Pawn to infinity by Fred & Joan Saberhagen

Unknown to Von Goom, however, the night before he arrived in Portoroz, Yugoslavia, the site of the tournament, the International Chess Federation held a secret meeting. The finest brains in the world gathered together seeking a refutation to Von Goom’s Gambit—and they found it. The following night, the most intelligent men of their generation, the leading grandmasters of the world, took Von Goom out in the woods and shot him. The great humanitarian Dr. Feorintoshkin looked down at the body and said, “A merciful end for Van Goon.” A small, cutting voice filled with infinite sarcasm said, “Von Goom.” Then the leading grandmasters shot him again and cleverly concealed his body in a shallow grave, which has not been found to this day. After all, they have the finest brains in the world.

And what of Von Goom’s Gambit? Chess is a game of logic. Thirty-two pieces move on a board of sixty-four squares, colored alternately dark and light. As they move they form patterns. Some of these patterns are pleasing to the logical mind of man, and some are not. They show what man is capable of and what is beyond his reach. Take any position of the pieces on the chessboard. Usually it tells of the logical or semi-logical plans of the players, their strategy in playing for a win or a draw, and their personalities. If you see a pattern from the King’s Gambit Accepted, you know that both players are tacticians, that the fight will be brief but fierce. A pattern from the Queen’s Gambit Declined, however, tells that the players are strategists playing for minute advantages, the weakening of one square or the placing of a Rook on a half-opened file. From such patterns, pleasing or displeasing, you can tell much not only about the game and the players but also about man in general, and perhaps even about the order of the universe.

Now suppose someone discovers by accident or design a pattern on the chessboard that is more than displeasing, an alien pattern that tells unspeakable things about the mind of a player, man in general and the order of the universe. Suppose no normal man can look at such a pattern and remain normal. Surely such a pattern must have been formed by Von Goom’s Gambit.

I wish the story could end here, but I fear it will not end for a long time. History has shown that discoveries cannot be unmade. Two months ago in Camden, New Jersey, a forty-three year old man was found turned to stone staring at a position on a chessboard. In Salt Lake City, the Utah State champion suddenly went screaming mad. And, last week in Minneapolis, a woman studying chess suddenly gave birth to twins—although she was not pregnant at the time.

Myself, I’m giving up the game.


Daniel Gilbert

Doorbell: wind-chimes of bamboo and glass gracing a Shinto shrine. But it was not a doorbell, and Samuel Kagami adjusted his thinking. The jamasura, a large procaryotic cell with electronic call-extensors, responded as was its function, chiming when a hand touched the door.

Neither was it a door.

The T6-screen, a series of unicellular giants linked in symbiotic unity, whose cytoplasm had been design-engineered for tensile strength, weatherproofing, and opacity, formed the splendid arched doorway to Samuel Kagami’s home. The arch signified a marvel of neo-biotic construction available only to the elite of the Western Nipponese Consolidat. The Tō-screen parted as Kagami approached, and he greeted his visitor.

“Chokki san. May you give me five.”

“Kagami san, this is also right on.” The plump Neobiotix field representative, clad in conservative grey knickers and shoulder coat, an aluminum brechet at his knee, bowed, signaling an end to the exchange of formal pleasantries. Kagami bowed also and indicated the livingroom with a sweep of his hand.

He hoped the sweep had been well-timed and correct.

Chokki removed his platform-zoris and set them on the tatami, suddenly reduced a full fifteen centimeters in height. “I received your call only this morning. Forgive my tardiness.”

“No apology necessary. But accepted,” said Kagami. “I am most grateful that you have traveled so far to see me. It was not an inconvenience I hope?”

“None. My pleasure.”

Kagami smiled uneasily and led his guest into the livingroom. The cochin lanterns and moribana floral arrangements lent the room a traditional appearance, yet Kagami felt, as always, that something still was lacking. “Excuse my forwardness then. May I come to the point and dispense with politic?”

Chokki quickly averted his eyes, allowing no movement or gesture to betray his discomfort. “Certainly,” said the small Line Nippon, stiffly. “As you wish.”

Though Kagami’s grandfather had been a Once American in the days of the Union, no one would dare call Kagami an American now—not, at least, without the offering of swords. Yet the fact that Kagami was only a Nipponese by circumstance—a sansei, third generation citizen of the Consolidat—was evident in his desire to rush through formal ceremony. The Line Nippon—of a respected Nipponese ancestry—held the sansei in low esteem for this reason.

Ki niyotte uo o ntotomu: you ask an elm tree for pears.

This was Kagami’s heritage; perhaps, in time, he would outgrow this natural impatience.

“It is my southern wall,” said Kagami.

“A difficulty?”

“No. Without doubt there is no problem with the manufacture. Neobiotix has done a splendid job with my home. I am most pleased.”

“Honored,” said Chokki. Kagami poured three deciliters of Mogen David Imperial Sake into an earthenware cup and offered it to Chokki. “Domo arigato.”

“Most welcome. Perhaps what I need is a strategy.”

“Your wall is weak then?” Chokki sipped gingerly from the cup.

“Near to crumble.”

Chokki hesitated for a moment. “And of strategy. Your neighbor has also a consultant?”

“Orgosynthetix Corporation. We have, of course, agreed to unilateral aid.” Kagami turned to fill his own cup with sake, hoping to disguise his irritation. Were Kagami not a sansei, he knew, Chokki would never have offered such an impertinent inquiry. Had he implied that Kagami might cheat?—that he might seek tactical advice illicitly? Both Kagami and his neighbor, Tonari Ze, had agreed upon allowing professional consultation; Kagami’s word need not have been questioned.

Kagami felt the strain of two echelons meeting, the friction of separate and distinct social strata grating as they touched. He smothered the sparks in politic.

“Very fine. Show me then your southern wall.” Shyly, Kagami led the Neobiotix field representative through the livingroom and into the tea-room. The Tō-screen parted and Kagami felt embarrassment at the disarray. “Oya!”

“Indeed. As you see, the southern wall is nearly surrounded.”

Kagami felt shame at the loss of face. Very few sansei could afford a neobiotic home, and fewer actually entered in competition. It was said that the ability to play Go—the ancient game of territorial strategy upon which neobiotic play was based—had its roots in ancestry, and though no prohibitions stood between a sansei and the game, it was generally agreed that the Line Nippon made the best player. Pitting one’s home against another’s, using true territory and not a symbolic representation was thought to be a delicate art, and not one to be toyed with lightly.

Chokki inspected the tea room carefully. The tea room wall—built of a flux-organism called käbe, a chromoplastic which hardened at some points and undulated at others—was badly buckled. The ceiling sagged under the considerable strain of the damaged wall, and the käbe had lost a great deal of its translucency. Without light, the synthetic organism would grow increasingly weaker, unable to repair itself photosynthetically, and the architectural stress would also increase until the tea room fell, or Kagami surrendered.

This, of course, was Ze’s strategy; once Ze’s northern diningroom wall had surrounded the tea-room and blocked the ultraviolet, he would need only to wait patiently for Kagami’s defenses to fall.

Patience was one thing Tonari Ze had plenty of.

“An inventive offensive. Orgosynthetix is a respectable firm,” said Chokki, examining the käbe-wall with an expert touch. “Or perhaps Ze san is an inventive fellow himself.”

Few words. Much said. Samuel Kagami knew that he had attacked foolishly. A quick offensive with which he hoped to gain an advantage in the opening play, had failed, and he found that he had concentrated too much of the house’s energy on a single point. He had ignored Ze’s threats on many borders, and now those threats had matured and Kagami found himself trapped.

The tea room groaned.

“An honored opponent. What kind of defensive strategy do you recommend to maintain the tea room?”

Chokki laughed mildly. “No, I’m afraid not, Kagami san. One may only extend folly in this way. Incorporate the loss.”


“Brute force cannot rise. A fat defense is no answer. Notice how lean is his attacking line.” Kagami examined the wall which protruded through the tea room käbe in four spots. Indeed, saber thin. “There is no shame in withdrawal.” Chokki once again looked away.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred