Scorpius lay on the bed, watched the ceiling once again. D'argo had been by, had blustered about the door, but Scorpius had replied, quite truthfully, that he had not touched the door or the locking panel. And D'argo had gone.
He thought about Crichton again. He tried to think about Crichton, but his mind kept returning to a teasing pair of green eyes surrounded by red curls, to an intelligent child who was open to him, to a chess game left unfinished on more than one level.
And what will I do, should she return? The game could still go either way. Shall I let her win quickly, let her think she has the upper hand? No; she would know if he threw the game. Shall I play well, then let her lure me into a trap? No; she could not believe him weak enough for that. Shall I leave myself vulnerable by an offensive route—perhaps, by castling? No; she must not believe him capable of short-sightedness. Shall I win? A smile spread slowly across his face. This girl, he did not think she would be swayed by weakness. Scarrans were all she had ever known, and that was the authority she would expect, even demand. Playing the strength, playing the Scarran, that would get her attention, her respect, and her loyalty. And a calculated moment of tenderness, that would win her love.
Sikozu lay against the ceiling, between two of Moya's ribs, well down the corridor but still within earshot of Scorpius' cell. She heard D'argo come and go, the old woman in tow. He had left over 150 microts ago, but still she waited, thinking.
The chess game was sitting on the floor, around the corner in an unused cell. Though it had begun as simple amusement, the encounter with Scorpius had become far more intense. She rose to go back, then forced herself to wait. She would have to step carefully to secure his help in freeing her people. For all he spoke Sebacean normally, he had the accent of a native speaker when he spoke Scarran, so he must have been raised among them. She could not appear to be his authority; he would not listen to her if he believed that this would make him weak. He must appear to be the leader, and she would work by subtler means. And the game? I could throw it, let him feel his authority. No; he would know if she threw the game away, and respect her less. She must not substitute stupidity for submission. If he did not think her useful to him, he would never let her use him. Shall I make a fatal error? No; he must not believe her capable of miscalcuation. Shall I win? She licked her lips thoughtfully. Yes, win, but win with grace, say see, here is one small thing in which you are not my superior. She dropped from the ceiling and went to retrieve the board.
Scorpius heard her before he saw her, turning the corner where she had disappeared almost an arn earlier. He turned his head, looked at her, but said nothing. Do not show how you wanted her to return.
Sikozu stopped, tipped her head at him. He had hardly moved-and yet, he must have heard her. I did as he wished, before; did this mean nothing? She had expected him to be awaiting her, yet it seemed that she had simply interrupted his brooding.
"Would you... care to continue?" Scorpius noted the uncertain catch in her voice. Good, she cannot know I need her.
"Certainly." She visibly relaxed at his affirmation. She was afraid I would refuse! She set the board down in its previous position, and he moved to the door opposite her.
"Would you... like me to try the door again?" He was surprised—don't let it show. She would really try again, after the last interruption? She was determined to please him-and also overconfident in her abilities. Better and better. "Now that I know that Pilot was..."
"It will not be necessary, Sikozu. I would prefer your company to another interruption." She preened a bit under the quiet praise, and he watched her, and let her notice him noticing. She will notice me for my strength, but let her think me swayed by physical concerns. "I believe it was your move?"
She played well, he noted, even forcing him to give up a knight he had not wished to lose. But improvisation was the key to this game. And he must put her on the defensive. There was a way out with no further losses, but it would mean moving the queen much earlier than he had intended. But her time had come.
"Sikozu, please move the queen two spaces on the diagonal to my left." Sikozu complied, then drew her hand back quickly as she realized the implications of his move. How best to salvage this? I must win this game! He must respect me! The bishop was a loss-such was war. She moved pawns, tried to strengthen her defenses, but she was overwhelmed. He moved so quickly, hardly seeming to consider before giving her orders, and completely impassive, a face of solid stone. Be as confident as he is. She was now several pieces down, and in check to his queen. She moved away, but it was check again! She could escape, or she could take his queen at the expense of her own, the great sacrifice. The queen had done too much; it was her time to go. She made the trade, and his pawn took her queen to her rest.
Scorpius smiled with satisfaction. I have this in hand. She was doing a good job of hiding how much she realized that she was not likely to win this game. She actually believed she could beat me! He almost laughed aloud at the thought. The audacity, the sheer pride! Oh, she will be easy to bend. Like metal, so solid—until heat was applied. And he had heat enough to share. Once bent, once cooled—a tool for my hand, for my hand alone. He had known from the beginning, had even believed when he saved her life on Arnessk, that it was likely she would serve. Well-honed instincts and torture-sharpened intellect: the girl did not stand a chance.
Sikozu stared at the board. Things are not going well. Do not show you are worried. She had come off rather worse, position-wise, from the queen trade than she had intended. It had come to considering if she could win at all. I still have rook, knight, bishop. I need at least two power pieces—without my other rook I need a pawn as well—to win without the queen; best scenario if one is a rook. Easier with three. Pawns might serve as well. Or if only he would castle—castle queenside—only behind an unbroken line of pawns is it possible to trap the king with only one piece, two if necessary... She reached out, moved her knight into the center of the board.
"Castle Queenside, please," said Scorpius, watching her eyes light up as she performed the move. She thought he had erred; she had weighed the odds and discovered this was the best chance to beat him. Good. But there was one thing she had not considered: his next word:
"Check," he said.
And the Kalish sat stock-still, looking at the board. Keep your composure; you may salvage this yet. But what if she could not? There are two things left to show. One, that she would seek every opportunity to destroy her enemy. Two, that if the cause was good enough, she would stay to the end, she would take out the enemy with her last breath.
After that, it was over quickly. She attacked with what she had, but Scorpius had more pieces and the better position; it was only a matter of time. He considered her again as the game drew to its close: she had destroyed his simpler win options, and he admired her tenacity. More and more he was pleased with this red girl, this metal in his tongs—particularly touched when she used her last move to destroy his unused rook as he pinned her king to the wall in checkmate. She looked up at him defiantly. Now was the time for tenderness.
"Sikozu," he said, softly, "we are neither of us completely accepted aboard this ship." She was watching him, and he spoke slowly, considering the impact of his next words. "Might not two misfits work together, to the benefit of both?"
She dropped her eyes, reached for the pieces still on the board and slowly began putting them back in the sack where she had found them. "And would you play chess with me?" He understood that she was not referring to the game.
"Life is like chess, my dear. But you—you shall be my queen."
His queen, and Crichton the king. Sikozu understood the terms. As you wished; be his closest and become the piece that moves the hand. But do not answer yet; leave him wonder. She looked right at him, then stood. Taking board and pieces, she walked away, never saying a word. But Scorpius understood: she would answer in her own time. And he had time enough, now, to wait.