Sometimes the game concludes quickly, in a matter of what we sentient beings call hours; sometimes the sport takes a human lifetime... or more. In its highest order, the game is endless, its moves and actions constantly being replayed by a myriad players in countless universes, waging on until an ultimate finality, and a conclusion for eternity is accomplished.
So it was in such an absurd reality --- or was it a lucid dream? --- that I saw two mighty armies lined up on a cosmic gameboard, a setting of three dimensions, with ever-changing sizes and places. A compelling figure of skill and talent and charisma led each of the two groups, one group designated White, and the other Black. Each group swore to uphold and pursue goals that they considered right and true. The rules were strict and all players adhered to their demands, with a common goal as the outcome for both sides: to conquer and subjugate, believing in the veracity of their own tenets... or to perish in attempting to accomplish these ends.
The Leader of the White side was a woman of great strength and beauty, resolute in her purpose and devoted to her duty. She was attended to at her left by an ageless friend of an ancient race, who was none the less loyal to her than he was to his own personal and private obligation to uphold the vows which he had taken. His wisdom and experience perfectly matched her proficient skills; his logic and persistent focus complemented her obsessive ferocity.
The White Leader and her Auxiliary, as he was called in the game, each had a deputy to whom she or he could turn for words of insight or encouragement. The woman's counsel, known as her Advisor, was another woman --- small and petite, with a low, melodious voice. Her golden hair framed a heart-shaped face, and her velvet voice brought life to every word she spoke. She was youthful, but with a mind and soul filled with mature understanding beyond her brief years. The tall dark man, the White Leader's Auxiliary, likewise turned to a woman Advisor. His Advisor, too, had golden hair, and she matched his elevated height with her statuesque build. Her mind, like his, would not be twisted by mere emotion. Her deep eyes seemed to assimilate any view... or person... that came into her sight.
The woman Leader also had by her side a gallant young man who worshipped and adored her; who would rather perish than to see harm come to her. Referred to as her Paladin, he came to her in idealic youthful innocence. Full of hope and vision, he was willing to die for his Leader and her cause.
The player positioned in the furthermost right posting on the White side was a stalwart marker known as the White Leader's Flank. Peculiar in his make up, in that his sole reality was based on electromagnetic projections, he was a transmitted image of multiple wavelengths, an electronic creation with infinitesimal encyclopedic knowledge. Yet, the White Leader's Flank was as physical and tangible to his fellow comrades as any of their other flesh and blood solids.
The serene second-in command on this side, the White Auxiliary, likewise had a knight to champion their cause. His Paladin was a brash, boisterous man who frequently was challenged to make good on his recurrent boasts; but who, more often than not, lived up to his words of bravado. Behind the frivolity masking of his gray-blue eyes hid a buried anguish which energized his determination.
The final member of this team, the White Auxiliary's Flank, was a recruited player to the battle. Smallish in stature, clownish in appearance, he nonetheless had proven his loyalty and devotion to this adopted company. Like the blond braggart man next to him, he knew that this group was his last hope for acceptance and survival... and redemption.
The opposing side --- the Black side --- was formidable in its row of strength. The Black Leader was a man of smoldering handsomeness, his face frequently found with a dimpled smile that alone could disarm an unsuspecting foe. Behind his fathomless dark eyes was a mind that weighed and evaluated and measured each and every of his opponent's tactics. His body flowed as much moved, silent and swift in purpose and ardor; suave and debonair in resolve.
The Black Leader's second, his Auxiliary, was no less his equal in charisma or cunning. A woman of intense disposition, her smile could speak of seductive invitation or consummate cruelty. Her pliant body moved and melded like a human chameleon; her actions frequently were just as reptilian. The Auxiliary's obsessive attraction to the Black Leader was as immutable as she was to her hidden cause.
The Black Leader's henchmen in this eclectic group were ferocious in their fortitude. The Black Leader's Advisor was a woman of intensity equal to his Auxiliary. She had been born with the blood of two conflicting races raging in her veins, each similar in its emotional savagery. The constant cataclysmic commingling of this mixed heritage of hers only heightened the schism between the two opposing forces facing each other.
To her right was a man of silent malificence, who hid well the legion of demons which constantly raged within him. His large, round black eyes, inherited from his telepathic race, hid well his secret need for the taste of blood and death. Surprisingly, the empathic side of his ancestry talents felt no remorse at his morbid desires. He was the perfect assassin, and he fulfilled his role with perverse pleasure and delight.
The Flank for the Black Leader was a solid performer, who silently fulfilled his duties in a multitude of thankless jobs. Both sides knew him for his steadfastness, this man of the recurring face but rarely spoken name. He was a backbone of the crew that the Black Leader's Advisor led in everyday life, and he frequently aided her in their daily duties.
The compatriots of the Black force's Auxiliary were similarly talented and skilled in their martial expertise. To the Black Auxiliary's left was a man of devious adeptness and subterfuge. This Advisor found ways to communicate his sly works even under the ever watchful eyes of nearby White Team opponents. He even became so enamored of his own nefarious schemes that he became anarchistic. Denying the veracity of logic, he commited himself to the ultimate fate of his mission, at complete opposition to the needs of his Black Leader, as he fell prey to the dark biddings of the Black Auxiliary.
A true follower of the cause, the Black Auxiliary's Paladin was an obedient soldier. Always listening to his truant siren, he remained entrenched in the original purpose of the mission of the Black side, allowing destiny to design his future. His ultimate allegiance to the Black Leader and the Black Leader's Advisor secured his proper place to the greater good of the game.
The outlying stalwart of the Black Auxiliary's side, her Flank, was another man merged with mission and purpose. Having once been under the demanding tutelage of the White Auxiliary, he spoke his mind frequently, determined to keep aflame the beliefs of the glorious Black team.
In front of each of these rows of gallant challengers stood an humbler row of equal numbers --- courageous soldiers, unknown warriors: loyal in devotion and nameless to all but their Creator... similar to the billions of others throughout the ages of the universe, minions and servants of the self-selected elite. These souls pledged to perish for the expediation of purposes unperceived by their hearts --- hearts whose lifeblood would prepare the way for unknown ideologies. These drones of the battle were called the Commons.
All was in readiness. The roles had been assigned and the game pieces were in place. The game would be played through linear movements to the right and left, and spatial motion up and down through nine zones. It was time --- time for that fateful first move... that pivotal move... that move which would in a nanosecond bring the two sides into a singular encounter... a move to change the destinies of all its participants.
From the distant unknowns of the far reaches of the galaxy, a mysterious force positioned the players upon the playing field. The players only knew that they must struggle to survive, to find a way out of the morass in which they found themselves.
The game of chaotic pursuit began.
A White Common from the center of his line made the first tenuous move into this abyss. An opposite Black Common swiftly matched his offensive move. Each of these brave individuals again took two steps forward, leading their groups at the behest of their leaders... two individuals bound by a common goal, yet separated by personal differences they could not... or would not!... acknowledge.
The Black Paladin who thirsted for death now stepped forth. The young blond Advisor to the White Leader purposefully followed, for she hoped to calm his bloodthirsty nature. As she continued her quest, another of the Black Commons edged out to act as a squire to the Paladin.
The White Leader signaled her Flank to trade positions with her, as the powers of the advancing number of Black Commons increased. The Flank gladly did so, to protect his Leader. Following this early defense maneuver, one more Black Common led out to join his fellow soldiers.
With elfin grace, the White Leader's Advisor continued on her forward path. It was at this time that the Black Auxiliary dispatched her Paladin to meet with the young Advisor. He swiftly rode out to meet her, and soon had encompassed her with his charms. Before she realized it, he caught her up and sent her whirling, far out into the realms of the galaxy. Her brief existence remained only to be remembered as a bright shining light.
The home of the White side acutely sensed the loss of the White Leader's Advisor., and another White Common began his journey to search for her. The Black Auxiliary quickly learned, via her arcane network, of the newest Common's progress. The Black Auxiliary was impatient with her Leader's forces and so she set out on her own. Her dislike of the White Leader was so great that she wanted no one else to have the pleasure of capturing her.
The most recent White Common to leave the safety of her side stealthily advanced. This Common was adept in listening and watching the subtle changes of her surrounding, no matter how unfamiliar. Her sure ears detected slightly noticeable movement in the plasma forces swirling around her, and she rolled into a protective shell. Just as soon as she had camouflaged herself, she saw the Black Auxiliary's Paladin approaching, still beaming with the self-served pride of his conquest. The small White Common rolled out towards the unsuspecting man, suddenly overtaking him with her cover. He uttered only a slight muffled noise, as he disappeared under her mysterious shroud.
The Black Leader's Flank received an order, and set out on a mission which living up to his name, for he was to outflank the advancing White players on his assigned side. He took one hesitant step out of the security of his base, knowing that as he did so, the White side was countering his move with another advancing Common. The White Common and the Black Auxiliary's progress paralleled each other, as the latter likewise pushed forward one cautious step.
Meanwhile, the ever-alert White Common, who had single-handedly altered the tangible state of the Black Auxiliary's Paladin, approached the rear flank of the other Black Paladin. The knight was so intent upon finding a prize worthy of his blood-letting reputation that he did not even hear her approach. It was only when he felt his own life forces fast fading that he realized that he, too, had been a victim of her cunning skills.
The Black Auxiliary shared the secret of many of the little White Common's silent maneuvers. While the White Common concentrated on the two Black Paladins, the Black Auxiliary swiftly moved forward and surprised the most recently dispatched White Common. His disappearance left a fresh gap in the defenses of the White side.
A screeching howl emanated from the mouth of the Black Auxiliary, as she progressed on her obsessive path. Her eyes glowed, searching the far reaches for her next move.
The most recently recruited player to the White side was the Advisor to the White Auxiliary. The expressionless blonde woman was from a haughty race, and she believed that there was nothing... or no one... who could be her equal. She had agreed to aid the White side only because she had developed an unusual amount of respect for the White Leader and her Auxiliary. Nonetheless, this Advisor still considered herself their intellectual superior. When word arrived about the fall of the White Leader's Advisor, the proud tall woman took off in search of the opponents.
She had barely gotten beyond the confines of her base when the hellish laughter of the Black Auxiliary echoed around her. She stopped and quickly spun to her rear, to surprise any being that might be behind her. But it was from the sector to her left... a blind area in her position... that the hellacious Black Auxiliary sprung upon her. Even with her youth and strength, the White Advisor could not overcome the seemingly supernatural abilities of her attacker. The encounter was brief, as the tall blonde woman disappeared into the miasma. Once more, the lone shriek of the Black Auxiliary broke the stillness of the heavens.
The sound of this horror sped directly to the sensitive attuned ears of the White Auxiliary. In a direct path, he saw his Black counterpart, as she gloated over her most recent victory. With a velocity owned only by the Auxiliaries, he sped towards the woman, still enraptured in her self glory. His assault was quick and direct. His heightened anger gave him the strength to pick her up, and with the might of an Olympian, he threw her back towards the darkness of her original abode, daring her to resurrect herself and attempt yet another offensive. All was silent once more.
In the ensuing hush, the Black Leader's Flank continued his progress, and the White Auxiliary's Paladin struck out to find his Flank comrade. The Black Auxiliary was stilled for the time being, but she quickly gained composure, licking her wounds and vowing that she would not let the unbending White Auxiliary keep her from her self-appointed goal... the White Leader *would* be hers! Yes... she could move again; the small step brought a twinge of pain, but it would disappear...
Meanwhile, the little man who had been waiting as the White Auxiliary's Flank decided that his services could best be used by aiding the Paladin of the same person. He received the blessing of the White Leader, and struck out in pursuit of his friend.
From the Black side, another powerful woman began her mission... the Advisor of the Black Leader. Fearless and unrelenting in her support of her Leader, she set off to do her part in the continuing conflict.
The White Auxiliary's Flank persisted in his purposeful mission, bravely forging forward into the unknown. Shortly following his progress, a Black Common, on the opposite end of their known dimensions, entered into the fray at his Leader's command.
The Black Leader's Advisor was so intent with her own determined thoughts that she did not notice the White Auxiliary, who had remained in the area to regain strength from his efforts of disposing of his Black side counterpart. He was deep into a healing, rejuvenating trace when loud, careless noises announced the approach of the dark young woman who was the Black Leader's Advisor. She left nothing to the imagination as to her location and her disposition, and that was all that was necessary to jolt into alertness the intense White Auxiliary. In the blink of an eye, he was upon her, forcing her consciousness into oblivion.
Unfortunately for the White Auxiliary, what little strength remained within him had been sapped to its limits when he brought to an end the existence of the female Black Advisor. He was completely helpless. From the dark unknown, the Flank of the Black Leader swiftly overtook him. With a final effort of energy, the White Auxiliary began whirling within the younger man's grasp, and developed a vigor that hurled him out of the Black Flank's tight hold, over and beyond and back to his safe haven in the White side's baseline. The Flank looked around, perplexed at the sudden disappearance of the wily tall man.
These mysterious actions covered the movements of one of the White Commons and the malificent Black Auxiliary. In similar quests, the White Auxiliary's Paladin and the most distant Black Common continued on their destined paths. The first-to-be-dispatched White Common doggedly plodded towards the Black side, while the Black Auxiliary's Advisor received a message from his superior: she desired his aid, and he should follow her.
The last White Common left his homebase, to pick up the trial of the Flank who had dared to try to dispose of his side's Auxiliary. But he was a befuddled combatant, unfit to face the forces of the Black side. The Black Leader's Flank quickly disintegrated any sign of the hapless plodder. The Black Flank was one step closer to the White side.
His stamina revived, the White Auxiliary became alert to imminent danger in the haze of the surroundings. He took one short step out towards the point of his concern when he sensed the frustration of being too late. He hung his head as his spirit told him that the brave first White Common out had succumbed to the advances of the newest Black Common. He closed his eyes, and took in a sustaining deep breath. Who would be next? He *must* protect his leader, whatever the cost. With his telepathic talents, he silently urged the most stalwart of the White Commons to continue with her pursuit, to never give into the strife.
The approaching White Commons and White Paladin prompted the Black Leader to trade places with his Auxiliary's Flank, who remained at the home baseline in defense of his Leader on the Black side. The Black Leader breathed a short whiff of relief, only to find out that his Auxiliary's Advisor had been conquered by one of the persistent White Commons. He urged his most recently sent Common to continue the determined search for the two persistent White Commons who were coming quite close to the Black base.
The White Common closest to the White Auxiliary's Paladin saw the approach of the insidious Black Auxiliary, but the man was belated in response to her alert. The guileful Black Auxiliary was on top of the unsuspecting young Paladin before he realized her presence. Once more, her heinous howl of victory swept across the wide spaces of the board.
The sounds of her triumph pierced to the heart of the remaining champion on the White side, the White Leader's inexperienced Paladin. His friend and mentor... the other White Paladin was now gone, and his youthful heart burned within him to seek reprisal for his companion's demise. With his adrenaline high and throwing all caution aside, he forged recklessly outward, to the horror of his Leader... for she knew that the Black Auxiliary was drawing nearer and nearer to their side.
With demanding alacrity, the White Leader turned to her trusted Flank, and called upon him to use his wizardly ways to find her adversary. A sly smile crossed his face as he metamorphosed into a stream of sparkling electrons and disappeared from her side.
The Flank's molecules reassembled next to the startled Black Auxiliary. "You!" she cried out, reaching out to him, only to have her grasping hand pass through his magnetically constructed image.
"Yes... it is I," he smugly stated. "And I have come to dispose of you." He spun around her, his electronic forces disintegrating the witchy woman beside him. A lone last spark died, and he nodded firmly with satisfaction. "Good bye," he stated with a contented smile.
So lost was the White Leader's Flank in his triumph that he failed to notice the advancing Black Common above him. In a cosmic second too late, he gasped as the Black Common wrenched the mysterious badge that harnessed his existence from his shirt and shattered it underneath his foot. The Flank's image disappeared from the board.
Meanwhile, the White Leader's Paladin continued his quest for his brother Paladin's assassin. He would leave nothing in his wake that bore semblance to the Black team, so focused was his revengeful intent. So, when it happened that he saw the crest of the Black Leader's Flank appear below him, he savagely attacked and destroyed the unsuspecting hapless Black Flank. The remaining White Paladin moved on, parallel to the opposing advancement of the plundering Black Common who was overcoming everything that appeared in his path.
This particular Black Common's next victim was one of the earliest advancing White Commons. Although her acute hearing and secretive ways had protected her in the past, and allowed her to keep her White Leader advised as to the actions in the field, she failed to detect the approach of the stealthful Black Common. The Black Common overcame the White Common quickly, and she joined the fate of several of her predecessors. The Black Common allowed himself only a brief thought of gratification as he continued his advance towards the White side.
Suddenly, the advancing Black Common stopped short. He heard the rapid approach of heavy breathing, a duet from man and beast. He looked up, and saw the young White Paladin, riding hard through the space below. He sensed his opportunity, and took one step up and into the path of the oncoming White defender. In one quick move, he dismounted the unsuspecting White Paladin. With a final look of horror, the hapless young man quickly gasped his last, and he joined his fellow Paladin in the dark chaos of defeat. It was yet another victory for the late-starting Black Common.
The White Auxiliary had been looking inward in a meditative state to seek out his next move. After a long period devoid of inspiration, he awoke suddenly to see a lone Black Common approach. This Common, lacking the skills of his faster-progressing brother, was unequal to the complex combative skills of the White Auxiliary. With just a look in the Black Common's direction, the White Auxiliary induced his demise, with a mind connection that sapped all life from the Black Common.
The White Auxiliary's astute mental senses suddenly alerted him to the rapid approach of the remaining Black Flank, the one devoted to the Black Auxiliary, and he sought revenge for her destruction. The White Auxiliary, still aflame with his heightened mental state, with yet another focused thought willed the destruction of the approaching Black Flank. An abyss of deep darkness opened and the Flank disappeared into its bottomless chasm.
The action seemed to drain the mental energies of the White Auxiliary. He closed his eyes briefly and breathed deeply, attempting to regain control of his strengths. He knew that the great battle would be drawing to a close shortly. So many souls lost on both sides... so much destruction. Yet, it was his sworn duty to protect his leader, and he would so, even if it meant with his dying breath.
A change in the forces around him alerted him to the advancement of yet another invader. The White Auxiliary swung his head around and saw his next adversary... the Paladin of his Black counterpart rapidly approached. The Auxiliary became one with the space surrounding him, awaiting an opportunity to begin his offense.
The White Auxiliary saw his chance. He quickly moved to the rear of the unknowing man. From this vantage point, he silently slithered behind the Black Auxiliary's Paladin and struck him down even as he turned to meet his fate. Locked in his position and being denied any but the proscribed move for his lot, the lone remaining Black Common helplessly watched the unfolding debacle. His spirit sank, as he sensed pending defeat for his side.
The tall dark personage of the White Auxiliary, discerning victory, stared intently down the now open and direct path to the vulnerable Black Leader. Even now, cognizant of his impending doom, the valiant Black Leader stood tall and proud. He straightened to his full height, his broad shoulders seeming to invite the heavy burden of his imminent defeat. The White Auxiliary's full lips began to open, to recite the single fateful word of closure; suddenly, there was motion to his left.
The movement broke the esteemed and venerable concluding rule of the ancient game. Conventions from the millennia were abandoned, as the White Leader shifted towards her Auxiliary, her compatriot, in an unprecedented replacement move. The Auxiliary sensed her anxious need... her primordial desire... to complete the consummating move, which by dictum of the game was his.
He raised a long, dark pointed eyebrow as she approached him, both as query and concern for her action. She placed her small, firm hand on his shoulder, both to console and control his apprehensions. She smiled at him, and nodded her head as she gently moved him aside and took her place in his stead. She placed her hands on her hips, and looked across the now-open path to the Black Leader. In her singular move, she had, once and for all, transcended dictated protocol and stepped outside circumscribed parameters.
Her determined gaze locked onto a similar one from her long-time adversary, whose demeanor was quickly transforming. His body shook off the earlier posture of feared defeat, as he assumed a new stance, one of vibrancy and hope. His face relaxed into a radiant smile, his lips moist with waiting welcome. The eyes of both Leaders spoke without words, their bodies taunt with an electrifying tension.
The White Leader started her final victorious move towards the awaiting Black Leader. With a crooked, smoldering smile, she uttered the lone word that would change their lives forever:
Leader --- Janeway
Auxiliary -- Tuvok
Leader's Advisor -- Kes
Auxiliary's Advisor -- Seven
Leader's Paladin --Harry
Auxiliary's Paladin -- Tom
Leader's Flank -- Doc
Auxiliary's Flank -- Neelix
Leader -- Chakotay
Auxiliary -- Seska
Leader's Advisor -- B'Elanna
Auxiliary's Advisor -- Jonas
Leader's Paladin -- Suder
Auxiliary's Paladin -- Ayala
Leader's Flank -- Hogan
Auxiliary's Flank -- Dalby
* * *
"Checkmate?" I raised my eyebrow.
"Checkmate," she repeated, holding my hand. "Thank-you Chakotay. For everything."
Continue to the Epilogue