Nathan pulled a miniature chess set out of his backpack and sat down at the park table. Lauren sat down across from him. Nathan and Lauren both loved chess and had taken to playing chess together after school was out. Nathan arranged the pieces neatly on the board.
“You go first,” he motioned to Lauren.
She nodded, flipping her auburn hair over one shoulder. She delicately slid the pawn in front of her king one space forward. So far, out of the fifteen games they had played, Nathan had won nine and Lauren had won six. Nathan was a very offensive player, while Lauren was a defensive player. She typically won through sneaky moves that Nathan didn’t notice. Nathan slid a piece forward, already forming ideas of how he could win this game. The afternoon passed away peacefully into dusk.
Lauren carefully moved a piece forward: “I should probably go home in a few minutes,” she said.
She looked up as she did so, and then shrieked. Flanking the two of them on both sides were a dozen men dressed in black.
Nathan looked around in horror.
“Where the hell did they come from,” he muttered under his breath.
Come on,” one of the men ordered harshly. “You two are coming with us.”
He grabbed Lauren by the wrist and pulled her away from the table. She pulled away desperately, her face pale with fear. Nathan went on the attack, but six men surrounded him and grabbed a hold of his arms and shoulders. Both of them struggled as the posse of men pushed them towards the back of a dark van and dumped them in.
“Lauren, are you OK?” asked Nathan.
“I’m freaking out,” she said in a strangely calm voice, “but other than that I’m fine.”
They both sat in silence, having no way to figure out what was going on.
The van screeched to a halt, and the men flung the doors of the van open. The guards dragged Nathan and Lauren out into an alleyway. One scruffy looking guard paused at the door of an old, dingy looking tower. He pulled a out a bunch of keys and unlocked the door. The guards herded Nathan and Lauren into the building, where they found themselves facing a stairwell.
“March up,” ordered the scruffy looking guard.
So up they all went. All Nathan and Lauren could hear was the dull thumping of boots for thirteen flights of stairs. Finally, they reached a long, low room with large glass windows along the wall that looked over the city. In the middle of the room was a vast chess board. Nathan had played multi-player chess before with four players, but this chess board had many different sets of chess pieces on it, and far, far too many pawns. Standing by the board, keenly watching the pieces, was an old man with long, grey hair and black robes. He turned now to look at them.
He smiled eerily. “Good job. You brought them. You are dismissed,” he waved his hands at the group of men.
The men left, leaving Lauren and Nathan standing by themselves in the middle of the room.
“What do you want with us?” asked Nathan angrily.
“What do I want with you,” repeated the old man slowly. “I need intelligent children who understand the finer points of chess. I must have successors when I am gone.”
“Successors to what?” asked Nathan, “and who said we would comply?”
The man smiled thinly: “You will be my successor, and you will comply because otherwise I will starve the girl.”
“You’d better not touch her,” was Nathan’s angry reply.
The old man merely smiled: “Certainly not, unless you don’t do what you are required. Step closer, both of you. You see this chess board is the entire world, which I control. It is simply a matter of strategy and understanding people to get the desired outcome. Watch closely.”
On the board, a white pawn stood ready to strike at a black King. The man slipped a black pawn out of a pocket on his robe and set it on the board beside the white pawn.
“Now look,” he said. “The pawn’s attention was on the king and…. now it will go after the pawn. All very simple. All this and more you shall learn.” He grinned: “My time isn’t quite like your time. I am always several moves ahead of the outside world. You may call me Master.”
Nathan looked boldly at him: “I certainly shall not. I have a proposition to make. I challenge you to a game of chess. If I win, you let us go. If you win, we stay.”
The Master sneered at the boy: “You seriously think that with the intellect of fifteen years that you can beat me? Very well. Watching the chess board does get a bit boring. People are so predictable.”
He yawned and continued, “Bring out your chess set. You play white, and take first move.”
Nathan noticed that Lauren had retreated to the corner of the room, and was sitting there with a pensive look on her face. The game began, and it was not long before Nathan could see the chess Master far outranked him, and in fact, was playing him. There were several opportunities the Master could have taken but did not seize upon. Nathan very carefully picked up a piece and moved it forward.
“Check mate,” said the old man in a bored voice, when a loud crash filled the room.
Both of them turned to see the gigantic chess table crash onto the floor, chess pieces bouncing through the air. Lauren was standing quite calmly next to it, a satisfied look on her face.
“I don’t play within your rules,” she said firmly. “I am not a pawn that you can just mess with and use, and I am not predictable!”
Her hazel eyes glinted with anger.
“You stupid, stupid girl,” the old man shrieked. “Don’t you realize how much chaos you are going to cause in the world?”
“Humans have a way of surviving,” said Lauren with derision. “You were causing vast chaos to achieve what you wanted. No more.”
The chess Master responded, “It was controlled chaos.”
He gave a sudden shriek and crumpled to the floor. Nathan leaned over him, his chess board in hand from where he had struck the old man a heavy blow on the head.
Lauren said, “I can’t abide being forced into playing by other people’s stupid rules. Now help me throw this chess board out the window. We are several moves ahead of the world, so we have a bit of time before supposed disaster strikes.”
He nodded and helped her heave it to one of the long windows. Together they smashed it against the glass and watched it fall and shatter on the concrete below them.
Nathan pulled a piece of rope from his pocket and tied the old man’s wrists together in a tight knot. Then he dragged him to a small supply closet across the room and pushed him in.
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Hesitantly, they left the room, wary that there might be guards around, but there was no one. They exited the tower into the outside world. Nathan peered at his watch. It was the same time as before they had entered the tower.
“See you at school tomorrow, Lauren. And you’d better not get it into your head to start accidentally pushing our chess board off the table.”
Lauren only smiled: “You just never can tell with me.”