Chess à Pique

Somewhere in a distant galaxy, on a sleepy Sunday afternoon centuries before our present season of SCURK, a symmetrical sultan named Sheikh Al Jedrez sat in contemplation of a colossal koi pond craftily created by his coy contractor Caprizio Constructor. Although flawless in its serene squareness, the vast watery quadrangle struck the soporific Sultan as somehow incomplete. His eyes closed, and the insides of their lids become the screens of his soul. In his dream he saw a symmetrical city, a coordinated capital that would reflect the righteous regularity of his rule. He would build a gargantuan graph, a methodical matrix, a true rank and a fitting file for his devoted subjects. He awoke and commanded Caprizio to commence the project.

In seven years a metropolis of linear majesty rose complete from the depths of the humble pond. Sheikh Al Jedrez gazed upon it and realized that he had achieved his dream of a city symbolizing the enlightened justice of his rule. He had his contractor geometrically executed, that is, drawn and quartered: in this way no other monarch in the galaxy would ever use Caprizio's skills to build a city that could rival his beloved Chess à Pique.

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For nine years the new city flourished in the most perfect order and decorum. One day Sheikh Al Jedrez decided to visit a little known corner of his capital, the idyllic island of Es-Suburbia. Towards the end of the royal promenade the Sheikh rounded the corner of a spotless street and came upon a crowd of his youthful subjects. Obviously grateful for life on a square island where the only entertainment was a convenience store, the adoring adolescents bludgeoned His Highness to death in a most ungeometrical fashion.

Anarchy exploded as the tedium-tyrannized townsfolk awoke to the red dawn of a revolution. Surveyors, town planners, building inspectors -- indeed, anyone even suspected of owning a tape measure or a theodolite -- were torn into quite unsymmetrical pieces. Within weeks crooked contractors and freebooting speculators were draining wetlands and building new subdivisions in the most alarmingly unlinear places. Even as armed gangs clashed, thousands of new inhabitants swarmed into the now unregulated city. Gang leaders became warlords, and one of these gradually prevailed over all the others. He was leader of the very group of Young Turks who had slaughtered the Sheikh. Once the city was united under his enlightened kleptocracy, he adopted an appropriate honorific and declared himself Chess à Pique Bey.

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The Bey ruled wisely for many years. But at last he grew old and gave up his skateboard for a walker, and not even the Royal Hair Club could plug the growing gaps in his Mohawk. The captain of the guard, a certain Sheikh Mati, saw his opportunity and led a palace revolution. As befit his station, the Bey was placed inside a velvet sack and respectfully bludgeoned to death with a sandalwood club.

One hundred and eighty-seven years have now passed since that bloodless coup, and the Mati dynasty still reigns supreme. Shakh, the current ruler, is a man obsessed with history, and haunted by the knowledge that the very forces that led his family to power could cause its eventual downfall. Determined to find the secret of survival for his noble lineage, he has spent long years in deep rumination on Library Isle. He has at last discovered the key to social stability, and evidence of his insight is starting to appear on the face of the city.

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Almost two more centuries have passed. In this modern age Bolshevoid Burbanites are mere footnotes of history, for Shakh Mati XII has brought the urban philosophy of his brilliant ancestor to its final fruition. Alas, so has Tjatoer Djaja IV, whose fierce janissaries now stand aligned on the farther shore of the cosmic koi pond.

And alack, an obscure scion of a drawn and quartered contractor has now invented SCURK -- a Surrogate for Centuries of Unflagging Rodent Klicking. Shakh Mati XII lies dying of grief, knowing that today his urban utopia could have been built in an afternoon.

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