“Rook to b4, checkmate,” 0T9 said, his voice a hollow noise. The holographic pieces updated, and the board gave off a chime announcing 0T9 had won. “Well done, master. Do you wish to play another game?”
Elliot scowled, but nodded his head, and pressed the reset button. He had never beaten 0T9 at chess before, but today would be different. The board flickered, and 0T9 got white “Pawn e4.”
Elliot made his first move, “Pawn c5. So what do you think of 2NT?” Elliot asked, naming another one of the robots on board. He interrupted just as was 0T9 about to speak. “Odd that we make female robots. Why do you think that is?”
“Knight f3. Robots are created in the human bipedal image. It helps humans interact with them. It would be counter productive to only have robots of one gender as crew members of the opposite gender would feel excluded.”
“Right, not an issue now, but I see the point. Back to the original question. Pawn e6.”
“Pawn d4. She will require maintenance in twelve days. We are running low on several parts needed for replacing and have no means of fabricating them.”
“Think of a solution for that, if you can. Pawn takes pawn at d4.”
“Very well, master. Knight takes pawn at d4.”
“But I was asking you what you thought of her as a, well I guess not person, but as a colleague? Pawn a6.” Elliot examined the board, wondering if his ploy would work.
“Knight c3. She performs all duties quite admirably.”
“So do you like her?”
“Of course.”
“Knight c6. Do you love her?” Eliot pressed.
“I am not a being capable of love.” 0T9 answered.
“Do you think I’ll ever be loved? It’s a rather cold, turn the room temperature up ten degrees.”
“Of course.” They waited a moment then the heating system kicked in with a rumble. “We will find you someone, until then you have us.”
“You just said you were incapable of love, resolve this contradiction,” he ordered.
0T9 whirred slightly. “I cannot, perhaps I misspoke. Bishop e3. Master, you should focus on the game not asking me questions.”
“Of course, Knight f6. I could use some help, why don’t you ask something then, divide your attention.”
“Very well, how would you describe my chassis?” None of the droids were capable of intoning properly, and 0T9 failed to raise the pitch at the end that let someone know it was a question.
“Golden, three shades redder then true, slightly damaged on the right side after that reactor malfunction from a year ago. I didn’t mean something simple, ask me a question of the soul. Aren’t you curious about it, just assemble ten problems you can’t find a solution for, and ask me one.”
“Bishop d3. Very well, Why did I say I am incapable of love, and then say I loved you?”
“Zounds 0T9, pawn d5,” Elliot spat. “I mean something spiritual, a logic stack problem is something you could figure out if you tried. I want you to ask me something that only a formless soul floating in space can contemplate, something beyond what a bunch of circuits can consider.”
“Pawn takes pawn at d5. A moment then.”
Elliot tapped his leg considering if 0T9 had fallen for the trap. “Pawn take pawn at d5.”
“Castle king side.” Elliot perked up seeing the defensive play.
“Bishop d6.”
“Knight takes Knight at c6. What colour is the soul?” 0T9 asked having finally come up with a question.
“That’s an interesting one, still on colour though. Pawn takes Knight at c6. Probably different for everyone but what’s mine, what do you think?”
“Black. Bishop d4.”
“Didn’t even think about it, you wound me.” Elliot joked
“I’m sorry sir, please accept my deepest apology.” 0T9 said interrupting Elliot.
“I was joking,” he explained. “One color is to simple anyways. A blue center to begin with, light blue like those pictures of earth sky. Then a few thin layers of green, yellow, deeper, but still bright. The thinnest layer of red, blood red, one pixel. Then a massive black band, thicker than all the rest together. Slowly it fades to grey, then we see a few flashes of colour, scattered and washed out. Eventually there are stretches of pale orange, yellow, and green. But all of it, and I mean all of it, even back into the happy blue, is shot through with the tendrils reaching out from the black. It infects everything.” Elliot cleared his throat, suddenly remembering the game. “um, Castle king side.”
“Queen f3.”
“Bishop e6”
“Rook e1. I have updated my colour theory and now think your soul is golden, master.” 0T9 intoned.
“Thanks 0T9. Pawn c5. Bump the temperature another five degrees, maybe I’m coming down with something.”
“Of course. Bishop takes knight f6.”
Elliot sighed. “Tell me a joke 0T9, and something I haven’t heard before.”
“What makes space rocks better than terrestrial rocks?” 0T9 asked, missing the tone that implies a question is actually a joke.
“I don’t know, Queen takes Bishop f6.” Elliot recited.
“Queen takes Queen f6. Space rocks are a little meteor.” 0T9 replied, as always butchering the punchline.
“0T9 you are aware there is such a thing as inflection right, look it up. Look this is how you tell a joke, pay attention now. An astrophysicist and a plumber sit next to each other at the bar. The astrophysicist see’s the plumber is drawing something on a napkin. He studies it for a moment than says. “You’re using the wrong solution for the Lane-Emden, n should only equal zero with rocky planets.”
So the plumber replies. “I can’t use a higher solution on this problem, after all the density of the problem is a lot less than rocks, but the model couldn’t handle it.”
The astrophysicist is stunned.“What model are you using?”
“The flushmaster 4200, and I don’t know what brand Lane-Emden is, I just use regular cleaner.” Elliot finished the joke, and looked at 0T9. “Pawn takes Queen f6. Did you get it?”
“I am confused on several points I must admit. Rook d1.”
“Rook d8. I refuse to explain a joke, just figure humour out for yourself.”
“Very well. Bishop e2. I have resolved the issue of 2NT’s maintenance. We have forty-three active droids on board, but we could operate the ship with a minimum number of seventeen. If we decommission twenty-six droids we could use their parts to extend the lifespan of the remaining seventeen.”
“Chop up your friends for parts?” Elliot asked with horror. “Rook to b8.”
“Pawn b3. It’s what is necessary, would you like to pick the droids, master?”
“Run the numbers on who would be best to decommission. Figure out what gives us the longest lifespan. Pawn c4.”
“Very well. Knight takes Pawn d5.”
“Bishop takes Knight d5.”
“It would be efficient to decommission myself, 2NT,” 0T9 rattled off the rest of list. “Do you find this acceptable.”
“I can’t have you shut down until I win.”
“You have won, four years and twenty-three days ago. You ordered me to let you win after losing several times.”
“That doesn’t count obviously. Run the odds on me winning, discounting all the times I’ve ordered you to lose.”Elliot’s board position was the best he’d had for a long time, he focused not wanting to throw away his lead. “Another few degrees warmer, if you please.”
“Very well. Rook takes Bishop d5. One to fifty-six hundred.”
“Always hope then. We will draw lots for it, I guess.”
“You mean, us droids will, you cannot be decommissioned.”
“You say that, but how long could the ship remain operational with out me? Bishop takes Pawn h2.”
“Queen takes Bishop h2. Indefinitely.”
“And how long will we last with the droid decommissioning?”
“Fourteen years, about.”
“Rook takes Rook d5. Run the numbers if we keep all units operational.” Elliot ordered, serious, seeing where 0T9 had mislead him.
“All units?”
“Assuming we take parts from healthier droids to keep everyone functioning.”
“Bishop takes pawn c4. Five and a half years, perhaps.”
“Figure out the exact details for that then. We will go with that. Rook to d2, If I’m still on the ship by then I have bigger problems.”
“Bishop takes Pawn a2. If you insist, you’re in charge.”
“Keep that insubordinate tone and I’ll change my mind and have you for scrap.” Elliot didn’t slow down, and kept going. “0T9, do you think someone can be happy alone?”
“Happiness comes from within ones own conscious,” 0T9 replied.
“Rook takes pawn c2. But would you be happy, cut off from the rest of the ship?”
“I do not feel emotions as you do, but it would be non-ideal. Rook to e2.”
Elliot spoke again beginning to sweat. “But we’re always alone anyways, when you close your eyes, it’s just you in the void.”
“I am unable to imagine the concept.”
“Rook takes Rook e2. Try 0T9, for me,” Elliot asked.
0T9’s lenses went dark, and Elliot could hear his disks spin faster. “The process doesn’t seem to output anything. Bishop takes Rook e2.”
“It was worth a shot. I’m afraid you make a poor philosopher. Rook d8.”
“Don’t be afraid, master. I will be here for you,” 0t9 replied immediately, interrupting himself saying his next move. “Pawn a4,” he finished.
“But how do you see yourself?”
“There are several mirrors on the ship.”
“For the rest of this game, except for my moves could you assume I am not talking literally. Rook d2. Do you see yourself in perspective to the rest of the ship, or do you see the ship in perspective to yourself?”
“I believe you’re working towards some point about the ego, but I do not possess one.”
Elliot pulled his shirt away from where it was sticking to his chest. “Just put the temperature to forty five, that will suit me. Simulate an ego then.” The heating system grew louder as it worked hard to heat the room past what it was meant to.
“Bishop c4. That is impossible, my programming forbids me from generating an ego.”
“To keep you from killing everyone.”
“Correct master,” 0T9 replied blase.
“Really? Rook a2. Well maybe I’ll crack you open and see what can be done. After all what’s the worst that could happen.”
“You could die master. Bishop c4”
“Rook a2. We all die someday 0T9.” They were approaching the endgame, and if he didn’t screw up Elliot would win.
“Except us robots, I have finished the calculations on keeping as many droids active as possible for the maximum time. We could maintain for six years and two months, except for 4TX there are no ways to swap out the core shaft, and his will break down in eight months.”
“It got damaged when he saved the ship from that asteroid right?”
“Yes master. King g3.”
“Then being turned off isn’t good enough, he’s a hero. Start constructing a simulation, a heaven for us to move his processor into. Make it grand, if we can’t save someone then we aren’t just going to let them rot, or die, or I suppose rust. King f8.”
“King f3. Our components are immune to oxidization.”
“Then not rust, but disintegrated by some chemical, there are chemicals that do that I assume. Make a list of what we can make to disintegrate the parts we don’t need. We’re not having a bunch of corpses, or whatever you want to call them, sitting around. It would be depressing. King e7.”
“If it would make you happy, I shall begin immediately. Pawn g4.”
“Happy might be an overstatment, but less depressed sure. Pawn f5.”
“Pawn takes Pawn f5.”
“Pawn f6.” Elliot said, then laughed having finally put 0T9 on the ropes.
“I think I may lose. Bishop g8.”
“Pawn h6.”
“King g3.”
“King d6. Hey 0T9 how about you stop working on all the problems I gave you so you can process losing with a hundred percent.”
“King f3.”
“Rook a1.”
“King g2. I wish to concede master.”
“King e5. Oh no I want to enjoy this. Speaking of turn the heat back down to normal before I’m sitting in a puddle of sweat.”
“Bishop e6.”
“King f4.”
“Bishop d7. This is quite rude refusing concession, not what a good boy would do.” 0T9 said approaching reproachful.
“Rook b1.”
“Bishop e6. You’re greed may be your downfall, it is not impossible for me to win.”
“Rook b2.” Elliot shut up and concentrated, worried he might have celebrated to soon.
“Bishop c4.”
“Rook a2.”
“Bishop e6.”
“Pawn h5. You may concede if you wish.” It would be a slog to tighten the noose on 0T9, and he would like to take shower.
“Bishop d7. I concede.”
“I win!” Elliot shouted, he tried to slap the tabletop but his hand passed right through. “Hahaha, after ten years I finally won 0T9.”
“Congratulations, master,” 0T9 replied.
“Come on, you can at least pretend to be upset.”
“Very well, master. I can’t believe you tricked me into diverting processing power away until I was less intelligent than you. I would have thought such a thing was impossible.” 0T9 said lacking any emotion.
Elliot was stunned. “That was actually a good insult,”
“My apologies master, I phrased it poorly, I meant, I was not clever enough to have thought of such a plan.”
“That makes more sense.” Elliot rolled his eyes. “Well it is getting late, I think I’ll turn in for the night. ”
“Goodnight master.”
Elliot walked through the perfectly clean halls of the ship heading for his parents room. It was the only room in the ship that he didn’t allow the droids in. After the attack he had them sterilize the entire ship, except it. The smells of his parents had long since faded, and been replaced with his own smell, but still it was the only room in the ship that smelled like humans. He crawled into the large bed and he went to sleep, alone. He had thought winning would make him happy and it had, but now what? He flipped over the damp pillow and tried to convince himself in the morning, this time, the scanners would find something, anything, anyone.