He was at the table now, asking me to join him on his side. We were done with the Nautilus City map. He said we were waiting for someone but wouldn’t say who. He said we could play chess against the house in the meantime. I imagined both of us leaning against the outside of the fairy building, awkwardly holding a board between us. I told him this vision. He said, “No, against *the house*.” He waved his arms all around. A chessboard then appeared on the table before us, white pawn moved to King 4 in an opening move. “I’ve never able to beat her myself,” says this new Keat Owens. “But maybe with your help we can give her a run for her money. And she *is* expensive, my dear.” I told him I didn’t know how to play chess, and we do not have that game on Mars where I’m from. He said he’d do most of the work. It was over in 13 moves. The board disappeared. The new Keat Owens cussed a word I won’t repeat here. I didn’t learn a lot about the game except to note the power of the pieces and the general nature of their motions. I knew that the Queen was the most powerful and not to be f*cked with, to use the language of Owens. Then a person I had met once before came into the room, an ovoid portal appearing on his or her head chest.

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