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Message to Readers

Hello, I wrote this chess-themed piece because, as a chess captain, I really wanted to put my feelings during a game into a story, and I thought this would be an interesting way to frame them. Thank you for reading!

The Final Chess Match

June 22, 2021

She jerked awake violently, causing her hand to knock the chess pieces from the table as the drone of her alarm signaled the start of the last match of the Vega National Chess Championship.

The silver chessboard glinted in the sunlight coming through the windows of the Commander Skyscraper in which the championship was held. As Katherine Ashby began to put away her pieces, she noticed her shabby little box, a barely functioning Hologram, had continued projecting Pioneer propaganda during her nap. 

“Become a Pioneer of the Galaxy, and lead the way to the horizons of Vega’s glorious future,” the announcer blared. “Break your shackles to this earth and alter humanity’s genome for the ages to come. Abandon your primitive lives, and join the genetic revolution!”

Katherine groaned and smacked the beaten box, changing the channel.

“Is the top player in the Vega Nation nervous to compete against the Unmodified who has gone undefeated all 6 rounds of the tournament?” the interviewer asked Grandmaster Bernard Kresh whose cerulean suit was just as spotless as the couch he was resting on.

“Nervous?” he cocked his head and smiled, showing off his pearly white teeth. 

Katherine slowly inched closer to the holographic pair, eyes tight and worried as she waited for her childhood hero to reply.

“Not at all. However, if she manages to win, I’m sure the primal girl could use the money to buy a new coat,” the Grandmaster laughed and soon the interviewer followed suit.

Katherine looked down at her government-issued grey, tattered coat and frowned. Although she was used to Pioneer remarks, Kresh’s cut deep. Promptly shutting the Hologram’s case, she began walking back to the tournament. 

The expensive perfume which filled the coat hanging room was a pleasant change from the sweat of the Greybuildings, as UnModified stores and workplaces were called. 

“Why choose the military?” A familiar gravelly voice filled Katherine’s ears as she began hanging her coat. “If it’s not too personal, why die at 25 instead of having a long honest life?” The piercing black eyes of the tall man stared at her right arm where the insignia of an arrow rested.

“Well, Grandmaster Kresh, I see you’re not one for formalities,” the corners of her lips moved up, forcing a smile. “I’m having a productive youth before I begin fighting in the front lines. Currently, I’m 18, with 7 more years of romping left. What’s to dislike about that?” 

She longed to add that she would rather enjoy her meager military pay and leisure until her contract demanded her slaughter at the front lines. After all, her family and other UnMods destined to be eliminated as “burdens to society” either through military or toiling for scraps simply for believing that modification would strip away their humanity. 

“Don’t play dumb with me. I know you took this job for chess, but I would respect your endeavors more if you didn’t choose to die young. Let’s discuss your true motives after our game,” Kresh stared her down sternly.

“I hope to die for the noble cause of the Vega Nation. I will see you in the hall Grandmaster Kresh. I believe we are late,” she calmly uttered, walking to the stairs. 

Maybe he’s trying to get a treasonous statement out of me, so I get disqualified? After all, his champion title is at stake, thought Katherine.

Walking into the tournament hall, she drew in her breath sharply: black-tinted glass windows, golden chandeliers, and vast holograms of smiling players encompassed her senses. Grandmaster Kresh sat down, snapping her out of the trance and causing Katherine to hurry to her chair.

Shaking with adrenaline and anxiety, Katherine played the King’s Pawn Opening: e4. 

If I win, this would prove that Unmod genetics are just as capable as the Pioneers. I can’t lose, she determined.

Without much thought, Kresh responded with c5, and after a few more moves, they went into the Najdorf variation. Focus, she repeated in her head.

The players soon exhausted their opening preparation, and Katherine found herself debating whether she should push an edge pawn to begin pawn storming his king.

Her mind wandered once again as she noticed Kresh staring intently at the entrance behind her. 
As Katherine decided to navigate her knight to a better square instead, Grandmaster Kresh suddenly stood up and jerked the Unmod off her chair by the arm.

“Hey-,” Katherine’s protests were cut off.

“Get ready to run,” the grandmaster hissed. He began to walk faster, dragging the young player toward the exit. Once he pushed her to the top of the stairs, he immediately let go. 

As Katherine spun around, ready to berate Grandmaster Kresh, she saw him staggering at the bottom of the stairs. A uniformed Commander advanced toward him as his hand grasped his cheek. 

“They’re going to arrest you, Ashby!” he shouted as he raised his fist to return the Commander’s blow. Katherine stood watching the fight, wondering whether to escape past the fight or run upstairs to the tournament.

“I always knew you didn’t appreciate your genetics,” the Commander sneered, grabbing Kresh’s hovering arm and enclosing a handcuff around it. The grandmaster immediately collapsed onto the floor, allowing the uniformed Pioneer to dart up the stairs. 

Katherine turned her back to the ascending Commander, preparing to sprint up the stairs. Before she had managed to climb one step, she felt cold steel wrap around her wrist and watched the top of the stairs fade out of view.

Staring at the ceiling which seemed familiarly grey, she stretched a shaking hand toward it. A large, rough hand grabbed hers, sitting his former opponent up in order to present the windowless prison.

After a long pause, he spoke, “I tried to help you prove that we are equal. I should’ve known they only let you play as a show of their power if you lost,” Kresh faltered. “Do you honestly think the Commanders would have let you come out of that tournament a victor?”

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