In The Advanced Future, A Dreadful Adventure Took Place In Chess-Themed Jupiter 4
| Dedicated to Martin whose idea and imagination supplied the world I wrote here about.|
Choose the king wisely, it affects all else you do. - Mekus Marauder.
There are many ways to explore another’s mind, and chess is one of them. - Anonymous.
The Discovery Of Jupiter 4
One thousand and eighty-six years before the discovery of Jupiter 4, the first battery-powered planes were already ancient. Most esteemed cultures of the past were derided in jokes and modern folktales, and it seemed the past one thousandth generation was a bunch of blind, ignorant folks.
'They knew naught and claimed to know much,' the popular school of thoughts said, 'they looked at much but saw very little.'
Many years later, Edu visited Jupiter 4 in a journey that seemed orchestrated by the hands that weaved the dumbfounding yarns of destiny.
A number of things had happened beforehand which shaped the place he later visited and mistakenly had an adventure known only to most people.
The Joint Universal Constitution allowed you to live only under a law you found acceptable. To change your country every year was also normal, because it was permissible in the universal law to change your nationality after one year.
Presidents and monarchs became mostly like business managers, because they had to behave well or cause loss of customers; the taxes people paid were needful in the running of the settlements scattered all over the universe. Each settlement had a unique law and culture, so values were also diverse and many. The price of respect in the international world, however, seemed to remain advancement in science and technology.
Among these planets was Jupiter 4. It was the largest, known planet in the universe, being eight times bigger than Jupiter 3, which was twice fatter than Jupiter 2, which was a bit larger than the Jupiter simply called Jupiter. The differences between Jupiter 4 and Earth was that Jupiter 4 had lesser gravity, more windiness and a colder climate. How it was discovered affected the laws guiding those who had it for a country. Every child even in the distant planets knew the story.
The country was founded by Mekus Marauder, a lost cosmonaut once considered dead by a snobbish, science community.
Having come from Earth, an area known for containing the universe's worst dunderheads, Mekus was grudgingly allowed a place among the cosmonauts that were to explore on a spaceship called Shark 6. Some said he was good at calculations, some admired his appraisal of arts, but what Mekus wrote he liked about himself was the desire for exploration; to him, exploration was why people should exist. In one of his memoirs called Oriental Milk, he had narrated his journey through the progressive culture he came from, and how he discovered the law he was later to pioneer as that of Jupiter 4.
According to the official story of his getting lost and his surprising return, an electronic malfunction caused an explosion that blew him into space. It was alleged that none was able to help him, since even his mates were at risk. Three days later, he was found floating in space by a group of lost, joyriding teenagers. In their company and under his command, they discovered Jupiter 4, which was uninhabited by humans at the time.
Suddenly the Universal Council of Heads (UCH) had a meeting to decide whose the far, fat planet would be. The president of Earth, Zhang Li, argued there that his subject's discovery should be a property of Earth. The ancient people that discovered distant lands that were fertile for business had done so in the past, all the universe knew. Mekus was incapable of fighting for the ownership of the place, and none in the universe was able to stop the rulers in whatever they intended to do.
Therefore Mekus had challenged the rulers to a game of Chess, saying he would only give up his claim to the place if they found a human who could play three games with him and win him in them all. With condescending smiles and laughter, they had agreed and signed an agreement with him. When he ended up surviving the second game he played at the contest by a draw, he won the planet and became a Monarch. He had been soundly beaten in the first one, and was nearly tearing apart the ribs of the international audience with his incompetence. It had seemed he gathered them just to show a self-made caricature of himself.
Theorists complained there had been foul play in the selection of his opponent, since such a lousy player, as they deemed him, should have been incapable of winning the challenge. Some even said few leaders might have helped Mekus win so as to be repaid with special favours. Why had the arrogant heads not appointed the universe’s second-best or third-best to compete against the dunderhead? They had raged. Was it possible the female challenger that played for the universe had been lenient, and sacrificed her respect on the alter of feminine pity? All these hot displeasures were as powerful as drug given to a dead rabbit.
As was expectable, the lofty leaders started desiring to be his friends. Many even volunteered to supply him with resources for agriculture, mining and research, so that the planet would 'yield its full potential'. He agreed.
Soon however, chess became famous. There were deliberations among the thinly-united governments as to whether chess should take the place of wars. None of them could disagree that soldiers were people's relatives who were valuable to them, and that military robots costed lots of money. The consideration persisted for years, seeing the beginning and end of leaderships.
Mekus, however, did not need their approval to make the jaw-dropping laws he made in his domain, because his imaginations had already given him leave. That was the law Edu met when he arrived.
Roselle’s Tele-Train Station
Edu visited Jupiter 4 twenty-five years later, which was fifteen years after the habitat had any official law, and sixty-one years after its discovery.
He was born in a Saturn Twinmoon slum to some girl from Mars 7. She conceived him after a terrorist rape attack by extremists who believed that no girl of marriageable age should not be willing to marry. It was an abomination to those from Earth that any young female was not either expecting, raising a child or getting ready to have one. Contrary to the desire of those from Earth, many girls did not like marriage. Females from Mars 7 preferred to stay single acquiring knowledge in diverse disciplines, and none stopped them from doing so. That was one of the beauties of you being obligated only to what mostly appeals to you.
In those days, no government accused people from another place for any attack, since the universal culture deemed that more sensible; so none was publicly accused for the rape attack, though Earthers were suspected.
Castration was rampant in Mars 7; their culture made it prerequisite to great respect. Not all of them took this step of traditional celibacy; some decided that testosterone was very important in daily living. They even proved it through many science textbooks.
On a Thursday, a Northstar tele-train thrust into the realms of Jupiter 4 bearing mostly young passengers; one of the passengers was Edu Azuka. The youths were all there for a year’s industrial training in their different fields of study. Edu himself was a Music student, and had chosen Uzoma School of Musicology and Like Arts as where he would spend the one year. News had it that the school was a work of art, and that only the rich got to school there.
As the tele-train thrust out of the teleportation tunnel located in Jupiter 4, the students were wide-eyed. They had been in such tunnel in Saturn Twinmoon just the past one minute, and suddenly they had passed through a thick curtain of concentrated yellow light, and found themselves in another tunnel, which after exiting, they had seen the huge purple flag of Jupiter 4 and the chequered globe on it.
A large robotic hand held a large billboard from a pawn-shaped building that looked like an ancient lighthouse. On the billboard was written: A Warm Welcome To Roselle’s Tele-Train station, Chess County, Jupiter 4. The grey lighthouse was the hugest one, they later discovered; it was about three thousand feet high.
When the nose of their train pointed below in a furiously-fast descent, they saw the place had a maze of interwoven, tunnel-like railways made of metal and some transparent material that could be Onitshium.
Passing trains sometimes looked eternally long, and were all very fast. Where the youths came from, they had only seen two tele-trains, and none of those were a quarter as long as the ones they were seeing. Jupiter 4 was a meeting point for all the tele-train stations; Roselle’s Train Station was connected to all the train stations in the universe, and so made it easy for other tele-train companies to pass through any planet they wanted. This was because a teleportation tunnel must be programmed to receive objects from a certain place to be able to do so; no such tunnels could receive from two or more places at a time. Jupiter 4 had a big station, however.
Drones of different designs either hovered above, zoomed in and out of the tangle of tunnels, or went about at the very top of the station. There was no way such a station could have been built on Earth or Mars 7 or any other small planet, because it would have endangered lives and caused overcrowding by causing compulsory relocations. It was a recommendation of the Universal Body Of Trans-Planet Engineers that such stations be far from where people lived by lots of miles; this was why few planets were willing to have such a new transport system in their homelands. Some who ventured to build such stations built small ones for government use.
The breakneck descent ended in a spacious, lit tunnel below ground level. After some time, a gentle nod told the chattering, awed passengers the train had finally stopped. Somehow the train was built to stop people from getting hurt when the train moves too fast.
A command came from the public address system, telling them to sit on their seats for ten minutes so they would hear some announcement before they left the train. Nothing was said by the AI voice that had not been said to them while they were boarding the train, except that security robots would be waiting outside with their luggages, and that they should stand in files that would make those presently sitting at the front stand at the front. It retold them that the planet had twenty-five percent lesser gravity, and told those with respiratory diseases what to do to have a nice stay in chess-themed Jupiter 4. Several bored teens helped the machine finish some of its sentences, wondering why they were being tormented by the repetition they thought was unnecessary.
Soon it was over, and their seatbelts automatically freed them of the rather cosy chairs it had confined them to. Those makers of the transport machine had thought it unworthy of having such things as bathrooms and kitchens, since journeys by the trains seldom lasted more than twenty minutes.
Uniformed youths sighed as they left the red chairs, each either calling out to a friend, talking excitedly or looking for his or her luggage.
Edu and Solomon his friend had been at the back all the while; they had been listening to a modern piece with two Bluetooth earpieces each.
Pictures and videos of the station had been in their phones for as long as since the first day they went to the university they had schooled at in Saturn Twinmoon. They had been awed by a holographic display from the wall of one of the hallways in the school library. Soon they had downloaded many videos of the station, and started talking of how it would feel to be there. From when the train entered the far planet, they had sat silently, sharing the moment in mutual silence. In the black-and-light coloured tunnel of lights and probably-concrete, they had only looked at each other and smiled, both amazed and delighted.
‘Proud metal serpent…stream-lined and strong…’ Solomon whispered solemnly, his eyes narrowed and dreamy.
‘I will eat and get a hair cut first,’ Edu replied, standing up from the seat beside the window where he had been sitting.
He knew his friend was on the verge of making some sudden poetry, and he was too in a hurry to hear it.
‘Do you think my lines evoked the accurate image?’ Solomon grunted, hastening up.
‘I felt your worship of the ... engineers’ masterpiece.’
‘Admiration,’ protested Solomon as they joined the human file leading out of the air-conditioned, expensively-padded compartment.
A sweet perfume possessed the air as it had since they had boarded the train. Each such train had its own supply of oxygen, and the windows never opened in the tunnels.
‘One can have imagine you would have added a kowtow,’ Edu smiled.
Solomon laughed as if unwilling to.
In two excited lines, the human contents of the spacious six-decker moved sluggishly towards the exit doors.
Using a newly discovered transparent metal called Onitshium, engineers had been making awe-inspiring things, things once made with metals, like trains and cars. Even though the metal was very costly because of the kinds of places it was mined from, buyers thought buying it was a necessary pain. The friends could see the queue in the two floors above them through the about eight feet high roof. Even the material spread on those floors permitted one to see through them. It seemed the engineers were showing off.
When they got to the door, they passed through a rubbery tunnel leading through the probably-concrete tunnel and its walls into a moderately-high, marbled space. Few drones hovered in the lit underground like hummingbirds. Hundreds of stairs parted by ornate, metal handrails led down to the open area below, away from which stood different models of taxis. A person used to seeing them like Edu could point out the terrestrial taxis, the celestial ones and the amphibious. The amphibious usually flew too.
None was kept waiting for his or her baggage outside the rubber tunnel; a file of robots were handing out belongings and collecting back transport cards. Passengers usually came out in order, so robots found it easy to scan the ear waves or eyes of the right person and to hand the person his or her things.
Off with their big, computerized bags Edu and Solomon went, rolling them behind on the smooth floor. There were bags that could fly beside their owners; those were too costly for the friends to afford. Such bags were disallowed in crowded places though, so the next easier way of hauling their loads was requesting such service from the station’s authorities, but they wanted to save money. Inasmuch as they had free lodging and feeding waiting at their destination, other expenses were waiting. Besides, they were not in Jupiter 4 to learn and get certificates only, but also to explore. Money was needed for that.
The moving steps got them below, and they stood by watching many, especially girls, board amphibious taxis, which exited through the opening above in order. The price of that luxury was written on the vehicles’ windscreens like on monitors, in different, picturesque fonts. Edu knew that if he or Solomon touched the play button on the screen, it would present them with a chess puzzle that if the one that pressed the button solved, they would be be taken to their destination for free. He also knew of the many measures put in place to make sure none fooled the government.
Terrestrial taxis seemed to be abandoned by younger travellers, the two friends found out very fast.
‘All of them seem to dislike the floor,’ Edu observed.
‘Familiarity breeds contempt,’ Solomon breathed his concurrence.
People walked about them, some wearing Virtualers attires. Virtualers were also called ‘V’s; they liked to live in fantasy worlds, even if those fantasy worlds were the real one being displayed as a cartoon realm. Goggles that showed the world as a cartoon was one of their main accessories, but they also wore cartoon costumes as they went about their daily activities. One of those passing by wore a fitted, bear costume.
It was accepted in Jupiter 4 to dress so, but none was allowed to be as sparsely dressed as they allowed in the women-ruled planet of Saturn Eastside, a community known to sell nearly all the male children, keeping the rest as exalted lab rats for use in fertilisation. Saturn-Eastsiders allowed girls as young as sixteen to have children if they willed. Some people the duo saw were also fans of different chess pieces; either those people’s hats or clothes showed them. A particular woman’s big, woollen hat looked like a white pawn. Another man had an old wooden staff that had the head of a horse as its handle. It was normal there to call someone a bishoper or a pawner. You could hear a teen say to his father, ‘You know pawners and their much ado over little.’
‘I’m almost too shy to board a T-car,’ Edu grinned slightly as they stood side-by-side several steps away from the ornate stairs.
‘Community constrains,’ Solomon mumbled.
Anyone used to having informal discussions with Solomon nearly knew what he would say at certain moments.
‘Let’s zoom away. Let ‘em watch if they want,’ Edu sighed, walking off and pulling his large green box.
‘How the taxis here soar into the air is enchanting,’ Solomon said, coming behind him.
Edu imagined he was smiling at him, and without looking back replied.
‘I’ve boarded their likes for fun. What’s special about travelling in them now except getting to see the city from above?’
‘An unnecessary luxury, in your dictionary,’ Solomon concluded.
Edu pictured him smiling knowingly.
They had met at the library of their school, where Edu had gone to read paper books and Solomon had gone to borrow them. Somehow their discussion on Music and Literature had been so interesting and engrossing that they developed a desire to see each other more. The main thing that bonded them was that Solomon knew how to make poems, and that Edu knew how to make poems into songs and play them. Both were not from rich families, but they had no lack of necessary things. Solomon had three siblings only, and they were all girls and older than him; Edu was the only son of a single mother. Their carefulness in spending money had been born of several idle discussions they have had. Any money not spent out of need had become to them ‘unnecessary luxury’.
They could see transport machines that flew and drones go past the open space above the underground. Many of those went by noiselessly, having being built to lessen noise pollution. Cars zoomed up the tarred slopes that led into the the unseen city above. The two inserted their transaction cards into the slots on the handles of the doors of the vehicle they chose after arguing whether to take the red or the green one. The car’s roof was transparent.
Edu wanted them to board a green T-car, but Solomon was too stubborn to be convinced. In fact, Solomon started boarding a red vehicle while Edu was trying to win him over. Solomon was not a fan of green. In short, he thought green was not worthy to coat a car.
Chequered Roads And Onitshium Roofs
As soon as the car beeped its acceptance of their money and unlocked, they opened the boot and packed their boxes into its clean palates. When they boarded the automatic taxi, it had a robot within, to their surprise.
‘Whither goest thou, gentlemen?’ it said good naturedly, looking ahead.
Silence followed from their shock.
The AI robot was made to look like an Asian woman in modern, white sarong and trousers. It turned around to look at them casually with a motherly smile.
‘I know more than your names and the subjects you studied, gentlemen. Isn’t speaking to one in the language he understands considered good at Saturn Twinmoon?’
They still kept moping.
‘Not to waste further time, where do I stir to, sirs?’ it said, looking into their recovering faces expectantly.
‘Oh, Uzo - zoma School Of Music And Like Arts, M-Ma’am...?’ Edu stammered.
‘Use your seatbelts then,’ it replied and switched on the vehicle. A sweet vibration told the passengers they were about to leave. ‘Remember they pay fines in this country for removing your seatbelt while the vehicle is in motion.’
Off they went as soon as both had obeyed, as if their computer-brained driver would not have left otherwise.
A wide road where about a hundred terrestrial cars could move side-by-side came into view roofed with thick Onitshium. Nearly everything in sight ran on batteries, so there was no smoke in the air as in about one thousand years ago. The machine-reined things flying above were all symmetrically-spaced and accelerated. Nothing was flown near the station by a human being, Edu had learned while he was trying to read a guidebook he bought at Saturn Twinmoon.
‘Such number of vehicles,’ Solomon breathed, also looking through the roof.
‘Mathematics is always orderly -’
‘- it has no heart, only brains,’ Solomon completed the mutual saying with him.
‘Nature is a wild animal, in contrast,’ Edu said, scratching an itch on his big nose.
His hair was about two weeks old, but was already discomforting to him, since he liked a smooth head. The past three weeks had been loaded with preparations for his one year absence from school. There were assignments and researches to complete; some of them were from the teachers, some were self-imposed.
He wore a trouser and a high-collared top of waterproofed wool, and a pair of black, high-soled shoes. Both his eyelids and his nose were as small as those of the unknown rapist, since his mother’s family looked nothing like that, he had since decided. He was more than six feet tall, and had slightly-bowed legs. He was not weightier than Solomon, who was endomorphic and taller.
‘Would you like to listen to music, news or a fun program, sirs?’ the robot asked casually, looking ahead.
‘Music-’ Edu said, but Solomon was speaking too.
‘I like to know the current affairs of any location I would be in for longer than a week,’ Solomon explained to none in particular. If he was aware that Edu was looking at him, nothing showed it.
‘Sirs, if you want, I could give you your different wishes directly through your respective earpieces,’ intervened Driver-robot.
‘Uhm...fine,’ Solomon accepted, looking at the amazing road outside.
‘Music hurts lesser than news, and few good news get broadcast these days. I don’t mean that some bad news don’t appeal to some people,’ Edu shrugged as their car raced past a monstrous fourteen-wheeler.
‘Even Virtualers know that reality is omnipresent. Music can be a pig’s meal,’ Solomon argued, tapping two buttons on his watch to accept the AI’s request displayed on the screen of the watch.
Addicts of all kinds were called pigs in the universal community; ‘pig’s meal’ was whatever people took or did to escape reality.
‘Rest is not a sin, unless it’s overdone,’ Edu smiled and tapped on his own watch.
About an hour later, the vehicle climbed a meandering flyover from which they could sight chess pieces of buildings of different sizes. The road they met was chequered with very small yellow and white squares, but had black lines on it that declared it a road. Ten feet or more from each side of the dual carriage road was the walkway. On their left, there were youths rolling along it on motorised skateboards. Notice boards that declared the spaces between the road to be spaces wherein to pack cars stood still on wheeled bases.
Their driver stirred round a roundabout and turned right into a street that had a signboard held by a slim robotic arm from the high, ornate door frame at its beginning. What was written on the board was: Whorled Wood Street. Few meters from it was the gate leading into their destination. The school seemed to dominate both sides of the road from there to as far as they could see.
‘Here we are, gentlemen,’ the robot said as it packed in a packing space near the gate of the school. ‘Have a nice time in Jupiter 4,’ it said and turned to smile at them.
‘You things should be programmed to help people carry their bags,’ Solomon complained as the two back doors opened.
‘Agreed,’ Edu sighed, shutting the robot inside the car.
‘Notwithstanding the distance, I still think the fare was too costly,’ Solomon said, shutting his own door and walking to the open boot to take his big, black box.
The blue-tooth connection with the vehicle had since disconnected, Edu noticed. His own stored music was playing. It was a jazz instrumental. It had a set of trumpets that sounded in staccatos second-by-second. Immediately, a saxophone took the stage amidst the background of drums, bass and other instruments.
Two large, silver-coloured gates stood open before them, glittering in the half-impotent glare of the noon sun. They resembled chess boards, but the squares on them had an embossed face each. Like some poor mirrors, they held dull reflections of the floor of the school’s compound. The floor was a mosaic of different sizes of chessboards and squares, and each building in sight was a gigantic chess piece. Largest of all the buildings was the skyscraper of a blue queen chess piece that seemed to be about a thousand feet. No building there was of the same colour as another, but the squares on the compound floor were either black or white.
In the wide area just inside the gate was a fountain also comprising of the statue of Mekus Marauder standing on a king-chess-piece pedestal and looking toward the east. He was young, and wore a cosmonaut’s suit, and his left hand was carrying the helmet. Benches were all over a part past that, each under an umbrella. It seemed that none of the benches was unoccupied with people.
As the friends entered the gate, they saw that there were yellow convertibles packed on the left just behind the fence. A still signpost there said ‘Conveyance Services’. Some of the vehicles seemed empty, but others contained one or two drinking, chatting or using their phones.
‘Very convenient,’ Solomon had said when he saw them.
Having boarded one of the things after saying they were going to the registrar’s, they were taken to a woman who did not look up from her computer before sending them off to the apartment both of them should lodge in. Solomon was distracted by the film showing when he switched on the television, but Edu went to shave his head at one of the shops within the school. The barber there obliged him by making his scalp as hairless as a bottle. The friends ate and went to sleep, weighed down by stress. Morning took long in coming, and they rested well.
The snobbish registrar had directed them to appear in Chrysanthemum Hall; some small hall. It smelt of fresh air and different perfumes in the cool morning air, and contained only girls. Organs were spaced out all over the place, and each was being played; some were surrounded by players of other instruments playing lowly with an organist. Their instruments made only tiny sounds, but their music was being collected in a device that fed their efforts to their ears through their earpieces. Each girl wore a purple beret, a purple, probably-polyester, shin-low gown, and purple boots that had raised, black heels. Edu could not see one among them that he considered ugly, and they all walked well-postured and acted so unlike the girls he was used to seeing, that he found himself changing his posture to fit in. No girl there seemed to consider the two friends visible, however.
High windows and the high entrance door let the light in from three sides of the hall, but doors leading into several offices occupied the other wall. Few benches stood at the extreme that faced the wall that had the entrance door. On one of these benches sat the friends. Edu was trying to sit with a straight back; Solomon was quite relaxed, looking at the females before him critically.
‘This sort of waiting makes me fall asleep; this place is so boring and stressful,’ Edu complained after more than thirty minutes of waiting.
Solomon did not reply. When Edu looked at him, he was making himself quite at home, his legs crossed.
‘Are you sure she isn’t here already, but had forgotten us?’ Edu asked no one in particular.
‘Their bizzy,’ Solomon sighed, meaning it was not his business.
It was more than fifteen minutes more before a young woman dressed as all the ones in the room walked in and moved towards them after sighting them.
‘Are you here for Industrial Training?’ she asked unceremoniously in a voice Edu knew would do well when singing alto.
‘Good Morning,’ Solomon replied with a fake grin. ‘And yes.’
Edu knew Solomon’s greeting was a rebuke, but sensed she did not know.
‘Follow me then,’ she said urgently. ‘I’m a busy girl.’
Off they went into one of the shut offices that had a rectangular card on its door that read: Amara Marauder; President, Students’ Union Government.
No wonder, Edu thought, her family owns the planet.
He hoped his friend had discovered too, since it would stop further subtle reprimands. When one was in an animal’s lair, such would be wise to accept the seat one was given, he remembered some proverb said.
The scent hovering in the office they entered had trailed behind the lady all the time they were following her; it was sweet, but the lady’s personality had affected Edu’s view of the perfume. The perfume now reminded Edu of his pauperism and gigantic insignificance.
Small plaques and ornate cups of different sizes and forms stood in a showcase on the right. Informed eyes like Edu’s sensed they were not made of cheap materials, and they were more than twelve in number.
‘Did you win these awards?’ Edu asked, infusing awe into the statement.
‘Yes, all of them,’ she replied proudly, going around the wooden table and sitting down on her big swivel chair that made her look thinner. ‘Sit down.’
Both sat down, perplexed. The awards were chess awards from high competitions. The girl was possibly a chess grandmaster.
‘You are a chess player,’ Edu smiled, looking her in the eyes.
‘Yes,’ she said, brushing her short braids off her face. ‘My family owns the planet, and we engage in many chess contests. It’s only normal that we should be good chess players.’
Edu nodded to show he understood.
‘I wouldn’t be in this office now if I had not been the best player in the school,’ she said and sat back with a smug smile.
Solomon coughed twice with his left hand cupping his mouth. Edu could not discern whether the cough was real.
‘Do the best make the best leaders?’ Edu asked.
‘Leadership is understanding and good strategy,’ she replied offhandedly. ‘Chess players understand the pieces, the board and the rules, and use those knowledges to score the goal. The pieces are people, the board is the universe, the rules are both the laws of nature and constitutions.’
Edu was dazed. He and this lady were entirely from different cardinal points. The enthusiasm and the superiority in her voice nearly silenced him.
‘Human beings seem more important than chess pieces to me,’ Edu shrugged. ‘I lack how to put it.’
‘Then don’t say it,’ she replied and waved her right hand, signifying their discussion about chess had ended. ‘Solomon will join me to Moth Hall so I could hand him over to the President of Languages. Edu will be in this hall - which of you is -’
‘- I’m Solomon,’ Solomon interrupted.
‘Such a long name,’ she murmured disapprovingly, and started writing on the screen of her phone.
One could imagine she was only displeased at Solomon’s conduct.
‘Those who come here for Industrial Training are only permitted to do one of the following for the country: joining our school clubs that relate to their field of study as associate members, giving extra lessons to those struggling with one thing or another in their subject, and touring the country as observers and participators with junior members of the ministry to carry out functions related to their field of study,’ she related formally, her soft-looking fingers crossed. ‘You have two months to decide where to spend your one year. Start with a club for the time being; if you would like to visit other schools and carry out functions with a ministry instead, speak up, and it will be arranged.’
Edu had no plan of working and learning elsewhere than in the school, so he said nothing. Instinct told him that Solomon also did not intend to go anywhere else. It happened his heart was right.
A huge young man that historians would say his race lived mostly in India in the baby days of modern civilisation soon came to take Solomon away. His name was Vitram Rajput, and he was the president of the Students’ Government, School of Languages.
Amara took it on herself to take Edu around the school. She showed him Ivy Hall, where the girls and the hand full of males studying music came to discuss, share ideas and practice together.
That was where senior students were invited to teach junior ones, and where Edu would spend the one year. Even though he had expected to be treated as the ladies of Chrysanthemum Hall had treated him, the junior students accepted him with open hands and treated him like some big role model. It did not happen, though, till he had played one of Solomon’s short poems Witless as a song, with a piano, as he tried to explain modulation. None had to tell Edu that the one year would be exciting, and that he liked to teach serious students. Amara become nicer to him soon after the teaching session. She even invited him to watch her at a tournament she was soon to play in. He accepted.
‘You are fellas with the queen peacock already,’ Solomon had replied with a hideous smile when Edu told him. Fellas meant friends. ‘The courtyard of Jupiter 4 is open before you, if you are willing to wag your tail by her side.’
‘That metaphorical analysis has more meaning than you are trying to express,’ Edu had replied.
‘No meaning you will find in it would be too far from my message,’ Solomon had teased.
Edu had felt himself blushing. He had believed that Solomon was mistaken. People like Amara were courted by eagles like her, not crows, or pigeons like him.
An amphibious limousine came to pick him from his lodge on the next Saturday, however. Amara was inside, wearing a green gown, black boots that had slightly-raised heels, and a wide-brimmed hat that nearly covered her ears. She was smiling when Edu entered, but Edu wondered whether the smile was real or to make him feel good. Having spent the past days wondering what was happening between he and the noble, he had decided it was the same thing that happened between he and Solomon: she liked his music skills and personality.
He was grateful for the acceptance and respect, and admired her expertise in the game of chess. She had even thought him a few things on chess and given him puzzles to solve in his spare time. In return, he was teaching her how to write songs. To him, they were simply friends, but he was trying to adapt to being friends with a girl. Saturn Twinmoon was not a place where youths of different genders spoke more than two sentences to each other, since they were rarely together. Solomon had released confusion into his mind by telling him the lady’s admiration was romantic in nature; he wished he could know the truth. Not having knowledge on romance, he wondered what he was going to do. He also had no romantic feelings for Amara, if he were asked; he only admired intelligence and skill in anyone.
Benita’s Dome was the location for the contest. Standing at the meeting point of four roads, the pawn-shaped edifice was entered only by four winding flyovers and several landing pads. Vehicles moved about below the pawn, being navigated to unknown destinations. One could see the raised, circular platform in the middle of the house’s interior when looking from the sky. A heavy chandelier hung from the dome, suspended about nine feet above the comfy chairs before the chess table. The chessboard held holographic pieces projected by itself; each player could move the pieces only by wearing special thimbles that could move the pieces. The chairs were vacant, but the pieces were set. People were arriving and settling down on the benches that had been arranged in ascending order around the raised platform that would hold the opponents and their game. Edu saw all this, but soon the house started towering over their vehicle as they descended on a big pad on the pawn’s base; soon they were driven to the VIP car park. It was situated in the basement of the elegant pawn, and was quietly occupied by guard robots.
Edu and his new friend went back upstairs by an elevator, whence he was taken to the VIP bar and given the number of his seat by his inviter. There was a VIP chamber in the same floor as the bar; both were opposite each other in the yellow hallway. He wished her a good endgame and accepted the bottle of lemon juice she ordered for him. It surprised him he accepted her drink, since he found it hard to accept things from girls.
The bar was a help-yourself-if-you-will kind. Cupboards bearing bottles and glasses stood round the walls. A middle-aged man stood at a counter before which were raised, ergonomic, robotic stools having backrests and two arms each. You could adjust the seat to your taste using the buttons on the right-hand side of the seat. Edu sat on one of those stools drinking a glass of lemon juice. Amara knew he did not drink beer; she also knew he liked exercise, Wing Shun, and privacy. Right there, he was wondering how it happened he had told her all that in just a short time. He decided it must be that he felt she was friendly.
The game was to start in the next two hours, so he felt he had enough time to relax and observe the constituents of the Jupiter 4 high class as they lived in their habitat.
If one liked a mixture of the best perfumes, such would like the smell of the room. A low jazz music had been playing moderately-low from an unseen speaker in the room since he entered; the same music that played from his earpieces when he first stood at the gates of Amara’s Alma Mater.
After looking around to confirm he was sitting far enough from people, he gently discharged abdominal gas into the fabric of his robotic seat, and looked around again to make sure his sigh after that was not seen.
‘What other drinks do you have here that keeps a man in his right mind, sir?’ he asked the bald-headed butler.
The man waved formally to a part of the rack behind him. No cheap bottle of soft drink was there, but he knew that all the drinks in the room was free. That was Jupiter 4’s VIP section’s culture.
‘Get me the ah... Saturn Southside Folk Juice,’ he replied uncertainly, wondering whether the drink would taste good, as a young man took a seat beside him.
Edu liked the shape of the amber bottle and the look of its orange label. Also, he hoped the unfortunate newcomer had catarrh, but trusted the perfumes in the place to hide his deed.
The butler brought the drink, removed the cock, and served him a whole bottle. When Edu poured a full glass for himself and took a swig, he hoped that none saw how he reacted at the taste. The drink was the best he had ever tasted. It tasted like a mixture of pineapple, jack fruit, lime and other fruits. The newcomer beside him was served a bottle of a thick, milk-white drink and a tumbler; he did not have to order anything.
When Edu turned around and greet him, he found it was a boy of about sixteen years. People from Jupiter 4 usually dressed in clothes that had very short capes, as the boy was dressed in. A shiny, sky-blue, long-sleeved, fitted, caped shirt and a trouser of the same material, and two shiny, brown boots completed the boy’s attire. If Edu had not looked properly as the boy turned to reply to his ‘Good Morning,’ he would not see the golden, king-shaped badge of the Marauder family on the boy’s left breast.
‘Good Morning,’ the boy replied formally, but with respect, and went back to his drink.
‘Nice badge’ Edu ventured, thinking it would be easier to start a conversation with a boy than with an all-business adult.
‘Thanks,’ the boy turned around again to say with an expressionless face.
Edu decided not to continue talking to him, discouraged.
An announcement sounded mildly later, saying the time for the contest had come. Leaving the quiet boy, he went to sit down with the rich chess lovers of Jupiter 4. No seat in the VIP section was mere. They all looked like those people sat on to play some video games. Each of them had a flat, glass slab lying on its left arm, and two thimbles were on each glass. Edu sat near to the glass that overlooked the audience below and the table of the players, giving no second glance to the slab and thimbles.
‘...playing white would be Amara M.!’ the commentator was saying. The bony, auburn-haired man sat in another section across the VIP section.
People clapped till Amara walked into view from under the decking and sat on the side of the board that had the white pieces.
‘I present to you the contestant to play black! Hailing from Mars 7 and an intergalactic-al grandmaster, he has played chess in the biggest arenas in the universe, but never at Benita’s Dome. Please welcome Felix Ronaldinho!’
What followed was not just a thunderous clapping, it was a storm of clapping sounds. A tall, lean, pale man wearing big, long dreadlocks walked calmly into view. He had been sitting somewhere among those below. The man’s attire was a black contemporary non-Jupiter-4 shirt; red, woollen duster that looked like big, rough furs; a black, fitted trouser, and a pair of red sharp-tipped, slim leather boots. There was no smile on his about-forty-three-years-old face, only a slight scowl and a tattoo. The tattoo was beside his left eye. He starred down on Amara like a predator, his callused, big lips unmoving.
Both contestants shook hands and sat down. Edu found he was getting sweaty. As he looked around, he found that others seemed relaxed. Then it dawned on him he was afraid for Amara. No other time had he felt like that except in his teenage days, when a member of his house was to compete with a strong opponent during an inter-house sports. He believed Amara was a scary player, and knew she would not be easy to be won. His worry came from fear of her being defeated. He found himself studying her face and body language to see whether she was scared. All signs he saw implied she was tense, but confident. No expression was on her face, either good or bad.
At the ting of a bell, the game started. Amara played the king’s knight. Her opponent replied with the same. She brought out the queen’s knight next. Her opponent played the same thing. Their kings’ pawns came out next, but when Amara played the king’s bishop, her opponent prepared to fianchetto her king’s bishop. Around Edu, some were replicating the moves on their glass slabs.
He could not understand why some moves were being made by the contestants; it was far above his ability to discern. One might think he understood what he was seeing in the holograph below, but he was only wishing she would win. Finding out after some time that he desired to urinate, he got up and walked up the stairs that bore the VIP chairs. The younger visitor he had seen in the bar room was not in the VIP section. Some teenagers were there though, each watching the game calmly. It seemed they were not there to be there only. Unlike him, they were there to learn.
Inside the tiled hallway again, he sighted the door into the urinary. The tiles were dark-grey pictures of two-dimensional figures of chess pieces on white backgrounds. Some of the knights there were dragons instead of horses.
He yawned and walked into the urinary, chose one bowel, sighed, and started doing what he came for. It was while zipping up his trouser that he heard the chorus shout that came from the viewing room. Chess was not like his favourite sports football, where people shouted when one missed a goal, so he wondered what happened. But he sensed that whatever had happened was bad for Amara, because the folks of Jupiter 4 would like their own to win no matter how much they loved Felix. He hastened to find out the truth.
A widespread murmuring was going on as he entered. Hurrying to the front, he saw Amara frowning and looking at the man. Edu sat down on his chair and looked at the screen that displayed the last move that had been made. Felix had sacrificed his queen, he discovered. Edu knew that sacrifices could be traps, so he asked the elderly man beside him what happened.
‘He is losing. The queen was vital, but he sacrificed it for nothing, from even the AI’s perspective,’ the man said, gesturing to his own glass pad.
‘That’s not sensible, is it?’ Edu replied, now surprised.
‘It’s a choice a calibre of Felix would make only if he wanted to lose the game,’ the man replied. ‘He is not known to be merciful, he is the most ruthless player I know.’
Edu looked at Felix in a new light, now. The man sat expectantly. Amara had not made any move, still looking at the pieces before her critically. In Edu’s eyes, Felix sat as a lamb knowingly awaiting its own demise.
Amara ignored the queen for a length of two moves, and then captured it slowly, and stopped her timer, waiting to see what he would play. Felix went on playing as if he was playing at his best. He was losing, but his countenance did not change. It was as if he was welcoming Amara to checkmate his king. Finally, about eight minutes later, his wish was granted. Few clapped for Amara. Edu himself did not clap. All present knew the victory was unearned, because it seemed it was served rather than won. Amara was not smiling as she walked away, a look of confusion was on her face.
Had the scowling ropes-hair done this to prove he was not going to fight a girl? Was he trying to win some love and respect from a fraction of the female community? Does he like Amara, or was he trying to woo her over the chessboard? Is he just a proud man? These and more went through Edu’s mind as he watched the lanky man go out of sight.
Outside in the hallway Edu met her. She smiled forcedly and beckoned him, and they went into the bar once more. To Edu’s surprise, the boy he had met in the bar was still there, but was sleeping with his head on a table at a corner. Amara sighted him with a start and walked to him immediately. Edu followed slowly, judging she was very displeased from her fast, brisk steps.
When the boy awoke by Amara’s taps on the shoulder, his eyes were red.
‘I was waiting for you,’ the boy shrugged, as if that was the only perfect explanation.
‘Go to my car, Andrew,’ she replied, but Edu sensed she would have scolded the boy if they were not in public.
The boy stood, stretched with a yawn, and seemed both tired and heavy. People were entering the bar again, talking about the game.
‘I - I want to te - tell you something...’ he said to her urgently.
Edu instinctively gave them more space, found some chair at an abandoned table, sat down and closely observed the drinks in the rack nearest to him. They were all liquors, but looked beautiful and fascinating. The pictures, names and praises on them made him wonder how each smelt and tasted. In the past, he had taken lots of alcohol, but had decided his mother had been right about alcohol: they were as helpful as drugs people abused. Now they only seemed as drinkable to him as perfumes.
A hand touched his shoulder, and he turned around. There stood Amara with a worried look.
‘Can you help me go and rescue my brother’s friend from gamblers? The boys got into trouble, and a good chess player is - uhm...’ she trailed off, her eyes dancing fearfully above quivering lips.
‘Do you know who they are?’ he asked with furrowed brows, surprised by the rush.
‘If you would just be a chess piece for me, and my driver plays the other, and my brother plays the other, the number of humans needed on the chessboard there would be complete. Please, can you do it for me? We’re out of time, or I would’ve called for another person,’ she replied so fast that she finished in lesser time than was normal.
Edu found himself standing up and nodding. Many questions were in his mind, but an adamant quest for their answers would mean further loss of time. He also had nothing awaiting him at home but self-imposed studies and leisure.
The trio crowded into the first elevator they found; it was too full by the time they had entered, because it could only contain twelve people comfortably. It bore fourteen of them down to the VIP car park below. None of the former occupants of the box complained all the way. Edu assumed it was because of Amara’s nice way of asking them whether they could allow the inconvenience since she was rushing somewhere. The human content had told her they were willing to do.
The high-class limousine was found, moved slothfully up to the take-off ramp according to official rules, taken into the air and bound for Under Chess, all in six minutes. The driver stirred into the part of the sky called the Celestial Highway in the display on his dashboard, and submitted the driving to the planet’s AI called Hands, because the atmosphere was foggy.
The Caged Pawn
Nobody spoke for some time except Amara. She had answered a call apologising to a lecturer she failed meet with. The three passengers just watched the driver. The drop of a pin on the rug in the passengers section might have been heard.
‘The place we are going has cameras at every corner,’ she said, staring into space. ‘No game being played there is not recorded, that’s one of the things my grandfather put in place to monitor what happens there. He employed the engineers that work there directly from his list of trusted people, and knows what games are played, and when, and watches from home when he wants.’
Dune Rosy was a quiet village in the south. It looked like hectares of trees-haired and spotted bodies of farmlands, from the sky. There was much palm trees. From the limousine, one could see birds passing or playing in different numbers in the spent sun. From the look of the clear, golden air, the place promised to be temperate. At some stretches of lands they passed, low fences walled in diverse species of cattle in fields. The structure of rotational grazing the farmers there used was imprisoning the animals in a certain space till the grasses there were spent, and then relocating them to another one. Only one human figure was seen by Edu, the only company the cattle had were drones. The peacefulness of the sight made him long to relocate to the area and start farming and living among the farms, animals, birds, trees and flowing waters. A thought even formed in him that said the farmers below should appreciate what they had.
A beautiful body of water lay ahead. The bank had people that sat on the floor and on the few benches scattered over it. The water was teeming with swimmers. The sight of their vehicle in the sky distracted them after some time. Edu understood why. People knew the vehicle belonged to Mekus Marauder’s granddaughter, Amara.
Amara’s vehicle landed on a road after the bush on the other side of the river. Her driver had been driving the vehicle for some time. The road led into a tunnel that seemed not to have tasted tyres, human feet or any footwear for a long time. In fact, the place was so abandoned it seemed that only wild animals and passing vehicles could be seen there. Edu suddenly hoped no human, wild animals lurked there. Dust rose on their wake as they zoomed through it shortly and came into another deserted road that was a highway.
Edu was excited that he got to go that far into the planet. Though the siblings he sat with seemed rigid from apprehension, he was not affected by their state. It was as if he was having a sudden excursion.
Under Chess was a circle wherein eight identical bishops formed a circle inside a chequered circle. The bishops were yellow, gigantic skyscrapers having eight sides and a cross on each side.The wall around the compound was a baluster of green, grey-chains-linked, crowned pawns. Each pawn seemed to be about ten feet high. The place seemed deserted of humans, but orderly-packed cars outside bore an opposing witness. Sounds of human activity came from the walls of the buildings. As soon as the car packed, Edu opened the door and stepped out. The others came out very fast.
‘Said it’s in the underground,’ Andrew breathed behind Edu.
Edu turned to the siblings, distracted from photographing the place with his eyes.
‘Which way?’ Amara replied impatiently, visibly afraid of something.
‘Under Chess allows you in. You don’t go in. The door is already open,’ Andrew said, looking round to see which bishop had a gaping door, but Edu saw it first.
Two large doors stood open behind a quiet, bulb-lit balcony. A hallway was visible behind the door, and a chequered robot stood at the doorway.
‘That’s going to be our guide,’ Andrew said, racing off towards the door.
Edu understood he knew his sister was angry to be there and in the situation they were in. Every of the boy’s action showed remorse and shame. The boy could not even look his angry sister in the face.
As they reached the door, the well-mannered robot bowed towards them.
‘Welcome, Andrew and his pawns. This way, please,’ it flourished to its left in a grandfatherly way and walked off.
‘What kind of board are we going to stand in?’ Edu asked Amara as he caught up with her. This had been one of the questions he had earlier.
‘Under Chess uses large, technological boards in its Dirty Room - the place where hideous businesses are done in Under Chess. There have been rumours that such a place existed, but it’s unimaginable that some things they said happened here were real,’ Amara replied, holding up her gown by her left hand to enable her move faster.
‘What sorts of things?’ Edu asked, walking in full strides. Amara was nearly jogging.
‘When you lose a pawn that is a human being, it dies - the person representing the pawn,’ she said. ‘But it won’t get to that. I will negotiate for a no game.’
Even from her left side, he could see terror in her eyes. By her body language, she was also saying to him she was sorry to bring him into the situation. Shame and helplessness radiated from her calm-looking face.
‘So my life would hang on Andrew’s expertise?’ Edu asked, afraid.
A heat of anger was forming in his chest now towards Amara. She had not told him his life would be in danger.
Was he going to be a sacrifice so the royals could have what they wanted? What gain would that be to him and his mother? She had no child apart from him, and had given a lot of her money for his training and education.
‘No, I will play in his place, if we must play,’ Amara replied. ‘A contender may bring a representative, but must be a pawn in the representative’s place.’
‘Can’t you use your royalty to cancel the game?’ Edu suggested.
‘No,’she nearly murmured.
There was none on the hallway save a thirty-something-years-old, male orderly cleaning the sky-blue and white floor tiles. The man casually looked at them and went back to his cleaning.
‘I wish I knew beforehand,’ he said with a hint of reluctance.
‘I’m sorry,’ she replied, not looking at him.
‘What in particular are we about to die for?’ he queried, his speed to the dreadful room reducing. ‘-I trust your skills, but anyone can be defeated.’
‘Once the robot has scanned your face - as it has done - you may no longer leave without doing what you came for,’ she warned him. ‘No one just comes here. One books a match and appears on time. This is the highest gambling den for chess players in the whole universe,’ Amara said.
Edu sensed she was only trying to show him the situation he was in.
Who was to blame between him and Amara? Had he not accepted to help her without asking very important questions? Had she not the opportunity to tell him the full facts but had decided to worry about the situation - maybe? Was she using him? But she had been friendly and good all the while. Would she sacrifice him for the well-being of the royalty, which included her? It looked so. Her mentality had the tendency of permitting her to do it. He knew that.
‘Will you sacrifice me?’ he asked as they were led into an elevator that started descending very fast. He was afraid and resigned.
If even a first-class citizen of the country could do nothing to stop what was about to happen, he was helpless. The building suddenly felt like a cage; tears formed in his eyes out of his hopelessness, and he did not try to blink it back like some stereotypic man. It was the same feeling you could have when walking towards an execution device, but do not want to die or feel the pain that would end your life.
‘Some players are malicious. I’ll try to keep you safe,’ was her last statement before the human four and the robot had to walk out of the elevator and into the beautifully designed floor of another hallway.
Edu was starring angrily at Andrew; his heart was engulfed in the fire of hate for him. He suddenly noticed that he continue to breathe faster the more he looked at the boy, yet he knew that nothing he could do would save him from the predicament. Having no intention or impulse to do anything else, he spoke to hurt him.
‘Look what your stupidity did!’ he yelled, ‘You reckless...’ but he lacked words to complete his attack.
Amara did not even interrupt. Her frame looked as pensive as that of some ancient thinker painted to look very thoughtful. Andrew showed signs of brokenness, wiping his face and walking faster. The sound of his sobbing was faint. Edu assumed he must not fight or try to escape, since he might be killed for it.
Each of the floor tiles were sizeable, black squares having white patterns of chess king pieces closely surrounded with circles of other chess pieces. Pawns made the outermost circles, bishops came next, then knights, rooks and queens. The sight meant more to Edu than the designers might have intended.
Large ceramic vases of different designs stood apart from each other, good only to be admired by those not expecting their deaths. Even the chandeliers above were beautiful. They hung about five feet from each other up and down the hallway. None of them was the same colour, and the glass on them were chess pieces of different designs.
The robot stood before a door and signified ‘enter’ with its right hand. Andrew opened it and hastily walked in, scanning the place with his eyes.
Just as at Benita’s Dome, the room had places above, where people sat to watch games from behind thin glasses. Such places surrounded the four from above. There was no viewer’s chair below, only two tripod stools in front of wheel-borne lecterns. On each of the chessboards were tiles having pictures of chess pieces. This made Edu decide that only VIPs came there to watch games. Also, even a person unused to the strange place would know what the two stools were for, since they stood opposite each other facing a large chessboard on the floor. The board held large chess pieces and six cages that all hung from a pole from the top of the underground. He knew he would stand in one of those cages soon.
‘Look at you in Jupiter 4, and your first known friend is a girl!’ a voice boomed from unseen speakers.
A door opened, and Edu could not believe he was seeing the person coming out from behind it. The person was smiling, and moving as if he owned the place. None replied to the arriver, so the arriver kept speaking.
‘What do boys and girls do in Saturn Twinmoon?’ the person continued speaking. ‘Do the boys run into their rooms and play their guitars, while the girls just play their harps in secret, daydreaming.’
Edu was quick to understand what the man meant, and was shocked the man could say that. He was a student of music, after all, and knew the shapes of guitars and harps. To deny he did not play the kind of guitar the man was talking about would have been funny to the man, he knew, so he replied as one who missed the secret meaning in the man’s statement.
‘How could I know, sir?’ he replied.
Grandmaster Felix laughed very loud. The look of knowingness on the man’s face made Edu blush. Edu had never played the guitar the man was talking about, even though some in Saturn Twinmoon preached it was okay to play such guitars and harps. It was no secret to him that many were addicted to those solo music sessions, just as many were addicted to several things the Saturn Twinmoon society supported.
‘Who are you to the student, Grandmaster Felix?’ Amara spoke up. ‘Do you know he’s blackmailing my brother?’
‘My blood. My nephew,’ the braids hair replied, still descending. The door behind him was the only other one out of the contest arena, and five people stood before it. Four were men, one was a boy of about the same age as Andrew. The look on his face spoke of fear and tiredness. It seemed he might have cried.
‘Will you play for your nephew?’ Amara asked, moving towards Felix.
‘I knew you might come to play for your brother,’ Felix replied.
‘What if I do not?’ Amara asked.
‘We could settle the matter privately in my office, if you are too tired to play,’ Felix shrugged, his two eyes fixed on hers. ‘There are many ways to prepare a yam.’
Edu saw the look on Felix’ face and gulped. A feeling of anger and helplessness enveloped his body.
Since lives are at stake, is it not wiser to do anything the man says that would do no big harm? Is it not wiser to give the man what he wants?
Edu believed that some things were better than life, and that a good name and compulsory dignity were among them. He knew a doe had no dignity on a lynx’s table. When these thoughts came to him, he felt himself about to get protective of her. But few things troubled him, and one of them was whether she would die for him as he was about to die for her family. Why should he try to die for someone who does not care for him, and might not even agree to lose a leg for him? He thought all this, but was too afraid and dry-throated to advice Amara to seek private counsel with Grandmaster Felix.
‘Did anyone take the file, Ebuka,’ Amara asked the body standing with the men, who replied by shaking his head. ‘Then let us play.’
‘It’s late, you know? You could sleep here with me after the game. There are many rooms here, and my father owns the place.’
Amara seemed shocked.
‘You are a Martin-Lugard?’ she asked almost in a declarative tone.
‘Yes, one of his unknown children. He won your grandfather in a game to set up this multi-billion den, remember? Now we their children will play, or shame and defamation will befall your entitled family.’
‘I’m not your mate, Mr Felix. You should have challenged my father instead of me, since my grandfather had played with your grandfather,’ Amara replied.
Something about what she said seemed to make the man uncomfortable.
‘You are old enough to represent your father, according to the law,’ the man hastened past her and sat on the nearest stool.
The men helped Andrew, Edu and the driver to enter the cages in black’s side of the board. Amara was already sitting on the other stool, while one of the men helped her understand how to use the chessboard before her.
Edu was in the cage for the the king’s pawn’s cage. The driver was the queen’s pawn, and Andrew was the king’s bishop’s pawn.
Grandmaster Felix started with the king’s knight. Soon Amara had to play the queen’s pawn. In the next two seconds, the ground under the the driver’s cage opened as four doors, revealing a lit, shimmering hole. Whoosh went the yelling man’s cage into the water stored below. Even Edu found himself shouting as the chain disconnected from the cage and went out of the way for the four-doors to shut again so the pawn that captured the driver would take the square.
Edu found himself crying like a baby, but could not stop. When he mistakenly looked at Andrew, the boy was weeping like a primary school girl, and mucus was running from his nostrils.
‘What are they blackmailing you about?’ Edu asked as a knight captured a bishop two squares from him.
‘They caught us smoking at school and videoed it. Ebuka wrestled the phone from them, but it was locked, so he could not delete it. He could not smash the phone too, or destroy it, since it would bring a bad name for his father the Minister For Agriculture, so we tried to settle the matter peacefully,’ Andrew blew his nose into his cape. ‘They decided that my friend should come here along with them, holding the phone, and that if I won the game, I would get to delete the video. It was later that Ebuka rang me to tell me the game would be done down here, and that human pawns would be needed. They could agree to nothing else.’
‘who are “they”?’
‘Dennis Martin-Lugard and his friends. They hate my grandfather’s family.’
‘We own the planet,’ red-eyed Andrew shrugged.
‘And you still let them live here?’
‘Yes, they can only be cast out through a chess game. Their grandfather beat mine to establish a gambling den here after subtly making mine drunk at a party - they were good friends. Grandpa had quit drinking since, and all his try to replay the game with the other man had been in vain. The other man is powerful, and shares this place with seven other shareholders from around the universe. This place is the only reason my grandfather seems to be sad each time he looks at Jupiter 4.’
Edu was used to kick an enemy knight at around the time Andrew finished speaking, so fear stole his train of thoughts and left him with shaking and dread. He looked around the board to see whether any piece was pointed at him. The kicked knight was moved to fork the king and a rook. Amara took it with her queen, and she had to use Andrew to capture the white queen. That kept both of them side by side. There were three kings on Amara’s side of the battle ground, and Edu knew he was one of them; but he also knew that the lifeless king he was being used to defend was the most important one. A line from Solomon’s poem War Horse came into his conciousness and refused to go. It read, ‘spurred towards grim sounds and slaughter.’
Felix threatened Edu with a bishop. In a normal game this was still dangerous for Amara, since it would end in making the king defenceless. Amara blocked the way with a knight. Felix captured it, so Amara captured the bishop, making Edu a hanging pawn. Edu stood up looking frantically round the board. He could see the fear in Andrew’s eyes too. Slowly, Amara kept moving Edu forward. She was trying to queen Edu.
In the next eleven moves, she succeeded. Felix was in trouble. His king started hiding around the board. Amara advanced ferociously. Seven moves later, there was a mean checkmate. The white king drowned in the water below. Edu sighed, half-happy. He was half-angry at Jupiter 4, and restless in the cage. Dirty Room was his worst nightmare yet.
Clack went the cages, and the remaining three humans on the board walked out.
When the tank was opened, of the three human beings, only one had died. The others were revived, and the driver was among them. He was not fit to drive, so they helped him to the car, and Amara took the wheel. She had been shedding tears since the game ended, but none consoled her. Edu himself was stunned by the wickedness of Grandmaster Felix who could have stopped the dirty game but did not. It dawned deeply on Edu that evil people could be loved and worshipped by their ignorant society, while those people were human nightmares. How could he tell what happened to the applauding audience that sat in Benita’s Dome during daytime?
All the tensions of the game had left him tired and hungry. He also wondered who was the dead man at Under Chess. What would the person’s family be told? Did the person have a family? Was it poverty that made the trio agree to be Felix’s pawn, or was it greed? Could it be they thought it an honour to be used as pawns by Grandmaster Felix? What was told those men? Edu wished he knew what the enemy pawns had expected from the game.
The driver was dropped at a hospital about five hours later. Edu was dropped at his lodge and found Solomon awake and watching a film.
‘Welcome, Your Highness,’ Solomon greeted him, smiling smugly from where he sat on the three-sitter, and tossed a peanut into his own mouth.
Edu staggered into his room, undressed, came outside, ate his food, and went to bed without bathing.
‘...so, you were mistaken,’ Edu said the next day’s afternoon, after sharing the adventure with deluded Solomon.
They sat on one of the umbrella-shaded benches. Both of them would pass the night in the compound, and so were not among those trying to leave before the atmosphere got darker and colder. Bats passed now and then, flying towards the south, and a clock somewhere was announcing it was 6:30 PM.
Andrew had rang him in the afternoon, telling him his grandfather had invited him to the Black Castle, the monarch’s home. How the story of the game at Under Chess had reached the old man, Edu did not know, but he had learned from the boy the invitation was for good. On the afternoon of the next day, he would be on his way to the famous place.
Nobody built houses that looked like the king piece in Jupiter 4, and the eight buildings that looked like king pieces were built in the Black Castle. They were placed thus: a big, black piece stood in the middle, surrounded by large-but-lesser kings pieces of different colours. Each was either red, yellow, green, white, blue, silver or gold. Record had it that Mekus did so because he had played black in the game wherein he won the ownership of the planet.
Solomon did not reply to Edu for about twenty-something minutes after the horrible story. The look on his face reminded Edu of how his own face would have been if someone had told him that story. In the silence, it dawned on him that he had made a foolish decision in deciding to be a pawn before asking what happened to such pawn if captured. He made no effort to get Solomon to say anything throughout the time of the silence, taking time to see what happened through Solomon’s likely-unbiased eyes.
What but a desire to please someone so much would bring about such a blind decision he made? By a critical look at his own heart, he sensed he must have longed to please the girl so as to retain her favours or gain more favours from her. Had he not planned to explore the country as much as he had money to, and Amara had given him a free excursion to Benita’s Dome? Was there not a possibility of visiting more places and doing many exciting things before Andrew’s folly took place? Did Amara know he would be unwilling to disappoint her before ‘begging’ for his help? He believed that girls got more favours than boys, especially the rich or pretty girls. Even though Amara was neither pretty nor ugly, she had rich parents. It was shameful to him that he did such a thing, and more disturbing to him that Solomon would discover why he did it easily.
‘Does your relationship with her - if she stops inviting you to places and rarely talks to you all of a sudden, would you still be pleased you risked your life?’ Solomon asked slowly, still looking in front of them with furrowed brows.
Edu did not reply. The answer somehow answered by itself; it was ‘no’.
The next noon, Andrew arrived in a yellow and black, SUV-shaped limousine. The Black Castle was not far away, so the journey was short. They chatted in the vehicle all the way, talking about sports, electronics, food, clothes and houses. Somehow they never ran out of topics. Andrew kept acting nicely, and Edu kept acting nicely.
‘Where would the king be waiting for us?’ Edu asked as he sighted the glossy, black walls of the Black Castle.
‘He would be in his study, thinking, reading or...’ Andrew shrugged with a sigh and raised hands, ‘...doing one of the things monarchs do. He’s old and rarely visits any country these days - rarely leaves the house.’ Andrew laughed shortly and added, ‘I wonder what would make one leave Jupiter 4 except the hunger to see different environments.’
‘Have you ever left this place?’ Edu smiled inquisitively.
‘Once. I went to Earth, and would like to go again. In fact, I might live the larger part of my life there,’ the boy answered with tangible longing.
‘Ancient landmarks and very famous places...I would also like to live in the climate and gravity human ancestors lived in for many years before they made vehicles and machines for deep space exploration.’
Achebe River flowed in front of the castle, so one could get to the compound both by air, land and water. Edu had heard about aquatic drones before, and knew it was very possible to find many of them in the water along with fishes. A retractable bridge stretched from the large gates of the castle to the river bank their vehicle was racing towards.
Edu had one more question to ask, but thought it was awkward, since it was Kilometres from the topics he and the boy had been discussing. Also, he wondered what the boy and his family thought of his relationship with Amara. He decided to ask the question anyway.
‘Is Amara at home?’ he nearly choked asking.
‘No, she went to represent my father at a musical concert.’
Edu felt both happy and sad about that.
‘I wonder why she didn’t tell you, though,’ Andrew added looking at him from the chair where he sat.
‘Must she tell me everything?’ Edu asked pretentiously, desiring to keep his concurrence hidden. He had started enjoying the visits to interesting locations so much, and was becoming so used to Amara’s invitations that he had started expecting to be invited by her every time.
‘She likes you. Maybe she did not invite you because it’s an official function. If she brought you along, it might seem you are her fiancée.’
Edu throat was quivering out of coyness when he tried to swallow, but he forced himself to swallow and mistakenly made a gulp sound. He disliked this topic.
They were driven into the castle and into a driveway lined with evenly-spaced sculptures on both sides. The people whose likenesses the images were hailed from diverse locations and times, but seemed to have been either scientists, musicians or chess players. There were likenesses of men and women, and few boys and girls. Behind the sculptures was a generous line of different flowers standing in front of a multitude of gigantic trees. No piece of machine intruded into the sight of the display of natural beauty and ancient sculpture.
Zooming through two of the chess-king-piece-shaped buildings they met on the way, they made for the fountain before the courtyard in front of the main building. As soon as the vehicle stopped, Andrew let himself out and held the door for Edu. The shadow of the glass-bodied, inky-black building lay over them, showing both strength and protectiveness.
Andrew led him into the courtyard. Its floor was of glossy, light-grey-marked, white tiles. Stately chairs stood empty in the shade, among few ornate vases holding sweet-smelling flowers. Edu imagined himself falling asleep on one of the sofas under the caress of the cool air and the loving-scent of the flowers.
‘Sit here,’ Andrew waved to a seat and walked into the second courtyard and out of sight.
Edu sat, and suddenly liked the coolness and squishiness of the seat; it had pressed inwards seemingly-lovingly to graciously receive him.
About eight minutes later, an old man walked into the second courtyard, helped by a middle-aged man and flanked by Andrew. The monarch was a tall, narrow-shouldered man that wore no hair on his face, but had short, curly, white and black hairs on his bald head. He walked slightly bent over his rubber-soled staff, and wore neither crown nor regal attire. He only had a black robe on his milk-coloured T-shirt and trousers, and wore rubber flip-flops. Edu was standing immediately he saw the man.
‘Good Morning, your Highness,’ Edu bowed as he had seen people do to the man in the videos he had watched. The old man nodded once, and turned towards a chair that none else seems to sit on but him.
Andrew stood behind the man looking as if he were afraid Edu might do something one should not do. When Edu saw that look on his face, he contacted Andrew’s feeling.
Guest and host sat, and the king’s helper was sent off on an errand, leaving Andrew standing at the king’s left with his hands clasped behind him.
‘What is your name,’ the man asked, looking at him with bright, studying eyes. Age seemed to have done nothing bad to Mekus’s mental capacity, and it seemed he did not miss anything that took place whenever he was looking.
Edu felt as one in a limelight in the sight of thousands, and knew he might start sweating soon. He disliked it.
‘Edu Azuka,’ he found himself replying.
‘Chinedu Azuka is your full name, is it not?’ the monarch asked, still looking at him with eyes that said the seasoned brains behind them was thinking. His old right-hand fingers were tapping a muffled discord on the arm of his red and yellow chair.
‘I changed my name when I was your age from Emeka Okoye to Mekus Marauder,’ the man said and leaned back with a thoughtful sigh. Edu wondered why the man was not already telling him why he was called. ‘My friends called me Mekus, and I liked adventure, so I crafted myself a pen name that I later made my real-life name.’
‘My mother would be offended at me sir,’ Edu’s mouth said for him, smiling.
The man replied with a faint smile, ‘I was an orphan, and my uncle did not care what I did as long as I brought home good results, had my bath and wore clean clothes.’
‘I’m sorry to hear about your orphanhood sir,’ Edu said sincerely.
‘I liked reading in those days and experimenting with things I bought with the money my unmarried uncle gave me. He was a laundryman. Other money I made, I got by helping those in senior classes with their assignments,’ the old man laughed shortly. ‘Don’t assume you can’t become a president someday because your family is not rich. Focus on your education, but do not despise virtue. You are a young man, that’s why I’m speaking like this,’ the man continued, but turned his left palm up and down abruptly when he finished.
‘Thanks for the advice sir,’ Edu bowed faintly.
‘No virtuous man would permit a place like Under Chess in a domain where he has the final say, though, and I know you have questions and assumptions,’ the king said gravely.
‘It’s natural sir,’ Edu shrugged meekly, smiling.
‘I was drunk when I agreed for that place to be built,’ the man said. A look of shame was on his face.
‘Okay, Your Highness,’ Edu said, as if that was news to him.
‘I was deceived by my best friend. He declined a rematch later, saying that it was not part of our deal. He was correct; the agreement is recorded in video,’ the man grinned and shook his head, a look of betrayal on his face.
Edu felt the man’s hatred of the eight houses and the underground called Under Chess. None had to tell him the man would have done all in his power to rid his realms of such a place.
‘Felix has given me a big opportunity through his actions at Under Chess. Children aren’t allowed to gamble here, but Felix, who was a certified representative of his father, who was that of his grandfather, permitted a child to gamble at Under Chess. The immorality of their actions, from the act of getting me drunk to be able to deceive me, to a child of theirs blackmailing my grandson, to a senior member of their family supporting childhood-gambling is enough evidence that Under Chess should be relocated to another planet,’ the man said. ‘I’m glad you agreed to go with her. If you had not, the misbehaviour of my set-up grandson would have been so talked about all over the galaxy by haters it would seem my family were bad.’
‘Amara is my friend, Your Highness. It was the best I could do,’ Edu replied doubtfully.
Andrew suppressed a smile, and Edu wondered why. He looked at the old man, and was happy the man was not acting weirdly too.
‘What are your plans for the end of your compulsory stay in my kingdom?’
‘I hoped to teach the boys at Saturn Twinmoon, sir, but am enjoying myself where I am so much that I wish I could study here and qualify for the position of a lecturer,’ Edu said before he had thought about the implications of his words.
One might think he just wanted to be near Amara, or that he was subtly begging the king to promise he would be employed in the same school he was working at if he finally got educated and qualified for the position he was eyeing.
‘That can be arranged,’ the king waved that off. ‘I have given you a house and a mall here as a token of appreciation. Amara will take you to them whenever both of you agree to visit it.’
‘Ah, thank you, Your Highness,’ he said. He would not have taken it save for the fact that it was too mouthwatering. There was no will in him to see what would happen if he rejected the gifts.
‘Since you are a responsible young man, I do not have anything against your relationship with my grandchildren. I counsel that you keep my heart so,’ the old man looked intently at him.
‘Yes sir,’ Edu replied.
Edu learnt a deep secret: the king was a trusting man, the kind people liked to deceive. The man’s dealing with his deceptive friend who would soon be kicked out of the planet, and his most-recent words to Edu were witnesses to that. The old man was also a liberal giver, he discovered.
‘That will be all,’ the man said and stood up, leaning on his staff. Andrew allowed him to lean on his shoulder as two of them proceeded towards the second court. Nobody had to tell Edu that his meeting with the man had been informal in a large scale, and that favour had smiled on him in Jupiter 4. Edu stood till the man had walked out of sight.
Why do good things keep happening to me in Jupiter 4? He thought.
The next Sunday, news bore it that Under Chess had been demolished. Edu’s name was in the news as one who helped stop the planned defamation of the king’s family. Mekus Marauder had done what he said. It was then Edu heard that there was a hall under the underground where Pluto Chess, a chess game that had pieces made up entirely of people was played. Edu’s mother was with him in his new house when that happened, because he had told her, and had arranged with the government of Saturn Twinmoon through the Marauder family to bring her to Jupiter 4 by a tele-train.
Many months later, Edu’s days at the school expired. He planned to go to Earth by tele-train to see what Andrew talked about. Andrew was too young to be given leave to go with him, and Solomon had decided he would go back to Saturn Twinmoon for his belongings and return to live in Edu’s house while working at a secondary school in Jupiter 4; so Edu must leave alone.
On the day he would leave, he stood with Amara at the station. They talked for a long time about some things they usually talked about. When it was time for him to leave, Amara asked him what she had not asked him since.
‘Six months, is it not?’
‘I might stay for a year or so over there, and might visit other planets,’ Edu shrugged, looking her in the eyes as usual.
She wanted to talk, but was not bold enough to say whatever she wanted to say.
‘I like you, Amara,’ Edu said. ‘You are like a sister to me. I will remember you, and call you whenever I have the opportunity.’
She embraced him all of a sudden. She was sobbing into his chest. His heart desired to pry her off his chest, and he did so, slowly. She let herself be removed from his chest. Then he stepped back.
‘Bye,’ she said and walked away abruptly.
He turned, pulling his green box fast. The train was getting impatient.