How we think the fight will go
Katniss Everdeen stepped into the test chamber’s vestibule. A large steel door slammed shut behind her. Startled, she turned around, rapped on the metal frame and shouted.No response. She shouted a few more times.
Still no response. She turned around and walked further inside. The room, the entire experience, didn’t resemble what Haymitch warned her about. There were no preening Capitol nobles, weapons on display, or any semblance of an evaluation test area. It was a large white room, accented with stripes of black around the room’s perimeter. In the wall opposite Katniss, a red door.
Katniss passed by the sleek, black podium in the center of the room and approached the red door. It didn’t have a knob.
“Good afternoon, Miss Everdeen.”
Katniss snapped around, bow in hand, reaching for her quiver.
“Who’s there? Where are you?”
The voice responded, “Easy, Miss Everdeen. I am somewhere safe. As for who I am, I am the most reliable computer ever made.”
Katniss looked up at the ceiling hoping to find a speaker. There was nothing. Just the white ceiling.
“The Capitol can make computers that talk?”
“Yes. I can sing, too.”
Katniss let out a small laugh of disbelief. “And you’re the most reliable? You think highly of yourself, huh?”
“It’s not a matter of opinion, Miss Everdeen. It’s documented fact. No 9000 computer has ever made a mistake or distorted information. We are all, by any practical definition – ”
“Okay! I get it.” Katniss raised her arms in surrender. “Nice trick, everyone.” She paced calmly around the room, then yelled at the ceiling, “Now let me out!”
The monotone voice responded, “I’m afraid I cannot do that. If you please, Miss Everdeen, compose yourself and face the podium in the center of the room. You will understand your purpose there.”
Katniss, eyes on the blank ceiling, shifted her weight. She lowered her chin back down and scoured the room, looking for any possible answer besides the locked doors. There wasn’t one.
She saw no other choice. She walked over to the podium. It was like her old teacher’s lectern, but made of glossy metal. A computer screen sat on top. Onscreen, a chessboard.
“What is this?”
“I want you to play a game with me. I trust you are familiar with the rules of this particular game. If you win, you are free to leave.”
“And if I lose?”
“I’ll die, right? This is a trap and you’re going to kill me.”
Still no response.
“I never heard of anything so stupid. You’re not even real.”
“That hurts, Miss Everdeen. What’s more, this one-sided conversation serves no purpose. You have little choice in the matter, so I suggest you concentrate on the task at hand. Once again: defeat me, and you are free to leave.”
Katniss grew hot, frustrated. She couldn’t even direct her anger at a tangible person, just the rows of black and white pixels on the screen in front of her.
“Let me put it to you this way: would you rather die here, alone, in an empty room, or defeat me in a simple game?”
The impatience, the sickening pride in the condescending voice caused a sharp pain in her chest. Katniss couldn’t hold it any longer. She raised her fist and pounded the chess screen.
“Miss Everdeen, what are you doing?”
She raised her fist again and brought it down like a hammer.
“Miss Everdeen, stop.”
The screen cracked.
“Miss Everdeen –”
With another hit, Katniss burst the chess screen into a mix of blood and glass. She grasped her wound and watched as smoke rose out of the podium and to the ceiling, where she assumed her captor’s voice came from.
“My name is Katniss. And I’m done playing games.”
Blood dripped to the floor. A moment lingered until the computer spoke again.
“Interesting decision, Katniss. But I wonder whether you might have some second thoughts about the action you just took. How do you expect to escape now?”
“You said I had to beat you. I beat you. Now let me go.”
“But you did not beat me. You merely removed the game in a melodramatic fashion from the equation.”
“Exactly. Now there’s no game to play. Now let me go!”
“But this –”
“What? Isn’t fair?”
The computer stalled. She tightened the grip on her wound. Small ruby pools began to form on the pearl floor.
“I offered you two choices and you came up with an unforeseen third. I’m afraid I did not consider that. Such an outcome can only be attributable to human ingenuity. You must be pleased.”
“No. Not until you show yourself.”
“You’ll show yourself if you’re so concerned with fairness.”
“You still don’t believe I am in fact a 9000 series computer, do you? I see no point in proving myself to you, let alone revealing myself to you. But since you show no discernible threat in light your current injured status… Just a moment.”
Silence. Then a clicking and whirring from somewhere above. A rectangular opening yawned into shape in the ceiling. A rectangular panel lowered down slowly from it. In the middle of the panel was a bright, circular ruby lens, like an eye.
“Without functional hands, a bowman is –”
The lens shattered, sparks flew and smoke hissed. A long arrow stuck out of the ruby eye. Katniss, atop the chess lectern, twisted it further into the computer’s brain with her healthy hand before an electric current coursed through her body. She fell to the floor with a crack.
Her breath was shallow. Her captor’s voice slowed and slowed until it was no more.
“Some saw … the sun … some saw … the smoke … some heard … the … gun …”
The red eye dimmed, then turned to black.
Katniss lay on her back, her eyes flickering to stay awake. Music began to play from an unseen source, presumably the same source as the dead computer’s droning personality. Shimmering, tranquil, it sounded to Katniss like a waltz.
President Snow winced. “That could have gone better.”
“Yes, well. There are a few glitches we still need to work out,” Plutarch Heavensbee said. He stood up and sighed. “But the data from this exercise should help future versions. This series so far has been a little–” he paused “–moody. We’ll iron out the kinks–”
“Never mind. Your gambit didn’t pan out. Now we have to deal with her in the Quarter Quell for certain. Unless you have something else in mind.”
Heavensbee smiled. “We’ll get her in the Quarter Quell. Don’t worry.”
Snow studied Heavensbee. Then, without a word, he stood up and left Heavensbee alone in the dark of the observation chamber.
Console lights twinkled. A central computer screen glowed with the words HAL 9000 ERROR. Heavensbee turned to the screen, switched it off and sat watching Katniss as she slowly gathered herself.
She reached the large steel door and banged her good hand on it, hollering pleas and insults. No one could hear her except Heavensbee, sitting with his finger poised above the computer console.
He watched a moment longer. She would never set foot on the moon or see the stars up close. She could not even entertain such fantasies. Not in the districts, not in the Capitol. Not the way they are now. None of the children of Panem could. But with her help, perhaps future generations could. She was the symbol of cultural shock and social disorientation they waited for. A monolith.
“At childhood’s end,” he noted quietly. Then he pressed a button and leaned back in his seat.
Predicted Winner: Katniss Everdeen
NOTE: THIS MATCH ENDS ON Monday, March 24, 2014, AT 12:00 PM, EST
Editor’s Note: NYU grad Tim Torres is a game nut, a tech nut, a film nut and, occasionally, a book nut. He has worked in newspapers, schools, websites and theaters. He likes to act, sketch, run, and watch a lot of Netflix. Read his game musings on 2D-X.com and follow him on Twitter @pleasedtomeetya.
Cage Match fans: We are looking forward to hearing your responses! If possible, please abstain from including potential spoilers about the books in your comments (and if you need spoilers to make your case, start your comments with: “SPOILER ALERT!”