Rex stared hard at his opponent. They both knew how this would end.

His face was a mask, had to be. Grubner was partially telepathic and used facial signals to confirm what he called his “hunches”.

Why anyone played Sheebat with a telepath was a good question, but Grubner was not even aware he was telepathic, he just thought he was good at reading people. The stakes were high so Rex pushed on, trying not to give anything away by thinking distracting thoughts about Grubner’s mother.

Rex nodded to the Croupier who dealt 3 more cards and acknowledged Rex’s new bet with a nod in return.

Trying to keep his mind occupied, he sized up the dealer. He was exceptionally good at his job. Checking he name badge he reminded himself to tip this “Zom Bieplan” when this game was over.

If he survived.

Grubner by now had taken two more cards, raised the bet to 75blenths (Zom even raised an eye-stalk at such an enormous figure) and had begun rubbing his tummy, the traditional signal that Grubner was calling Sheebat on Rex’s hand.

Rex could either match the bet and reciprocate the gesture, hoping his hand could beat Grubner’s, or decline and forfeit what he’d already put down.

Grubner looked confident and Rex couldn’t afford to lose. He didn’t think he’d get another chance at the Ortrix if he missed his shot. He gathered his chips together but hesitated.

The opponents started at each other from across the table. Both faces were masks.

Then Rex felt it. A tiny prick of pain in the back of his skull. He tried hard to keep a smile off his face. The pain spread further forward.

Most people who knew Grubner was telepathic wouldn’t play Sheebat with him, but Rex had one more piece of intel. When Grubner was bluffing, he would unconsciously try to influence the other players by sending out telepathic suggestions that could, on occasion, cause minor brain aneurisms in his opponents.

It was one hell of a tell.

Rex pushed everything he had out onto the table. The pain intensified and Rex hoped he wouldn’t black out. Even poor Zom was obviously feeling some psionic splashback - his dorsal tentacles quivered and he steadied himself against the table. Rex smiled and rubbed his tummy, as he laid a Full Sheebat on the table.

Grubner growled and rose to his feet. With one hand he pushed the table over, knocking Rex sprawling onto the floor. With the other hand he revealed his hidden pistola, which had been concealed in his fake leg.

“I will not give you the Ortrix!” he screamed at Rex.

Grubner raised his hand and Rex registered gunfire. He looked down to see where he was hit. As he looked back up, Grubner crumpled to the floor.

Rex Havoc stood behind him, Corral Specials smoking in his hand.

“I’m here from the future,” he said to his stunned younger self.

“We’re in trouble, and I need your help!”