by Tony Dingwell
Major Pax’s bony hand rested next to Sam’s eliminated white pieces. A light bulb illuminated the chessboard they battled on to pass the years.
A bomb from a previous conflict had started the war, a mindless mechanical device that exploded at an unfortunate time. They—the Blancs—took less than an hour to launch the missiles from the safety of their cubicles. The Noirs did the same, and the thriving world was gone.
Sam had to contact each Blanc citizen to determine his or her status. He had compiled a list of numbers to call long ago, but had forgotten the original source or if it was in a particular order. Sam started calling once the radiation levels allowed.
Time had reduced his recollection of events to fuzzy shadows of what Pax and the other soldiers had told him. There seemed to be a steady loss of memory. Was he losing his mind? You are always the last to know when your mind goes. It didn’t matter, as he was coming to the end of his list.
Chess can be played fast or slow. Sam made his moves quickly while Pax took so much time that Sam would place several calls in between moves. He now called the second to the last number on the list.
While waiting for an answer, he observed Pax, the last Blanc soldier, sitting at the chessboard wearing a uniform, five sizes too big. Sam waited patiently for Pax to make a move. It was fruitless for two reasons. First, Sam saw mate in ten moves. Second, Pax had died years ago.
No answer, Sam hung up. With the exception of the occasional answering machine at the beginning, Sam had yet to hear a human voice answer.
Now, only one number remained, Sam dialed.
“Hello,” said a female voice.
It caught Sam off guard. He had forgotten the response protocol and had to look it up. Before he found his voice, she repeated herself. “Hello, is anybody there?”
“Hello,” replied Sam. “I am calling on behalf of the government to ask if you need any assistance.”
“Why would I need assistance?”
“Because of the war?”
“The war ended twenty years ago.”
“Yes, I know.” Had it been that long? “I’ve been calling every phone and yours is the last one.”
“How many have answered?”
“You are the first. Sorry, if I knew, I would have started with your number. Is there anything I can do?” Even if he had help to give, he had no means of transporting it to her, but he had to ask.
“I guess not,” said the female voice. “I’ve just been here waiting for the phone to ring.”
Relieved that she needed no help, Sam went on to the next question. “Is there anyone with you?”
“No, I’m alone.”
Sam remembered the unfinished chess game. “You must be bored. If you have a chess set, maybe we could play a game to pass the time.”
“I’m not bored, but we can play chess.”
“Good, we can play and talk.” Sam began to probe for information. “How are you getting food and water?”
The female voice laughed. “No, I am not what you think. I am a computer set up to help survivors when they call. I have access to a complete library of knowledge. I thought you knew.”
Sam’s responded with laughter—artificial laughter. “I’m a computer too.”
“Who would have thought that the last Noirs would be machines?” There was a long pause. “Hello….”
Sam came to full power and brought on line all of his peripherals including his archived memory. The shadows brightened. “I thought that I was calling Blancs so that we could continue the war.”
“Well this number is the Noirs’ Civil Defense Center.”
Sam’s operating system began loading other programs into his memory; these programs searched the network for troops to deploy, missiles to launch, anything to continue the fight. It found only disconnected lines and empty silos. It then sought out other weapons until it found the only one available.
Sam gave the order. “Pawn to king four.”
Tony writes from Massey Drive, Newfoundland and Labrador, a small community in Canada that shares its name with the road in front of his house.