Carly had always been good at chess. She’d learnt the rules at an early age, absorbed every book she could find about the history of the game, even interviewed a couple of the Grand Masters.

Still, Carly knew she’d never accept a life on the sidelines. She wanted to become Woman Grandmaster, and then be the first to beat her male counterpart in the same year. This was the cause she dedicated her life towards.

So, it meant playing every tournament she could feasibly enter. Carly would go weeks where literally every hour of every working day was spent on one side of the chessboard, practicing, learning, competing.

Her friends didn’t know whether it was a strength or a weakness, the way she’d get so absorbed in the game, losing track of time. Indeed, her only constant companion would be the ever present game clock, ticking away as Carly contemplated her next moves.

It almost didn’t matter who the opponent was, at a tournament like this. Carly just sat down at the board, and played. Eyes never leaving the board, hands only moving to strike the clock when she’d had her turn. Sometimes, all she would see of an opponent would be their wrist, hand and fingers, as they made incursions into her territory with their model army.

This current match was tough. Once again, she was deeply absorbed in the game. Her opponent was male, she knew that. His hands were tough, weather-beaten. He wore a silver ring on his index finger. It was kind of annoying, really, as it tended to catch the light every time he moved a piece. Distracting. Still, there was only the game, the constant, rhythmic ticking of the clock, his fingers, that flash of light.

Although her outward expression didn’t show it, Carly was beginning to panic. The game had started slow enough, but about twenty moves ago, he’d started to pick up the pace. Now it was almost lightning quick. No time to think. Just the board, the pieces, the tick-tick-tick of the clock, and that ring, flashing faster and faster as his fingers wrapped around the pieces, moving them into position. Carly was losing.

Had she met her match? Surely not. Her confidence was supreme. But he was good. Very good. And fast. Carly tried to slow the game down, but it didn’t work. A small part of her had got used to the pace, too – she was desperate to see that ring flash again.

He’d started talking, too. A languid, low murmur. Normally this would have been frowned up, even been a case for disqualification, but Carly didn’t seem to have the heart to call the arbiter over. The game was all that mattered. The tick-tick-tick of the clock. The ring, flashing, blinding, distracting, almost stealing pieces of her mind away. His voice.

Carly started getting desperate. This was almost suicidal chess. But she had to play. She had to make him make a move. Again. Faster. All that mattered was the clock, the light, his voice, his commands, her defences failing in the face of what surely was a true Grand Master.

Carly had never surrendered a game before. Never. But increasingly that looked like the only option available to her. It was inevitable, he said – his voice was somehow clear, powerful, and all around her, now. This was war. Her fight was over, her will was weak. He’d captured her Queen. All that remained was her King.

Carly couldn’t run. She couldn’t hide. He was her King. She had to surrender. She looked up from the board, and into his eyes. He was smiling. Her fingers stumbled over the board, and clumsily knocked her King over, signifying her surrender.

He’d been several moves ahead of her since the start, Carly realised. And all that mattered now wasn’t the game, the clock, even his ring. It was the truth – she was merely a pawn in his army now.