After exhaustive study and analysis of the planet, the first members of the Eymin species to reach Earth landed in the suburbs of Moscow on a warm evening in November, where they were shot and killed by Alexander Molokov eight minutes after making contact. Their bodies were immediately confiscated and dissected by the KGB, who were still puzzling over them decades later when the USSR collapsed, and released for analysis as part of the many waves of declassification that followed.

The second members to brave the hostile planet landed in Staten Island a week after that abrupt encounter, and barged in on Freddie Trumper, who greeted them in his typical paranoia that of course agents of a foreign power would have been spying on him, infiltrating his dreams, and had shown up to disrupt his preparations for the upcoming world championships. This was not entirely incorrect, though the Eymin's bosses were far more distant than the Kremlin.

Before he could chase them away entirely, however, they came across Florence Vassy, who owned the apartment where Freddie had been staying as often as anywhere. Agent Stige, having thoroughly analyzed her memories and mastered many human languages, attempted to greet her in her native Hungarian, which she no longer understood beyond a few short phrases. Agent Ogeal, however, came to the rescue by jumping in in English.

"Please forgive us," she said. "We mean you and your partner no harm; we only wish to obtain some samples of his blood and fingernails for genetic research."

"What," said Florence, "are you doing here."

After an increasingly rambling explanation, Florence came to believe that the Eymin were exactly what they claimed to be. They knew too much about her, and Freddie, to be fake, and if the KGB had anything approaching that kind of technology, they would have deployed it much earlier.

"You've travelled for hundreds of millions of miles to get here?" she summarized. "You must know that we have nothing approaching your level of technology."

"Of course," said Ogeal.

"If—" For a moment Florence hesitated, then plunged forward. She could not be telling them anything they didn't know. "If your weapons are even a fraction as advanced as your spacecraft, you could conquer the planet in a moment. Why come like this?"

Stige rotated her rear horn, a gesture of derision. "Not every species is like yours, human. What would we want as overlords of your planet? Your own people have more than enough trouble ruling it."

"What do you want from the planet, then?" she challenged.

"Our people are pragmatists," said Ogeal. "Builders, tinkerers, problem-solvers. Your larval phase has a...play-spirit, a motivating force that undergirds your development. And the individuals who are consumed by these pastime-desires into maturity are prominent in your world. We wish to understand such a mindset so we can reproduce it."

Florence stared. "You're here for chess?"

"For Frederick's mastery of it," said Stige. "We already know how to compete."

"You're extraterrestrial beings," said Florence numbly. "Why would you want to learn chess?"

"We could ask you the same thing."

Florence doubted that because my father played would be a compelling answer. Who knew if the Eymin even had fathers? "Chess is...human," she said. "Arbitrary. I would expect you to play games like Go. Any planet can figure out how to make two different colors of stones." Florence herself knew little more of Go than that it had black and white stones, but her acquaintances who played both games claimed Go was much simpler and more elegant. "Chess evolved over hundreds of years—elephants turning into bishops, weird loopholes like castling and en passant."

"Precisely!" exclaimed Ogeal. "How are we to understand your culture if we cannot even contemplate the relations among your pieces? The king is essential but weak; the queen is powerful but expendable. Surely this is the key to understanding your society."

"We don't have royalty anymore, not real ones," said Florence. "We have democracies and totalitarian communists."

"But the pattern still persists in your family units," said Stige. "Capable female humans supporting fragile males."

"Life isn't chess. If it was, Freddie would be a lot better at it."

"Excuse me," yelled Freddie, storming back in, "what did you say?"

"Can you please clarify?" Ogeal asked brightly. "Are you or are you not espoused to Ms. Vassy?"

It was a very rare occasion that could put Freddie at a loss for words, but conversation with the Eymin was such an event. He turned from Ogeal to Florence back to Stige. "What?"

"They're not Soviets," Florence said, "and if Walter gave you some drugs they're not figments of that either, I see them too. Apparently they want you to trim your fingernails, which I would recommend anyway even if you don't want to give them the samples—"

"Spacemen," said Freddie. "Actual spacemen. Here?"

"We are not men," said Stige. "We do not have sexual dichotomies like you, although we understand it is a noteworthy aspect of Earth life-forms."

Freddie squinted. "I can't tell if that's supposed to be an insult."

"By no means!" said Ogeal. "You are what your fellow humans refer to as a man, are you not?"

"Of course I'm a man."

"And Florence is a woman."

"Obviously."

"Nothing's obvious to them," said Florence, "they're from another planet."

"And she is your...duelmate, your second."

"Duelmate?" Florence echoed.

"You see why we ask," Stige said. "There are some things that do not translate well. But just as the king and queen form a partnership in the game, you have formed a partnership in your competition. True?"

Florence took a moment to parse the Eymin before laughing. "You think we're married? Freddie should be so lucky."

"You come from across the galaxy and this is what you ask?" Freddie raged. "You're worse than those German papers! Can't I hire the best in the free world without putting a ring on it?"

"It appeared to be the basic unit of social structures," Ogeal said. "It made sense at the time!"

"So all you've studied is happily married families?" Florence hissed. "Maybe you're not as bright as the spaceships make it look."

"You've seen their spaceships?" Freddie asked.

"No, she has not," said Stige. "Oxygen-breathing species would require supplemental air to travel in our ships, just as we require ammonia regulators to survive on this planet." She twisted, seeming to indicate an off-center purple ball dangling from her tail.

"Well," said Freddie, "you should probably get to work on that if you want me to give you my fingernails."

"What?"

"This is America, you don't get something for nothing. If you want to study me and take a sample, by all means, I can cooperate. But I want something out of it too, and seeing as you probably don't have any human money, I think a joyride around Mars is a fair deal."

Florence raised her eyebrows. "Are you trying to create humans in your lab? I—Freddie is a genius, but I'm not sure he'd be the greatest person to use as a sample."

"No," said Stige, at the same time Ogeal said "Yes."

"Well," said Freddie, "don't all talk at once."

By this point, Florence was beginning to realize that the Eymin did not have a sophisticated grasp of sarcasm. "He would like you to explain further. So do I."

"It would be silly to try and raise a human from infancy in the absence of fully-grown humans who could care for and socialize with them," said Stige. "As you have informed us, not all humans are raised by their biological mothers and fathers, but all of them develop socially by learning from others. And despite your culture's misconceptions, we have no interest in abducting humans either—the cost of porting the oxygen, liquid water, and nutrition for the return trip would be terribly inefficient."

"But children's brains are even more astonishing than adults'!" protested Ogeal. "They can adapt to learning new languages and processing all kinds of sensory input. And their play-spirit is at its most intense! Surely even in an unprecedented environment they would thrive."

Florence attempted to recall what Freddie had confided in her of his early years; yes, he had turned to chess as an escape from his parents' fighting, but at least both of them had been human. "This might surprise you coming from us," she said carefully, "but I'm not sure chess tells you everything about human culture."

"You have rulers and subjects, religious officials, military units that employ other Earth species to travel, and the potential for social mobility through promotion," Stige said. "We have judged it a superlative microcosm, or we would not have come here."

"If you do not form a legally-bound duo, then we do not have to address our questions to you," said Ogeal. "Mr. Trumper, it may take us some time to make our spaceship accessible to you. But once we do, would you like to ride in it in exchange for some hair and nail clippings?"

"Absolutely," said Freddie. "For little green things, you're not so bad."

"Green?" said Stige. "I would expect our flesh to appear bluish-gray to your color vision."

"Yeah, well, sometimes the squares of the chessboard are green and buff instead of literally white and black. You get used to it."

Ogeal curled her tail happily. "I trust we will form a most profitable alliance."