A door hissed open and a man entered.
“ Morning Michael. How are you feeling,?” he asked.
Michael tried to reply but his mouth felt dry so he just nodded and smiled. The man smiled back.
He was a short, balding, middle-age man, and wore gold rimmed glasses - Dr. Jacob.
Michael didn’t know where he was. He was sedated before being brought here.
“ Thanks Jacob,” he finally managed to say.
“You are welcome,” the doc said, “ It will take a few hours to complete and then you can leave. You might feel a bit dizzy but don’t worry, it would be just the drug wearing off. For now, rest”.
Michael closed his eyes. Dr. Jacob adjusted a few switches on the machine, fussed over Michael and left.
After, what seemed like ages, Michael woke up. He could hear some soft music played somewhere. And felt some movement. Then a voice floated in the air.
“ Aha! You are awake. It’s done. I am dropping you home.”
Michael looked around. The machine had stopped blinking, and his head was free of any attachments. He got up, felt a bit dizzy as if waking up after a hangover.
He was in a big van that Dr. Jacob drove. But for a slight disorientation he was feeling fine. He looked out the window. It was quite dark and he realized he had been away almost for the whole day - not that anyone would be looking for him. He lived alone in a comfortable apartment. It had a beautiful view overlooking a river and rugged mountains in the background. They were approaching his house.
“ I will get down here and walk home,” he informed the doctor.
Dr. Jacob looked at him thru the rear view mirror and shrugged. He stopped the van.
“Take care Michael,” he said, “ and call me if anything,” added affectionately.
The van drove away as Michael stood on a pavement with his hands in the pockets. His head seemed lighter now as he started walking slowly.
Michael was a professional chess player - exceptional. He had sufficient income rolling out of his chess wins. He didn’t need lot of money as he led a simple yet high thinking life. Next month he had an important title match coming up against his long time rival, Agnus - a genius. The stakes were high and so was the tournament money. But for Michael it was a grudge match. He wanted to win this badly, and he was sure Agnus felt the same. He had been preparing for it for the past six months and was confident. But of late he had been having a nagging intuition that he wasn’t finishing the game well. Michael relied heavily on instincts and took each one seriously. Finally he decided to do something about it.
He spent occasional weekends with his long time friend Dr. Jacob. They would play chess - doctor being a reasonably good player but not a professional. And after a game or two would retire to the porch, relax in big leather chairs, and share a couple of Jack Daniel’s.
Jacob held a doctorate in biotechnology , speciality - human cell development - a new found technology which he himself had introduced to enhance human brain. He had been doing enough research on it and was quite successful. And now all he needed - Michael knew - a willing brain to implement it.
One evening as they sat on the porch, Michael, with courage in form of bourbon in front of him, broached the subject. He decided to be direct as he was aware his friend disliked solving riddles which weren’t riddles in the first place.
“Doc,” he started as casually as he could, and immediately Dr. Jacob sensed they were approaching his professional territory since only then Michael would call him “Doc” , “I want you to create a cell which will contain all possible chess moves, and insert it into my brain,” he shot.
The doctor stared. Bull’s eye. The dart had hit the mark.
“Like a computer chip that contains all data,” he continued.
Dr. Jacob didn’t say anything. He nodded, smiled and then brushed it off.
“Come on doc. I know even you are as eager to experiment.” Michael persisted.
The doctor sighed. Michael was right. He needed a human. But Michael? He was his best friend. What if something went wrong?
“I will take full responsibility.” Michael pressed on as if reading his thoughts.
“Let me sleep over it.” the doc said finally.
They chatted for an hour, and Michael didn’t bring up the subject. They promised to meet the next week. It was going to be along one, thought Michael.
The weekend arrived. They sat on the porch skipping the chess game ritual. Dr. Jacob had puffy red eyes, clearly he hadn’t slept much but there was an unmistakable twinkle which Michael detected to his satisfaction. They began the conversation with some hiccups. First, Jacob made absolutely sure what Michael wanted him to perform, and whether he was still willing. Michael said he had never been surer.
“This is a complicated process,” Dr. Jacob began,” and tho I am pretty confident, I may have to consult my friend and colleague, Dr. Paul, and ask him to be devil’s advocate to keep me grounded and true. In that case, I have to divulge some information to keep this operation error proof. I have known Paul for some time now and I respect his judgement. The actual procedure and the implantation will take one full day. And, at the end, I assure you, you will not feel much different. I ask you one last time Michael - are you sure you want this so badly?” said Dr. Jacob.
“ As badly as you want it.” retorted Michael. Doctor smiled.
“ What about this Dr. Paul? Are you sure you want to involve him? I am comfortable with only two of us knowing about this but if you have to share this…” Michael continued but the doctor interrupted,
“ Your safety is more important to me than the discovery of our little adventure.” said Dr. Jacob.
When everything was pretty much agreed upon, Jacob concluded,
“ Next thursday you come to my house at our usual hour. You will be sedated, and after a long rest, the next morning on Friday, taken for cell implantation.”
And so, now, here he was, incepted, walking on the pavement fully equipped for his upcoming battle against Agnus.
He approached a small bridge that connected to his house. He felt fine and was eager to test the chip inserted into his brain, or somewhere around it. The grudge match was a week away. He crossed the bridge looking at the small stream that ran below it. Calm. He reached his house and unlocked the front door. It was pretty dark now. Suddenly his mobile vibrated in his pocket. He flipped it open. A text message from Jacob - hope u r feeling ok. call once you settle down -
Michael smiled and responded - yes, thanks -
He went to his room and booted his computer. Surprisingly he wasn’t feeling hungry. Time to play.
“ Good evening Michael,” the screen came alive, “ are you ready to get beaten?” It teased. He was playing against the computer. Michael smiled - Morning Monica . We shall see - He called his computer Monica and had programmed her for such random banters to get the feeling that he was playing against a human. But these exchanges were not really random as they were also based on previous games. Monica, the computer, at times, also voiced during a game - never about the game tho - and Michael loved the way she came up with teasing repartees. He set the play level at ‘standard’ and began. Few moves. The game went on. He didn’t feel the chip inserted inside his brain was aiding him. But again, he wasn’t sure how he would feel if it was. He continued playing and defeated the computer without much problem.
“ That was a quickie. “ Monica grunted. Michael laughed.
He thought of calling Dr. Jacob but then decided to give one more try. He set the play level at ‘difficult’ and began his next game.
“ Now you are acting like a real man. Let’s see what you got, eh?” She purred.
Michael ignored her and began. As the game progressed the position of the board grew complex and he was completely absorbed, forgetting he had a powerful computer working inside his brain. Then came the first sign of it’s existence.
Blip! Then a sort of tingling somewhere inside. He was on high alert. He changed his next move almost automatically - as if driven by a powerful force. Again the next move was in a trance. In the third move Michael thought for a while and deliberately made an error. Immediately he started getting strong vibrations, a loud bell rang inside which he thought only he could hear or sense. He had to make that move which the chip inside his brain was directing - and then a series of moves. In no time he had defeated the machine which otherwise he would have taken much longer to defeat or probably the match would have ended in a draw. He was amazed. This was it.
“ Oopsy! That was something!” Monica responded.
He wanted to call Dr. Jacob but realized that it was pretty late. He would call him first thing in the morning. Michael was unable to control his excitement. He wanted to play more but remembered the doctor’s advise to go slow the first few days after the implantation. He was hungry. He got up, yawned in satisfaction, and made coffee and sandwich. He went back to the last game to see if he would have made those final moves independently. Yes. May be he would have with an effort tho. He stared at the screen. Tomorrow he would play a more difficult game and check. He finished his sandwich and gulped down the coffee. Picked up a paperback but fell asleep within a few minutes.
The morning chirps woke Michael up. He went into the bathroom and checked himself in the mirror. He wasn’t sure why he did that but felt reassured when his face looked fine. No disorientation. He laughed. After a quick shave and shower he sat down with a hot cup of coffee and called Dr. Jacob, and told him about the previous night’s events. Michael was elated and congratulated the doctor. Dr. Jacob listened and tried hard to suppress his excitement. But Michael could sense that his friend was equally jubilant tho sounding anxious. After the technical chit chat, Dr. Jacob felt a bit easy. He told Michael to go slow but Michael was already plotting his next game. Dr. Jacob grunted in mock and told him to drop by in the evening.
Michael refilled his coffee, drummed his fingers on the table as the computer was booting up. The screen flickered to life.
“Good morning Michael.” Wished Monica.
Michael set the level at “toughest”.
“Oh my!” responded Monica,” You are certainly on.”
They began cautiously. On the 25th move, when the game was intense, Michael heard the, now familiar sound.
The chip was churning moves. And this time strongly.
On the 35th move, Michael was about to make a tactical error when, again, the chip forced him to make a different move.
“Ah!” exclaimed Monica.
He won after 45 moves. It was tough battle but Michael didn’t feel drained.
“ You were hot today, Michael.” Monica flirted.
Michael smiled. He was immensely satisfied with the chip save for the control it had over him.
He called Dr. Jacob, replayed the game, and confirmed their weekend ritual.
Michael and Dr. Jacob were sitting on the porch. Michael with his feet up, a drink in hand. Dr. Jacob was fidgeting. He wanted to make sure Michael was fine - the game didn’t matter to him since he was certain of the result. When Michael related the entire event, he began to relax. But one thing nagged him - the force with which the chip directed Michael to make his moves. Of course, he had programmed it that way but even he was surprised at it’s power. He sat in contemplation. Next week was the big match against Agnus, a two-games match series. He looked at Michael. He seemed to be in a different world. Dr. Jacob couldn’t help but smile.
“So, is Monica upset?” he asked.
“Not really,” replied Michael,” she is enjoying it. She will be okay.”
“Michael,” said Dr. Jacob, “ I want you to call me after each game and give every small detail. Don’t leave anything out, however trivial.”
Michael promised he would and resumed his day dreaming. They sat muted for a long time. Finally Michael got up, patted his friend’s back, and left. Dr. Jacob sighed and prayed silently.
Dr. Jacob was busy the next week with some assignments. But he attended each of Michael’s phone calls. Michael dutifully called after each game. Dr. Jacob recorded each event in his computer and made a mental note.
Friday evening, the day before the match, Michael called and said that it was the last practise match and after that he was going to do nothing but relax before the big event. Dr. Jacob jotted down all the subtle changes. He wished Michael good luck and told him he would be there tomorrow to watch him play. It was a day event with three hours break after the first game. When Michael put down the phone, Dr. Jacob fed the data in his computer and studied the progress of the week. The graf pattern gave no alarming bells. He was satisfied. He looked at Dr. Paul, his colleague and confederate, and nodded. He packed his bag and left for the day. He was on a mission. And it was successful. Now all he wanted was to watch Michael play. On his way out he remembered and called Dr. Paul to shut his computer down.
Michael was shutting down his computer when his phone rang. It was Dr. Jacob. He looked at the computer, fluttered his eyelashes - love you Monica. Wish me luck - and switched off the screen. He told Dr. Jacob he was ecstatic and eager to play the tournament. Dr. Jacob gave him the green signal.
Saturday morning. Battle lines drawn. Brains oiled. Horns sharpened. Bulls ready. Arena full.
Agnus - white armour. Michael - black armour.
They shook hands and pulled their chairs to sit. Too eager for blood. Too eager to perform. Dust of ego puffed up and settled in the air.
Swords clanged. First attack launched. Few exchange of pieces after ten moves, and the heat was on. Agnus was playing beautifully but Michael was up to the task. Both took a long time to complete the next five moves. Agnus looked relaxed and pleased with the proceedings. Michael was so immersed in the game that he completely forgot about the chip implanted.
Then on move 20 - Blip! Tingle!
Michael felt the vibrations. He looked up at Agnus to check if he detected any change in him, but he seemed too absorbed. Michael searched in the audience for his friend. Dr. Jacob was sitting in a corner. Their eyes met. Locked. And the doctor understood. It was the first time he was seeing Michael in action with his chip alive and active inside him. He smiled nervously.
Michael made the next move. Agnus raised his eyebrows. He thought he knew Michael’s style but this was new. He looked at Michael but Michael was staring the board. Innocently. After the next three moves Agnus blew a low whistle. He was clearly bemused, and showing it openly. Michael closed his eyes - not guilty.
Next five moves were savage. Agnus stumbled, fell, but held on. A carnage, and he wasn’t going to take this lying down. He launched into an offensive which would have wavered Michael under normal circumstances. But he didn’t know it wasn’t against Michael he was playing now. Michael defected each ambush so deftly that Agnus looked perplexed. He scratched his head number of times, more times than Michael ever remembered. Bull’s eye - thought Michael. Still looking innocent.
Agnus resigned after 38 moves He almost ran to his room without bothering to shake hands with Michael. Michael looked at Dr. Jacob and smiled. He smiled back satisfactorily. Michael stood up and went to hs den. Dr. Jacob followed. They congratulated each other. Dr. Jacob checked his pulse. Normal. He fussed over him. Michael told him to relax. One more game. He made coffee for both of them. Michael gulped down his and informed Dr. Jacob that he was going to take a short nap, and excused himself. Dr. Jacob finished his coffee and joined the audience. To his surprise, he saw Dr. Paul walking in. Funny, he thought. Since when was Dr. Paul interested in chess? He looked a bit edgy. Dr. Jacob brushed the thought aside and busied himself with some reading material he had brought along to read during this break.
Couple of hours passed. Dr. Jacob checked his watch. Next game would start soon. He looked up. No sign of Dr. Paul.
Bulls entered. One fresh. Other ageing, probably with the wounds. But enough clout to hold the head high. Raring to charge. They pulled their chairs in a hurry, not shaking hands, nor looking at each other. The dust-ego settled over their heads - now a familiar territory.
Michael just needed to draw this game to snatch the title from Agnus. But in present euphoria, he would go for a kill. An outright victory, but more importantly, humiliation. He wanted to break Agnus.
Agnus, on the other hand, needed a win which would then tie the score. He would retain the title since he was the defending champion.
Michael donned white shining armour. Agunus, black and velvety. The battle of the bulging egos began.
Michael made the preliminary moves. Agnus responded with solid defense. Exchange of pieces and the game cruised along. Evenly matched.
Move 25- Blip! Tingle!
Michael looked up and found Dr. Jacob in the audience. Their eyes met and he resumed the attack vigorously. Agnus was calm. A fox with enough hunts to his credit. Suddenly, he looked up and stared at Michael. Michael appeared even more innocent. Agnus almost laughed and turned his head in the direction of the the audience. Both, Dr. Jacob and Michael, followed his gaze. And to their astonishment found Dr. Paul sitting in the front row smiling back at Agnus.
Now, Agnus made a unique move. Michael froze. His chip froze, tho momentarily. And then began a series of vicious, bold moves which experts in the audience watched with their jaws dropping. And dropping further with each next move. There was rustle and more whispering among the audience. This was a matchless performance. Nobody had witnessed such artistry. They dissected and debated each move.
The bulls had finally locked horns on equal terms.
“Now we are chipped from the same block” Agnus remarked so slowly that Michael had to stretch his ears. Michael couldn’t help but laugh.
The board was on fire now. Stakes changed. Emotions high. Game - robotic.
Michael resigned after 48 moves. He looked at Dr. Jacob dejectedly who smiled in reassurance indicating it was all right. Michael sat stunned. Dr. Paul pumped his fists in the air. Agnus was triumphant and all ready to talk to the reporters.
Dr. Jacob approached Dr. Paul.
“congratulations Paul. You stole my data.”
“Thanks. You shared.”. replied Dr. Paul.
“Not entirely.” countered Dr. Jacob.
Dr. Paul nodded.
“ How did Agnus win if both the chips were programmed the same way?” Dr. Jacob demanded.
“Not the same way.” Corrected Dr. Paul.
Dr. Jacob looked confused so Dr. Paul continued.
“ Okay Jacob. I shall explain. I owe you that much atleast.”
“Kind of you.” Dr. Jacob shot back.
Dr. Paul ignored it.
“I was thrilled when you confided in me the working of the chip you implanted in Michael’s brain. We were making good progress. And you gotta admit that I gave you good insights. But last week you shut me off completely. And that piqued my curiosity. So I borrowed the data from your computer, which you occasionally leave it on.”
Dr. Jacob cursed under his breath.
“ Yeah, like last evening,” continued Dr. Paul, “ I made a similar chip. But I improvised. I added, or rather injected ‘Mega’, my new recipe , a new drug which I have been working on for some time now. It’s a drug which adjusts itself to the new environment and has the ability to develop on it’s own. So in this case - Agnus - it resided in the chip, got used to the environment and helped develop the cell. With the result, the cell grew, and created thinking power without any additional help from outside. Basically, the chip grew intelligent with each additional chess move, in this case. Stronger. And the result was for all to see.” Concluded Dr. Paul.
Dr. Jacob was impressed, “ When did you inject ‘Mega’?” he asked.
“ During the break. The chip was implanted but activated when ‘Mega’ was incepted.
“ What about repercussions?” Dr. Jacob was agitated now, “ Is that not dangerous? Does Agnus know there is somebody actually living inside him, in all practical sense? Is he aware of it?”
Dr. Paul shrugged and looked at Agnus, who was busy talking to the reporters, impressing them.
“ I have explained to him to the best of my ability and he is prepared to take a chance,” he said, “ look at him now. Look at the attention he is getting. He wouldn’t miss this for the world.” Dr. Paul evaded the real question and smiled.
Dr. Jacob shook his head and left.
Michael still sat in the same position with his eyes closed.Checkmate.