Thursday, 21 May 2009

The Chess Match

In working out the plot of my novel, I've been going over what I've written so far. This has made one things abundantly clear: my characters love to talk. Once I've got them started it's kinda hard to shut them up, particularly if they've been drinking. This is all well and good for something like NaNo where every word counts, but it leaves me with long periods of dialogue which don't really add much to the story and will eventually need to be cut out.

Like this bit. This actually started through a dare (have your characters play a chess game in a pub), and quickly took on a life of it's own. It's not exactly the best thing I've ever written, but I like the way it turned out, especially the ending, which popped up out of nowhere and turned out to be better than anything I could've come up with. I hate to think of it lying unseen in a Word document on my hard drive forever, so here it is for your perusal.

The Chess Match

It was later on. The food and come and we had eaten it, and there had been a few more drinks in the intervening time period. Steve had just noticed a chess board, and had gone to get it.
'You and Steve play chess a lot?' Sally asked.
'Yeah. We're fucking chess masters man.'
'This should be pretty interesting then.'
'Baby, it'll blow your mind.'
'Here we are,' Steve said, sitting down with the chess set opposite me and beginning to set it up. 'Do you want to be black or white?'
'White,' I said.
'Black it is then. You should know by now not to take me at my word for that.'
'I do,' I said. 'That's why I said the opposite of what I wanted.'
'Okay then,' Steve said with a wry glance at me, 'you can be white.' He turned the board around so that I had the white pieces.
'Oh darn. You saw through me,' I said, winking slyly to Sally.
'Right. Your go first then.'
I considered the board, and moved a knight's pawn two squares forward.
'Aaah. The classic Dukat opening gambit,' Steve said. 'Classic, but all too easy to counter, with... this!' He dramatically picked up his king's pawn, and slammed it down one square forward.
'No! The Sarek maneveur!' I said. 'My one and only weakness!' I looked at my pieces, scanning them for something I could use to counteract the cunningness of Steve's opening move. My eyes settled on the left knight, which I moved up two and right one.
'The Vorta style?' Steve sneered. 'You really are in a tight spot, aren't you?'
'Do you guys even know what you're talking about?' Sally said.
'Of course we do. You doubt our chess skills?'
'Yes. Yes I do.'
'Forget her Steve. She is merely too in awe at being in the presence of two complete masters of the game that she doesn't know how to process these feelings that she feels, so she responds by lashing out at us. She will see through her ineptitude in time, and then it is us who shall have the last laugh. The laugh... of chess!'
'Whatever dude,' Sally said, rolling her eyes.
'You know, it's a hoary old cliché, but it seems to me that the game of chess is much like the game of life,' I said.
'Indeed. And it takes the mastery of the inner workings of the game that only comes from being chess master such that we are to truly understand the truth behind those words.'
'Yes, I concur. One such as Sally, who is not versed in the nuances of the game of chess, could never properly understand.'
'Take, for instance, this knight,' Steve said as he picked it up to play it. 'A noble creature, a knight of the realm, made a sir by the King himself. He has plucked his way up from obscurity to become a figurehead in the war that the black kingdom wages against the white kingdom. And yet, he is handicapped by a curious ailment. They did not know it at the time, but the knight has obsessive compulsive disorder. For every one step he takes in any direction, he must take two steps in a direction at right angles to that direction.'
'This is indeed a powerful reminder that even the best among us can have idiosyncrasies which would be enough to topple us. And yet, he proves his worth on the battlefield time and time again, using his disability and forging it into an erratic fighting style, such that the enemy can never be sure which way he will strike from next. And then, just when they think they have him all figured out, he strikes, and takes down an enemy soldier.' With this, Steve moved the knight onto the same square as one of my pawns, removing it from play. 'Truly, we could learn much from the knight. In particular, how horses have the ability to become great figures in a well oiled war machine.'
'But forget not yon bishop,' I said, picking up the piece. A man of the cloth, forced into war by a cruel harsh truth that he cannot fight against. A man of peace, conscripted into the army by an enemy so horrible and bloodthirsty that it would destroy his very way of life if given half the chance. He does not want to fight, but he finds that he must, for he cannot just sit idly by and do nothing against this new horror that infects his lands. But his pacifism manifests itself in new and horrible ways. Unable to cope with the reality of the situation it finds itself in, he finds that his subconscious has made him limit himself to moving in diagonal directions only. Cursed by this affliction that he finds himself unable to shake, he nonetheless charges forward unto war, determined to do what he can for the safety of his realm.' My spiel almost over, I moved the bishop to take out one of Steve's pawns. 'And of course, in war he will do as he must.'
'Of course, we would be remiss in not mentioning the Queen,' Steve said. 'The archetypal strong woman, the power behind the throne, she possesses none of the psychological hiccups that the King's other forces have. Using her feminine wiles, she has the ability to traverse the game board as she wishes, unrestricted by the fences and borders that the male forces are bound to. The only thing that can stop her is being blocked by one of her own forces, showing the woman once again being held back by the men in her life. But they are only too happy to move out of her way at a moment's notice. One must wonder why exactly this is. What is there about her being the only female in the army that allows her such power, such a position of massive importance within the game plan? For it is usually the Queen who decides the twists and turns of the battle, the one who the other forces fear the most. And with good reason,' he took out one of my knights with his Queen, leaving my King in a potentially dangerous position, 'for after all, hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.'
'What the hell does that even mean?' Sally asked. 'What on earth are you two babbling about?'
'On the flipside of the Queen,' I said, ignoring her, 'let us give a few seconds to ponder the King. Slow, weak, the one piece on the board which serves no offensive use, the King is a dead albatross around the collective necks of his troops, for they are constantly forced to keep one eye on him to make sure that he is not in any danger. The best example one can find of the fact that great power will eventually make one weak, if presented with a threat the King's only course of action is to run away and hide from the enemy forces. You have to wonder why exactly the King felt the need to show his face on the battlefield on the earth in the first place. Did he show up hoping to inspire his forces by his mere presence, to urge them on to victory? Or did he operate under the delusion that he could actually play some kind of role in the battle, only to find himself presented by the horrors of modern war, a type of war much different from the kind that he had back in his day, much more brutal and unforgiving? No, the King is the most useless piece, much like in real life where we could get on much better if we didn't have to put up with those that profess to be our superiors and betters.' I moved the King out of harm's way.
'In all this talk of the most important pieces, it would be easy of course to forget about the smallest one,' Steve said, picking one up. 'The pawn. Mere foot soldiers in their liege’s crusade against the enemy forces, these plucky young conscripts have been taken from a training all too short and thrown head first into the brutal atrocities of war, ill equipped to deal with such atrocities.'
'I'm getting more drinks. I need to dull my brain my alcohol to the point that I can put up with listening to this shit,' Sally said, getting up.
'Yes, the pawn. Thrown into a world they do not understand, expecting to give their lives in the service of their cold, unforgiving King. The pawn is often the first to fall, sacrificing their lives in the name of the greater good, keeping the enemy distracted and away from the more important units in the battle, allowing them precious time to get into place so that they may attempt to turn the tide of the war. But there is hope for the pawn. For every so often, one might be lucky enough to make their way deep into enemy territory, even into the stronghold of the enemy forces themselves. If one can manage such a feat, they are rewarded with the greatest reward of all. They may take the King's hand in marriage, and become his Queen.'
'But,’ I interrupted, pointing at Steve, ‘you must realise that in this lays the greatest hypocrisy in all of war. For the King is merely using this pawn for his own sick pleasures. He already has a Queen, and yet in his lust he will take this new specimen who has proved herself nubile in the field of war. Our King, for all his supposed exalted greatness, is dabbling in polygamy, the very thing he has a law against! Doesn’t it strike you as corrupt that he would allow himself a pleasure that he denies others, just because a new specimen has caught his lustful, ever wandering eye?’
‘But what if his old Queen has died in the field of battle?’
‘Well, that’s even worse! He’s barely past the grieving period, and already he’s scouring his forces for a suitable replacement for his departed love. Has he stopped to think of the feelings of this new partner, this concubine if you will? No! No, he has not! He only cares for himself, and filling the hole, emotional and otherwise, that his Queen’s passing has created through any means necessary, no matter who he hurts in the process!’
‘That bastard!’ Steve said, angrily. ‘Well, I won’t stand for it! He shall die!’ Steve toppled his King, knocking it down so it led on the ground.
A smile crept over my lips. ‘I win.’
An expression of realization dawned on Steve’s face, followed by horror. ‘Wait, no! That doesn’t count!’
I noticed Sally coming back. ‘Sally, Steve’s toppled his King. Doesn’t that mean I win?’
‘Yes it does. I thought two chess masters like you would have known that.’
‘Well played man. A battle can always been won well through psychological warfare.’ Steve offered his hand, and I shook it.
‘Thank you.’
‘So it’s over? Normality can reign once more?’ Sally asked.
‘Normality?’ I asked.
‘Well, you know what I mean. Normality for us.’
‘Yes, that can happen.’
‘Good. I thought I was going to have to do something to you guys if you continued on like that for much longer. Gag you with my socks or something.’
'Oh god, anything but that! I've smelt what your feet smell like first thing in the morning, and that's not pretty. God knows what they're like after a day's walking.'
Sally shot me an evil look. 'You really know how to charm a lady, Greg Summers.'
'Hey now, if you want charm you're with the wrong people I'm afraid.'
'We do a good line in cheesy jokes though,' Steve interjected.
'Ah, that's okay then. As long as it's not too bad. I enjoy a good cheesy joke from time to time.'

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