Camilla Macaulay (c_macaulay) wrote in arrivals_only,
Camilla Macaulay
c_macaulay
arrivals_only

Jenga!

Bored to tears, Camilla had gone rummaging in the gift shop to find a game to play. She'd played so much solitaire she was beginning to develop an irrational dislike of some of the face cards. It was there that Mr. Wednesday found her again.

Whatever magic he might or might not possess, no one could ever take the gift of gab away from Wednesday. He also seemed to have a knack for finding things. Too bad the lady wasn't in the mood for cards. Chess was a possibility, Wednesday remembering long-gone games of hnefatafl, and he tucked a cheap chess set under his arm before they left. What they wound up playing together today, however, was a game far simpler.

It was silly, almost. It made Camilla laugh, half at herself and half at the game, and that was all to the good; that was what Wednesday wanted to hear.

They sat across from one another at a square table in the cafe and stacked wooden blocks in a tower, then pulled out the blocks one by one and stacked those atop the others still. The clatter of blocks when the tower fell made Camilla start a little in her chair, eyes gone wide, and then she laughed at herself again. Wednesday grinned and started the tower anew.



(( Yes, they are playing Jenga. Anyone at all is welcome to tag in; Camilla and Wednesday will answer in a single comment, as I play them both. ))
Tags: camilla macaulay, gigolo joe, lisa cuddy, wednesday
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Joe had since improved his wardrobe from the last time Camilla and him had met as well as the gift shop he'd raided. Out of plastic-like coats as well as flip flops, Bermuda shorts, and Australian safari hats; he looked nearly normal in his current garb if not for that stubbornly kept ken-molded hair.

Instead, he wore a leather coat with a blue shirt and, of all things, washed out jeans. It certainly wasn't customary for Joe. But, having found the proper clothing store, experimenting with look had become something of a past time over the past couple of weeks.

It was pleasurable to see Camilla again so long after their stint in the wash room.

"Camilla!" he called out in a tone that could be very well pinned as joyous. Yes, Joe had identified the woman with great importance and couldn't wonder that the feeling might not be as mutual as he presumed.

"Why are you playing with blocks of wood?" Joe asked, noticing the activity.

Intent on the Jenga tower, Camilla finished her turn, then waved. "Hi, you! This is a game. It's called Jenga. It's ... simplistic," she said.

"Now, Camilla, we shouldn't underestimate Jenga. Tournaments of Jenga are held all over the world. It's a game of precision and strategy," Wednesday remonstrated, a twinkle in his eye. "And who might this young man be?" Machine, Wednesday could tell off the bat, and it gave him a very well-concealed case of the heebie-jeebies, reminding him of the robotic things you could sometimes see Backstage.

"This is Joe," Camilla said. She omitted the preface gigolo. To her that was part of Joe's previous life as a slave, and she assumed he'd want to leave it behind now he was free. "Joe, this is Mister Wednesday."

"A pleasure to make your acquaintance," said Wednesday smoothly. "Would you care to give Jenga a try, then, Joe?"
"It's nice to meet you, Mr. Wednesday. I like that day. Humans refer to that day as hump day. Very witty. They get a chortle out of it, as I remember. And chortling for a day known for humping is very good for business, wouldn't you say?" Joe said, conversationally.

And then, "I'll give it a go. What's the object of this game, Jenga? It's very retro, isn't it? No buttons. Do you move the blocks yourself?"

He said this all in his customary quick chatter. Very clipped. Very chipper.

He'd sat down, closer to Camilla than Mr. Wednesday. He gave her a smirk of a smile before returning his attention back to the tower.
Wednesday raised an eyebrow. Was the machine glitching? "I won't take offense at that," he said, still smoothly. "I'm a plain-speaking man," which was something of a misleading remark at best, "and customs are different where I'm from. As is our estimation of wit. However, let's have some consideration for the lady's presence, shall we?"

Camilla, a bit alarmed, fiddled with a Jenga block. "Not all humans are the same, Joe," she said. It was as much a message to Wednesday as to the robot. You can't expect him to know these things. "Humans where you're from were probably cruder in their speech around you, because they wouldn't have seen you as an equal and therefore wouldn't have felt a need to regulate their speech. The same way people wouldn't scruple to watch their language around animals."

Wednesday nodded. He took her meaning well enough. More, he found it interesting. Clearly this machine wasn't in full command of his current situation, whatever his past circumstances might have been. "Jenga's a very simple game, to be sure." The chess set lay under Wednesday's chair, unneeded for now. "Nothing automated about it. The blocks are stacked into a tower, then each player removes a block at a time. The goal is to stack the removed blocks at the top of the tower, and to build it as high as possible. The choice of blocks to remove is not as simple as you'd think. The loser is the person who finally makes the tower fall, which makes the other players all winners by default. More games end that way than you'd think."

Joe, on the other hand, had seen nothing crude about anything that he'd said. To Joe sex, and all words relating too, were simply that. And though the joke wasn't the most humorous it had never occurred to Joe that it might have been inappropriate in any way. Even the most devout of religious people freely succumbed to their own brand of rash humor when in the presence of a gigolo, man or mecha.

But, out of a pure learned respect for Camilla's wishes (a relationship he'd more than gotten accustomed to over their two meetings) Joe nodded to her discomfort of the comment and filed it away that this sort of humor shouldn't be used anymore in her presence.

"Ah," he said, with interest and understanding after studying to tower intensely. "Who's turn is it?"

Mechas were famous for their love of games, an aspect which helped them be more socially fluid. When everything was a strategy to prove, disprove, agree, or disagree to some ending means it made for a more natural conversation.

"We're in the middle of my turn," said Camilla, who had laid aside her block momentarily to have a look at the side of the box the game had come in. There the rules were printed. "You know, this says that the person who wins is the one who took the last move before the turn in which someone loses."

Wednesday only raised both eyebrows at her, and gave her a slight knowing grin when she looked up from the box to meet his eyes (or, more properly, his eye). Camilla bit her lip. Talking to Wednesday was not always a straightforward business. What he seemed to be conveying now was that he hadn't really been speaking literally, or that he'd somehow ... meant something broader? Jenga as a metaphor for life, or ... well, Camilla couldn't quite catch whatever he meant to convey.

Which might have been the whole purpose.

Jenga was a simple game. Wednesday knew many games. "I stand corrected, m'dear." But something in the way he said it suggested he really didn't stand corrected at all -- that he'd known full well what he was saying and what the box said, and that the disjunction had been intentional. And something in the quirk of his mouth said that he was savoring the consequent moment of confusion. "I am always willing to be taught. Perhaps you'll let me teach you a game in return, some time." Hnefatafl was surely what old Grimnir had in mind.

But Camilla's attention had flitted away, back to the box, which she handed to Joe -- "You can read the rules if you like; that might make it easier?" -- and then to the tower. "My turn ends ten seconds after I place the block. The next person gets to wait that long to see if anything I did makes the tower fall." She reached carefully to lay the block she'd held atop the tower, crosswise to the top layer of blocks. "There." They weren't very far into this game yet at all; there was no real chance of destruction as yet.

Wednesday nodded to Joe. "Have a go at it, if you like. No sense in rebuilding the tower for a new game when we've only just started this one, is there?"
Joe read the rules diligently. He then waited 7.5 seconds as he'd spend 2.5 seconds reading the rules. He stared at the tower and after the aforementioned 10 seconds, and the sturdiness of the tower was still not in question, he looked at the lowest lying platform that was not already touched and swiftly poked out the middle block (with such even force that it shot out the other side and landed within a well-safe distance from the tower) and with the same hand he quickly placed it on the top next to Camilla's piece.

Joe's dexterity was part of his programming. Swift and exact movements served him well, especially in his fingers.

He waited precisely ten seconds from his turn before turning to Mr. Wednesday expectantly with a smile. He immediately decided that he liked this game.

And that, right there, was part of what Wednesday didn't like about machines. Humans were nicely messy. Gave him something to work with. Machines moved quickly and thought literally, in linear paths. It wasn't something a man like Wednesday would ever mistake for perfection, in its severe limitation, but it was something that excluded the little subtleties on which Wednesday thrived. Misdirection, sleight-of-hand, the tricks the human mind could be so easily induced to play on itself -- these things were essential to Wednesday's modus operandi, and these things were absolutely wasted on a machine, so much water off an oiled duck's back.

None of which meant Wednesday need find himself at a loss here. The machine had already shown himself as much hindered by the linearity of his thought as anything. He might be good at Jenga, but at interaction, not so much.

"Well played, my boy, well played." By contrast with Joe's performance, Wednesday's move seemed all the smoother. No stopwatch in his head, no movement done by rote. Casually he eyed the tower, tapped out a block, and completed the new top level.

This done, he turned to Camilla. "I don't think I have to wait ten seconds, if I'm sure it's not going to fall," she said, and took her turn with no fanfare.
Though Joe had no intuition nor had he a sense of auras of fear or nervousness, he'd long studied the physicality of humans. Wednesday's movements seemed very conscious. Perhaps they were just as deliberate as Joe's, but in a different way and for a different meaning. No flinch was without its purpose.

"Mr. Wednesday," Joe addressed the aging human. "Why do you call me 'boy?'"

He flicked a block out from the side, held it for a few moments, and placed it delicately on the top, starting a new level.
Camilla watched, her curiosity outweighing the obscure feeling that she really ought to be easing the social situation somehow. It felt as precarious as a teetering Jenga tower, much less solid than the actual tower on the table before them. Camilla didn't know who -- what -- Wednesday really was, of course. She did know he could make her feel at times that she'd swum alarmingly out of her depth, and at other times, he could be immensely reassuring, a solid presence, projecting he'd seen it all before; a sort of stick with me, kid vibe. It kept her off guard, the way he went from rock-solid to weirdly elusive as quick as a wink. What could a creature like Joe possibly make of him? And what could he possibly make of Joe? He didn't seem to treat Joe the way a person from Joe's culture would treat a mecha. Maybe Wednesday really hadn't seen it all before.

Wednesday only gave a benign shrug. "Because you're younger than I by far, and I arrogate to myself the few compensations of age. When you see the world as I do, everyone could be a son." Fitting words for the All-Father. "Do you have a last name, Joe?" Idly he picked out a Jenga block and stacked it, then turned to Joe for his answer as he waited for Camilla to take her turn.

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"The first bit's from Pinocchio, yes. But I know that poem," Camilla objected. "It's got nothing to do with the Blue Fairy, or with turning dolls into humans. It's quite the opposite -- it's by Yeats, it's a Celtic thing, and the gist of it is that they're trying to get a human to join the fairies. To join the fairy world. And those last two lines you said, 'The quest will be perilous / Yet the reward is beyond price', those aren't part of the poem at all."

Wednesday shook his head. "You could be talking about any number of wood nymphs, and none of them have a power like you've described. More like than not it's a ruse to lure the subject into drowning. Water spirits feed on that kind of thing." The comment lacked any judgement, either against the nymph or its prey; utterly neutral, matter-of-fact, this is the way the world is and has always been.
Straddled by two intellectuals, both with their different specialties, Joe was a tad overwhelmed by their contrasting answers. On one hand, Camilla was disputing any validity in Dr. Know (a program Joe had grown to trust over the years) and on the other Wednesday had prescribed a perfectly dismal fate for David...except...

"David can't drown, Mr. Wednesday. But if, indeed, the Blue Fairy doesn't exist then I fear David is lost."

Joe's face turned grave at the thought. But grave for Joe was more thoughtful than miserable. But even with this limitation, there was a loss in his eyes that might not have appeared before, wonderment mixed with confusion.

"A mecha's purpose is to fulfill its programming. David was programmed to be loved and to, thus, give love. Because of this love he was in search of a fairy tale, as you put it." Joe nodded at Camilla. "But if David believed he had found the Blue Fairy, water spirit or a mirage, he will not have given up until it had given him what he desired most, to be human and receive the love of a mother as she would love a human boy. Even in the submersed amphibicopter and even being a mecha I don't know how long David would last without maintenance. It's mighty big trouble, that. Very glum."

Joe slid a block from the bottom of the Jenga tower, solemnly, and placed it on top. The tower waggled a little.
"A boy who can't drown won't be any use to a nymph, wood or water, or to any rusalka. She'll let him go. Might have to drive him off, if what you say is so. Her trap won't work with prey already in it and refusing to leave." Cold comfort seemed a specialty of Wednesday's.

Unless ...

Humans imagined gods around technological forces, and fed them energy, but technology rose and fell rapidly, and with them those gods were forgotten. There had been the great and silent titans of the steam railways, now all gone. Wednesday wasn't inclined to think a robot like Joe or his David could engender a god, no matter how desperate their hopes for one. Wrong kind of energy. Did a machine have a soul?

So he didn't offer that line of speculation.

Camilla narrowed her eyes at Wednesday. Making Joe sad was like kicking a puppy. He couldn't take care of himself, she thought. At the same time ... maybe what Wednesday had said was something Joe needed to hear.

"As long as David's striving to fulfill his programming," she offered, softly, "he can't be real anyway. He would have to move past that, somehow. Break it."
Joe was starting to doubt Wednesday's suspicions on what David could have found. It occurred to him that perhaps someone could be too knowledgeable and even the most wise of people could be at a disadvantage when met with another universe with differing rules.

"Do you think," Joe replied with a softness rivaling hers, "that this...move past his programming would have been possible? Do you think he would have given up his primary design to unconditional love for self-preservation?"

Joe gave her a hopeful look, as if Camilla had the power to look through Joe's blue/green eyes and into the ocean to David to find out if he had survived or not. It was, perhaps, the most purely independent question Joe had asked. Ever.

Camilla considered this question. Honestly, from what little Joe had told her of David, she didn't know if his chances were all that good. Her answer, when it came, was careful and quiet.

"I think," she said, being as sincere as she could without sacrificing tact, "that if you can do so, perhaps he could as well."

Wednesday found this exchange more interesting in what it said about Camilla than what it said about Joe or the unknown David. She knows that thing hasn't got a sheep's chance in hell. And she'd be kinder just to say so. She doesn't want to deal with the fallout, does she? She doesn't want to be responsible. He'd met women like her before. Courteous to a fault, but their give-a-shit only went so far.

He liked this in a woman, as mortal women went. It was a core of essential coldness like his own. He could respect that.

He gave Camilla a knowing grin and she bit her lip.

"I've got a handkerchief," he said, chipper.

"I don't think they cry," she shot back.

"Joe, your friend David would have to want to overcome his programming. Do you think he wanted to?" Wednesday laid it on the line.
Joe could see Camilla's lie but wasn't angry with it. It was what humans did. They lied to friends to prevent pain. They lied to enemies to cause pain. And they lied to themselves to both prevent and cause pain. An honest human was rare, if they existed at all. He lowered his eyes.

And then he looked up at Wednesday.

"No," he admitted. "If he thinks he's found the Blue Fairy then he'll stay. He'll expire to be nothing more than another piece of debris on the ocean floor."

Joe's large eyes searched the aged man's.

"That's what will happen to David, isn't it, Mr. Wednesday? I've sent the poor boy to his very grave. Trapped in love."

Ever so slightly his eyes squinted. "When God built Adam and Eve in that fateful week in Eden's gates did he ever make such a mistake? Did Adam fall in love with a rock? And when that rock fell down a crevice did he fall down and break his neck? Who's to say that Adam and Eve weren't the second models? And why built a fruit tree if not to be eaten, forbidden or not?"

Without looking away from Wednesday, Joe continued on his epiphany-filled monologue, talking to Camilla.

"I think I've eaten the apple, Camilla. It was bitter and sweet at the same time. It was not red, it was blue. Like melancholy. Like the ocean. Like...the fairy..."

Joe paused. He touched his face. A tear had escaped in the middle of his metaphor.

"I'm leaking! Like I was in the amphibicopter." He rubbed his fingers together spreading the liquid around the tips in curiosity.
Wednesday nodded grimly in answer to Joe's question. No sense in sugarcoating it. "That indeed may very well be what's happened to David. You know, there are some people who don't believe Jehovah made man at all," he commented on Joe's mythological digression, producing a neatly folded handkerchief from his breast pocket and offering it to the 'leaking' mecha.

Camilla, raised a Catholic, and not knowing Wednesday's reasons for preferring certain cosmogonies to others, ignored her Jenga partner, turning to Joe. "You're not leaking, I don't think -- I hope you're not leaking." He seemed to be weeping, silently, except that she wasn't sure whether he was supposed to be able to do that. Probably he was, she supposed by analogy with other secretions she knew he could produce. Still, she looked concerned. "What was the apple you ate, Joe? And how was it blue?"
Joe took Wednesday's handkerchief with slight hesitation. He unfolded the tight creases pondered if the hanky had ever been used. He rubbed his face tentatively, inexperienced with the act.

"The apple was knowledge and realization as in Eden. It was blue because all it has cause has been upset."

He chuckled.

"I had told David that I would cause his fairy to blush but I think she has, instead, spread her hue to me. Tell me how that is possible when there is a substantial possibility that she doesn't even exist."
Wednesday grunted. "There's a story for piss-poor shepherds. Knowledge an apple just hanging ripe and ready to be plucked. Pipe dreams and pap. Knowledge is hard-earned and fought for. You buy it with your blood and sweat, and if that's all the coin you have to pay, consider yourself damn lucky. Things other than fruit hang from trees."

Camilla's eyes went a little wide at this, not in astonishment so much as in a wary kind of recognition. Not recognition of what Wednesday was, per se; recognition that he was telling the truth, though, and a truth Camilla herself had learned. "I know," she said to him, simply, aside, before addressing the mecha. "A fairy that doesn't exist can't blush, that's true," she said. "But you exist. Did you want to be the fairy? Give David his wish?"

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Jenga? Oh, why not. Cuddy hadn't played the game in years, but it couldn't be too horrible of an idea. She remembered being younger, the way the blocks teetered precariously before toppling into a loud, quick fall. No one had ever been scared of the commotion, they always just laughed.

"I think she's beating you," Cuddy said to Camilla, tilting her head to indicate Wednesday. Her smile was warm. If Cuddy had been playing, chances were she'd be beaten, too.
Camilla looked up to the newcomer. "Oh? You could be right. Mr. Wednesday is a gracious victor, at least."

"No more gracious than I am in defeat," Wednesday answered smoothly. In truth he'd never excelled at what you might call sportsmanship, but the real game at this table for him wasn't Jenga at all. He looked the part of a man used to playing high-stakes games, though, and a man who could afford heavy losses, in his Armani suit and his starch-white immaculate shirt (how did he manage to stay that dapper in a place with no dry-cleaning?) and the silver tie pin that, if you knew what was to be known, you'd see to be the shape of the World Tree.

"Would you like to play?" Camilla's smile was bright and sincere. "It's not the most challenging game in the world but it's not as though the airport offers much by way of diversion. And I'd love to talk with someone new. I'm Camilla Macaulay, and this is Wednesday, as I said."
There again, Cuddy was meeting new people. It wasn't something she minded at all, in fact here in this place she was having a better chance at socializing than she ever would have had in the hospital. And it wasn't that she minded either way. Work had always been the most important thing in her life. Now, the world had forced her to change a bit. Cuddy would have to adapt, and if adapting included Jenga...

"Sure." She moved over to join the game. "I'm Lisa Cuddy. I used to live in Princeton, New Jersey before ending up here."
"Princeton? Were you affiliated with the university at all?" Camilla asked with polite interest.

Wednesday started to rebuild the tower so they could start the game afresh, and grinned, and said nothing as yet.
Cuddy tended to feel a small surge of pride at that question, whenever it came to her. Being in the position she was - she still wasn't ready to think she might never go home - at Princeton-Plainsboro was a highly thought of thing. She enjoyed it a great deal, and didn't mind talking about it when she had the chance. Now, this was a fine opportunity for it to present itself.

"Yes, I was," Cuddy said. "I was the Dean of Medicine. Most of the interns and students came through me, and I taught a few classes."
Hm. It was, of course, an impressive career, as these things were reckoned. The sorts of motives that led a person to pursue such a career were utterly foreign to Camilla. Their teacher, Julian, had said once of her classmate Henry: It's remarkable how good he is at anything he tries. He can grow flowers, repair clocks like a jeweler, add tremendous sums in his head. Even if it's something as simple as bandaging a cut finger he manages to do a better job of it. I gather that his parents are disappointed that he's decided to concentrate so exclusively on the classics. I disagree, of course, but in a certain sense it is rather a pity. He would have made a great doctor, or soldier, or scientist... It was the same for all of them, though none of them quite managed to be as good at everything as Henry was. Why study anything but the classics? To make money? None of them were in any great need of money. To help people? Goodness, there were plenty of other people to do that kind of job. And if one really wanted to, one could turn one's mind to anything.

So Camilla was mildly impressed by Cuddy's statement, in a sort of bland obligatory way. But nothing more than that.

Wednesday, on the other hand, had an eye for practicalities. "Good to have a doctor in the house," he said. Not that he imagined he'd need one.