Pawn to infinity by Fred & Joan Saberhagen

Kagami studied the well-mannered Line Nippon. What did this one know of shame? Kagami’s grandfather, Charles Carmody, had been a wealthy man and had left Kagami a modest legacy. Thus, Kagami moved in circles usually closed to a sansei, played with the luxurious toys of a Line Nippon, and lived as well as many corporate functionaries.

Yet, there were restrictions. Unwritten, politely applied.

Carmody had been killed during the Incorporation. He had called it the Invasion, but politic declared that Kagami refrain from using such terms. As economic crises peaked the Union had been forced to begin auctioning their last resource: Land. Allies were invited to extend their holdings, and the Nipponese, for whom landscape was the only limiting factor to further prosperity, heartily accepted.

Purchasing land in strategic areas they established base colonies on the continent, immigrating in droves. And though they held less than fifteen percent of the actual land area in Once America, their ability to use less—more resourcefully—had quickly insured that their population would exceed that of the Union. Relocation of Union citizens out of Nipponese-occupied territory had been subsidized and expensive, and fiscal ruin had been nothing but forestalled.

It was war that killed Charles Carmody.

There had been no terror jets, no thermonuclear war cries, no multimegaton verbosities. No shouting. The gentleman hordes of Nipponese had attacked politely, armed to the teeth with yen. They incorporated the Union and turned it into a thriving, well-conducted economic sector, which now comprised nearly seventy percent of their vast holdings in the Western Nipponese Consolidat.

Though Carmody had remained a staunch Unionist, resentful and distrustful of the Incorporation from the first (he had insisted that Kagami’s given name have at least one L in it), his pride had been equal in tenacity to that of the highest ranking Line Nippon.

What they now called politic was not a new custom for Kagami; it had, like so many things, simply changed names. Carmody had been one of those millions whose real estate had been badly bartered, and he’d been forced to sell a manufacturing empire for a fraction of its worth, simply because it lay in Nipponese states. He had retired, rather than attempting to revitalize the business, and had died alone, broken, bitter, soon thereafter.

Kagami studied the half-empty glass of sake, moodily.

“In triumph do not gloat. In defeat do not brood,” said Chokki. He pushed a sprig of tomb-black hair from his finely curved face. Why did victors always throw platitudes and maxims in the face of the vanquished? “Reinforce your back line here, in the hallway. Do not extend folly with malicious play. Begin now a forthright attack.” Chokki glanced about the room. “Where is your Center?”

Kagami stepped out of the tea room and led Chokki to the gōban—the game board. The gōban was the hand-crafted component of the large home-computer which controlled the neobiotic play, and resembled a greatly expanded Go board. Kagami’s stones were blue diodes on the face of the computerized gōban, Ze’s red. The square plane was divided into equal sized area; the northern and southern borders were marked with letters, the eastern and western with numbers, and the lines intersected to form a grid. Kagami pointed to the D-8 sector, his tea room. Ze’s red glowing stones formed a Tiger’s Mouth about the sector and threatened to devour the unit.

“How to play?”

Chokki suppressed a sigh. “One stone, Kagami san, holds infinite power. One stone may alter the outcome of a game. Though surrounded by enemy stones, no soldier is too small or insignificant to affect a victory for his legion. I suggest an outpost here.” With a tawny finger, the Line Nippon indicated the N-13 region.

“But I cannot afford any more stones for outposting. I am kokomu, surrounded, on many fronts. To withdraw a single stone for outposting will mean the collapse of a unit elsewhere.”

“Mr. Kagami,” said Chokki, “I am a Neobiotix field representative. I can sell you an outpost.”

Chokki fiddled with his knee brechet and Kagami closed his eyes. Forcing Chokki to make such a tactless remark, to breach etiquette so boldly, made Kagami wonder if Chokki’s scorn for the sansei was not entirely unfounded. He did not apologize, however, knowing that even such a gesture would only prolong—what must be for Chokki—a very difficult situation.

Neither could he tell Chokki of his financial straits; that his legacy was tied up in the house and that he had been living on equity and small investments for nearly three months, less than the length of one game. One did not discuss such things with intimates, much less business associates. Kagami felt as if he were suffocating.

“I…I have… I am unable to make such a purchase at this time.”

Chokki nodded and both men studied the gōban with newfound intensity, each carefully avoiding the other’s eyes. Kagami drained his sake. The moment stretched into humiliation.

Finally, Chokki spoke. “I am sorry. Professionally, then, I must judge your situation as hopeless. I suggest you turn game control over to your home-computer and allow it to finish the game mathematically. Perhaps your losses can be minimized.”

“Thank you,” said Kagami. This was his advice. “More sake?”

Chokki bowed. “Your hospitality is overwhelming. However, I am afraid I must leave. Pressing business of urgency. Take it then in lightness, Kagami san.”

“And you also be quite cool.” He escorted Chokki to the front Tō-screen, reciting further pleasantries, and bid him good day and fortune. The Tō-screen parted,

In the livingroom, Samuel Kagami studied the gōban, poured himself another two deciliters of sake, and considered. He had spent nearly three quarters of his grandfather’s bequest (a mere fraction of what it would have been, had it not been converted from dorrars to yen) on the neobiotic home. It was a symbol of that which most sansei never hoped to own, and it had indeed elevated his social position. But, like a fool, he had entered into play with a superior opponent, a Line Nippon, Tonari Ze, and was now in danger of losing both home and face. He understood why Chokki had seen him as a stumbling buffoon, an inept inferior, and he detested Chokki for making the distinction so painfully evident.

…must judge your situation as hopeless…

He also realized that it was his third bottle of sake today.

Kagami slid an antique rice-paper partition from the far wall. Seventeen shelves. The true bequest. This was what remained of Charles Carmody.

Memorabilia. Once Americana. Relics. Time-crippled dinosaurs from a day now broken and best set aside. Yet, these items sparked Kagami’s imagination, excited him from within, and a day did not pass when he failed to slip aside the rice-paper and fondle one or two of them, evoking memories of days he could not possibly own.

Zane Grey. Ah, the name itself surged with a raw and vital power. Like true anger from the blood-drenched fist of an electric god—what power in the name alone, and in the words between the crumbling paper binders.

Dashiell Hammett. Intrigue and adventure! Trench-coated legends who roared and hungered and drank whiskies and did not hesitate to plug one full of lead should circumstances require such. Men who said as they pleased and disregarded politic, laughed in the faces of the world’s well-mannered Chokkis.

Louis L’amour. Now here was time as real men had lived it; not packaged time, caged and tamed in a watch or crystal, but time which gouged and vomited and splayed itself upon a man’s life like the colored legs of a venomous insect.

Roger Keegan. Andrew North. Hal Kantos.

Kagami traced the rim of the cowboy’s hat upon the book jacket. It was Bart Gibson’s hat. Bart, a stern and commanding wrangler, lean and supple in denim and steel, and his two brothers, Luke and Roy, stood poised for action as the badmen surrounded the Bar-S Ranch.

Kokomu, three Gibsons? thought Kagami.

He turned to the gōban. Another red stone twinkled to life near the tea room at D-8. Ze had moved, after a three day wait, and the third panel of the referee lighted GO: : :

Kagami’s turn. He seated himself before the board.

“I’ve got you covered, Luke. This town ain’t big enough for both of us. Reach for the sky, horsethief!”

Even as Kagami turned to capture the voice, his hand moved autonomously and lifted the stone from the D-7 sector, the last strong stone in the tea room unit.

“Sheriff, the Wilker boys are down at the Bar-S. There’s gonna be a whole bunch of shooting!”

His fingers caressed the stone, placing it carefully between index and forefinger, and set it down with a smart click.

“The three Gibson’s at the Bar-S, Doc.”

“Three Gibsons. Bar-S.”

“Bar-S. Three.”

The stone clicked at S-3. The GO: : : light winked out and the referee indicated Ze’s turn. Samuel Kagami felt dizzy.

He retreated to his lioo-chair and listened to his heart pump furiously, contemplating what had happened and realizing that—whatever had come over him a moment ago—he had made the worst of all possible moves. His delicate garden would now strike at the heart of Tonari Ze’s heavily reinforced den. The garden would be surrounded so quickly. The house would fall.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred