The Ol' Three-Shell Wren
"Round and round the shells go; keep a sharp eye out or you'll be fooled--got to be quick and smart to catch the ball. Now, sir, where do you think it is?"
The patter reached Mieu and Wren's audio sensors at about the same time as the two androids strolled through Cille's marketplace. They were searching for a birthday gift for Prince Ayn, who was going to be one year old in two days. Wren was not particularly certain why Mieu felt they should adhere to this human custom, but the red-haired android did many things that confused him due to the emotional capacity she had been programmed with. He had agreed, however, as due to this capacity she was often a better judge of what would make their master, King Rhys, best satisfied with their performance.
Wren was going to walk on towards the shops, but Mieu took his arm.
"Wait a second, Wren. We should take a look at this."
"Why? It appears to be a simple gambling game, unconnected with our search for a birthday present."
Mieu sighed. Since she didn't breathe, being a machine, this was one of the various mannerisms she had been programmed with to make humans feel more at ease conversing with her.
"Just come on, Wren."
Several men and women were clustered around a makeshift table. Behind it, a young man with bright blue hair and a light coating of stubble on his chin moved three maruera-nut shells around each other. The apparent purpose of the game was to locate a bright green glass marble. Wren watched a woman point to the shell on the gambler's right.
"There; it's under there."
The gambler lifted the shell, revealing that there was nothing under it.
"Sorry, ma'am, but you're not a winner this time." The gambler swept a ten-meseta coin into his pocket. A man stepped forward, tossed another coin down, and lost as well.
"Why don't you play, Wren?" Mieu suggested.
"I have no desire to do so, or indeed to engage in any form of recreational behavior. Moreover, as I understand the phenomenon, the appeal of gambling is rooted in the uncertainty, the fact that success or failure depends upon factors entirely outside the player's control. With my advanced sensors, I am capable of following the progression of the marble in this game flawlessly."
"That's more or less what I was counting on." She ushered him towards the table.
The gambler looked the android up and down.
"Um...you're one of those cyborgs that came with King Rhys, aren't you?"
Wren forbore from pointing out the technical inaccuracy of the term "cyborg," aware that over the one thousand years since his creation, the common usage of the word had changed so that it now referred to both androids and robots collectively.
"That is so. I wish to play."
He placed a ten-meseta coin onto the table as he'd seen the others do.
The gambler swallowed nervously. Wren found this to be logical, as the man's livelihood depended upon successfully hiding the marble from his customers.
"Well, um, okay. Watch the ball now, and don't let it leave your sight." He showed the marble, then tipped up one of the shells and hid the ball from view. He then started mixing up the shells. "Round and round they go; got to have a fast eye or you'll be fooled." He stopped moving the shells. "Now, sir, where do you think it is?"
"The marble is currently held in your left hand."
Murmurs came from the crowd, and the gambler turned a shade paler.
"Wait a second; it's not in my hand, see?" He held up his empty hands.
"That is correct. You have transferred it to your vest pocket since I made my initial statement."
"What?" someone in the throng shouted.
"You cheated?" another accused.
"He's a dirty cheat!"
"You give us our money back!"
The gambler backed away, holding his hands out as if trying to ward the crowd off. "Now, now, let's not be hasty..."
The brawl started almost immediately thereafter.
"Okay, Wren, let's go," Mieu said.
"Should we not intervene? It is likely that people will be injured."
"Exactly. Come on, Wren, we have shopping to do."
Wren consulted his core directives, verified that Mieu's suggestion took precedence over any but the most strained interpretation of the standing orders given to him by his current master, and followed along towards a display selling plush toys. Trying to predict Mieu's reactions would, he speculated, make for an excellent gambling game.
He did not, however, mention this to her.
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