Friday, April 18, 2003

Arapaho: Poolroom Meeting

Scene: Starbase Epsilon, Officer's Club

The din of the Officer's Club poolroom crawled across the dusty hardwood floor like a heavy fog. It fell onto the feet of each patron, and whether there to drown a sorrow or celebrate a success, every denizen of that dark room knew the weight the fog would carry away from them, and allowed their passions to be swept up like those of all the others.

Zachary Russell was no different. He played alone at one of dozens of tables, a bright lamp forty inches above the slate, each table lit like so many islands in the sea. He looked at the table as he chalked the cue stick, then took a final drink from a tall lager glass before setting it down next to three empty glasses.

The crack of the cue ball sounded like a .45 as it hit the yellow one ball square. The exchange of momentum sent fifteen balls scattering across green felt in every direction. The four and twelve balls dropped into corner pockets.

"Mind if I play?"

Zach heard the voice, but didn't look to acknowledge it for a moment. He hoped his distance would intimidate the intruder into finding another table. But when he looked up, he saw the owner of the voice standing opposite him. It belonged to a young man of dark complexion. His build and bearing showed an officer of considerable experience, and the simplicity with which he carried himself betrayed a hidden complexity. The cool look on his face showed wisdom beyond his apparent years.

"Sure," Russell replied. "You're stripes."

He leaned in for another shot, sinking the red three. The cue ball came to a stop directly in line with the side pocket and the seven ball. He hammered it in easily. As Russell walked around the table for chalk, the stranger spoke.

"Name's Hilani." He stuck out his hand. "Jason Hilani."

Russell finished with the chalk and shook hands with the man. "Zach Russell," he said simply, then leaned in for his shot. It was a difficult bank, but with enough left english, the cue ball would take a sharp turn off the rail and hit the one, dropping it softly into the corner pocket. Russell took a deep breath, and succeeded.

"Nice shot," Hilani complimented. But by the time he finished speaking, Russell had sent the cue ball crashing into the five, knocking it squarely into a pocket.

Russell looked up. "Thanks," he said. He moved quickly around the table and slowly took aim. Looking down his stick, he could see the cue ball, six, and two in a nearly perfect lineup with the corner. He pushed the stick forward. The cue ball hit the two, which hit the six, which fell into the pocket. The other two balls still in line, Russell leaned in again and shot. The six rolled toward the corner, bounced off one, then the other, side of the pocket, and rolled back toward Russell.

"Hmm," Russell said, and walked to a high round table. The waitress had left two clean glasses next to the half full pitcher. Russell filled both with the foaming amber quaff and drank from one.

He offered Hilani the other. "Your shot," he said.

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