A marble chessboard spanned a no man’s land between two opponents. The opening was complete. The middlegame was over. Only the endgame remained.
He set his white piece down with a click and sank back into the thick leather chair. Watching his adversary, he steepled his fingers.
She leaned her elbows on the mahogany table and became as still as the stone pieces. She stared at the board, her mind exploring the remaining moves. The end was close.
Her fingers twitched. Her breathing accelerated. She would accept only one of two outcomes: winning or stalemate.
She looked over her shoulder at the solar system; there was so much life, all centered on one little planet. A massive asteroid approached, ready to extinguish it. It blotted out the sun, plunging half the Earth into darkness and all of it into chaos. People fell to their knees and cried out for mercy.
She clenched her fists. It had been millions of years and many games since she last won. Remnants of that ancient victory still lay buried in the Earth’s crust. “Stalemate,” she mouthed silently. It left behind a lingering bitterness. She turned to the board; checkmate was so close. There would be a clean slate and limitless possibilities. She licked her lips. The desperate prayers of humanity echoed in her ears. She shook her head. Humans had once had so much potential. “Be quiet,” she whispered.
He crossed his arms. “Come now. Don’t stretch this out longer than it needs to be,” he said with a smirk. He glanced out into the dark expanse. The asteroid was close. His yellow eyes glittered in the candlelight.
She lifted her head. Her obsidian eyes narrowed. “Are you rushing me?” she said.
He raised all six of his hands in the air. “Heavens no, my dear! Take your sweet time.” His mouth stretched into a grin that displayed many rows of sharp, silver teeth.
The prayers reached a strident crescendo. She grimaced and then sighed. Her wings flicked, the crimson feathers fluffing out. “Fine. Let’s end it already.” She grasped her piece, lifted it high, and slammed it down. The board split in half with a crack. Her golden fangs flashed in a fleeting smile. “Stalemate. Again.”
He smiled, but it didn’t reach any of his eyes. He picked up his king and crushed it. White stone dust spilled from between his fingers. “Well played, as always. See you again in one hundred years?” He stood and extended one hand.
She stood and clasped it, her crystalline talons screeching against his metallic silver skin. “Of course. Next time, I’m going to win.”
He roared with laughter.
In a flash of light, the players disappeared from the surface of the barren black planetoid. The table, chairs, and chessboard dissolved into gray smoke. The asteroid narrowly missed Earth and traveled back into the void. Humanity breathed a collective sigh of relief.
The chess game of the gods was over. Life would continue for now.