Hap found himself very excited to learn about her. Anastasia had decided to become a 'Mech Warrior almost by accident. She had gone to NAIS to study technology, specifically communications, so she could help her Father with his business. Her mother insisted she study political science, so, for her mother, she took it as a minor.

During the first week of her freshman year they School of Military Science had 'Mech simulators down at the student center and convinced nearly anyone walking by to give it try. This was supposed to be the way the Mil Sci department recruited for all the branches of service. A student would try the 'Mech simulator and then the recruiters would try to get them to take a few Mil Sci courses and the cadre would figure out if they had what it took to be a MechWarrior, or an Aerospace Pilot, or push them toward Infantry or Armor.

Since Anastasia was trying to come out of her shell and be more of her own person she tried the 'Mech Simulator. She loved the freedom and feeling of power. There was one problem though, she was terrible. During the few minutes she was in the simulator she fell down continuously and couldn't hit anything she aimed at.

To make matters worse, aside from her lack of inherent skill, Anastasia barely made the height requirement to be a MechWarrior, and she was 16 years old. She also knew her beauty wasn't exactly what you pictured behind a fierce combat vehicle. So the cadet recruiter told her that AFFS wasn't really looking for "cute little girls to pilot war machines, but if she wanted to be a MechWarrior's girlfriend he was personally looking for one of those."

Anastasia responded by calling her mother and then the Countess called the Corps of Cadets Commandant and wanted to know exactly why his cadets were using expensive military training equipment to solicit dates. He explained that it was a recruiting drive, and that's when the Countess demanded to know why her daughter was turned away from his program. Anastasia would later learn that her mother had given the General such a brutal verbal beating the Commandant was forced to agree to let Anastasia into the program, discipline the cadet that had harassed Anastasia, and retrain all his recruiters.

This would cause more problems for Anastasia than she could have ever imagined. The NAIS cadre had to ensure she became a MechWarrior while at the same time maintaining the high standards of their MechWarrior program, or convince the Countess they did everything they could. They made Anastasia the personal project of one the senior cadets and told them both that everything would be documented and Anastasia would either meet the standard or be washed out of the program. It was also implied that Anastasia's failure would reflect poorly on the senior cadet. After the discipline actions, additional training and the fact that one of the senior cadets was personally responsible for her meant nearly every cadet in the MechWarrior program hated her.

Anastasia felt guilty that her pride might hurt someone else. She worked herself to the bone during fall semester, and got better, but her gunnery and piloting scores barely met the standard. By spring semester her roommate wasn't talking to her, so she put more time in the simulators. During the summer break her parents got her a MechWarrior tutor and she spent most of that summer in a cockpit. When she returned to the school she was ahead of her peers.

During her second year she received awards and Commandant Recognition for her abilities. During her third year she managed to beat the cadet that had called her "a cute little girl." Unfortunately there was still enough cadets around to know how she got into the program which made her a pariah. Also in spite of her hard trained skills there was always a rumor that she was made a MechWarrior because her mommy ordered the Commandant to make her one.

For a while being in a 'Mech was liberating in. She wasn't a 'cute little girl' she was another MechWarrior, her mother might have gotten her the opportunity but she earned the right to stay in the program. Her fellow cadets didn't see it that way. They assumed her skills and abilities were because the Cadre made her equipment more likely to score a hit, less likely to get hit, or other things. The Cadre and Anastasia knew she was good, and the Commandant was relieved he didn't have to face her mother's wrath, and Anastasia had learned to be very careful about using her mother's clout.

In the science department she had some respect, but they also thought of her more as the "gorgeous beauty with brains" and not someone that would make a scientific breakthrough. The Political science department were full of people that were competing to be lords or ladies and they were openly polite, obviously covetous of her brains, beauty, and the fact she was MechWarrior, and behind her back they were constantly plotting ways to ruin her. For Anastasia, getting deployed to an active combat zone seemed like a welcome change to her three years at NAIS.

The game had gone on late into the night, and Hap had done alright. He had won a big pot, but lost several hands. He still had over half his money, so he figured he was doing fine. Anastasia was doing well. Hap wondered if it wasn't beginner's luck, but she seemed to know when to fold and when to bet large. Hap tried to figure out what her tell was, but she didn't seem to have one. He took another sip of his whiskey and wondered if the alcohol had dulled his senses.

Anastasia took in a large pot with a straight, and McFinnigan commented, "For a new player ye seem to be doing well."

"Beginner's luck" Joker snorted.

McFinnigan shrugged, "I have to confess. Most people have a tell when they bluff. Someway you know they're lying." He nodded to Joker, "This one gets more obnoxious, and that one." He dipped his head to Hap, "cracks the knuckles on his thumb."

Hap cracked his thumb knuckle, looked at his pair of 7s and then set the cards down, "Think I'll fold."

McFinnigan laughed, "Sorry, lad," Then he looked back to Anastasia, "but you darlin' I haven't figured your tell out yet."

Anastasia shrugged and took another careful drink of her whiskey. "Think I'll try to keep it a secret as long as I can." She was blushing but Hap wasn't certain if it was from the whiskey or just her trying not to betray herself.

Hap thought for a moment. Anastasia tended to fold if she didn't have anything better than a straight, so she had some strategy. The cards were also old and badly beaten up. He had seen McFinnigan flip a couple cards over probably to hide an obvious mark on the cards, but he doubted she would know how to count cards. She was able to quickly reason out that hand values were based on probability, but poker hands were also pretty common examples in any mathematics probability class. Still she had a big pile of chips in front of her. She had to be counting cards, or calculating the probabilities of hands, or both. Either way Hap knew, "You don't bluff."

Anastasia looked like she had just been caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She glanced at Hap like she was trying to muster up a cold look, but instead she burst out laughing, and put her hand on his shoulder, "Harold, I'm very disappointed that you wouldn't help me keep my secret."

"Sorry. I've been drinking." Hap shrugged.

"Me too." She replied, and leaned heavily on him as she turned to the rest of the table. "But it's out there now. I was raised by a business man and a countess. They taught me if I wanted something articulate it clearly. I learned how to bargain, how to compromise, but I never got the hang of lying, even in the good business sense."

"Well can ye believe that? McFinnigan chuckled, "A woman that can't lie. I mean I know my own Roweyna would never lie-"

"No never, father. I'm an honest and virtuous woman like ye raised me." Roweyna said with mock innocence.

"If it's anything noble and virtuous it came from your mother." Erik corrected her.

McFinnigan laughed, "Aye it's true. Mrs. McFinnigan is a saint." As he spoke Roweyna and McFinnigan toasted each other and drank.

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