Authors: Barry N. Malzberg
TACTICS OF CONQUEST
Barry N. Malzberg
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Chapter One: Pawn to King Four
Chapter Two: Pawn to King Four
Chapter Three: Queen to Bishop Three
Chapter Four: Queen Knight to Queen Bishop Three
Chapter Five: Bishop to Bishop Four
Chapter Six: Queen Knight to Rook Four
Chapter Seven: Queen Takes Bishop Mate
Also by Barry N. Malzberg
A Glossary of Terms
“If all this is a little mad, well, then, so is the game itself ...”
Frank Brady in
Profile of a Prodigy
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FIFTEENTH GAME RUY LOPEZ
Q X B MATE
The fifteenth game, superficially a Fool’s Mate in Four, was found to be one of the most interesting of the series and there is no reason for followers of David, Black in this match, to despair. Although his game appears to have collapsed, this four-move match is actually characterized by great subtlety and originality of play on both sides and had it not been for the unfortunate blunder on move three in which Black attacked the Bishop rather than protecting his own situation, the outcome might have been quite different.
Most experts interviewed after the match feel that all would have been dead even with a slight advantage, perhaps, to Black, barring the blunder. It is assumed, thus, that when David returns to the White for the sixteenth match two days hence in the Orion Cluster, the verve and invention
shown here, given the initiative, may well give him a victory. Certainly, with at least eleven games to go, the series must be seen as in its early stages, and the ten-to-five margin by which Louis has taken the lead, statistically insignificant.
Fans and followers are thus advised that the series remains a tight struggle. Supporters of Louis may, while proud of his victory, take no assurance that he has an “easy set.” On the other hand, David’s many followers throughout the billions of worlds of the colonized universe may take heart from the courage and daring of his play in the fifteenth match, and may rest assured that their proponent has “just begun to fight,” as he often says.
Interviewed briefly after the match, Louis said, “Yes, it was a good match for me and I was surprised to win so easily in four. But David is a shrewd and cunning grandmaster and was not shown to his best advantage today. If it had not been for his one small blunder the game would have been even after four and I was girding myself for a long, hard struggle. I am sure that this is going to be a difficult series. I will repeat what I said after my seven-move victory two days ago: We have not yet seen the real David but he is rounding into form and when he begins to play to his potential this will settle into a very tight contest.”
David would not be interviewed. Sources close to him report, however, that his spirits remain high and that far from being dismayed by this four-move game his “will to fight” has now been sparked. “He’s pretty angry now,” an informed source stated, “and when he gets angry, well, you know him, he starts to play quite brilliantly. I do
think that this match has now reached its turning point.”
Although this game was distinguished by its brevity—it may someday be known as one of those “little masterpieces” or “miniatures” with which grandmaster chess is never abundant, but each is a treasure—there are many interesting aspects to be unearthed in commentary.
White’s opening move P—K4 is a conventional Ruy Lopez but Black’s responding P—K4 indicates that he is in a “fighting mood” and ready to “join the battle.” White’s second move, an over-ambitious posting of the Queen, indicates an open game; Black’s response, a quick development of the Knight, shows that he is following for the moment convenient lines of Ruy Lopez still.
It is at White’s third move, B—B4, that the match becomes truly original, making its first contribution to the literature on outstanding contests. It is an obvious attempt to play a fighting game in the center of the board: The temporary abandonment of the Queen further reveals the true openness of the contest. Black’s response, attacking the Queen, is a rugged joining of the battle. Deviating from the Ruy Lopez on the third move and its conventional Sicilian, Black has shown himself willing to move into truly uncharted waters. One can only admire and be awed by the depth and profundity of this move!
White’s sudden capture of the Black Bishop, forcing mate, is, of course, unfortunate in that it could be said to bring the game to a swift conclusion, although grudging credit must be given for its ingenuity. Though it fails to answer so very many of the central, deep, profound and pressing questions raised by the initial three moves, White cannot be blamed for taking the
opportunity when it came along, of course. The mate has, then, a certain beauty and logic of its own as well as a crushing finality.
However, the depth and profundity of the game Black had prepared in the brief moves allotted him cannot be ignored and we can be sure that we will be seeing more of David’s modified Ruy Lopez in the future.
The series resumes two days hence in the Orion Cluster.
When these two most evenly matched opponents sit down for a game almost anything can happen and it usually does. Appetites for their next and subsequent matches are keener than ever.
They had a lot of trouble getting me into this fifteenth game. Playing Black, no less!
None of it was my fault. I was merely acting as would any reasonable man: setting my conditions, setting the price. Furthermore, it was apparent that at this, the fifteenth match of the cross-universal series to decide the fate of the worlds, the turning point had arrived. I was going to
my opponent, tear open his game, render him useless for the remainder of the series, and since there remained twenty-six matches beyond this I did not want to risk, at this relatively early stage, the demolition of the series.
Reasonable? Reasonable! Better, I figured, to carry Louis along,
the matches as we moved further toward the Outer Celestial Ring and there, having contrived a twenty-to-twenty tie for this last suspenseful encounter, having controlled matters toward a situation of the utmost suspense, I would destroy him utterly ... exhibiting as if for the first time the full, dazzling range of my technique and thus bring about—as had been fated from the beginning—the Era of Decency and Kindness.
But timing, ah! Timing was important. In order
to maximize the gate, in order to maintain the high level of suspense necessary to bring the largest degree of significance to my inevitable and final victory, it was necessary to carry him along. Even the Overlords would have approved (wouldn’t they?) if I had discussed my intentions with them, but I decided that it was best not to discuss the situation because the stupid creatures believe this to be an honest match and want absolutely no semblance of cheating.
So I settled upon this decision in what I like to call the channels of my mind: the necessity to win certain matches, throw others, keep up a calculated suspense all the way to the end, involving ever-greater numbers of spectators and witnesses in the tremendous struggle. But it became apparent to me as early as game seven that my opponent’s game was beginning to crack. No more the deft Ruy Lopez, the transposition of Queen Knight’s Pawn, the Fried-Liver Attack which had characterized, if rather erratically, his earlier games. Instead, he took to a solid, unimaginative line without courage or follow-through, sometimes falling into my devastating traps, other times not so much falling in as merely bypassing with a bemused expression, staring straight ahead somewhat dully, his honest and homely old face betraying extremes of emotion which he hardly had the physiognomy to put forth.
Oh, it was most distressing, is what it was. Although I knew that I could beat him literally at will and that the outcome of our matches and hence the fate of the universe was foreordained, it was unsettling nevertheless to see him coming apart so disgracefully. At this rate, I felt, he might not even last out the series, the full forty-one
games. On Deneb, therefore, I had to throw a match in a most disgraceful and obvious fashion: I had to deliberately place my King’s Rook
to his ineptly handled Bishop and then leave it there for three full moves until the clumsy fool was able at last to deduce its presence and grab it, putting me into a thunderous check and managing with my eager cooperation to win the game—which I extended to checkmate.
This brought the score of the series to nine games to five in his favor, the last eight of his victories consecutive, but his expression as he left the table, his face white and uncertain, his piggish little eyes literally flooded with tears of exhaustion and humiliation (because he knew that I had thrown the game) was enough to give me a real thrill of fear. Nine games to five advantage or not, Louis was not going to last out the series. He would have a complete emotional breakdown. He would lose control of his spirit. He would begin to fling pieces.
I therefore decided that the next game, due to be played in the fifth planet of the Antares Cluster, would be one that I would have to pass up. Forfeiture by absence, I concluded, would be the best or better policy, it would increase the margin of games won and lost by my opponent to ten and five, and in this way some suspense would be attendant. Perhaps this plan of mine, to forfeit by absence, was somewhat misguided. I would be the very first to admit this since I am neither a vain man nor an excessively righteous one (unlike most grandmasters, who are arrogant fools). Regardless, at that time, it seemed to be the proper and correct attitude. Forfeit out and save Louis the strain.
I therefore took to my cold and loveless bed
(because celibacy during a match is a condition of victory; chess is an
endeavor) in the Hilton Deneb at the conclusion of the fourteenth game of the series. I refused to arise, even for meals, except for necessary attempts to relieve myself in a large basin in the wretched adjoining room. The Overlords have supplied us with the most luxurious quarters possible and the Hilton Deneb was not lacking in amenities. An enormous structure, lofting hundreds of stories above the planetary level of this rather dismal area, it was not only well appointed but had all of those small luxuries which I still recall as being touches of home from the planet Earth where my odyssey began not so long ago. It was possible, for instance, to look down upon a large, simulated used-car lot which gleamed and sparkled some thousands of feet down, all of its vehicles polished to a high and deadly gloss by loyal attendants. And there was a constant stream of seductive Earth-type females (cunningly provided by the Overlords).
“You are the greatest chess player in the universe and the entire fate of our way of life depends upon you,” they would point out to me, “because if you win our way of life will continue to flourish and prosper but if you lose the Overlords by decree will declare the curtain to fall upon our way of life and the thousand years of destruction will begin. But that is not to worry about; you cannot lose, but still we would certainly like to make you at peace with yourself,” they would conclude in their provincial, Earth-type accents (I was touched) and then fling themselves against and upon me, their earth-type limbs lunging against mine in a most unsettling and discommoding fashion, their large, Earth-type breasts perching
on my mouth (which in more normal postures was pursed to consider the more intricate possibilities of a Knight’s Fork). I turned all of them away, of course, some regretfully. Sex and championship chess do not mix and it is important at all costs to keep the two activities separate but on the other hand I will admit that some caused me to doubt. The Overlords had provided me with an excellent selection of females. Doubtless they were doing the same to Louis in his room (for all the good that that would do them!) but my will can survive such cheap distractions and one and all I cleared them out of my quarters. After the matches, when I save the universe, it will be a different story, of course.
On the third day, when I had not yet arisen from bed to commence my ablutions before departure to the Antares Cluster, the Overlord whom I know only as Five came into the room, somewhat imperiously I thought (they simply have no sense of privacy; it must be a gestalt-culture), and addressed me as I was still lying on the bed.
“David,” he or it said, “it is important that you arise now. The ship is about to depart. Everyone else is on it and waiting.”
“I don’t feel well,” I said without moving. The Overlords and I have cultivated a relative informality of exchange, but I do admit that I feel a certain sense of strain in addressing them. Xenophobes would understand. “I’m not going to leave.”
“Of course you’re going to leave,” Five said. “I told you, the ship is about to leave. We must hurry.”
“I’m sorry about this,” I said, unmoving, “but I really don’t feel well enough to go. I’m afraid
that I’m forfeiting the game for illness. But go ahead without me; I’ll catch up later on.”
“I’m afraid you don’t understand,” Five said, rather snappishly, I thought. His tentacles waved, his bipodal body became rather purple. (They are somewhat humanoid in appearance, these Overlords, but one cannot forget at any time that they are malevolent creatures who set up this match in order to impose their way of life upon us and they just are not very nice. The purple enhances the xenophobic thrust.) “This is no time for hypochondria, not when you’re due to board now and all facilities in the Cluster have been sold out for a long time. You have an obligation.”
“No. Screw it, I won’t.” There was an airy feeling of departing from ritual in saying this; chess players relish defiance as do no other obsessives. “I have a sore throat.”
“We will cure it.”
“I have chills and fever.”
“That can be worked on.”
“I have cold sweats, even when I lie at rest, and I am afraid that I am not able to think about championship chess right now.”
“Maybe later,” I said. “Maybe in a few days I will have recovered. In the meantime, Louis can give a simultaneous exhibition. That surely will take the place of competition and I’ll be better in no time.”
“I am sorry,” Five said, empurpling further. “This is wholly irregular. We never contemplated the possibility of illness holding up the matches. I’m afraid that I’m going to have to summon a physician.”
And saying no more he stalked from the room, leaving me in uneasy balance between the sheets.
In due course a Terran physician came in, quite awed by his patient, needless to say, and subjected me to a rapid if unflattering examination, ending by studying certain parts of my anal opening in a way which gave me a good deal of pain although, disgracefully, the pain was shot through now and then by the need to giggle. “I’m afraid I have no real diagnosis,” he said when he was finished and Five, getting this word from him shortly thereafter (the Overlords respect modesty), brought him back into the room to say, “This must be a lie.”
“Oh no,” the doctor said, “rather it’s a neurasthenic episode of some sort. His gross motor signs are normal. Actually, this may be a fatal illness,” the Earth-type physician concluded with a rather horrid giggle, “but, of course, I do not consider myself to be a definitive final authority on matters of this sort.” Saying no more he fled the room, the old bastard, little tools of his trade dribbling from his case as he went. Since the commencement of the matches, of course, the Overlords have enslaved the entire populations of all planets on which the matches take place, which might account for the doctor’s nerves. It is always psychologically difficult to be glimpsed as a member of a slave-class, but then again he might have been a neurasthenic specimen already working for the Overlords. They spoke of having undercover agents.
Five turned upon me then a look both querulous and penetrating, allowing the silence to magnify itself over a period, a veritable hush falling over my little suite (to say nothing of the bed in which I was lying) while he pondered all of my aspects hopefully.
“I hope you’re not trying to make problems,” he said.
“Oh no,” I said a little too eagerly, “no, I’m not trying to make things difficult at all; I just don’t feel well.”
“Because we have an enormous stake in these matches,” Five said. “After all, you must realize that we are poising our entire future plans upon how you and your opponent do, David.”
“Well, of course.”
“You were both carefully selected from many billions to carry on the contest and you had better not fail us now. We don’t like failures.”
“I understand that,” I said. Already I regretted the haste of my action, to say nothing of how impulsively I had arrived at it. Throwing a match through feigned illness suddenly struck me as a rather stupid idea considering, as Five had pointed out, the stakes involved. But then again, as I have noted, I was already too deeply committed to my posture to back out without embarrassing results. “I’m sure that I’ll feel better within a day or so.”
“A day is not satisfactory.”
“In fact it might only be hours,” I said, backing away but still stubborn. “I can’t just leap out of bed, you know. Perhaps the match could be set back—”
“I’m really afraid not,” Five said. “We’re on a tight schedule with these matches, as you know. Commitments have already been made: One hundred and fifty billion intelligent creatures of all species are participating through a complicated communications network and any delay in the matches would have catastrophic results at this time. Also,” Five added rather dourly, “also, we have our own problems, scheduling commitments and so on, of which you must be well aware. If it
does go to the final game, the forty-one-match series must be completed by a certain date. Our stay in this universe, you see, is severely affecting laws of entropy and geophysics with which I won’t bore you. If we overstay the period we risk destroying the very fabric of your universe which, as you know, is merely a small and trivial cosmology to us but rather important to you. Also, we would die here with you.”
“All right,” I said, “very well.” It occurred to me, and not for the first time I must admit (everything going on has happened at least twice before), that all of the Overlords, but particularly Five, tend to have a rather melodramatic streak. Like grandmasters themselves, they build up issues out of all proportion to their real worth. It is very difficult for a man in my position to play chess for the outcome of the universe, in short, but this was insignificant to the Overlords. I had a dilemma.
“All right,” I said again, tossing the sheets rather petulantly and then trying to sit, “if that’s the way you feel about it I’ll try to compete. But I must warn you that I’m just not in top form and that there’s a good likelihood that I’ll lose the game. Perhaps I’ll lose a whole
of games. One must be in top physical condition to play successfully; it’s an athletic endeavor, as you know, so I can hardly promise you a fair contest.”
The Overlords believe in fairness. They have insignificant morals, true, but have insisted from the beginning that this must be a fair contest, an even match, that we must play at a serious and spirited level, otherwise the exercise will be worthless. So I knew that this would strike Five in an area of grave vulnerability.
“Very well,” he said and indeed did appear
shaken. “We will take that into account, the fact of your illness and that you will perhaps be unable to perform at the best level. Still and all ... the matches must go on.”
“Only if I am well.”
“Regardless of your health.”
“Perhaps you ought to check with the others on this. They might agree to a stay.”
“I do not know that it is necessary to consult with others,” Five said, rather sharply. “The decisions are to be made by me alone; in the society which we have evolved there are only leaders, no followers, no committees, and I am perfectly able to make a decision which will be binding upon all of us. So, you will play,” Five concluded on that same pitch of controlled hysteria which I had noted in the examining physician, “you will play the matches! The matches will go on I” He stood abruptly, leaving the room in a rather undignified scuttle, allowing the door to bang in the Denebian breeze which wafted through the hallway.
Ah, well; slowly and grudgingly I began my ablutions preparatory to leaving for the Antares Cluster. It seemed to me that it was not fair for Five to be so imperious about the matter, but on the other hand it also occurred to me in that I simultaneity of vision reserved for truly great minds that the game must go on, the great series of games to decide the outcome of all possibility; and that when one is functioning at such a high level of consequence it is not always possible to invoke the personal touch. The personal touch. Thinking this way I began to feel better and in due course my garb was donned, my ablutions (I urinated, defecated noisily, gargled, to be specific) completed and I went outside to find certain Overlords—Six, Three, Seven and Twenty-One, I believe—waiting
for me. They took me quickly to the spaceport. Although I moped rather sullenly early on, I soon found that my enthusiasm and my sense of conviction returned. By the halfway point of the long flight I had taken out my omnipresent pocket chess set and worked through a series of variations to the Nizimov-Indian Defense which had caught me in the seventh game.
-Indian defense, please excuse, very difficult to keep all of these arcane formulations quite at the tip of the tongue or penpoint.
In other words, getting me to this fifteenth match was difficult for the Overlords. More difficult for them than this, however, was the decision which I reached on the flight: Since they would not cooperate with me, well, then, I would repay in kind.
My original intention, good-hearted and benign as everyone knows, was to string out these matches to the forty-first game, the last possible moment. I have nothing against that sector of the universe, that way of life which my opponent represents. I consider it to have the same validity as my own side, and the specter of billions of innocent creatures being slaughtered egregiously by the arrogant Overlords simply because their representative was an inferior player ... this spectacle of injustice, barbarism, madness most distressed me. Apocalypse may be a sanctifying gesture but there is much blood in it.
So I wanted to extend their lifetime for as long as possible. Why not? Also I wanted to give the Overlords every chance possible to destroy themselves—maybe the damned matches would simply go away. Perhaps the Overlords might wink out of our universe with the same abruptness with which they winked in. They kept on talking about their
laws of entropy and mysterious geophysical forces; possibly an extension of their stay might result in obliteration. I hope. At least, it seemed like a sensible idea and I wanted if possible to go on to the very end, to game forty-one, before my victory, in order to give this nightmare time to dissolve. Is this not sane?
But no more. I have reached that decision.
I will change my way of life: If the Overlords refuse to tolerate my position, if my hapless opponent continues to decline, then responsibility will finally shift from me. My ultimate responsibility, after all, is to that half of the universe which I have been called upon to represent: the forces of moderation, light, reason, justice, compassion, etc., and I must no longer confuse polarities. Therefore the decision I have made on the Antares flight is to be implemented; from now on I play without restraint. I intend to destroy my opponent, to smash, pulverize, and humiliate him and by proxy his damned Overlords (they are as much Louis’ fault as mine) and then bring this wretched series to a conclusion. I am behind nine games to five: I intend to win twenty-one to five. Sixteen games, thirty-two days from now, the series will be over. Having been stretched to the ultimate of patience I am now convinced only of this: Gentlemen, I will fulfill my commitments.
So here I am. Here I am in the Antares Cluster, another of that damned set of planets and stars through which our series, like a mad, bedraggled member of dismembered or discredited royalty, has wandered these weeks. From Saturn to Alpha Centauri, from Sirius to the Cluster of the Pleiades, my opponent and I have wandered, surrounded by chess sets, chess writings, Overlords,
travel consultants, reporters, crewmen, technicians, and equipment, through uncharted light years in the billions. Our little whores’ colony has trundled through the first fifteen of the forty-one high bidders for the Match of the Universe.
On Saturn my opponent had had a cold; the idiot blew sniffles and snot from his nose turned rabbity by his congestion with a quivering forefinger. On Betelgeuse a strange epidemic which caused yellowing and drying of the external genitalia (I did not want to know too much about this) made it necessary for us to play in strict quarantine. In the Pleiades I lost my temper over a missed fianchetto and drank too much. On the Dog Star a referee died in the midst of a match, emitting a strange bark (appropriate for the Dog Star), and collapsing in a gangrenous fit on the floor amidst a little halo of extra chess pieces with which he had been playing ... oh, this series has been chock-full of events, but really it has had a sameness, a repetition of the constants, the same enclosures, the same uttermost delimitation of space.
It used to be the same way in the old days, so I was prepared for this. Pulling little odd clumps and patches of recollection as one might remove the skin from a diseased animal, I know the sameness: Rio de Janeiro one week and Moscow the next; a stopover in Bern for the Interzonals and a series of exhibitions in the Americas. Then up to Iceland for a simultaneous exhibition (two hundred and fifty dollars plus expenses), into Poland to observe the quarter-finals of the Junior Masters and lecture; here, there, and everywhere but always the same board, the same pieces, the same mad, twinkling eyes refracted across the board. Certainly life is being lived now at a more intense
and psychotic pitch. It is quite one thing to move over
lacking a sense of locale but I talk now of the universe itself.
Nevertheless, life goes on and here we are in the Cluster.
Here we sit in this huge auditorium, my opponent and I, I and my opponent, Louis showing little corpuscles of red and blue floating under the stricken white of his face as he focuses himself upon the board in a kind of shuddering attention. His fingers twitch. I have known Louis all or most of my life but truly a depersonalization has occurred since this madness began, and now it is hard to think of him as old Louis, foolish, piggish Louis. He is merely the opponent even though the Overlords constantly try to build up the human interest aspects through the media, encouraging articles about our personal habits as well as the relationship we are supposed to have had in our youth. Photographs are taken, preferences are asked; sometimes I could shriek. I will not allow myself to think of the pig as a person now—the killer instinct is what counts in championship chess—and so I merely watch his swarthy little body across the board. A faint, deadly mask of purpose extrudes itself over his clumsy, honest features.
Well, he has taken a full twenty minutes on the clock for this opening: this almost unprecedented. It is possible to take twenty minutes to
to an opening but when one has the first move it is customary to plot out the nature of the attack the evening before and to then start briskly, confidently, building up time on the clock which can be more judiciously applied later. Nevertheless, Louis has fallen into some confusion; it is clear that he does not feel well—a benevolent utter stupidity
masks his features now. When he entered the hall several of the Overlords had to push/pull him to the table, conferring nervously with tentacles, and when he collapsed into the chair, sitting numbly before the pieces for twenty minutes, I am sure that it occurred to the Overlords (and to an audience of many billions—and to me) that the man might be very ill.
In fact, I was waiting for a physician, perhaps the very one who attended me, to come from the side and minister to him, pop or probe an eyeball for refraction of light, but no, no, Louis sat alone, untended, and I was alone, untended, and after a long time a forefinger came out almost imperceptibly from that gnarled, riven, ruined hand of his and he pushed a pawn in the customary manner, raising his eyebrows, looking up at me when the move was complete with a mad little gleam of purpose, and in that light I divined his cunning scheme. He was trying to reduce me to blubbering uncertainty by stalling.
Rumors of my breakdown must have reached him—how could they not? we all travel together although of course we are kept strictly separated by the Overlords—and he was playing upon it in the hope that I might go, literally, to pieces on the stage and in front of some fifty-five billion. How truly cunning of him! How intuitive and vicious! Of course this could
happen. Not for nothing have I competed at the highest level for forty years; not for nothing have I learned the tricks and maneuvers of our deadly game. I stared back at the fool impassively and in due time his face began to shrink like an aging flower, fallen upon itself in little petals and clusters
woe, and then I looked at the board fully, willing him away,
bringing upon it the range of concentration. I would now destroy him.
Pawn to King Four.
open with his standard King’s Pawn. He would be looking for a transposition into the Ruy Lopez at the earliest time and I have known this not only in life but in dreams as far as I can remember: The very shape, the very
of his game was apparent to me in those dreams. Looking at his impermeable skull, at the blankness of those eyes, it was as if I could glare through to absolute purpose and this was horrifying. I was not prepared for it.
It was as if I was glimpsing the little ropes and tentacles of possibility by which we all live, strung through the dead or dying meat of the brain locked within his skull, and I became nauseated from too much insight. It was necessary for me to return my attention to the board which I did in little glimmers and shimmers of attention until the nausea passed and in the fullness of concentration I was able to plan my attack.
Throughout the capacious auditorium there are murmurs. As in the first instants surrounding true sleep, I am conscious of them as waves of sound: sometimes assaulting, sometimes receding, carrying me further and further into the darkest heart of possibility, a sea of voices at all times surrounding me, carrying me onward. I am amply conscious of them but there are times—now is one—when they literally overtake and so I look up from the board, peering the other way, staring into that vast, dissonant buzz, the amorphous forms beyond, wishing that they would keep quiet.
I would leap from the board, cursing, make an exhibition of myself once again but I cannot do it. I cannot risk yet another scene lest I gain a reputation
for instability. In the early matches, for instance, I protested all the time. I objected to audience noises, objected to the shading of the lights, complained about the behavior of the referees, argued about the weight of the pieces, threatened to withdraw from the match unless terms were met, gave unauthorized interviews and so on—but none of these ploys were able to gain me more than a few instants’ silence and respect before the alarming breach of manners would start again. I am afraid that I struck some observers as insane in those early matches. Comments on psychopathology reached me; I struck fear into the hearts of those who were dependent upon me to save their way of life. This was unfair since I am not at all temperamental, merely a sweet-natured if rather idiosyncratic fellow who must at all times be able to
... but once labeled, twice endangered, and it was necessary for me to demonstrate in many small ways after these difficult early matches that I was not unnerved.
Signing autographs in the lobbies, giving interviews for the intergalactic press, putting on a pleasing public face for the sake of a sympathetic press, helped people forget about my earlier displays. That was the intention, in any event. Certainly, failed or successful, it is too late for me to worry about any of that now. Rather, I bring down the curtain in my mind just as I was able to do from the age of eight, when my chess career began, and rivet my fullest attention upon the board. Always, it must come to this.
In this concentration I vaguely sense that Louis has left the board, has wandered backstage, as both of us do, to sip at the trays of wines put out for our refreshment, nibble then at the pungent
little cheeses and the fauna of a hundred thousand worlds—the glutton. No one eats as he does; he belches continually. But I must decide what to do with the maddening King’s Pawn, an opening which fifteen hundred years after the invention of the game still has not been solved to the limit of its possibilities. Chess is a trapdoor into uncertainty; standard openings keep that door shut Perhaps the Overlords have a similar problem.
Surely they must for even now, at the fifteenth game of the match, having lived with this situation for months, it is difficult indeed to deduce their purposes: whether they are, as they say, the controlling forces of limitless space and time (of which our universe itself comprises a tiny segment) or whether, horrifyingly, the Overlords may merely be the agents of
race about whom we know nothing and who are merely using the bureaucracy of these empurpled creatures to administer a solution. I have been thinking along these lines recently; surely this must be psychotic. I would reject this line of thought but it hardly matters anyway; the outcome will be the same, Louis will be defeated.
Still, it would be better if I knew that the Overlords were as they presented themselves, and not merely a cosmic crew of civil servants come to work upon a niggling problem in the Old District. This line of thought will not be pursued. No further. Not in the midst of a complex Ruy Lopez. Forget it. I am sorry that I got into this to begin with.
Once, when I was twenty-one, still among the youngest of the grandmasters, a group of the
others thought that it might be amusing for them to deposit a prostitute in my hotel room, thus initiating me into the wonders of sex. Of course I knew their purpose and was ready for the moment myself. Therefore I left my door unlocked and open so that their prostitute could enter quietly and without attracting undue attention.
Still, I rather resented the way in which they played me for a naive fool and in truth have never really forgiven them for this episode although I can see their point. Why not?
She was a splendid bitch in her early thirties: high-heeled and with a suitcase which she opened before the door was fully closed to reveal a stunning array of whips, leather, spikes, lingerie and other fetishistic delights. I had done extensive reading in the literature of sex by that time and knew the significance of all these. “Are you a virgin?” she said, kicking the door closed and chaining it. “That’s what I’ve heard. Virgins are fun.”
“I am not a virgin,” I lied, “but whether I am or not is hardly the question. The question is what you’re doing here in my room.”
I motioned to the omnipresent pocket chess set, at this time poised in midst of a replay of the Immortal Game, the Andersson Queen having penetrated to the seventh rank for that masterful sacrifice. “I’m preparing for a match.”
“A group of your friends told me I was wanted.”
“Well,” I said, “aha, well, there was no need for them to suggest that; I’m quite happy and fulfilled and I resent this a good deal.” The hotel was in Switzerland, Bern, I believe, although it is difficult to be certain about matters of this sort. As I say, matters tend to jumble together, at least retrospectively, and all cities are the same when
one is on the grandmaster circuit. “Perhaps you’d better leave,” I said, “come on, get along with you.”
“But I can’t,” she said petulantly. “I mean, I can’t do that. They gave me one hundred deutsch-marks to come here and promised me another seventy-five if I would tell them what happened. They said to show you a good time.” Petulance modulated to temper, she swung a foot prettily.
This admission, so without true affect, struck a chill. Did they consider me so naive? Did they know that through my analytic powers I had long since deduced from pictorial and written pornography the significance and gymnastics of the sex act, had recreated it in my own mind? They had taken me for stupid and I never like being taken for stupid, particularly since I was then leading the Interzonals five and a half to two and a half, I recall, with only two easy games against those also-rans Barker and Still to come. “I’m afraid that you’ve been sent to the wrong room,” I pointed out. “I know everything about sex and I surely don’t want to buy it.”
This had a rather sanctimonious air because her attitude became defensive. “What do you think I am?” she said, closing the lid on her suitcase of wonders. “And what do you think this is?”
“Well, all right,” I said, an unaccustomed tenderness intruding. I feel the same way when I have destroyed opponents. “I am truly sorry.”
“You must think that I’m a whore,” she said, turning to excellent German (I am multi-lingual), backing away, the suitcase dangling from her hand like a scrotal sac. “You must think that they sent me into your rooms for the sick purposes of prostitution, rather than education. I am disgraced; you have disgraced my mother and my
father and my forebears—” (at this point my transliterative ability breaks down; she perhaps did not speak this formally). “I can no longer tolerate being treated in such a fashion by such a, young gentleman.” She reached a hand toward the door but was entrapped by her own cunning, for the door she had locked failed to open, of course, and instead of a grandiose exit she was forced to a penitent confrontation. “Very well,” she said, holding the suitcase awkwardly, “you may now dismiss me.”
“I will do nothing of the sort,” I pointed out. “It has not occurred to me to dismiss you.” At that moment a pure, jolting rage seized me, rage at the other grandmasters who took me for a naive fool, rage at this woman who thought me some kind of crazy fetishist, rage at my own inexperience and choices which I realized for the first time had driven me from knowledge. “I will have my way with you,” I said, and divested myself of my clothing, a, shiny one-piece relaxation suit, on the spot. I stood before her, with the collaboration of the zipper, almost instantaneously nude, and what I always like to refer to as my King’s Rook stiffened and beat beneath me like a little bird winging its way toward a nest. I pushed against her my massive bearlike hands, conveying her to the bed. The suitcase fell from her hand, bounced like a trampoline on the floor and then a lock gave, disgorging whole units of merchandise: rubber casings of some sort, feathers, a dildo, a false breast. “I will show you my capability,” I announced. Dragging her over to the bed, I seized upon her dress with shaking hands and, fumbling and ripping, managed to denude her.
“You are playing light with my honor,” she said in poorly translated formalese. “I do not think
that I can permit such liberties to be taken with my person or my body.” But too late, too late, she was naked beneath me, naked above me and over and under, our two bodies locked together like Pawns meeting in the center of the board in a zigzag confrontation and I felt her Queen’s Pawn beneath me beginning to flower with its own purpose, my King’s Rook writhing and moving into her inexorably.