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Cosmic Checkmate [MultiFormat]
eBook by Charles V. DeVet & Katherine MacLean

eBook Category: Science Fiction/Mainstream
eBook Description: THE GAME OF WORLDS "I'll beat you the second game," was the Earthman's challenge to the planet Velda--whose culture was indeed based on a complicated super-chess of skill and concentration. A Human and a Veldian could meet over a game board, but was there any other ground for understanding? For the code of Velda was strange and savage, based on a concept of honor no Earthman could comprehend. The men were warriors and the women were--mysteries. One world was challenging a galaxy, as one man was challenging that world. And in the contest for a universe, would there be a second game?

eBook Publisher: Gate Way Publishers, Published: 2011
Fictionwise Release Date: April 2011


2 Reader Ratings:
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CAST OF CHARACTERS

Robert Lang
He came from Earth with an eidetic memory to avert a war of worlds.
Kalin Trobt
He was a formidable adversary across a game board or a galaxy.
Yondtl
This immobile monster was something less than human with a mind that was something more.
Yasi
A person with an ambiguous body and an unpredictable mind.
Caertin Vlosmin
Master of the game, he faded before the champion from Earth.
Lyagin
Watching the Earthman die would make a fine spectacle for his entertainment
* * * *

CHAPTER I

The sign was big, with black letters that read: I'LL BEAT YOU THE SECOND GAME.

I eased myself into a seat behind the play board, straightened the pitchman's cloak about my shoulders, took a final deep breath, let it out--and waited.

A nearby Fair visitor glanced at the sign as he hurried by. His eyes widened with anticipated pleasure and he shifted his gaze to me, weighing me with the glance.

I knew I had him.

The man changed direction and came over to where I sat. "Are you giving any odds?" he asked.

"Ten to one," I answered.

"A dronker." He wrote on a blue slip with a white stylus, dropped it at my elbow, and sat down.

"We play the first game for feel," I said. "Second game pays."

Gradually I let my body relax. Its weight pulled at the muscles of my back and shoulders, and I slouched into a half-slump. I could feel my eyelids droop as I released them, and the corners of my mouth pulled down. I probably appeared tired and melancholy. Or like a man operating in a gravity heavier than normal for him.

Which I was.

I had come to this world called Velda two weeks earlier. My job was to find why its humanoid inhabitants refused all contacts with the Federation.

Earth's colonies had expanded during the last several centuries until they now comprised a loose alliance known as The Ten Thousand Worlds. They were normally peaceful--and wanted peace with Velda. But you cannot talk peace with a people who won't talk back. Worse, they had obliterated the fleet bringing our initial peace overtures. As a final gesture I had been smuggled in--in an attempt to breach that stand-off stubbornness. This booth at their Fair was my best chance--as I saw it--to secure audience with the men in authority. And with luck it would serve a double purpose.

Several Veldians gathered around the booth and watched with interest as my opponent and I chose colors. He took the red; I the black, We arranged our fifty-two pieces on their squares and I nodded to him to make the first move.

He was an anemic oldster with an air of nervous energy, and he played the same way, with intense concentration. By the fourth move I knew he would not win. On each play he had to consult the value board suspended between us | before deciding what his next move would be. On a play board with one hundred and sixty nine squares, each with a different value--in fact one set of values for offense, and another for defense--only a brilliant player could keep them all in mind. But no man without that ability was going to beat me.

I let him win the first game. Deliberately. The "second game counts" gimmick was not only to attract attention, but to give me a chance to test a player's strength--and find his weakness.

At the start of the second game the oldster moved his front row center pukt three squares forward and one left oblique. I checked it with an end pukt, and waited.

The contest was not going to be exacting enough to hold my complete attention. Already an eidetic portion of my mind--which I always thought of as a small machine, ticking away in one comer of my skull, independent of any control or direction from me--was moving its interest out to the spectators around my booth.

Every object about me, every passing face, would make its picture in the memory banks of that machine and wait there to be recalled. Further, it catalogued each fact learned or observed in its proper relation with others already there. Sometimes the addition of one new fact caused it to give an almost audible click, and a conclusion, or answer, seemingly unrelated to the original fact, lay clear before me. The best simile I knew was that of a penny scale, spitting out a card of fortune as a penny was dropped inside. It constantly amazed me.

Most men, I presume, would regard an eidetic-recall memory as a very desirable faculty. Some, a bit more introspective, might wonder if it might not be a curse. The latter would be more nearly correct. To me it was like another mouth--a hungry mouth, that had to be constantly fed. At times I felt like a man with a load on his shoulders, being piled higher and higher, until some day I would slowly fold beneath the weight of it.

The other part of my mind idly carried on the action of the game and in three short moves I maneuvered a pukt four rows forward. From the particular square on which it now rested it could be moved a maximum of three paces forward, two left oblique, or three right oblique--with unlimited side and backward movement.

The old one moved to intercept my pukt, and I split his force apart with two men I had set in strategic positions on either side.

The roving portion of my mind caught a half-completed gesture of admiration at the sudden completion of the trap from a youth directly ahead of me. And with the motion, and the glimpse of the youth's face, something slipped into place in my memory. Some subconscious counting finished itself, and I knew that there had been too many of these youths, with faces like this one, finely boned and smooth, with slender delicate necks and slim hands and movements that were cool and detached. Far too many to be a normal number in a population of adults and children.

As if drawn, my glance went past the forms of the watchers around the booth and plumbed the passing crowd to the figure of a man, a magnificent masculine type of the Veldian race, thick-shouldered and strong, thoughtful in motion, yet with something of the swagger of a gladiator, who, as he walked, spoke to the woman who held his arm, leaning toward her cherishingly as if he protected a great prize.

She was wearing a concealing cloak, but her face was beautiful, her hair semi-long, and in spite of the cloak, I could see that her body was full-fleshed and almost voluptuously feminine. I had seen few such women on Velda.

Two of the slim, delicately built youths went by arm in arm, walking with a slight defiant sway of bodies, and looked at the couple as they passed, with pleasure in the way the man's fascinated attention clove to the woman, and looked at the beauty of the woman possessively without lust, and passed by, their heads held higher in pride as if they shared a secret triumph with her. Yet they were strangers.

I had an answer to my counting. The "youths" with the large eyes and smooth delicate heads, with the slim straight asexual bodies, thought of themselves as women. I had not seen them treated with the subdued attraction and conscious avoidance one sex gives another, but by numbers... My memory added the number of these "youths" to the number of figures and faces that had been obviously female. It totaled to almost half the population I had seen. No matter what the biological explanation, it seemed reasonable that half...

I bent my head, to not see the enigma of the boy-woman face watching me, and braced my elbow to steady my hand as I moved. For two weeks I had been on Velda and during the second week I had come out of hiding and passed as a Veldian. It was incredible that I had been operating under a misunderstanding as to which were women, and which men, and not blundered openly. The luck that saved me had been undeserved.

Opposite me, across the board, the bleach-skinned hand of the oldster was beginning to waver with indecision as each pukt was placed. He was seeing defeat, and not wishing to see it.

In eight more minutes I completed the route of his forces and closed out the game. In winning I had lost only two pukts. The other's defeat was crushing, but my ruthlessness had been deliberate. I wanted my reputation to spread.

My sign, and the game in progress, by now had attracted a line of challengers, but as the oldster left the line broke and most of the others shook their heads and moved back, then crowded around the booth and good-naturedly elbowed their way to positions of better vantage.

I knew then that I had set my lure with an irresistible bait. On a world where the Game was played from earliest childhood--was in fact a vital aspect of their culture--my challenge could not be ignored. I pocketed the loser's blue slip and nodded to the first in line of the four men who still waited to try me.

This second man played a better game than the old one. He had a fine tight-knit offensive, with a good grasp of values, but his weakness showed early in the game when I saw him hesitate and waver before making a simple move in a defensive play. He was not skilled in the strategy of retreat and defense, or not suited to it by temperament. He would be unable to cope with a swift forward press, I decided.

I was right.


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