Kal Toh, Differently
Walking down the corridor Nokomis came across both Romulans coming toward her. "Hello," she said looking over their appearance and the objects in their hands. "You appear to be heading to some sort of social event."
Vriha had reflexively snapped to attention at the XO's approach, but made an effort to relax somewhat as the reaction did not seem to be the norm on a Starfleet vessel. "We are going to join LT T'Sai, ma'am," Vriha explained and held up a small box. "For a ...cultural exchange... in involving a game Vulcans and Romulans use with somewhat different sets of rules."
"Sounds interesting," Nokomis replied. Her eyes were slightly wider. "I'm glad that the three of you are getting along so well."
Eilaea had so far found it puzzling how it appeared many humans--and species they associated with closely--appeared to automatically or reflexively conflate repeated interactions and encounters between others as a sign that said others had a pleasant or cordial relationship, or for that matter, that such a relationship, if it existed, meant one could lower their guard to an obscene degree. She hadn't yet come to a conclusion as to how such assumptions came about, or why; perhaps a species less raised to strictures of duty and social standards tended to interact only with those they liked? Or perhaps felt safer ignoring those they did not, or those they had not yet gathered enough data to form opinions on?
"We have a mutual interest in learning and gathering information and context." Eilaea finally replied. "And in the ways in which our respective cultures have diverged from their ancestors."
"Uhuh," Nokomis said. Then she decided to just go for it, "Do you mind if I join you?"
Eilaea took a moment to interpret the statement and response to it in what was still for her an alien language, uncertain if a negative response would indicate a denial or a positive one an acceptance, given the phrasing of the question. Finally she settled on simply being both explicit and detailed. "You may join us, ma'am."
"In fact, it would be very agreeable, ma'am," Vriha said. "The game can be awkward with three players. I assume LT T'Sai has a Kal Toh set, so with you, we can play in two pairs."
Nokomis gestured for them to lead and way and followed along, happy that she had a distraction from her worries.
T'Sai sat in her fairly spartan quarters. Aside from the default layout, her extinguished meditation torch featured prominently in the center of the open space. The Vulcan herself was sitting at her table, Kal Toh set laid out before her. She was very intrigued to see what the Romulans had done to this Vulcan meditation exercise.
Eilaea reached out a hand to signal the chime to the door, stepping back slightly afterwards as they waited for it to open. When it finally did so, her eyes flicked carefully around the room as they stepped in, taking note of the surroundings: For the most part, aside from their larger size, she might almost have imagined herself back aboard a warbird, from the orderly, spartan room ahead. Spotting their host, she inclined her head just-so in greeting, then tilted her chin ever so slightly towards the others standing near her. "Commander Diza wished to join us, Lieutenant; if that is acceptable." It would for the most part never openly be admitted that it was not acceptable for a commander to join a collection of lieutenants aboard a warbird if they wished so...But Eilaea suspected that aboard a Federation vessel, such things were perhaps more delicate in their execution, given the degree of freedom of action and speech the officers aboard seemed to have, so it seemed the best course of action to inquire, especially given that as she understood things, Vulcans were...possessive...about their private spaces.
T’Sai returned the greeting with a nod of her own. “It is acceptable,” she replied. She had many misgivings about such an emotional species playing the Vulcan game of Kal Toh. They were too impulsive and only a few gained a level of mastery in order to even play solo. However, this new game may have just required a degree of unpredictability and a certain amount of illogical thought. “You are all welcome to sit,” she offered and she gestured to the open seats.
"Thank you for allowing me to come," Nokomis said in response, to both the Romulans and T'Sai. "I'll just observe at first, I'm not familiar with the game."
"It is somewhat awkward with three." Eilaea repeated, taking one of the offered seats. "And rather more fast paced than with two, not ideal to observe for instructional purposes. Lieutenant t'Ehhelih is a more experienced player to a degree; if you intend to sit out the first round, commander, I suggest she pairs with Lieutenant T'Sai and I will sit out the first round as well."
Vriha smiled. She had not played Kal Toh since her childhood as her uncle considered a preliminary step toward learning the Romulan game, but she was curious to see what previously unknown subtleties Vulcans might have introduced. Still, they were in T'Sai's quarters so she should have the choice as to which game to play first. "Which would you prefer to play to begin," she inquired. "Kal Toh or Heith Gen'enh?"
"Heith Gen'enh intrigues me," T'Sai responded. "Perhaps we could make a regular occurrence of this in order to switch Kal Toh and Heith Gen'eh? If that is agreeable?"
"That would be most agreeable," Vriha replied happily. "I learned something of Kal Toh as a child, but have not played in many years, so I am also intrigued by the chance to learn the advanced form of the game." Placing her game set on the table, she offered an explanation, primarily for Nokomis' benefit since she imagined T'Sai had studied something of the Romulan game. "As you may know, Heith Gen'enh is the inverse problem to Kal Toh. Rather than creating order from this jumble of rods, the object is to place your rods so that your opponent is left with no move that does result in total collapse." She gave the XO a sly grin. "A Starfleet tech I taught to play described it as 'reverse Jenga'."
Something about what Vriha said was making Nokomis remember a dream she'd had the night before, but she brushed the thought aside and made her brain focus on what was before her. "I'm not familiar with that but then again I never played many games growing up. Only what was available at Logan's house."
"The object is to destabilize the construct of rods, enough so that you are safe but your opponent is trapped by the collapse," T'Sai simplified the rules to the base element. It was a game that was the polar opposite of her own people's Kal Toh.
"Yes." Eilaea replied with a hint of an anticipatory grin, as if relishing the prospect of such a challenge and triumph, even in abstract. "In fact, though generally played with two, as with Kal Toh, there are those who in fact prefer to play three or even four to a set; while somewhat awkward and much more fast paced, the elements of unpredictability and interplay of unintended effects is considered by some as an allegory to other aspects of life." She left exactly what those aspects were unspecified; uncertain how a Federation officer, let alone a Vulcan, would react should she openly compare the exercise to galactic relations or even internal political affairs.
"How very therapeutic." Nokomis answered. "Building has it's own benefits but to try and take something down, to block an opponent. I can see why you practice it."
"Yes, it is quiet apparent," T'Sai added. Looking toward Nokomis, she asked, "Are you satisfied with the explanation of the rules?"
"Yes, but I'd still like to observe at first." She knew she was being a chicken but against a Romulan or a Vulcan even she probably had no chance.
"Very well," T'Sai nodded. Looking to the Romulans, she asked, "Would one of you care to sit, or shall we have a triple threat match?"
Vriha grinned. "If it would not make the Commander uncomfortable to be the sole spectator, I am happy to increase the level of challenge."
“As am I.” Eilaea said with a similar, if perhaps slightly more mature, grin of her own.
"Oh by all means." Nokomis' wide eyed look not going unnoticed by the Romulans she was sure. Just how cutthroat could they get in this game? She wondered if she should scoot her chair back slightly though T'Sai did not seem to be disturbed. Then again she was Vulcan, it was hard to tell.
Opening the box that had been laid on the table as everyone settled into their places, Eilaea began assembling the pieces until they were left with a complex structure, eerie in its close resemblance to a completed Kal Toh one.
"There are several methods to determine who is accorded the initial move." Eilaea stated. "Though it often does not provide any significant advantage or disadvantage, overall, especially in matches with larger numbers of players. Unless there are objections, I would suggest Sublieutenant t'Ehhelih make the initial move; it is her set."
"I would be pleased to begin, so long as it would not be taken as presumption," Vriha replied, and looked to T'Sai. "We are after all guests in LT T'Sai's quarters, so the choice should be hers."
Eilaea dipped her head slightly in acknowledgement of this fact; her eyes turning towards T'Sai as well.
The Vulcan in the room nodded her agreement with a simple uttering of, "Agreed." In a game where undermining the other players, it was almost logical to assume that the player who went first would be at a disadvantage however slight.
Vriha smiled. While there were reasons to avoid making the first move, the first placement correctly made could set the potential paths to victory. So for someone with her experience of the game, it could be used to advantage. "Gladly," she said, carefully inserting a rod.
Assuming that her turn was next, T'Sai picked up a rod from the table. She had been studying the structure for any weaknesses that could be exploited, and she had one. She found a spot to place the rod, it would appear as though she was using a Kal Toh strategy in reverse in order to break down the structure. However, this placement would serve the opposite, it would weaken strategic points. Stonedfaced, she placed her rod.
Eilaea considered the structure, and the moves made by her competitors, carefully--the final player had slight advantages in observing the moves and strategies of the others, but also the slight disadvantage of those moves potentially limiting their own selections. Finally, she selected a spot and made for the time being a relatively innocuous move, in effect for the moment biding her time.
Vriha picked up her next rod. She had to work at avoiding a smile upon observing T'Sai's move - it was a well-known but junior class opening gambit. The natural choice of one familiar with Kal Toh, or a move by someone who had studied and hoped to lull competition into into believing her a novice..? She placed her rod using the classic Vorcha response and waited to observe the countermove.
Nokomis jumped slightly and realized that her head had fallen and woken her up. She blushed, "Apologies, seems I dozed off for a moment. It's not the company." She assured them. "Perhaps I should excuse myself and get some sleep and continue learning this later?" She hated to back out, but if she wasn't going to pay attention and learn then it wasn't fair to their Romulan guests who were gracious enough to allow her to come.
"If you wish, sir." Eilaea said, somewhat uncertain what the proper response was amongst Federation social rules, not to mention any specific to the commander's species. As she spoke, her eyes also carefully traversed the sphere, noting and mapping out in her mind possible moves and countermoves and contingencies in advance.
"Thank you for the opportunity to observe. I'll just see myself out." Nokomis got up, her face flushing slightly and left the room hopefully before any of them noticed.
After a couple of rounds, T'Sai decided that it was time to spring her trap. She had been playing as though she were feigning a reverse Kal Toh. She had been working to weaken two key spots, but this next placement was an aggressive move that served to strengthen one of the spots she had been weakening. The stress of this new placement quietly weakened the structure that she had been working on previously.
It was Eilaea's turn, but Vriha watched intently. The Vulcan's moves had rapidly decreased the potential avenues to victory. Her playing was unconventional but the strategy seemed well beyond the level of a novice, so once again Vriha wondered how much T'Sai had studied prior to the game.
This time, Eilaea carefully maneuvered a piece in a ratcheting up of her own moves, as well: A blatant one that clearly destabilized the area T'Sai had just shored up, while managing to not collapse the structure overall.
The better part of a half hour later, the structure overall was so incredibly unstable it could potentially collapse at any time from nearly any move: While still primarily a game of skill and strategy, the element of chance and unpredictability increased with the addition of a third or fourth player, the complexity of the strategies required in the larger game matched by the uncertainties introduced as they interacted.
Eilaea carefully moved to slide a piece from the side of the structure to her left that she judged the least likely to cause the structure to collapse, among the available options. Unfortunately, as she was about to close her fingers around the rod and begin to slowly slide it free, her hand and arm began to shake somewhat, and given the delicacy of the sphere - or what remained of it - the slightest missed brush of the tip of one shaking finger against the rod she was planning to remove sent the structure tumbling to its inevitable demise. She quickly drew her arm back and into her lap, covering it with her other hand in a languid motion she hoped would be construed as simply acknowledging the end of the game and assessing it...Though she suspected the effect was ruined by a subtle olive flush of embarrassment across her cheeks: The lingering effects of the wounds she had sustained fighting the Dominion were not a weakness she was eager to have on display.
"A most interesting game." Eilaea said, her voice letting on none of her inner thoughts. "And quite innovative strategy, for a first time player." Eilaea dipped her head slightly to T'Sai.
"It was a fascinating game," T'Sai agreed. Inwardly, she was a bit relieved that one of the Romulans had collapsed the structure on her first game. "We must attempt to have another 'game night' soon."
"Indeed," Vriha agreed. "You played quite well for your first time. I hope that we can match your performance when we play Kal Toh."
Lieutenant Commander Nokomis Diza
Executive Officer, USS Orion
Sublieutenant Vriha t'Ehhelih
Science Officer, USS Orion
Chief Intelligence Officer, USS Orion
Lieutenant Eilaea t'Keirianh
Operations Officer, USS Orion