The Kings Pawn
AN: Spoilers for 'The Mousetrap'
I stare out the window. It's a new view. Another suitcase, another hall. Another view, another night. There'll be more. I like watching out windows. It reminds me that I keep moving. After Judgment Day, my homes will all be underground, but odds are I keep moving then anyway. Derek seems to back up that theory. He doesn't unpack either.
I see movement reflected in the window. My Guardian Angel of Death. She's as beautiful as ever. Okay, I admit, I was being stupid the last few days, but… but I figured I could be stupid as long as I was only risking myself. I don't tell anybody about this, because then I get the standard lecture about how I'm too important. The story of my life is Mom screaming 'Protect the package!' at Cameron. Makes you feel real special doesn't it?
"You are sad."
I didn't answer her.
"Here's a present." She says.
I turn to look. She's holding out a chess board. Its regular sized, but the wood carving around the edges is impossibly intricate. I've played with a dozen boards, and I can say from experience, this one's an excellent piece of work.
"I got it for you at the promenade." She says.
"You were upset. I thought it would make you feel better. I saw you watching the Turk play, and you seemed to enjoy the game, but we had to leave your set behind when we left the house."
She's very clinical about it, same as always, but I'm almost buoyed by the gesture. "Thank you."
"Want to play?"
"Against you?" Oh, the irony…
"Chess is one of my subroutines."
"Inherited from the Turk?"
"Maybe." I get the impression that she hadn't given that much thought.
"Well, the set is great, and I'm grateful, but… some other time." I tell her. "I'm not really in the mood."
"Because of what happened to Dixon's wife."
I shut my eyes briefly. She wasn't going away. "Yes." I conceded. Please stop talking about it now.
"Why? She had little value, and put you in danger."
"That's all it means to you." I ask her, not really surprised at all. "Cameron, maybe she didn't mean that much to me. But she meant a lot to Charley. And Charley means a lot to me. That's why I feel bad."
Now, this is not an uncommon thing. She misses some human-like point, I explain it badly, she accepts the explanation and thanks me, and we go back to our brooding.
Except this time, she tries to help.
"Then you should feel happy." She says. "Charley was put in great danger because she was taken, now she can't be used against him any more, and since you care about him, now you don't have to worry about him as much."
For the first time, I honestly thought that I was going to slap her. Except she'd probably let me. And then I'd hurt my hand.
"She had no value to you!" I actually snarl at her.
She goes quiet.
I'm shaking. I've never been this way toward her before. "I'm sorry. It's just that… sometimes I see things in you, that are… so human. And then you say something like that, and it… I remember what you are really."
"I'm a very scary robot."
"It's not that. I've had scary robot friends before. It's… don't you care about anything? Doesn't anything matter to you at all?"
She just looks at me like I already know the answer. And I do.
"John! John! Listen to me! Everything's okay now! I ran a test! Everything's perfect! I'm better now, you can trust me, I'm sorry about before! It wasn't me! That wasn't me. Listen to me! I don't want to go! Please, John, I'm good now! I'm fixed now! John, I don't want to go! Please! I love you. I love you John, and you love me!"
I shook my head hard to clear that image. "Anything that you aren't programmed to care about."
"John," She tells me. "It's a fact. There's nobody like you. There'll never be again. You are the only person that matters."
"No." I stress harshly. "I'm not."
"You are to me."
I swallow the lump in my throat from that. Oh man... it's killing me how much I liked hearing her say that.
Cameron turned to leave at last. I've never been sure if Cameron can… feel things, but you live with her long enough and you pick up on things. What she's 'feeling' now is disappointment. Disappointment because she doesn't understand what I mean, or because I don't understand her undeniable logic, I'm not sure.
"Wait." I say.
Cameron turned back.
I finally looked at her. "Set up the board." I say coldly.
I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth, when Derek tapped on the door. "Yeah?"
Derek came in. He looked… charged. "Sarah. Come look at this." He says with a barely restrained grin.
I rinse, spit and follow Derek out into the living room…
And I see John and Cameron, at opposite ends of a table, both of them glaring at each other across a chess game. John is playing white, Cameron black.
For a moment, the symbolism alone floors me. The Girl Machine and The Boy General, engaged in the Game of War, with armies of black and white moving back and forth at their command.
"Who's winning?" I ask quietly enough that John can't hear us.
"I'm honestly not sure." Derek says. "Don't really play chess." He takes a breath. "Does he have a chance?"
I know what he's asking. In the future, he only knew my son as a General. Humanity has staked their entire existence on the thought that my son can outsmart the most brilliant thinking machine ever devised. Except that the most brilliant thinking machine ever devised, can at this point, play chess, and nothing more.
"In 1986, Cray Blitz vs. HiTech was a championship tournament between two supercomputers, like the Turk. HiTech was the reigning champion. It clearly had the upper hand, and everybody was expecting a win, but Cray Blitz came up with a subtle 'back-door' move. Every human watching saw it, but HiTech didn't, and it lost the game. Never saw it coming."
"Great. So the smartest machine can be fooled." Derek answers me. "But does Skynet think like HiTech, and miss the tricks? Or does it think like Cray Blitz, and plan them out?"
We just look at each other. Neither of us wants to answer that one.
Just them, Cameron slides her Queen over sharply, and she stands up. "Good game." She holds out a hand to John, the customary gesture in tournaments.
"What are you doing?" John asked her. He leaves her hand hanging in the air.
Cameron points at the board. "I have checkmate in seven moves."
"Eight moves. And the game isn't over yet." John bites out flatly. He's not angry, he's… determined. Savagely determined. Get out of my way, or I'll go through you.
Like his father was.
Live around Cameron long enough, and you start to understand the way she reacts to things. It's the closest equivalent I have seen her have to human emotion without acting like a normal teenage girl. The look she sent my son was confusion. She couldn't compute why he wanted to see it through.
Something dangerous and electric passed between John and the Machine, neither of them breaking the staring match. After a moment, she sat back down.
John raises his voice. "And if you two want to watch, get comfortable. We'll be here a while."
Derek quickly leaves the doorway and sits down at the couch. I honestly think he wants to sell tickets and hand out popcorn. And to be fair, those who understand at all would pay to see this. The only time I have ever watched a chess game I wasn't playing, was with John, watching the Turk in a computer tournament. And I was nervously watching every move, wondering if the endgame would turn Cameron loose on the man I knew only a day. Chess is not nearly the spectator game you think it is, until you remember that in this house, it can be a bloodsport.
So I settle in to watch them, holding my breath as the Game of War is played out.
But unlike Derek, I'm not ready to start cheering on my son.
Because he's never been so cold toward Cameron before. Not even when she was trying to kill him.
So there's another game being played out behind my son's determined eyes.
I had to shift my strategy as the game is played out. Cameron figured out my strategy about as fast as I thought she would, but she doesn't know how to counteract it. All my moves were defensive. What very few people realize about chess, is that a pawn has just as much ability to take an enemy as a queen does, as long as you position them right.
Look at mom. She wasn't important by any standard. A waitress in a kid's restaurant. Then she met my father, and nine months later I was born. A pawn promotion if ever there was one.
What nobody realizes; is that at the start of a chess game, almost every pawn is backed directly by a much more powerful piece.
Except for the Kings Pawn. The King is stationary, powerless, and without exception the one piece that must not be risked or lost.
I hate that.
So my strategy is simple. Every piece moves, every piece gets protected. Every pawn is covered, there are no ranks or defenses to breach and Cameron is left with her strongest pieces protecting a King that I do not attack, as her other pieces try in vain to catch me.
But that strategy costs me. None of my pieces can attack, and nobody wins by defense.
Cameron could spread her pieces out, cut off my escape routes. There are only so many pieces, only so many squares on the board.
But Cameron won't surrender her defensive line. Paranoia about attack, absolute Stonewall tactics…
Like my mom. No risk is acceptable. Nobody gets in.
But this is a long term game. The night has grown darker outside. I'm getting tired. My opponent does not rest. I need to declare war fast or my worthy opponent will grind me down to defeat as I break down from the long game.
Is that a perfect metaphor for my life or what?
So I suddenly go offensive. My pieces are everywhere, and each has one backup. It costs me badly.
I move my Queen. It is taken instantly.
I move my Bishops. They are taken.
No more subtlety, no more consideration. I move quickly, she destroys just as quickly. She sees her threats turn prey, and she strikes hard.
I move my Rook. She captures it.
I move my Knights. She captures them.
I'm rapidly out of pieces. One Rook and two pawns left. She hasn't even put the last captured piece down before moving to get the next one.
I can hear Derek moan from the couch. The game is over and everybody watching can see it.
I move the last Rook forward. She takes it with her King, the only piece that can reach it. It has become a routine. I move, she captures. I move, she captures.
But this time is different. Her King has moved from its place of security to kill its last real threat. I slide the pawn forward next to its identical twin. The only two pawns I have left. The only two pieces I have left at all.
Cameron looks up in surprise.
"Checkmate." I tell her coldly.
Derek bursts out laughing.
I pick up one of the pawns, and hold it out to her like the Holy Grail. "Every one of these has value. Every one of these has a part to play. Every single person is important. Just not to you. But never turn your back on their value."
Cameron stares at the pawn in my hand as I put it back down, and she even knocks her King over, officially conceding the game
I get up and walk away from the table. Mom is looking at me, somewhere between pride and worry. Derek's looking smugly at her, telling her something I don't hear, rubbing it in. Cameron is still looking at the board.
It cost me almost every single piece I had, but The Black King was left with nowhere to go as the last of my weakest attackers came forward at the end.
God, the metaphors are killing me here!
An hour later, and I can't sleep. I'm familiar with this feeling. My mom taught me that rest can also be a weapon. If you cannot sleep, let your body be at rest, and you will still recuperate some energy. My bedroom door opens. I don't open my eyes. If it's Cromartie, then it means I'm already dead anyway.
It's Cameron. She comes over and sits down next to me. I am suddenly very alert to the fact that Cameron is on my bed, but I still don't move.
"Do you hate me now?" She asks quietly. She actually sounds worried.
"No." I say quietly.
She takes that in. A moment later, I feel her run her fingers gently over my face, and I very nearly levitate off the bed.
She pulls her hand back. "I believe you."
I squeeze my eyes shut again. "Were you scanning me then?"
"No. I already believed you."
I open my eyes. "Then why?"
"I don't know."
"It's happening a lot now. I am... becoming fascinated by things. Things that have no place in my program. Things I shouldn't even notice. And I don't understand why."
I smile, suddenly hopeful. "Good."
"Good?" She repeats. "Why is it good?"
I smile. "You'll find out."
"Did you go with Riley today because you were mad at me?"
"Mad at you?"
"For not being like her?"
I smirk. I understand exactly what she's talking about. "No."
"Then why were you so mad at me tonight?"
"Michelle was a nice lady. And she's dead because she was connected to somebody, who was connected to somebody, who was connected to me. And you're homsetly thinking it's a good thing." I tell her angrilly. "Because I and my entire family are fighting tooth and nail, so that good people like Charley can be happy with good people like Michelle. Their life? I would give anything if I could live a life like that. Fall in love, get a job, get a home, and be as unimportant as I can possibly be. And if I can't have that, then I wanted Charley to have that. He deserved it. And my protector, who would do anything to keep me safe, can't find any value at all in anything that I hold sacred."
She takes that in. These little silences are what happens as she processes something new into her program.
"Thank you for explaining." Cameron says, but she doesn't leave. She runs her hand down the side of my face again, with that little hint of confusion as to why as she cups my face, and I close my eyes and lean into it.
"You barely knew Charley's wife." She whispers softly.
I don't open my eyes. "Guess that's true."
"But you feel bad anyway."
"Because humans are not chess pieces."
"You didn't mind sacrificing every piece you had an hour ago, as long as you won the game."
I open my eyes.
"Checkmate." She tells me. How can she be so smug in a monotone voice like that?
She gets up at leaves my room. I can't help but watch her walk away.
I set up that game because I wanted to knock her down a peg. Wanted to wipe away some of that arrogant, heartless machine precision. And yet somehow she just made her point by losing.
Michelle was by no means a pivotal part of this game, and I threw away everything I had left on the board to defeat my enemy. Because that's how you win.
And I need to win.