"Chess," he explained, "it's a strategy game."
Busu looked doubtful, nudging one of the polished steel pieces with her claw. "Father Tanaka told us that strategy is for those who are cowards. I can't see why cowards would be a game."
Of course he did, Zelnick sighed. He certainly didn't show much appreciation for it when we first met... "Your father just doesn't know any good strategy. Which, ah, isn't his fault," he hastily added, hoping Busu wouldn't take offense on her father's behalf. "Still-- here, let me explain it to you. See, the point of the game is to move the pieces across the board. You can, um, 'kill' other pieces by moving onto the same square as them, and whoever loses their 'king' piece first loses the game." He didn't think the Shofixti had ever had kings, and even if they had had them, there was no reason for Busu to know of them. She might understand the queen piece, though; after all, Tanaka would have told his children about the Yehat.
... he hoped. Otherwise, this trip might be a bit awkward.
"So... it's a simplified battle for territory?" She scooped up one of the knights, rolling it over her long, bony fingers. "And the different pieces are... ships?"
Zelnick nodded. "Pretty much, yes. Here, sit down--" he glanced at the chairs on either side of the set, and was gratified that they had room for her tail; "-- I'll teach you how they move." He had never really pursued the game on Unzervalt, but he knew how to play, at the very least.
A few of his human crewmembers were lingering in the recreation room, probably curious about the Shofixti; while the first batch of fifty or so had arrived on Starbase a couple months ago, they were still new to the Vindicator, after the long trip that had taken them past-- oh, the Zot-Foq-Pik and the Arilou and the Umgah, and discovering the friendly Slylandro and the way to avoid those violent probes, then back down to wait on the Quasispace Portal (and he'd be damned if he knew how that worked, where you had to burn fuel to move but never lost any-- something to ask the Arilou, if they'd answer)-- after such a long trip, even the bare dozen fuzzy faces he had taken on were exciting and novel and good for at least another week of interest.
(After two years and exhausting the supply of entertaining media from the Starbase, Zelnick fully understood his crew's attention. He wondered that the Starbase personnel hadn't gone nuts after eight years-- though the few young children he had seen scampering about might explain something.)
Busu finally seemed settled, her legs curled under her and whip-like tail twitching over one arm rest. "Explain, then."
Zelnick picked up one of the pawns on his side, holding it over the board. "This piece is a pawn. They're one of the weakest and most expendable, though still useful. They move forward a space at a time, and can only attack at an angle. If they reach the far side of the board, though, they can act as any other piece in the game. On their first move, they can move two spaces instead of one." He set it down, and moved on. "Rook, can only move in a straight line. Bishop, can only move at angles. Both can move until interrupted by another piece. Knight-- it moves up-two-over-one, or up-one-over-two," and he demonstrated the shape quickly, dragging the piece in L shapes. "It's the only one that can jump over a piece in its path. This is a queen; she's the most powerful, and can act as a bishop or rook."
Busu barked a laugh. "I see!"
Guess that means she is familiar with the Yehat. Zelnick smiled back and raked a hand through his hair. "The last piece is the king. It can move one square any direction. It's like... it's like a homeworld, with all the other pieces being the ships protecting it."
"I understand. Is there a piece like the sun?" He glanced up at her, and she elaborated, "One that I can blow up."
That gave Zelnick quite a pause. "I... not really? The point is to get out alive."
Her ears perked in a way he had begun to recognize as a Shofixti smile. "I don't think I'll be very good at this game, then, Captain. Father Tanaka always taught me that the point was to win, regardless of cost."
That made sense, and was perhaps the stupidest thing Zelnick had ever heard. "Winning through death is no victory," he said, and put the pieces back properly. "'He who fights and runs away lives to fight another day.'"
"Perhaps, Captain-- but there's always going to be Shofixti from now on. We're making sure of that." She laughed again, and gestured at the board. "Do you want to play?"