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Endgame

Barry Charman is a writer living in North London. He has been published in The Alarmist, Bare Fiction Magazine, Firewords Quarterly and Ambit. He has poems published online at Every Day Poets and Postcard Poems & Prose. He has more recently had poems published in The Linnet's Wings, and Lunar Poetry.

Jacob reached across the table, picked up his king, and moved it out of harm's way.
Across from him, the android stared down at the chess set, and pondered his move.
Jacob held his breath. There was an obvious move, and one other move, one that required instinct, imagination. Which would Paul choose?
Paul studied his pieces, while Jacob studied Paul. They'd been playing the game, in one form or another, since Paul had been no more than a hand attached to a crane, and before that a pattern of thoughts in an overworked program. Even so, the results had always been close, but now they were becoming increasingly unpredictable. While Jacob felt proud of this, there was another emotion that had become entwined. Jacob felt his heart thudding, and realized he was nervous. If Paul could make the imaginative leap, would that be it? The singularity? Would it happen here? Now? Was it imminent?
When they shook hands after the game, would that be a passing over, from a redundant species to a higher one?
Were they ready? Were they prepared for whatever would change? Would people be afraid, how would they react? In his hand, Jacob gripped one of Paul's fallen pawns. His knuckles had turned as white as the piece.
"Are you all right, Doctor?"
Jacob looked up; he nodded. "I am well, thank you, Paul."
Paul studied him for a moment, and then he made his move, the obvious move.
Jacob nodded; he exhaled.
"Was that move okay, Doctor?"
"That was fine, Paul."
"Good, I thought that you might prefer it."
Jacob was about to move his piece, and end the game, when he paused.
Prefer?
Had Paul chosen his move out of consideration? Had he imagined Jacob's apprehension?
Jacob slowly made his move, and then looked at Paul with a new appreciation, "Thank you," he said.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, July 29th, 2015


Author Comments

I wrote this piece first in contemplation of artificial intelligence, but then also because I was intrigued that the singularity, the much speculated-about moment of intelligent awakening, might come, not just as a sign of intellectual sentience, but also with emotional intelligence; something more nuanced like empathy, consideration. That moment, and the permutations around it, inspired this piece.

- barry charman
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