The River Stole The Gods
Alan leaned back in his chair. The lights inside the casino were always bright, but at the end of a thirty six hour session they could be downright blinding. The music played a decibel or two too loud. They’d tried more appropriate levels before, but the thrum of ships as they made planetfall or took off had been worse. It was better with the music, even if some tunes left Alan with a headache.
“What’s it going to be, human?” The Calist captain across the table asked. Like all Calists his skin - or was it an exoeskeleton - was blue with sharp ridges that traveled down the center line of his torso and each of his eight limbs. A large stack of tiles and chips sat in front of him. He’d been running the table all night, and more than one person’s hopeful fortunes had been consumed by the mountain in front of him.
Alan’s stack, by comparison, was quite miniscule. A single tower of tablets and a handful of chips represented his fortunes. He’d built it up slowly over the past day, working his way from table to table as he amassed enough funds to raise the stakes of his game. He’d only been at this table for a few hands, but already he was beginning to think he’d made a mistake.
“Sir? The bet is to you. Please make a decision,” the android dealer said before the Calist lost its patience.
Alan rubbed at his eyes. “Alright alright,” he said, glancing at his cards. A pair of worn looking old men peered back at him from the face of the cards. Their triplet brother looked up from the middle of the table where the community cards lay. The other cards were meaningless. Three gods in hand and Alan was well on his way to taking a chunk out of the Calist’s mountain of chips and credits.
“No bet,” Alan said.
“No bet?” The Calist seemed irritated, but it was hard to tell through the translator that turned the insectoid clicks and warbles into understandable speech. “All this time and no bet?”
“It’s been a long night, and I hate this xynth synth crap. Gives me a headache,” Alan said by way of explanation. He waved a hand towards one of the speakers mounted into the casino ceiling as if pointing out the source of the noise would somehow make it stop.
“If you can’t handle the music then leave,” the Calist said. It was easy for him to be judgemental. Calists didn’t hear the way humans did. They also didn’t get headaches. “Here, I’ll help you,” the Calist added a moment later. “For making me wait, I’ll buy you out of the hand. Take your losses and go home.”
The mountain of chips moved into the middle of the table without spilling. Alan marveled at the sheer amount of money being put out. It was enough to buy a ship, maybe even three ships. The other players around the table quickly mucked their cards back to the dealer.
“That’s nice of you,” Alan said, “but I’m not sure if I can let this one go. I call.”
He pushed his own, smaller, pile into the middle of the table as well. The robo-dealer looked at both stacks and assessed the worth in a second. It then turned and cut the Calist’s pile of chips in half, delivering them back to the insectoid captain.
Alan smiled. The Calist’s eyes bulged. A lot of value could be hidden in chips and tablets when their value was high. The size of the stack didn’t matter. The size of the numbers on them did.
“You look sick,” Alan said. “Want to call it a day?” He couldn’t help but smile.
“It makes no difference,” the Calist said. “just more money for me to win when this hand is over.”
Both players moved their cards into the middle. A crowd had gathered around the table. It wasn’t often that much money moved to the center of a spaceport casino, and no one wanted to miss out on the story. Without fanfare or showmanship the robo-dealer flipped over both sets of cards. A squelch of disappointment went through the crowd.
Both players held the gods. All five sat out on the table. The hand would be a draw unless something truly strange occurred. Alan couldn’t help but smile. Something strange always occurred when this much money was on the line.
The robo-dealer turned over the last four cards, then looked up. “Gentlemen, please make your best hand.”
The Calist looked to Alan with a shrug. The posturing was done. The cards had come up, and the result was obvious.
“Hey, I called you. You first,” Alan said.
“Humans,” The Calist grumbled. “Three Gods,” he said to the dealer. Then he turned back to Alan, “Happy?”
Alan smiled. He was happy. “River king,” Alan said. “Five Gods.”
“What?!” Someone in the crowd matched the Calist’s shocked shout. Chips spilled across the table as the insectoid captain lunged to clear them away from the cards. He sagged back into his chair as his mind caught up with what he was seeing. Five cards from the house of water sat on the table. The God of water lay in Alan’s hand.
“You can’t,” The Calist said. “That’s an impossible hand to make.”
“Apparently not,” Alan said with a grin. “I’m afraid the river stole the gods this time. Makes it my win.”