Red or Black

Vala and Teal'c had been playing checkers for a year. At first, Daniel had thought it was cute. Vala had tired rather quickly of watching him and Mitchell or General Landry play chess. He'd tried to explain the rules to her, of course; once or twice, she had even attempted to play the game with him. She tended to like the knights because…well, she'd seen enough Arthurian movies recently to choke a horse. She also liked the Queen because she found it somehow fitting that the female monarch was capable of moving in any direction she pleased and Daniel told her that the Queens were considered to be the most strategically valuable pieces on the board. Beyond that, the allure of chess eluded her. It wasn't that she lacked the intelligence or even the mental focus to play the game. After all the time he'd spent with her, he had long since realized that Vala was one of the smartest people he had ever met. Furthermore, when she wanted something, she latched onto it with a tenacity and single-mindedness unlike anything he had ever seen. She was cunning and capable of devising highly sophisticated strategies of various types when she chose to. However, she also preferred active pursuits to patient waiting. In fact, Vala and patience were about the strangest bedfellows he could imagine. She also complained that chess was too difficult for her to cheat at, which seriously detracted from the game's appeal. So usually, while Daniel played chess, she went off to pester whoever else happened to be within reach.

One day, the fortunate individual happened to be Teal'c. Daniel had never been entirely sure how the two of them decided to play checkers that afternoon, other than that Teal'c had described it to Vala as a more entertaining alternative to chess. At least, that was what she told him afterward. It took her a couple of days afterward to really absorb the rules of the game, but once she had, she decided that it was the best diversion she had found on the Odyssey in months. Daniel wasn't sure whether to be flattered or relieved by that statement.

Then the two of them devised a competition they dubbed The Grand Checkers Championship of the Galaxy. No one, including Teal'c, had really thought that Vala would stick with for it very long, but she had proven them all wrong. It was hard to pin down exactly what the rules and structure of said tournament were, because they seemed to change every few weeks, depending on whether Vala was winning or losing. The one time that Teal'c had complained about the revolving rules, Daniel had suggested an arbitration process by means of which Vala would have to petition for a change in the rules and a decision be made by a neutral third party. This quickly became an annoyance to Landry and the rest of the team, as they were the only ones available to arbitrate rule disputes. Vala would follow them around day after day, never making an overt reference to the tournament rules but generally making a complete nuisance of herself until the person on the receiving end couldn't take anymore. Then, Teal'c would appear and be helpful to the point of equal but opposite annoyance.

What was worse, however, was the simple fact that they were always playing checkers. Night and day, every spare minute, every time that Daniel turned around, they were playing checkers. He got up to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night and found them still where he'd left them five hours before, bickering over a checkerboard. It was as if they'd both lost their minds--well. Vala had lost hers a long time before, but Teal'c was a completely different story.

Finally, one afternoon, he realized that he had spent a full minute staring at them and gnawing on the end of a pencil while Mitchell waited for him to make a chess move. He sighed, running a hand over his face.

"Sorry," he muttered.

"Gettin' to ya, huh?" Mitchell grimaced.

"Oh, yeah," Daniel nodded. "You think we can get them to stop?"

Mitchell pulled on his lower lip and frowned ponderously for a long time. Then he shook his head. "I got a better idea."

Reaching across the board in front of them, he began to pick up the chess pieces and set them back in the box. Daniel gaped. "Hey!"

"Trust me," Mitchell said, getting up. He returned a few minutes later with a different box, this one smaller and in the shape of a much longer rectangle. He sat down again and opened one end of the cardboard container, revealing two stacks of very familiar red and black pieces. Giving Daniel a meaningful look, he said pointedly, "Red or black, Jackson?"