There are very
few amenities allowed to me here, but a chess set is one of them. I suppose
the administrators feel that even a prisoner serving life without parole
deserves something to cut the boredom. So they give me books, magazines,
newspapers- all carefully monitored, of course- and a chess set.
In my study at my central base, I have a set that is more than two hundred years old. That's older than any person still alive, older than the buildings we inhabit, older even than this country and its traditions of democracy and freedom. Alabaster and obsidian pieces carved into graceful, timeless shapes. To hold it is to hold history in your hand. Men shape history to their designs, just as a man carefully shaped these pieces to his satisfaction. I assume the chess set is still in my study, waiting for me; I have heard no news that N-Tek has found my seat of operations. But in the meantime, this cheap plastic imitation will do.
Chess is the game of kings, they say. Amusing, considering that most hereditary monarchs were historically too inbred and self-absorbed to truly understand the intricacies of the game. Better to say that it is a game for men of power-- and women too, of course. A little war, waged within the confines of a board, strategy and subterfuge, played out in black and white. Always black and white.
I've always loved chess, ever since I was a child. Perhaps it appealed to my logical nature. As a child, and even as a young man, I played the game, I studied, and I learned to apply it to the real world. Waging war against the forces of darkness, the white king surrounded by my troops. Bishops, pawns, and knights. Ah, so many, many knights.
Of course, nothing in this world is black and white, and as time went on, I began to drift towards the black pieces. Let the psychiatrists and lawyers debate the whys and wherefores of my fall-- I say that it was simply more logical. After all, in this particular game, black moves first.
The board is set up before me, arrayed for the start of another game. This isn't right, of course... the game is already in progress, and has been for a long time. Well, I can fix that, certainly. Many of the black pieces, of course, have been captured. My queen was taken in a failed gambit, designed to secure my freedom. A desperate and inspired ploy, but ultimately futile. One erratic bishop lost on a sortie of his own, in Alaska, no less. King's knight-- presumed dead, but we all know how long THAT lasts. No matter, though... I have an inexhaustible supply of pawns.
Reaching for the white pieces, my hand hovers over the row of pawns, then stops. I'd always half-wished for an opponent in this game, an adversary who would challenge my skills, push me to the very edges of my talent. Someone like Jefferson Smith, perhaps, or perhaps Dr. Martinez. Instead, the fates gave me Max Steel.
I'd thought him a pawn, at first, though an exceptionally gifted one. Had he simply been a super-agent, there would have been no problem. Super-agents are, after all, only human. They have their limitations just like everyone else.
Then after a while, he'd seemed to become a knight. Moving both straight and diagonally, knights show up where you least expect them, charging ahead of the other pieces, getting into areas that others can't. A white knight, that's what Steel was, much like the man who'd sired him. And knights, regretful as it might be, are especially vulnerable to traps and ambush.
Had Steel been a pawn, or even a knight, he would not have been such trouble to me. I had reading N-Tek down to a science. Most agents are pawns, they go by the book. And though none of them know it, I wrote that book. Even the more powerful pieces have their set patterns of movement. But Steel...
He's a random element. I simply cannot predict him. When I think he'll follow regulations, he tosses the book out the window. When I push all of his buttons to make him jump the lines, he follows in an orderly rank and file. The boy is a walking contradiction; a marvelous actor and a horrid liar, highly intelligent and deductive, yet prefers to make his path with his fists. His code name should have been "Smoke," not "Steel." He's not rigid, but yielding, impossible to pin down. And that's not the worst of it.
Far more vexing is the fact that he influences others. Dr. Martinez, whom I had assumed would stay safely ensconced in his lab, is now running around in the field, blowing up my bases with far too much relish for an academic. Rachel Leeds has been promoted from pawn to queen, which while within the rules is extremely unexpected. And even in her new position, I find her going outside the lines. And Jefferson Smith, the white king, has begun to emerge from his tower and range across the board.
Steel is random, and he's randomizing others. His effect is slowly spreading through N-Tek, as one agent after another succumbs to unorthodox, unpredictable behavior. Soon, he will have upset the board all together.
And the lines of black and white have turned into shades of gray.