“Hurry up Cartouche, you’re late again. Even Rothul beat you here tonight and he had to escape from prison to do it.” Rothul waves from the end of the table in his orange prison fatigues. Holding a fruity drink, his dark sunglasses hide his albino-pink and frankly unnerving stare. He almost smiles, indicating he’s in a good mood.
When we first invited him, we weren’t sure it was a good idea, but being the second smartest guy on the planet and considered the world’s most notorious villain, we figured he didn’t get many chances to play poker with people who could beat him. We were more surprised when he showed up.
“Sorry, got held up. There was a tsunami in Bali I had to stop before I got here from the satellite. It adds thirty minutes to my travel time. What happened to the teleporter, this time?”
“It’s making vorbals again.” Night Flyer was sitting down to the table and taking off his too-long cape. Spastic Man, stumbling over the end of Night Flyer’s nearly invisible Cloak of Darkness, pratfalls and flips his drink up in to the air. Night Flyer mumbles. “Sorry about that.”
I hate that cape. People are always tripping over it. Everybody except him.
Vorbals. The vicious, man-eating, Rottweiler-sized aliens took over the satellite during the Dimension War and managed to get trapped by Night Flyer in the pattern buffer. At the time, it was a brilliant save. Unfortunately, a week later, randomly vorbals appeared in town whenever we used the teleporter. So on poker nights, we agreed to just fly down so we can have a quiet night. Night Flyer was supposed to have fixed the pattern buffer last week so that’s why he is so quiet. Having more money than several small nations, he has time on his hands and usually does all the repair work. Being the fourth smartest person on the planet doesn’t hurt either.
Zipper, having already sat down, sprang into action and grabbed the cup, he disappeared for about four seconds and returned with a three foot hogie. He also refreshed Spastic Man’s drink and had it back at the table by the time Spaz stood up again, no worse for the wear. Not really sure how Spastic Man stays in the Defenders of Justice because his only real power is being terribly unlucky and completely invulnerable to harm. He makes a great football for villains too, I guess.
Paragon, sitting at the head of the table, vaporized the falling drink with his megavision and continues shuffling the cards without breaking stride. Doing some arm rolls and speed shuffling, he shows off his recent skill acquisition after his recent trip to Vegas with his wife. Nobody knows what he sees in her but whenever she calls he is right there. Maybe one of his plethora of powers is the ability to ignore nagging. He’s truly is a better man than I.
Pulling up a chair, I sat down across from the Captain and the Spider. They came over from a parallel universe where mutants have overrun the planet. The displacement harnesses allowed them to remain in phase with our universe. Both are maskless and their faces look worn and tired. They wolf down their food, feverishly as if it had been a while since they had a meal. We had a humanitarian effort between our Universes, but it was not going well and the mutant Dynamo had ceased talks with our President. The Captain and the Spider were their Universe’s representatives and would normally be in the embassy under lock and key with the threats the Dynamo has made, but we smuggle them out, leaving looped video of them sleeping on the CCT.
“Is Professor Mood coming this evening?” The Captain asks around a mouthful of food.
“The Professor sends his regards, Captain, but he will not be coming. Something about a diplomatic incident in his country requiring his attention. It is likely he will just send his Mood-Bots but you know how he likes to make an entrance.”
A resounding boom is heard throughout the hideout. A second one shakes the walls and floors. The third knocks the vault door into the antechamber. The door to the poker hideout is twelve feet thick surrounded by walls of reinforced concrete. We like a nice quiet place to play. Smoke billows into the hideout. No one moves. “Who thinks to play poker without the peerless intellect of Professor Mood?”
“Hector. Why can’t you just knock like everyone else?” Paragon’s serious baritone is offset by the smile on his face.
“Mood has lost his key. This was the best way to ensure you hadn’t started without Mood.”
“You’re fixing that on the way out. Hope you brought you money with you. No more of that Bratvarian money, either. Since you tried to take over the world last year, no one is willing to exchange it anywhere.”
“Cartouche, you won big last week, you start the deal. You get to set the rules tonight.”
“Stud. No powers.” They looked stunned. I thought we would try something different tonight. Normally, I am the only guy without any innate powers or abilities. My powers come from my Egyptian Cartouche I wear around my neck. Without it, I am just a regular guy. And even with it, I have to be able to focus my will properly or I get nothing. They look at me and then their poker faces come on.
I deal the cards, fairly of course, watching Zipper as he looks around the table and resists the urge to switch cards midflight. Normally he spends his time watching flickering micro-expressions while we play. I know he thinks we don’t notice, but when he is doing it, his eyes flutter and he doesn’t seem to be aware of it.
Everyone picks up their cards and after looking at them, they start looking at each other. Paragon is easy. He won’t cheat. He never does. He has numerous ways of doing it too. He could hear the hearts of everyone at the table (or at least those of us with hearts, its rumored Night Flyer had his replaced with a cardiac pump system to regulate his bloodflow and enhances his fighting output), he used to be able to see right through the cards until we started using our holographic deck, with an encrypted 1024-bit system designed to constantly thwart his megavision. We knew he wouldn’t cheat but Rothul and Professor Mood were simply not to be appeased until we added the encryption. We later learned their encryption algorithm was designed to give them an advantage during play. Part of the game.
Spastic Man, starts the ante and everyone stays in the game. But that look on his face tells me he won’t be here long.
Mood, hidden behind his mask believes his face unable to be seen. But his hands tremble ever so slightly, and they only do it when he has something worth getting excited over.
Me? I have a pair of two’s. Jack high. It’s gonna be a long night.
With Great Power © Thaddeus Howze 2012, All Rights Reserved
Nice, ‘Professor Mood’ indeed!
Loved it!!!!! Looking forward to reading the rest.