"Good morning, good morning, good morning! Rise and shine. Rise and shine! It's another beautiful day!"
Number 6 could barely contain her venom as the speaker along the wall spoke to her. She was still trapped in this place, this "Village." Three days, and no clues. The citizens were an odd bunch, talking about the weather, acting like everything was as it should be, and the people in charge were definitely not to be trusted. She would have to rely on herself to find a way out, so today she would comb every inch of the Village and learn everything there was to know.
The redhead got out of bed and went to the bathroom. After she showered and dressed, she emerged to find a woman making coffee and eggs in her kitchen. 'Ugh, I just want to be left alone. No more maids,' she thought. "Excuse me? Number 309? That won't be necessary today."
"Oh hullo, Miss. I'm your new maid, Number 82. How do you like your coffee?"
"Very sorry, Miss, but I've my orders to continue," the maid curtsied as she turned back to the stove.
The redhead snapped. "What happened to the other maid? Are you spying on me? Sent to watch me? Who's side are you on?" She grabbed the maid by her apron and shook. The maid continued to defy Number 6 until the tremors became her own.
Shaking turned into crying, and soon the maid blubbered, "Please don't hurt me! They said they would let me go if I kept an eye on you! Please stop!" she cried as she sank to the floor, a puddle of despair.
Number 6 questioned her. "Who said they would let you go?"
The maid straightened her hair and stood up. "No one, Miss. I... can't tell you. I had better leave." She tucked her chin down and prepared to depart. She was close to the door when a hand stopped her.
"Very sorry, but there's one more question. What happens to you now?"
The only response was a pair of eyes staring at the floor.
The redhead left her apartment and decided to make her way to the library to search for a computer. She stopped dead in her tracks when she saw the lawn.
A chess board. A giant chess board stretched across the grass and a couple dozen people loitered along the side. They wore brightly colored capes and held staffs with insignias on top.
Number 6 walked down to the lawn to investigate. A blonde woman with a small frame and a white fisherman's hat approached. She said, "I'm the queen. Come and be the queen's pawn?" The redhead glanced around and caught sight of two men sitting atop tall chairs. She inquired, "Who is he?"
The queen smiled and said, "I'll answer that as we play. Come." She gestured toward the board and handed the redhead a cape and staff.
The game commenced. Number 6 looked up as the men in blue blazers issued moves to the human pieces through bullhorns. She turned back to the queen and asked again, "Who is he?"
The queen directed her gaze to her pawn. "That player? The champion."
"Who was he before?"
"I've heard rumors. He was supposed to be a count, his whole family held power."
"Who is Number 1?" The redhead continued to press for information.
The queen shook her head. "It doesn't do to ask questions."
"Why were you brought here? Who are you?"
The blonde appeared distracted as one of the players declared "Bishop to Knight's 3!" She returned her attention to Number 6 with "Oh, there's a good move, wasn't it?" The queen grinned, and said "I suppose you want to know how to escape, as well?"
"It had crossed my mind," the redhead responded.
The queen paused. "They told me there was no way out."
"Pawn to Queen's 4!" the man controlling the white pieces prompted from his post.
"I don't believe what they tell me, are you surprised?"
The man repeated his order. "Pawn to Queen's 4! Pawn to Queen's 4!" The queen nudged Number 6. "That's you! Don't worry, you're safe. Protected by the queen."
She picked up her staff and moved two spaces forward. This was getting nowhere. She needed answers. She needed to escape. Both would be ideal.
"Queen to King's 3!"
The queen moved closer to the redhead as the opposing player ordered "Rook to Bishop's 4! Rook to Bishop's 4!"
Number 6 looked to the rook, who had not yet moved. The rook appeared distressed. Sweat dripped down his brow. Instead of moving to his assigned place, he walked to a different spot on the board and shouted, "Check!"
The human pieces and spectators gasped. The black player picked up a telephone and spoke into the end, "White queen's rook, sir, moved without orders! Remove to the hospital!"
The game was over, and the players agreed to a rematch. Number 6 approached the white player and asked "What was that all about?"
The man turned and put his hands into the pockets of his blue blazer. He answered, "It's not allowed: cult of the individual."
"Then why do you play chess?" The redhead followed his as he walked toward the fountain.
"My psychiatrist tells me it satisfies the desire for power. The only brand one can get here, I imagine."
"Whose side are you on?"
The man stopped and replied, "I'm on my side."
"How do you know who is who? They all have numbers. They all look the same to me."
"You mean, how do I tell black from white? You've got to consider the big picture. Modern man like me has got to keep his mind alert. No one can tell him what to do, that's my kinda dog. Be seeing you." The man tipped his hat and walked away.
Number 2 watched the exchange play out on the screen. Pleased to see Number 6 was acclimating nicely. He picked up a phone and pressed the button before speaking. "How are you doing with the project, Number 14?"
On the other end, the blonde responded "The crystal is almost ready, s-sir. I'm still not sure this is the best method."
"It's hardly up to you, Number 14. If this doesn't work, you know we have a great many tricks up our sleeve."
The blonde on the other end sighed. Her blue eyes looked into the crystal as she said to herself, "I just hope it doesn't come to that."
"Good morning, good morning, good morning! Rise and shine, rise and shine! It's another beautiful day! Citizens should carry an umbrella today, as there is a risk of rain in the late afternoon."
Number 6 opened her eyes and groaned. Another day, another dead end. The library was a bust. The nice person behind the desk said "Of course we don't have access to the world wide web, Miss. Whatever would you need the Internet for, anyhow? There are newspapers, books, and stationary all right here!"
'Drones,' she thought. 'Mindless drones.' Although - yesterday that chess player seemed to have a mind of his own. And the rook? What could have motivated him to disobey like that?
She dressed and walked to the cafe. As she tilted the last of her coffee into her mouth, she noticed Number 2 sit down across from her. The short butler stood by with a black-and-white umbrella.
"Hello, Number 6. Did you enjoy the chess match yesterday?"
She smiled and put her cup down in its saucer. "It was very interesting. What does the victor earn, escape?"
"Won't you ever give up, Number 6?"
"Certainly not, when it seems like all you can do is annoy me to death. What's next, tickling?"
"Attitude problem, serious. You're wrong, you know. We have ways. All done under the strictest medical supervision, of course. How about I take you for a ride and show you?" Number 2 stood and gestured toward the waiting taxicab.
The redhead hesitated, but got into the backseat as the butler took the wheel.
They arrived at the hospital. Number 2 led them into a chamber with a two-way mirror. A man with short black hair and a clipboard joined them.
"Hello sir, the subject will be in momentarily."
"Good, Number 515. What do we have today?"
"The patient has been severely dehydrated. We've got him tripping like a Ken Russell film festival. It's taken from Pavlov's experiment."
Number 6 inquired, "Wasn't that done with dogs?" The medical technician answered, "Yeah, and here comes Sparky."
On the other side of the mirror, a nurse wheeled in the white rook from the chess match. He sat before yellow, blue, and white water coolers. His hair stood straight up as he gasped, "Water." He grabbed an empty cup and tried to pour water out of the yellow cooler.
The technician made a note on his clipboard and spoke into a microphone. "Don't touch it."
He spoke too late, and the rook received a shock. Desperate for water, he tried the blue cooler. Again he heard "Don't touch that, either." It didn't register, and he got another jolt.
Number 6 noticed the technician smirk. She couldn't hold back her disdain as she muttered, "Don't tell me, it hurts you more than it hurts him." He made another note as the rook attempted to get water from the white cooler. All he got was another shock. The technician flipped a switch and spoke into the microphone. "Now, go to the blue dispenser. Drink."
The rook hesitated. He heard the voice tell him, "You'll get water when you learn to obey. Do as you're told. Go to the blue dispenser." The rook was desperate, and tried to drink once more. Water poured out of the bottom, and he slaked his thirst.
Number 2 turned to his companions. "In society, everyone must learn to conform. Good work, Number 515. The rook will be reformed in no time."
The technician smiled. "Interesting subject. I'd like to know his breaking point. The force can sometimes have great power on the weak-minded."
As Number 2 led her out of the observation room, the redhead told the technician, "Perhaps you can make it your life's ambition. Nerd."
The pair walked down a corridor and Number 2 turned to Number 6. "You can be on your way. I trust you have a better grasp on the resources we have at our disposal."
She walked away as Number 2 said, "Be seeing you."
The bald man walked up a flight of stairs and into another room. He queried, "Are we all set up, Number 14?"
A blonde in a lab coat had just wheeled someone into the room. She responded, "Just about, sir. This is the subject you mentioned?"
Number 2 nodded. "Yes, she seemed to get chummy with Number 6 on the chess board yesterday. She was her queen."
The blonde turned on the screen and an image of the red-haired witch came up. She looked over at Number 2. "This is a new development. An experiment done on dolphins. It's a technique that works by controlling their brains."
She wheeled the small girl before the screen and spoke into her ear in a calm voice. "You see that woman. You used to work together. You conquered the underworld of Europe together. You love her, you can't live without her. You would even betray her to save her from herself. You will wear this crystal close to your heart. She gave it to you after your last job. She loves you."
The blonde clasped the crystal necklace around the neck of the swooning queen. She closed the subject's eyes and told her superior, "When she sees her, her pulse will quicken, and if Number 6 rejects her or attempts to escape it will overwhelm her, causing her to panic and an increase in pulses. I will detect the change in her aura. I will feel what she feels."
Number 2 grinned. "Thank you for your cooperation, Number 14. You've moved one step closer to earning that cure."
The butler drove Number 6 down to the fountain at the center of the Village. The redhead stepped out of the taxi and watched the latest chess match take place. An hour passed, and she noticed a familiar face walking through the adjacent garden. The rook.
She shot up and ran to where the rook was absently looking at the lilies. She put her hand on the man's shoulder and he pivoted, fear in his eyes.
"You're one of them. I know you are. Leave me alone!"
"One of who? I'm not going to hurt you," her eyes quickly noticed his pin, "Number 58."
"A guardian. You're a guardian, I can tell. Leave me alone, I know how you operate."
The redhead asked, "What? I'm a prisoner, like you. Believe me."
The woman looked honest. The man calmed down a bit. He was tall, with a long black cloak. His black hair still stood up as he nodded. He observed, "You're not like the others."
"The other prisoners? There are more? How can you tell?"
"I lurk. The guardians have an ease about them. The prisoners look like they have something to lose."
She assured him, "I understand why you were frightened of me. You are intimidated by my manner. You thought I would be a guardian by my confidence. I suppose it's an effect of my mystic training. Or my tendency to get what I want. But if you're looking for me to take a swim and get sucked up by those white balloony thingies just to prove my point, you can think again. How do those work, anyway? It looks like a beach ball and I wake up with a migraine and bloody nose, kinda like that time I tried to teleport, which didn't go so well-"
"Alright, I believe you. The babbling is less than intimidating."
"Right, see, once you get to know me you'll see I'm harmless. What are you here for?"
"I worked for the Ministry of Defense, designing weapons. Then I developed an electronic defense system. I thought all nations should have it, to ensure world peace. Never got far with it, though. It was stolen by some bumbling bureaucrat. Big donut hole for my troubles. Seems a few people were disappointed with how I changed my tune, and they want me where they can use me if any country decides to implement the system. I'm their safety device."
The woman took in the rook's words. "I would tell you my reason, but.. we'll have to wait for a more secure location. Perhaps we can work on a plan to escape? You still have an independent mind. There are very few of us left. No escape plan can succeed without first knowing who you can rely on. Let's find others."
The rook motioned to a man painting an arch. "Let's get started. Follow me."
The redhead took a step and wondered aloud, "I did have one more question. Your hair. Does it always stick up like that? Do you use product?"
The rook grinned. "Trapped doesn't have to mean sloppy."
The pair set forth soliciting allies. The painter, the shop clerk, and the chess player all agreed to assist the plan to escape the Village. The group sat discussing the plan in the garden.
A woman with crimped dirty blonde hair picked up a phone. "Get me sound on camera 28! Hello? Electrics?"
The voice on the other end said "Yes, Ma'am?"
"There's no sound on camera 28! Do your frickin' job!"
The voice quivered, "Yes, of course! It will be fixed right away!"
The new Number 2 turned her attention back to the objects on the screen. "What are you up to, Number 6?"
The rook guided the cart through the Village. His green-eyed partner drove the vehicle down the winding roads while he kept his eye out for the necessary parts.
He signaled. The cart came to a stop and he carefully unscrewed a camera without notice. The tall man ran back to the vehicle and they sped off to find a telephone booth.
The woman was getting ticked. She grabbed a chunk of her own hair and shrieked, "Camera 34! Sound and vision!"
The screen was black. She picked up a receiver and barked, "Electrics! Camera 34 is down. Fix it immediately! Control room - locate Number 6. Now."
The redhead and the rook continued through the Village. Acquiring the last piece from the electrics truck, Number 6 could not help but notice they were being followed. She stopped the vehicle and jumped out. She told the rook to go on without her. He nodded and affirmed, "We'll regroup on the beach. Be careful."
The redhead darted behind the trunk of a tree on the side of the road. She saw the vehicle approach and recognized the driver. She jumped out and asked, "Going my way?"
The queen's eyes lit up. She patted the seat next to her, and Number 6 got into the car. She shifted the car into gear and they took off. When they neared a secluded area of forest, she turned off the road. "Oh, my love, how can you act so calm when we haven't seen each other in hours?"
Number 6 was dumbfounded. 'Love? Her? Huh?' She glanced at the blonde woman sitting next to her. "I'm sorry, but, love - you? We met yesterday!"
"Oh now darling, don't lets quarrel. Remember Budapest? Turn of the century?"
"I remember nothing. Are you playing some kind of mind game?" The redhead was getting more perplexed.
The queen gave a sultry look. "This is no game. I know a thing or two about mind games. So do you. Now why don't you ease up." She reached her hand out toward the redhead's cheek. Her hand grazed the air as Number 6 leaped out of the vehicle.
"Hands! I know... a love spell! That must be what this is. They never go well. With the undying devotion and the sentimental ax-wielding and the hands in new places. Just... trust me. You don't love me, and I don't love you."
The blonde grabbed the edge of a nearby table. Her knees became weak, and she knelt down on the floor. The queen - she must be near Number 6. She could feel the excitement in her fluttering belly.
She told someone to call Number 2 and inform him of the new development. They would need to complete the plan. The sooner the redhead confessed, the better it would be for both of them. Number 6 would be freed, or so she hoped, and she would get the cure. Better yet, she wouldn't have to feel more attached to the redhead than she already did.
A pair of doors opened, and a strange woman in high heels walked in. "Well hey there, darlin'! I hear that birds sudden appear every time she is near! So, how is our girl Number 6 doing?"
Number 2 regarded the blonde on the floor. When she received no response, she clarified, "Oh, right. I am the new Number 2. Nice to meet you, Number 14. So, back to business. How are you feeling?"
The blonde stood up and braced herself on the wall. She grimaced.
The new superior continued her inner dialogue. "I know! This place gets me down, too. There's too many trees, and not enough retail outlets. How do you keep your skin clear in this climate?"
Number 14 straightened up. "Nice to meet you, Madame. I believe the queen to be in close proximity of Number 6. I can sense that they are in the forest. You may want to... to... ugh!" She doubled over again.
"Something's wrong. She's... heartbroken."
The queen furrowed her brow. "What do you mean? You know you do! You gave me this necklace." Her fingers closed around the crystal and tears rolled down her face. She looked back at the redhead and screamed, "Do you know what it's like? To love someone who used to love you? "
The object of her affection was disconcerted. She had to get to the beach, but the queen looked like she was about to snap, crackle and pop. She had to calm her down. The redhead's face softened.
"Well, now, uh, don't cry. Didn't mean to hurt your feelings. There, um, there." She put an arm around the crying queen. "I'm sorry, but this is all just so weird."
The queen frowned again. "Weird? It's mythic."
"Yes, I'm sorry. I suppose I just don't have my bearings. How could I forget giving you the neck...wait a minute. May I, uh, see it?"
Tear-soaked eyes looked up at her. "Why? You should know what it looks like."
"Yes, well, I would like to check the crystal in the sunlight. It won't take a moment."
The queen flashed a quick smile and answered, "Yes, of course." She unclasped the necklace and handed it to her love.
Number 6 held the crystal up to the sun, then laid it down to a rock. With a swift kick, the crystal shattered. She turned back to the queen and muttered, "Whoops."
Number 2 pressed further. "Heartbroken? Why? I thought that girl was supposed to manipulate Number 6, not the other way around!" She could see nothing but hurt in the tearful blue eyes.
Suddenly, the blonde exhaled a large breath. "I don't understand. The - the feeling is gone. I can't read her a-anymore."
A perplexed Number 2 picked up the phone and demanded "Give me the status on Number 6 and her lovebird right now! Gah, I am tired of these useless minions." Heels clicked the floor as Number 2 ran out.
The redhead assured her devotee that she would replace the crystal if she could have a few hours alone. "Run along, now. I promise to replace the necklace first chance I get."
She turned on her heel and ran down to the beach. Citizens were outside playing in the water, soaking up the sun. She made her way to the predetermined changing tent. The rook sat inside. She asked, "How's our baby coming along?"
He finished screwing two pieces together and answered, "Almost finished. We should be ready tonight. We've got the flotation devices. Meet you back here at moon set?" The woman nodded, and they parted ways.
As the rook walked back to his dwelling, he ran into who he assumed was a new Number 2. 'Great,' he thought. 'This one looks dumb as a post.'
"Howdy Number 58! Feeling better? Not another attack of egotism, I hope? If it comes on again do directly to the hospital, don't wait. Say, you didn't happen to see our Number 6 by any chance?"
The rook shook his head. "No, Ma'am. Not since this afternoon. Be seeing you."
She smiled brightly, despite his attempt to brush her off. "Sure thing, peaches. Remember, I have my eye on you, 'kay?"
As soon as the rook was out of earshot, she picked up her phone and called Number 515. "I thought you said he was reformed!?... Yes... Are you sure? Positive?... Alright, then... No, no I trust you. Just let me know if his status changes."
The dirty blonde huffed back to her chambers.
Number 6 made her rounds through the Village. She located the painter, the shop clerk, and the chess player, and delivered the signal: "Tonight at moon set. Rook to Queen's Pawn 6. Check."
She went back to her apartment. Walking through her door, she barely withstood the sudden firm embrace of her queen. "Oof! I thought I told you to wait for my call, uh, darling."
"Oh, I know, but I just couldn't wait to see you again, love! I want the whirlwind back. It'll be like old times." She leaned to kiss the redhead, but again got the cold shoulder. She tried to lighten the mood. "How about I make us some hot chocolate! It will help settle those nerves."
Again the queen could sense no affection from her lovely redhead. She ducked her head down just as a statue crashed over her head. The last thing she remembered were the words "Sorry lady..."
'Geez, I thought she'd never let up,' Number 6 thought. She needed to shower and eat before the evening, and she did not have time to play cat-and-mouse before the escape.
Green eyes gleamed in the moonlight. They noticed her partner, the rook, emerge from the forest. They went into the tent and the rook extended the antenna. He handed the microphone to the woman and she pressed a button to speak.
"Mayday. Mayday. This is a mayday call. This is TransAir flight D - for Delta - 250. Two engines down. Mayday." She picked up the newspaper and crumpled it close to her mouth. "Our coordinates are *crumple* minutes, *crumple* seconds. This is a mayday call. We are crashing into the water. Help!"
They heard only static from the radio. She tried again. "Mayday, this is a mayday call. Anyone receiving, please answer."
A faint voice came through the static. "Roger that, D, for Delta, 250. We are reading you. This is the M.S. Nightingale. Come in again so we can determine your coordinates."
They smiled at each other, hopped up, and dragged a makeshift raft out toward the water. The rook picked up the radio and answered, "Roger that Nightingale. We read you. What range is this frequency?"
Number 6 left her partner to reel in their rescuers. "I'll go get the others and-" a bright light flashed in her face "-knock out that searchlight."
She raced to the group at the dock, and led them to the lighthouse. "We have to secure the area. We've established contact with a boat. Hurry!"
They made short work of the guards in the lighthouse and extinguished the searchlight. They had one more stop to make.
Number 2 sat twisted her hair around a finger on one hand while speaking through the receiver in the other. "Right, I understand, Number 14. Well, from my predecessor's notes I see there are a number of weapons in our arsenal."
An alarm sounded. "Ugh, I've got to go. Confer with Number 515 on the next project and report to me first thing in the morning."
She called the control room as the sound of the radio signal was patched into her speakers. She ended her call as the steel doors opened behind her. She spun around to confront the band of rebels. "Oh, it's my fan club! Can I get you anything? Mimosa?"
Number 6 glared. "Save it. Number 2, I presume?"
"You presume right, precious. Nice to meet you!"
"You'll like me much less after I'm gone. Just wanted to use your equipment to secure the area and say goodbye. I'll miss this place, and your lies."
"Oh, I like you, you're sassy!"
The sound of the radio signal stopped. "Hey! The sound of the frequency stopped!" the chess player noted.
The redhead worried and replied, "You're right. Something's wrong. I'll go check it out." She ran down to the beach to find the deserted raft and a boat in the distance. She jumped onto the raft and paddled out.
After a struggle with the crew, she found the skipper. As she was about to lay a smack on the back of his head she head a familiar voice come from the television behind her.
"Nice going, Number 6. You came really close to beating me! One thing, however. The M.S. Nightingale is our boat. We don't let just anybody waltz through the area waters. I hate to disappoint you. You wouldn't have stood a chance in that toy boat. I do think you'll recognize a friend of yours."
The camera panned to the rook. She fumed, "You! You're a guardian!"
He looked winded and stammered, "No I'm not, you are! I knew you were up to no good! You're a guardian! Like all the rest!"
She was flabbergasted. "No! I'm a prisoner, they duped you!"
The rook paled as Number 2 spoke up. "I gather your air of authority helped us convince him that you were one of us. It was pretty easy once I turned on the charm."
Number 6 wondered. "What will happen to them?"
"They'll be back tomorrow, after their rehabilitation. On the chess board, as pawns. Ciao!"
Number 2 terminated the transmission as the butler walked in with a tray of orange liquid and a game board. She sipped her cocktail as she moved the first pawn forward.