Three metro stops were all that remained of Zoe’s old life. She had ridden this line every day for years, and she could feel the time between each stop in her bones and recite every word the electronic notification system would speak. After the next three stops, Freedom Palace, Museum of Progress and People’s Plaza, she would disembark at Central Ublat, just like she had done a thousand times before. But on this occasion, a few things would be different.
For one, it was approaching midnight, and she was the only passenger. When Zoe usually took this journey, she was squashed in like a sardine with her fellow citizens at eight o’clock in the morning. Zoe didn’t usually find herself traveling to work at this late hour, but she had left something important unfinished, and had to ensure its completion before morning. Such was her dedication to the People. Or at least, that is what she had told her residential manager.
Zoe’s wore her dark hair loose, and its long, flowing tresses hid a plaster behind her right ear. This plaster concealed the small wound she’d inflicted on herself in the process of jailbreaking her own mind.
<It’s almost time,> said a voice in her head. <Have you located the package?>
The voice belonged to a man she knew as Yvain, her contact with the underground resistance movement. She’d had a difficult time getting him to trust her, communicating only through net messages, but eventually he’d given her instructions for the dangerous and highly illegal alterations she’d made to her Citizen’s Mental Regulator (CMR) implant two days earlier, using a scalpel and a couple of mirrors. That she’d been willing to go through with it and then let him into her mind appeared to have been enough to get him fully on her side.
<I told you already, there is no package,> she thought back at him. <I’ve searched this whole train already!>
Zoe felt another wave of annoyance from Yvain, and it made her feel annoyed too. It was odd, having another human take the place of her implant’s AI helper, which never experienced emotions.
<Well look again,> Yvain’s voice echoed. <There’s only one stop left before you need to get off.>
Pouting, Zoe made a show of searching the train car. She allowed Yvain to access her visual cortex, just to make sure he knew how thoroughly she was searching, as she futilely poked under seats and inside bins. The package Yvain had told her was waiting for her on this very train, in this very car, was missing in action. And he’d been so adament that she wait ten minutes for this specific train as well.
There was a long moment of silence in Zoe’s head. The train stopped at Museum of Progress, and the car doors opened and closed with a couple of pneumatic hisses. As the train pulled off, Yvain sighed deeply and admitted that the package was indeed missing. Some robot had probably assumed it was garbage and thrown it out, or maybe Yvain’s contacts hadn’t been able to plant it in the first place.<The life of a fugitive is fraught with uncertainty,> he reminded Zoe.
<I know what I’m getting into,> Zoe thought back.
<Do you really? Have you thought about what it means, that the package is not here? Considering what it contained…>
Zoe mentally scoffed. <The City won’t be able to track any resistance members down, just from a package containing some clothes. Not unless you printed the hideout’s address on the labels. You didn’t, right?>
More emotions leaked into Zoe’s mind. She could feel frustration and, was that… embarrassment? <Could they track the sender?> she asked. The idea of a member of the resistance being caught while assisting her made Zoe feel sick.
The frustration increased. <Of course not. We’re very careful about these things. The package is rigged with a mechanism that dissolves its contents if it’s not opened within a certain amount of time, and there’s nothing identifiable about the clothes inside anyway—that’s really the whole point.>
Zoe felt relieved. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding.
<Do you… remember what you were supposed to do with the package?> Yvain’s words were accompanied by a tinge of… guilt? Shame? Nervousness? The sensation of another’s emotions in her mind was still new to Zoe, and she couldn’t always figure them out.
<Of course,> she replied. <I was to open it up and change into the clothes I found inside. Good thing this train’s empty! The City primarily tracks us through our CMRs, but also through our uniforms, so I was to place my uniform on an empty seat, to fool it into thinking I stayed onboard.>
<Well, that part of the plan hasn’t changed.>
Zoe’s eyes widened as she made the mental connection. <Oh.>
<I’m going to take this opportunity to remind you that all City-made textiles are woven with innumerable tiny chips. Every last one.>
Zoe felt her insides twist. <Right, yes, you’ve said as much before. Guess we’ll need a change of plans, then. Maybe we can try again tomorrow night. Do you have another way of getting packages to me?>
Coldness overcame Zoe’s mind. <Something you’ll have to learn about the Resistance, Zoe, is that we don’t generally have the resources for contingency plans. Even if we could spare another welcome package, delivery is a dangerous mission in itself.>
Zoe gasped, audibly. <But you said—!>
<I don’t think anyone got caught with the original package, calm down,> Yvain clarified. <It was probably just found and thrown out by a robot. We’ll just have to do without it.>
<Okay,> Zoe replied, deflated. <I’ll take the train back home and we can try something else tomorrow night.>
<That’s not an option. We can’t risk detection of your jailbroken CMR. There have been too many close shaves already.> Zoe thought back to the suspicious look she’d received from her residence manager just before leaving home. <But you knew that when you picked up the scalpel. Your old life is over Zoe, there’s no turning back now.>
<But that means…>
The train stopped at People’s Plaza. Once more, the doors hissed open. Zoe remained seated, fingering the collar of her purple jumpsuit nervously, still not quite believing what Yvain was asking her to do. After a few seconds, the doors closed, and the train continued on towards Central Ublat. Her stop. In a few minutes, she would need to disembark.
<It’s the middle of the night, there’s no-one around,> thought Yvain, in a tone he probably thought was reassuring. <With your CMR jailbroken, none of the robots or computers will be able to detect you. All you need to do is walk a few blocks.>
If Zoe didn’t get off at Central Ublat, she would be breaking the trust of the Resistance, after committing the very serious crime of jailbreaking her CMR. The City would not forgive her for that. She would have no-one.
<It’s not that cold tonight,> continued Yvain. <Good thing we’ve been having this heatwave, right?>
Zoe reminded herself that seasoned Resistance operatives had undertaken much more dangerous missions than this. Whatever sacrifices it would take to officially join them tonight would pale in comparison to the sacrifices she would be required to make as a full member.
She had expected this, her first mission to be dangerous. But she hadn’t expected it to be… embarrassing!
<You’re sure there’s no other way?> Zoe asked.
<I’m truly sorry,> replied Yvain, and Zoe could feel his genuine empathy. <I’ll have something for you when you arrive.>
She had made the choice to join the Resistance with what she had imagined was full knowledge of the consequences. This was unexpected. But anything had to be better than returning to her old life. Even this.
Most of the city’s population was under curfew, and those who weren’t would be hard at work inside. The streets were all but deserted this late at night. That’s why they had chosen this time to do it. And she would be careful not to get caught. Embarrassment would be the least part of the consequences for getting caught.
Zoe leaned forward and undid the straps on her boots. Then she pulled her feet out, one by one, and took off both socks. The air felt good against her bare feet, still sore from a long day’s work, and she wiggled her toes.
Zoe stood up on bare feet, feeling lightheaded. Her hands shook as they reached for the zipper that rested near her clavicle. She took a deep breath, and began to pull it down.
<We’re almost there,> Yvain reminded her.
The zip stopped at her waist. She released it and allowed the top of the jumpsuit to fall, exposing her arms and stomach. It caught at her waist, and she helped it down, until it lay pooled about her feet. There was certain symbolism in this, Zoe mused. By removing the tracked clothes, she was casting off the chains that the City had held her in for so many years.
The train would be arriving at Central Ublat in less than a minute. Zoe didn’t have time to stand about in her underwear, which, as Yvain made sure to remind her, was just as full of tracking chips as her jumpsuit. It was also starchy and uncomfortable, and, she reminded herself, represented bondage to a regime she hated. Even so, she hesitated to remove either garment.
Zoe had known she would need to get undressed on the train, so this part of the process was not something she was wholly unprepared for. They’d chosen an empty commuter train in the middle of the night for this reason. Still, Zoe had spent much of the afternoon dreading this eventuality. Hands still shaking, she reached for the clasp of her bra and undid it.
The bra fell on top of the jumpsuit. Her breasts drooped slightly, and she could feel her long hair against them.
Now she had only her panties to remove. Unlike the last two garments, these were tight enough that she couldn’t just let them fall. Zoe had to, very consciously, slide her thumbs under the fabric and pull it down her legs, until it joined the pool of purple and white fabric at her feet.
Freedom, she told herself, as she stepped out of the pooled fabric, feeling far more exposed and vulnerable than free. Rebirth was probably a better word. She had discarded her old life, and begun her new one, naked as the day she was born.
The train would arrive at her stop in thirty seconds. Zoe picked up the jumpsuit and deposited both her panties and bra inside it before pulling the zip back up. She placed it back on her seat, stuffing the legs into her boots. It now looked as though a person sitting on the train seat had magically vanished out of their clothes.
So far, everything she’d done was in accordance with the original plan. At this point, she would have taken the replacement jumpsuit from the package and pulled it on. She had fretted about having to go commando, which now seemed like a very silly concern.
<Are you ready?> Yvain asked.
<Yes,> Zoe thought back, blushing. <The… trackers have been removed.>
<I, err, need to confirm that your uniform is in place.>
Zoe gave Yvain access to her visual cortex and looked at the uniform spread across the train seat. She lifted the neck and glanced inside it, blushing even more as she shared the visual of her discarded underwear. <That’s everything,> she thought back, trying to suppress the emotions flooding through her.
<Great,> Yvain thought. <There’s just one more thing. I have to confirm you aren’t being tracked.>
Zoe projected a general sense of confusion mixed with willingness to do whatever he asked if he would just clarify what it was.
“Now arriving at Central Ublat,” said the electronic annnouncer.
<I just need to make sure you don’t have… any more trackers on you… please look down.>
The embarrassment Yvain projected while asking this was dwarfed by Zoe’s total mortification. But with the train doors about to open at her stop, she didn’t have time to do anything but comply. Zoe felt as though steam would start coming out of her ears as she looked down over her body, visual cortex still shared.
Embarrassment, guilt, and… was that… hunger? These were the emotions that flooded in from Yvain as he took in her round breasts, small pink nipples, milky belly and thighs, and of course the neat rectangle of hair covering her crotch.
<L-looks good,> he stammered. Zoe hadn’t heard a mental stammer before.
She allowed him to complete the inspection by surveying the reflection of her back and pert round bottom in the train car window. Then the train stopped and the doors hissed open.
Now it was time for the unexpected part of the mission. Wishing, not for the last time, that the Resistance welcome package had reached her, Zoe turned away from her uniform and disembarked, bare feet stepping from cool plastic to rough stone.
She dared not look back as the train door hissed closed behind her. Listening to the sound of the train pulling off was bad enough. But as she hurried towards the exit, she couldn’t help but allow herself a single glance backwards.
The platform was empty. The train had departed, taking every vestige of her old life along with it. She was naked in a subway station now, with nothing to guide her but the voice in her head. There was truly no turning back now.
<Where to next?> she asked Yvain.
<Up the stairs and out onto the street. The place isn’t too far from here, but we’re going to have to change up the route a bit, keep to the back alleys.>
<Thank you.> Zoe had left the platform now and was standing on a quickly ascending escalator. The station was deserted, but she couldn’t stop her arms from moving to cover her body from the cavernous space all around.
A sharp shock of guilt and shame made Zoe gasp. <Zoe,> Yvain thought. <I’m sorry for my… reaction earlier. It was involuntary, but I should have kept myself under better control. I won’t ask you to do that again.>
<That’s okay,> Zoe replied, blushing as she recalled the feeling she’d taken to be hunger, which was, of course, desire. <You had to make sure I wasn’t… holding out.>
<And you weren’t,> Yvain replied. <You’ll make a great asset to our cause.>
As the escalator got closer to the top, Zoe grew more nervous. She hunched over and covered as much of herself as she could with her arms, preparing to dash for the exit and the welcome cover of darkness. The station was much too bright for a naked woman.
As the top of the escalator came within sight, Zoe heard a familiar clicking and buzzing that made the blood freeze in her veins. The upper station floor was being patroled by a surveillance drone, a flying machine with a three glowing yellow eyes. And those eyes were pointed right at her!
Zoe barely dared to breath as the eyes stared at her, the drone whizzing and clicking all the while. She couldn’t believe she’d been caught so quickly! After all her preparation, her time as a Resistance fighter had lasted less than ten minutes. Any second now, the drone would taze and immobilize her, and then call the police. She would be arrested, naked and on her knees.
<Give me your eyes!> screamed Yvain, who’d obviously noticed the panicked state of her mind. Zoe granted him access once more.
By this time, she had reached the top of the escalator and stumbled off it, the drone bearing down on her. Strangely, it had not set off an alarm or tried to communicate with her, even as its eye stared directly at her shaking body.
The drone continued to move in her direction. When it was almost close enough to touch her, it abruptly spun around and moved back in the opposite direction. There was no alarm, and no tazer. What was it doing? Had it already called the police?
Yvain laughed in her head. <It didn’t see you, Zoe! Remember, your CMR isn’t broadcasting anymore. We switched that off as soon as you got on the train. As far as any robots are concerned, you’re invisible!>
Zoe felt a mix of relief and embarrassment at having forgotten about that. She glanced at the drone curiously as it continued to make its patrol of the empty train station.
<Don’t get too close, it’ll definitely notice something if you touch it,> thought Yvain. <But as long as you keep out of its way, you’ll be fine. The Resistance wouldn’t get away with anything if we couldn’t trick these robots like this.>
Feeling better than she had since she’d stepped of the train, Zoe straightened up and headed for the train station exit, her eyes repeated stealing glances at the drone. The City was crawling with robots of all kinds, and they were always accosting citizens and giving them orders. To be completely ignored by one was a new and very welcome experience.
Zoe reached the station exit and leaned around the open entrance to check both ways before leaving. The street ahead was deserted.
The wind picked up as she exited the station and Zoe felt goosebumps ripple across her exposed skin. She instinctively pulled her arms around herself and darted away from the light of the streetlamps. Robots might ignore her, but humans certainly wouldn’t.
<Okay, I’ve plotted a route through the backalleys to keep you out of sight,> thought Yvain. <It’s going to take a bit longer than the original one, but that can’t be helped. If anyone sees you like this, they’ll alert the authorities immediately.>
<Believe me Yvain, I have no desire for anyone to spot me right now,> Zoe replied, clutching herself tighter. Still sharing her visual cortex with Yvain, she glanced at nearest gap between buildings, just behind the train station. <Should I go there?>
Zoe narrowed her eyes and dashed for entrance to the alley, her breasts quivering beneath the arm that held them in place. The alley, like the street, was deserted, but much darker. Covered by the shadows of high walls, Zoe allowed herself to relax once she felt the darkness had fully engulfed her.
BANG! A loud noise startled Zoe, and she dove behind a metal dumpster, adrenaline spiking in her veins.
<What’s going on?> asked Yvain, his own panic mingling with Zoe’s.
<There was a noise, like a gunshot!> Still breathing heavily, Zoe peaked around the dumpster and back in the direction she’d come. The street beyond was still empty.
<Probably just a truck backfiring,> Yvain thought. She could feel him projecting a sense of calm into her mind, and her breathing slowed. <Nothing to worry about. But maybe…>
<Maybe you should give me audio access as well. J-just so we don’t waste any more time like this.>
Zoe could feel that Yvain was hesitant, embarrassed about asking her to provide this additional intimacy. He was already sharing her eyes, and had used them to look at her naked body. All for the sake of the mission, of course. Allowing him to use her ears as well could only help.
<Okay,> Zoe thought back at him, as she opened up access to her hearing. She’d done this many times with her AI assistant, to translate foreign languages, or identify a song, and this was really no different, except that she would be keeping the connection open for as long as it took her to reach the Resitance outpost.
<It’s quiet,> Yvain thought. <You’re breathing pretty hard though.>
Zoe blushed. She hadn’t thought it possible to expose herself even more to him. <Yeah, well, you try running around central without any clothes on and we’ll see how it makes you feel!>
<Sorry!> The apology felt genuine, enough to make her feel bad for snapping at him
<Where do I go n—hey, look at that!> Zoe’s eyes had fallen on a tall roll of glossy paper, which was propped up next to the dumpster. It looked quite large enough to serve as covering.
She stepped towards it, picked it up and partially unrolled it. The severe face of Boris Kolmov stared back at her, steely gray eyes resolute over his bushy moustache. He stood before a backdrop of stone and steel factories, belching enormous quantities of black smoke. Beneath his face ran the lines, “Let us follow the example of Comrade Boris and work for the good of the People!”
<I’m surprised this wasn’t properly disposed of,> thought Yvain. <Kolmov has was unpersoned weeks ago.>
Zoe had known his face well, from her job at the cannery. He had been a high-ranking Party official in the People’s Larder. She remembered seeing his face blown up to enormous size on the factory wall, and how he would pat his belly as he congratulated the workers on increased canning production. Production was always increasing, by whatever measures he used, even in the weeks when Zoe had sat on her hands, waiting for delayed supplies, or for the electricity to turn back on. He seemed to get fatter as she and her colleagues tightened their belts.
She had won the Boris Kolmov Worker of Month award once, a rusty pewter medal she recalled with more embarrassment than pride. But that was before he was discovered to be an enemy of the revolution, a secret spy for reactionary forces. That seemed to happen to a lot of high-ranking party officials, now that she thought about it.
<I think he was sleeping with the head of the Larder’s wife,> mused Yvain. <If only some of the bigwigs who get accused of being spies for us actually were…>
Zoe pressed the poster against her front, bringing Kolmov’s eyes into direct contact with her nipples. She wrapped the poster around herself, her butt against a factory. Its glossy finish felt smooth against her skin, and she glanced down at her handiwork. The poster covered her all the way from just below her shoulders down to her knees.
<Kolmov’s doing some spying for us after all,> Yvain thought wryly. This thought was followed by an instant sense of panic, and the mental image of a boot going into a man’s mouth.
<Hey!> Zoe thought back, though she was unable to suppress a small giggle. The thought of giving the real Boris Kolmov this kind of a close look at her was repellent, but this was only a poster. <Hmmm… you don’t think this has got any trackers in it, do you?>
<No, they don’t do that to posters. And even if they did, this one would be deactivated. They don’t want any evidence that Kolmov ever existed.>
Reassured and somewhat covered up, Zoe continued down the alleyway, her left arm pressed tightly to her side to keep the ends of the poster together. Walking was a little awkward like this, and she had to be careful not to let the poster slip down, but it felt a lot better than being naked and completely exposed. It would have been quite obvious to any onlookers that she wasn’t wearing anything underneath the poster, but she was showing no more skin than she would have in a shoulderless dress.
At the end of the alley, Yvain indicated that she should turn right, and she did so. Now on the open street again, her heart beat faster, and she picked up the pace, keen to return to the shelter of the next narrow alleyway.
But before she could get there, she heard a voice.
Zoe froze at once. She was caught! All the effort she’d put in researching the Resistance, discovering how to jailbreak her CMR, all the risks she’d taken… all useless! She was caught, and she hadn’t even officially joined yet.
<Stay calm,> thought Yvain, again projecting a sense of peace into Zoe’s spinning mind. <Remember, you haven’t officially joined us yet. You’re still a normal citizen. Just act like one, play it cool.>
<Okay, okay, you’re right,> Zoe thought back. <Just… help me out here!>
<Of course. Do as the officer tells you, and I’ll make sure you can answer any questions he has.>
“Turn around, please,” came the voice again.
Seconds had passed since the voice first spoke, but Zoe felt she’d lived a lifetime inside the silence. Slowly, she turned around to face her assailant, plastering a nervous smile on her face and holding tight to the poster. “Good evening, comrade,” she said.
The man who had stopped her had curly blonde hair and a nasty look on his face. From his blue uniform, she could tell he was part of City law enforcement. He was precisely the sort of person she’d been worrying about running into tonight, even with clothes on. Being naked but for a poster made it ten times worse.
“It’s quite late at night, comrade,” he said, speaking slowly. The man took a few steps forward, his eyes flicking up and down Zoe’s body, as if he was trying to X-ray the poster. “I don’t think I’ve seen this kind of uniform before. What’s your name and occupation?”
A vivid image of an ID card she’d never seen before appeared in Zoe’s mind. “Justine Trask,” she said. “Logistics.”
The man studied her face for a moment, and then produced a device from his pocket. It resembled a barcode scanner, and was used to read CMRs. He held it up to Zoe’s eyes and pressed a button.
<Don’t worry, he won’t be able to detect anything unusual about your CMR with that thing,> thought Yvain. <And the ID records I’ve just put in place are legit.>
A red light flashed briefly, and the officer glanced at the reading on his end of the device. He frowned, clearly upset that his reading corroborated “Justine”‘s story. “You’re a little underdressed for your night shift, Comrade Justine,” he said.
“I’m not on night shift,” Zoe replied bluntly. “I work days. I was just sleep… sleepwalking.”
<Nice thinking. I’ve got an address right near here all ready to go if he asks where you live.>
The officer raised an eyebrow. “Do you sleep under a… poster?”
“No, of course not,” Zoe replied, blush rising to her cheeks. “I sleep in the nude.” She rushed the words out forcefully, bluntly, and for the first time, the officer broke eye contact with her, clearly flustered by the mental image she’d just given him.
<Keep going…> thought Yvain.
“Yes, I sleep naked,” continued Zoe. “Sometimes I sleep walk. Usually not this far. But tonight, my mind is restless. It is busy, thinking of the work that must be done, and of all the ways I can aid our People and the glorious revolution. So busy that I was compelled to spring out of bed in the middle of the night, eager to return to my post at the station. I woke up a few minutes ago in that alley around the corner, and found this poster to cover myself.”
The officer nodded, only half-listening.
“Now, I must return to my bed so that I can awake fully rested for another day of proud toil in the name of our city. Comrade, if you would kindly dismiss me, I bid you good night!”
The officer was silent for a long moment, gazing off into the distance. Then he turned back to Zoe, looked slowly up and down once more, and sighed. “All right, Comrade Justine. I will not keep you from your rest.”
Mentally, Zoe breathed a deep sigh of relief, and she felt Yvain do the same. “Thank you, Comrade,” she said, turning around.
“Oh, but there is one thing,” said the officer.
Zoe’s stomach sank.
<Now what?> thought Yvain, irritably.
“It is illegal for citizens to possess materials which glorify traitors to the revolution.”
Zoe’s eyes widened. “W-what do you mean?” she asked, turning back to face the officer, whose face had broken into a twisted grin.
The officer pointed to Zoe’s front, and she looked down. Right there, at the top of the poster’s white back, small black words were printed which read, “Comrade Boris Kolmov Inspirational Poster #13.”
The sound of Yvain swearing filled Zoe’s mind.
“Please, comrade, give the poster to me so that I can dispose of it.” The officer reached out a hand.
“B-but, i-it’s just— I—I’m naked!”
“Not to worry comrade, I have a spare uniform for you,” said the officer, patting the bag he carried on his back. “It is… the correctional uniform, admittedly, but you will not need to wear it for very long. And even that is a better covering… you must feel quite embarrassed.”
<I’m sure I don’t have to tell you not to put on his correctional uniform,> Yvain thought at Zoe. <Those things have even stronger trackers in them than the others.>
<Of course. But what should I do?>
<Just… give him the poster.>
<Oh he’s going to love that! You can see the look in his eyes, Yvain.>
<I’m working on a plan, Zoe, just trust me, okay. Hand over the poster, and this will all be over soon.>
Zoe wasn’t convinced, but she didn’t see any other options. <Fine.> She looked at the officer’s still-outstretched hand with disgust.
It took all of her willpower to slowly pull the poster away from her body. The officer’s eyes grew wider and wider as the cardboard separated from her skin, revealing increasing amounts of cleavage. The edge of the poster had barely touched his outstretched fingers when he snatched at it greedily and pulled.
Zoe yelped and involuntarily spun around as the poster whipped off her body, giving the officer a full view of her naked form. She shivered under his hungry glare, moving her arms desperately to cover herself.
The officer tore his eyes away from the naked woman in front of him to regard the poster he was now holding. His face contorted with hatred as he looked at Boris Kolmov’s face. “Where did you find this?” he spat, looking back at Zoe.
“I-I told you, in the alley over there,” Zoe motioned with her chin. “Next to a dumpster.”
“Are you a Kolmov sympathizer?” the officer asked, his eyes burning holes into Zoe’s skin. “One of his agents?”
“N-no, of course not! Kolmov is a traitor to the revolution! I spit on him!” At this, Zoe made a show of gathering up saliva in her cheeks and spitting on the face of the poster.
The officer watched with bemused interest. “As well you should.” He produced a lighter from his pocket. There was a click, and it produced a small, wavering flame. “We must guard our revolution,” said the officer, as the flame leapt from his lighter to cardboard poster.
Zoe watched as the face of Boris Kalmov, and her only covering, twisted and blackened under the flames. She forced a wide, bloodthirsty smile, the appropriate response to the destruction of a counter-revolutionary image.
The officer’s eyes remained fixed on her body. He was so distracted that the flames licked his fingers before he shouted and released the remains of the destroyed poster. Zoe forcibly suppressed a laugh.
The officer hid his hand behind his back and took a step closer to her. “I think, Comrade Trask, there are better coverings for your body than the traitor Kolmov,” he said, taking a strand of her hair between his fingers.
“L-like that correctional uniform?” Zoe asked, pulling back slightly.
“That’s one example,” said the officer, whose hand had now migrated to her shoulder, and was slowly carressing her bare skin.
Zoe could feel the officer’s heavy breath. He was several inches taller than her. <Yvain?!> she signaled desperately. <What do I do? What’s the plan?>
<Don’t worry, Zoe, you’ll get out of this! It’s almost done uploading… ninety-five percent…>
The officer’s hand was moving further down her arm with each stroke. <What’s almost done uploading?>
<Well, it’s kind of experimental technology, but the trials have gone really well, so I think it’ll work!> Yvain replied excitedly. His thoughtwaves gave off the distinct impression of being more excited about whatever tech he was talking about than worried for Zoe’s safety. <Ninety-seven percent… ninety-eight!>
The officer’s hand had moved from Zoe’s arm to her chin, and he was looking deep into her eyes. Zoe fought to retain a blank expression as she screamed internally. <What are you doing to my mind, Yvain?!>
<Giving you a fighting chance. One hundred percent. It’s done.>
At once, Zoe’s mind was flooded with images of martial artists fighting each other. Hundreds of men and women flashed before her mind’s eye, locked in dances of death. Then she saw herself fighting, saw her arms and legs move as they never had. The feeling spread down from her mind to her body. Her muscles tensed. Memories of bruises and injuries she’d never had surfaced as brief flashes of pain. Zoe felt… powerful. Newly aware of her body and its capabilities.
The sensation of a hand against her lower back brought her back to reality. She’d zoned out for long enough to allow the officer to embrace her with both arms and press his body against hers. One of his hands was caressing her upper back, and the other traveling lower… lower…
A scream of pain tore the night in two as Zoe’s knee made contact with the officer’s crotch. He staggered backwards, face contorted with tears of rage. “Bitch!” he screamed, fumbling for the truncheon on his belt.
But before he could produce his weapon, Zoe spun around and aimed a roundhouse kick at his face. Her heel connected with his chin, and he collapsed sideways, banging his head on the sidewalk.
<He’s unconscious,> Yvain thought. <Nice work, Zoe.>
Zoe stared at her hands and feet in disbelief, the new powers of her limbs still coursing through her. She was shaking with exhilaration. <I can’t believe I just did that. That was… amazing! How is it even possible?>
<Like I said, new tech, still very experimental, but very promising. These CMRs are good for a lot more than just keeping people brainwashed.>
<I’ll say! What else can you do with this?>
A slow clap startled Zoe from her mental conversation and she glanced up. A long, dark black car with tinted windows had pulled up on the side of the street, and a large man in a high-ranking Party official uniform had stepped out. He was smiling at Zoe and clapping.
The man had short, thin hair and a cleanshaven face, but was of a similar age and bodyfat percentage to Boris Kolmov, and looked to hold a similar rank to him. Above a certain level, all Party officials had the same kind of appearance, which marked them as significantly better fed and taken care of than the average citizen.
<That’s Heinrich Jorgenson!> thought Yvain, his emotions a tangle of nervous excitement. <He’s the second in command of Citizen Safety. What’s he doing here?>
<What? Seriously?> Zoe’s heart sank. <Yvain, what do we do now? I just beat up an officer in front of a secret police boss!>
<Just wait. Let’s see how this plays out. He doesn’t seem to be angry or upset with you.>
Zoe was mad. <“Let’s see how this plays out?” Really? Maybe you should go fetch some popcorn to watch me get arrested!>
“Good evening, my dear,” said Heinrich, as he slowly walked towards Zoe. He took her hand and pressed it to his lips. The sudden physicality reminded Zoe that she was naked, and blush rose to her cheeks.
Henreich glanced down at the unconscious officer. Then, to Zoe’s great surprise, he gave the body a swift kick. “Badge number three-five-oh-seven. I will be speaking to his superior about this man’s greed.” He looked back up at Zoe. “I am sure Romondo will not be happy to hear that his newest girl was accosted like this on her way to Public Service.”
<Just nod and go with it, don’t act confused,> Yvain thought at her, and Zoe obeyed.
The sides of Henreich’s eyes crinkled as he smiled. “That was quite the display. I do so like a feisty lady. And a very daring outfit as well.” Henreich winked. “Romondo has outdone himself.” For a moment, Henreich stood still as his eyes wandered across Zoe’s body.
<I know you want to, but don’t cover up,> Yvain thought at her. <Jorgenson thinks you’re his Public Service girl for the evening. How perfect!>
<PERFECT!> Zoe screamed internally. She couldn’t believe the gleeful thoughtwaves she was receiving from Yvain, all at the prospect of her being mistaken for a prostitute. <What, do you want to watch? You sick freak!>
<No, listen, please,> Yvain pleaded. <We’ve been trying to get access to this guy for months. He’s a really slippery character—you know how the secret police are, changing names and faces all the time, never appearing in public, ghosts the lot of them! But now, by pure random coincidence, we’ve got an in!>
Zoe shuddered. <You can’t be serious.>
<You want to help the Resistance, right Zoe?>
<Of course I do! That’s the whole reason I’m even here right now, naked on the street corner!>
<Well, this could really help us out. Just play along for a bit, get in the car, go back to his place.>
<B-but he’ll expect… I mean, I’ll have to…>
<Oh, that!> A short, nervous laugh from Yvain echoed across Zoe’s mind. <We’ve got tech that will take care of that!>
Zoe was thoroughly confused. <Really?>
<Yes, of course. Honeytraps have it easy these days with CMRs! Look, when it gets too much for you, just put your thumb behind his ear, against his CMR, and give me the signal. Then I’ll breach it and generate a fantasy in his mind. While he’s writhing around on the bed, solo-style, you’ll be free to search the place and get out.>
<And that’ll actually work?>
“Your beauty is very striking against this city backdrop, dear, but you must be getting cold,” said Heinrich, taking Zoe’s hand once more. “Please, accompany me back to the vehicle.”
Zoe smiled weakly at Heinrich and allowed him to lead her by the hand towards the open passenger door of his limousine. She had to step wide to avoid the body of the unconscious officer.
Heinrich placed his other hand on Zoe’s hip as he guided her to sit down in the spacious interior of the limousine. The leather was cool against her bare rump.
<Welcome to your first mission, Fighter Zoe,> thought Yvain.
<For the Resistance,> she thought back, as much for his benefit as her own.
To be continued…