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an Azadian's - but he could imitate the signal well enough for it to be unambiguous.
Translated or not, though, Gurgeh knew it was a smile that said, 'Remember me? I've beaten you once
and I'm looking forward to doing it again'; a smile of self-satisfaction, of victory, of superiority. The
priest tried to smile back with the same signal, but it was unconvincing, and soon turned to a scowl. He
looked away.
Gurgeh's spirits soared. Elation filled him, burning bright inside. He had to force himself to calm down.
The other eight players had all, like Gurgeh, won their matches. Three were Admiralty or Navy men,
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one was an Army colonel, one a judge and the other three were bureaucrats. All were very good
players.
At this third stage in the Main Series the contestants played a mini-tournament of one-against-one lesser
games, and Gurgeh thought this would provide his best chance of surviving the match; on the main boards
he was likely to face some sort of concerted action, but in the single games he had a chance of building
up enough of an advantage to weather such storms.
He found himself taking great pleasure in beating Tounse, the priest. The apex swept his arm across the
board after Gurgeh's winning move, and stood up and started shouting and waving his fist at him, raving
about drugs and heathens. Once, Gurgeh was aware, such a reaction would have brought him out in a
cold sweat, or at the very least left him dreadfully embarrassed. But now he found himself just sitting
back and smiling coldly.
Still, as the priest ranted at him, he thought the apex might be about to hit him, and his heart did beat a
little faster& but Tounse stopped in mid-flow, looked round the hushed, shocked people in the room,
seemed to realise where he was, and fled.
Gurgeh let out a breath, relaxed his face. The imperial Adjudicator came over and apologised on the
priest's behalf.
Flere-Imsaho was still popularly thought to be providing some sort of in-game aid to Gurgeh. The
Bureau said that, to allay uninformed suspicions of this sort, they would like the machine to be held in the
offices of an imperial computer company on the other side of the city during each session. The drone had
protested noisily, but Gurgeh readily agreed.
He was still attracting large crowds to his games. A few came to glare and hiss, until they were escorted
off the premises by game officials, but mostly they just wanted to see the play. The entertainment
complex had facilities for diagrammatic representations of the main boards so that people outside the
main hall could follow the proceedings, and some of Gurgeh's sessions were even shown in live
broadcasts, when they didn't clash with the Emperor's.
After the priest, Gurgeh played two of the bureaucrats and the colonel, winning all his games, though by
a slender margin against the Army man. These games took a total of five days to play, and Gurgeh
concentrated hard for all that time. He'd expected to feel worn-out at the end; he did feel slightly
drained, but the primary sensation was one of jubilation. He'd done well enough to have at least a
chance of beating the nine people the Empire had set against him, and far from appreciating the rest, he
found he was actually impatient for the others to finish their minor games so that the contest on the main
boards could begin.
'It's all very well for you, but I'm being kept in a monitoring chamber all day! A monitoring chamber; I
ask you! These meatbrains are trying toprobe me! Beautiful weather outside and a major migratory
season just starting, but I'm locked up with a shower of heinous sentientophiles trying toviolate me!'
'Sorry, drone, but what can I do? You know they're just looking for an excuse to throw me out. If you
want, I'll make a request you're allowed to stay here in the module instead, but I doubt they'll let you.'
'I don't have to do this you know, Jernau Gurgeh; I can do what I like. If I wanted to I could just refuse
to go. I'm not yours - or theirs to be ordered around.'
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'I know that but they don't. Of course you can do as you please& whatever you see fit.'
Gurgeh turned away from the drone and back to the module-screen, where he was studying some
classic ten games. Flere-Imsaho was grey with frustration. The normal green-yellow aura it displayed
when out of its disguise had been growing increasingly pale over the past few days. Gurgeh almost felt
sorry for it.
'Well& ' Flere-Imsaho whined - and Gurgeh got the impression that had it had a real mouth it would
have spluttered, too - 'it's just not good enough!' And with that rather lame remark, the drone whirled out
of the lounge.
Gurgeh wondered just how badly the drone felt about being imprisoned all day. It had occurred to him
recently that the machine might even have been instructed to stop him from getting too far in the
games. If so, then refusing to be detained would be an acceptable way of doing it; Contact could
justifiably claim that asking the drone to give up its freedom was an unreasonable request, and one it had
every right to turn down. Gurgeh shrugged to himself; there was nothing he could do about it.
He switched to another old game.
Ten days later it was over, and Gurgeh was through to the fourth round; he had only one more opponent
to beat and then he would be going to Echronedal for the final matches, not as an observer or guest, but
as a contestant.
He'd built up the lead he'd hoped for in the lesser games, and in the main boards had not even tried to
mount any great offensives. He'd waited for the others to come to him, and they had, but he was
counting on them not being so willing to cooperate with each other as the players in the first
match. These were important people; they had their own careers to think about, and however loyal they
might be to the Empire, they had to look after their own interests as well. Only the priest had relatively
little to lose, and so might be prepared to sacrifice himself for the imperial good and whatever not
game-keyed post the Church could find for him.
In the game outside the game, Gurgeh thought the Games Bureau had made a mistake in pitching him
against the first ten people to qualify. It appeared to make sense because it gave him no respite, but, as it
turned out, he didn't need any, and the tactic meant that his opponents were from different branches of
the imperial tree, and thus harder to tempt with departmental inducements, as well as being less likely to
know each other's game-styles.
He'd also discovered something called inter-service rivalry - he'd found records of some old games that
didn't seem to make sense until the ship described this odd phenomenon - and made special efforts to get
the Admiralty men and the colonel at each other's throats. They'd needed little prompting.
It was a workmanlike match; uninspiring but functional, and he simply played better than any of the
others. His winning margin wasn't great, but it was a win. One of the Fleet vice-admirals came
second. Tounse, the priest, finished last.
Again, the Bureau's supposedly random scheduling gave him as little time as possible between matches,
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but Gurgeh was secretly pleased at this; it meant he could keep the same high pitch of concentration
going from day to day, and it gave him no time to worry or stop too long to think. Somewhere, at the [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]