by J. Ferguson a.k.a. Timeless A-Peel
Disclaimer: I don't own The New Avengers, nor the characters of Steed, Gambit, and Purdey. They belong to The Avengers (Film and TV) Enterprises. This story is written for entertainment purposes only. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: This one's sort of a strange bird. Like "Names," I got the idea while studying for exams. Amazingly, coming up with New Avengers stories is more interesting than sweating your way through a 300-page textbook. Inevitably, these tend to be influenced by whatever I was studying at the time, this one in particular focussing on my Intermediate Microeconomic Analysis course (why take them if you can't throw around the titles once in awhile?). I don't know if I've explained the concepts particularly well, but then I wouldn't recommend anyone use this to help them study! Just enjoy it for the bit of strangeness it is.
Purdey depressed Gambit's buzzer once, released, then pressed again, longer and harder than before until she could hear Gambit's footsteps approaching. The door opened to reveal her colleague, fully dressed save for jacket, pencil in hand. He had a triumphant smile on his face. "I've done it," he proclaimed.
Purdey arched an eyebrow. "You've done it lots of times, Mike Gambit, although you never seem to learn," she observed. "What makes this time so special?"
Gambit made a face she correctly interpreted to mean 'very funny,' and turned back into the flat, leaving Purdey to close the door behind her. "I mean," he clarified, "I've found a way to cut my losses on the horses."
Purdey snorted. "What, down from two pounds to fifty pence? You're too mean to lose much to begin with. How could you possibly improve on that?"
"Stop listening to you, for one," Gambit muttered, "and your tips."
Purdey bristled. "What's wrong with my tips?"
"Besides the two hour lag time after the race? Nothing," Gambit said sarcastically, "but I've done one better. Look." He held up a textbook, and Purdey tilted her head to one side to read the title.
"Economics and Game Theory." She made a face. "Were they out of science fiction at the bookstore?"
"No," Gambit said pointedly. "And it's not as bad as all that. They've got a few tricks for working out whether a gamble's fair, and if it is, whether to take it or not. It's all based on utility."
"All right, Mr. Bentham," Purdey sighed, "you've caught my interest. What's it all about?"
Gambit looked surprised. "You know utility?"
Purdey shrugged. "I took one ethics class at Sorbonne, and it's about all I remember. It's a measure of well-being or desirability, isn't it?"
Gambit nodded. "That's right. What you're meant to do is compare the utility you'd get if you didn't take a gamble, compared the expected utility you'd get if you did."
Purdey flopped onto the couch beside him. "Seems simple enough. Where do we start?"
"Expected value," Gambit told her. "Basically a weighted average. You take all the possible outcomes, multiply them by their relative probabilities, then add them up." He took out a scrap of paper. "Suppose you and I have a bet—flipping a coin, let's say—and if it's heads, you pay me ₤5, and if it's tails, I pay you the same. Now, assuming you haven't tampered with the damn thing—" Purdey gave him an innocent, 'who me?' look "—it's a fair coin, so the probability of heads or tails is .5 either way. Follow?"
"Closer than your shadow," Purdey confirmed.
"Good. Here, we'll work it out." He scribbled on the paper, and Purdey watched over his shoulder. With some squinting at Gambit's illegible handwriting, she was able to make out the equation:
EV .5(5) + .5(-5) 0
"Fascinating," Purdey said dryly. "What does it mean?"
"It means," Gambit replied with a knowing smile, "that our expected value is zero. That means it's fair gamble. Whether or not I take it depends on whether I'm risk averse or risk seeking."
Purdey made a face. "We'll have to lie, won't we?"
Gambit frowned. "What…?"
"For someone with a name like 'Gambit' you're awfully conservative when it comes to money," Purdey pointed out.
"You're saying I'm risk averse. You do know I used to jump out of planes and drove Daytona?" Gambit retorted.
"I know. I've never been able to make sense of it, either," Purdey admitted. "It must be some deep-seated psychological quirk. Maybe you should seek help."
"Figure out my masochistic tendencies when it comes to friends while I'm at it," Gambit muttered, pointedly ignoring Purdey's look. "For the sake of argument, we'll say I take it. All right?"
"Whatever you say. After all, you're the expert," Purdey agreed, with a touch of irony.
"Now," Gambit went on, "let's say I have ₤100—"
"And my utility function is U(M) M2."
"Hold do you know?"
"It just is, Purdey-girl. Work with me."
"Oh, all right."
"So, my utility is U(100)100210,000."
"Brilliant," Purdey said without much enthusiasm.
"We're just about there," Gambit muttered. "Just need to calculate expected utility." He wrote some more, pencil scratching over paper to produce a third equation:
EU (100+5) 2 + (100-5) 211025+ 9025 20,050
"You're awfully happy," Purdey observed.
"Happier than I would have been without taking the gamble," Gambit informed, finishing his work with a neat 'EU U(M).' "Expected utility beats utility without the gamble. So I should go for it. No unreliable tips required."
"You know how to bear a grudge," Purdey grumbled. "But there's one problem. It's all very well to make these sorts of calculations when you've got money and numbers to throw around. How do you go about making decision when you haven't got currency as a measure?"
Gambit tucked the pencil behind his ear. "You have to assign your own subjective values," he told Purdey. "Estimate it as best you can."
Purdey shook her head. "I don't buy it. Some things you won't be able to assign a number. It's just not feasible."
Gambit crossed his arms expectantly. "You think so?"
"I know it," Purdey said confidently.
"Give me one example," Gambit challenged, and Purdey grinned wickedly.
"I thought you might ask," she teased. "Right, put a number to this. Suppose I…" She leaned forward and whispered in Gambit's ear. Mike swallowed hard, trying not to notice how Purdey's breath in his ear tickled and added to the other sensations he was feeling. By the time she as finished, he was feeling more than a little overheated. Purdey leaned back in smug satisfaction. "Well?" she queried.
Gambit reached up and wiped a little sweat away from his top lip. "I don't think they've invented a number big enough," he admitted. "Right, so it's not foolproof, but it should work for the races."
Purdey gave a half-nod. "I'll give you that much," she decided.
"Thanks so much," Gambit drawled, leaning in. "Now, about what you said. Any chance you feel like putting theory into practice?"
Purdey shook her head. "I'm afraid that one will have to stay in the textbook," she demurred.
"Ah, well. Another time, maybe," Gambit sighed, frowning slightly
"Maybe. I doubt it'll make up for all the lost utility," Purdey told him, "but you can take me to lunch."
Gambit's face lifted again. "We could drop by the track later," he said brightly. "Then I can give this a try."
Purdey smiled with excitement. "Good idea. I had a tip this morning…"
Further Author's Notes: Too much studying and old fic ideas combine to create an entry in the 'Purdey and Gambit education series'. I'll bet Purdey knows many, many ways to raise Gambit's utility (ooh, er).
'Mr. Bentham' is Jeremy Bentham, original thinker behind the concept of utility, whom you will study in ethics class (mine, at least). Yes, you get some philosophy, too. At this rate, my next fic will be "Purdey and Gambit distinguish between authoritarianism and totalitarianism," complete with charts. Uy.