PLAYING CHESS WITH AN ALIEN"Chess is really big where I come from," said the stranger.Gregor smiled quickly. Then he realized that the big girl with the accent hadn't actually said anything about her chest. He handed over what he'd been reading, a paperback:Chess: a Little Game of Big Game Plans.The train rumbled on through the countryside. Another station went by. They moved on from chatting about chess and took out a traveling set. After a few moves Gregor could see she was a reasonable player but only at a local club level. He knew he would win."I played chess with an alien once," said the stranger.Gregor fumbled his move and had to replace some pieces on the board. He didn't know what to say about aliens playing chess, so he didn't say anything."It was when I got abducted." said the stranger. "I had the missing time, a little triangular scar, everything. Don't know the full story. What I am able to remember has a dreamlike quality. Anyway, I lost half a day and I can remember playing chess with one of those little gray creatures.""A Gray, like Roswell, on television?" Gregor asked."Yes, but for real. At first I thought I wouldn't have much of a chance in my very own little War of the Worlds what with us probably being millions of years lower on the ladder of evolution. Then I remembered something from school, a time when I was injured at chess.""You were injured playing chess?" said Gregor."Well, I was playing against a very bad loser.""I hope you're not a bad loser yourself," said Gregor carefully."Don't worry, you're safe enough. Anyway, this was way back when I was in school. You know, I was learning something about underestimating the opposition. I reckoned that would be my game plan with the alien. I would try to get it to underestimate me.""Didn't you think that might be a little dangerous, under the circumstances?""Perhaps I should have thought of that. Anyway, after a while I found I was getting the better of the alien. But it had nothing much to do with my ever-so-clever strategy. It just turned out that he was really dumb."The train dove into a tunnel. The noise, the hint of fumes, the sudden change in air pressure all served to bring Gregor back to a sense of reality. He was soon back to concentrating on the game, for this was just chess on a train with a stranger with a tale to tell.Then Gregor thought of something he should have thought about earlier. "What about telepathy?" he challenged. "Don't Grays do telepathy? Wouldn't that be rather an advantage in a game of chess?""Well yes," she said. "But only if it hadn't been switched off for the game.""Switched off?""Yes, switched off. They use telepathy of course, but it's not a natural thing. They use technology. In fact, on their own without technological support, they don’t even have very complicated speech.""OK, so just how did you get to know all this?" said Gregor."The creature let me try on the telepathy device. Said it was OK because I wouldn't remember anything afterwards, and even if I did, no one was ever going to believe me. So I got to do telepathy. It didn’t really work properly with me. It was designed to work with an alien mind. But I got all these strange thoughts from outside my head and they opened up a kind of window into alien consciousness. You do believe me, don't you?""Yes, I do," said Gregor. But he didn't look her directly in the eyes."And there were big surprises. Seems the Grays are very different from what we might imagine. They're dull, unimaginative, even timid, and they just don't like being so far from home. What's more, they're thick, really thick. But they're very ancient. They've been around so long they've had lots of time to develop an advanced technology one painfully slow step after another. Goodness knows how long it must have taken them to invent the wheel."The stranger paused to make a move. Gregor leaned forward. "What else did you find out?"Well, it seems they're afraid of us. They see us as primitive upstarts with dangerous instincts and totally hardwired for conflict. They fear for their children once we start to move out into the universe. Some of their leaders are gently trying to modify the human species into something more acceptable. Others would much rather we blow ourselves back to the Stone Age."After another tunnel and a few more moves, the stranger said something that took Gregor by surprise:"Checkmate."endPlaying Chess with an Alien was acceptedfor publication by Bewildering Stories,Issue 536, Aug 2013.