Chapter 12: Poker, anyone?
Captain Darren rode the elevator to the Jelliclesí quarters with the last of the volunteers returning from their tests. Ensign Jessel waited to meet her, as ordered. The captain had anticipated having to find Munkustrap to give him her news but as she stepped off the elevator he was in the corridor, a worn track on the carpet testimony of his activity. Munkustrap stopped pacing and counted his returning Jellicles before acknowledging the captainís presence.
"Can I speak to you privately?" she asked.
Munkustrap glared at the other Jellicles and they disappeared into various rooms.
"Dismissed, Ensign," said the captain.
"She stays," snapped Munkustrap. "If she is to help us she needs to know what is going on."
"Very well," replied the captain, "I just came to let you know I got you a lawyer."
"Someone who can talk to a judge for you. Right now sheís trying to get the courts to order an injunction, stopping the extermination order until the court can hear arguments against it. It would keep you safe for a little longer at least".
"And your people as well," he replied sourly. "Is this Ďlawyerí good at speaking for others?"
"Well, if the extermination order goes through sheíll be my lawyer at my court martial."
"You do not face death," he growled.
"Actually, captains can be executed for mutiny," she replied.
"You talk about death as if it is nothing," he snapped.
She looked deep into his eyes for a long moment before replying, "Death is a part of life. We all must face it someday. I am prepared to die in defense of my beliefs. I couldnít lead my crew if I wasnít."
He nodded acceptance of that. He had begun to realize some of the qualities he needed to really lead the Jellicles and a firm standard of right and wrong was high on the list.
"Try not to think too much about it. If it comes it comes."
"Iíve been trying to keep my people too busy to think about it but dancing is not enough to take up their minds. The reading lessons help when tutors are available but it is not enough."
"Iím sorry, Munkustrap, we usually do have entertainments on long voyages but the crew has been so busy taking care of kittens that no one has had time to arrange any. I did want to thank you for performing for the crew, though."
"It would be nice to see humans performing for us for a change," he growled.
"I suppose I could scare up a poker game tonight, if that would interest you," said Jessel, joining in the conversation for the first time.
"What is poker?"
Jessel scurried around the Jelliclesí mess hall, setting up refreshments for the eveningís poker exhibition. Most of the Jellicles milled around talking, wondering how good the show would be.
"Humans certainly eat a lot," Mistoffelees teased Jessel as he stroked a loose hair back from her face.
"These," she replied, pointing to the snacks, "are distractions. Poker is a game of concentration, and I play to win". She popped a pretzel into his mouth and ducked away from him as Ensigns Cameron Mickelvy, Frederick James and Gina Avia appeared in the doorway. "Ahhh, my usual victims."
"Yeah, well, youíre not holding any markers on me this time," replied Ensign James, a dark haired pilot, "I get to start with a clean slate and Iím looking to win tonight."
"I brought a fresh pack of cards," said Ensign Avia, a pretty blond science officer. Jessel had been surprised to find a science contingent aboard a cargo vessel but there were always interesting things to discover in space and if they werenít checked out immediately by qualified personnel they didnít get checked out.
"Planning to cheat?" teased James.
"Leaving a fresh pack of cards on my alter and burning incense over it is not considered cheating. Read the rules. Anybody want to inspect the seal?" she asked as she took her place at the card table. James grabbed the pack and looked it over quickly before passing it to Mickelvy and taking his seat. Mickelvy checked it and offered the pack to Jessel who said, "Go ahead and break it. If you didnít find anything wrong Iím sure I wonít."
Mickelvy broke the seal, shuffled and slapped the deck into the center of the table. The four of them cut the cards and Jessel won the first deal. "So what are we playing"? asked James.
"Seven card stud," Jessel replied, beginning to deal.
"Seven card stud," the dark-haired pilot repeated derisively.
"Hey, this is an exhibition game," she replied. "Seven card stud is easy for spectators to follow. Speaking of which: none of you spectators try to get a look at our hole cards. Those are the cards that are upside down. You might give away something by the looks on your faces." Jessel had printed out a pictorial listing of the hands earlier so that the Jellicles could follow the game. "That includes you," she said to Mistoffelees, who had pulled up a chair close behind her.
"I wonít ruin your game," he replied taken a little aback. Jessel had been standoffish since he had taken her to the infirmary after the fight with Macavity and he couldnít figure out why.
"Here we go: an ace first thing, seven to Cam, 10 for Gina, dealer takes a 6. Ace bets."
"Ace is worth a quarter without looking," said James. As play proceeded around the table, James said, "I heard you ended up in the infirmary the other night."
"And Iím sure the grapevine exaggerated my wounds greatly as usual," replied Jessel, dealing more cards, "An ace king combination, a second diamond for Cam, a deuce no help there, and dealer takes a queen."
"You betcha. The rumor mill had you at deathís door."
"Itís a couple of scratches. I think Iíll live."
"Dr. Branch said you were lucky Macavity didnít have a good hold on your throat," said Mistoffelees, trying to join in the conversation.
"I thought you Jellicles all hated being around doctors?" asked Ensign Avia.
"We do, but I go where my mate goes," replied Mistoffelees.
Jessel broke into the conversation as she dealt the next round, "a 3 no help, a third diamond, a 5, and dealer takes a jack."
"Your mate?" hooted James in surprise, throwing a red chip into the pot.
"Why, is that a problem?" sniffed Mistoffelees.
"No problem," replied James. "Itís just that Jesselís turned down half the guys on this boat. Some of us were starting to wonder just what her tastes were. Find out any juicy secrets when you took her up to the infirmary?"
Mickelvy smacked James on the arm, startling the Jellicles nearest him.
"No, but Dr. Branch did tell me how old I am," replied Mistoffelees, feeling a little confused.
Jesselís voice rose as she dealt the next round. "A pair of kings for Freddy."
"Aww, please donít call me that."
"A spade this time for Cam, sorry. A seven for Gina, you must be waiting for a card but I canít figure out which one, and the dealer takes a 9."
"So how old are you? 21? 22?" asked Avia.
"16," replied Mistoffelees.
Mickelvy, James and Avia exchanged wide eyed glances. "I did not hear that," said Avia, dropping her gaze to her cards.
"I did," replied Mickelvy in a hard tone.
Jessel held her voice in a level control, "Dr. Branch says that the Jellicles mature 25% faster than humans. Physiologically heís 20."
"Well, that doesnít change the law now does it?" snapped Mickelvy slamming the cards heíd been peaking at onto the table. "Come on."
Mickelvy and Jessel got up from the table. Mistoffelees tried to put his arm around Jesselís waist, his expression begging her for an explanation, but she pushed him away. "You didnít do anything wrong, Mistoffelees, itís my problem."
Munkustrap stepped between them and the door. "What is going on? Where are you going?" he demanded.
Mickelvy replied, "Weíre going to see Lt. Sentry, and then Jessel is probably going to the brig. She canít have that kind of a relationship with him, Munkustrap, itís illegal."
"Because he is 16?" asked Munkustrap, confused.
"Because he is 16," Mickelvy confirmed. "The age of consent is 18."
"And your law makes no exceptions," hissed Munkustrap.
"There are often exceptions, Munkustrap. In this case the law would say itís all right if his parents or legal guardian say itís all right."
"Then I say itís all right. Mistoffelees is an adult, he should not have to conform to such a silly law."
Mickelvy shook his head. "It isnít a silly law. Itís to protect our children. You arenít his legal guardian, Munkustrap and since none of you have parentsÖ Come on, Jessel." Mickelvy tried to step towards the door but his path was now blocked by Jellicles. A low growl slipped from a furry throat or two somewhere in the crowd, and ears were pinned back, tails lashing in anger and defiance.
"You arenít helping me, guys," said Jessel.
"Wait," said a feminine voice. Grizzabella pushed her way through the other cats. "Wait, you said if Mistoffeleesí parents gave permission then Jessel wouldnít be in trouble?"
"If he had parents."
Grizzabellaís voice came out in a stammer. "W-w-well, I think he does h-have parents. I think I am Mistoffeleesí m-m-mother."
Mistoffelees stared at her, completely stunned.
"What makes you think that youíre his mother?" asked Mickelvy.
"I was the first dancer to have kittens. Jellylorumís kittens are younger than mine and they were sold. Dr. Branch says that kittens werenít sold until they were nearly grown so my kittens would be grown. And Mistoffelees has the same markings and coloring that my son had. Iíve always thought he was mine, from the first day he joined the troupe." She hung her head, not daring to watch Mistoffeleesí reaction.
"Why didnít you tell me?" he asked taking her by the shoulders. He lifted her chin so she would look at him. "I would have loved to know I had a mother. In fact I do love having a mother," he said as he broke into a grin and pulled her into his arms. Murmurs ran through the Jellicle throng to the tune of, "Oh, how wonderful."
Grizzabella started to cry as she hugged him back. "I didnít think youíd want anything to do with me if you knew. Youíre too old to need a mother."
"Except for legal reasons," he replied ruefully. She started to pull away and he pulled her back. "No, really, Iím glad youíre my mother. Iím just not sure what to do about it yet."
She nodded, drying her tears. "And youíre worried about your mate." Her expression changed to steel as she turned towards Mickelvy, "I say it is all right, does that end this?"
In answer he tapped his communicator, "Ensign Mickelvy to Dr. Branch".
"Dr. Branch here".
"Sorry to disturb you doctor, but by any chance is Grizzabella Mistoffeleesí mother?"
"Iím sorry, ensign, but Iíd need permission from both of them to answer that question."
"You have it," said Mistoffelees loudly.
"Yes, please answer the question," affirmed Grizzabella.
"Then the answer is Ďyesí. Grizzabella is most definitely Mistoffeleesí mother."
"Thank you doctor," replied Mickelvy signing off and returning to his seat at the poker table. Jessel stroked Mistoffeleesí cheek and then took her seat as well.
Munkustrap stared at the scene in disbelief. "Just like that," he said coming around to face Mickelvy. "You were all set to put Jessel in a cage and now youíre sitting down to play a game with her?"
Mickelvy shrugged, "The law is satisfied, at least as far as I know."
"According to the law we are all supposed to be dead!" Munkustrap shouted. "But you just sit there and do nothing about that."
Mickelvy replied coolly, "That law was made to apply to animals, not people. The courts will have to decide if it applies to you, not me."
Munkustrap widened and narrowed his eyes as he regained his control. When he spoke again his tone contained daggers of ice, "And if the courts say it does?"
For a moment it seemed that no one breathed. "Then I guess Iím in the wrong profession. I joined the security force to protect people, not to harm them."
Jessel dealt the last cards as Munkustrap considered that answer. "Down and dirty."
"A buck," said James.
"Double it," said Mickelvy.
"I donít think you have the flush," said Jessel "Double again, four bucks".
James flashed a glance between Mickelvy and Jessel, "Somebodyís got something, I fold."
"You know someday youíre going to run out of luck," said Mickelvy. "The table limitís five bucks, thatís the bet."
"And youíre out of luck. I have the flush," he replied turning over his cards and reaching for the pot.
"Not yet Iím not," she replied stopping him. "Full house, queens over jacks."
Chapter 13: Worries and Fears