Thursday, January 29, 2009

one game at a time

The park was empty except for the two old robots playing checkers.

They played all day every day. Robot Ben and Robot Bill.

Except not at night.

They were powered by the sun, from their mechanical minds to their creaky fingers. So not at night.

Robot Ben was once the fastest grocery bagger in all the world. And Robot Bill had helped build the rocket ships that now circled the stars.

But newer robots had come along, faster baggers and better builders, replacing Robot Ben and Robot Bill.

Now they spent their days playing checkers.

Neither of them ever won a game, and neither of them ever lost. Being robots, they knew every move there was to make in checkers. They always tied.

"Score," said Robot Ben just before they began to play one sunny morning.

"Zero Ben, zero Bill, eighty-three million, six hundred forty-two thousand, nine hundred and twenty-one ties," said Robot Bill.

As they played, the sun crept across the sky, and neither of them noticed that it was catching up to the faint full moon that was up there too.

And just as Robot Ben was taking a turn, the sun slid completely behind the moon.

The sky went dark.

Robot Ben's eyes flickered and turned a dull gray. His head drooped, and he slumped over just enough to push his shoulder, arm, hand and fingers forward. Just enough to push the checker to the wrong square.

Both robots sat still for quite some time.

Then the sun and the moon began sliding apart, the light of the day returned, and the robots flickered back to life.

Robot Bill quickly won the game.

"One Bill, zero Ben," he said.

"How did that happen?" asked Robot Ben.

"A solar eclipse," said Robot Bill, now looking up at the sky. "The next one is three hundred seventy years, four months, twelve days and two hours from now."

Robot Ben stared at the board. For a long time.

"Set them up," he said.