Fandom(s): Doctor Who
Characters: David Tennant, Jenny, Tenth Doctor
Word Count: 3393
Summary: There are a lot of things people take for granted that the Generated Anomaly knows nothing about.
"I'm sorry, Big Brother, but I really don't see the point of this." Crossing one leg over the other, Jenny leant back in her armchair and pulled her blonde ponytail forward to toy with it at her shoulder. With a lazy shrug, she gazed at the man sitting across the table from her and nudged the game board on the table between them with the toe of her boot.
David ran his tongue over his lip, struggling to not lose his patience. It had taken some convincing to get Jenny to sit down and look at what she’d called "a child's diversion", and whilst he'd told her the rules, she'd scratched at an imaginary blemish on her crisp olive trousers, mumbling, "Mm-hm," at inappropriate moments. "You haven't even tried it yet. Give it a chance,” he urged. He’d managed to keep his tone calm even as he’d ground the words out through clenched teeth.
With a heavy sigh, she flipped her ponytail behind her. "It's a game, something children do to pass the time. It's just a race using random numbers and pieces of plastic. All I need is to get all of my pieces across the finish line before you do. How is this interesting at all to you?"
"Humour me, Jenny," he breathed, barely keeping the growl out of his voice. "Look, I'll go first and show you." Picking up the cup in front of him, he held it up for her to see, then spilled the dice in it on the board. "Three and five," he read off. "I'll do this." He moved one piece from each of two columns near him into a column of their own. "You see, I moved -"
"Yes, I see. I can count," she snorted. "I'm not stupid."
David leant forward, his elbows on his knees. "No, you're not,” he agreed. “You're far cleverer than I, but you've never played backgammon before. You've never played any game before. I'm just showing you how the rules are applied." He picked his dice up from the board.
"You told me the rules. I'm perfectly capable of remembering and applying them," she stated as she grabbed her cup. She dumped the dice onto the board, rolling a five and a one. "That's a low roll," she observed with a frown.
"You're not getting the point of the game." He tried to get her attention, but she was staring at the dice with a petulant frown. "It's not about the sum. It's about how you choose to move the pieces."
"I can't move them faster than you do if I roll low." She picked up one of the two pieces on David's home board and moved it out. "I can at least get the pieces off your side of the board." She retrieved her dice and sat back.
David shook his cup and rolled the dice. Five and one. He scanned the board and, in the space of a few seconds, evaluated all of his possible moves and Jenny's possible rolls and moves on her next turn and selected the four moves with the greatest probabilities of favorable outcomes. The speed with which his Gallifreyan brain could process information and strategise still dazzled him on occasion. However, he knew that there was far more to the game - to any game - than strict probabilities, and he discarded his selections.
Glancing at his sister with a slight smirk, he decided to make a poor move in the interest of teaching her a lesson. He reached for his pieces. "This one to here takes your piece, and then this one to here takes your other piece." He placed her pieces on the bar as he moved his into place.
Jenny shot up straight in her chair and gaped at the board. "You took two of my pieces."
"Aye, I did." He picked up his dice and rattled them in his hand. "It negated your move. Those pieces are now further back than they started."
"But..." She frowned, then pointed at her brother's home board. "So now I bring them back on by rolling and placing them there based on what I roll." David nodded. "But you left yourself open." She pointed at David's lone piece sitting on the "1" point. "If I roll a one, I take your piece."
"Aye." As he fiddled with the dice in his hand, he watched as the gears began turning in her head and gained momentum.
"Why would you do that?" She shook her head, still staring at the piece. "You'd lose so much ground."
"To show you that this is not a race. It's a competition. I took your piece to show you that you left yourself open." Mischievous malice sparkled in his eyes. "And I got to see your adorable pout."
She glared at him for that. "The probability of rolling at least one one on two six-sided dice is oh-point-three-oh-five-six. A thirty percent chance that I’ll send your piece at the last point on the board all the way back to the beginning. It was not a wise move."
"Oh, really?” he drawled. “Then put me in my place." He tapped the board, grinning his challenge at her.
Meeting his gaze with a confident smirk, Jenny grabbed the cup and tossed the dice. Double threes. She tore at her fringe as she glared at the board. "That's useless! I can't take your piece with that. I can't even move the pieces onto the board."
Though he was quite pleased with stinging her hard enough to get a rise out of her and goad her into thinking, David tried not to gloat. After all, once Jenny understood the point of the game - the point of games in general - she would turn her tactical brilliance to bear on him, and that would be the end. In fact, it was probably already too late. Her bright, round eyes had turned steely, the way they always did when she focused. He could almost see the game board spinning in her mind, like a holographic display in a sci-fi film, then morphing into a strategic map of emplacements and defences.
Jenny reached across to David's side of the board and lifted two pieces from the column of five. "I shall move these here." She tapped them on the intermediary point, then stacked them between the three-column and the five-column right in front of her.
"Very good," he commended her. "That makes it much more difficult for me to get my pieces out."
"And mine are still safe. This isn't a race," she observed as she chewed on her thumb and studied the board. "This is a battle. Attacking whilst defending your own, securing territory, taking casualties, and bringing in reinforcements."
David’s smile shone with pride. He loved watching new ideas take hold in his sister’s mind then develop and blossom. "Yes. All within the boundaries of rules of engagement determined before the battle started."
"The dice introduce a random element to it," she noted.
"Yes, but that's an important part of it all." He pointed at the board, then rattled his dice at her. "You create the best defense you can but you cannot fully predict what your opponent will do or what you will be capable of next turn."
"Like in a real battle." Jenny smiled, a predatory glint in her eye, and David knew that the whole concept of gaming and competition had hit home with her.
"Exactly. You see now? This isn't just a child's diversion." Jenny nodded, and David responded with his own. "Games, and sport as well, are abstractions of combat, but no one gets hurt. Well, there's bruising of ego, something I'm sure I'll need to get used to." He reached over and tapped the numbered cube he'd set aside as he set up the board. "And then there's the doubling cube. It adds a dimension of speculation, economics, and negotiation to the game."
Jenny chewed on her lip as she studied the board and positions. "Are all games like this?"
David shrugged. "Well, yes and no. Backgammon has a simple set of rules that, when you get into it, are deceptively complex, yet it's easy enough to play casually. There are games for children that are easy to understand and play, and others are so deep that people spend their lives analyzing them. I'll show you chess sometime, though it's really not my thing, and I'm sure there are Gallifreyan games we can look up." Fidgeting a bit, Jenny seemed eager to jump up to research them right now. "But I'd say that all games are designed for strategic thinking and competition against other players or against the rules themselves. And really, the main thing is that playing these games is fun. You play them for entertainment and social interaction, as well as the competition and intellectual stimulation."
Jenny bobbed her head up and down in a quick nod, barely keeping her energy in check. "What other games are there?"
"There are millions of them," he said with a laugh. "But why don't we concentrate on learning this one?"
"All right." Sitting up straight, Jenny rubbed her hands together, eager for her next turn, as David dropped his dice in his cup and rolled.
Within a couple of turns, Jenny had grown accustomed to the game and played as smoothly as her brother did, her attention now focused on strategy and efficiency. She lost the game by only a few moves. As David dropped the last of his pieces into his box, she grinned at him. "That was fun! Let's play again.”
David grinned, his tongue tracing his teeth, as he began setting up the board. “We’re going to be sitting here playing this all day, aren’t we? I must say, though, it’s refreshing seeing you handle losing so well.”
Jenny’s wide eyes were fixed on her brother’s movements as she placed her pieces to mirror his. “What do you mean?”
“Most people get upset at losing games.”
She paused, frowning. “Why would they do that?”
David bit back an amused smile at her simple innocence. “Well, first, winning is more fun than losing. But mainly, people are competitive, and they feel losing’s a blow to their self-confidence, proof that you’re not as good as your opponent. Not many people take that well.”
“You wouldn’t get upset, I’m sure.”
“Oh, I would. I bet you’ll get your chance to see right quick.” He tapped the newly set-up backgammon board.
Jenny grinned at her brother, then glanced down and shook her head at the game. “But it makes no sense. A game is a simulation of war. You fight as best you can, and you live or you die. There’s no room for pride or shame. I should like to win, but the value is in the performance, how long you survived and how much you contributed to your side.”
“Ah, yes.” Leaning back in his seat, David surveyed his sister from top to toe. “Remember, you were born into unusual circumstances and taught different values and priorities than most people. To most, winning is everything. To you, it’s the journey that matters.” He felt a twinge of envy. “Make sure you hold on to that.”
“I’ll try.” She picked up her dice cup and shook it. “Can I go first this time?”
“Actually,” David drawled as he fished a die out of his cup, “we’re supposed to roll for it with one die each, and the winner uses the combined roll for the first move.” He poured the remaining die from his cup onto the board.
“Got it.” Mimicking his actions, she tossed her die, and they turned their attention to the new game.
“This is all your fault, isn’t it?” barked the Doctor as he strode into the laboratory where his twin hung upside-down from the high vaulted ceiling, fiddling with one member of a complex array of floating matte black balls that stretched from wall to wall. His mouth currently occupied with a sonic screwdriver clamped in his teeth, David’s only response was an arching eyebrow.
Spinning on his heel, the Doctor paced the breadth of the room with his hands jammed in his pockets. “I mean, that’s the way it always is, isn’t it? She gets an idea lodged in her head, and who’s always behind it? You! Every time! Why do I even let you talk to her?”
David snatched the sonic out of his mouth and applied it to his work. “Yes, I’m sure it’s all my fault, whatever it is,” he murmured to himself absently as he concentrated. He knew he didn’t need to pay attention. Whatever the matter was, the Doctor would ramble until he ran out of steam and the issue would be solved.
“It’s all she can talk about now. ‘Dad, show me chess,’” he mimicked in falsetto. “‘Let’s play that poker variant from Jaraneethras that uses that thirty-card deck. I read about ulipantl from Ossipar VII; it said it takes three arms and two mouths to play, but don’t you think we could do it, Dad?’ ‘Well,’ I told her, ‘it’s hardly a test of skill if you can’t keep the pressure up on all of the outlets at once,’ so she started drawing diagrams of how to modify the looldep for humanoid players!”
Stopping in mid-stride, he threw his hands up, shaking his head at the wall in front of him. “And now she’s talking sports! She wants to build a football pitch, here in the TARDIS! Now cricket, that I can do. I could spend centuries playing cricket. Actually did once, but you know that. But I don’t know the first thing about football. How do you play football with two people?”
David stuffed the sonic under his arm and grabbed the ball in front of him to adjust its position. “First thing is don’t build a full pitch. You want to be like two blokes mixing it in the back garden, so scale it down.”
The Doctor twirled around. “To what dimensions, you think? Wait.” He peered up at his twin. “What are you doing up there?” he squeaked.
“Working on the high-density bodies.” When the Doctor stared blankly at him, David rolled his eyes. “For the experiment?” Pursing his lips, the Doctor shook his head. “Effects of mass on localised time dilation? It’s all I’ve been working on, past two weeks.”
“Oh, that. Right.” The Doctor dismissed it with a wave of his hand and paced off again, leaving David shaking his head in amusement at the man’s obvious preference for his daughter to the exclusion of almost everyone else. “Jenny’s just obsessed with the whole idea of games and competition, and I can’t seem to get her to think about anything else.”
Stuffing the sonic back between his teeth again, David pushed the ball he was working on into its position. He checked its flotation, then pulled himself up to the bar he’d been hanging from and climbed down the scaffolding that criss-crossed the ceiling, dropping lightly to the ground. “Why do you need her to?” he asked the Doctor as he stowed the screwdriver in a pocket.
“It’s not healthy, obsessing about one thing like that.”
“It’s not? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.” Dusting his hands off on his trousers, he leant back against the wall and regarded the Doctor with a thoughtful look. “You were worried about her proclivity for violent pursuits. Isn’t this a better outlet?”
“Of course it is -” the Doctor agreed, but David cut him off with his next question.
“Is she ignoring her studies for this?”
“Well, no -”
“She’s working at the curriculum just as hard as normal?”
“Yes, but -”
“So.” Straightening up, David settled a into wide stance and crossed his arms. “She’s still the dedicated, conscientious Time Lady she’s always been and you’re complaining about the perfectly harmless activity she’s pursuing in her free time.”
The Doctor threw his hands up. “Of course it sounds bad if you’re going to put it like that.”
“I’d think you’d love her interest in games. They teach strategy and critical thinking, and provide friendly competition. They keep your mind sharp and flexible.” David paused, his tongue tracing his lip before he continued. “Ohh,” he growled with a sly smile, “it’s not the games, is it? That’s not what you’re upset about. You’re losing to her, aren’t you?”
The Doctor turned away, scratching the back of his neck. “Well...” he drawled.
“Oh, you are! You are!” Pointing at him, David threw his head back and laughed.
“All right, all right, yes, she’s been winning,” the Doctor grumbled. “I’d be fine if I could compete at all, but if the game’s the least bit skill-based, she groks the rules then wipes the floor with me. Sometimes I get the first game, when she’s getting her bearings, but that’s it!”
“Welcome to my world since I stepped foot in this place,” David murmured. He smirked at the Doctor. “I bet she catches you when you try to cheat, too.”
The Doctor drew himself up, his eyebrows knitted in piqued pride. “I do not cheat.”
David rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. You’re the Doctor. That’s what you do. Any time someone tells you a rule, your first act is to step around it.”
The Doctor pretended to be suddenly interested in the lintel of the door. “Well, I suppose I have tried a few things.”
“And she sees them right away and won’t let you.”
“Not one bit.” Striding across the room, the Doctor pulled down one of the balls that hung just above his head and picked at it. “I don’t get it. How did get she so brilliant? I’m her father, but she makes me feel like I’m sitting in the corner with fingerpaints and a full-body apron.” He turned and fixed David with a puzzled stare. “How do you cope with this so well?”
“Oh, thanks,” grunted David, his lips pursed in a sarcastic sneer. With a sigh, he walked up to the Doctor and pointedly removed the ball from his grasp and placed it back in position. “How I ‘cope’ with trailing miles behind either of you is to not have a galaxy-spanning ego in the first place. So you’re not the best at every game. Big deal.” He poked the Doctor in the chest, sending him swaying back in place. “Play them for the fun of spending time with your daughter.”
The Doctor bit his lip. “I suppose I could do.”
“And besides,” David added, “this is exactly the kind of thing she’s brilliant at: strategising within the limitations of a defined set of rules. So use it to teach her what you’re good at, which is bending the rules in your favor. There’s no one in the universe better at that than you.”
“Ohh,” breathed the Doctor. “That’s brilliant. You’re brilliant!”
“I have my moments,” grinned David. “And if that isn’t good enough for you, then find some three-player games so the two of you can beat up on me.”
“Oh, we’ll take you up on that.”
“I’m sure you will. Now get out. I’m busy.” Without another word, David turned and hopped up the scaffolding to work on another ball.
“By the way,” the Doctor began, wagging a finger at him, “is that my sonic?”
“This?” David fished the device out of his pocket and held it up. “Aye. Nicked it out of your pocket a few weeks back. Was wondering when you’d notice.”
The Doctor grinned at his trick. “Thought I lost it at that party on Solrepitas. That duke tried to swipe it, oh, three or four times. I think…” he drawled, “I think it’s time for some lessons on sonic technology. It’s time you made your own.”
“All right.” David nodded, concealing his excitement at the idea of his own sonic device behind a tolerably bored shrug. “Don’t think you’re getting this back until then.”
“Then I’d better step it up. Come see me when you’re done with your experiments.” With a jaunty salute, the Doctor strode out of the lab. David gazed about the room with a thoughtful smile, the tip of his tongue pressed to the roof of his mouth, then returned to his work.