Chapter 1: From Middle Earth to Top of the World
What if Bobby Fischer had turned from the Royal Game to the Game of Royalty, the Philosophy of Life?
It was the third game of the Tellus Midi championship match, and the culmination of Froddy Bischer’s short, precocious life. Froddy, you see, had spent his entire life in pursuit conquest and domination, in short, immortal glory, on the eighty one squares of the Game of Royals, Schachgi. His father, himself a brilliant scientist of the highest rank, had given him his brilliantly cool calculating brain. His mother, a poet who sang with the sinners and danced with the saints, his resilient spirit. His sister constantly dweeded on her interstellar TeleVac with her chatty friends, and didn’t figure much in his ambitious plans, or so-called “life.”
But what was vital at this moment was to not blow it all. The first game had not gone according to plan at all. In fact it was just about as opposite to “plan” as it could possibly be. His opponent, Sporis Bassky from Dark Race which threatened Tellus Midi with its own evil domination for ages, made Froddy look like the child that he really was. To be more precise, Froddy made himself look like just that child, though one who appeared to have only recently been introduced to the game, and was making moves on some other board far, far away with entirely different rules. It was a disaster.
In point of fact, Froddy had never shined very brilliantly in his previous encounters with Sporis. Yes, Sporis came from a regime which did more than exploit the work from its own inhabitants, to fund their war machine: it stole their joy. Drab clothes and shoddy products were all that Orknian enterprises turned out for its kind, as even the most meager of profits were siphoned away by the rulers in waging their war against Froddy’s all of Tellus Midi, and the hodgepodge of races who dared oppose them. And as if to prove their worth to the planet, the Orknian regime professionally funded all manner of sports, “culture” (we will have a look at the sham effort Orkney made at “culture” in another chapter) and otherwise competitive activities. So, in just about any sense of the term you imagine, Froddy v Sporis was a Davd v Goliath battle, and apparent mismatch.
But Froddy had in fact been brilliant. So much so, that he was the one individual that the collective of Orkney Shachgi professionals feared. Froddy simply hated to lose. When groups of Orkney competed in elite tournaments, Froddy was quite right in claiming collusion and cheating. “The Orknians have ruined Schachgi!” Froddy claimed, and in the most popular journal of the day. And he was right. Orknian Grandmasters would play short, simple drawing patterns of moves against each other, saving up their energy to pound on any and all impudents who dared to qualify for such tournaments. And Froddy was the best of them. The Orknian collective, in fact, had often already pre-ordained who among their own elite would get to vie for the top spot in such tournaments, and lesser luminaries in their firmament would drop a match here or there to clear the path for the chosen few.
Sporis himself had been a brilliant player, despite all the politics. In fact, unbeknownst to Froddy, Sporis was secretly critical, maybe more like sarcastic, in his feelings towards the collective, but what could he do? They controlled, no, they owned him. Otherwise, as current champion, who had in fact essayed his own manner of brilliance against the few, chosen elites for Orkney, he presented a formidable foe to young Froddy. But Sporis was not the spry, innocent-eyed and brilliant youth that Froddy was; he had to wait his turn in the collective, as there were many highly skilled players. It was maybe a fortunate thing that there was, in fact, so much talent there: had the accumulated mental prowess of these board game Barons been conscripted into the more explicit cause of planetary domination, the war might be over by now, their drab, colorless Flag and way of life liberating all from their otherwise meaningful lives.
In the first game of the match, Froddy had carefully, and uncharacteristically, played not to lose. But even that plan could not endure his appetite for brilliance and glory. When Sporis dangled a simple Horbit, the foot soldier of the game, on the edge of the board, Bobby bit and took it. It was a beginner’s trap, and Froddy knew it. Sporis knew it. Froddy knew that Sporis knew it. Sporis knew that Froddy knew that Sporis knew it. Even the otherwise mindless Orknian bureaucrats, who had no appetite for independent thought, and their household pets, knew it.
But Froddy thought he might just manage to outwit the trap. By that point, the game had been reduced to just Monarchs, a small cadre of Horbits, and a solitary Elf for either side. Moving swiftly and incisively, the diagonal-moving Elf of Froddy’s slip off to the edge of the board, dooming the hapless Horbit for all eternity, or for the remainder of the game, which was a considerably shorter period of time. As even the goldfish expected, SPoris responded by advancing his adjacent Horbit a single square, trapping the Elf behind a chain of Horbits. Froddy reasoned that he could advance his own Horbit in time to break up the life-sucking chain, liberate his Elven intruder, and then, in the cool, calculating way for which he was feared, convert the advantage of a single foot soldier into a statement win in the opening match.
Unfortunately, the statement he made was “I’m stupid.” Or “with Stupid” at any rate. The plan flopped, as had all such plans in the history of the game. Froddy’s brilliance had not quite rewritten the game. “I played like a goldfish” even worse than a goldfish, in fact) Froddy declared afterwards, then scurried quickly away.
The second game of the match was anything but mercurial: Froddy’s brilliance never even made the journey to the gameboard. His long history of suspecting the Orknians of “fixing Shachgi” had played its own moves on the game board of his mind. Froddy had complained about nearly everything related to the match, which he desperately wanted, in fact needed, to show his timeless brilliance. Room servants would frequently appear at the most inopportune of times to break up his concentration and study, and secretly steal his tricky plans and moves, before they ever made it to the match. The match was held on the island of Vickjarey, with a climate much more familiar and comfortable to his cold weather opponents. The rigged qualifying tournaments, even though Froddy had brilliantly plowed through the competition, with streaks of wins the length of which was unheard of in such elite play. The spectators in the Shachgi hall were too noisy, and Froddy thought he could hear secret Orkney chants and hymns hummed, however nearly inaudibly, among the crowd.
And after his frighttful opening loss, Froddy’s mind simply caved in on him. He gave the Tellus Shachgi Federation officials a list of his demands which were to be met before he would resume the match. When no action was forthcoming, Froddy skipped the match, and simply sat in his room and munched on his favorite snack, freeze dried, salted golfish.