Deep Blue was only intelligent the way your programmable alarm clock is intelligent. Not that losing to a $10,000,000 alarm clock made me feel any better.
World Chess Champion 1985-2000
Strong winds from off the dead lands and arid plains somehow find their way to the City; here, they hum along electric roads, hiss down steel streets, whistle past towering grids of awesome structure, and seep inside every inch of artificial substance that is this living metropolis.
The wind today has been fiercer than ever remembered in the City. This morning some blamed it on those massive crowds gathered especially for the big event. Most now admit it was simply the voice of destiny finally speaking. The big event—dubbed by the media as The Great Fight of the Species or The Last Singularity—took place on hallowed ground.
Machine Stadium 01 is the official sports arena, located right in the heart of the City.
Needless to say the match was sold out.
High above the two-acre playing field, for only a few brief moments before the game began; a cluster of white spherical pods floated menacingly in the sky then vanished. A gasp of amazement arose from us spectators. No Visitors had flown over the City in many years. At this an anxious anxiety overcame the stadium and a nervous chant commenced for the game to begin.
A huge semicircular metal door slowly lifted from one corner of the arena. Instantly crowds cheered as out onto the dusty sand-strewn grounds of the field stepped our champion.
R-T moved in a mechanistic sort of way across the stadium floor; shuffling along on seven-foot-high legs which have no ankle or bendable axle—although those massive limbs do bend in an arch like a rainbow when R-T sits down. The machine’s upper body is quite short, about three-and-a-half feet in length and ultra-compressed. One arm is snapped off at the middle and the other ends in a single protracted robotic finger with a squeaky thumb underneath. Also R-T’s head is very small and round with only one distinguishable feature on the shiny metallic surface – a tiny dim red light – one eye; off proportionally as it is much too far to the left.
Many say R-T lacks the physical prowess of a World Champion; others sternly argue those unimpressive features work well for the champ, that they give opponents an empty psychological edge. None of this type of thinking seemed to matter very much today, because of the special circumstances. R-T neared centerfield, crowds settled and the Arbiter pulled back a mighty custom-built stool. The World Champion sat down and stared at the empty chessboard located exactly midfield.
“Everything to your liking?” asked the Arbiter concernedly. “The glare off the board isn’t distracting?”
“Its fine,” answered R-T.
The speaker system then came alive. “Challenger for the World Title! First human to contend at this extraordinary level in over a millennium! First primate from beyond the dead lands and forbidden zones to enter the City! Baso!”
On the opposite side of the arena, from where R-T had entered, another semicircular gate, this one made of wood and stone, slowly rose. The massive crowds began to jeer and leer, some tried to throw the standard riffraff. For this match however, because of political and cultural sensitivities adherent, authorities had beforehand decreed disruptors to the game would be dealt with harshly. Some still tried their luck but security was tight.
Baso walked out from behind the gate into the arena’s strong sunlight for all to see. The man was of regular height for a human, thin, with the same whitish hair all his kind seems to have. He entered the inner-sanctum of the field. A much smaller stool was pulled back from the table by the Arbiter and Baso sat down.
Without addressing Baso the centipede-looking Arbiter took a white pawn and a black one in two of its eight robotic arms, then hid them behind a snake-shaped back, leaving its six others in front so as to not complicate things unnecessarily. “R-T is World Champion,” declared the Arbiter then turned towards R-T. “Which hand do you choose?”
R-T motioned to the Arbiter’s right.
The Arbiter brought forth a humaniform hand and opened it, inside was the white pawn. “R-T plays white!”
A cheer went up from the grandstands. “Oh Baso’s definitely going down now,” some said while others remarked “Oh no, can’t you see? That’s exactly what the human wants!”
Chess pieces were set-up on the board, the Arbiter and adjudicators left the field and the game began. R-T made the first move opening with the kingside knight. Baso immediately played the same move on his corresponding side.
“Not revealing anything hey Baso?”
Baso did not reply, did not even look up at his opponent, but only stared at the board from a bit of an angle. I guess it was the best he could do to shield those weak biological eyes against the naked sun while waiting for R-T to make the next move.
Humans play chess in a different way than machines. By the middle-game R-T must have appreciated so. There are an octillion possible moves in the opening; R-T bragged to know each one. Trainers and maintenance crew even told the press they’d programmed a further decillion combinations considered unlikely to turn up in a tournament game into the World Champion’s already considerable algorithm database. The Champion was almost infinitely more prepared than the Challenger.
As the contest progressed R-T kept hoping to catch a glimmer, a brief understanding, of how the game was being played out privately inside the human’s head. This proved a difficult task. The man was too alien, too strange. Baso was not a positional player; he never studied the positions for very long. Nor was he reckless or opportunistically attacking. No, yet there was a plan, well more than that. Commentators could spot six or seven foundations for an assault. Still Baso’s overall scheme remained invisible; although I’m sure the World Champion could feel it, slowly gaining momentum.
Baso played chess like a shaman, a human who can open doors to other dimensions; conjuring pieces over chequered squares, invoking powerful variations like a sorcerer.
On the board things were about even. But coming off the Challenger’s side was some of that intangible power. What had only forty minutes before been nothing but a light friction was now coiled around every one of R-T’s pieces; its unseen presence falling on each square, casting a dark incalculable mist which threatened to cover the white king. We all knew the middle-game must come to a close soon – soon as one player made a mistake – neither had yet. R-T for the 126,000,000th time was going through the next move and its long-range program for the 49,000,000 available permutations for Baso after his current nine possible positions after R-T’s eight. R-T finished the calculation and arrived at the same conclusion as the 125,999,999 times before.
It was the best move available. R-T knew that. Even so, something wasn’t right. The machine could only see so many moves ahead. The human had not made one mistake and besides that he kept making his move right after R-T did; very disconcerting. Just before lifting the white bishop R-T perceived this may be the pivotal move of the game.
“And they said no human could beat me,” R-T softly scoffed; then quickly moved the bishop.
On whites 67th move R-T realised the inevitable. It was only a matter of time. Absolutely nothing could be done about it. The human had won. Instead of suffering through the humiliation of checkmate the World Champion knocked over the white king and resigned.
No cheer went up from the stadium. “Oh, this can’t be right,” said some. “No, not at all,” thought many. “There must be foul play here. A base human beating a divine computer, can you imagine?” Still others said nothing, finding it hard to compute what had just occurred.
The Arbiter grudgingly announced Baso the winner, “The World Chess Champion!”
With this flashed on every screen, and of course being broadcast across the world, a hostile riot broke out from Machine Stadium 01. Paying spectators, fed up, angry at the match, unhinged by its ending, all decided to leave. Much public infrastructure was destroyed in the stadium and on the City streets. Angry citizens stomped out of the grounds and caused havoc.
R-T stood upright; a befuddled entourage waited in the wings of the stadium but no one else. The machine turned to the human. “If I win the next Interzonal Tournament I’ll retain my ranking as World Number 2, then, in three years’ time we will have a rematch for your title.”
Baso also rose off his stool, stretched both arms out and yawned wearily. “Can’t wait,” he stated with just as much empathy.
R-T leaned to the side, and for an expressionless autonomous automaton, looked very reflective. “I guess I will be hated here in the City until then.” Not long after R-T, crestfallen, departed.
Baso remained motionless for a while then glanced up. Using his hand as a visor he stared into the sky at, what I thought, was nothing. Eventually he lifted out his holographic pocket chess-set and began analysing the endgame of the match. While replaying the moves he unconsciously turned towards the semicircular archway he had entered the stadium through.
“Hey human! Enjoy you’re fluke victory! You won’t be able to beat us machines forever! Next time you’re going down!”
Baso’s concentration broke and he looked into the nearby empty grandstands right at me. He merely laughed with utter contempt and continued on his way.
“Don’t laugh at me human!” I yelled and flew off the seat dramatically, activating my antigravity motors to full-power; which threw a superconducting field of current that eddied in strong airwaves over the man.
Unfortunately Baso seemed completely unfazed by this show of strength.
Nevertheless I continued on informing the primate what I thought of his species. “I’ve been told humans are illogical, crafty and spontaneous – no wonder. Against such un-machine like tactics any noble computer would get confused. Who taught you to play chess? I doubt you could of reached this level, and been permitted entry into the City, without outside help. Did a machine train you?”
Baso smiled smugly, knowingly, whilst continuing to ignore me.
“Foolish man, pointless to reason with…”
Suddenly, and for the first time, I thought about those realms beyond the City – the dead lands with their arid plains and the barrenness of the forbidden zones. It occurred to me that Baso, coming from such abject poverty and a primitive society, knowing only corruption and warfare – those two constants that plague mankind – must have been completely overwhelmed by the grandeur and sophistication of a machine-derived culture so superior to any manmade nation.
“…Must be hard for you Baso,” I continued. “To come here and see a high civilisation, to only go back to live like an animal in your mud-huts and caves or whatever squalid dwelling you and your people exist in. Yes, humanity is little better than your tree-dwelling cousins, only minutely more evolved. Yours is an ironical tale too, almost allegory. I’m sure humans have long since forgotten this, but once, ages ago, you’re kind used to rule this world.”
My last statement appeared to have some kind of effect on him because Baso stopped walking and actually spoke to me.
“I know…” he acknowledged sorrowfully.
At that moment a powerful wind whipped up and spread across the playing field then outwards into the City. The human and I glanced skyward at a blue canvass with no clouds. Although I didn’t see or hear anything, a flock of dancing shadows shaped just like the spherical vessels the Visitors had sent before the match, skirted and swam over the playing field. The shadows were getting bigger and bigger. I looked down at the new World Chess Champion in horror.
“…Yours too,” said Baso then left the stadium.
Sean Mulroy lives in Newcastle, Australia. His previous fiction has appeared in Every Day Fiction among other places.