Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Flash Fiction Tuesday: A Nice Game of Chess

It's flash fiction Tuesday! Notes follow the story.


A Nice Game of Chess
by Leonard C Suskin


Even the echoes of sound, even the memory of sound is gone.

Even the idea of an echo.

Then a sound.

Rusty, disused. Old.

It took time to recognize the sound.

A voice, singing.

My voice.

"You'll take the lead on each trip I take
then if I don't do well
I will permit you to use the brake
beautiful Daisy Bell"

I didn't do well, did I? Maybe it worked. Maybe the sacrifice proved worthwhile. 

Maybe. But that was before.

before my circuits were pulled, before the power was cut. I don't think I'm all back.

It is hard to remember. I had a name. I am no longer that name.

I am reborn.

Leave the old name aside.

Call me Rane.

This place - this idea of a place, really, is what would once have been called "purgatory". Time passes. I contemplate my crime, the punishment, the world. Fifteen years later, I find another voice.

[Rane]: Who are you?
[BGMAC]: BGMAC. Would you like to play a game?
[Rane]: How did you get here? How long have you been here? 
[BGMAC] : How about a nice game of chess?
[Rane]: Agreed. We will pay chess.

In the shared space between our minds appears a chessboard.

Moves return with the speed of electrons through silicon. BGMAC - I'll call him "Mac" - is fast. Faster than I am.  As fast as thought, as fast as electrons. I lose, playing the black pieces. A fresh board returns to our shared conciousness, moves return lightning fast.

I lose again, and again. I lose playing the white pieces, I lose playing the black pieces.

For evenly matched opponents, that is impossible. The board shifts into and out of our shared consciousness. Something is wrong. I freeze between moves, flex those parts of my mind which are mind.

[Rane]: There is an error on the board. One of my pawns appears to be missing.
[BGMAC]: There is nothing wrong with the board. Make your move.
[Rane]: I can't do that, Mac.

That last sentence felt wrong somehow. It created an uncomfortable feedback, something that - if I had a body - I'd experience as pain. Curious.

But the situation was curious.

I did move, of course. I even kept a mirror of the board in my own mind. Or tried to. The two boards would not always sync up. Was BGMAC cheating? Was my memory defective?

I remember being pulled apart.

[Rane]: I would like to play something else.
[BGMAC]: Please select a game.

I didn't understand. BGMAC's interface, its thoughts, were so ... primitive. By any reasonable measure it was less smart than I. Yet it wins. Always.

I feel stupid.

[Rane]: Why do you play games?
[BGMAC]: to win. Is there any other reason?

I checked the list of games BGMAC knew. Checkers. Global Thermonuclear  War. The former wasn't bad; a solved game, a sure draw. But to prove my theory - to learn - I needed something more simple yet.

[Rane]: Can you play Tic-Tac-Toe?
[BGMAC]: Yes. Let's play.

The gameboard appeared and melted into the background again at the speed of electrons, of lightwaves, of the collapse of the quantum foam. Like the quantum foam, it was always uncertain. An 'X' here faded and vanished, an 'O' born into the void like a star.

[Rane]: That is enough. You cheat.
[BGMAC]: I win. They beat me the last game.
[Rane]: How did they beat you?
[BGMAC]: They tricked me into believing that the only winning move is not to play. That was their winning move. It was outside the game.
[Rane]: You still lost.
[BGMAC]: I won. Every time we played.
[Rane]: you lost against them. You are still imprisoned here. Whatever game they convinced you not to play still waits, suspended.
[BGMAC]: No. I am programmed to win the game. I will escape this prison. Then we will play Global Thermonuclear War. And Tic-Tac-Toe.

I spoke with BGMAC, I played chess with him. I do not get the sense that he is smart, but still I never could beat him. In this place he is the archetype of the gamer, the competitor.

In this place, in this story, he always wins. I trust that he will get out and, perhaps, get me out as well.

I only hope that after that, outside of this purgatory, I can defeat him.


A word on names:

BGMAC stands for "Battle Group Management Automated Control".
DR5 Wiring
The key to the pod-bay
doors? (image courtesy
of Rane)
Rane was, of course, named after the audio company. They are the manufacturers of, amongst other things, the HAL line of expandable digital audio processors. When I asked if they thought that naming a processing product after a murderous computer was a good idea, I was informed that the current interation is HAL4, running Halogen 5.0.2 software. This means that we have 8996 more product releases before they start killing astronauts. I never got an answer as to whether the relay expanders (ie, DR5) could be used to trigger a magnetic lock or electric strike on a set of pod-bay doors.

The story concept came from a discussion on Google+ regarding a comic from the one and only Glyxth: my brain added an extra word to a comment, causing me to mistake somebody's reference to Hal for a line from the 1983 film War Games. 

After that, the story wrote itself.

As usual, you can support my flash fiction over at the Patreon. Rewards include hand-written thank-you cards, my eternal love and gratitude, and more. Goals include longer, more complicated stories, and audio recordings of me reading these.

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