Chess Pieces: En Passant



  • Here's another segment of this - hopefully it has something to satisfying all the various interests here.

    Also, if anyone spots the sly reference to The Transformers I slipped into it, you'll get a bonus cookie! :)

    Mark

    ****

    Chess Pieces: En Passant

    “So,” Roy Koenig, the current Black King, said as he sat in his office looking at the woman in front of him. She was flanked by two armed guards aiming automatic weapons at her. “Why should I believe you? I mean, you infiltrate my compound, evade my security and attempt to hack into my security system – what information could you have that isn’t already at my fingertips?”

    “Then you admit that this is an interesting quandary you find yourself facing,” Phoebe McDonald countered. “I understand that your organisation recently acquired some data from the White Chancellor – I also understand that you have been having some…difficulties reconciling that data, am I right?”

    Koenig sat and viewed her impassively for a minute. He had heard of Phoebe – his intelligence listed her as one of the two active White Rooks and so far their attempts at eliminating the other one had failed spectacularly. Koenig also knew just how dangerous she could be – something that had made the manner in which his security team had located her seem very out of character for someone of her standing. Like she wanted to be caught.

    “That’s correct.” Koenig said. Phoebe smiled.

    “I took the liberty of looking at the data you had acquired,” She said. “It’s wrong, so I’m offering you my services,” Phoebe continued, taking his silence to be an affirmation of her statement. “I will work for you – for a fee – and help you destabilise the White organisation. I know where they train their neophytes, how their logistics operate, what schedule they run to – everything.”

    “For a fee?” Koenig replied. “And just how much are you looking to charge me should I take you up on this offer?”

    “Ten million per member I remove.” Phoebe replied. “After tax.” Koenig laughed.

    “Oh really?” He said then he gestured to one of his guards. “Well, I guess we’ll see how resolute you really are then.” Phoebe looked over her shoulder and saw the guard dragging a figure towards her. He threw the figure to the floor – Phoebe recognised her as Diane Chambers, one of the two current White Knights.

    Diane was an older operative, approaching her fortieth birthday, which was the mandatory retirement age for field operatives in the White organisation. She looked up at Phoebe and shook her head.

    “What are you doing here?” She asked. Phoebe smiled at her.

    “Well, you could say that I’m participating in an employment exchange program,” Phoebe replied cheerfully. “Or that I’ve seen which way the wind is blowing and I’ve decided to switch sides.”

    “Bitch.”

    “I see you two women know each other,” Koenig laughed. “That’s good – it saves me introducing you.” He stood up from his chair and motioned for his guards to step back. “Very well, I’ll be brief: Miss Chambers here tried to infiltrate my New York office building a week ago. We apprehended her planting enough explosives in the foundations to demolish it. Miss McDonald, to prove your sincerity I’d like you to kill Miss Chambers here.”

    “Figures,” Diane muttered as she got to her feet. “I always thought that you were susceptible to…” the fist caught her in the mouth, knocking Diane back down to the floor. She rolled with the momentum of the blow, moving away from Phoebe’s attempts to kick her while she was down.

    The older woman bounced back up and spun around, catching Phoebe with a kick to her head – however the younger woman countered by sweeping Diane’s standing leg from beneath her as she fell to the floor. Diane cried out in agony as her back connected with the hard stone floor. Phoebe – despite her equally prone position – dropped her leg hard onto Diane’s chest before straddling the woman. She rained a series of punches down onto Diane’s face before she leaned back, catching her breath.

    “You know, this is almost too easy,” Phoebe murmured as she prepared to strike Diane again. However, her overconfidence allowed the older woman to twist her hips with enough force to dislodge Phoebe from her body. Diane quickly got to her feet and drove a powerful kick into Phoebe’s face.

    Koenig sat on his chair and marvelled at the spectacle before him. He had thought that Phoebe would easily overpower Diane, yet the older agent had reserves he hadn’t counted on – although, that wasn’t that surprising considering that his people had tortured her for a week for information with no success.

    Phoebe was still reeling from the blow and felt a familiar salty taste in her mouth. She wiped it with the back of her hand – the blood stirring up her anger.

    “I’m really going to enjoy killing you,” Phoebe said.

    “Yeah? All you’ve done is talk.” Diane replied as the two women circled each other. The two women flew at each other, crashing into contact as they begin throwing elbows, knees, punches and kicks at each other, both deadly women successfully blocking one another’s moves and not giving the upper hand to the other. Phoebe was surprised – she had honestly expected Diane to have crumbled by now.

    Growing more and more frustrated as the battle wore on longer than expected, Phoebe brought up her knee and slammed it into the outside of Diane’s thigh, the force of the knee strike dropping Diane to one knee. Phoebe followed up by driving her elbow into Diane’s temple dropping her to her hands. Phoebe knew she had to finish this now – raising her leg and delivering a lethal axe kick to the back of Diane’s head. She struck Diane with as much power as she could muster, the force of the blow shattering the vertebrae.

    The woman known as the White Knight dropped dead on her face, her arms flopping to her sides like limp noodles and her blond hair covering her face. Diane Chambers was dead. Phoebe heard the applause from Koenig. She turned to look at him, breathing heavily in the process.

    “I don’t think you’re worth ten million after tax,” Koenig said. “However, I’ll pay you five.” He walked across to her and shook her hand. “Welcome aboard.”

    ****

    “Five operatives in the space of a week.” The statement was met with silence. “And so far we have no idea who has been perpetrating these attacks.” Everyone in the room looked at him for leadership and direction – and at the critical time it appeared that he had neither. The White King sat at the head of the table and contemplated his next words carefully. “How is the training program progressing?”

    “We’ve accelerated it,” Ella Springer said. “However, the neophytes are still going to be weeks away from completing their training – and even then, they may not withstand the pressure in the field.”

    “And what of our other operation?” The White King looked across at Tom Bauer.

    “I can assure you that the data they stole was useless to them…” Tom replied.

    “Can you? That doesn’t explain their unnerving accuracy with this series of assaults.” The shrill voice of the White Queen interrupted.

    “Then why haven’t I been exposed?” Tom countered. “I’m currently part of the Black Queen’s security detail and I can assure you that they are treating this information like it’s gospel – all of their operations are being based on it.” He took a drink from the glass of water in front of him. “The Black Queen is responsible for all their frontline operations – the Black King seems to be only interested in the financial aspects of their organisation.”

    “And still no word from Diane Chambers?” The King mused. Ella shook her head. “Then we must assume the worst. Continue the accelerated training program and we will meet again at the end of the month.”

    ****

    “I don’t recall signing up for all this smoke and mirrors stuff,” Tom said as he got into the car. Ella entered from the passenger side.

    “You remember what the King said when we put this whole thing together – no one could know that the data was false – not even the White Chancellor,” Ella replied as they drove out of the secure underground car park. “There’s only the four of us who know that – and the longer it stays that way, the more chance we have of the Black organisation falling into our trap.”

    “True,” Tom answered. “So what do you make of the current escalation then?”

    “If you ask me,” Ella said. “I smell a rat.”

    “Seriously?” Tom sounded surprised.

    “Yeah – I just don’t know who though.” Ella sighed. “Come on, Phoebe sad she’d meet us at the nursery.”

    ****

    The Nursery – as Ella called it – was a three-floor house located in a quiet, secluded corner of East Anglia. The ground floor housed the kitchen, dining room and a large gym, and sat above a large basement that doubled up as an armoury and secure room should the building come under attack. The first floor consisted of a dormitory for up to ten people and a communal living space while the second floor was made up of several offices and housed the IT system that acted as an information hub for this part of the country.

    Janet was sat in a quiet corner of the gym, listening to the sound of her own breathing. Even in a house this size, it was difficult to actually find somewhere that was truly quiet enough for her daily ritual. However, she had succeeded tonight and wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass her by.

    She was one of five “students” staying at the Nursery at the minute. Evan and Scott were no doubt playing on the games console as they seemed to do every night in the living room; Mira would be listening to some music in the dorm and Janet anticipated that Rachel would probably be cooking something in the kitchen.

    They had all arrived here around three weeks ago – chosen by the White Rook specifically for the promise they had shown as security interns within this organisation. All of them hoped to advance to the rank of Pawn by the end of their training, however they all knew that the programme had a high mortality rate.

    Even within the ranks of the seemingly benevolent White Group, failure was not to be tolerated.

    Her eyes fluttered for a moment before she opened them. Something about the stillness of the night seemed at odds with how the room normally felt – almost wrong on a fundamental level. Janet stood up, grabbing her tee-shirt and putting it on before leaving the gym. She was approaching the door when she heard the first explosion that rocked the house.

    Evan and Scott were downstairs almost as quickly as Janet was in leaving the gym – the inside of the house was filling with thick, acrid smoke. They all looked at each other for a moment, trying their best not to cough before any spoke.

    “What was that?” Janet asked.

    “It was local – sounded like heavy ordnance.” Scott replied.

    “I’ll go to the armoury – you two stay here.” Evan said, making his way past Janet and towards a heavy steel trap door. He opened it and vanished inside. Both Janet and Scott heard the footsteps coming down the stairs.

    “What happened?” Mira said, her ipod still hanging around her neck.

    “No idea.” Scott answered. “Have you seen…”

    “I…I…think…we…” Rachel staggered out of the kitchen – her clothing was shredded as the other three agents-in-training saw the burns across her right side of her body. She stumbled slightly, and then fell to the floor. Janet and Mira raced over to her – but it was already too late. They both saw the chunk of metal that was embedded in the back of her skull – then they felt the heat of the flames.

    “Shit – the kitchen’s on fire!” Mira cried out, shielding her eyes as she tried to see what had happened in the room. “The oven must have exploded…” Scott darted past her, into the room. He tried to pull the door shut, although the heat of the blaze had made it difficult for him to grab the door handle without searing the flesh of his hand.

    “Come on,” Janet said, grabbing Mira’s hand. “We need to get out of here.” She tugged at her, pulling her to her feet – only to see several red plumes of blood appear across Mira’s chest. Janet hadn’t even heard the gunshots, let alone seen where they had originated from, as a fleeting look of confusion spread across Mira’s face before she fell to the floor.

    “Move!” Scott pushed Janet onto the stairs just as more gunshots impacted into the walls where they had both been standing. She scrambled up the stairs, trying to keep as low a profile as possible, glancing back to see a shadowy figure reloading as Scott charged at it.

    Janet watched as Scott ran straight into another hail of gunfire, his body falling to the floor a few feet away from the shooter. The figure then advanced towards the stairs – looking up at Janet through goggle-enclosed eyes. Janet got to her feet and started to run – knowing that there would be something she could use in the dormitory.

    The wood of the balustrade shattered as more gunshots struck it, causing a stray shot to ricochet into her thigh. Janet hit the floor hard, momentarily winding herself. She heard the footsteps coming up the stairs behind her, accompanied by a soft, feminine chuckle. That served to inflame her anger – both at the loss of her friends and the fact that her pursuer perceived her to be helpless.

    She managed to get back up on her feet as the black-clad figure approached her. Janet, ignoring the searing pain in her leg, tried to put on a brave face.

    “You know, I could have taken you out in the gym,” The shape said as she put her pistol away. “But, where’s the fun in that?”

    “Yeah, well, that’s your mistake.” Janet countered. The shape laughed.

    “I guess it is, however, I intend to correct it.” Her hand flew out – Janet barely had time to block it before a second strike was on its way that connected with the side of her head, followed by a swift kick into her stomach. Janet stumbled backwards, putting her weight onto her wounded leg and immediately finding it buckling beneath her. She dropped to her knees.

    “Aww, poor baby,” The figure mocked. “Does your leg hurt?” She punctuated her question with a powerful kick that caught Janet under the chin, knocking her backwards. For a moment, Janet wondered whether the force of the blow had broken her neck, but the screaming nerve endings in her leg were still transmitting to her brain.

    She saw the shape lining up to drop an axe kick onto her face. From some deep recess in her soul she marshalled the resources to move her head to the left, grabbing her opponent’s foot as it slammed into the wooden floor. She heard something break in the panels beneath her as Janet responded by twisting the foot.

    The shape cried out – even though Janet knew she hadn’t broken the bone, she was pretty certain that the stinging sensation would hamper her attacker. She clambered back to her feet and threw a powerful left hook into the masked face, then struck her with an uppercut with as much force as she could muster standing on her back foot.

    She was about to strike the fingers of her left hand into the throat of the shape when a knee was driven into stomach, doubling her over. Janet was gasping for breath again when she heard her attacker taunting her again.

    “Oooh, it’s been fun – better than most – but now it’s over,” The shape said as she recovered from Janet’s brief counter-attack. She stepped back, spinning around and smashed her foot into Janet’s chest, knocking her over the railing. She watched as the trainee fell through the air, momentarily weightless, until gravity claimed its prize when she crashed onto the hard floor ten feet below.

    ****

    “What the fuck has happened here?” Tom said as he scanned the entrance hall before stepping inside. His pistol was in his hand and he was checking each corner he saw. The flames from the kitchen continued to belch smoke into the rest of the ground floor.

    “Shit!” Ella said, anger and despair rising in her voice as she saw the dead bodies in the hall. “We’ve been hit.”

    “I’ll purge the hard drives,” Tom said, running to the stairs. “You check for any survivors – I’ll meet you at the Vigilant.” Ella lost sight of him in the smoke. She looked at the bodies, realising that there wasn’t anything she could do for them. Carefully keeping her rotation going so she couldn’t be surprised, she paused by Janet’s body. Her hand reached out and felt her neck – there was a faint but weak pulse there.

    Then it struck Ella – whoever had done this was still probably in the building. She moved across to the hatch to the armoury, stepping over Scott’s body, and saw a foot wedging it open. She recognised the garish looking trainer as belonging to Evan. Ella shook her head, trying to channel her emotions into something useful.

    ****

    The dormitory was empty. Ella was expecting a horde of Black personnel to leap out at her at any point in time. She swept through the beds, pausing only to pick up a personnel effect from one of the locker’s at the far end of the room – a katana given to her by her Japanese friend Aiko. Backing out of the dorm, she heard something creak behind her. Ella turned, ready to fire at the sound.

    “Don’t shoot! It’s me – Phoebe!” The figure said from the darkness of the living room. She stepped forward into the light. Recognising her, Ella relaxed slightly.

    “What’s going on?” Ella asked.

    “No clue – I got here about five minutes ago to find the place on fire and the newbies all dead.” Ella nodded in response to her comment.

    “Janet’s still alive,” Ella said. “We need to get her medical attention fast. She might be able to tell us what happened here.” Ella started to walk towards the stairs.

    “Where are you going?” Phoebe asked as she followed behind her.

    “To get Tom and get us out of here.” Ella replied.

    “And you say Janet’s still alive?” Phoebe said. Ella stopped and turned to face her.

    “Yeah, she…” the bullet hit her in the stomach, knocking her backwards against the stairs. Ella’s gun and the sword rattled down the few steps that she had covered.

    “She was tougher than I thought,” Phoebe said as she stepped over Ella. “Now, don’t go anywhere – I’m just going to take care of Tom then I’ll be back to finish you off.”

    ****

    “Come on, hurry up,” Tom said as he stared at the data that was downloading to the laptop.

    “What the hell are you doing?” Phoebe asked as she entered the room.

    “This is a chronological run down of all the attacks on our personnel over the last week – I can analyse this and see if I can identify a pattern or a root cause…” Tom replied.

    “We don’t have time for that,” Phoebe said. “They’re in the building.”

    “Where’s Ella?” Tom said as he yanked the cables free and packed up the laptop, satisfied that he had extracted everything he could. He then keyed in a keycode sequence on the hard drives – and the smell of sulphuric acid eating away at the guts of the six-foot tall devices filled the room. “She should be here by now.”

    “I don’t know,” Phoebe lied. “But we need to get out of here.”

    “I know, however I almost forgot this,” Tom answered as he picked up the round, black ball from the desk. “But, something’s wrong about all this – it’s like they knew precisely how and where to hit us tonight…”

    “It’s got to be the data they stole from the White Chancellor,” Phoebe replied, trying to encourage Tom to get out of the room. “Maybe it wasn’t as inaccurate as we thought.” He stopped in his tracks.

    “How do you know about that?” He said. Tom turned his back on Phoebe.

    “I…Ella – Ella must have mentioned it earlier,” Phoebe said, realising her mistake. Tom nodded.

    “Okay…” he paused for a minute as he considered the black globe before him. “So, I guess there’s only really one question to ask,” Tom mused as he shook the round black ball in his hands. “Has Phoebe betrayed us?”

    “What? You’re asking a magic 8-ball for answers to preposterous questions at a time like this?” Phoebe couldn’t quite believe it herself.

    “Well, once you remove all the emotion from the equation,” Tom said as he looked at the 8-ball. “The answer was staring me in the face.” He watched as the inky fluid bubbled for a moment before the small answer die inside rose to the surface.

    Yes

    He turned and held the 8-ball up so that Phoebe could see it.

    “You’re going to trust that chunk of plastic over your instincts?” She said.

    “It works for me, bitch!” The words were punctuated by a searing sensation that tore through Phoebe’s body. Her face registered a strange mixture of shock and disbelief for a moment before she looked down and saw the bloody end of the katana blade that pierced her torso. The blade twisted sharply and tugged upwards before it was wrenched free of her chest. Phoebe turned as her legs buckled beneath her, the taste of blood filling her mouth and saw Ella standing behind her, clutching her side and using the sword as a makeshift crutch. As Phoebe fell to the floor, Tom managed to catch Ella before she joined her.

    “I was wondering when you’d show up,” He said as he helped her to a chair.

    “Better…late…than never,” Ella wheezed then grimaced in pain.

    “Come on, let’s get you to a doctor,” Tom said as he looked at the gunshot wound in her stomach. Tom grabbed the laptop bag before carefully helping her to her feet and guiding Ella out of the room.

    “Need…to get…Janet…” Ella murmured.

    “Okay, as soon as I’ve gotten you out of here.” Tom replied.

    “How did…you know the…8-ball would be right?” Ella asked.

    “I didn’t,” Tom answered. “But, like you said earlier, only four people knew that information they stole from the White Chancellor was wrong – and Phoebe wasn’t one of them. The only way she could have known that would be if she’d seen the data herself – which means she had switched sides,” He opened the door and helped Ella to the stairs. “And it took three shakes to get a Yes out of it.”

    “Mmm…one out of three…reasonable odds,” Ella murmured. “Does it do lottery numbers as well?”


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