Chapter 37

"I heard through the grapevine that Ms. Foster advanced her ranking this week," Mr. Numbers said as he moved his knight.

"Are we calling the weekly logs you get of all combat trials 'the grapevine' now?" Mary asked as she began contemplating her next move.

"Touché," Mr. Numbers replied. The two were sitting in the common room early Saturday morning. Thus far they were the only two up and around, save for Mr. Transport, who was off running errands. As soon as Mr. Numbers had stepped out of his room Mary had been waiting, chessboard in hand. So, after a cup of coffee, Mr. Numbers accepted her challenge and the duo began their second game of chess. Mr. Numbers took a sip of his coffee as Mary made her next move.

"I notice you're using both rooks normally this time," he commented.

"He's been fixed," Mary answered to the unasked question.

"Has he now," Mr. Numbers mumbled, measuring the board to plan his retaliation. "I also heard through the grapevine that Mr. Daniels’ attitude has improved tremendously since his bout with Mr. Taylor. It seems he is punctual when attending gym and attentive to everything Coach George says to him. The only curious habit is that whenever he is running he makes strange hand motions."

"Motions similar to the ones learned in the foundation of a martial art? Say, ones that a person might work on constantly if they were trying to ingrain the movements as reflex in their brain, for example?" Mary asked.

"Precisely those," Mr. Numbers confirmed.

"How odd," Mary said neutrally. "It's your move."

"I'm aware," Mr. Numbers said, shifting one of his pawns. "So I take it you and your dorm mates will be meeting up with your partners to work on your projects today?"

"Hershel might; he and Alex have been eating together ever since they were paired up," Mary said. "If I recall correctly, Vince and Nick are spending the day watching a movie marathon in the boys’ lounge, then Vince is celebrating Sasha's victory with her tonight."

"You seem very well-informed of your dorm mates’ plans. And Alice?"

"Alice is going to contemplate many options, then ultimately spend her day sulking at the fact that she has no one to spend time with, despite that fact that her own fear of intimacy with others is the driving force behind that fact," Mary told him, moving her queen.

"You could always try to break through that fear and befriend her," Mr. Numbers pointed out.

"Others could. I'm too much too soon for her - like dropping an aqua-phobic in the middle of the ocean. Befriending a telepath won't challenge her personal limitations and obsession for privacy, it will shatter them. Maybe one day, though. I think I would like that," Mary said.

"I see," Mr. Numbers said, moving his knight once more in order to set a trap. "So, which chess piece will you be fixing next?"

"Well, the others are a bit more complicated," Mary responded. "The bishop is easily as strong as the rook, albeit in a different way, but unlike the rook the bishop is afraid of his own strength. The knight doesn't understand that just because she isn't as outwardly dangerous as the other pieces doesn't mean she is useless. And of course the king doesn't see that his role is as a strategist, maybe even a leader; instead he is stuck on the perception of himself as vulnerable and weaker than anyone else on the board." Mary moved her king to illustrate the point, going only back and forth along the rear row as she had throughout the entire game.

"And the queen?" Mr. Numbers asked as he repressed at smile at Mary moving directly into his trap. She was an utter amateur, but a part of him still took a beat of pride away from every victory, regardless of its challenge or relevance.

"The queen is a very powerful piece," Mary said. "But she's not so strong that she can stand against the other army by herself."

"Indeed," Mr. Numbers agreed. "Checkmate."

"So it is," Mary noted. "Next week?"

"Not in the mood for another?"

"One total loss a week is all I can handle, I'm afraid," Mary said with a soft smile. "Besides, I think the rest of my day just became a lot fuller."

*          *          *

Alice didn't hear Mary’s declaration; she had already stormed off to her room. Having woken earlier than usual, Alice was on her way into the common room so she could get water from the kitchen when she realized she could vaguely overhear Mr. Numbers and Mary having a conversation. Never one to pass up the opportunity to gather information, Alice planted herself on the other side of the wall and strained to catch every word. When talk turned to her, though, and Mary had called out so perfectly exactly what her plans were and why they involved no other people, Alice all but stomped back into her bedroom, slamming the door and sitting down on her bed. She had been fuming ever since, her pride battling her against her rationale as she tried to make peace with the things Mary had said, a mental tornado that could only settle down on the trailer of one logical conclusion.

By the time Alice reached it, Mary had been waiting nearly half an hour.