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Check and Checkmate   By: (1923-1996)

Check and Checkmate by Walter M. Miller

First Page:



Illustrated by TOM BEECHAM

[Transcriber Note: This etext was produced from IF Worlds of Science Fiction January 1953. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.]

[Sidenote: Victory hinges not always on the mightiest sword, but often on lowly subterfuge. Here is a classic example, with the Western World as stooge! ]

John Smith XVI, new President of the Western Federation of Autonomous States, had made a number of campaign promises that nobody really expected him to fulfill, for after all, the campaign and the election were only ceremonies, and the President who had no real name of his own had been trained for the executive post since birth. He had been elected by a popular vote of 603,217,954 to 130, the dissenters casting their negative by announcing that, for the sake of national unity, they refused to participate in any civilized activities during the President's term, whereupon they were admitted (voluntarily) to the camp for conscientious objectors.

But now, two weeks after his inauguration, he seemed ready to make good the first and perhaps most difficult promise of the lot: to confer by televiewphone with Ivan Ivanovitch the Ninth, the Peoplesfriend and Vicar of the Asian Proletarian League. The President apparently meant to keep to himself the secret of his success in the difficult task of arranging the interview in spite of the lack of any diplomatic contact between the nations, in spite of the Hell Wall, and the interference stations which made even radio communication impossible between the two halves of the globe. Someone had suggested that John Smith XVI had floated a note to Ivan IX in a bottle, and the suggestion, though ludicrous, seemed not at all unlikely.

John XVI seemed quite pleased with himself as he sat with his staff of Primary Stand ins in the study of his presidential palace. His face, of course, was invisible behind the golden mask of the official helmet, the mask of tragedy with its expression of pathos symbolizing the self immolation of public service as well as protecting the President's own personal visage from public view, and hence from assassination in unmasked private life, for not only was he publicly nameless, but also publicly faceless and publicly unknown as an individual. But despite the invisibility of his expression, his contentment became apparent by a certain briskness of gesticulation and a certain smugness in his voice as he spoke to the nine Stand ins who were also bodyguards, council members, and advisors to the chief executive.

"Think of it, men," he sighed happily in his smooth tenor, slightly muffled by the mask. "Communication with the East after forty years of the Big Silence. A great moment in history, perhaps the greatest since the last peace effort."

The nine men nodded dutifully. The President looked around at them and chuckled.

"'Peace effort'," he echoed, spitting the words out distinctly as if they were a pair of phonetic specimens. "Do you remember what it used to be called in the middle of the last century?"

A brief silence, then a Stand in frowned thoughtfully. "Called it 'war', didn't they, John?"

"Precisely." The golden helmet nodded crisply. "'War' and now 'peace effort'. Our semantics has progressed. Our present 'security probe' was once called 'lynch'. 'Social security' once meant a limited insurance plan, not connoting euthanasia and sterilization for the ellie moes. And that word 'ellie moe' once eleemosynary was once applied to institutions that took care of the handicapped."

He waited for the burst of laughter to subside. A Stand in, still chuckling, spoke up.

"It's our institutions that have evolved, John."

"True enough," the President agreed. "But as they changed, most of them kept their own names... Continue reading book >>

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