Authors: David Gerrold,David Gerrold
Tags: #Science Fiction, #Fantasy, #Humour
More titles by David Gerrold
The Trouble with Tribbles: The Story Behind Star Trek's Most Popular Episode
The World of Star Trek
Boarding the Enterprise: Transporters, Tribbles, and the Vulcan Death Grip in Gene Rodenberry's Star Trek
Starhunt: A Star Wolf Novel
The Voyage of the Star Wolf: Star Wolf Trilogy, Book One
The Middle of Nowhere: Star Wolf Trilogy, Book Two
Blood and Fire: Star Wolf Trilogy, Book Three
The Man Who Folded Himself
Alternate Gerrolds: An Assortment of Fictitious Lives
When HARLIE Was One: Release 2.0
Under the Eye of God: Trackers, Book One
A Covenant of Justice: Trackers, Book Two
Space Skimmer: Book One
Moonstar: Jobe, Book One
Child of Earth: Sea of Grass, Book One
Child of Grass: Sea of Grass, Book Two
In the Deadlands
The Flying Sorcerers
BenBella Books, Inc.
Copyright Â© 1987, 2014 by David Gerrold
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
First e-book edition: January 2014
The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Gerrold, David, 1944â
Chess with a dragon.
(A Millennium book)
“A Byron Preiss book.”
Summary: Humanity tries to escape enslavement by intergalactic aliens.
[1.Science fiction] I. Torres, Daniel, ill.
II. Title. III. Series.
PZ7.G312Ch 198Â Â Â Â [Fic]Â Â Â Â 87-8202
Distributed by Perseus Distribution
Cover design by Sarah Dombrowsky and Jenna Sampson
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K!rikkl polished its mandibles slowly while it considered the layout of the game board. There was much too much at stake and there were far too many unanswered questions. Perhaps it had been a mistake to accept this invitation.
For instance, how many eggs were in the Dead Mother's Egg Pouchâand what kind? K!rikkl knew there had to be at least three fat Xlygit larvae and a Knrkt; G!ligglix's aggressive betting was proof enough of that; but if there weren't any host-grubs, then the pouch was valueless. To K!rikkl, anyway. Complicating the matter was the fact that G!ligglix already claimed to have a whole family of host-grubs in its Nest; but as far as K!rikkl could tell, G!ligglix did not yet have a Knrkt. But then again, maybe G!ligglix didn't want one. A Knrkt could be its own worst enemy.
“!” said K!rikkl in quiet annoyance. This was not working out at all well.
“??” questioned Hnaxx, turning a multi-faceted eye in K!rikkl's direction.
“A remark of annoyance, my dear host. You may perhaps be far too good a player for my skills. This game promises to last long into the night.”
“Should the game last that long, my dear guest, it will be a grand testimony to your own skill.”
“If we do not starve to death first,” agreed K!rikkl.
G!ligglix giggled. “I think you overestimate
of our abilities. . . .”
K!rikkl ignored the remark. G!ligglix was a fat, rude, grossly distended, gluttonous, ill-mannered, profiteering liar. G!ligglix was also quite richâwhich was why K!rikkl had considered joining the game at all. Now, K!rikkl was beginning to discover just how G!ligglix had gotten so rich. As a result K!rikkl's goals for the evening were beginning to shift. The young Ki!lakken had initially thought to play for brooding-advantage; now it seemed more cautious to simply play for quiet survival.
K!rikkl clicked again and considered the possibilities.
In order to complete its own Nest and close the Blue Cycle with a breeding, it would have needed to find host-grubs elsewhere on the playing field. That no longer seemed possible. All the host-grubs had either been eaten or claimed. Without grubs, K!rikkl's only hope of survival to the Dawn Cycle would be through neuteringâand that was
a bad idea.
Hm. Perhaps it could barter a single grub from Hnaxx. Although it wasn't an official rule, the way the game was generally played, the host was honor-bound to succor a needy guestâexcept all of Hnaxx's grumbs had already been impregnated. And now, Hnaxx was studying K!rikkl's discomfort with a wry amusement.
That left only Hnaxx's young broodling, Rrr. A very unlikely possibility, K!rikkl decided. Rrr was already too close to the honor of Gracing the Table. There was very little possibility of Rrr giving advantage to anyone elseâat least not unless there was also significant gain to Rrr's own nest.
The question wasâwhat was in Rrr's nest?
No, that wouldn't work. There was nothing to be gained by lending an advantage to Rrr. Besides, Rrr was young and tender. There was a lot of juice and protein in that exoskeleton. K!rikkl wasn't the only Ki! Who'd noticed the plump tenderness of the youngest player. By unspoken agreement of the more experienced players, Rrr had already been selected as the guest of honor for the banquet later this evening.
No. Definitely no. Rrr was not the solution to K!rikkl's problem on the playing board. Indeed, if K!rikkl aided Rrr, it might very well find itself the target of the other layers' enmityâand the cautious Ki! knew where that led. K!rikkl had no intention of taking Rrr's place on the table of Hnaxx the Munificience.
Hmm. And hmm again.
K!rikkl arched its large green triangular head forward and made soft clicking noises in its throat. It bent itself low and gave a tremendous performance of studying the board, blinking and peering and tapping at the pieces with ferocious deliberation.
There was no other way.
K!rikkl made a decision.
It sat back on its haunches and growled low in its throat. A sign of annoyance and frustration.
“A cough perhaps?” inquired Hnaxx politely.
“Yes, perhaps,” replied K!rikkl noncommittally. The whole thing stank of a trap. The seven other playersâdistant members of Hnaxx's Nestâwaited politely while K!rikkl polished its mandibles politely. Finally, with deliberate grace and elegance, K!rikkl withdrew a blue silk scarf from its sleeve and laid it across the game board.
One of the other players made a sound of disgust with its hind rasps. Rrr backed away from the board in silent relief. G!ligglix clacked impatiently. “A suspension, K!rikkl?”
“Unfortunately, dear G!liggl, one must attend to the needs of the physical world before one can achieve the spiritual.”
K!rikkl inclined its head to each of the players in turn, “I invite you to refresh yourselves as well so that we need not be interrupted again.” The Ki! smiled and straightened itself and stepped back away from the low dais of the game field.
As it stepped toward the door, K!rikkl clacked a warning syllable to the host-grub it used as a burden-beast; the pale pink creature gobbled back a nonsense syllable of its own from where it squatted in the corner. The thing was almost as fat and naked as a larvaâand it was getting embarrassingly large as well. K!rikkl would have to plant eggs in the grub soon or someone might begin asking the wrong kind of questions.
Keeping its features impassive, the Ki! moved with a quick, high-stepping gait; it bowed through the gossamer curtains of the pavilion and out into the night. The low building behind it glowed with muted blue warmth.
The others complained, but they tossed their egg-pouches onto the table and followed. Protocol demanded that no Ki! stay unattended in the room with the board and the other players'
pouches. Throwing a silk therefore had only limited strategic value in the overall structure of the game. It worked against the other players' balance much more than it worked against their positions. Neverthelessâan experienced player could take advantage of even the smallest possibilities. . . .
K!rikkl was neither hungry nor thirsty; nor did its bowels need emptying. Nor did it need to lay an egg. K!rikkl did not need to polish its carapace, nor did it need to groom its foreclaws or even empty its parasite pouchâbut there were other needs, much more important, so K!rikkl began to take care of all of its intimate physical functions anyway.
The Ki! stepped haughtily across the carefully manicured lawn to the lush grove of dormant Fn-rr and began digging a trench for its excreta. K!rikkl dug slowly and patiently, scraping its hindclaws through the soft dark earth with the utmost of care. It was still several months until the Spring when the Fn-rr would begin walking and talking again. This far south, the Fn-rr spent almost as much of the year rooting themselves as they spent being ambulatoryâbut the Fn-rr were only dormant, not unconscious. They often remembered the events that occurred during their dream-time; many of the Ki! hoped that the care that they took in fertilizing the roots of the Fn-rr would be remembered and rewarded in the Summer.
At least that was the justification for being so thorough and meticulous.
K!rikkl filled the trench with a jet of oily fluid and then pushed the dirt gently and precisely back over it. Then it paused to polish its foreclaws carefully with a soft silken cloth before it turned back to its companions.
K!rikkl knew that it couldn't delay the procedure of the game for too long or that would truly arouse the questions of the others; but nonetheless it paused to sniff and chew a small bundle of herbs before turning back to the pavilion. It offered the herbs to the others, but they politely declined. K!rikkl waved its foreclaws in amusement and clacked its mandibles in gaudy appreciation. The sound echoed loudly across the lawn. “Well,” K!rikkl trilled loudly to Hnaxx and the others. “Shall we play?”