Election Night by K.J.Lane

Jul 14 2013 Published by under The WiFiles

The central Machine of the New Regime was struggling to process the mass of data flowing through its memory. Each byte of information flooding from the millions of voting terminals had combined to simultaneously jam its pathways, dragging its process to a slow march, degrees away from a total crash. An unheard of malfunction. Unthinkable. Frantic technicians struggled, dancing in panic, to free up memory, closing down all none essential programs, anything to alleviate the immediate danger of shutdown. Systems governing weather monitoring, tidal predictions and some of the low level accountancy algorithms were swiftly terminated. The damage could be assessed later. The morning after. Engineers stood back and watched the technicians at work, happily dictating the theory but useless to intervene, handing over such menial tasks as running code to their inferior colleagues.
The voting had been expected to be close. The electorate hadn’t disappointed. Those supporting the right wing challenge of the Progressive Fascist Party had voted in force, pushing the issue right to the brink of the central computers processing power. Unease at their revolutionary policies spiking dramatically. The ruling coalition were cutting it very fine. High level officials were worried. Whispers of a coup by the army, or special police or one of the more radical monastic sects were rife. Even the level one citizens, disenfranchised by various acts and repeals, usually uninterested in politics and the acts of state, had their televisions tuned to the result. Waiting. As the technicians struggled to avoid the unthinkable, plan and counter plan were formed and redrawn behind the closed doors of power. The world was watching.
At the chess game no one was concerned with politics. Focus was firmly fixed on the two players. The crowd of old intellectuals and retired revolutionaries all had been cut adrift through one misdeed or the other, an academic paper deemed to be blasphemous, a small act of pointless resistance, graffiti on the subway. Most were removed from the new society, happy to attend an illegal gathering, proud to be continuing a fine tradition of supporting the game years after it had been banned. Allowed to only those at the highest level. Somewhere deep in the libraries of the great monasteries stilted games continued, but for research value only. In the disused shopping centre the contest was living and breathing, each small twitch and sigh watched intently, move and counter move silently applauded in the minds of defeated men. In closed corners a few hushed comments mentioned the election, serving only as a backdrop to the larger issue of the night. And this would be a ranking match. A real decider.
The two opponents were striking in their difference. One smiling contentedly, happy in his pursuits, the other crouched over the board, effort etched on every wrinkle of his face, concentration scratching his brow. Grand Master Zamyatin betrayed his famed intellect with the nervousness of his play. His heavy white beard, lending him the air of antiquity. The small dark glasses only added to the effect. But behind those lenses his eyes continued lurking, screened from his opponent and the watching public. His simple black suit and heavy working boots completed the dishevelment, simple in its small normalities. He shifted repeatedly between moves, the leather of the chair’s upholstery moaning softly at such constant agitation. The white pawns he had drawn to begin with being lifted and replaced with a wide degree of variation. Quick and aggressive at moments of panic. Followed with long periods of inactivity as the Grand Master mediated on the next possible move. As the game progressed the moments of alarm were becoming more and more frequent. Zamyatin feared the end could be close. Just beyond his fingertips.
The young boy’s alternative style changed the game he played, gentle, more fluid. His composure was unnerving. Bright aggressive attack and slow defensive block, completed in the same breath, a moments consideration before a soft glide of his small hand. His legs dangled over the edge of the large chair, unable to reach the ground, swinging slowly back and forth in a small pendulum, tick, tock, constant like his play. His colourful shorts and bright T-shirt, advertising the latest animated feature film the authorities had released, featuring a family of talking dogs, compounded the contrast. The boy smiled continuously throughout, infectious, his sightless eyes staring above the head of his opponent, off to some lost face in the crowd that would remain unseen. His father sat behind him on a tall stool offering silent support, unable to speak, gagged by the strict conditions imposed for ranking matches. Not that support was required. The bright neon light of the advertising viddie-boards overhead played in shadow across his face.
Things had improved for the staff of the central Machine. The engineers could breath easier, their votes would be counted. The technicians had managed to free up enough memory to get the machine processing. Working slowly, chewing the data carefully, methodically, pulses streaming, calculations predicted that at it’s current speed it would take approximately two years to tally the remaining votes. This had worried the engineers at first, but further explanation calmed them from the frenzy which was initially launched into. Blind panic after blind panic. Serious problems in this endeavour could cost them their jobs, their vote. For the technicians failure could carry an even higher price. In dark corners dictators in waiting were growing anxious, heated phone calls shared with their military backers. Various ministers of the ruling coalition fishing out their favourite general or commissioner of police for quiet reassurances.
In the apartments of the vast housing towers, strained eyes were locked on their screens, glancing to digital clocks above artificial fires to reassure themselves that the announcement was late. Something extraordinary was happening. An old propaganda film about the roles and responsibilities of a citizen, seen many times before during compulsory broadcasts, was being rerun. Excitement was growing. Even the tired teenagers had dragged themselves down from their roof world of possibilities to view the great event. An election happened once in a lifetime, filling them with lost feelings, strange hope gripping the hearts of even those that had seen the worst before and had tried to forget. Changes, maybe new beginnings, a chance for another way. Bizarre ideals of a brighter future, not seen for a generation, teased their lips, waited to fall forward into an uncertain new world. Everything the New Regime had promised and failed to deliver. A new belief that could only be stillborn.
The owners of the more opulent mansions, beyond the city walls, nestled away in small coves near sheltered shores were less impressed. They knew little would change. The status quo would have to be preserved. Their way of life depended on it. Shallow dreams, hidden in forbidden books of political theory had to be suppressed. The cobwebs of the system were not about to be brushed away by a new wind. They sipped their synthetic wines and watched with interest the old film portraying each worker as an integral part of the machinery that held the foundation together, and laughed.
The endgame was upon them. Grand Master Zamyatin had been pushed back again and again. Bright excitement ran through the crowd, unsure what they were witnessing. The boy’s unsensing smile continued as each piece was moved, growing sinister in its intensity, the lips turning too high at the corners. The row of captured white pieces, lay in a straight line in front of the boy, to the side of the board, shadowing his own black forces, poised on the verge of taking one of the remaining white rooks, condemning the Grand Master to a slow and lingering death. A desperate defensive manoeuvre by the old man saved him briefly, but it was a small stay of execution. The boy’s father edged closer to his young charge, anxious to have it ended. Looking up Zamyatin caught the eye of the judges, already beginning to usher the overbearing parent back to his designated position. The smile of the boy flickered momentarily, sensing the commotion, offering the old man nothing, before returning brighter than before, normality regained. A waving hand from the judges urging him to continue, eager to be done also. The risks were high. Lingering could have consequences.
The technicians continued to shut down further, none essential, programs. The estimated time frame for the calculations to run their course now stood at about three weeks. Not quick enough. In the haste several more important circuits were shut down in error, switch A for switch B, resulting in loss of power to four sectors of the city. Two public hospitals were without supply for ninety seconds until one of the internal diagnostic programs noticed the error and quickly checking protocol brought back up power online. The delay proved fatal for five patients on operating tables. This would not be highlighted to the maintenance staff for several weeks, but they were assured such losses were acceptable in the larger plan. The processing time had now been reduced to two hours. A second propaganda film, “ Promises of The New Regime.” was played. The lengthening delay proved too much for the short attention span of the teenage roof dwellers as they slipped away from crowded living rooms, returning to their twinkling fires, inevitable clashes with the authorities back on the schedule.
The lights surrounding the chess game flickered, the naked bulbs announcing the frantic redistribution within the supply grid. The Grand Master’s destruction was almost complete. Reduced to three pawns, his queen pinned down, he was out manoeuvred and out thought. There was no escape left. The judges had already advised him to concede on three occasions, aware of the unnecessary risk they were all taking, but the old man wasn’t done. Those at the edge of the crowd had already started to drift away, satisfied, searching out sanctuary from the empty city, their minds turned again to everyday matters, the impending result, dark whispers foretelling of hidden violence should events take an unforeseen turn. The streets were no place to be if the night turned dangerous. Still the Grand Master hung on. Even the boy’s stone exterior had started to crack, small fractures, but visible, an uneasy movement at the corner of his smile, his sightless eyes drifting from their fixed point.
Activity at the central Machine had slid to a halt. All the prodding and investigating, the closing of programs and the reassignment of vital duties, could not change the conclusions the diagnostic programs were indicating. The technicians had run out of options. Huddled with the engineers in informal conference they laid the decisions out to be evaluated. Only by shutting down one or more of the core responsibilities could the result be calculated within the required time. The suggested targets were rated and rerated. With haste forced upon them and reports of growing unease from all sectors of the city starting to filter through, the decisions were made. The aftermath would have to be swept up later, the excuses fabricated to fill the twenty four hour news stations. The required circuits were pulled and the heavy flow of electrons began to free up, running quickly through the stretched pathways, scorched torrid with the overload, burnt bright with strain. The entire crew sweated cold with relief.
On every available screen in the city the propaganda film was interrupted, the announcer’s cultured tone bringing relief to an impatient population. The delay had been short but imperfectly timed. The masses wouldn’t wait. The build up was cut to a minimum as further tales of unrest circled, a prison riot in one of the western sectors apparently out of control. Finally it was ready. The central Machine downloaded the result directly to the broadcast, as the law dictated, pausing for nanoseconds, allowing several safety programs to ensure the validity of the outcome. All was in order. The result was closer than most had expected, only one percent separating the opposing groups. Tight but inevitable. The ruling coalition held. Small pockets of resistance, breaking out in the Progressive Fascist Party’s heartland, far to the south of the city, were quickly controlled, the young mobs scattered throughout the vast industrial farms, running before the special police units that had been on standby for such eventualities. The central Machine nearly crashed for a second time, struggling to cope with the massive power surge as billions of induction kettles were switch on in unison, the proletariat desperate to slacken the thirst, now the excitement was at an end. Further redistribution was required but the grid held. On project roofs the teenagers huddled around their fires, continuing with their games unaware. The authority drones, until now busy in suppression, would be visiting soon.
The lights of the shopping centre gave out, plunging the game into darkness. In the panic most of the onlookers bolted, fearing a raid, crashing through window displays of sports equipment, charging down mile long grocery aisles attempting to escape through any route offered. The players didn’t rise, only a small flinch in the face of the young boy announced he was aware of the changing circumstances. The Grand Master continued to stare at the board, the pieces barely visible as his pupils dilated, making the most of the little light crawling from clouded corners. With a single pawn and a trapped queen, he was in deep trouble. But his king had not been captured yet. Barely breathing. He would fight on. The senior judge, brandishing a torch, broke the heavy silence.
“ I fear we cannot continue in these circumstances.”
“ Then the game is ours.” The boy’s father rose from his position, joy stretched across his grey face. Zamyatin held his nerve, restraining the anger from infecting his voice.
“ I am not defeated yet.” The boy’s mouth moved to answer before a light touch from his father silenced the infant outburst.
“ Your position is untenable. You would have lost.”
“ Have I lost yet ?” The judges shuffled their feet, cowered by the situation. Again, the boy made to speak, another light touch halting him.
“ I think you should be pragmatic here.”
“ I’ll think for myself thank you.” Silence again. Turning to the senior judge the old man decided to force the issue. “ What is the rules governing a situation like this ?” The judge hesitated.
“ Well this really is rather unusual….” No way out, escape, acceptable compromise offered itself and the Grand Master wouldn’t be short changed.
“ But ?” Another pause. “ What do the rules stipulate ?” The boy’s father was anxious, aware of the most likely outcome.
“ In a situation such as this….. I’m afraid the rules dictate…..” The judge looked towards the blind boy, unease dripping from his gaze. “The rules dictate the game is abandoned and a rematch being arranged within three months.” The boy howled with a pale cocktail of frustration, hinting at hidden capabilities that frightened the old man, leant towards dangers beneath. Rising from his chair, he glanced down on the child, satisfied with his escape. The judge continued, “I really am very sorry. But those are the rules as set down.” The Grand Master couldn’t resist a parting shot, his prevailing reserve crumbling.
“ I will enjoy preparing for our next encounter.” The quick movement of the boy almost caught him, lashing out with strange ferocity, his small white teeth bared in an animal snarl, filed to a point behind lips red with blood. As his father struggled to restrain him, hatred burning from his damaged eyes, Zamyatin stepped back from the table, for the first time shaken, caught cold by his opponent. The child was crying, whimpering and twisting, a caged, injured beast.
“ I think you better leave.” The father’s voice worried Zamyatin. Accepting the advice he disappeared into the gathered shadows, the child’s growls still hanging around his head in a hissing cloud.
Far to the south of the city, sitting quietly in his study, deep in the heart of the sprawling Progressive Fascist’s complex, the party leader sipped on a glass of syntethic brandy. He had just finished talking to his silent backers in the monasteries. As expected they had confirmed that their official line would be they had never supported him, had never spoken to him or any member of his party. He had had his chance, they said, and the chance was gone. Better luck next time. There would be another election in ten years, if he agitated correctly. Then maybe they would reconsider their position, but for now the matter was closed, the issue was dead. His contacts in the military had been even more silent, initially refusing to take his call. Finally, he got through to a junior officer who made the mistake of speaking to him. An error of judgement that was to catch up with him in the following days. Forget it, had been the advice. No one was going to back a loser. Keep a low profile. Who knows what time might bring. The young officer hung up. No amount of further calls would be answered.
The Fascist party leader weighed his option. His chances of escaping untouched by the purge that would inevitably follow were slim. A long stint in the political prisons was not appealing. His party was dead, it’s support scattered, disorganised, it’s heavyweight backers in the hierarchy running for cover, wary of the coming sanctions. They had even more to lose than a self made political renegade. Their names were at stake, their reputations. He took his only option, finishing his brandy before straining to the task. Swirling the heavy liquid around his mouth, he teased out every last pinch of bitter taste. His secretary found the body twenty minutes later, the sound proofing of the study muffling the shot. Placing the tea tray on the desk she touched the revolver, still warm from use, and sighed. A terrible end.
Grand Master Zamyatin retired, undefeated, six weeks later, his place amongst the immortals of the game secured. He enjoyed the sea view from his apartment high in the towers on those days the conditions would allow. The central Machine hummed quietly on.

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