Episode 1 – Shattered
Pilot and Jon fly to San Francisco to meet an old acquaintance of the captain's. Athena Samuels, Stuart Power's former lab assistant, had joined the Resistance when the war broke out, only to be captured and digitized by Soaron. Dread reintegrated her to lay down the trap for Jon. In an effort to keep them from Dread, Athena gasses Pilot and tries to kill Jon before Soaron can arrive because she would rather be dead than digitized. Pilot recovers, speaks to Hawk who, along with Tank and Scout, rush to their defense. Athena leaves with them and will eventually join another Resistance cell.
Even after two days, Jennifer couldn't get rid of the hacking cough. The gas Athena used had the unfortunate side effect of settling in the lungs and could only be dispelled in one painful way. After a particularly lengthy coughing spell, Jennifer was beginning to think she would hack up a lung. As it was, her voice was already sounding strained.
Focusing on the computer monitor again, she studied the chessboard shown on the monitor. Since the captain had mentioned he played the game with Athena Samuels before the war, she was curious about what the game was.
She glanced up at the interactive visage. "Okay, Mentor. It's on the screen."
"Ah, yes," Mentor pleasantly agreed. "Chess is a game of tactics and strategy played between two players. The game is played on a square 64-square checkered chessboard, each square an alternating color of red and black. Each player has sixteen pieces, one side black, one side white. The chess pieces are as follows: one king, one queen, two rooks, two bishops, two knights and eight pawns. The object of the game is to place the opponent's king piece in immediate attack. This stage of the game means to have the king in check. The player must try to move his king out of check if possible by placing another chess piece between the threatening opponent piece and the king or by capturing the threatening opponent piece. Should the king be able to be moved to another space, then it will no longer be in check. If the king cannot be moved, then he will be checkmated and the opponent will have won the game."
Jennifer thought about what he said just as another coughing fit took hold of her. "Why would that be difficult?" she asked.
"Each piece can only move in a specific manner. Both players must gauge their opponents' methods of play as well as anticipate coming moves. It is as much a mental as it is a visual game. Books have been written about chess strategies, about how to place your opponent in check and mate. Some strategies have earned titles, named after the players who created them."
Jennifer smiled as she understood the significance. "Tactics and strategies and outguessing your opponent…" another deep cough took hold of her, almost doubling her over when she couldn't catch her breath. This time, that lung was definitely going to make an appearance. Little sparkles began shining in her peripheral vision, and she felt a strong arm come across her and hold on to her, a firm hand thumping her back helping her dispel the gas.
"Easy," Jon said. "Take a breath before you pass out."
She leaned back against him, her heart trying to slow down from the near-faint. At least her vision was clearing somewhat.
"Better?" Jon asked.
She took a deep breath and could still feel the tickle at the back of her throat. "Think so. I just wish this would go away."
Jon sat down in the chair next to her, noticing the monitor as he did so. He slid a glass of water he had placed on the console in her direction. "Athena was still apologizing for gassing you when we dropped her off at the Passages. She didn't know it would have this kind of effect."
Jennifer sipped at the water, the coolness of the liquid helping to soothe her raw throat. "I don't blame her. I might have done the same thing if I were in her shoes. Threatening digitization was how the Overunits and caretakers scared us when we were children."
"Why would they do that?"
Jennifer shrugged her shoulders. "I don't know. I guess it was a way to keep us obedient? I mean, they taught us that we wanted to be immortal minds in perfect metalloid bodies – that was their version of heaven, but digitization was their definition of hell. They used Soaron to threaten us from time to time. You'd do almost anything to not be digitized, no matter what it was."
"Even betray your friends?" Jon asked.
Jennifer shook her head. Sometimes, she forgot that the guys didn't really understand all aspects of being raised by the Dread Youth. "None of us had friends, remember? We were Dread Youth. We were soldiers, and soldiers couldn't have friends because that meant you felt emotions – "
"And emotions were what made you imperfect," Jon completed the sentence from one of the litanies. "Personally, I like the fact we're friends. I'll take 'imperfect' any day over not feeling anything."
The tickle suddenly seized up and became another blasting cough, one that almost knocked her out of her chair. She felt Jon grab her arm to keep her from toppling over when a particularly rattling series of coughs took hold of her. Again, she felt the thumping on her back as he tried to help her catch her breath.
Finally, the spell passed and she saw another glass of water had replaced the first. "Thanks."
"I'm really sorry. I shouldn't have split us up when I went looking for Athena," he told her.
"She was your friend. She wanted to see you, and she wouldn't have appreciated it if you had brought someone with you," she sipped at the water again. It was helping, but not much.
"But maybe she wouldn't have had the chance to gas you or shoot me if we'd gone in there together."
Jennifer didn't quite understand. Tactically speaking, there had been no need for her to go with him. Still, "Maybe, but like Hawk likes to say, there's no sense second guessing since hindsight's 20/20," she mused. "She didn't want to be digitized again, and she was just trying to protect you from it. That's what friends do, right?"
Jon could tell that there was more to it than that. Given the way Jennifer grew up, there was an entire lifetime of more to it than that aspects to every topic they discussed. This had to do with more than just chess. "Yeah, sometimes, that's what friends do. And we were good friends once."
But Athena, whether or not she had been a friend, whether or not she had the intention of saving him from being digitized, had shot him and gassed Jennifer. If Pilot hadn't woke up to tell Hawk what was happening, if Soaron had showed up any earlier, he'd have lost her. That thought scared him more than he would admit to anyone.
"So she was trying to save her one-time good friend from what she thought was a fate worse than death. That must have been a pretty strong friendship then if she was willing to save you after all these years of not seeing each other."
Ah. Now Jon understood. Relationships were still something of a mystery to Jennifer. Not that he was any great expert, but friendships were one thing he could try to explain. "Sometimes, people can be apart for years and still be friends. Sometimes, a friendship can't survive seeing each other every day. There's no hard and fast rule about it. There are times when the memory of a friendship is strong enough to move people even if there is no real friendship anymore."
Friendship was one of the biggest hurdles Jennifer had to overcome after she escaped the Dread Youth. How does someone who was taught duty, rules, that personal attachments were bad and who had never learned how to trust someone ever understand what it's like to have friends? Much less friends who would put their lives on the line for you? It had been a long lesson for her.
"I had never even heard of the word friends until I left the Dread Youth and met all of you," she muttered as she took another sip of water. "I mean, there is absolutely no one in my past that I would think well enough of to risk my life for, not like Athena did for you. I mean, risking our lives to save someone from Dread is what we do, but on a personal level…"
"But you've got us now," Jon told her, placing a hand on her shoulder. He thought about saying more, but he was the captain and she was a corporal. There was the war. There were so many reasons to not say certain things no matter how much he wanted to. He glanced back at the monitor. "Chess?"
"You mentioned you and Athena would meet at that bookstore and play chess. I wondered what the game was."
Every day, Jennifer revealed some small aspect of life of growing up in the Dread Youth. This one was obvious. No games. "It was always a favorite of mine and my dad's. Would you like to learn how to play?"