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Behold a Pale Horse, Pt. 2: Know When to Fold ‘Em
Posted on March 26th, 2024 by Scott Ammora

Ensign Evan Benevente, Engineering

“Go home, Ensign!” An audible, albeit faint, voice from a nearby office shouted.

“I’m not done yet, sir!” Two legs sticking out from underneath a console responded.

“Don’t make me come out there!” The Office threatened.

“If I stop and don’t finish this, you won’t have a warm shower to go home to.” Legs retorted.

Evan Benevente, the legs, got pulled out from underneath his console, dragging a couple of conduit pieces, his tricorder, a power relay fusing component, and several data chips with him. “Ugh! Come on, Lieutenant, I’m almost finished here.”

“Ensign, you said that two hours ago. You should’ve given up when it popped and burnt you three hours ago, but I let it slide. You’re done. Pass it off to Parsons and get out of here. Enjoy some time off. We shouldn’t be slaving away while some teams are enjoying beautiful fresh air down on the surface.” Lieutenant Backstrom, his team lead, looked stern.

He just didn’t understand it. “What is it with people, not all people, but most people, having this huge downer moment about not getting an away mission? Would I have loved to meander through a jungle? Of course! But, assignments are assignments and work is work. People just need to shut the fuck up about it.”


If they had not been firmly attached to his body, Evan’s eyes would have exploded out of his head with how wide they got. Evan never talked like that to his superiors, unless they were off duty, and he had a relationship that allowed that type of talk. They had a good rapport with each other, on terms as friends as well as colleagues, but Lieutenant Backstrom was a professional too. Evan knew when he overstepped his bounds. He stood up, collecting the mangled mess of components and handed them haphazardly to his leader.

A perked eyebrow is all that followed in a lulled moment of silence. It was Backstrom who spoke first. “Evan, you know everyone admires your fine work and dedication. Don’t think anyone is doubting it.” The engineer shook the destruction in his hands loudly at Evan when the young man opened his mouth to protest. “Enjoy the downtime, would you please?”

That was another thing! Having downtime, where there was no pressure, was the perfect time in which to get extra work done. When time is of the essence in a skirmish or a large-scale offensive, there isn’t time to constantly check and double check things. That’s when mistakes happen. Now, in this moment, when the stakes were lower than Deck 24, why push people out the door if they want to stay? For now, given the circumstances, he’d digress.

“Okay, fine, I’ll go.” There was a moment of panic that appeared as Evan looked from the equipment on the floor, the ones he had already shoveled off to Backstrom, and then the ones he still was holding in his grasp. Evan stammered, “Uh, I, uh… here.” Thrusting the last remaining piece of equipment in his hand to the already mounting pile his supervisor had, he smiled sheepishly.

“Thank you. Now beat it.”

Picking up the rest of his materials he glanced at the rest of the debris laden on the floor. A quick glance up into the narrowed eyes of the person towering above him, he knew better than to try and do anything else. But he still wanted to do one thing. His arm moved fast, snatching one of the items out of Backstrom’s hands, and shoved it under the console.

“Ensign Bene – ” But Backstrom knew it was too late, the console beeped above Evan’s head in response.

Standing up he managed a mediocre, but more confident, smile. “See? Done.” Evan chuckled and then changed the subject as fast as he could. “I hear there is supposed to be a cool party in the lounge. You going to pop in and see how things are?”

Lieutenant Backstrom shook his hands at Evan again, the equipment he was holding making a fair amount of noise. “Night shift, Evan, night shift!”

“It’s night shift already?” Evan asked, bewildered.

“Two hours, Benevente!” The anger was laced with humor, but wrapped in truth. “Bye bye now.”

“Yes, sir.” Evan bolted towards the door. There was such a weird part in his brain about working overtime. He wanted to be thorough, he wanted to be correct, and he didn’t want to blow anything up. He thought that was a noble aspiration, you know, not killing anyone. He guessed that there was something to be said for mental health and physical wellness and all that.

He didn’t make it far before a voice drew his attention. “Poker tonight, Evan?” Lieutenant JG Grayson Chalmers smiled, giving a tiny wave.

Evan didn’t stop moving. He just turned around and started walking backwards. He shrugged and then shook his head, “Elijah and Olivia are pulling doubles. Ammora is planetside with the away team. Bennett is going to the party, like a lot of others. Not enough players.”

Chalmers nodded, “Fair enough. See you later.”

The doors to Main Engineering parted and he almost backed right into a beautiful blonde. A collective ‘oof’ came from both parties, followed by a smattering of overlapping ‘sorrys’, ‘excuse mes’, and ‘you firsts’. When they realized who each other were they burst into laughter and embraced there in the corridor. “You better watch where you’re going, Benny, I’m a sturdy gal.”

“Just forcefully removed from Engineering for the evening, it would seem.” Evan smirked.

The ensign smiled at him, “I don’t see security around, so it couldn’t have been anything other than you wouldn’t leave when they told you to.” A wink and an elbow jab to ribs jovially followed. “What is on your agenda for tonight? I’m guessing ‘Poker Night with the Greats’ on the holodeck, standard difficulty unless it was a good day and then you’d go advanced. Or, perhaps another viewing of the Alpha Quadrant Championship Finals of 2381?”

“My life doesn’t revolve around poker, you know.” It may have been Evan’s number one go-to when he had free time, wanted to socialize, blow off steam, collect his thoughts, work out a problem, or relax, but there was more to him. Was there? Maybe she was right, who cared? At least he had a hobby.

“It always takes you away from hanging out with me.”

Evan shook his head as they started walking towards the turbolift. “That’s not true. Last week we had that friend’s luau thing, with Lieutenant Warden from science. I went to that.”

“You showed up two hours late because your Vintage Vegas Poker Tournament ran long – ”

“I took third out of a thousand people!” Evan exclaimed proudly, interrupting her.

“Come to the lounge tonight. Please?”

“I can’t, I have plans.”

She narrowed her eyes and pursed her lips, as much as she could with the slowly approaching sneer that Evan knew meant that she knew. “It is the holodeck, isn’t it?”

He knew he had been defeated, but he hadn’t even felt that the game had started. His mind, as sharp as it was, gallivanted into every corner of the crowded abyss that was his intelligence. There was no coming out of this one, that was for sure. Bested! “Yes.”

“Program?” Laying it on thick, reaching for the final killing blow, she began tapping her foot and she folded her arms.

Beheaded. “Just stop. It’s “The Origins of Poker, 10th Century to Present”. A friend of mine recommended that I look into it. Apparently there are some cool strategies to be learned, but you have to flesh them out. It’s educational.”

“And boring for a night like tonight. Cancel your reservation, go to your quarters, shower, and change. I’m coming by in one hour, Evan, one hour. If you ditch me or aren’t ready to go, I will find ways of ruining your life. Your mint condition prized casino deck collection.” She dropped the intense routine and comically readjusted her clothes to look less ruffled than they actually weren’t. “See you in bit.”

He knew, at this point, there was no reason to refuse. He’d lost the first battle at work because he was working too hard and needed to enjoy himself. The second act of something resembling nothing even close to valor came in his personal life. When he was going to go relax and enjoy himself, he’d been roped into a party. He didn’t like parties. He liked small intimate gatherings. Yes, usually over poker.

Evan would find a way to wallow in the splendor of the evening. He always did. He was flexible and was sociable. The word handsome had been used to describe him on several occasions in his past, but he remained humble, and that always came from great conversations with enticing people. He had had his fair share of good times. He would party on. “I’ll be ready. By the way, you aren’t that sturdy.”

“Depends on your definition of sturdy, my friend.” She threw a fleeting glance with a dastardly grin over her shoulder as she walked away.

She was gorgeous in that sexy intelligent sort of way. Science Officers, right? Amazingly far out of reach for him, but gorgeously brilliant in her own special way. They had been friends for a while and he was content with that. Could there be a spark there? He didn’t know. Evan could read someone’s poker face and guess their cards based on the way they bet. He had a sort of bluff radar that rarely failed him. When it came to women it was the opposite. The house would win every time.

When the turbolift stopped on Deck 10 he started through the doors and headed for his quarters. Rounding the first corner he started feeling bummed that he would have to reschedule his holodeck time. Was it too late to reconsider? No, he couldn’t bail on her. Why would he want to bail on her? She’s beautiful! He tapped his PADD and cancelled his slot on the schedule. No going back now.

Coming up to the second corner a man walked around in front of him heading the same direction. Even from behind, Evan recognized the man. Broad shoulders, tall build, walked with a purpose that would barrel you over with energy long before body mass made contact. “Lieutenant Hill!”

Damien stopped and turned, flashing a smile that made Evan weirdly uncomfortable, “Ensign.”

“Sonic showers should be up and running now, sir.” Evan said slowly, unable to take his eyes off the grin.

“Yeah, I know, just finished, thanks. You guys do good work down there.” Damien gave Evan a firm hand press on the shoulder, “Coming to the party tonight?

“No, I mean, yeah, I think. I just…” All of a sudden, his nostrils stung with an overpowering aroma and he trailed off, trying not to sneeze.

Damien released his grip, “Good, I’ll see you there.” And he was gone.

Okay? Evan, focus. One hour. Shower. Change. Eat.

First things first, hide the card collection.

What did she mean by the definition of ‘sturdy’?

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  • Kathryn Harper Kathryn Harper says:

    Gotta love those overachieving engineers! This one is a bit more lighthearted than the last and had a bit of a Lower Decks vibe, if not quite so zany, which is appropriate. Let’s hope Evan doesn’t stand her up for holopoker, and it already feels like this party is where these stories collide. Lower Decks! Lower Decks!

  •  Emilaina Acacia says:

    I’m loving this peek into people’s lives, there’s so many people we never get to see on such a big ship but they’re all up to something. I liked the repeat on people telling him to go to the party, all knowing he’d try to weasel out. Your characterization is stellar as always. Great work!

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