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Disclaimer: All characters and events in this story are fictitious, and any similarity to a real person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and unintended by the author. "The Pretender" is a protected trademark of MTM Television and NBC and the characters of that series are used herein with no mean intent or desire for remuneration. It is, instead, a tribute to innovative television, that rare and welcome phenomenon.

Sequel to: Immortal QuestMS-DOS za downlaod

Queen's Gambit
by Victoria Rivers 1998




White always moves first.

Connor MacLeod sat before a 16th century Swiss chess set, admiring the craftsmanship of the carved pieces. The pawns were shaped like tiny squat soldiers, each one individualized with different weapons, unique facial features and personalized armor. The rooks featured tiny figures peering out the windows of matched towers, the knights mounted on powerful stallions, and the bishops properly garbed in formal church attire. The kings and queens sat on grandly carved thrones, but something bothered MacLeod about the set. He tried to decide if it was the familiarity, for he was sure he'd seen the set somewhere in his unusually long lifetime. But no particular memory surfaced, so he took a closer look at the pieces, checking for an artist's mark that might give him more information about the gift, might jog his distant memories for some clue to the significance of the set.



It wasn't his birthday. That had been over a month ago, and it wasn't likely that his kinsman would send him such an expensive item as a Valentine's day present. Yet the card enclosed with the chess set was Duncan MacLeod's, so he had to assume the younger Scot had a reason for sending it.



Connor picked up the white king, turning it over appreciatively in his hands, taking note of the spiral notched off center in the bottom of the flat base. All of the other pieces had the same mark, but as he held one of the black knights loosely in his palm, he noticed something different about it, something that set it apart from all the others and brought a little prickle to the skin at the back of his neck.



It had his own face, and even carried a tiny katana in its minuscule grasp.



That was a little unnerving. Several of the other pieces had faces he recognized, so the puzzle wound a little tighter. Connor picked up the card again and flipped it over, taking note of the opening move elegantly lettered in gothic script. He smiled coolly then, for he knew that Duncan couldn't possibly have written it. The younger MacLeod was near 50 when he learned to read, and his handwriting was atrocious. Centuries of practice had give it an artful flair, but legibility and neatness were never factors in Duncan's script. He never learned the graceful deliberance of proper calligraphy, so the card could not have come from him. The chess set probably hadn't either.



He went to the phone in his modest bedroom and called his younger kinsman, but there was no answer. With a sigh of reluctant patience, he returned to the living room sofa, dropped the card in the middle of the ivory and ebony board, and reached for the white pawn.



The sender had made the first move of the game already, and Connor would be on the lookout for more to come. He contemplated the elegant board for a long time, trying unsuccessfully to envision an image and playing style for his mysterious opponent, but none came. After careful consideration he picked up a black piece in answer to White's move, and then lifted the White King for a better look at the face.



It wasn't one he recognized, but like the black knight that bore his own visage, the detail in that tiny piece was quite lifelike. He imagined the pale ivory face in flesh tones and memorized the details for future reference. He had the feeling that knowledge would come in handy later on.





~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




Jarod perched on the lip of the elevator shaft, staring down into the darkness below.



"You killed John Nobuko, didn't you?" he accused, his emotions rising as his sting came to its twisted climax. He couldn't see the man at the bottom of the shaft, but a voice floated upward, tinged with terror and guilt.



"Yes! I killed him! I'm sorry! Please, let me go! I can't stand the dark."



"Just like John Nebuko couldn't stand to leave his wife and son, just like--"



Jarod didn't finish his accusation. He heard a sound behind him, an unexpected footstep, and whirled to see another Japanese man coming at him down the hallway. The man's face was set, and he reached inside his suit jacket in smoothly practiced fashion. Jarod spent half a second deciding whether to run or save the latest victim of his personal brand of justice, but it was a second too long. He half rose from his crouch, watching the pistol slide into view, planning now how he would get away, but the Yakuza bodyguard was faster than he looked, and the muzzle roared. The bullet slammed dead center into Jarod's chest and flung him backward onto the floor.



"No!" he wanted to cry, but he couldn't compress his diaphragm to push the words out. Breath whooshed out through the hole in his chest, and no matter how he tried to inhale, he could not. Tears formed in his eyes, and his thoughts turned to his mother, who would never know what happened to him.



He had not accomplished his mission, too distracted by his need to dispense justice to fully concentrate all his energies to finding his family. Dull pain thundered through his body, and as he lay sprawled on the slick marble floor, watching the blood spurting upward from the hole in his chest like a fountain, he knew he was dying. He glanced up at the bodyguard still advancing on him, and wept for his losses as he stared down the muzzle of the pistol.



He watched the second projectile coming in slow motion toward him, and closed his eyes in the split second before it splattered into his forehead and blew his brilliant brains all over the coil of rope that he had planned to throw down to his victim when the confession was finished. Jarod lay still, his lifeless eyes blown open by the concussion, staring unblinkingly at the ceiling.



The nameless bodyguard did the saving himself, and after accepting his employer's profound gratitude, he set about cleaning up the mess he had made. Jarod Musashi's body would be discreetly dropped into the sea as fish food, and his presence in TakanoCorp would be quickly erased. There would be no record that the man had ever visited Japan, and those who had known him would hastily forget.





~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




The first thing he noticed was the pain. It surged through him with white heat, forcing him to draw breath. He wanted to cry out, but his vocal chords were still frozen with rigor.



Breathe!



It was his only thought, driven by instinct, and he filled his lungs with air, gulping in deep, hungry breaths. He opened his eyes and saw only darkness, but a rough surface grated against his fingertips and he reached up to touch his chest. Memory flashed into his consciousness with agonizing clarity, and his fingers sought out the terrible hole that he had seen there.



The shirt he wore had the hole still in it, and he could feel the sticky drying blood that had soaked into the cloth and made it cling to him, but the skin below it was whole, unblemished, unbroken. The bullet wound was gone.



Tentatively Jarod reached up and touched his forehead and found it healed as well, and lay back in the darkness in relief. It had been a terrible dream, so real... but he didn't know where he was. He felt around himself, exploring the rough wood planks that boxed him in. The smell of fish registered, and then the quiet hum and vibration of a truck, and he decided he must be in a crate, being driven out of Kobe by his captors.



But were they the Yakuza henchmen who made him believe he was dead, or Centre goons come to take him back to that terrible place?











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