Emmett sat at the park table, chess pieces set up in their starting positions. Five years, and not once had Albert been on time. The man had a knack for being late.
“Don’t look at me like that. I couldn’t help it. Traffic.”
Emmett made his first move, not waiting for Albert to sit. “Traffic? You walk here. I can almost see your apartment through the trees.”
Albert gave a shrug and started the game. Ten agonizing minutes later, and Emmett resigned. Albert won again. “How do you do it? Have I ever beaten you?”
“I don’t believe so. It’s all the studying I get done in the car on the way over.”
Emmett rolled his eyes and set the board up for another game. For the next hour, Emmett was on the receiving end of monumental thrashing. He wasn’t bad at the game, or so he thought, but he rarely won. He never won against Albert. By the time the last game was over, Emmett's anger grew into a fury.
“Woah, calm yourself. No need to get mad. It’s just a game,” Albert said.
“Too late! I am mad. I can’t ever beat you. I don’t know why.”
“I know everyone loses,” snapped Emmett. “I’m not mad about losing. I’m mad that my brain doesn’t work right.”
Albert cocked a brow. “What do you mean your brain doesn’t work right?”
“Exactly what I said. I try and I know what to look for and how to plan. But, it’s like some things are invisible to my brain. I can’t see what’s right in front of me. I feel like a man who looks in a mirror and as soon as I look away, I forget what I look like. That’s the best way I can describe it. Holes in my brain where I know things should be. It’s like thinking through sludge and dodging quicksand mixed in with it.”
“Well then,” Albert said as he rose to leave. “It seems we will need to fill in those gaps in your brain. I seriously doubt you have something faulty going on up there. I’ll bring you some books to help round out your skill.”
Synchronization Error - Anomalous Thought - 12.16.2178 05:48:34 - Pod JJ34
Emmett had the next few days off of work. With school out for Christmas, no students would be on campus. He spent those days pouring over the books Albert had lent to him. So few people were in town now he didn’t have anyone to practice with, but he felt his game was improving. He decided to play against a computer to see if he improved. Eight moves in and Emmitt was already behind. Seven moves later and he had lost. Stupid computer. What good was it playing against something that could figure out the entire game from beginning to end? He was sure no one could beat it.
The next week, Albert and Emmett met for their chess game.
“Are the books helping any?” Albert asked as he settled onto the bench.
“I’m not sure. I feel like I’ve learned a lot, but haven’t had any chance to practice except for that cheating computer.”
Albert laughed. “I do believe cheating is what a machine is best at.” He made the first move.
Several moves later and Emmett was once again slipping from frustration into anger, his face blooming into a deep red.
“Emmett.” No response. “Hey! Emmett”
Emmett’s eyes shot up from the board. “Breath. You look like you’re about to pop.” Emmett took a few quick breaths. “Is it the muck and quicksand feeling again?”
“Yeah. What I learned. It’s just gone.”
“Ok, let’s try this. Walk me through what you’re trying to do let’s see if we can figure out where you’re going wrong.”
Emmett explained his strategy, and how he was trying to trap Albert’s queen. Albert pointed out the flaws in the plan and showed Emmett alternative…
Synchronization Error - Anomalous Thought - 12.26.2178 13:11:26 - Pod JJ34
Emmett swayed forward, then toppled backwards off the bench. He didn’t feel the impact with the ground. His body was below him, falling slowly. Saw Albert scramble around the table and try to help him.
“Emmett! Emmett, you okay?”
Emmett was back in his body. He could feel the dull ache in the back of his head. Flecks of light danced in his eyes, mixing with the clouds. The clouds. Storm clouds. Dark clouds. Dark.
The hospital room hadn’t changed in the past three days. The nurses check on Emmett regularly. Occasionally, a doctor stuck his head in, read a chart, then left before Emmett could ask a question. It was on the third day Albert showed up. He had waited for the Emmett’s family to leave for a few hours to get some rest.
“How’s the head?” Albert asked as he pulled up a chair.
“Feels fine now.” Emmett rubbed the back of his head where it had hit. “Just a little bruise.”
“That’s good. Glad to hear. Hopefully, it didn’t knock any of your new talent out of that head.”
“Don’t you mean knowledge? Talent can’t be learned.”
“I suppose I do. Well, since it seems you feel fine, want to go over the endgame sequence?”
“Sounds good to me. Been bored ever since I woke up.”
Albert pulled a small, flat magnetic board from the bag he carried and arranged it in a typical rook and pawn endgame. What can you tell me about this position?
“It favors white.”
Synchronization Error - Anomalous Thought - 12.29.2178 16:09:02- Pod JJ34
“What about this position?”
“It’s three moves from checkmate.”
Synchronization Error - Anomalous Thought - 12.29.2178 16:11:27- Pod JJ34
“Where are the critical squares?”
Emmett pointed to three dark squares.
Synchronization Error - Anomalous Thought - 12.29.2178 16:13:57- Pod JJ34
Synchronization Error - Brainwaves Unpredictable - 12.29.2178 16:14:00- Pod JJ34
System Stability At Risk. Preparing Emergency Drop Into Material Space.
In less time than it takes light to travel the width of the Earth, the Borealis dropped into Material Space. The jolt threatened to tear the high tensile carbon fibers, which held the passengers in place, from their harnesses. The Borealis hung in space, alarms droned as the crew hit with a drug cocktail to bring their minds back from the biocell banks.
Warrant Officer Briggs was the first to arrive on the bridge. It was a small room designed to hold three people, an electrical systems engineer, a biocell specialist, and the ship’s captain. The readouts on every display flashed with a flurry of information. The only useful thing Briggs saw was that all electrical systems were operating as normal. Not his issue. After realizing the problem was out of his skill set and the initial adrenaline shock of the cocktail wore off, Briggs settled into his seat and waited for the other two.
Captain Hopkins and specialist Sharon Torres entered the bridge together. “Report” Said Captain Hopkins.
“Electrical systems are clean, sir. Everything is normal.”
Torres scanned her readouts. “Sir, there’s an issue with the biocell. The AI detected unpredictable brainwaves.”
“Can you isolate the passenger who’s causing the problem. Yes, the biocell has a full readout. The passenger’s name is Emmett Lane. He is housed in biocell pod JJ34.”
The Captain finally took his chair. “Is he the pod anchor?”
“No, sir. It seems the pod’s anchor mind found more common ground with Mr. Lane’s mind. It would seem that the anchor enhanced the mental aptitudes that Mr. Lane possess and that Mr. Lane’s mind fought for control of the pod.”
“Excuse me, Captain,” Briggs interjected. “But, I’m not following.”
“Officer Briggs, is this your first deployment as a ship’s electrical officer?”
We don’t have time to explain the complexities of space travel and the necessity of the biocell, but here’s the short version. Our algorithms and the AI that have written them need to predict the exact brainwaves and thought patterns of everyone on board. If there is anything unforeseen, it could splinter the ship and all occupants across Sub-material Space.”
Sensing a pause in the Captain’s explanation, Torres took over. “Our Mr. Lane went outside of his predicted behavior. To prevent the loss of the ship, our navigation AI dropped us back in Material Space. We can’t leave again until we restore his mind to its original state.”
“How long will that take?”
“Not long. Everyone who charters a flight signs over the rights to their brain function for the duration of the trip. In a case such as this, all I need is the Captain’s authorization and we can reset Mr. Lanes mind back to its pre-flight state.”
“Authorization given. Let’s get this over.”
Torres placed her eye up to a biometric scanner and said, “Biocell specialist Sharon Torres. Captain Hopkins of the Borealis has given authorization for the mental reset of passenger Emmett Lane in Pod JJ34.”
The computer reported back. “Authorization accepted. Pod JJ34 reset to pre-flight mind state.”
The Captain stood. “Shows over. Back to your pods.”
“Albert, I can never beat you and I don’t know why.”