TITLE: Reserve Winners
GENRE: science fiction
WORD COUNT: 50,344
SUMMARY: To pay for her brother's medical costs, Grip signs an indenture contract with an alien Collector to help prepare his "pets" for the Intergalactic Conformation Trial. Little does she know, it's actually Grip who is being trained to become Best in Show.


"Congratulations on your win against the self-proclaimed chess master on this ship," read the message. "But will you win against me? - Con."

The message sobered Grip up almost immediately. On the surface, the message was extremely inocuous. It was a congratulatory message after all, and everyone had passed the gossip of her win like wildfire. But how had Constantine known, especially since he lived isolated from everyone else? And letting aside that little fact, the message wasn't just a letter of congratulations. Especially not from a criminal from the Border Worlds who Grip began to believe was much more cleverer than he had let anyone believe. It was also a challenge. For a chess matchup against him. Which meant that the next time that she visited him, there would be a chess board ready.

She wasn't so stupid as to think that this would just be some friendly game. Some sort of friendly competition. No, this would be a real matchup, with even higher stakes than the ones she had with Trajan. It was just the next hand after Constantine discovered that he could not breach her mental defenses, making it a draw. In this lastest battle, they would be testing wit against wit in a seemingly harmless game of chess. And there would be no witnesses to the battle.

There were undercurrents to the message, too. If she won, she would easily be able to convince Constantine to come with her to the social gatherings she had planned, in hopes alleviating what she thought she saw as loneliness. And if she lost, it would prove his superiority over her and possibly he would start treating her like he had treated his predecessor--an annoyance to be ignored.

But she knew that she had one thing on her side. The schedule. She could pick her own time to meet up with him. She decided that she would not meet up with him the next day. It would be too soon. He would view it as hot-headedness, brashness. A willingness to blunder into things due to temper and a desire to immediately prove one's superiority. No, that would put her at a disadvantage, even if she did manage to win the game.

The best strategy, she thought, was to wait at least two days from now until she called upon him. She would keep herself busy then. It would be the optimal time. Even if she lost then, she would have certain leverages embued by time and a cool head. She would think of the next step further, if it came to the possibility that she would lose--which if she considered it deeply, was very likely as she wasn't that well versed in chess--and she would come up with certain demands that he could not refuse to follow.

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