CHAPTER NAVIGATION BAR
TALES OF BUFFALO COMMONS
" NUKES "
The game continued at a fast clip and Ozeman found himself paying more attention to the game than he was to Yuri. Although the board was smaller and there were fewer players involved the game was very similar to Quadress. The pieces seemed to move the same, although on different vectors. Ozeman began to wonder why anyone would play this simplified version of the game.* * *
“Does he know chess?” Asked Yuri as Cutter closed his King's Rook and Queen into place on Yuri's King.
Cutter paused and glanced at Ozeman evaluating him. They made eye contact, the first time really since that afternoon. “What's your Quad ranking, Lieutenant?”
Ozeman hesitated, licked his lips and then stammered, "Nine of Sixteen."
Cutter's eyebrows flared. He figured Ozeman had competed in Quadress tournaments, it was nearly compulsory for the members of the Colony, but nine of sixteen was impressive. The civilian had a much greater handle on strategy and teamwork than Cutter had previously thought. He turned to Yuri, "Checkmate."
Yuri looked at the board in surprise. He never seemed to win against Cutter, but then the man was military commander of an army most of the planet didn't know existed. He nodded and was about to rise conceding the space to another player when Cutter waved him off and rose instead.
"You grasp enough of the game to play, Lieutenant?" Cutter said motioning Ozeman to take his place.
Ozeman startled, "I think so," he hesitated and then, as Cutter continued to motion him to it, moved to the now vacant seat and took his place opposite Yuri as the visitor reset the board.
“Pieces move the same, but on a different vector. Biggest difference is that you simply won't have help.” Cutter took the seat beside Ozeman, “It'll be rather like the last few minutes of a Quadress match.”
Ozeman had white so he would move first. He looked at the board, only 8 spaces across, 8 spaces deep. The more confined battleground added a level of difficulty to the game, as did trying to think about a flat plane start rather than the corner defence common to Quadress. There was also the realization that both players had an additional Footsoldier, or Pawn as Yuri had called it.
Ozeman looked at Yuri again, the squat burly man sat there in his scruff looking mildly bemused.
Ozeman reached down and took hold of the pawn ahead of his King's Bishop and moved it two spaces out, but he didn't let go. He immediately played numerous counter moves and then moved the piece back without releasing it. He then moved the King's pawn and moved it two places. It was the most common opening move possible and immediately opened action for both his Queen and King's Bishop to enter the board.
Yuri appraised the Rabit as a poker player would his opponent, looking for tells, trying to read the psychology of his adversary. “Chess is a simple game that takes a lifetime to master.”
Ozeman frowned at Yuri, you didn't talk during a Quadress game, it wasn't allowed and defeated the purpose of the game. He looked at the board and thought about the simplicity of this game. Two people, one versus the other. Straight conflict.
Ozeman didn't like it. He far preferred the elegance of an uncoordinated team effort one experienced in Quadress, as two or more players chipped away at each other or ganged up against one. Quadress was a game of compromise, teamwork and numbers. You didn't speak because no one wanted to be accused of coordinating with another player, there was no subtly if the attacks were staged.
But this game had but one purpose, capture the opposing King. Ozeman almost dismissed it as a child's game but as they play continued he realized it was revealing the way Yuri thought.
In this game you could sacrifice a single piece if it evened the odds, or gave you an apparent advantage, or opened an escape for your King. In Quadress, you didn't have that luxury, because sacrificing a piece to make one opponent weaker meant one of your other opponents were stronger than you, an escape from one might make your more vulnerable to another.
In this game the King was merely a flag to be collected by the opponent, in Quadress the King was the colony itself, weakened and under threat if too many of its support pieces were lost.
Shifting his mindset to allow a piece to be risked in order to draw out an opening for an stronger attack on a greater target took a serious shift in mindset for Ozeman, but he was seeing that this was how Yuri saw conflict.
It was frightening really, that they would easily sacrifice something they considered expendable for nothing more than an opportunity to strike at something of value. For the colony every confrontation was an opportunity to strike so why would you sacrifice an asset you might need later?
As Yuri closed in on his King with deadly purpose Ozeman glanced at Cutter who no doubt played both versions well, certainly had dispatched Yuri at his own game easily enough, and Ozeman wondered if he could ever master such fluid thought.
Left with the realization he was, at best, staving off defeat Ozeman resigned the game with three major pieces still remaining. Yuri knew victory was shortly at hand and reached over to shake Ozeman's hand.
“Sharp play for a first time, Rabbit.”
Ozeman took his hand and shook it, feeling that Yuri was still testing his metal, and increasingly aware that the wolf was weighing his threat.
As the evening wound down and Cutter was finishing off a game against the great bear Breznicki, Yuri found a moment to steel away to the end of the cavern for a quick discussion with Viktor.
“He should not be with us in the main truck,” he insisted.
Viktor looked at him as though he'd just suggested the New Soviet become a democratic republic, “and you would tell the General this?”
Yuri fumed as he looked at Cutter and the back of the rabbit that seemed to be ever at his side, “He's not like the others, he's smart and a free thinker.”
“Which makes him dangerous, no doubt.” Viktor's tone was almost mocking, almost, “But he's also a civilian advisor. What sway can he have?”
“Look at the General when they speak,” Yuri retorted, “He seems to address this boy as though he were his own child.”
Viktor sighed, “Maybe he is. There isn't much we can do if that's the case.”
“We can separate them,” It was a done deal in Yuri's mind, an imperative, “put the rabbit on the second truck. That way he sees less, and the less he sees the less he shares.”
Viktor shrugged dismissively, “You talk as though we have that power. This is not our convoy, we are guests. And I would remind you, Yuri, that what is planned was not our idea but Cutters. Nothing the rabbit could learn would be news to the General.”
Yuri looked at Viktor sharply but with a cold stillness that sent shivers through to Viktor's spine, “The Great Fool allowed sentimentality to delay his own plan at the wrong moment, Viktor. Such things happen when a leader's vision gets too broad.”
Viktor nodded, it was true that an earler Soviet dream was felled by such a hesitation. For him it simply meant the Great Fool had not been the patriot he'd claimed, one sacrificed their children and grandchildren for the State if need be. But it had happened then, and these people were not Soviet so he had to concede their values might be more easily compromised.
“You get him on the second truck,” Viktor finally nodded, “and I will remove the piece from play.”
* * *
“General.” Romanov approached Cutter formally while crews packed up the mess for the next legs journey.
Cutter turned to Romanov somewhat startled by the formality, “Dennis? Why so formal?”
Romanov paused, a little sheepishly, and shrugged. “My apologies, old friend. We have been in heated discussions about what is to come.”
“Nothing serious, I hope.” Cutter said as he stuffed the last of his crisply folded items in his duffel bag.
“This is the first we are together in weeks,” he stopped and looked back at the group of New Soviets, much cleaned up but still a squalid bunch, “months for some, and there is some confusion among our camp of our place in the coming stages of this campaign. I would ask that Golov, Breznicki and a few others join you in the lead truck so we can review and discuss things ahead of the first flag.”
Cutter stiffened to full height, the General's stance as some had called it. In his mind the seating and berths of the assembled were quickly shuffled in his head. It would mean concentrating much of the command in one vehicle, it would also mean the New Soviets would outnumber his own in that vehicle.
For a moment the possibility of a hi-jacking occurred to him, but Cutter shrugged it off. There was no where to go but ahead and that stand off would not favour these foreigners. There was nothing these men could threaten that would compromise Cutter and they must know his staff would never betray the colony for any single individual so the only hope of their mutual plan laid in their support of him.
“Alright,” he began in measured tones, “I'll have Sergeant shift personnel between the two trucks so we can all speak as one.”
Romanov smiled, “Thank you, old friend.” but something in the eyes betrayed how genuine he was, Cutter noted it for later. These New Soviets did not seem to have a very strong command structure, leading more by consensus among equals, an impossible system he felt. Perhaps Romanov was hoping that Cutter would show up one of his own in front of the others, it might be a ploy for Romanov to secure his position among them. Cutter smiled, glad once again that politics had nothing to do with his life.
* * *