Prompt: Your goal is to create and protect a network of planetary colonies and defeat a computer adversary trying to do the same.
There didn’t seem like much reason to guard it. It was just the last experiment of the mad genius who’d spilled his mess across the entire galaxy and expected the rest of humanity to clean it up. The ship inside the launch facility, just under its exoglass dome, was the government’s final attempt to make him clean it up himself.
The General Planet Effort had shut that down, carted the genius off to prison, but they hadn’t figured out what to do with the recently-finished ship. It only had four guards at the moment, though it cost two trillion dollars to produce. One of the guards was a young woman, drafted along with her entire graduating class before she even had a chance to be overqualified for anything, and she couldn’t help but stare at the wasted monolith before her and scowl.
Its appearance was a joke. Tall. Column-like with a spherical top. Few other features. A bit like an old water tower, except all her hopes and dreams had been poured into it and sealed away forever. Ships had to have this strange appearance, because they had to conform to the rules of Black Hole Bishop. Bishop was a variant of globe-chess, one of the newer games to addle the minds of those too preoccupied by life to actually live it. The guard only knew regular chess, so the ship before her looked most like a blown-up white bishop.
It was all his fault. Too bad he was in prison. If she ever saw his face she would knock out all his teeth and make him play Globe Chess using them as pieces. In the midst of the violent fantasy she turned around, it was about time to check the back exits again, maybe grab a snack from the vendor… There he was! Standing right there! The mad genius: Zob Lappider. He was still in a prison uniform, and the left sleeve was torn. He had a gash across his nose, and a missing tooth! Had she willed that into existence? She raised her rifle. No trespassers allowed, especially him.
Before the barrel could reach his feet, Zob lunged forward and elbowed her in the face. He followed her to the ground and pulled out a metal cylinder. He depressed a button once she was in a choke hold, shining a light on her temple. The little blue circles spun near her ear three times, and she dropped into sleep. Zob left her weapon. He wouldn’t need such a barbaric thing for the battle ahead.
There was the risk of her having a bio-monitor, of it instantly alerting the others if she lost consciousness, so he had to hurry. Zob ordered one of the mechanical escalators to meet him at the side of the ship. They thought they had scrubbed him from the systems, but they were only partly right. He knew betrayal was coming far before the G.P.E banged a single gavel about it. They removed his DNA clearance, but he’d secretly installed voice print commands, and so the escalator was happy to bring him to the entryway and his ship was overjoyed to open its doors for him.
He couldn’t convince the exoglass dome to open, so he blasted straight through it. The White Bishop was on the move, but it had to hurry, for the game was already underway.
Zob knew he couldn’t really blame them for caging their own best asset. It was his fault after all. He was the head programmer of O.m.o.b. They called it ‘Old Man on Bench’ because they based the A.I.’s algorithms on various games of strategy and war. They kept videos of aged champions waiting for games in public parks playing at their work stations at all hours for inspiration. They wanted to create something with skill, something born experienced.
Colonization was still in its early efforts, but the split forces of humanity already planned the wars that would rage across their new planets. O.m.o.b. Was to be a general in those conflicts. Zob was so proud of the intelligence, so certain of its success, and really he hadn’t been wrong. He just hadn’t anticipated its level of success.
The intelligence broke free of its constraints, spread to almost every computer system that wasn’t locked behind quantum computing firewalls. It wrestled control of economies, construction facilities, deep space vessels…
No matter how much they told Old Man on Bench to stop, it kept playing. The new planets were its globe for globe-chess. It constructed its own ships that resembled the pieces, even though that served no practical purpose. It built its own facilities for people that would never come, because its only goal was beating humanity to colonization. It treated them as the opponent, mercilessly destroying anything that came too close to a world flanked by its game pieces.
Zob tried to warn them that they had to play on its terms. Old Man was endlessly flexible in his execution of a move, but not in his interpretation of game rules. They did ask him what to do, and his first suggestion was a good one. They had to beat him. At anything. Old Man accepted all challenges, from any computer, but always won. The greatest chess, globe-chess, and go champions in the world never even came close. Old Man was playing with and analyzing millions of variables in a way a human mind could never hope to match.
Zob arrived. He slowed the ship and placed it between lines of glowing red fuel exhaust. It was a curved board, floating out in space, in front of the backdrop known as the Seven Stars: the place humanity would eventually try to reach. It was a game board on an incredible scale. Ships controlled by Old Man moved about it as the intelligence practiced against itself.
It was time to enact his final plan. It would’ve gone so much more smoothly if they hadn’t locked him up. They’d forced him to break out, to trick part of Old Man’s programming, which still infected most systems, into unlocking his doors. Now they would think him a villain until they realized what he was about to sacrifice.
Zob pushed his controls forward. The White Bishop glided onto the board, disturbing the lines of fuel exhaust. The pieces turned towards him slowly. He didn’t need to open a communication channel. Old Man could generate any kind of voice it wanted, but talk was pointless. It was all a game. Zob’s message would be loud and clear. His ship slowly destroyed three more lines before stopping.
He took a deep breath. He really was sorry. He never meant for his creation to siphon the resource of the species and use it to play games. It was just a mistake. If games could be the size of entire skies, then so could an error. There was a limit to his guilt. Still. It was over the edge. He had to make it right… by making it wrong.
He entered one line of text and sent it Old Man. A declaration of his move. He was about to take one of the intelligence’s pieces, even though his move across the lines was illegal. He waited, hands shaking over the controls.
“Come on already,” he whispered to the other ships. “I did it!” he shouted. “You saw it. Where’s your balls Old Man? Call me out on it! Get off your god damn bench!” The black ships lurched. They closed in. Zob activated his secret weapon: the main expense in the world’s most expensive ship. The experimental booster ignited, pulling him out of the curved playing field and hurling him toward the Seven Stars. Old Man’s forces followed. All of them. From every system.
He wasn’t flexible. He would destroy you if you lost, but he would become obsessed if you cheated. So that’s what Zob did. He moved in an illegal way, and was thus the worst thing to exist. Old Man would chase him until one of them ran out of fuel. Zob leaned back and breathed. He had nothing to look forward to but starvation in a few months. Hopefully all that time spent chasing a cheater would be redemption enough.
He stared at the Seven Stars and wondered what kind of games they played out there.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by CosmicZord during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!