Pawn to infinity by Fred & Joan Saberhagen

The sake made Kagami feel ill, and with no hesitation, he switched the game to computer control, as Chokki had suggested, closing his eyes tightly to take one last nap in his neobiotic home before conceding defeat.

By the time Samuel Kagami awoke, he owned all of Ze’s territory.

The GO: : : light had winked on four hours earlier, the ever patient electronic referee indicated that it was Kagami’s turn. He studied his image in the polished surface of the gōban, and listened to the creaking of his den. He stroked his new moustache slowly, thinking that it made his face look more angular, harder, sharper.

Bisho Rinjin was an excellent player, and even with the full force of Kagami’s combined territories, he had not answered Kagami’s threats to the greenhouse hastily. Instead, he had played around Kagami and attacked the den, a subtle yet stinging offensive which Kagami could not ignore.

Kagami contemplated the gōban, recognized gestalts and micro gestalts, conceived patterned formations of stones, computed the intricate futures of both defense and offense. His hands eagerly kneaded the collar of his silk robe, his slippered feet tapped nervously. He poured his fifth cup of Johnny Walker New Tokyo Whiskey and gulped it hurriedly, waiting. He held the book in his lap, his fingers moving anxiously up and down the spine.

Finally: the peculiar spinning sensation. The gōban swirled in a splatter of color. He found himself holding a cup, and sighed.

“Please, some water,” said the man.

The frail fellow, slumped in a straight-backed chair, groaned. His pock-marked face was a crucifixion of sweat and fatigue, the cracks in his snake-skin lips were made ghostly white by the blinding bulb which hung in the interrogation room.

Kagami reached up, touched the bulb, and it swung ominously above the man’s head. This was not Oklahoma, circa 1883. What then? When? Kagami looked down at his hands. The book was gone. He noticed his own stocky build, certainly not the slender sansei he had been a moment before, the nearly perfect shine on his black leather shoes, the shoulder-holster buckled expertly about his trunk.

“Are you okay, Lieutenant?” said a burly fellow, also wearing a pistol, but leaning against the far wall, smoking in the shadows.

Lieutenant? Kagami glanced at the man slumped in the chair in the center of the room. His wrists had deep red marks in them, and Kagami’s hands went to his belt.


Kagami left the spotlighted circle and joined the two men at the other side of the room.

“You look tired,” said the big fellow.

“Still worried about your brother?” The second man was thin and his voice had a high-pitched nasal quality. He wore a striped shirt with rolled sleeves, and a vest.

“I suppose so,” said Kagami.

“Don’t worry about Scotty,” said the thin man, “he’ll kill a couple of Krauts, knock in a few Nip heads, and be Stateside before you know it. He’ll be alright.”

“Yeah,” said Kagami. “You’re right.”

Nips. That would make it somewhere around 1940, and, judging from the thin fellow’s vocal tones, somewhere in the midwest. Perhaps Chicago or St. Louis.

“I don’t think Joey’s going to tell us anything,” said the burly detective, whose badge indicated that his name was Meyers. Yes, there, on the badge: CPD. Chicago then.

“He knows where Calhoun is hiding.”

“He ain’t telling.” Meyers shrugged.

Kagami listened carefully. Yes, this Joey was a prisoner and Murray Calhoun a stick-up man. All the information seemed to be seeking and finding its proper place, as if Kagami had forgotten for only a moment, as if this man named Samuel Kagami—the sansei—had been but a tremor of stage-fright in a police Lieutenant’s mind.

“I told you, I don’t know no Murray Calhoun. I don’t know where he is.” Joey rotated his head, clamped his eyes shut in the bright light. Kagami felt a wave of anger come washing the shores of thought; the man was lying.

Joey’s head bobbed, his neck seemed strangely contorted, his face a peculiar contrast of harsh light and shadows. The face seemed so familiar, so real, so close, so…

Kagami pulled back his right hand and smashed the backside across Joey’s face. The sound echoed off the bare walls of the interrogation room with a reverberating crack. Joey’s head swung sideways with the force of the blow, then sagged desperately to his chest. A slick stream of crimson wound its way from his nostril to his upper lip. The two men in the corner shifted uneasily, and Meyers lit another cigarette.

Kagami wiggled his fingers and blinked.

The contact… the flesh against flesh…the surge of his muscles… the yielding of bone… it had felt… felt good.

“Joey. Where is Murray Calhoun?” said Kagami, and even his voice was textured and full, precisely the words he wished to speak, exactly as he wished to speak them.

“I… I don’t…” Kagami brought his fist back again. “Wait!”

His clenched hand hung in mid-air, a stop-action eagle waiting to descend. Joey’s eye opened and closed spasmodically. “I think you screwed up my eye.” He dabbed at the swollen purple cheek with his finger.


“The Edgewater. He’s at the Edgewater. But he’ll see you coming. He ain’t dumb, he’ll see you and high-tail it out of there.”

“Where at the Edgewater?”

“Room L-3. He’s in L-3.”

Samuel Kagami smiled. In some strange way, he wished that this Joey had held out just a little longer. The power of the blow, the explosion of contact, the invigorating stinging sensation of his palm—he had never before hit a man. Yes, it was interesting.

“Okay, Meyers, get him out of here,” said Kagami.

L-3. He had what he’d come for.

“C’mon, Chokey,” said the thin man, lifting the shaking prisoner from his seat. Kagami spun about.

“What did you call him?”

The thin man looked at Kagami peculiarly. “Chokey, Lieutenant. Name’s Joey Chokey. You know that.”

Kagami stared at the man he had struck. Joey Chokey smiled.

By playing the unexpected L-3 position, Kagami had begun an intensive pressing formation on the entire L-group, had turned a corner at H-6, and had quickly devastated Bisho Rinjin. The game of thirty days had not lasted another hour.

The jamasura hummed happily as Kagami greeted Chokki.

“In the midst of another game, I see,” said Chokki, entering the livingroom. The northern wall was now greatly expanded, incorporating both dining room and garden in an elegant whole. Chokki nodded in admiration.

“It will be finished in two moves.” Kagami wondered what Chokki had come for—he had not called for him—but thought it inhospitable to inquire. He offered sake.

“Many thanks, but no. I cannot stay long.” Chokki spoke calmly, but his eyes kept darting about the room, always returning to rest for a moment on the gōban. “I have come in my very humble capacity to present a most unusual gift.”

“Honored,” said Kagami.

“Neobiotix has petitioned the Games Council on your behalf, and we have received permission to raise your status.” Chokki paused dramatically. “To Shihan Player.”

“A Master?” said Kagami. “I am overwhelmed.”

“You have respectfully earned the title. I am humbled before your abilities. On my last visit I offered the opinion that your strategic situation was hopeless. Since that time, I have noted two change-of-property titles come through my office. Of course, I immediately offered my resignation to my employer, who graciously declined. Nevertheless, my error was unforgivable.” The plump Line Nippon lowered his chin, a sign of submission and shame, but his eyes reflected stubborness and animosity. Was there a small scab on his left cheek? Imagination.

“I differ, Chokki san. You made a most honest analysis. The acts of fate are not yours to predict.”

“Not to be argumentative, but this was no hand of God. Superior thinking. However, I am pleased that you do not think ill of me. We wish then to present these tokens of our admiration.” Chokki withdrew a slip of paper and a golden ring from his breast pocket and handed them to Kagami.

The ring was cool and smooth in Kagami’s hand. He scrutinized it and noticed that it was inscribed with the word Shinjitsu—truth, encircled by a single banded line indicating Master status. The check was written for six million yen.


Kagami knew he was no Master. What had motivated Neobiotix and Chokki to recommend such honor? Indeed, his holdings were significant, particularly when one considered the amount of time in which he had accumulated them, but they certainly did not warrant the ultimate title of Shihan. He turned the golden band slowly in his hand.

Did Chokki know?

Impossible. It was his personal madness, his private dream sequence; a fantasy link to his unconscious, or a collective unconscious, or some universal intelligence which favored him. He had not decided which. But it was not shared—it would be impossible for Chokki to be aware of it.

Perhaps, thought Kagami, I do deserve the title. After all, was it not superior strategy which had wrested the L-3 move from the police lieutenant’s prisoner? Yes, thought Kagami, indeed. A strategy which the gentlemen sirs have all but forgotten.

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Categories: Saberhagen, Fred