Adelaide sat studying the chessboard planning her next move. Her opponent, the Professor, was very good. In fact, he was the one that got her interested in the game soon after she escaped the Company. She'd fallen in love with the quiet, studious moves and the building of subtle traps with which to snare her opponent's pieces. She was losing, of course, but she was never one to simply give up. Besides, there were moves to learn even in defeat. She moved her knight over the board to threaten his pawn and rook. The Professor studied the board for a moment pondering what she might be up to. He decided to find out, and moved the endangered rook and captured her last bishop. Adelaide leaned back and stared thoughtfully at the board. She still had a few tricks to try.
It must have been seven years ago when it all started. She was a sixteen year old kid, when she heard them smash in the door to her home. She was in bed and was startled to hear her mother screaming and weeping. There was a voice, an accusing voice, which sounded like it was reading from a script.
"You are hereby charged with conspiracy and sedition against the Reich and the enforced Peace of the State. You have been found guilty by the Governing Committee and are to submit to the following standard punishment. Your citizenship and right to vote as a private shareholder is revoked. Your right to bear children is hereby revoked. Your custodianship of your current, living children is hereby revoked." The list went on, but her mother's screaming refusals drowned them out.
Even as she leapt out of bed and rushed for the window, Addy knew it was far too late to escape. Three men smashed down her bedroom door before she could work the latch to the window and dragged her away, ignoring her shouts of protest and flailing arms.
She never did know what it was that her father had done to bring down the wrath of the Company, or even if he had done anything. But the horrified look on her father's face as she was dragged away with the Corporate Security men had burned itself into her mind forever.
Addy picked up a pawn and pushed it forward to threaten the invading rook. She wasn't at all sure this was going to work. The Professor was very sharp, and was no slave to the standard chess strategies. That meant he was more likely to successfully react to her creative ploys than most other opponents.
The Professor rubbed his chin thoughtfully as he examined his options. He could take the pawn and find out why Addy was trying to get his pieces to her side of the board, or he could withdraw the rook and play a more cautious game. He was certain that her sacrifice plays would inevitably paint her into a corner if he simply avoided taking the bait. But he wanted to see what she would do. It was more important to the Professor to learn how his opponent reacted than to go for the sure win. He moved a bishop, protected by a knight to capture the pawn.
Addy studied the board. She had a couple options. One was a risky move that could cost her a knight, but if he missed it, it would leave her in a position to capture his queen. But if he backed away, she'd loose the opportunity.
It was more slave quarters than a prison. That was where the Company put all the human assets it acquired either legally or by simply taking what it wanted. The place was really a secured area deep in the bowels of an immense arcology where thousands of employees of the Company lived their whole lives. Everything necessary for survival was there in the giant building, and a wide variety of entertainments were available to citizen shareholders. Since Adelaide was only sixteen, she had no benefits of citizenship, and essentially no right to freedom. These things could only be granted if a person could somehow afford to purchase at least one Company share. Sale of such shares are, of course, strictly controlled by the Company. Until such persons can purchase a share, they remain an asset controlled by the parent. Thus, when parents are stripped of their rights to have children by an approving vote of the Board of Directors of the ruling Company, any children they have become fair game for any Company to move in and claim them as potential resources, essentially taking over as 'parent' of the child. It is unusual in the extreme that a Company would ever grant citizenship to human assets seized in this way.
Months went by and Adelaide never saw the light of day. Packed three to a room, the quarters were spartan but clean. Constant use of strong disinfectants kept the human assets (HAs, as they were termed) clean and mostly disease-free, but it also gave the place an unpleasant, hospital-like smell. Depression was a problem among the HAs, but by living in groups of three and interacting with the other HAs, things weren't as bad as they could have been. Their common situation and often similar backgrounds helped to give them a kind of communal bond that helped them survive what they went through on both an emotional and physical level. It was this bond that helped them in their darkest hours.
Adelaide had two roommates in her small one-room compartment. One was Olga and she was a very slight woman. Adelaide never did know how old she was. She seemed young and she had a kind, pleasant demeanor but was usually pretty shy. The other was a Russian named Nadya and Adelaide really admired her. She was tough and almost always passed the mental and physical tests their overlords gave them so often. Nadya always seemed able to put on a strong face in the toughest of situations.
The morning the changes began started like any other. Breakfast served in the mess hall was of some nutritious but completely flat-tasting pasty gruel. Then it was morning calisthenics and a variety of strength and reflex-building exercises. By noon, the sweating exhausted group of thirty stood in ranks and at attention as the officers from the Abwehr, the Reich's military intelligence arm, inspected their people. They always carried electronic notepads and jotted some note or other. Occasionally, they'd call forward some HA or other and berate them for sub-par performance or worse.
That day was the first time Adelaide was called out.
"AD RCF4738, step forward!" called a sharp voice. That was Addy's designation, her serial number in this outfit. Reluctantly, she stepped forward.
"You have been selected for Infiltration and Retrieval training. However, your hand to eye coordination and manual strength is determined to be below the established minimums for this task. Report to the Infirmary for upgrade and correction."
Addy felt sick with fear as to what they might do to her, but what could she do? She was in the heart of Reich Arcology in Berlin. Where could she escape? A German officer armed with a submachine gun served to escort her to the infirmary.
It was a nightmare. Soon after she arrived at the infirmary, they had her lie down on a large table and clamped her down with her arms spread wide from her body. A doctor in green surgical clothes punctured first one arm and then another with a needle. Shortly, the feeling in her arms disappeared.
They wheeled in a small cart upon which two strange objects lay. They were metal, some kind of alloy, roughly in the shape of arms, but mechanical. The cold realization of what they were about to do, sunk in and Addy began to panic.
"Hold still," said a cold voice behind the mask. "Remain calm and this shall be over shortly. Your sacrifice for the Reich is not unappreciated."
Not far away stood the Abwehr officer that had escorted her here. He had a smirk on his face as he watched. This was something he had seen before and apparently enjoyed.
The doctor wheeled two devices to the table and attached them over each arm. The blades of the guillotine-like instruments gleamed sharply for a moment and Addy's eyes grew wide as she desperately looked from one to the other. Thunk! went one, thunk! went the other. Addy screamed.
After the operation, it took some time for her to get used to her cybernetic arms. They were, in fact, stronger and tougher than her natural arms had been. They were even more steady and helped her aim with firearms as well. But they never felt like they were a part of herself. They never felt real. They were cold and felt like the dead machines they were.
Nadya was a comfort, but having never had a cybernetic implant herself, it was difficult for her to relate to Addy's condition. Olga wouldn't talk about it at all and Addy wondered how many times those trips to the infirmary had cost her something more of herself. Olga was shutting herself off to the world and it wasn't a month longer before security came and took her away for the last time.
It was an HA named Hermann that taught Addy to cope with her implants. He was older, almost fatherly, and had obviously been through a lot of those sessions as well as a number of off-site assignments. He didn't have any eyes. Instead, an array of silver nodes circled his head. He seemed to be able to identify movement and people in 360 degrees. The implant didn't transmit color, only shape and texture. It gave him a unique perception of his world and maybe that's what made him seem wise. Though he was blind and strange, Addy still couldn't help having a crush on the weirdly handsome man.
Hermann taught her that even though their lives were in the control of the Company, the Reich, the domain of their minds was still their own. Freedom from pain and from the confines of the enclosing prison in which they lived still existed in the minds and hearts of the prisoners, the human assets, which have not yet given up. As her training as an Infiltration and Retrieval agent continued, Hermann was an indispensable mentor.
The move was successful. Although it cost her a knight, she was able to capture the Professor's queen. He still had all of his other powerful pieces, and Adelaide had lost most of hers but they were again evenly matched. The move made the Professor smile. He hadn't expected so many sacrifices just to capture his queen, but it was an important piece. It gave him greater respect for Adelaide's ability as a player.
Now it was time to take the offensive, however. In a short sequence of moves, he moved several protected pawns in position to pin down her remaining rooks and queen. Addy studied the board carefully and recognized her position quickly. Out numbered and momentarily outgunned, even her king would soon be pressured by the sheer number of pieces the Professor still commanded. It was time to take some risks and try to cost him more pieces than she would lose.
Addy finished her shower after the morning exercises and stepped from one of the stalls in the locker room. She had finished late that morning and since there was no other engagement scheduled for the afternoon, she had been able to enjoy the luxury of taking her time. She was of average height for a woman, but had a lot of leg and a well-toned body. It had to be, since the thin armor sheathing the Company had installed just under the skin of her torso and most of her head would loose its effectiveness if stretched by extraneous fat. This meant she had to spend time every day keeping herself in the best physical shape she could achieve. Thanks to her designation as an Infiltration specialist, the armor was detectable only by a thorough physical examination. Had she simply been a combat specialist, they would certainly have given her the heavier and very obvious exodermal sheathing.
Stepping out of the shower she looked around for a towel and was irritated to find the last dry towels had already been taken. With a sigh, she turned to the mirror and began squeezing the water out of her hair. That's when she discovered she wasn't alone.
Through the mirror, Addy noticed a strong looking but still attractive woman with short blonde hair watching her while leaning lazily against a locker. Her fiery gaze devoured Addy's smooth, curvaceous profile.
"Nadya!" exclaimed Addy. "I÷ I didn't know you were here." Confused and alarmed, her face reddened. The look on Nadya's face made her uncomfortable and suddenly very self-conscious.
"I thought you could use a towel," purred the blonde Russian. Addy had roomed with Nadya for two years and never had she noticed being given such attention before now. Never had Nadya exposed such naked lust.
Nadya walked noiselessly to Addy and handed her a towel she had saved. Addy, suddenly in a hurry to cover herself, hastily took it but was stopped momentarily as Nadya looked into her eyes.
"I've always liked you, Addy. You are incredibly attractive, you know." The breathy way she said 'incredibly' spoke of long hours of silent, late-night appreciation when she should have been sleeping. Nadya placed her hands on either side of the sink which had blocked Addy's escape and leaned close.
Addy hadn't ever considered Nadya anything more than a friend. Sure, Nadya had always been nice to her, but Addy never thought of her as anything other than that. She had never entertained an attraction to another woman. It simply didn't appeal to her. Now that Nadya had revealed her feelings, or at least what she seemed to want, Addy needed to come up with some kind of solution fast.
Addy honestly liked Nadya. She was a lot of things Addy wasn't: incredibly strong, talented in a lot of ways, and a master martial artist. Nadya was noted as being able to often best even the instructors in hand to hand combat. She had never once failed a test they had given her, making her seem super-human. And maybe she was. Technology to enhance human genetic code through gene splicing techniques made it possible to clean defective genes from the body and even improve upon the existing DNA. The Company, adhering to the tenants of the Reich, referred to the process as Genetic Purification and Upgrading. No one but Nadya and her handlers knew for sure if such a thing had been done to her, but it seemed possible.
"I never knew," she said to Nadya, trying not to totally come apart at the taller woman's close proximity. "Nadya, please. I need some time. This might not be anything new to you, but for me÷" Her voice trailed to a whisper.
For a moment, it looked like Nadya might try to take things as far as she wanted them to, whatever Addy said. A long moment passed as the Russian considered Addy's response.
"Hey!" she said, making Addy jump a little. "No sweat. You think about it." She stepped back, giving the object of her desire some space. She cocked a half-smile. "You know where to find me." She turned to walk out of the echoing locker room and threw over her shoulder, "Oh yeah. They told me to let you know. Your first mission is tonight, so you need to report to status room 75667 for briefing. See you there."
At eighteen years of age and after two years of continuous training and augmentation, Addy was given her first assignment. It was time to provide a little return on the Company's investment. The officers at the briefing told her the mission was to penetrate the information processing center of a genetics company, download data from their mainframes into a storage cube and return to base. Resistance was expected, but Adelaide was to avoid direct confrontation. To this end, Nadya, who was a veteran of seven missions already, was to serve as her backup in case she faced trouble. Finally, the operation was to be overseen by Leutnant Schmidt whose duty it was to clean up any messes. Since the Leutnant was a Feldwaffe pilot, the very idea of something going wrong terrified Addy. After all, she and Nadya would almost certainly also be 'cleaned up' in the event of failure.
A Feldwaffe was what they called weapon frames here in Germany. These massive, mechanized suits of armor came in several sizes and nearly endless configurations. In general they came in mini, standard, battle, and ultra sizes, the smallest of which was somewhat larger than a man. The particular brigade of which Leutnant Schmidt belonged to used standard sized Feldwaffe which were usually heavily armored and carried heavy weapons. They were not stealth modified. All this meant that if things went wrong, Addy and Nadya would be portrayed as destructive rebels that the Leutnant had cornered and confronted. Destruction of the buildings and people in the area would be blamed on whatever insurgent faction the Reich wished to dream up.
Well, from what Nadya had told Addy about her missions, this was pretty much the standard deal.
By nightfall, Addy and Nadya were dressed to kill and outfitted for the mission and were soon dropped off near their target. As planned, Addy broke away to begin the infiltration alone, while Nadya followed at a good distance.
Breaking in wasn't too difficult. Following a plan outlined before she left, she climbed a gutter, hand over hand up five stories to the roof of the facility. Here her cybernetic arms served her well as they tirelessly pulled her weight to the top without pause. Sliding smoothly over the lip of the flat roof, she quickly made her way to the maintenance elevator entrance. Schematics had indicated there would be no surveillance here. She paused at the locked door and mentally snapped on her nerve booster implants. The increased dexterity it provided her together with the electronic lockpicks she carried allowed her to quickly manipulate the lock and open the door. "I'm in," she told Nadya over the comsets they each wore.
In another minute, she was scurrying down the fixed ladders inside the elevator shaft. The pitch blackness would have panicked and blinded most people, and for the first time Addy was glad the Company had removed her left eye and replaced it with a night vision package. She switched to infrared and looked for the red-rimmed outline of the fourth floor elevator doors. Soon she arrived at the doors and pried them open.
Bad luck; a security man was walking past. Fortunately, his head was aimed the other way, giving Addy the chance she needed. Slipping the barrel of her .44 through the slightly parted doors, Addy quickly planted two silenced bullets in the back of his head and he dropped. This created a problem, however. It was likely the hallway was monitored on video and she hadn't had a chance to neutralize the cameras. Now it was a race against time before a security force was dispatched to handle the intrusion.
Addy wrenched the door wide and ran into the hallway. The young woman dashed along, taking the turns she had memorized earlier to get to the computer room as her black armored longcoat danced and flapped along behind her. Finally arriving at the door, she paused and knelt to consider the radio activated passcard lock.
A whirring noise from above and behind startled her. Tucking and rolling, Addy whirled away, desperately seeking cover as the automated machinegun mount opened up on her. Bullets smashed holes in the wall as it etched a perfect line along the wall after the hurtling infiltrator. Addy paused for a fraction of a second as she changed direction at the corridor intersection and got around a corner. She paid for it with two hits in the back. The bullets stung and knocked her off balance, but she would live. No one could say the Reich weren't good at engineering and her armored longcoat proved it. While it was no match for a heavy weapon, it could stop most small arms and submachinegun fire. But it obviously couldn't cover her face, so she needed to take care she didn't make it easy to take a hit there. She paused in her covered location to think.
The machinegun had to be computer controlled, and the computer needs some kind of eye to see her. If she took out the eye, the machinegun's threat would be neutralized. She glanced around and spotted a sensor globe. After planted a few rounds into it, she then took a cautious step back into the hallway. Silence followed, indicating she had stopped the machinegun.
Addy made quick work of the locking mechanism after she had popped the plastic faceplate off and was soon inside the computer room. A fist struck her in the face as she paused to get oriented and she staggered backwards momentarily surprised by the attack. A technician in a tan sweater looked at her with wild eyes and stepped in to hit her again. Her gun had clattered from her grasp, so she whirled on the unarmed man and swung at him with powerful, pummeling blows of her own. In a moment, the man's face was a bleeding mess and he lay unconscious on the raised computer room floor. She might not have the martial finesse Nadya did, but she was perfectly capable of handling some technician working overtime.
The computer room was clear and she was able to plug in the storage cube as she had been instructed. A virus released by the module attacked all the virtual ports of the mainframe and eventually found the weakest connection. A massive volume of computer gibberish instantly flooded the port and brought the mainframe's systems to a halt. The mainframe automatically attempted to reinitialize it's port listeners and the virus got an opportunity to worm it's way into the system while the firewall security recovered from the attack. In moments, the download was underway and she had to wait only seconds as the information was loaded into the storage cube.
"Downloading from target now," Addy spoke into her comset. She reset the piece in her ear and lowered the mic as she swallowed to moisten her dry throat. "I've encountered security and expect a response in less than one minute."
"Hey, watch your ass, girl. I'm on my way," she heard Nadya's reassuring voice say. "God is listening." That was Nadya's way of saying Leutnant Schmidt was monitoring the link and to watch what she said. Addy definitely didn't want Schmidt to think the job was a wash and she appreciated the warning.
She stuffed the cube in her pocket and peeked around the corner to check to be sure the hall was empty before she rushed out. Down the hall and a few turns later, she could be at the elevator, so she took off sprinting as fast as she could. She tore around the corner, nearly loosing her balance when she nearly collided with the Security Spyder.
It was a cyborg, or course. The only thing human about it was its brain and even that was usually subjected to the subversive influence of a Slave Soft which reprogrammed the brain to instill unquestioning loyalty to people it served. Physically, it really did look like a spider. It moved around on six very nimble legs saving two for manipulation and weapon mounts. It usually also had some kind of weapon where the mandibles normally would be. They came in any number of configurations, but this one had eight eyes arranged on its head to allow a 360 degree field of vision, a pair of vicious looking blades in two front arms, some kind of assault cannon in place of the mouth, and was heavily armored.
Addy yelled, "SHIT!", and leapt across the hallway intersection as the mouth cannon swiveled toward her.
"I'm almost there, Addy. Hang on!" It was Nadya, but would she get there in time? The machine cannon opened fire right through the corner of the wall as it traced Addy's path of escape. Behind her, she could hear the whining of electric motors and the secspyder quickly moved to pursue.
The higher pitched whine of submachine gun fire announced Nadya's arrival. She had circled around the machine and now flanked Addy on the other side of the intersecting hallways. Nadya had multiple hits on the secspyder, but the submachine gun's penetrating power was not up to the task of reducing the cyborg's armor. Swearing like a Kreigsmarine sailor, Nadya pulled out her heavy, long-barreled Luxembourg Jackhammer revolver. It took great strength and control to prevent the kick from the monster handgun from breaking the user's wrist, but it was powerful enough to pound through most personal and security armor. The downside was that the revolver only housed four shots.
It took a moment for Nadya to switch weapons and the secspyder wasn't about to waste the opportunity to blow away another intruder. Addy's cybernetically enhanced reflexes gave her the edge she needed, though, and she stepped out from behind the corner and squeezed off a couple well-placed rounds from her heavy semi-automatic before the cyborg could act. One of the shots ripped a hole in the monster's torso and it wheezed in outrage. It unloaded a stream of fire at Nadya. One shot managed a hit directly to her stomach and she screamed in pain as the powerful slug zipped through her armored longcoat and lodged in her gut.
"Nadya!" cried Addy, unsure how badly her friend had been hurt.
As she staggered, the blonde martial artist fired the Jackhammer and it tore chunks of armor and hardware out of the base of one of the cyborg's legs. The remaining connecting pieces weren't enough to take the weight and a leg fell completely off. Addy took advantage of their small victory and blazed away at the machine, aiming for the head. Two more shots burrowed into the thing's skull case and took up permanent residence in its brain. The secspyder suddenly dropped as its legs went limp and its gears wheezed their last complaint. A slick little stream of coolant and blood slipped from the damaged brain case.
Nadya panted as she sagged against a wall. "Damn, I was s'pposed to be rescuing you!"
"Well if you hadn't shown up when you did, I'd never have had an opportunity to shoot back. Come on, let's get out of here."
Addy and Nadya were able to slip out of the building and to their rendezvous point with Schmidt. Nadya was bleeding, but fortunately, her armored longcoat had taken most of the damage and her injury was blessedly minor. A couple days in the infirmary and she was as strong as she ever was.
For five years, Adelaide performed a myriad of missions for the Company, sometimes with Nadya but more often alone. Some were retrieval, others were assassination, and all of them were dangerous. But she did it because she had to. That was the way things were when you were an asset without rights as a German citizen in the Reich. At least, it was until Adelaide made her move to escape the grip of the Company.
The Professor leaned back from the game table and thoughtfully scratched a sideburn. Adelaide had faced his attack and was even able to take down a couple pawns. The game had taken an unexpected turn and now the Professor was much less confident he could win. He sat and thoughtfully considered his options.
Addy looked down at her watch and then smiled back up at her opponent. "I'm sorry Professor, but I'm afraid I'm out of time. Why don't we finish this another time?"
The older man looked at Addy, surprised she wouldn't stay longer. "You know where to find me, young lady."
Addy nodded and said, "End program." The Professor disappeared. "Exit the grid." A disembodied voice replied, "Now exiting the Grid," and the room in which Addy had been playing chess with the Professor dissolved and disappeared.
In the real world, a woman of medium build and long brown hair removed the cyber visor and pulled off the feedback gloves. Standing up, the attractive girl stood, straightened her black one-piece outfit and looked around the cyber caf» whose booth she had been using. No one else in the caf» was paying attention; each was occupied with their own games and business on the Grid. The woman checked her under-arm holster and found her .44 magnum still secure there and after slipping on her armored longcoat, she left the cyber caf» for the busy streets of Berlin.