The Chess Match

Lord Hater's hand hovered tentatively over his Rook. With this move he'd claim his opponent's Bishop and secure a square strategically near the White King. But as his fingers neared the game piece, Wander began emitting a delighted squeal. The warlord quickly reeled his hand back and the sound stopped. He eyed the orange nomad suspiciously and slowly drew his hand closer to the black Rook once again. The furry face broke into a grin and the squealing started anew, softly at first, then gradually getting louder and more excited as Hater's digits closed in. By the time Hater had actually touched the piece, Wander was squealing loudly and literally vibrating with anticipation. Hater too was vibrating … with a rapidly boiling rage.

"Will you STOP making that noise!" he exploded furiously, nearing knocking the chess pieces off the board when he leaned over it to state his demand directly in Wander's face. The smaller fellow leaned back in his chair, his smile only shrinking slightly from the shock of the outburst.

"Sorry Hater," he calmly apologized "I'm just real excited to see yer next move."

Hater drew back, still glowering at his enemy. He had sworn to himself that he would NOT let himself fall prey to Wander's mind games when this whole thing started.

The Watchdogs had cornered Wander and Sylvia inside the gaming parlor and although the raid had disrupted a high profile Battle Dice tournament, nobody had complained about its sudden cancellation once the most feared intergalactic despot showed up to claim his victims. And it was there, whilst Hater was gloating in front of the gathered masses about his impending victory that Wander had casually offered that since they were there, why not play a game?

Hater could have refused. He should have refused, as Peepers had insisted, but the challenge had been raised, with an auditorium full of witnesses no less, and to refuse with everyone watching could risk marking him as cowardly. Plus there was that humiliating event on Bingleborp that demanded restitution. So when Wander had offered Hater the opportunity to pick the game they'd play, the Skeleton couldn't resist giving his adversary a challenge that would allow Hater a look into Wander's strategic mind.

So chess it was. And right now Hater was still mentally debating the truth of Wander's claim that he wasn't "all that familiar" with the game. It easily could have been a ploy to lure him into a false sense of security. They were only a few moves in and Wander had energetically positioned his pieces in a seemingly random pattern throughout the board, gleefully testing the way each one was allowed to move. His Bishop was exposed, his Knight was nowhere near the action and his Pawns were scattered helter-skelter all over the place. If Wander did have some genius strategy planned, Hater was at a severe loss to anticipate it.

He briefly glanced up and caught Peepers's eye. The Commander quickly gave his lord an encouraging thumbs-up, "You can do this, Sir. Just stay focused." Of course, once Hater returned his gaze to the board he heard the faint postscript of a whispered, "He'd better not screw this up." Hater seethed upon hearing it, but decided to save any punishment for after he had soundly beaten Wander and the nomad was securely tucked away in a prison cell on his ship. With a grunt, he grasped the Rook and slid it forward into the path of Wander's Bishop.

"Ha! I've taken your Bishop!" He snarled triumphantly.

Wander smiled, "Well congratulations! Guess that makes it my turn. Hmmm."

Hater grinded his teeth at the lack of defeat in the orange one's expression. But he assured himself, it was only the start of the game, and the pressure of loosing would certainly show itself on Wander's face once more of his pieces had been captured. The nomad tangled his fingers through his hair with one hand and cradled his chin with the other with an expression of "decision-making in progress" clearly on his face. After a few minutes of hemming and hawing and almost making a move, which Hater was certain was being done solely to drive him into madness, Wander perked up with a happy "Oh!", picked up his second Knight and, while making horsey noises, moved it so it was diagonally next to Hater's previously placed Rook.

"There." He stated with satisfaction. "Now my pony can visit your castle."

Was he serious? Hater looked to the board, then to Wander, who now was leaning back in his seat patiently waiting for his next turn, then back to the pieces on the board. Had Wander completely missed the point of this game?

"You're supposed to defend from opponent pieces or capture them, NOT invite them to each others squares for parties!" Hater yelled. "And it's a knight, not a pony! A rook, not a castle!"

Wander leaned forward, examining the pieces carefully then shrugging.

"Well, if you say so." He said with a hint of disbelief. "But I still don't see why these kingdoms can't just hash out their differences with a good talk over some tea. Say, why don't you move your Queen over near mine and they can have a good ol' chat."

"That's not how chess works!" Hater growled. "And I'll move my Queen how I see fit."

"Okay." Wander submitted. "But the offer still stands." He pinched his Queen and animated it as he spoke with a regal falsetto, "come on over and we'll have crumpets and a spot of Earl Grey."

Hater settled into his seat, trying his best to recompose. He reminded himself to not let Wander get under his skin, so to speak, and focus on winning. He surveyed the board and tried to strategize his next move. He could move his Rook further into Wander's territory, but with both white Knights now in play, Wander could block from either side. He could deploy another piece into the field, but Wander's randomly placed Pawns would be difficult to navigate around without risk of capture. He decided sacrificing a pawn or two may be in order if it could clear the way for his more powerful pieces to get to Wander's King. He moved a Pawn to e3 in an effort to lure Wander's Pawn at d4 into a strike. If Wander fell for it, it would leave an open path leading to his Queen. To Hater's barely concealed joy, Wander moved his baited Pawn right into position.

But instead of claiming the black Pawn right away, Wander took both pieces and began moving them around each other on the board, making odd percussive sounds with his mouth. It suddenly dawned on Hater that Wander was beat-boxing.

"What are you doing?" Hater snarled.

Wander paused his shenanigans to look up. "These pawns are havin' a dance-off to decide who wins the square." He explained. "And let me tell you, your little guy really knows how to bust a move."

As he resumed beat-boxing, he placed the black pawn on its head and spun it like a top. It toppled over onto its side but continued spinning in a circle like a break dancer.

Hater could feel his patience evaporate once more as he plucked up the fallen pawn and forced it into Wander's hand.

"Just take it!" he growled. "Your pawn took my pawn. End of story. Now it's my turn." He very deliberately pushed his second Rook across the board and landed it in the open square next to Wander's Queen. "See, now your Queen's in check. No dance-off, no tea party, just me taking your Queen."

Wander quietly eyed the board, then raised his head up again to Hater.

"Ah, wouldja look at that. My Queen is in check. Nice move, Hater. Though it wouldn't hurt ya to have a little fun now. This is a game after all."

Hater despised how calm Wander was. The outcome of this "game" could determine if he and his companion went free, but he was more concerned about having fun? To further confuse and infuriate him, a quick glance over to where she was being guarded showed him that Sylvia had not one look of worry on her features. In fact, she was smiling in a smug "Wander's gonna beat you and you know it" kind of way. Hater seethed at this and loomed over Wander.

"You know what I think is fun? WINNING! And that's what I'm going to do, so just make your next move."

Wordlessly and without even taking his eyes off Hater, Wander took his Rook from 1a and slid it into Hater's, promptly capturing it and removing his Queen from harm.

The term "bone-head move" floated somewhere in Hater's mind for not having seen that coming. He had been so occupied proving his point that he had completely forgotten that Rook was even there. He heard Sylvia laugh and he was sure Peepers was face-palming off to the side without even needing to look. Once Hater managed to stop gaping, he noticed Wander place his captured rook back on the board.

"Now what are you doing, aren't you going to claim it?" Hater grumbled.

"Oh, I did. Now your "Rook", as you called it, is subcontracted by mine and they're buildin' an expansion onto the King and Queen's palace. There have been talks of addin' a bowling ally to the rec room." He put the black rook on top of his white one, as if he were stacking checkers.

Hater's eyes glowed with rage. He simply couldn't stand it anymore.

"Rec room? Do you know what I think of your rec room?" Hater loomed over the board. He took his hand, thumb and forefinger poised directly behind the perched black rook and flicked it so that it flew off the white rook and boinked Wander directly between the eyes. The game piece bounced off harmlessly, but Wander stared up, wide-eyed and speechless. "I think the black rook's union just went on strike." He then maneuvered a Bishop across the board, taking out one of Wander's pawns and landing it dangerously in the path of the White Queen. "Oh, and my Bishop's on his way to tell your Queen that my Queen says 'crumpets stink'!"

Wander's jaw dropped with a strong gasp. His features tightened into a scowl.

"That, Sir is an insult to the Queen!" He declared righteously. "We shall defend her honor! Prepare for battle!"

He sat upright in his seat, mindfully eyeing his pieces until he moved one of his Knights closer to his Queen's location.

"My Knight has called the charge. He will lead the cavalry on a direct assault on enemy borders with his army of giant Guinea Pigs!"

"Guinea pigs?" Hater was stupefied.

"Unless you can come up with something better." Wander challenged with a smirk.

Hater growled again and slid a pawn to block his King.

"You can't attack my borders because…um…because there's a moat! And it's got alligators, yeah ferocious, Guinea pig eating alligators with …um… LASERS!"

Wander looked impressed. "Lasers you say?"

Hater grinned.

But Wander only took a moment of thought to counter with,

"Well, my pawns are armed with catapults, loaded with delicious roasted chickens!" He took a pawn and relocated it next to his knight.

"Roast chickens!?" Hater roared.

"Roast chickens. For the alligators." Wander leaned back confidently.

"Uh, sir, don't you think it would be best to focus on the actual game?" Peepers started to interject.

"Your chickens are worthless!" Hater shouted, ignoring Peepers, "My Bishop has magical powers, and he's summoned a plague of locusts to come and eat all your chickens… and your crumpets!"

Now Wander looked horrified, gasping with a hand over his mouth.

"Well, my Bishop has magical powers too!" Wander jumped up, yanked off his hat and rummaged inside. "And he's summoned a herd of unicorns, who have created a magical force-field to protect the provisions." He pulled out an adorable vinyl unicorn toy with combable hair and a star symbol on its flank and placed it on the board next to his remaining Bishop.

"Not so fast, my Rook is coated with force-field proof aluminum siding and he's stomping all over your pathetic unicorn defenses." Hater laughed evilly as he took up his rook and began stamping it all over Wander's unicorn.

"Oh, how horrible!" Wander swooned, but recovered to add, "It's a good thing the pawns brought their trampolines."

For the next thirty minutes, everyone in the gaming hall was audience to the most bizarre game of chess they had ever seen. For every piece moved, some fantastical turn off events would accompany it. Pawns were soon joined with plastic toy army men. Hater was using multi-sided dice to give his Bishop a plus-eleven power boost. Playing cards became fortified castles and tiddlywinks were being used as projectiles to knock them down. Toy tanks and rockets joined the fray with Hater going "blam, blam pow!" and Wander would respond with "Pew, pew, pew!" Each one topping the other with some ridiculous claim of offence or defense.

Peepers tried in vain to correct course and remind his master what they were really there to do. But Hater pushed the Commander aside, shouting,

"Shut up Peepers, I'm winning." He picked up his toy tank and paused, "now where was I? Ah, yes. My tank takes out your Teddy Bear Battalion with Magic Missile!" He mimicked the sound of a warhead falling and knocked away the cuddly stuffed teddy bear Wander had been using to defend his King. The piece was exposed and in danger of being put in check.

Wander took a long moment to consider his next move. He smiled and declared,

"My Bishop summons air support from a squadron of Pegasus who immobilize your troops with a barrage of gooey butter cakes! Splat! Splat!"

Not to be outdone, Hater devised a counter that was both simple and devious.

"My Knight brings in a fire truck and it's blasting your whole army with heavy pressurized torrents of milk! Washing away your cakes, your Pegasus and your King!"

"Milk?" Wander stared down at the board. "But, the white king is lactose intolerant…" He said weakly, lowering his head. "We surrender."

Hater's jaw dropped, then curled up into a grin befitting a skeleton.

"I win…I WIN!" He stood up, tipping over his chair. He pointed a gloved finger at Wander. "In your face! Oh yeah!" He swung his hips in a little victory dance, shaking his fanny jubilantly. "Who's the evil master mind? This guy!"

"Yay, I'm so happy for you!" Wander hopped out of his chair and ran over with his hand extended for a congratulatory handshake. "You really showed some great imagination back there. I'm really impressed." He took Hater's hand and gave it a few quick pumps then turned to the parlor door where Sylvia was waiting. During the Watchdog's attempt to follow the chaotic happenings of the game, she had been able to slip, unnoticed, from her guards' watch. In a swift motion, he had hopped on her back and she was headed out the door.

"I really had a lot of fun." Wander waved to Hater. "We should really do it again sometime."

Hater stopped mid-gyration and suddenly saw what was happening.

"W, what? Hey! Get back here! Don't just stand there, after them!" He roared at his watchdogs, who quickly snapped into action.

Sylvia burst outside and Wander made an Orrble bubble to lift them up into the air. Hater and his Watchdogs got outside just in time to see them floating away.

"That's not fair, you're supposed to be my prisoners! I won the game!"

"But we both had fun right? In my book if everyone is havin' fun, then EVERYBODY wins! Later Hater!"

Hater snarled at them, shaking his fist and jumping up and down in anger. Tricked again! And now he was watching his nemesis escaping into the atmosphere with his incompetent army just standing there gawking at him. He flashed them a murderous glare and they scrambled to get back to the ship and engage in pursuit. Hater grumbled to himself, crossing his arms in frustration.

"I am NOT having fun."