May 11, 2005

En Passant

here is a rough draft of a sci-fi/hard-boiled detective/chess story I wrote a small while ago. Feel free to critique if you're into that sort of thing... and keep an eye out for the cthulhu mythos reference (very subtle).
Remember, ©: Claytonian, though I will let it into the creative commons once it's published

En Passant


The streets of Kritos IV were dank that night, accompanied by a darkness that clung to everything like a Camidian brain slug, the corruption of its tendrils infecting whatever they could dig into. Throughout the city, one could smell the fetid stench of where there was no power for the microbots to clean up rotting garbage. Detective Smith had us positioned around the corner from the entrance of a supposedly abandoned bio-structure. The old building showed obvious signs of disease; every once in a while it would belch out methane gas.
“This building has riggers,” said Smith quietly as we stood waiting with our hands on our weapons. “The whole place could explode if there was an open flame. Demolition’s due tomorrow. He’ll be packing his bags soon.”
I knew he was right. Riggers was a disease that made bio-structures dangerous. Even in an ignored ghetto-planet like this, full of Hatlian immigrants and their unsavory culinary practices involving other humanoids whenever they could get hands on them, a building with riggers could only stay up so long before public services tore it down to grow a new one. Unfortunately, when we got this information from the intergalactic police force we also received some more disturbing news. Word on the street was that our target was going to make a jump to the planet of Alhared on a flight leaving exactly two hours from the moment we were standing there. Already, the camera-sentry bots on that far-off planet were searching for a genetic match for our quarry.
Of course, even a child still in their growth pod knows that once a person has made a jump, they travel so fast that they arrive before they left, and simple quantum mechanics dictate that catching them in the past is moot and dangerous. The department cannot warrant the costs and risks associated with trying to apprehend a person that obviously will make their flight in the future. This policy was put into affect three years before the first hyper-jump was even completed; the intergalactic police can be highly efficient when it comes to matters of saving money. Well that, and there is the rumor that one could cause a paradox.
Detective Smith is cold and logical, all servo-heads are of coarse, but he is also surprisingly tenacious. I could sense in him the desire to make this arrest, even if we did get word on our bell-communicators from headquarters that our villain had been spotted on Alhared. I had a feeling that it would be up to me to talk Smith out of his plans, but part of me didn’t want to.
I had recently given up stim bugs. Not because I wanted to–don’t get me wrong, I’m utterly addicted to the endorphin rush that comes from letting those parasites crawl under my skin–but because my supply had been cut off by headquarters for the time being. Headquarters likes to keep pre-cogs like me as fresh as possible, and stim bugs lose their primary function of enhancing one’s abilities as their chemicals become too common to the body. In short, I was going through withdrawal, and becoming suicidal even to the point where part of me wanted to take the scumbag down and risk a paradox-implosion that may be localized to a block or as big as a solar system.
A voice in my head said, “Remember your duties, Mcguilicuty. I see your nihilism levels rising.” That was my implant, a rusty old model that was supposed to keep rehabilitated individuals like me playing nicely. My work for headquarters one part of my sentence for past crimes deemed mild enough that I could be put to use as a servant for the public good. “Take a criminal, make them into a cop”, that was the logic of the empire, especially if you had a useful talent like precognition. The implant gave me endorphins when I was good, and seizures when I was really bad. Just one more reason to let Smith make the capture even if our Bell-communicators started to ring in our heads, letting us know the bust was off.
I gritted my teeth and tried to clear my head despite the unpleasant tingling now flowing through my body. I thought back to the conversation me and Smith had over a game of chess earlier that night. We had been on a space barge, passing away the time until our jump through the light-years was complete.
***
“Relax,” Smith had said. It’s only an hour’s journey these days. So fast in fact, that there is a you are still sitting at the terminal in the past, waiting for his flight. I can remember back to the time when flights spanning this distance would take weeks. There were still some temporal ramifications, but not like now. Now you could call yourself from the future and say hello, if the government would allow it.” I knew he was right. With a bell-communicator, (devices named after Bell’s theorem), one could communicate instantly with any point in the universe, provided there was a central receiving station on the planet tuned to the quantum-stuff held in your communicator. All this is detailed ad nauseam in the lessons that the implant programs into my dreams each night.
“Well, your brain is bionic,” I grumbled. “Who knows how long you’ve been alive? I bet even you’ve forgotten.” And it’s true. Smith has so many synthetic parts he has more in common with an android than a human. I pushed a pawn two spaces forward. “Your move.”
“Well, I’ve been alive long enough to contemplate many things,” he said. “Tell me, are you familiar with the history of chess?”
“No. I wasn’t even aware of what chess was until I was ‘rehabilitated.’ This implant has changed me in many ways. Mental games are just one thing that it forces me to... enjoy.” The implant gave me a shock then, just to remind me that I was nearing a boundary.
“Well, I don’t pity you for having to pay off your debt to society in such a way, but you should be glad that the tyranny of eugenics are finally ended. But that’s comparatively recent history and I‘m digressing; I was alluding to ancient history: the 14th century.”
“Are you gonna move?” I asked impatiently.
“Getting to it. Back in the 14th century, the move you just made–jumping the pawn forward two spaces for its initial move–was introduced as a new optional move in the official version of the game. The move was deemed to be quite powerful, however, and someone conservatively suggested a counter move to limit the advantage of the pawn’s new ability.”
“And that was?”
“Let me demonstrate”, he said, moving a pawn adjacent to my own into the square mine had skipped over. My piece blinked out of the holo-display.
“You can’t do that!” I protested. “Did you hack this thing?”
“Not at all. You’ll find that move was well within the rules. It is called en-passant, the counter to allowing pawns to move two spaces at once. You capture the pawn as if it was still on that square. It seems to travel right past that point, but a ghost, if you will, of the pawn remains. Capture the ghost, capture the pawn.”
***
My thoughts of the past were interrupted by a pre-cognizant flash back in the present. “He’s coming!” I mechano-pathically shouted to Smith. “He’ll be here within the–” I was interrupted by the familiar tone of our Bell communicators giving us information that was traveling instantly from over thirty eight light years way. The binary code processed quickly into a message I was already expecting. Our perp had been identified on Alhared just as we had feared. Headquarters was ordering us to back off immediately.
“No,” whispered Smith with determination. I realized by the way his head was cocked that he had jumped his programming.
“What do you mean?” I said incredulously. At the same moment, our target burst through the door with his entourage of goons. “Smith!” I desperately pathed, “don’t do it!”
But Smith had other plans. He yelled an obligatory “Freeze!” which was of course met with some obligatory shots from the thugs before they fled into the curtains of the night. As we chased them down the alley, I felt a part of myself observing all this with a detached curiosity. What would happen now? Would it be like some people theorized, where fate and chance would conspire against us in such a way as to allow our antagonist to make the jump? Does time cover its tracks unlike so many criminals fail to? Or does time trip up in a spectacular event that ends everything and everyone instantly? The superstitiously dreaded event we know as paradox. Part of me wanted to see Smith succeed. Part of me just had to find out for myself. Maybe the implant disapproved of these thoughts of mine as I dodged and shot my way down the alleyways, but it was designed to shut down during moments when I was in danger. The last thing you need in a firefight is a distraction.
Ironically, I took a slug in the shoulder as I had that last thought. It was a retro-weapon bullet, designed to vibrate the body until your brain ruptured and dripped out your nose. If I wasn’t a rehab case with a head full of electronics, and if I had not been merely grazed, I may not have lived. As it was, I passed out after a moment of excruciating pain.
When I came to, Smith was calling in the ambulance. “Did we get him?” I whispered.
“Yeah,” said Smith. “He’s Gorgon food. Literally. They swooped in as soon as I made the kill, and I’ve been batting them off you.”
I looked around to see that the little snake-like creatures that this planet was known to have in an abundance --like unto the rats and Roach-men that took over old Earth-- were indeed waiting to get a piece of me like the carrion they are. “One thing bugs me,” I said. “We’ve been partners for some three years. You’ve never pulled a stunt like challenging the edicts of headquarters on this scale before. What’s gotten into your head, metalmind?”
I heard servos whir in his dilating silicon pupils as he reminisced. “It came to me during the chess game on the flight over.” As he said this, the sound of sirens started to become over-bearing.
“What does chess have to do with anything?” I asked through gritted teeth. My arm felt like jelly. I would discover later that this wasn’t far off; it would take me three days in a regen tank to grow it back.
“En passant, my friend,” said Smith as he lit up a cigarette with a flame from his artificial finger‘s laser. “We just played chess against father time himself and won.”
I found out later that our perp was attacked on Alhared by an “invisible beast that ripped him apart and ate him alive;” at least, that’s what the superstitious Alhared natives said when interviewed. I resolved then to play chess more and think less in a firefight.