Tabakovic’s gaze bores through Dashem’s head. The rapping of Dashem’s knuckles on the table intensifies. Would Dashem restore the lost glory to Vladivania? How could he possibly outsmart the champions for the last 18 years? Although the Vlads have always been a step or two ahead of the Schwarzs in military strategizing and space missions, this game too has been important to both the countries since long before they separated; they consider it a battle for the smarter tribe in the Desna Region. This is his last year of representing the country at the Annual Vladi-Schwarz Sixty-Four Squares Championship, after which he would be taking up the role of a trainer at the Vladi Sixty-Four Squares National Selection Council.

Tabakovic is bored waiting for Dashem to make his move. He eyes the spectators; ostensibly, most of them have a dull, jaded, thirsty look on their faces. He takes mental notes of the Vladi army men he finds attractive. There’s something about the olive-green army uniform with hues of emerald green at the collar that does it for him. He always fantasized about running his fingers on the chest of a brusque and brawny Vladi man who was dressed in it.

Twenty minutes later, Dashem moves his pieces and starts the timer. Tabakovic, heaving a sigh and nodding his head as if he isn’t surprised by the Vladi man, makes another of his well schemed moves. The Schwarzbourger clicks his tongue and makes his move within seconds. Taken aback by the speed of the response, Taba stares at his opponent in an awe. Taba meditates over the board for a moment, while still shaking his head in disbelief, and makes his move. Arseny cracks his knuckles, stretches his arms, stretches his torso all the way up, then slumps in the chair and makes his move. Taba makes his move. Kimilchi makes his move. Taba makes his move. Ramanova makes her move. Taba makes his move. Josefnikov makes his move. Taba makes his move. Nituprov makes his move. Taba makes his move. Taba keeps making his moves while the player on the Schwarz’s side keeps changing for every move. Taba produces a hammer from his rucksack. The Schwarzbourger opponent produces a sickle. Taba hits on the Schwarzbourger’s head, the Schwarz collapses to the ground with his blonde head in a pool of blood. Taba jumps on the man, straddles his torso, and pummels his head till it turns into a squelching mass of dough. The dead man’s badge has three stars on it, with the logo of a yawning eagle and the name reads Tabakovic.

The Schwarz Taba is dead. The Vlad Taba is alive. ALIVE. DEAD. And I am hungry. I won’t miss my meals over the deaths of fictional Schwarz army men.