Rules: This is a progressive RP, so there will be time-movement inside one thread. The period of time that passes will be voted on, please contact an existing player if you're new and are not sure how to enter.
Note: While this is not a new story, it is open for all story builders. It's best to play if you have a partner, a plot, or at least a plan. Players, if you have partners or are in a conversation among a group of other players, you may move on without a response from the others 7 (seven) full days after your last post.
[Note: This occurs overlapping the last few hours of Seraphim.]
To comprehend this portion of the story, the reader would have to understand three simple details. One, the events that led to the raid of Torun Zamok for modified ACME technology was solidified with a meeting in a simple monastery at the border of Germany and Austria. Secondly, the mercenaries at Torun experimented on a toxin that was derived from certain fungi in hopes to create a biological weapon that specialized in the domination of human minds. They were largely unsuccessful, as the toxin proved lethal. The last thing our readers need to know is Flag's somewhat extraterrestrial nature; but like many things without a place, he was apt to find his own way.
In the Rhine region of Bavaria, Germany somewhere south of bustling Munich, was a vineyard of red Riesling grapes blanketing cold hills that were overlooked by a small monastery. While the monks here also brewed unique beer, their sweet produce matured to create one of the most delicate and rarest wines on earth.
It was here, several years prior, that a rather ambitious young woman divulged her plans of conquest to a certain trusted friend. That escalated through a series of calculated actions to the theft (and destruction) of an enemy tower, and later to cooperating with that very same enemy to destroy a dangerous weapon.
Of course, that was some distance ago, literally.
The woman and her now less trusted friend, were ironically back at this vineyard under the guard of the monastery.
Carmen awoke to the sound of rhythmic airflow. A redolence of cinders clung to a fabric she had used to shield her eyes and she sunk into it briefly to concentrate. Unsuccessful, she moved to regain her bearings only to learn that her hands had been clutching on to Flag's clothing. Her supposed 'kidnapper' was next to her on the ground, gasping for breath.
The instance she became aware of that, she released her grip and backed away. Recounting the latest events in memory gave her some understanding: a mercenary shot at her with a tainted dart, and as she quickly perceived her respiratory system shutting down; Flag pulled her up, and then she was here. Touching her neck where the projectile had hit, she wondered why the toxin was no longer in her. Adding to her questions, the state of the 'man' that brought her here confoundedly suggested that he had absorbed the drug.
Slowly, she stood.
The fields were littered with rocky soil, and the few grapes clinging to their vines were telltale. Riesling was often harvested in November and December, but the monks here would leave some rotting until late January. In the distance, a commotion arose from the ground keepers and the thief presupposed that a small army of clergymen would be in the area within minutes.
Her attention fell back to Flag. His arduous breathing had taken a toll and he was now unconscious. Knowing her present means, Carmen took off the tracking bracelet that Patty had given her and snapped it onto the alien's wrist. She lacked the strength to carry him so she must leave him. She had to, reasonably, if she expected to remain obscured.
Within hours she may be completely safe and in a position where she could check in with her crew.
As she walked away, the idea of desertion felt less comforting. The facile monks would soon contact authorities, or worse; Flag could wake and become potentially violent. Despite her current uncertainties, she may have more to regret if she wasn't there to protect him.
VILE's leader rolled her lips, released them, and exhaled as she retraced her steps. Returning to Flag, she greeted the clerics just as they spotted him.
"Wir brauchen Hilfe," she spoke in high German and indicated that she required help with a light wave, "[He's injured, poisoned.]*"
If he had indeed absorbed the toxin that may have killed her, she must know exactly how to relay this to the healers.
Flag opened his eyes to an unfamiliar ceiling and a stranger that he eventually realized was someone medical. He tried to sit up, but the healer pushed him back down on the bed and said something in one of the many languages that he didn't understand, but had assumed meant "stay."
"Where... " he barely choked out the word over before the cottony dryness of his throat sent him into a small coughing fit. In response the monk handed him a glass of water before leaving the room.
Presumably alone, the alien looked around, unconsciously flicking his tail as he contemplated the information (or lack thereof) that he was presented. After a moment, he noted a bracelet that had been clipped to his wrist and held it up for inspection.
"What is this?" He asked somewhat under his breath as he looked the accessory over.
"A tracking device," Carmen answered from behind a table in the darkness of the room.
Flag visibly jumped when she spoke and let the adorned arm drop back to his side. "I did not expect you to still be here."
The woman remained unmoved. She was physically uncomfortable, still in the clothes she arrived with and unable to find an opportune time to shower in a monastery full of men. But she did eat... German stewed pork, sauerkraut and potatoes. While she considered herself a semi-vegetarian, her tedious travel schedules often left her with a lot of hunger and very little choices. This was such an example, and her famished state gladly accepted any food.
Of course that was a few hours ago, and she was now finishing up red Riesling in a large wooden cup.
"I put that on you when I thought we might have to part ways," nursing the unusual concoction of warm wine, Carmen breathed lightly and leaned back into a hearty cedar chair. Her nails played with the smoothed grain of the wooden vessel until she came across an 'eye', and then as if coming to terms with a difficult decision, her gaze snapped to Flag.
Nearly a full year has passed since she last spoke to him, yet the messages she had conveyed over the course of her intelligence gathering on Torun Zamok were never relayed to the others. This, she felt, was proof of Flag's allegiance. She had never wanted the information transferred. Now seeing him in this weakened state, she had even less of a reason to accuse him of disloyalty. So she softened her question, "Was there... precisely, a reason behind all this?"
There was a long silence and a heavy sigh before he answered. "For the same reason I do anything anymore." He then shifted on the bed - propping himself up on his elbow - to see his friend better. "I need to return to my wife."
"Are you in contact with her?"
"All right, and the diamond?"
"It's one of a number of tools I need to get in contact with her."
"To go back to wherever you came from?"
He nodded and took a sip of water. "Am I going to be able to get that back from you?"
Carmen acknowledged a probable 'yes', and then fell silent.
"Was Olga sent to kill me?"
Choosing to answer her subtext, he replied, "I was hoping to get to you before she pulled the trigger, but I wasn't fast enough."
"So you knew I was going to be there."
"To be honest," he paused, "I had no idea where you were, so please imagine my surprise when you showed up in the last place I wanted you to be."
Once things began to make sense, Carmen drifted into thought and she slowly moved a hand up to her neck in recollection.
"As for the dart," Flag spoke and she put her arm back down, noting that while she studied him, he had been doing the same to her, "all I know is that its contents were enough to fell a man in the time it took for me to break a couple of boxes."
"You knew what the dart contained," she opened, "and you knew what it would do to you?"
"Getting you out of there as I had was the only way I could think of to remove it and... I guess it had to go somewhere."
Disobeying the monk's order to remain horizontal, Flag placed his cup on a small nightstand near his bed and fought his way into a sitting position. "You've already played your part by saving my life all those years ago. I can't let any harm come to you because of that."
The woman placed her cup back on the table; the wine had cooled and so had her temper. Despite sensing a very careful phrasing in Flag's tone, he had saved her from certain death, and for this she was consoled.
"You should have told me earlier, Flag, I would have helped."
Defeated, the Sivoan merely shrugged.
Retrieving the diamond she had wrapped in linen, Carmen handed it to the alien. As he reached for it, she moved it away slightly to get his attention, "Aside from this, what else do you need?"
"A couple of books that I left in a locker in New York, something I think ACME might actually have, and the letters..." he looked at her expectantly. "You still have those somewhere safe, correct?"
As soon as he asked, her mind recounted the location along with the name and numbers required to access the security box of her necessary keepsakes.
"I do," she replied. After the diamond left her hand, she continued, "I can spare two men to help you on this."
Somewhere in the distance, a church bell struck.
"I need to get connected with the team," Carmen's tone changed abruptly, "Rest now, you can leave here when you're ready."
She picked up the cup and finished the remainder of her wine. Once ready, she snatched from the back of her chair a felt hunter's cap that the clergymen had donated and paused at the door. Remembering something, she paced back to her friend.
"Thank you... I don't think I've said that," she lowered herself to match his eyes and then removed the rubber tracking bracelet. "Patts will need this back, and you'll need a new phone," the thief stated as she rose, "gute Nacht, Flag."
He smirked back up at her and waved as she left. Only once the room was empty did he return the salutation. "Good night Carmen."
* Translated from German [I am hoping to join this one. If I don't have permission, Feel free to delete this message. Also, please let me know if I'm getting anything wrong in continuity. ]
Ken U Belevitt
V.I.L.E HQ - Antarctica
Ken U. Belevitt walked back to his desk from a short trip to the refrigerator, holding a wrapped snack cake in his hand. Who the heck put snack cakes in the fridge? For a long time, he was simply too paranoid to eat the darn thing, but food was running scarce, no doubt due to the fact that he was eating it all.
For a long time, he'd been on hiatus from V.I.L.E., having left to search for a malcontent known as "The User." the User was suspected of arranging a fatal accident on Ken's person, and indeed did succeed in dropping a TV monitor on his head, robbing him of the lucid thought he would have needed to join ACME's television-sponsored Gumshoe program. He was met at the scene of the crime by another victim of The User's, Sarbajit jasjiv, who had become an agent of the FBI, and was seeking to bring The User to justice.
For a while, Ken went with Jasjiv's department in the FBI, but the trail quickly went stone cold, and Ken quickly grew bored of his position at the department. He succeeded in re-stealing the jet he had originally borrowed from V.I.L.E and returned to his home town of Turlock, CA. However, the authorities quickly caught up with him, and, after seeing the insanity clause in his dossier, had him sealed in a rubber room for several months until Eartha Brute busted him out.
Fearing another long stint in a straitjacket, Ken returned to Antarctica, the home of the original V.I.L.E. HQ. He hadn't yet realized that the rest of Carmen's henchmen had already found greener pastures elsewhere, and he merely assumed everyone was out on a lengthy mission. Maybe that was foolish of him to assume, but after all, foolishness was Ken's Modus Operandai.
An obsessive compulsive maniac.
Doomed to always get wrong what any normal person would get right.
Curse The User, and curse that falling TV monitor.
Ken sat with his legs propped up on his desk, leaning back in his chair and taking the form of a perfect beach ball while he triumphantly ate the refrigerated snack cake. Eating. Waiting. Business as usual.
The following day Flag awoke to the hustle and bustle of a community busily getting started on the days chores. Although he still had difficulty getting up, it was more due to an overabundance of rest than It was the night before... or so he thought. As he stood up, he hit his head on a ceiling of affliction and found himself sinking into the wooden chair that his friend had occupied previously. Unconsciously, he held his breath to try and alleviate the pain but only succeeded when he released it and poured himself a glass of water. It was then that he noticed that the table had not been left empty.
Beyond the pitcher of water and cup was a small box that contained some simple robes, the plastic box he had confiscated from Torun Zamok, and a small envelope. Inside the envelope were two tickets; one for a plane and one for a play happening six days from now.
While this wasn't the most subtle approach, he had to appreciate Carmen's ability to give orders without actually giving orders. He would be at the VILE rendezvous at the place and time specified.
(Posted with permission. All VILE agents can assume that they have received similar summons)
ONE-WEEK-LATER TIME STAMP]
It took the worldly thief much of this week just to arrive at the theater. When she finally stepped through its Victorian doors at approximately 3 p.m. on Thursday, a mix of single-mindedness and urgency created a tunnel vision that led her straight to the chamber where she would spend the remainder of her evening.
Some time later, Carmen would discover that the room she rested in tonight was a former "founders' office" built by the theater's creators as a recreation area for the family. Inside the performance hall, the room's cantilevered section overlooked the stage with seating for ten. Behind the seats was a proper bed and en suite bath, likely set up recently. From there, its entrance opened to a small foyer where guards were once posted.
She awoke at midnight to compose a few written thoughts, and then rose again at 3 a.m. to edit them. By dawn she was fully awake and compiling documents of seven to nine odd months, but she soon noted at about 7:30, that the theater was exceptionally silent.
Curious, she opened the door and immediately found two men pausing a hushed game of cards to stare attentively in her direction.
She said nothing to them, slung a wool coat over her shoulders, and walked along the halls from her private box. In her wake, significant scurrying began, and she internally counted down from twenty.
Vic was only half awake when he got the message from the watch that Carmen just left her room. She hadn't ordered anything, let alone spoken to anyone since she came back, but Fumigalli figured that she'd want to sleep in.
The ride from Kamchatka was a doozie. While Vic and Patty were trying to make sense of what happened, a call came through the submarine's communications from some Russian guy that Carmen was fine. Then it was followed by lose instructions on not worrying. A day later, when Vic finally got to hear her voice, she was calling from a disposable somewhere in Munich. He barely had time to get the workers to make a comfortable place ready for her when she showed up yesterday afternoon, made a B-line for the founders' quarters and didn't make a peep until just now.
Quickly rushing, Vic ran from his little back stage nook up the fuzzy carpeted steps hoping to catch Carmen's shadow before she disappears.
At the 'ten' mark of her internal timer, VILE's ring leader began to hear a lot more activity echoing about the old arches. Then at about 'three' she spied a breathless Vincent Fumigalli catching up to her from the opposite balcony.
Two seconds of silence played before Carmen spoke. "A tight schedule to keep and you have men playing cards in front of the veranda?"
Vic chuckled nervously. He thought she'd already be out, so he was completely relieved when he found her casually exploring the place.She continued to walk and he followed. Her leisurely pace soon betrayed her initial comment, so Vic decided to offer something he figured she'd want."So uhm, you hungry?"
She laughed lightly and hinted to the next door, only then did the conman realize she'd been heading to the kitchen all along.
Note to VILE: You can say you're in the kitchen, somewhere in the theater, or anywhere else for this one-week stamp.
Note to Ken: You gonna have Ken figure out eventually there ain't nobody there, ah? Can say you get a call/msg from Vic, anytime.
VILE Headquarters, Undisclosed Location
The old theatre stood proudly, new life flowing through its hallowed halls. The main auditorium's recently installed lighting was on full display, illuminating the the varnished wood finishings, land the fresh coats of paint. The old stage curtain had been lowered, giving the illusion of a performance waiting to happen. It was as if the old girl was itching to put on a show once again; the only thing missing however, was the audience.
Black leather shoes walked softly on the currently still uncarpeted floor, their polished surface reflecting the light so helpfully supplied by the recently installed lighting fixtures. The owner of the shoes walked slowly and purposefully towards the front row of the main auditorium. The short man was dressed in a sharp, well-pressed suit sans the tie. The long sleeves of the suit hugged the man's figure perfectly, obscuring the bandages that wrapped around the left shoulder and arm. The outfit had been completed with an ornate Jester's mask and a well-hidden necklace with dog tags tucked under collar. Also hidden under the suit was a small selection of Joe Kerr's usual repertoire of gag bombs and gimmicks.
The VILE Jester chuckled to himself as he admired the handiwork of the workers Contessa had assigned to the renovation. These same workers had continued at their job even as their employer(s) had been training for and then involved in a battle, no, war for survival. The result? A slowly rejuvenating theatre whose transformation was, Joe hoped, a prophecy of sorts for VILE rising from the ashes once again.
As he took in the changes, Joe briefly recalled the things that had transpired over the week.
The Jester recalled returning to Lenino Air Base with the rest of the crew in the HEMTT. He recalled having to sit by as medical personnel attended to his bleeding left arm. Joe recalled wincing as the bullets were unceremoniously removed from his arm and stitches were put in. He had been lucky, the mercenaries had been using regular bullets instead of the kind designed to never leave a human body once they got in. The armor itself had helped, despite not being anywhere near bullet-resistant, let alone bullet-proof.
The most painful part however, had been the waiting for everyone else to return, if they would. The family of thieves had returned intact, save for the one glaring exception, the very person they had come halfway around the world for. Memories of the hug they had shared when he had last saw her flooded his mind and almost drove him to tears.
After returning the borrowed ACME gear to its rightful owner, the members of VILE had silently and respectfully went their separate ways. ACME had not made any attempt to chase them down, probably due to having to deal with the fallout of the battle. Joe however would take no chances; He did not want a repeat of Antarctica, not so soon anyways.
Joe would end up taking a couple of detours in order to throw ACME off his scent. Conveniently, one of the detours was to the secure bank where he had previously deposited the last two mementos of his sister Evelyn. Now that he had fully regained his memories of her, he felt that it was appropriate to retrieve one of the two items from its resting place. He had also resolved to live with Evelyn's memory the way she would have wanted it, for him to embrace life and protect those he cared for, his family; a dysfunctional one of thieves and grifters but a family nonetheless.
Joe would have taken more detours and maybe even laid low but he had received a call from Vic telling him to get back to the theatre ASAP as the boss was waiting. The Jester realized that he should have known better... As many steps as they were always ahead of ACME, she was always just as many steps ahead of them.
Joe was broken out of his revelry when he was tripped up by something small and furry. From his less than dignified position on the floor, the Jester was able to spot a certain auburn-haired feline smirking at him. He smiled behind his mask and gestured to her and she immediately leapt into his embrace. The Jester laughed heartily as said cat purred happily whilst being stroked and hugged.
“It's good to see you too, Carmine.”
Kidman awoke in the theater's ad hoc clinic a few days later with a post-it note on her face, left there by Joe as a precaution after she failed to remember being told Carmen's status the first few dozen times she had slipped into consciousness.
The moment Kidman had realized she was in a medical setting she wanted out of it, and after a bit of trial and error she managed to get the oversized uniform left for her over her cast and neck brace. Then she found a set of crutches and spent the rest of the night hobbling about the premises.
For all her injuries, Kidman hadn't felt so well in years. She was back in England, Carmen was safe, her fellows were nearby, and outside the fading winter sun heralded in the night.
‘Master's time.' Kidman thought with a smile, but it quickly faded.
She couldn't call her that anymore.
Due to complications in Kamchatka, much of the raid had to be related to her afterwards despite her having been there, but her discussion with Carmen atop of the watchtower remained clear. Thus she was obliged to obey, but doing so was proving painful, and Kidman avoided Carmen's name for ‘she' or ‘her' whenever possible.
The next few days passed in a comfortable jumble of construction and information gathering, neither of which Kidman was supposed to be doing. Besides her assorted cuts and bruises Kidman had a sprained wrist, a decent concussion, a fair bit of damage to her ankle and neck, and several stitches where the sharp rifle butt had sliced across the left side of her face. Secretly she hoped for a new scar from it, one to cover an older, less desirable one, but she kept all of this as hidden as possible for now. She didn't want be confined to the bed.
No, not once they said that Master was coming, and she was soon, and Master was a masterfully masterful master, and she would make masterful rainbows fill the sky with with her mastery forever. Forbidden as these thoughts were, Kidman had indulged herself, and really, felt she deserved to after so many years of distress.
Once Carmen arrived, Kidman had planted herself outside her door, where she played cards with whatever guard was on duty and ate what they brought for her. It was not only out of her usual obsessive protectiveness that she stayed, nor just to keep the nightmares away, but to be near that which stabilized her for as long as she might be allowed to.
Despite the assurance on the watch tower, Kidman still wasn't confident that all had been forgiven, and she instinctively ducked her head as Carmen glanced at her watchers. But once she passed, Kidman pulled herself up and limped along dutifully at the edge of her trailing shadow.
Chase/Tanya's narrator (as Macy Garter) and Flag's narrator (as Olga Glebovi). [Thanks, without you two, I wouldn't have any content.]
St. Regis Suite
Floors 19-20, The St. Regis
125 3rd St. San Francisco
Exactly one week after leaving Kamchatka, Chase Devineaux now stood in front of windows painted in San Francisco's southeastern view. The haughty buildings of its financial district glared back at him like silver blades in the sun. His shelter from them, and the afternoon heat, was a tall suite on floors 19 and 20 of The St. Regis Hotel in San Francisco. This room served so many private interviews that its interior was well known among local media.
Chase wasn't entirely comfortable here. To his left was a wire-frame globe of some tarnished bronze, its abstract patterns reflected in two other artworks prominently relaying the theme. The decor was for modern world travelers, but instead of trend, Devineaux saw only tangled shapes around an empty core.
"That's quite a story," the woman behind him spoke.
On a fainting couch sat his guest, tapping her Nine West slightly on the taupe carpeting and kneading the rim of her paper notebook with fingers dressed in painted acrylic. To the interviewee, she looked strangely at ease. Rather than her usual pants and suit jacket, she wore a dark blouse and pencil skirt -- something Chase wouldn't have noticed had she not fit in so well with the room's crisp temperament.
"I trust you'll tell it well," he added.
"Trust? I bet you save that word for when it really counts."
Devineaux acknowledged with a brief smile.
Reporter Macy Gartner hounded Tanya Erzin for an interview with Chase Devineaux since ACME Tower I disappeared. All requests were respectfully declined. Until this week, when Barbabra Rosen decided that the C-5 chapter must end publicly, and Chase suggested a leak through Gartner.
What he told her, along with revealing carefully scripted bits of his childhood, was the tale of a mentally unstable physicist who swore vengeance against a company that seemingly wronged him. Alf Barber's story took a back seat to Devineaux's shining image, his chance survival from the Nob Hill incident, and eventually his quest for justice. A team of agents bravely retrieved the stolen technology, and Barber was now in custody awaiting trial in 5 different countries.
"And what about the first tower?"
"That was VILE."
"An isolated, completely separated incident?"
"There's nothing you want to add about VILE?"
"Since your raids, its leader hasn't surfaced in over a year?"
He made eye contact and said in a lower tone, "I'd call that success."
Macy reached over the low table and paused her digital recorder.
"I think I have what I need," she gathered her things, "the first summary of events are coming out in Sunday's paper, then I'm putting the interview in the magazine for next month's feature."
"Rushing out?" he asked casually, "I thought this was a decent session."
"For a news story, yes, but for a personal interview you gave me nothing."
"I was born in Maine, I ended up here... you wanted more?"
The reporter paused, "Professionally, I completely understand your secrecy."
As she finished and stood to say good bye, he made the gesture to walk her out, "And outside of 'professionally'?"
"Would you like to find out, over dinner?" Gartner was known for her opportunistic nature but that question took the director by surprise.
He hid it with a nod and offered a hand, "I have a short engagement after this, but I can meet you back here at eight."
Macy grabbed his palm and shook it briskly, "Eight."
Accolade, ACME Compound
3rd St. San Francisco
Stark, cool-gray walls greeted Chase Devineaux as he entered the halls of the newly built detainment area. Bright LEDs made the path seem larger than usual, and the paint on the wall had a special matted polymer layer that provided an easy-to-clean, durable surface. The texture was invented by ACME Labs and Chase subconsciously tapped it twice with his knuckles as he turned a corner towards the interrogation rooms.
When he arrived to the viewing area, Barbara Rosen stood with Suhara Nakamura in partial conversation. Devineaux adjusted his cuffs and greeted the two senior members.
Through the two-way mirror was the female mercenary they arrested at Kamchatka seven days prior. For the past week, she was kept here until other arrested mercenaries were fully interrogated. They've identified her as Olga Glebovi, one of the leads under Melana Lancaster.
Chase remembered her most as the merc that shot the dart.
The contents Olga's dart gun were tested in both ACME facilities and outside sources, all confirming the poison to be parasympathomimetic. In other words, it was a weapon that killed through paralysis.
"She's done some time in Russia," Rosen told the director, "stole a nail clipper when she was twelve."
Devineaux took that as his cue, and entered the interrogation room.
When he appeared, Olga snapped to attention as though she had been in the middle of doing something that she shouldn't have been. In reality, she had just been making faces in the mirror, knowing full well that other people could see her (that made it more fun). Before her inquisitor could speak, however, she asked, "The little gray b*tch isn't with you is she?"
English -- this was going to be easier. Chase assumed she was referring to Kidman, an interesting first choice of conversation.
"Why," he took off his jacket, "did she leave an impression?"
Olga twisted up her face in confusion. "What?"
"You've been with Melana Lancaster for a while, what do you do for her?"
She shrugged "Stuff."
"Leg work, communications, murder?" Pulling out the interrogator's chair, he sat down, "Do you know why you're here?"
She nodded. "Yes I do. You pulled me out of the snow, tied my hands, and put me on a plane. Then some guys put me in a small room with bars, then later some other guys brought me in here--"
"Vot 'kak', a ne 'pochemu'," he interjected, reminding her the difference between 'how' and 'why'.
"Ah… Right…" She smiled brighter, "[Your American accent is cute]*."
"[You're here because of 'Linka'. Coincidently, I want her here more than I want you. If you help me, we talk. Otherwise, you can take her place.]"
Olga's face immediately went bright red and then she giggled. "[Wow. She said you two had a past, but I didn't know it was like that.]" She leaned in and winked. "[You can have me. I don't mind.]"
The blush on Olga's cheeks suggested more than her external playfulness. It was arousal, an excitement that betrayed any other physical trait. Her heart rate was rising to compensate, and while she was trained to tease, if left to her devices, she would play until she reached satisfaction.
Well aware of the two behind the glass, Chase was a statue.
"I don't think that's what you want," he used English to break her from whatever train of thought she was in, "What else did she tell you about me?"
She leaned forward with her elbows on the table, causing her chair to scoot back loudly. She shot a sideways glance at the observation mirror. "[What she said about you doesn't matter does it?]"
Her chains rattled slightly, and the moment he noticed, Chase had to react. The chair Glebovi pushed only seconds earlier flew towards his head in a horizontal arch and Devineaux tipped his own chair backwards, leveraging his weight with the table just enough to keep his nose out of the way. The furniture barely left her hands when the Russian maneuvered her chains for his exposed neck. He kicked up the table and fell backwards, the distance was small but it was sufficient, and he slipped out of her strike zone.
In the background, the alarm sounded, his observers buzzed the guards. Olga's window was closed. Chase knew she had one clear hit, but missing that didn't seem to faze her. She threw herself into the air and Devineaux prepared to buffer a kick, but instead, her nails made contact with his chest and dug into his skin. Using her chain against her, he pushed his upper arm into it until her wrists could no longer take the weight. She cursed in Russian and recoiled, but it was clear to him now that this woman knew exactly what she was doing. Olga was using any means necessary and had she not been handcuffed, she would have resorted to tearing him apart.
In the time it took to relieve the strain on her wrists, Olga formulated a new plan of attack and struck… the door as it flew inward between her and her target. Staggering, she redirected her attack to one of the guards and laid him out just in time to feel a shadow come down around her.
The moment Glebovi's attention diverted, Chase clasped her throat and restricted her carotid arteries. While she could still breathe, the lack of oxygen to her brain caused temporary hypoxia and within seconds, Olga was subdued.
The guard on the ground looked to the director with gratitude as his friend entered to properly handle the prisoner. The men prepared to carry out the Russian, at the same time Barbara Rosen pushed into the interrogation room with Suhara close behind.
"Get that checked," The Vice President told Devineaux as she inspected Olga's wide claw marks.
"I don't think she was ever planning to talk," Suhara, somewhat breathless, stated with an eye towards the hall.
"No," Chase cleared his throat and moved to pick up his suit, "but she said plenty."
A long silence held after the Director of Operations gathered himself and walked out.
"We should have seen this one coming," Barbara exhaled audibly.
"Melana's agenda? Yes."
"Did you know what Glebovi did with that nail clipper she stole?"
Suhara Nakamura turned to Rosen for the answer. Obviously, the theft of a small household object would go unnoticed unless something noteworthy occurred.
"She fatally attacked a schoolmate."
The St. Regis
125 3rd St.
Macy Gartner sat in the lobby of the St. Regis, San Francisco. In place of her glasses she wore contact lenses, and despite her better judgment, she did dress for the occasion. Which would explain her disappointment when at 8:08 PM, she saw Chase Devineaux's blond assistant entering with a potted, double stemmed orchid.
"Miss Gartner," the woman greeted, "I'm Renee, Personal Assistant to the Director of Operations."
Macy nodded, she knew this girl.
"Mr. Devineaux sends his regards, his meeting is extending much longer than previously anticipated."
"When is he coming back to the hotel?"
"He's..." Renée trailed, "He's not coming back, Miss Gartner."
"I get it," the reporter stood up, "it's fine."
She brushed off the assistant and took a few steps towards the door when she paused and turned around to retrieve the flowers.
"Tell him thanks for the plant," she said before pacing out once again.
When she was in her own car, she put the pot on the passenger's side. Touching the light pink petals, she came across a note.
"Sincere apologies," it said, and then it was signed, "C. Devineaux."
Gartner sighed and tucked the paper back between the orchids' leaves. Few things said 'business dinner' more than stiff orchids, but this "C. Devineaux's" rigidness was worth a few misinterpretations.
*[Brackets] Translated from Russian
[VILE's big joined post, still in the one-week-later stamp]
The theater's 'mess hall' was an open floor plan cafeteria with seating for approximately forty people and room for food preparation on the side. Carmen entered and picked her breakfast with Vincent Fumigalli close behind.
“You can just have this stuff brought up?” Vic asked earnestly.
“No thank you,” she replied and picked a center table, sliding her tray into position before sitting down. Motioning Fumigalli, she supplemented with a light command, “Don't just stand there.”
Vic sat. All around both henchmen and hired construction workers were in the area, also having a meal. Eyes occasionally glanced to Carmen and Vic was starting to feel nervous.
“Why are you sweating?” she asked without looking at him and Vic thought for a moment that she was cute as a button when she ate. Then he hit himself mentally for thinking that way. At the same time, he remembered what he wanted to talk to her about.
“Ey the girl with the gray hair, Kidman,” he started.
“No, it's Kid, with a 'd'.”
“I like Kitt better,” she bit into a soft roll, “She called me 'master' at the watchtower.”
“She weren't ever hired legally. Want to fix that.”
“...and then I think she called me 'mother'.”
“Ima promoted her,” he squared his shoulder, “I think she's good for a second set o' eyes.”
Carmen nodded once and continued to eat.
“You dun agree with me?”
Setting down her fork, she looked across the table to Fumigalli, “I think she's highly volatile, and I have to question your judgment on sending her to Kamchatka.”
“Y'know she went with Joe to bargain with Devineaux, ah? Those two might have saved your life.”
“And I'm grateful.”
“I've been gone a year, Vic, and you've been running things. I'm grateful, let's move on.”
Off near the entrance, Vic saw Joe entering and called him over with a hand signal.
Seeing Vic's invitation to come over, Joe returned a nod, but had thought it prudent not to interrupt the conversation and instead took a surreptitious detour to get Carmine a saucer of milk in order to give the two the time needed to finish up.
Vic went on, “Reason I wanted t' clear this is 'cuz we've all been worried sick about you.” He hunched over and spoke softly, “Ain't my place maybe, but with you gone off on your own then that thing with Flag and you suddenly callin' me from Munich. Even Devineaux risked his hide findin' you, least we can do is clue him in that you're okay, ah?”
Carmen's hand snapped to Vic's wrist, “I'll explain everything, but I need you to radio-silence ACME.”
The tone of her voice scared Fumigalli, so he only stared back at her blankly.
“That especially means their Director of Operations.”
‘Distancing words', she was using them. Vic moved his eyes and suddenly noticed Kidman nearby.
While pressing guaze into her hand, Colleen glanced at the magazines on the rack and found it reassuring that ACME Medical Center carried the standard doctor's office assortment (minus any relating to pediatrics or gerontology.) This served as a welcome distraction from the frivolous cause of her visit: a mild laceration from a clumsy slip of her X-Acto knife while cutting tin. Crafting vibrobots and hybrids was a hobby Colleen had indulged in to relax over the years. Transcending mere amusement, the carrier robot she assembled earlier would deliver useful gifts she created to some of the other agents. She was pleased with today's gift, a hacking device that could read any keycard lock's memory through the port on the lock's bottom to grant access to its opening mechanism. Colleen had placed the handy tool inside a Dry-Erase marker, an ordinarily unremarkable sight made stunning by its compact undetectatability. She had not yet picked the recipient, but knew anyone would benefit from the device.
As usual for a doctor's visit, Colleen grabbed the manila folder on the adjacent table upon the nurse's exit. Unfazed by the warning that ACME's walls have eyes, she flipped open her file. Inquisitiveness was one of the chief reasons for her employment, and besides, she had seen nothing in the SOUL Contract against meddling into one's own well-being.
Unusual for a doctor's visit, Colleen saw the words "Mild Thalassemia" in the family medical history section. She furrowed her brow, more baffled by the existence of a family condition than the condition itelf. Hers was a closed adoption that had granted no access to her genetic background. She scanned the rest of the file, finding nothing erroneous. And then her mind was flooded with questions: Had ACME used their resources to find her biological relatives' identities? Would they really have hired an agent with a murky and potentially vulnerable medical status without investigating further? How had this never occurred to her?
Her mind raced as she walked back to her room. Although Colleen had always accepted the lack of information about her biological origins, hers was a curious nature and she now pondered how she might find out more. Sitting down in front of her laptop, browsing through a list of agents to find ones with strong connections to ACME Hong Kong, Colleen stopped abruptly on one profile. Smiling, she placed the Dry-Erase marker in a gift box. No "To/From" card would be needed, as she had left her fingerprints all over the device. Selecting the olive-ink pen from a pack, she started writing large letters on the side of the box: "M-O-N-A-"
Outside the theater there was a brief confrontation, and those with particularly keen hearing might have picked up a bit of the argument between a woman with a truly atrocious accent and the VILE henchmen posted to guard the door.
"..do you mean? I have my clearance..."
"...Dead? Of course I am not dead, you tiny-brained man with no neck! Where did you..."
"...No, you listen to the words I am saying to you. I am supposed to be in there, and I am late already. If you don't let me pass I will..."
"...and every communicator you ever receive will blast your ears until you are deafened! Now then..."
A few moments later, heralded by the sound of bootsteps, a set of double doors to the cafeteria were pushed wide. Framed in the entryway was a woman that veteran VILE members would remember, though how much they knew about her disappearance for 5 years would likely vary. Newer VILE recruits may have heard of her or not, but one thing was certain. Dr. Sara Bellum, Carmen's "main brain" for many years, was here, now, in the flesh. Her auburn hair with its trademark shock of grey on her left had grown long and been pulled back into a ponytail, and her red-tinted ever-present goggles looked out over the table. Her skin was pale, but slightly sunburned, as if she had been without sunlight for a long while but then got too much of it too fast. She was thin as well, showing the effects of a forgotten meal here or there. She wore a lab coat that would have been a pristine white, except for recent smudges of what appeared to be dirt and engine grease, some of which had gotten on her face as well. The coat was worn over a black long-sleeved shirt and dark tan cargo pants. She wore black gloves, also stained heavily with engine grease and dirt, and black leather biker boots.
Completing the ensemble was a tool belt around her waist, what appeared to be a tool bandolier hanging from her left shoulder to her right hip, and a brown leather satchel which she carried over her left shoulder.
Apparently satisfied with who she saw in the room, she began to walk over to the food.
"I get here with plenty of time, the MAMBA handles like a dream come true. I think everything will go just fine. But no, the motorcycle I brought with me to take me from the hiding spot to here makes it ten miles before it blows a gasket. New experimental machine, fine. Motorcycle we have used for years, dead. I ask you?! So then I have to jury-rig an internal combustion engine fix out of some car parts I found on the side of the interstate just to get it to limp here, and then that rookie outside wants to tell me I'm not me? How can I be dead if I am here? We haven't figured out reanimation yet. He really is dumb as a wall! It makes me realize that I am not nearly as homesick for the outside world as I thought, though. And that I really miss my hoverchair."
She sighed and turned back to the table, having scooped some scrambled eggs and quite a bit of fruit onto her plate. "I am sorry for interrupting your conference. Sometimes I just have to let things out. Please continue."
Flag didn't know what to make of the theater when he first saw it. It's antique appearance played towards what he had come to know as VILE's usual style, but the construction crew indicated an intent to bring business back to the entertainment venue.
This confused him. Why draw so much public attention to the organization? The more he thought about it (and his comrads), the more he realized that picking the theater was a stroke of brilliance. Nobody would question strange people in costumes here, nor would they bat an eye at their coming and going at odd hours.
Finally finding a level of comfort with the old structure he handed his ticket to a door guard, who admitted him into the main lobby. "They're in the food hall," the grunt said in a voice that indicated he had already had a long day despite it only being morning.
"And where would that be?" Flag matched his tone.
The guard stood up. "Just follow me. It's easier than me trying to explain it."
Within minutes he understood what the guard had meant. A number of detours had been routed due to the construction and they had to navigate their way across the stage and through a few service hallways before arriving at the kitchen, where his attention was drawn towards a set of double-doors at the far end.
"Through there." His escort explained before leaving to return to his station.
Flag unconsciously checked to make sure the plastic box containing the diamond was still in his pocket before he crept into the eatery. Instead of grabbing a bite to eat and planting himself at a corner table as planned, he found himself distracted by the ravings of a woman in a lab coat.
Who was she?
Kidman certainly knew.
"Sara!" she cried happily , sending her chair skidding into the table behind her as she jumped up. "Dr. Bellum! You're alive! So many people are not dead today!"
The girl had done maintenance on many of Sara's machines in her early VILE years, and her disappearance had been sorely felt. Then she saw someone come in behind her and her eyes narrowed as she sought to place him. She had already begun to fill in the blanks with the information Carmen had released, but she knew there was more the thief wasn't telling, and as she searched her memory, one more piece slipped into place.
A plume of shattered ice and snow splashed into a brilliant blue sky as a roar echoed through the slopes. Black smoke spiralled with the wind that swept up the dust to reveal glimpses of an Antonov An-12 shrouded within the debris. Her knuckles curled white around the edges of the armrests that embraced her sides and spirals of red blurred her vision even as she dared to open her eyes little by little. There was a slight shift in the weight of the aircraft, and the plate of ice upon which the Antonov had come to rest slipped. The sound that accompanied the aeroplane as it lurched into the shallow valley below was not one easily forgotten.
The missile hit the watch tower, puncturing its stone walls without hesitation. The ground beneath her crumbled and she followed.
She was falling, the four-point harness that had strapped her into her seat gone, leaving her a plummeting mess of limbs, red hair... and a white dress of French lace.
The metallic concave of the Russian-manufactured fuselage became the shimmering curve of a glass coffin and she plunged into liquid, colouring her world champagne. Viscous and inexorable, the fluid flowed around her and poured into her. Beyond the glass stood a shadow, a bird-like beaked mask upon a cloaked figure. She raised a hand towards him, her bright blue eyes affixing themselves upon where she imagined his might be, behind the glass of his mask. There was something she needed to tell him---
Doctor Sophie Conrad started awake, her fingers tightened around the softness of her comforter. She had not had any nightmares since her sixteenth year, but this was the third one that woke her since she returned from the mission to Kamchatka. Consciously releasing her hold on the beddings, she turned to glance at the clock on the nightstand. It stared back at her, digital numerals a dim back-lit green: 04:48.
Loosening her straight, red hair with her fingers she climbed out of bed and made for the bathroom, walking through the darkened space purely on memory. She had learnt that any attempt to reap more sleep would yield nothing and a cursory run through the Bay area would be far more beneficial.
The physical evidence from the blow she had received to the base of her skull were fading - the headaches milder now, the intermittent tingle in her fingers gone, and the ugly bruise along her cervical spine steadily losing colour. The MRI that the trauma specialist had ordered proved a difficult procedure complicated by her dislike of enclosed spaces and she had took to running again as soon as the scan reported no catastrophic damage. The undulating hills, the sun, the fog, cold and drizzle proved more therapeutic to her spirit than any bedrest could.
In fourteen hours, a Cessna Citation would arrive at the executive terminal of the San Francisco International Airport. At its controls would be her dear father, who was one of the only two men in the world she trusted to bring her home to Maine. The eagerness within her heart to reunite with her family was only tempered by the thought of the lengthy account they would be awaiting from her - an account she was yet unwilling to impart for she herself had not made sense of every occurrence that had transpired in Kamchatka, especially in regards to a certain French doctor.
At the turn from the Embarcadero into Battery Street, the day of the week came to mind at last and she was never quite so relieved that the Director of Operations had always insisted on curtailing their Wednesday meetings...
A long blur of butterscotch blonde rolled down the sidewalk and veered into the doorway of the old building, bursting through with an impressive crash and tumble. The vertically-remarkable Viking scion landed flat on the dusty carpeting with an “Usch!” as she made contact with the floor. She pushed herself up a second later, hair falling in her eyes and black-and-green backback sliding down her back.
Upon righting herself, the girl removed her pack and bent over to roll up her lime green snow pants, tug her orange-and-blue striped socks back up to her thighs, and roll her pants back down. Afterwards, she unzipped her backpack and pulled out a large boxy object and shouldered it. She then confidently kicked forward on her roller shoes, her large hockey sweater flowing behind her in its weave of Norwegian red and blue.
Ripping into the theater, the Nordic jente raised her free hand and threatened to press a button on her boombox. “Hei hei!” she announced obliviously into the empty room, “It is Anja! Slap it on!”
[Co-post with Ivy Monaghan and Flag's Narrator as Zack Monaghan. Enjoy!]
Worry does a lot to a person. It dominates thoughts and distracts its sufferers from tasks that need to be accomplished. In his case, it took its toll by causing Zack to fail all but one of his four winter courses at Harvard.
It started with the attack on San Francisco that happened only a couple of days after he had left to go back to school. Once he learned that his sister, his girlfriend, and his friends were okay, his thoughts shifted to those that were hurt. Would they pull through? How were their families? He might have been able to comfort himself from such ponderings if he hadn't later received news that those closest to him were suddenly going on a secret assignment.
He lost sleep, gave up on his physical training, and then fought a useless struggle to catch up on his academics. Once winter break kicked in for the students in Boston, he flew back to ACME headquarters to help where he could.
His vacation was miserable. Tanya was worked to the bone trying to regulate the information that the media received and Ivy was always away training for the mission or running errands. What little bit of time she did have to herself, she spent with her boyfriend, who was also going on the assignment.
Then they were gone.
From his perspective, ACME became unusually quiet. His only social interaction was feeding his sisters dog and the occasional meal with Tanya when she managed to find some free time. Zack watched a lot of TV and found that he had developed a distaste for it. He watched it anyway.
Days later, when he received word on his communicator that everyone was returning, he tore out of his sister's apartment like a madman towards the airfield. As he saw her on the tarmac, he wanted to knock her over with the biggest hug ever, but refrained when he saw the Director of Operations step off the plane. Instead he offered up a pathetic little greeting and went back to worrying - this time about his own future.
Now he found himself sitting across a table from the other Monaghan, sipping back a soda and facing the realities of a hearing about his academics, which was scheduled to happen in about an hour.
"I'm sorry Ives... I kind of zoned out."
Ivy unconsciously picked at the bandages on her arm. In Lenino she had been frantic when Eugene went missing, calling upon the communications team to track him. But the most advanced surveillance equipment in the world was useless when pointed in the other direction. Everyone's eyes were on the agents coming in from Torun Zamok, not on who was flying out. It wasn't until someone reported seeing the pilot leave on one of V.I.L.E.'s planes did she calm down. The relief that he was alive was quickly replaced by confusion, and a sinking feeling that she pushed to the back recesses of her mind.
But Kamchatka was days ago. Her brother was in front of her now, looking more defeated than she had ever seen him.
She forced a smile, and somehow that made her feel better as well, "Remember what you said to me when Carmen stole Stone Henge, little bro? If you want good things to happen you have to look on the bright side. You were always the incurable optimist."
Ivy grabbed her car keys and held them up. " And you know what's the bright side of me driving you to that academic review? That ice cream shop we used to go to is on the way. Come on."
He couldn't help but laugh at that. It really had seemed like ages since he had ice cream, let alone at that great little shop. He also liked that while Ivy remembered his advice, she never caught onto the fact that he basically lifted it from a Monty Python skit. "You're right. This meeting should be a breeze." He paused. "Some ice cream would help though."
Ivy chuckled, as her brother seemed to lighten. Zipping out of the apartment made her remember their detective days, back when the C-5 was more of an annoyance than a threat.
Zack knew something was on her mind and he really wanted to talk things out with her, but perhaps now wasn't the best time. He needed to focus on his academic probation and do whatever he could to get his scholarship back. “Race ya to the car!
Vic, Carmen, Kidman
After some hilarious ranting from Sara Bellum, who Vic once thought was pretty much cryogenically frozen to prevent insane ideas from spreading, and the arrival of his old partner-in-ACME-tower-theft Flag, Vic was never more glad he chose a theater to hide in plain sight.
"I need to get going, let's meet again tomorrow morning," their leader started when she was done eating, "I promised Flag two men to work on a project, Joe, if you could help with that please." When she gave assignments, her voice was always concise but unassuming, like she might be giving directions to a lost motorist, "Vic, get Sara settled in, I'll see you both by the bay in a few hours. I've scouted a location I think would work as an underwater dock."
That was good news to Fumigalli, he could start clearing out the underground works, "Patty, find Kenneth a room and..." she paused for thought, "I'll need basic communications set up for everyone as soon as possible."
"You still need to talk to the doctors?" Vic asked as he got up, "Kidman can take ya, she knows exactly where the barbershop is."
"That'll do," Carmen stood up to leave, "lead the way, Kitt."
Fumigalli turned to Sara, "You packed light?" he joked as he walked to show her around, "we're gonna be cleaning up the cellar soon. It's all flooded, you might wanna get your boots."
Outside, in the auditorium area, Vic spotted Anja jamming with a few other younger agents and waved slightly, "Welcome home, Norge!" he shouted over the music. Then he looked back at Sara Bellum, "So what's your story, where ya been, sweetheart?"
The foundation that the Stone Harbor Theater stood upon was part of a larger entertainment complex built in the 1890s by James Edric LeBreton and his business associate Sante Duvalier. At the time, both men owned a nearby port, and with international shipments arriving and profits expanding, they purchased the land around the harbor to create their very own tourist destination.
The complex included the brick-red Salistine Palace, with its adjacent Aviary and Winter Gardens; a concert hall and theater, and a commerce area equipped with a pub, barber shop, candy store, and restaurant. Beginning from 1933, the buildings came under disrepair and all of Stone Harbor closed by 1957. Today it housed a small town of misfits, and from them flowed new life after nearly sixty years in torpor.
Carmen walked amongst it now, casually soaking in the ambiance as Kidman hobbled on ahead. Breakfast's exposition and Carmen's intimidating presence had kept the girl quiet thus far, but she was determined not to lose this chance to speak with her after waiting so long.
“Are you well?” she asked at last, the rasp in her voice a remnant of Olga's brutality.
“I'm well, thank you,” the ringleader took that question lightly and hinted to her walking sticks, “How did you get those? Last time we met, you seemed fine.”
Kidman looked ahead. “I wasn't. I just didn't want to leave your side.”
Arching her eyebrows, Carmen acknowledged the answer and continued to walk, but Kidman had slowed to a standstill. “When the plane came to Antarctica and you weren't on it... ACME took Antarctica, you know.” She tried to sound calm, but inside her heart was racing.
“I do know.” Carmen nodded, paused and waited. Several seconds of ocean waves and wind rolled by. “Vic told me you spent a night at ACME compounds,” her speech was lithe, “I presume they treated you well?”
“Chase did, yes.” A smile formed and Kidman resumed walking. “He was with me, you know, when they blew up his apartment. I had glued a mask to my face for security but it bothered him so and he came to me early that morning to remove it.”
“Chase Devineaux?” she gave a brisk, dulcet laughter, “Then what happened?”
Carmen's laugh, however short, was comforting and Kidman exhaled. “After he took off the mask? I told him about the nightmares I was having about you. No one ever asked me about them before, but he did. That's how I found out that... you were really in danger.”
“I was fine,” the taller woman spoke almost too quickly, then she continued in a kinder tone, “I'm sorry I wasn't there.” A light gust of wind rose and Carmen watched dried leaves dance in the distance, “Antarctica must have been difficult to clear.”
Kidman's shoulders slackened as she walked along side her leader. Those were the words she had wanted to hear, but they weren't enough to erase the pain they conjured.
“It wasn't as bad as it could have been.” She started quietly. “I was already moving things before the orders came. The others trusted that you would come and fix everything, but I couldn't risk it. After the one year mark they still thought it best to wait, but I couldn't shake that something had gone very wrong.”
The gray girl unraveled the painful mess of what had come to pass without a 'Carmen Sandiego': the ACME raids, the patchwork system VILE set up to tread water until the one year mark came, her trip to hell and back for the files, ACME's training in Hawaii, and finally, Torun Zamok itself.
“By the time we got there, I truly believed you were dead.” Kidman said as her voice grew ever more hoarse. “I went to finish what I thought you died trying to.”
"I sent signals," Carmen replied impassively, "they were never relayed."
‘Him again.' Kidman thought. Flag was the only VILE agent that had known where Carmen was but had not contacted the group, and for a moment she felt absolutely murderous, but remembered he had saved Carmen and cooled.
“Water and bridges,” remarked the lead, her tone of forgiveness masking an uncertainty.
Kidman looked at the woman solemnly. Everything seemed so much bleaker in winter, even she. “Please, promise you won't leave us like that again. You mean so much to so many.” She begged gently. “I came here with nothing and was raised on stories of the things you did. I don't know who I am, so I look to you. Without VILE, without you, I'm lost.”
Carmen ceased her pace and studied the shorter form, “I assure you,” her warm expression and practiced words were calming, “I have a very high sense of self preservation.”
Inside a breath of air, she looked to the next lot where a medical facility was temporarily set up in a former barber shop, “Down that way?”
Kidman followed her gaze and her heart skipped a beat as she realized she was almost out of time. There was something she had to do, and she felt it now or never.
“Wait! I..... I can help. You. I...” she tried haltingly, “Do you have any wounds?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know you got shot. I saw it.” The girl's stomach twisted in a knot and she closed her eyes. “I can fix it. I'm too scared to hold this alone and I trust you'll use this well. If you have an injury, please let me see it.”
"I don't have any injuries left, I'm afraid," she followed with another question, "How are you 'fixing' things?"
Kidman paused, suddenly unsure as Rosen's words echoed in the corner of her mind. ‘She's a manipulator...she's using you....'
“With my mind.”
Carmen hesitated for some time, weighing the claim. “I want to see this,” she said with ample curiosity, “but not now, soon. In the meanwhile, I recommend being very careful about who you heal.”
Kidman felt the tips of her ears and her cheeks burn with the rush of blood from her quickly beating heart. She bit her lip in response.
“No, I, I haven't healed anyone in a long time. Just animals and plants. I trained for medical before we went to Kamchatka and I wanted to fix your headache back then because I want to help you and take care of you and-” She rambled on as she bounced nervously on the balls of her feet. “protect you and clean your floors and-”
In a sudden show of finesse, Carmen snapped the cap from Kidman's head and put it on her own. "All this talk about protecting me and you're in crutches," she teased and in the ensuing silence, planted a light smile where the hat used to be.
Kidman stood there, stunned. ‘Did she just kiss me? I got a kiss from Master! And a hug from-'
She suddenly snapped out of her revelry.
“Oh no Chase! He may not know you're okay. We have to tell Chase somehow, and he can tell Ivy, because she was worried too, but especially Chase.”
Carmen's melodic statement dismissed her suggestion, "Which part of 'radio silence' did you not understand?"
“But... he needs to know. You matter to him. When he said he could have ended this game anytime he wanted to, I asked him why he hadn't....”
Kidman trailed off as she looked past Carmen to the sea. She still had no words for it, but for a second, she could swear she saw his heart.
“The night I met him...all he had to do was wait out the clock to end us” she said, recalling when Joe told Chase about the one-year due, “but he gave us a voice recording of you instead. Chase saved VILE”
The moment was solidly burnt into Kidman's memory by so many sleepless nights trying to understand it. Now it was obvious
“Because if VILE fell, it meant you were truly gone,” she stated quietly. “And he just couldn't have that--”
“Couldn't he?” a fluid interjection drowned her effort.
In the stillness, seagulls signaled one another to a school of herring and Carmen sighed almost inaudibly. She removed the grey cap, placing it back on Kidman.
“I need to talk to Dr. Gregory, Kitt” she adjusted the hat to an angle, “When you're done, check with Flag or Vic, they'll need a hand.”
Kidman blinked, then shook it off as Carmen walked away. There was something she still needed to know, despite how obvious it seemed. “I, I say, does this mean I can stay here?”
“If it suits your sanity,” Carmen's answer came back on the wind with a trail of retreating laughter. Kidman fiddled with her hat a moment in thought.
“Well okay then.”
The girl took a moment to absorb all that had passed as she watched Carmen go. Then she turned back to the main building with the sun on her face. Winter was suddenly not so cold anymore.
Meals in VILE had never been a dull affair and this breakfast had been no exception. From the impromptu team meeting/family reunion, to Carmen actually spilling some beans, and the return of Dr Sara Bellum, the entire affair had been the very anti-thesis of dull.
Now, as Carmen issued their marching orders, Joe finished up the last of his meal and glanced toward the silver-haired Sivoan who had just arrived. Whilst the Jester had never personally met either Sara Bellum or Flag, Sara's reputation had far preceded her so he had known what to expect, if for some unfortunate reason he had to deal with her;The Sivoan on the other hand had remained the very definition of an enigma. Pretty much the only thing Joe knew about him was that he was, well, Sivoan.
Despite his initial misgivings however, Joe remained cognizant of one fact - Carmen seemed to trust Flag, and the Jester certainly trusted Carmen's judgment. With that in mind, Joe decided to give this a shot.
As the merry band of thieves disbanded, Joe made his way toward Flag with Carmine in tow and one thought going through his mind:
I just hope he isn't allergic to cats
17 January 2013, 0245 Zulu
Somewhere over Kenya, approaching Bukoba...
They had lost nearly an entire week in Kolkata.It was to be expected really. Local police couldn't ignore the bizarre group, even when they weren't leaving the customs secured area, and questions avalanched before suitable answers could be dug out. The Indian authorities, having found nothing tangible to hold the foreigners on, were eventually forced to let the party purchase their fuel and continue out of the country.
Finding themselves over land again, Euge scrutinized their destination on the GPS display. Confident they would have enough fuel after landing, he nodded to himself and stood. It was time to prepare for the next leg of this trip.
Edging the girth of the ASP back into the main cabin, Euge casually rifled through the well equipped medical lab. Ignoring the glares of the passengers, he set about building a simple first aid kit for himself. Given how his luck had run since the raid, Euge didn't expect to escape this project unscathed. After triple checking the selection of analgesics and smiling at the stash of quick-clot, he tucked the kit into a leg pouch and turned his attention to the unlabelled vat.
The substance within was obviously the focus of attention, given its prominent placement within the lab. Not sure what he was expecting, Euge leaned in and rapped lightly on the container. Shrugging, Euge extracted an empty bottle from his pack and proceeded to make a show of filling it with the viscous slime before capping the container tightly and securing it in a vest pocket. Whatever the fluid was, it was plain to see Adrianna did not want him around it. This simple fact drove his curiosity more than anything else.
Finished with his resupply, he turned to face Adrianna. “Since we both know the chauffeur story is a lie, would you like to elaborate on how you're really planning to cash in?”
Adrianna tilted her head slightly towards Eugene. She did wonder when he would bring the topic up. No doubt the longer they spent time together they more impatient he had become, and in the many moments of silence she felt she could hear both Eugene and Acton plotting their mindful escapes through nothing but telepathic signals.
"I believe that your leg is feeling better?" Her question was more of a statement, said in such a way as to reinforce her own opinion rather than garner any real response. "What I really need from you right now is for you to remove your clothes."
With a smile, the Countess elaborated, "More specifically the armour suit. It's served its purpose for you as far as I can tell."
Adrianna pulled from her white alligator skin Birkin a set of paper folders, each stained and worn with time. She flipped one open to reveal the schematics for a S.T.U.N. suit. It looked similar to the ones worn by ACME, but more closely reassembled the black power suits that Melana and her mercenaries donned. "You see I had hoped to gather one of these stray articles for study. The plans changed when you went after the H.E.L.L. module. The way your suit responded to the furnace is exactly what I need... The man who pilots the suit however, seems a little less trustworthy than I remembered him."
“You had hoped...” Euge rolled the words around his mouth as he widened his stance. The pilot who had bought Adrianna to Lenino was beginning his descent into Bukoba's dirt strip, and Euge braced himself against the shifting gravity. “Your concern about my injuries is touching, truly, but the ASP isn't coming off.” He paused for some slight turbulence before continuing. “As for your trust issue, you'll have to work that out with yourself. This armor and I, it's sort of a package deal.” Glancing over his shoulder at the thugs strapped into the opposite seats, he continued. “But your boys over there are welcome to try and take it.”
Adrianna shot a glance at her two bodyguards. The larger man, Leonid Brodin had been her faithful servant for over a decade, though perhaps not the brightest filament in the bulb. She saw him subtly ready himself, flexing his blue tattooed arms at the pilot's taunt. Her other guard and current valet, Luca Carboni showed the slightest hint of fear disguised as annoyance. Indeed, the ASP armour suit was a thing of intimidation, and a normal man wearing it looked twice his size.
“There will be no need for that.” The Countess waved her hand, “If you refuse to remove the suit then know that I would require more of your service than previously expected.” She paused, reflecting again on the element of trust. To her, Eugene's motivations as a mercenary had always been greed, and she knew from experience that one could trust a man who wanted only money. Her bringing him here out of mild coercion faltered their game.
“Let's speak more of this when we land.” Contessa looked out of her window and onto the runway, her eyes catching the range rovers that were parked in wait of their arrival. “Despite our initial... tiff, I'm certain we can find a way to make this worth your effort.”
After having his unasked question shared by a bizarre outburst by a short bald girl on crutches, Flag made his way to the table where the others had gathered. He manage to nod a small greeting before he received his assignment in what seemed an abnormally brisk manner.
As a result, he soon found himself in the presence of a posh amount of purple that demanded his attention. The alien addressed this while keeping an eye on Carmen as she was escorted out by the cripple.
"It would seem I missed the meeting. What information did she provide?"
“I'd like to fill you in now but how about we do it in somewhere a little more private? That way you can fill me in on your plans as well.”
Gesturing at Carmine who was already leading the way, the Jester added an “After you”.
The Sivoan simply nodded and pushed his way back through the set of double doors that had previously delivered a mad scientist and himself into the room. Although hadn't received a proper tour of the complex, he had taken many mental notes on his trip through it and had an idea of the ideal place to have this meeting.
The sound booth in the back of the auditorium was largely hidden in the wall as per the standards. The tinted windows facing the stage served the same purpose as a one-way mirror as long as the console lights provided the only illumination within.
After checking to make sure nobody else was exploring their temporary office, Flag turned to Joe. "Okay. Talk."
* * *
It took Joe nearly 20 minutes to to recap all the things that had been discussed during breakfast that morning. From what he could tell, the Jester had figured that the Sivoan wasn't the type to appreciate dramatics; Joe had thus kept the account as straight and to the point as possible, being careful not to leave out anything Carmen had divulged.
“...after that, you came in. The rest, I'm sure you already know.”
The Jester paused to pick up Carmine.
“I've said my peace. Now it's your turn. Spill.”
"There is a certain someone within ACME's ranks that I would need to lure out." He matched the Jester's courtesy. "I believe that they're a field agent, so the best way to do this would be through the usual antics... which I will admit I don't have much experience with."
It was true. Flag generally remained in the shadows when it came to the heists he pulled. If he stole anything, it was usually not noticed until well after the fact.
"I have heard about your stunt with the car. That's the kind of thing I'm aiming for. "
The Jester pondered slightly before answering.
‘I can't take the Caymen again. That's out of the question. Much as I am loathe to admit it, I owe Chase Devineaux that little courtesy for everything he's done recently. Besides, we just got this place and I don't want to give him a reason to come looking for it.”
Joe paused and smiled mischievously.
“However, if you want to pull heists to get ACME's attention and basically mess with them, that I can do. It is, after all, a time honoured VILE tradition.”
Flag nodded, "That's basically what I'm asking for."
“One thing though...if you want me to help you fish, I'm gonna need more information on our prey. The more information you can see fit to divulge, the better.”
At this, the alien sighed. "Unfortunately, my memory of him is hazy at best and I never caught his name. I would recognize him if I saw him though."
"What I will do is provide you with three items to leave at each crime scene. They should hold a level meaning to him so we would be able to identify him that way."
“Well, at least we know the agent's a ‘he'. That's a starting point...of sorts.”
Joe let out a quick laugh at the situation but stopped himself quickly when he remembered who his current companion was.
“Ahem. This is going to take some careful planning. I can scout some targets but I'll need the items so that I can figure out how best to leave them and where.”
Despite himself, he had smirked at the clowns jab, but also moved on when he did.
"I have to make a few trips abroad to retrieve my effects anyway." He gestured towards the door. "We will have to meet up again so I can deliver those to you."
"Ah, Vincent, it is good to see you again, even if you still haven't given up your hopeless love of that look of yours. Truly, I never understood how that could be comfortable," Sara replied, unaware of the irony as she adjusted her goggles. "I have been down in the tropics, can you not tell? I look in the mirror and feel like I've gone from white bread to pumpernickel."
She continued as they walked, looking around at the layout of the location. "Carmen had me working on a project for her for the past several years. I knew it was secret, but truly? Some think I am dead? That is a bit much. Anyway, I was down in Indonesia...Thailand? I don't really know, come to think of it. All those little islands get jumbled up down there, and I never had the head for geography that Carmen did. The point is, I was working in a lab in one of those little islands, and finally, my greatest work is now completed!"
She turned to him as she said it, and smiled widely, the smile she got only when talking about one of her projects. That rare smile, even if it was just slightly crazed, could take years off her face and a huge weight off her shoulders.
"I call it the MAMBA, and it will be VILE's ticket to never being wholly pinned down again. It is a transport, escape route, and base all in one. It can hit most any spot on the globe with varying degrees of stealth, and carry away quite a lot of loot. Ah, but it is a work of art. Still, I am glad to be out in the world again. I needed to pick up a good power source for my sonic scr-...my sonic multitool."
She turned away again so that they could continue the tour, her normal serious intensity returning. "I hope the place that Carmen found will be large enough. The MAMBA is bigger than most any snake I have seen, even in fiction. Well, perhaps with the exception of some of those original movies on the science fiction channel. I have been out of touch. Are they still doing those? But where is my mind? How are you, Vincent, and how has VILE fared in my absence?"
Kidman had been amongst Carmen's clan for nearly ten years now, but it was more by proxy of not being anywhere else; a squatter, or perhaps, for these past few years, on a trial basis. Now she truly belonged.
“Offiiiciiiiaaaaalllll! You guys! You guyyys! I'm officially official!” she called merrily down the hall, careful not to mention what she officially was, for not everyone here was kin. When she found no one that she knew in the immediate vicinity, the girl turned her attention to a task she had been putting off until the matter of her status was finalized; staking out a permanent place to stay amongst the many rooms, closets, and corners hidden throughout VILE's new sprawling wonderland.
Now Kidman hesitated in her search as she noticed activity by the soundbooth. She hadn't planned on running into the silver-haired man so soon, especially not in the auditorium she was currently casing for spots. At first it felt a stroke of luck, but the man still scared her. He clearly had power. She knew the teleportation for what it was now, he was quite possibly a healer as well, and who knew what else. But he saved Carmen. How bad could he be?
“Hey... wait.” she called after him tentatively.
The tall alien paused in his stride as the jester gained some distance ahead of him. He turned towards the source of the small, yet determined, voice that called after him and was somewhat surprised to see Carmen's escort approaching him.
He was taller than she remembered and she skipped a second regaining herself. “I remember you, from before the tower. You're...” The girl glanced around to make sure no one was near. “...different.” She said finally.
It took him a moment to match what she said to an event in his memory, but when he made the connection, he actually smiled some.
"Oh. Hey. I remember you. From the training facility, right?"
“Yes! That was me...so long ago...before everything changed...” A shadow passed over her face. “Why... Why didn't you tell us she was alive?”
His smile faded with her tone and he frowned. "Huh?"
“Carmen.” Kidman said carefully. “She said she sent messages back to us that were never relayed, and you were the only one who knew where she was. Why didn't you tell us?” She could feel her anger creeping in, but pushed it back out of fear.
"How was I supposed to know where..." her previous question hit him then and left him with a question of his own. "Wait. Us? Who all didn't know she was okay?"
“None of us did! No one at VILE, ACME, anyone! The only reason we got anywhere was because-” She caught herself. “Because I felt something was wrong. Otherwise she might still be there. You knew where she was. Why didn't you tell us?”
"I just said I didn't know where she was. Pay attention." He growled back at her but restrained himself.
Apparently Carmen hadn't arranged to keep tabs on her other agents like she had him and after wracking his brain to figure out why, he could only assume that it was because he very rarely had anything to do with the other members of her organization. In fact, he only interacted with VILE at her request.
"I was indeed aware that Carmen was fine, but I didn't know that I was supposed to relay that information. I didn't even know anything was out of the ordinary until she appeared in Russia a week ago." He paused, "Hell, I don't even know why she was there."
Kidman was quiet a moment as pangs of betrayal rose. “She didn't tell you to tell us? Don't you think that would be the obvious thing to do if she told...” She fell silent again. ‘Why did she only tell you...?' The girl decided to gamble. “Linka said she'd be there.”
"Who is Linka... nevermind. That's beside the point." He pinched his nose in frustration. "Look. Our system for keeping tabs on each other is extremely simple." He held out his hands in order to accentuate beginning and end points. "We both have access to this top ten list thing for books. Spot number one means 'I'm great, but we need to meet,' while spot ten is 'S***! Meet me now!".
He dropped his left hand and karate chopped a little over the halfway point on the invisible line he previously indicated. "She keep her book at seven... which seems normal for her when she's rather busy. What am I supposed to do? Report in to everyone when she indicates she's busy?"
The girl couldn't help but chuckle. Secret code in a book list. Classic Carmen. “I don't know what to believe anymore. She says she did and if it wasn't-”
Was it Chase? Chase wouldn't have told VILE.
‘Was it me?'
She pushed the whole mess aside. “I find it hard to believe you just happened to be where she was going if she didn't tell you ahead of time. Even if you did use the C-5 somehow, which you didn't, you would have needed to know where she was specifically. What's more, the one that shot her told ‘Linka' that you did as you said you would. You knew she was coming and you told them!”
As soon as the words came out, she stepped back nervously.
Flag had gone silent at this outburst and straightened his stance as she finished. Narrowing his eyes at her, he addressed a new realization.
"You were there..."
Kidman’s apprehension curled back into a bitter sting that laced her whispered reply. “Yes. I was there.”
"You audacious little... " He took a step forward, "How dare you accuse me?"
He reached a hand out to grab her when something on the stage fell and he remembered where he was. If he killed anyone in Carmens asylum he might as well go out back and start digging his own grave.
Curling his outstretched hand into a fist that he slowly lowered to his side, he offered one final explanation. "I was there for personal, albeit stupid reasons. Why were you?"
Kidman raised her hand to guard as she stumbled back, but for one horrible second instinct considered going further. Now her heart pounded in her chest as she looked from her own outstretched hand to the man beyond it, no longer sure which she feared more.
“I, I was there to save Master!” she said desperately as she fought back tears.
Flag’s sarcastic grin seethed venom as he turned her accusatory logic back on her. "So, you knew she was there."
With his point made he took a step past her, aligning himself on the path to the kitchen so he could grab something to placate his mood. "I would advise that you learn to trust your 'master' some. She knows what she's doing."
With that said, he left the girl behind to sort her thoughts.
With their meeting adjourned, the Jester had left the sound booth vaguely aware that the Sivoan was several paces behind him. Carmine had run out of the sound booth before either of them and promptly did a disappearing act that had left Joe focused on discovering her whereabouts.
The Jester was interrupted in his quest by the sound of Kidman's voice echoing through the halls.
“None of us did! No one at VILE, ACME, anyone! The only reason we got anywhere was because..."
One thing about old theaters was that they afforded little room for privacy. The auditoriums themselves were designed to carry the slightest sound throughout the room with clarity and volume; the corridors were not much better as they would allow conversations to echo through the hall, especially when the hall was barely occupied.
It was for this reason that although Joe was several paces ahead and out of sight, he was able to hear bits and pieces of the conversation or rather, confrontation.
"...Spot number one means 'I'm great, but we need to meet,' while spot ten is 'S***! Meet me now!"
"...You knew she was coming and you told them!”
From what little he could make out, Kidman sounded a little aggravated. That didn't bode well...for her. There were people in VILE that could and would humour questions and outburst from the Kid, but Flag did not seem like one of them as far as the Jester was concerned.
Flag did not strike the Jester as being the most patient of people and the Jester feared that if Kidman pushed him too much, there might be repercussions - painful ones.
As he sneaked back to get a better grasp on the conversation, he peaked round the corner and saw Flag about to strike Kidman with his hand. He winced and was about to interfere when a crash emanated from the auditorium stage. Joe breathed a silent sigh of relief as he saw that that commotion had basically earned Kidman a reprieve from Flag.
When he was sure that the two wouldn't kill each other, Joe sneaked back into the auditorium through one of the other side entrances and made his way to the stage.
Walking pass the wreckage of what had once been some sort of plaster bust, the Jester called out to the culprit,
"I know you're here. Come on out."
On cue, an auburn-haired feline walked out of the shadows with an innocent "meow", earning a chuckle from Joe.
"I knew it was you. Clever girl. Remind to get you some catnip."
A very pleased 'meow' echoed throughout the auditorium followed by a hearty laugh
"Come on, we have some planning to do. Oh, and I need to tell one of the henchmen to clean that mess up..."
Ken busied himself with the final few adjustments to his closed circuit satellite device. Perhaps the instructions were not meant for him, but when Carmen gave them, he was probably the best-equipped to do it. It was good to have purpose again. He wasn't sure if Patti had followed through with orders to give him a place to live. He simply allowed himself to "lose time" between consciousness and working on the antenna, believing that he could use his restlessly unstable mental state to his advantage.
As he worked, he reflected. After everything that happened with his absence and The user, he could no longer respectfully deny that which had been told to him time and time again. He was insane. That awareness ate at the back of his mind everywhere he went now. He had to face up to the possibility of many negative things, including the fact that he should have been more responsible about his actions, or even that his lack of lucidity has all been an excuse to avoid taking personal responsibility. But, like any person in a crossroads, Ken was at a loss to figure out what he should do about it. If anything.
Ken turned the last screw and admired his handywork: a fully automated, private, and hacker proof telecommunications network rival only to ACME's own Crime-Net, all contained within a single, broad, antenna. It was sure to be a useful tool for V.I.L.E. Sitting cross-legged on the roof. Ken opened his laptop and worked on broadcasting the first message.
It wasn't meant for V.I.L.E. or ACME. It was an output signal shot vaguely into space. Ken thought it appropriate, since he built the antenna at all, to be able to put out a signature that would one-day be picked up by an extra-terrestrial being. In all the confusion he decided that his obsession over the possibility of alien life was not part of his usual delusion, but rather, a personal dream of his.
And it's never crazy to have a dream.
Torun Zamok was over last week, and seven days or so later Nevon Blair was having the time of his life.
For the past 152 hours, Nev had been passed around from one aunt to another cousin, all part of his family meet & greet trip. They all knew he went to Russia, exactly where and how wasn't really part of the conversation. For the first time in a long time, Blair felt like he was at the center of attention.
"Did you get to shoot anybody?" a little cousin would ask.
"Only bad people," he'd say all smart-like.
He couldn't imagine a better way of spending ACME's Mandatory Rest Period (MRP). Getting to take a road trip from San Francisco to Nevada, Idaho, and Missouri was a lot of fun, and it was only 1/4 over.
Stopping by St. Louis, Nev got a poster of the Gateway Arch and took a little tour of the museum to refresh his memory.
"Hello, where is the canteen?" a girl asked him in broken English, her Japanese-looking parents stood nearby, all three of them waiting for him to answer.
"Food? Hold on, hold on." Nevon asked, nervously scanning his communicator for the perfect solution in this 'what would Chase Devineaux do' moment.
"Hai, food," The girl replied with a happy nod.
Finally, Nev found a list of recommended venues, their ratings, and directions in 3D.
"Not much around the park," he suggested, "but there's a really nice place called 'Three-Sixty' off South Broadway I can take you there." The girl turned to the older couple behind her and they all seemed to agree.
"Okay," she said, "take us."
Nev gave a wide smile, he'd been in this city 2 hours and already made a new friend... three, even.
The dreams had never stopped. Every time she closed her eyes she was back in the elevator. It always started there. Despite the months she'd stayed away, disconnected herself from the San Francisco branch and concentrated on other things the dreams remained. Like usual, there was a dinging as the floors passed before the elevator slowed and the doors started to open.
On some nights they'd open back to a cold alleyway in Russia, sometimes to a hospital with a ghostly woman that spoke in a heavy French accent, some nights she was back on the 11th floor of the old ACME Building, standing just down the hall from a familiar office, watching as a woman slipped out of the door and walked away. It wasn't always the same woman - the image changed from time to time.
One night it would be a blonde with short curls and a possessive smirk and others it would be a woman with long dark locks and a long stride. Some nights she'd be in the cabin of a boat with a steak dinner on the table under a bouquet of purple irises in a glass vase. More recently however they kept opening to that desert. The one with the white sands. The one where she could always see a black inky substance start to boil out of the sand and start to give chase.
The one where she felt afraid and somehow it felt like something was satisfied with that.
Blue eyes opened to glance outside of the airplane window as the voice of the captain came over the speakers of the plane. They were arriving in San Francisco. Eleanor Mayhem gave a stretch with care, consciousness coming back properly, eyes glancing over the quickly viewable sight of the bay area as the plane made its descent. She could feel a smile come to her lips as the tower came into view. The new ACME tower. Before her leaving she'd hated it but now - now there was something about it that seemed friendly. There was, of course, a reason why but the idea was forced from her mind before it could finish forming. Despite trying to press thoughts from her mind a hand ran over her eyebrow to a line where the hair had stopped growing, the scar of a former gash cutting into it, her smile souring.
"Inspector Mayhem?" a voice called from the aisle. Eyes rose from the window and to the stewardess who called her by name. "I've been asked to inform you that your ride will be waiting for you when you arrive - if you'd wait for the rest of the passengers to disembark we'd be glad to assist you onto the runway."
Eleanor smiled, motioning to a cane that sat just in front of her, leaned against the seat one row ahead. "I can make it down without assistance, thank you. Please thank the Captain for his concern."
The stewardess nodded and walked away, Eleanor watching her for a moment before pulling a mirror from her pocket and looking herself over, pulling out a small makeup kit as she did so. The dark circles under her eyes were quickly covered, a practiced hand painting them over. The rest of her face was almost healed but a bit of foundation seemed to make any scars disappear. Finishing with some mascara and lipstick she sighed.
"It'd be great if you were just as easily hidden." she replied, giving her cane a light kick.
Carmen entered VILE's cleverly disguised medical facility. In 1906 the 2-floor shop house was a dispensary, then in 1929 it became a barbershop until it eventually fell to disrepair. Outside, the sound of construction persisted, but as she moved to the back, a small army of medics worked in hazy morning light. The farther she walked away from the entrance towards the small doctors' office, the clearer she could hear an echoing turntable playing 'Red Sails in the Sunset'.
"That's a little too Irish for you, no?" the visitor commented on Bing Crosby's 1935 recording as she entered the room lined with beechwood veneer.
"You're looking good, a little pale maybe," greeted Doctor Ethan Gregory. A man of mixed ancestry, his Pakistani grandmother was long nationalized as British before she married his grandfather, Sir Norman Gregory. Ethan was born to Norman Gregory II and Shella Okner, a former lobbyist for Israel's Labor Party and daughter of a Knesset member. Given his history, Gregory was a light-hearted man that rarely struggled with bedside conversations, so Carmen found it aberrant that he stopped to study her very closely and without a word.
"I do need sun," she agreed in a breath.
"A little," he replied, "I haven't seen you for a year, I'm required to make a preliminary visual assessment."
Carmen brushed off his statement, "Ethan, you signed the employment conditions for Acton Roux."
"Frenchman, wears a plague mask," the doctor retrieved a thin set of printed files and placed them on a Moroccan tea table for his employer, "can't forget that even if I tried."
"You hired him for his assistance in research?"
"No, I hired him as a nutritionist," Gregory seemed surprised at her assumption and her eyes returned the same sentiments, "He had grounds as a researcher, when he applied for a job here he had these notes, studies; they were very good, but I didn't need researchers then."
Carmen reviewed the files. Everything looked rather normal, aside from his academic excellence and proof of graduation from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie. Upon closer observation, the thief noted a peculiar skip in the background patterns of the documents that didn't seem like normal photocopying error.
"Are these all the files you have?" Three documents seemed short.
"That's where it gets interesting," Dr. Gregory walked to the vinyl console and stopped the music, "Your blond counterpart came to me a few months back asking if I could recommend someone to her for a project."
"What sort of project?"
"She said something about honey," Ethan Greggory shrugged, "if that makes any sense."
"It does, fortunately," Carmen replied and stood up to leave, "Much thanks. Be well, Ethan."
"Wait, you want this?" he pointed to the record player, "found it during initial salvage, still workable."
"Tempting," she shook her head, "but what would I do with a radiogram?"
"Sagittarius: Things may not be working out the way you hoped. Unless you plan on receiving divine intervention, it's best to learn the art of patience."
Wrinkling her nose Ivy put the newspaper down next to a mug of steaming black coffee. Patience was a virtue, but it certainly wasn't one of hers. While Zack was at his academic review she took the liberty of accessing ACME's new digital Crime Net from her temporary desk at Accolade. No longer an Academy Instructor, she was free of grading papers and course material. Her workstation was there as a formality, a simple accompaniment to the lockers, with everything around her: chairs, dividers and file cabinets still wrapped in tell-tale clear plastic and styrofoam protective corners.
Even in midday the floor had all the activity of a ghost town, with every member of her team away enjoying their Mandatory Rest Period. No, that wasn't exactly true. Chase was working too. She told him she was taking Zack around the new building and he said something briefly about a fishing trip alone in the harbor. Neither of them believed the other's lie.
Her monitor screen finally loaded and started to play a chartreuse-tinted video of helicopters landing in Lenino airbase. Off focus to the left hand corner was the only record she had of the VILE agent identified as 'Contessa' and the back of an ASP Suit.
Leaning in closer, Ivy saw the woman speak casually as Eugene continued to unload items from the truck. The Commander's eyes darted from the screen to the records downloaded from her own S.T.U.N. suit. It was a complex display of every agent's vitals near her. This included Eugene, who was only yards away in his ASP at the time. His heart rate seemed to be steady as the woman approached, but there was a clear jump at one point which continued onward as he walked away.
So who was she? A friend? Boss? Ex-lover? ...Current lover? Ivy cleared her throat and turned her attention away to rifle through the personnel file of ACME's Chief Pilot. He was hired under a convoluted web of referrals, being paid by the Academy yet somehow also under Chase Devineaux's Special Operations Division. The file she had access to carried only basic information. Everything else was covered in copious amounts of black ink. She laughed to herself, briefly considering another 'accidental' break in of Chase's locker or better yet his temporary office, but doubted that the Director of Operations kept any such information. The unedited papers--should they actually exist--would be under lock and key in some ACME vault far from her reach.
It was then that an odd mechanical beep caught her attention and she turned to see a carrier robot. The drone didn't have any of ACME Labs' usual markings, but instead held a gift box with only the word 'Monaghan' written in matte olive green ink.
She peered over her shoulder. Spotting no one, Ivy opened the box, her eyes falling on a dry erase marker.
"Keycard hacking device..." Ivy mused as she saw the hidden compartment embedded into the tube. "Divine intervention."
A fan of heuristics, Colleen pondered the application of Occam's Razor to her situation as she rode her bike along Hearst Avenue.
“The simplest route” she affirmed, setting aside her ego “is to accept my limitations and find someone with the necessary skills.”
During her years at UC Berkeley, she had excelled in countless Hackathons. At these events, teams or individuals worked all night, sometimes longer, competing feverishly for the potential glory and connections more than the prizes. While not overly creative, she had always provided the intense focus as well as the persistence required for vulnerability detection. While expecting challenges, Colleen had to reluctantly concede that her mastery was no match for ACME's terminal infrastructure.
Walking briskly toward the Wozniak Lounge in Berkeley's Soda Hall, she tried her best not to dwell on tonight's inevitable tedium. She had never served as a volunteer for a hacking event before, but alumni were not eligible participants for this particular contest. While retrieving the antibacterial gel from her bag, she reminded herself that this esoteric event would showcase the specific skills needed for overcoming her current obstacle. She had to find her mark.
When the clock struck 3:30 AM, the crowd finally began its weary dispersion. She walked over to an incredibly gifted freshman and complimented his impressive hacking.
“Thanks, but I'm not so sure. After all, I wasn't the winner” he replied.
“At these BarCamp-style contests, the judges tend to look after their own” she assured him, pausing to assess his reaction. He smiled. She held her hand out.
“I'm Colleen. May I buy you coffee at next Monday's Protonight?”
Over the course of the nearly sixty years that Stone Harbor was active, it had built up, added to, subtracted from and reformed many times. The result was a less planned, more organic thing. Below lay the underground tunnels of varying uniformity, some redundant and leading to places not originally intended. Inside, large rooms were partitioned small, small rooms burnt large by unfortunate fires, and forgotten storage spaces walled over to become secret, dusty rooms found only when plaster or board gave out.
Above the Salistine Palace's highest balcony one such room existed, but when those rows were removed after water damage, it was no longer easily accessible. It took determination to scale the rafters and squeeze through the hole that led into it, but the climber was rewarded with a decently sized space to hide that overlooked the sea on one side and the auditorium through the other through small, ornately barred portal windows.
Amidst the piles of forgotten props and costumes left to time, Kidman had made her home. She had brought up what few possessions she had, along with blankets, pillows and other bare necessities. She wasn't sure she would be staying here; getting in was difficult enough without factoring in her injuries, but she really wanted a place away from the rest. This would serve for now. Now she sat huddled by the sea-facing window in her arctic coat, watching the grey on grey. In her hands she cradled a doll, the one thing that she had managed to keep with her through Torun Zamok.
“Master...” she murmured to it as she absently studied its hand sewn face, already showing the effects of time even though this incarnation was only a month old.
"I would advise that you learn to trust your 'master' some.” he had said “She knows what she's doing."
Of course the silver-haired man would say that. Carmen hadn't left him. Kidman held her doll firmly but protectively in her bandaged hands as the words stroked the mysterious fire anew.
“Trust? How can I trust you after you abandoned us? ” She demanded of it. “How can he say you knew what you were doing when I had to go save you? How could you leave us like that and only tell him?”
Kidman sniffed and placed the doll back in her cap, then ran her fingers through her own short gray hair.
‘Gray, not silver.'
In hindsight it made sense that Carmen had chosen the silver-haired man as her favourite. He would be spared the pain of her absence, but that may not have even meant much to him. In truth, everyone else here was a willing participant in her game. Should the game end, there would be sadness, but they would move on.
But Kidman... couldn't. She could skim the surface of life as she had that past year, but that wasn't living.
“I needed you, mama...”
The words hung over the window like translucent paper cranes, ephemeral and complex. Far away the muffled bangs of construction resonated through the beams around her, while outside the grey fell into dusk and lonely points of light awakened in the distance.
Ten years back, when the world was bright and clean and new, a very young child in an adult's body wandered into a VILE base with nothing. She sought food and received it, her wounds were patched, and she was given a safe place to sleep under the wishes of their mysterious Lady. The girl came to love her for this, and she grew up confident within Carmen's patchwork family of VILE, devoted to the cause of their matriarch. It was wonderful to belong to something like that.
That mythical view of Carmen had tempered with age and experience into something more complex, but the innocent magic of her pseudo-childhood remained at the center of her heart. VILE was family and Carmen was Mother.
Except that Carmen did not want to be her mother. Carmen was not her mother. She didn't have a mother.
A particularly loud bang brought her back to her senses. Kidman got up slowly, careful not to hit her head on the low attic ceiling, and turned on the caged work lantern she had brought up with her. Her crutches lay beside it, the dim light reflecting off the metal poles while her hat and doll sat a ways away. It all looked so sad. A deep chill settled in her bones as the truth dawned.
“I'll never have.....”
Kidman caught her reflection in the small porthole window. There was supposed to be a woman looking back, but there wasn't, and now, no longer a child either.
He really shouldn't allow himself to get so worked up. The persistent migrain that followed him back from the monastery had chastised him for his blow up at Kidman and everything from his clipped back ears to his intake of breath had become a form of torture.
The first thing that Flag did when he returned the kitchen was down a glass of cold water. After that he forswore the idea of keeping up his disguise and unbound his ears and hair. Finally, he found himself a muffin left over from breakfast and made his way over to a vacant table in the corner of the mess hall.
He was done with his meager brunch almost immediately, but found no great desire to make an attempt for more. Instead he crossed his arms on the table and laid his head down for a moment. After what seemed to be a second later, he awoke to the sound of the kitchen staff preparing dinner.
Although he was mildly aggravated that he had fallen asleep, he was thankful that the pounding behind his eyes had stopped. No longer wanting to sit, he got up and followed through the path of exit that his employer made use of earlier. Soon he found himself on the outskirts of what must have once been a bustling town square and was somewhat at a loss for where to go next.
The VILE Jester whistled jovially as he walked up the cobbled path leading to Palatine Hall. It was a rare bout of good weather in the English county and Joe was glad that he had chosen to walk around outside, even if it meant running an errand or two whilst he was at it.
Arriving at the old Roman Catholic church, the Jester paused to admire the architecture of the building. Like most of the other buildings in this village, the church had fallen into disuse and eventual disrepair after the early 1930s. To the credit of its builders, much of the old structure still stood tall, proudly declaring the rich history hidden within its walls.
Beside the hall stood a second building; Formerly a house, it had remained vacant after the 1930s and eventually was remodeled in 1989 to house offices for architects and the city council.
Remembering the first errand he had to accomplish, the Jester walked through the main door of the latter only to be unceremoniously ushered towards a small office in the back.
"Ey, welcome. Sorry bout' the mess. Name's Towsend, Daniel Towsend, but evey'one calls me Danny Boy. So what can I be doin for yer, guv?"
'Danny Boy' was a large, portly man with a personality and voice to match. His triple-chinned face was framed by silver hair and accentuated by an equally silver mustache and a smile large enough to rival Joe's. His eyes shone with mirth and warmth and every gesture he made exuded amiability.
'Danny' was dressed in a grey sweater with a white shirt underneath and black pants to match. He had on hist left wrist an old-fashioned wrist watch that was sorely in need of a windup and the glint of a wedding band shone from his hand.
"Good morning, Danny. My name is...I guess you can call me Kerr. I'm with the group at Stone Harbor."
"Ah. Of course. With that load o' purple, i was thinkin' that you'd either have to be a right nutter or one of them crazy actor types from the theatre."
Joe quirked one eyebrow up but did not respond immediately.
"Just kidding guvner. Nothin personal there. Just a bit o'fun. Not many visitors to the council office an' all so I gots to be havin me fun while I can, eh?"
Danny's smile eventually won over and the two shared a hearty laugh before getting down to business.
"Yes Danny. As you know, we're busy renovating the theatre now. Things have been going smooth but we've hit a small hiccup."
"Oh really? Sad to hear. You lot hav been doin a lot o'good for the town by restoring the theatre. Should be bringin in visitors soon once it's up and runnin again. How can I 'elp?"
"Ah. I was looking for some blueprints actually. You see, we've discovered that the place has a cellar and we're interested in not just restoring it but expanding it slightly. However, we heard that this whole place has a series of underground catacombs so we want to make sure we're not undermining ourselves, if you get my drift."
"Undermining? Oh I see now, right funny guy you are, sir. I take it you want blueprints of the catacombs then? Not a problem. Got several copies of those; don't know why though. Ain't no one used those catacombs since the old church closed back in the 1930s. Still, I hope it helps you lot. Hold on, one moment."
Moving swiftly, 'Danny Boy' rummaged through several old boxes full of old documents and charts. After searching through the rubble, and not to mention the cloud of dust, for several minutes, he emerged triumphantly holding two blueprints.
"Ere' you go. No need to sign for em'. They're unofficial spares anyway."
"Thanks a lot. You've been a big help Danny Boy."
"Anything to help the ones helping the town. By the way, if you be an actor, why did they send you to get the blueprints, if you don't mind me asking?"
Joe let out a chuckle.
"You could say that it just so happened that I was on the way to do something in town so my friend Vic decided to toss this little task on my shoulders as well."
Both men shared an understanding chuckle.
"Oh, which reminds me, do you know where I can get good catnip around these parts?" the Jester gestured to the orange-furred feline beside him.
"Ah, didn't see yer friend there. Quite a cute cat you got. Theatre mascot I presume?"
"Something like that."
"Well if it's catnip yer want, yer in luck. Just head south till you reach McGregor's drugstore. Can't miss it. The old guy always keeps some catnip in stock. Old McGregor's a cat lover, don't ya know?"
"Ah. That makes things easier. Thank you, Danny Boy. I'll be seeing you."
"Pleasure meeting you, Mr Kerr. Hey wait, Kerr? You wouldn't be related to you-know-who would you?"
It took a moment for Joe to realize the reference Danny was implying.
"You mean the old lady who once lived here? Nah. Then again, for all I know she might be a great-aunt or something."
"Ha! A strange coincidence that would be; a Kerr living here again."
"Ah well, I just assumed that after you lot were done with the theatre, you might be wanting to buy Palatine Hall and restore it next. Maybe even turn it into some sort of living quarters again. After all, I hears that your bosses like heritage buildings and such. It's kinda why you lot got the theatre right?"
The Jester turned to conceal his smirk as he walked off with Carmine.
"Yes my boss likes old buildings and things with cultural significance; you could say that. As for buying this place? Not a bad idea, Danny Boy. Who knows? You just might be a psychic."
At this, both men let out a laugh as the Jester walked out the door.
Walking toward the direction Danny had pointed out, the Jester mused to himself.
Maybe we can bring back that old play when we reopen the theatre.
Letting out a laugh, the Jester walked onward, humming a forgotten tune.
"Red sails in the sunset..."
Carmen, Sara Bellum, and Vic.
When Sara Bellum asked how he was doing, Vic started telling her everything he remembered since Carmen decided to steal ACME Tower I up until ACME destroyed it and arrested him in Brazil. Then Sarah Nade got Vic out and Carmen disappears for the good part of a year. He ended with going to Kamchatka and stopping some kind of old enemy of ACME's and did a decent job telling Bellum exactly what he wasn't clear on.
Sara, for her part, listened to it all quietly. Her face darkened a little at the mention of using the C5 technology for abduction and as a weapon, but did not say anything and appeared to take the rest in stride.
After getting Sara settled, Vincent Fumigalli waited around for the doc to get done and then took her to the bay where Carmen wanted to meet.
"There's a huge trench just below there," Vic said, "But I dunno exactly where. How much room did ya need for this snake?"
Sara eyed the space dubiously. “I do not know. It is hard to eyeball if this is enough. I mean, you say the trench is huge, but the MAMBA is no slouch in the size department, either. Do you have a map or measurements or something of this trench? It is easier for me to check number to number than picture to picture.”
"There's a cavern under our feet," Carmen spoke from behind her friends as she glided over a small rise to greet them, "It might only fit the MAMBA's first three sections, but it's wide enough to hold the full craft detached. Just under one hundred meters squared."
"It's down there," Carmen drew on Vic's map the proportions she spoke of, and pointed to a small causeway below, "but before we go, Sara, I want to see her."
Vic nodded and look to Sara Bellum.
Sara smiled slightly. “I believe that will work then. And I anticipated you might, I sent the signal to bring the MAMBA about half an hour ago, it should be here by now. I hope there aren't any blabbermouth tourists around though, or else we shall be creating another sea monster legend.” Reaching into her lab coat pocket she pressed a button and spoke, “Alright, bring the MAMBA up and out. Gently.”
“I said gently!”
As the darkened amphibious vessel transcended from the ocean and into the air, a gust of wind pushed from its epicenter and took away (for lack of a better phrase) the breath of its conceptualizer. Carmen's nails touched her palms in light pulses, an action she performed in moderation to slow her own heart rate.
"I expected her large," she spoke as the wind died down, "but I didn't quite expect that."
Accolade, ACME Compounds, San Francisco 11:40 PM
Inside the newly constructed lower floors of Accolade, Architect Walter Taut walked the grounds. He flew in from Germany over a month ago to give the press and ACME agents a guided tour of the building he designed. When he heard of the attack on Nob Hill, he decided to remain in San Francisco and discuss minor structural changes for emergency situations. Now that the events in Kamchatka passed, he would leave soon and return only periodically until the building fully opened.In his left hand Taut swayed a bottle of Caol Ila, single malt -- winner of its category at the The San Francisco World Spirits Competition -- wrapped in a cream-colored label and marked with a black coat of wax over its cap for authenticity. His right hand carried a medium-sized blade with buckskin hilt. As he paced from the entrance towards the Steinway piano, light music played. It was a song of nothing, one that poured randomly out to a melody so organized it could deceptively serve well on any stage. As the tune stopped, the architect sat next to the pianist and offered a smile.
"I do not have the glass," he said taking the knife to the bottle's wax-covered neck, "but we can share."
"I haven't drank in a while," Chase Devineaux spoke without an ounce of protest.
The vessel opened with a slight hiss and Taut took a drink before handing it to the younger man. This was not the best way to treat fine scotch, any amount of pure water would open up more flavors but the thick liquor at midnight was just as satisfying.
Drinking from the container, Chase let the fumes rise into his sinuses. The whiskey began sweetly on his tongue then moved to a fragrant smokiness, a journey that completed with a lingering finish.
"That was good," commented the German.
"Distilled water might bring out more of the citrus undertone."
"No, I mean your piano playing, it was very good. Was it ever very useful to you?"
"Once," Devineaux gave a chuckle, "I had a long case that spanned from Odessa to Novgorod. My cover was this...," he opened his arms, "a humble pianist."
"Mein Freund, you are in the right profession."
A non-verbal agreement from the Director of Operations followed another maltreatment of good malt liquor. Accolade's lobby amplified sound as well as it amplified silence, and in the stillness Chasecould hear his own thoughts very clearly.
"Your Morya Gan," Devineaux opened a statement and Walter Taut drank, "Were you ever angry at her for what happened?"*
The architect raised both eyebrows briefly and looked towards the building's curved panes. He thought a while, and phrased his words carefully before he spoke."A woman, she can hide her identity and her feelings very well, but she cannot hide who she is."
It was Chase's turn to drink.
"We go activate the spires?" The German suggested.
Devineaux stood with his guest and was vividly reminded of this evening's interrogation by the stinging at his chest.
On the top floor of Accolade were two 25-meter silver spires that would boost communication signals once fully operational. Since Tower I disappeared, ACME utilized existing government and private towers to relay transmissions. Ensuing events from the raid in Kamchatka required the organization to have full control of its own airwaves. Bottom line for Chase was a wider, more secured net.
In the under-roof control room, Walter Taut and Chase Devineaux pushed up the levers that activated the antennas' circuits. The only fanfare to this event was a low electrical humming that subsided with time. Both men then came on to the roof to watch the lights.
When Devineaux spotted ACME Airfield, he fleetingly thought of his last drink on the roof with Eugene Grovington.
"She is beautiful, this building, and this city," Taut spoke in the night, "I will miss her."
Chase felt heat despite the high winds. Languid humidity rose from the dark bay while thick whiskey warmed his breath. "I'll miss her too," he deviated without a thought, then he raised the bottle to his lips and spoke more clearly, "To the former Tower, rest in peace."
Walter Taut laughed, "And to this Accolade."
"To Accolade," the director agreed, returning the alcohol its owner.
The German patted his friend on the back, "Come, if we can make it all the way down without incident, you can keep the Caol Ila."
*Full reference: http://carmensandiego.info/blogs/entry/The-Rise-to-Accolade
Gunnar and 'Patrun'
So Gunnar had not yet perceived how he had earned such a reaction, and it was one week after.
Upon touchdown at ACME's airfield, he had awoken from a type of haze that had been imbued during the long return flight. He now refocused his thoughts to what had kept him awake since forever, how he had hurt Gudrun and the trust he had built with her. He was not certain if he would come back to her smile... or if he should come back to a ringless hand and something of an eternal misery. He had learned; he could change, he would tell her.
Hopping onto the runway, he detected a glint of the copper blond he had missed so much since some weeks ago. That she had traveled back to San Francisco again was a good sign, right? He squinted in the bright sunlight to see her expression.
Gudrun wore a light blue-green dress that had enough gray to look like the fuzzy horizons of a Swedish morning, somewhat coordinating with his plain khaki cargo pants and gray t-shirt. She stood, waiting, like a ceramic figurine. Gunnar remembered that he spoke to her on the phone only few hours before he left for Lenino, meaning she flew here from Sweden just shortly after. Seeing nothing else around him, he ran as fast as he could to his fiancée. He wasn't sure if she was smiling or angry, but she began to move his way too.
They met in the middle, Gudrun's distance shorter than his, and she threw down her crutches. He dropped his bags and weapons, picking her up without even knowing it. She was laughing in his ear, in the air, everywhere around him.
“[Stop hugging me,]” she said, “stop hugging me and kiss me already, Gunnar Svensson!”
Gunnar paused and looked around. What if someone was watching? But what if this was his one chance--the one chance to keep her? “[Right now?]” he asked timidly. But he did not wait for her to reply.
So now he sat next to a hotel bed in Iceland, leaning forward, patient and contemplative. He was sitting on the floor by Gudrun's side, and discovered himself unconsciously petting her hair. He hesitated, then kissed Gudrun on her little nose. He did not mind waiting.
Suddenly, his fiancée moved and slapped Gunnar's head with her extra pillow. He fell back and gazed at her, puzzled.
“Oops, [that was you?]” she asked lazily, then she bent over the top of his head and kissed his nose too. He likes her smile. “[I get dressed, then we go have the breakfast,]” She was like a butterfly. “[Then I think we talk. We should move to San Francisco, Gunnar.]”
The tall boy stood up. While he was excited for breakfast, her last words had caught his best attention. “[San Francisco? But... we want to live at home, in Sweden.]” He stalled to try and read Gudrun. “Right?”
“[You want my father and mother to always check on us?]” She giggled from behind the half-opened closet door. “[I've always wanted to see what other places have, and you are working here best, this is good for me too.]”
He eased over to the door and paced in front of it. “[You would not miss where we have lived so long, where we have grown together?]” And the track... he worried secretly.
“[You are worried about your track, yes?]” She popped her head from behind the closet for a second as if to say, ‘I knew what you were thinking!' “[You are ACME Agent now, you still want to race for sport?]”
Yes... “[You still want me to work for ACME after what happened?]” He braced on the knob and leaned into the door, listening. He wanted her to be happy with him; to be proud. The Olympics was his dream, and how better could he impress his girl than to compete? ACME seemed a good job when he first joined, and it had served well to teach him the skills he had applied to learn in specific. But now was a point when he must decide. If he continued to work, he could never return to track in form.
Like a ray of sunshine, Gudrun came out after she finished dressing. “[Are you waiting for me to decide?]” she asked. “[You are a big boy already. You can make decision.]” Gudrun learned from her family that any good family has to make decisions that don't sound like sacrifices to avoid the ‘I did this all for you' argument 20 years into the future.
“Jag ska...” he stuttered, switching his gaze from her eyes and back with frequency. He had always planned for longevity throughout his life. Kvalitet, his father had taught him, invest in the forward time. “[I shall live in San Francisco,]” he said. “[Shall you come?]”
She took his hand and led him down to breakfast. On the way, she gave him brochures. “[What do you think of this area?]” Gudrun suggested, “[It is on 'Russian Hill'.]”
Dr. Roux, Euge, Dan, and Ivy
[Somewhere in the world...]
Doctor Acton Roux had been very quiet throughout the trip not because he was idle, but quite the opposite. When they landed in Calcutta and he spent time inside the city, he became rather occupied with the spices of India. The doctor stayed with the group for the sake of his most valuable asset, the very expensive, very rare vat of a honey-like substance. First harnessed by his grandfather and reconstructed by his father, the viscous liquid formed into something completely unimaginable. Its creators had wanted a healing medicine, and while the fluid does heal, it was also murderous and intensely unpredictable.
Recent experiences have led Dr. Roux to believe the golden serum, when amassed inside the vat, had the ability to preposition thoughts into his head. Insanity, perhaps, but certainly productive for a man already labeled mad. In time, he came to believe the thoughts of the cumulated fluids were bits of energy transferred to them from the process of reconstructing his own cells. This connection now proved vital to Acton, as much as he hated to indulge in the idea; if it truly was alive, then the fluids and he were symbiotic.
Adrianna Coverenzi wanted his help for something, but he was beginning to see that this was not for her own amusement. If she wished to obtain eternal life, the when and where would matter little, and to bring in a thug like the ACME soldier was completely unnecessary. She must have other things in mind, but his theories shall remain untested until they land.
"Despite our initial... tiff, I'm certain we can find a way to make this worth your effort."
Euge was deliberately quiet for the moment it took the private jet to shut down, speaking only when the aircraft became completely silent. "I have no doubt of it. An excellent start would be removing yourself from the cabin while I place a call." Not waiting for an answer, Euge grabbed the satellite phone from its cradle and dialed the direct line for ACME's control room.
Contessa watched as Eugene reached for the phone and motioned for her bodyguard to ease. Since the first threat after leaving India, Leonid seemed to grow increasingly angry and suspicious of having the pilot unrestrained, while her valet Luca remained his indifferent self. Despite Eugene's apparent bravado she sensed something in his movements. Everyone had a button to press. She thought to herself as she began to leave the cabin, lingering just at the door to hear the first words of his conversation.
The seconds it took for the connection to establish were all that Euge's mind needed to fabricate uncertainties. Would ACME want the ASP back, or had they already written it off as a loss? It didn't matter much at this point, as Euge knew he was flying solo now. That wasn't the purpose of this call.
"ACME Command," an operator greeted tersely after half a ring, and Euge forced his voice into action. "Patch me through to Commander Monaghan." Euge didn't waste time identifying himself, as the system already knew his voiceprint. If he was locked out, the ops computer would automatically disconnect him, and Euge braced himself for the inevitable click.
Waiting to be disconnected, Euge was surprised when the operator patched him through. The next sound was even more surprising, as he recognized the unmistakable tones of the ASP's software handshaking and starting a download.
"It's from Agent Slate, Commander." Daniel Ainsworth spoke through the communicator as he sent over a file with said person's information. "Her fingerprints at least."
Ivy studied the dark haired woman's photo. She must have seen Colleen around the campus, but their interactions were close to nonexistent. So why did she want to help her? Was the key card hacking marker just an innocent gift after all? Or perhaps it was the other way around, a favor for a favor.
"Thanks. That'll be all, Dan."
Ivy stopped short of the ACME War Room. The last time she was here, she had spent the entire night tracking Tweed with Eugene, Mikal, and Lee. But with the Special Operations crew moving in, this would be the first place to start looking for unofficial personnel files.
The buzzing of her communicator interrupted her thoughts and Ivy swore softly as she saw the name: ACME Command. It was as if they had been reading her mind. "ACME Command, this is Monaghan," Ivy answered, hiding her mild frustration.
"Ivy..." Euge didn't know where to begin, but hearing her voice was enough for him to let out a breath, even if he could hear the ill concealed irritation. "Ivy, stay at ACME until I get back. Please." Euge closed his eyes and braced for the inevitable storm.
Eugene's voice, punctuated with the telltale pauses of an international connection was one of the last things she prepared for and Ivy found herself speaking before she had time to think. "Euge? Where the hell are you?"
"Cleaning up one of my old messes." There was no way Euge could encapsulate the chain of events into this call, and so he left it at his default explanation. He knew it wasn't enough.
Ivy sank against a wall, holding the communicator with both hands to try and hear better. In the back of her mind she knew the call was on an open channel. On her side was ACME Command, there was no telling who was listening on his. "...Who are you with?"
Euge's mind flashed back to the inciting incident, and he answered slowly. "Someone I'd much rather not be around." In the moments of silence he could hear the download continue, and went on. "If my guess is right, things should become clear very soon."
"Euge, you need to get back before someone decides to launch an official investigation on you. I... what do I tell them?"
A number of smarmy replies multiplied in Euge's head at the prospect of an investigation, but he cut them off before one could take hold. "I'm not concerned about that right now. What I need is for you to stay there until this is over." A brief mental image of blood flowing freely from her arm shot through his mind. "Please."
That would be the second time the pilot asked her to stay put. Ivy held the communicator a little closer. The tone of his voice bothered her, and she hoped he wasn't about to do something brave and stupid. "Okay big guy, I'll be at ACME. But you better bring that ASP back, preferably with its pilot in one piece. He has an angry commander to answer to."
"Thank you." Euge exhaled. The fact he hadn't been written off completely galvanized Euge's resolve. "I will come back. Don't ever doubt that for a moment." Reluctantly, he ended the call and placed the phone back, his face showing a moment's confusion when the ASP displayed it was still connected to the ACME network. Not one to waste an opportunity, Euge began to upload every second of his mission recorder before pulling down pertinent geographic information. No matter what happened now, he knew what he needed to do.
Gingerly stepping from the aircraft, Euge planted himself in the passenger's seat of Adrianna's vehicle, speaking as the driver set off. "I'm glad you haven't followed through on your threat to torch that villa I rented just yet. The deposit on that place is a small fortune."
Ivy and Nace. Molly is Ivy's NPC
Nace Bilby, after cleaning his weapons, turning in his gear and going to get Goliath from the kennel he had left him at before Torun Zamok stood out in front of the ACME Headquarters building. He was standing in the small park in front of the building, tossing a tennis ball across the field and watching Goliath sprint after it.
It was around then that he noticed Ivy Monaghan approaching, as did Goliath who let out a bark before Nace had him sit, and he regarded Ivy, having met her once or twice he now knew her scent.
"You're a hard man to catch." Ivy scratched the German Shepherd behind his ears as she spoke to Nace. "Good thing ACME communicators have instant tracking. A friend of mine's been looking for you."
Not five steps behind Ivy was Molly O'Sullivan, who carried in her hands a bright mix of peach roses, freesia and Peruvian lilies tied with simple strands of raffia.
"They're for you." Molly held the bouquet out with a shy smile, "Nace, right? You look different without all the cement dust covering you."
Nace smiled and said, “I am quite pleased I could clean up nicely for you. And I am glad to see you are in good health."
He took the flowers and said, "I do answer to that name, yes. And on a more serious note, or rather notes, again I am glad you're feeling better and thank you for the flowers they're rather lovely."
Despite himself he was able to make a bit of a joke with that last statement. Nearby Goliath panted softly and began to lick Ivy's hand before picking up his tennis ball and nudging Ivy's hand a couple of times.
"As to the hard to catch bit, it's sort of a reflex." Nace remarked.
Molly shifted her weight from one leg to the other, "It's a little unorthodox, but what else do you get a man who saves your life?"
“The flowers are lovely and I'll be sure to put them in my new place.” Nace replied, fingering a newly acquired set of keys to the new rental.
Ivy smirked, watching Nace being unusually verbose and Molly on the verge of blushing. She threw the ball for Goliath, and in the same action nudged Bilby a little closer to her friend.
"So ask her to coffee already." Monaghan hinted in a whisper.
Right, coffee. Nace thought. Collect your thought and just ask the sodding question.
He was also smiling and asked Molly, “By the way, would you like to get a cup of coffee? I'd love to sit and chat.”
Goliath sprinted after the ball, wagging his tail as he grabbed it and ran back to Ivy and again nudged her hand with the ball in his mouth.
"Yes!" Molly blurted before Nace finished his sentence. Suddenly realizing her enthusiasm she paused and brushed a few strands of blonde hair behind her ear. "I mean... I'm free, if you are."
“Certainly.” Nace said, with a smile back at Molly, before making another small joke, “It would be rather daft of me to ask you out if I wasn't free to do so.”
"And there's the Java house down the street. Dogs allowed." Ivy tossed the ball once in her hand to keep Goliath focused before handing it back to Nace. With her job as cupid done for the day, she faked an ACME message on her communicator, "Work calls for me. You kids have fun."
Nace, despite himself, smiled as he glanced over and watched Ivy walk off, then quickly casting his glance at Goliath he saw the canine heading their way, dropping the tennis ball on the ground before he headed over to Molly and sniffed the blonde woman's hand. He cocked his head quizzically as if regarding her.
Feeling the canine's wet muzzle against her hand, Molly opened her palm. She wasn't used to large dogs and felt her heart rate rise.
“He tends to do that to new people that I meet.” Nace says, he'll study you briefly after sniffing and then…As predicted.”
Goliath started to pant, picking up the tennis ball and nudging Molly's hand.
Molly burst into a giggle, suddenly feeling more at ease, “Guess he really loves to play fetch.”
“That he does, the second he sees that tennis ball his eyes just light up.” Nace said with a smile.
“So he screens all your new friends?” Molly gingerly began to pet Goliath, “Does this mean I've passed?”
“That most certainly does. He only goes and solicits play from people he likes. He's a cracking good judge of character.” Nace replied, before offering her his left arm, “Shall we?”
“I like to think I'm a good judge of character too.” Molly chirped, taking Nace's offered arm and beginning the walk towards the coffee shop.
Lee Jordan lit another cigarette and took a walk along Nob Hill. About five weeks after, Chase's old apartment building was getting cleaned up nicely. He couldn't believe his luck in all this, and that he resigned himself to skirting by like an alley cat.
ACME was back to normal. He hadn't heard from Eleanor in forever, but just as well because he hadn't been in contact with her after ACME had to deal with Nob Hill. With the experience of Chase Devineaux's anger on his throat in some tiny room overlooked by an Israeli agent, Jordan didn't think it appropriate to cross ACME's director in any way shape or form. Hopefully E understood, women always do when it came to guys like him.
For his MRP, Lee was going to explore his own little agenda of cracking this series of codes Carmen inadvertently laid out since she stole ACME Tower I. He got the feeling it went back further than last year, but he didn't have much of a hunch. The person he wanted to get in touch with was Achille Mondadori, the Italian sharp shooter that publicly shot an ACME agent during the Blue Moon masquerade. Like the grand coincidence this was, that Mondadori kid was all grown up and at Kamchatka, fighting with the lead of some group of Italian mercs. He wasn't among the arrested that they brought back to San Francisco for interrogation, and to find him again, Jordan would need to start with what he knew of Achille's team.
This flight to Italy was tomorrow, until then he was free to loiter.
Contessa, Dr. Roux, and Eugene primarily written in Dr. Roux's perspective. May contain violence, reader's discretion is advised.
The unloading of Acton's plane included his vat. This was a simple enough process for he had done this several times before. Yet the most difficult idea to grasp was not knowing precisely what he was unloading his precious cargo for.
"It's for someone I care very much about," the Contessa spoke coldly, plainly and in a whisper to Acton, "You'll be rewarded well, Doctor, I assure you." He believed this 'someone' to be more herself than another sentient being, but he pressed no further.
The ride across the plains was hot and of much toil, even for the well ventilated mask of Doctor Roux, he found it constricting. The mostly flat landscape soon gave way to tall jagged features and eventually the rocky foothills of what seemed to be prime area for an old mine.
Their caravan stopped at the entrance to exactly what Acton imagined. The dark caverns of an old mineral mine emitted hot confining air, as if it was a dying beast whose last breath still exhaled heat as a curse to the land.
"I was hoping you'll lend me the ASP," the lovely fair skinned countess looked clearly out of place in this barren desert as she spoke to the mercenary, "but you'll have to be the messenger for me."
There was much hesitation and some comments between both that Acton could not fully comprehend, but sense somewhat prevailed and the man in the machine entered the caverns with a radio device.
"What is in there?" Acton asked, concerned.
"Who is in there," Adrianna corrected him and then replied, "My uncle."
The ASP could withstand enough heat and pressure to go down into the mine and convince this uncle of hers to come out. A man who had spent the last decades of his life wishing to obtain immortality had been holing himself up in this dreadful mine, breathing the fumes that he believed kept his life prolonged. It may very well be true, for while he grew older, his mind was sharp, and he had refused anyone entry, creating traps throughout the cavern.
He was even beginning to turn her away. She worried for him and in time, wished to grant him something of a gift before he wasted everything.
While the ASP was below, the team above ground began to assemble a large canvas tent. The Frenchman understood this would become a makeshift laboratory in an attempt to immortalise the man that Eugene may bring up. He hoped Ms. Covernzi understood that his success rate was very slim, and her uncle may die in the process.
Eugene performed his task and reached his destination, allowing Adrianna Covrenzi to lure out her uncle. She spoke in Italian, which Acton understood, but she spoke quickly and quietly, so he was only able to make out phrases such as 'life' and 'honey'.
The ACME Pilot came out of the cavern first. Acton set out to offer him a hand and they exchanged a brief notion. Once safely above ground, Eugene shook his head slowly, and signaled with his armoured glove in a gesture that spoke volumes to Acton Roux, 'Something weird this way comes'.
Thunderous footsteps followed and a mechanical body suit, tarnished by toxic fumes, appeared from the depths. It was nearly two feet taller than the ACME ASP, but it was clearly thinner and much less modern.
As soon as the Uncle Covrenzi saw Acton, he pointed directly at the doctor. A long length of pause occurred before he spoke with some disbelief, "This is him."
"Yes, the honey keeper," Adrianna's voice was clear, and rather pleasing.
"You found him for me, my girl!" the thunderous voice spoke from the mechanical body, "Where is it? Where is the honey?"
Acton genuinely feared for the lives of the entire party should something go wrong, so he whispered to the countess, "There is no guarantee..."
"Do your best, darling," she said without threat.
Without much choice, the doctor agreed. Saving her uncle was a more noble cause than Acton had previously imagined. The 'honey keeper' and Adrianna's helpers, Leonid Borodin and Luca Carboni aided her uncle out of his body suit. The man inside was thin but well muscled, given the strength it took to maneuver the mechanical body. His legs however, were atrophied and Dr. Roux doubted he could walk without aid.
"Quante volte ho sognato questo giorno," the old man spoke, his eyes alight at Acton, "To meet kin such as you." The old man somehow perceived of Acton's 'condition', speaking to him as if both were immortals ripe to reign over the world. But the Frenchman knew, most of all, that this was never the case.
He prepared Adrianna's uncle for the vat with one assistant, Luca Carboni, as Adrianna took Leonid and Eugene aside to inspect the mechanical suit.
"I don't want any accidents," Adrianna spoke, "If you gentlemen mind finding a way to disable this contraption?"
For hours, two teams worked without exchanging a word; one on saving a man and the other, on disabling his menacing body suit.
As night fell, Acton was surprised to see the man in the glass container responding well to his serum. He reported this to Adrianna and she seemed pleased, going outside for a breath of air.
Minutes later, Eugene reported having safely disconnected all major parts of the tarnished mechanical suit. No sooner was that acknowledged, did Acton feel a strong hand suddenly pulling him, jolting the doctor away from proximity of the vat.
A gunshot rang, then two, and yet a third. Acton watched his glass shatter, its contents writhing into the air and ultimately swallowed by the thirsty sand. The man inside was dead.
The French Doctor turned to see Eugene's hand having pulled him away, and Adrianna Covernzi in the tent's centre with a large hunting rifle, still smoking from discharge.
"I'm so sorry that had to happen," the shooter spoke regally and Acton found himself believing her apology, "Shall we clean up? If we start now, we can get back to the plane before dawn."
Adrianna knew her uncle very well, everything she did still needed his signature without a declaring death certificate. And while she could deal with that, he was beginning to spend their predecessors' vast fortune on his own endeavours. Now, she finally had a body, and a 'hunting accident' was enough probable cause.
This was not the first time Acton lost an entire vat of his honey-like serum. He had small samples that will replicate over time, yet it may take him several months.
"Don't worry about your equipment," Adrianna explained later, "I'll make sure you get everything you need for whatever it is you do."
"What I do?" Acton asked, confused at her words.
"Parlour tricks, are they not, Mr. Roux?" she brushed him off, "Who on earth believes in immortality?"
Daylight had faded fast as he started his tour of Stone Harbor. No longer able to enjoy the architecture in the darkness, Flag found himself lingering around the paved drop-off that lead to the beach. There he watched black waves crash in the moonlight and stepped on some of the strange bugs that the ocean sent running up and over the sea wall, but it wasn't long before he became bored.
On his way back to the theater, he found a wrought iron table situated under a lamppost. There was a simple pen sitting on top of it and it wasn't long before he put it to good use.
His arms were soon covered with a mixture of his native language and the strangely encoded words of Archimedes - all tiny details to a ritual that he had worked out long ago, but now needed to adjust due to a change of quarry.
The thief perched on a roof nearby, secretly scrutinising her new mobility system. It comprised of multi-layered force-feedback gloves and structural polymer optical head-mounted display; as well as tactical boots (made in the definitive manner of Cinderella) that fit just the contours of her feet. The components allowed her an average of twelve seconds to scale a two-storey building. In time, she would take that number closer to five.
The OHMD warned of a figure below, but without full link to the VILE database, the eyewear left the final identification to its wearer.
Since her abrupt exit from Kamchatka, Carmen had been (under both practice and logic) avoiding Flag. She had spoken to no one of the event, except that it was some form of C-5 transaction, but the truth was far more outlandish. The woman had, or perceived that she had, lived through the eyes of others; more specifically, other versions of herself. The experience ranged from the probable, inciting a languid smile beyond a glass of whiskey; to the preposterous, where she held her own daughter and recited with remorse an instruction to the father. However overwhelming, memories of these experiences faded with time, and she pushed them aside in favor of normalcy.
In silence, she shifted to the lamppost and expressed respect by speaking first from a satisfying distance.
"Come subito lampo," she partially quoted Dante on how ideas may come 'as lighting', "write it down while you can. Although I might have gone with paper."
While he didn't jump at her voice this time around, he did seem surprised at being unable to find it's source when he looked up from his writing. Hearing a noise above him, he finally cast his gaze up the lamppost.
"I'll probably rewrite it later." He squinted, trying to see her past the light. "How'd you get up there?"
Using the lamp's neck for support, she moved down to the ladder rest (which doubled here as a banner holder) and dropped to the cobbled stones. Her soundless boots absorbed much of the impact and the only thing audible was her own breath as she landed.
She removed her head-mounted display, an unassuming pair of rubber-strapped glasses, and smiled, "My new urban exploration tool kit," there was a notch of playful pride in her voice as she answered his question, "Are you out here for a reason, or couldn't you sleep to the freezing lull of such a loud ocean?"
It was very loud here, the waves against the rocks, and it took the thief a few nights to finally find seclusion.
"Actually, I slept for quite some time in the mess hall." He admitted with some reserve as he stood to greet her.
Flag had taken note of her modest, yet versatile gear as she showed it to him and found that he couldn't help but appreciate her enthusiasm for it. "I was also exploring, but you seem to be having a better time of it."
"You're still experiencing headaches?" Carmen gave a listless shrug that often accompany moments when she answered her own questions. Why else would Flag sleep in a place like the mess hall if his head was less bothersome?
She removed her gloves and reached out to Flag's hand, bringing his arm under the light. Tracing the language on his skin with her fingertips she recognised them as formulae but little else. The writing reminded her of a secret language she used to make up while in the orphanage so she could send covert messages to comrades. Curiosity satisfied, she released him.
"I know I promised you two men of your choosing, but I may need another favor," Carmen exhaled a light mist into the night. "Vincent wants to promote an untested girl," she followed with a notion of trust, "I don't doubt him, but I'd like a second opinion. If you could find space for Kidman and let me know your thoughts?"
Flag had tensed at the gentle touch of her fingernail on his forearm. Although she had thanked him when they last spoke, he had not expected her to display this level of comfort with him. He almost agreed to her request blindly but the name she spoke clicked in his mind as being what Vic had called the girl on crutches.
"I don't..." he caught himself as he realized he was potentially under exam. "She's been with VILE for a good number of years now. How is she untested?"
"A worker drone," she made a slight hive reference. Flag was an avid reader and she knew he understood, "But she's never been in the field, I saw her at Kamchatka and she seemed... unhinged. Vic Fumigalli has reasons to keep her, you don't; I need affirmation from someone on the opposite spectrum." Her own words sent a light jolt of internal realisation that Flag, similar to Vincent but with quite the opposite approach, had gained her trust.
He stood quietly as he thought on her words. It was apparent that he didn't particularly like the idea of supervising the girl, but he couldn't come up with a good excuse not to.
"I'm sure I can find an appropriate task for her." He consented after a long moment.
"Send me notification when you're ready?" she thanked him in kind.
With the exchange closing, an unusual fog of silence rolled into place.
"Walk me back to the theater?" Carmen offered, "I have a detox recipe for a drink that might help... with your head."
"Sure," he breathed a smile and allowed her to take his arm again. "That would be appreciated."
Ken walked off the roof, down the stairs, and finally out of the front door of the theater. In his hand he held a little remote, which he used to ping the satellite every few seconds. He was testing the overall strength of the signal. So far it was proving to be the best signal he'd ever gotten without the equipment floating in low earth orbit. No anomalies found.
Kidman had cried, fallen asleep, and despite not going to sleep with it, the Carmen doll was in her arms when she woke a while later. Clearly this was not going to be something accomplished overnight and she was tired of being sad. She needed air. Kidman squeezed herself out of the attic and down to the main level with a deal of effort, then made her way outside.
Ken made a couple adjustments to the remote, looked down, and saw Kidman near the steps. He frowned, his upper lip tightening past his overbite. He didn't mind the kid, but felt that as a V.I.L.E. agent, she was a little naive. Sure, he was nuts, but on a good day, that one acted practically catatonic. Maybe all he was doing was calling the kettle black by judging her, but that didn't make him turn around and like her.
Ken pocketed his remote and pulled a flashlight. He pretended to scan the floor around him, but obnoxiously turned the light on Kidman where she was standing. “What's got you so flushed, you little albino squirthog?”
“What the hell, man?” Kidman held her hands up to her face and almost dropped her crutches. “Uncalled for!”
“Whatever. You know, it's not a good idea we should crowd the front door like this. Suppose someone from the KGB finds us...” Ken held the flashlight to his chin in a manner not unlike a bratty sibling trying to make a scare. “If they catch us it won't be like ACME. They'll do things. Bad things. They'll tie you up and put saxophone reeds under your fingernails.”
Kidman recoiled. “They won't find us here. Carmen wouldn't-” Then she stopped and gave him a cross look. “Why are you so mean?”
“Lifelong mental patient equals zero social skills.” Ken shrugged. “I've also had a lot on my mind...”
The girl sighed. While the reasoning certainly felt familiar enough, it didn't account for meanness. Still, he was family, so she let it go. “For future reference, that's not a good way to meet people.” She said as she rubbed the spots from her eyes. “What's on your mind?”
“We're all here right now because of a plot from some megalomaniac to use ACME tech to subvert world government. Not too long ago I was away investigating someone's attempt to use ACME tech to spy on Carmen.” Ken said, his voice still sounding rather distant, as though he wasn't really speaking to Kidman. “To ACME, and Carmen, this is all a game of cops and robbers, but there are so many other people in the world just...willing to take what we make and use it for the petty old game of financial game and war. Whether we like it or not, V.I.L.E is a participant in the arms race.”
Kidman nodded thoughtfully. She had just come back from fighting people that used ACME tech to blow up other people, so it wasn't all that far-fetched to her. “But doesn't ACME already use ACME tech to spy on Mast- Carmen?”
“It's complicated,” Ken sighed distantly. “There was someone who had infiltrated the creation of ACME Crime-Net so far back in its development that he practically wrote part of the code. Someone who felt that the need to bring Carmen to justice is more important than the justice itself, if that makes sense.”
Kidman laughed. “I used to think that was all of ACME, but that was before this.” She gestured at her injuries. “I wish we didn't have to be so separate. If ACME was our friends, they would be one less thing to worry about and one more friend to protect her. Although…”
She paused. It was growing darker and the wind was rising, making her turn back to the door. Somewhere out there the silver-haired man in all his splendid power lurked, a specter of her impotence. Kidman sighed
“Maybe she only needs one friend.”
[Journal Entry - Harborside] Carmen/Kidman
With the dawning of yet another day, Carmen sat by the docks watching the tide recede. Not long into her reverie, she heard the ticking of approaching crutches. She turned to it, "Hello Kitty, faring well?"
Kidman was lost in thought and didn't even notice Carmen was there until she heard her voice and she started.
"Oh! I’m sorry, I can come back later." She offered, unsure if she was intruding, then realized she had been asked a question and glanced at her crutches. "Well enough. I should be able to get rid of them for a walking cast soon."
Carmen pondered what this girl meant by 'I can come back later', but she let that pass and extended an invitation, "Have a seat," she tapped the wood.
Kidman complied with a mix of relief and nerves. For a while she looked out over the dreary landscape as she debated speaking her mind.
"So...Flag.” She said as casually as she could manage. “You guys...close?"
"As close as I am to Vincent. Why do you ask?"
"Because you only told him that you were okay."
Lightly, the thief laughed, "Are we still hung up on the past?"
The blue-shirt bit her lip, now quite chapped. "The past is a good indicator for the future. There was a reason why you kept us out but him in, and I’m sure it’s still there."
"I trust him," Carmen nodded, recalling her own revelation on that fact, "Is that what you wanted to hear?"
"I guess..." Kidman swung her feet. "I'm sorry, it’s just, VILE is different for me than it is for others. I know it shouldn’t be, but it is, and I’m afraid of losing it."
"How is VILE for you?"
"It’s all I know."
"Well, then it seems you'll need to learn more... or return to grunt work, or course, your choice."
"I don't mind grunt work." The girl replied with a fleeting ray of sun. "I just need to be useful... to you. It's the least I can do."
"The least you can do for what?" Carmen was puzzled, surely this was in jest.
"For you letting me stay here. I wouldn't last a day in the outside world."
Here Carmen paused to study the girl and then replied with some mirth, "Ah, well then suffice to say, you've earned your place well."
"Have I?" she asked with childlike hope.
"Why, do you need proof?"
"No, I, I just didn't actually expect you to keep me once you knew I was here."
Kidman picked at her coat a moment. "I'm not really a thief."
"Mm," Carmen winked, "neither am I, frankly."
The girl looked at Carmen quizzically, then smiled. "I know.".
The wind in the distance ruffled faraway sails just before it reached the docks and batted the banners on a nearby post.
"What do they say about me?" Carmen inquired out of curiosity, "The men?"
"The guys? You mean my fellow blue-shirts?"
"Yes, blue, grey, those I rarely speak to but owe immensely. How are they?"
"It depends on who you ask, but overall, we're just happy you exist. When I was growing up here, they told me stories. You're like a folk hero."
"A what hero?"
"Folk hero! A hero that isn't a superhero" Kidman paused, suddenly unsure what folk hero meant. "You know, like Robin Hood."
Carmen laughed kindly at that, "Folk heroes come with folk tales. Have I a folk tale?"
The air seemed much warmer and Kidman found the drab landscape revealed new spots of colour.
"It varies, but basically you were an orphan that worked for ACME until you decided they were a bunch of cranky stiffs and went off to bend the world. Or stick it to the man. Or be some kind of feminist icon. I always maintained that you made a place between the black and white for all the other colours."
"I like that version much better than reality," she smiled with a half shrug, "I could go for a warm drink, would you like to join me?"
Kidman realized then that she had waded out into the middle of a subject too vast to navigate in one go, but one that should to be navigated nonetheless.
"I would love to."
Flag had been here before. He knew it when he saw the holes in the cobblestone at his feet and smelled the ash in the air by his head.
Without his consent his feet moved, one after another, down a path picked out amongst the smoldering ruins of homes that the battle had decimated.
This isn't possible.
Yet, even as he thought it he came around a corner and found his wife huddled in front of a family members burning home.
He shouted his beloved's name and she jumped into a standing position, terrified of him.
Ta'Nia, I... WATCH OUT!
In the smoke behind her a black mass moved with intent. Even now - when he knew what was going to happen, he aimed to destroy the monster before it ruined everything he had ever loved...
... and she moved in his way.
Behind his wife writhed an accumulation of eveything he had come to hate, and yet there she stood, her arms outstretched and her long dark tresses flying in the wind. Her sky blue eyes glowered at him.
"I won't let you!" Screamed her melody from impossibly far away.
Before he could move, the creature shifted and the shards of pain in his chest exploded as they swallowed his life.
* * *
The sorcerer woke up screaming in anger and frustration at the vision, first because he was unable to do anything within it, then because it had come to him at all. The nightmare was a prophecy from a life long passed that should have vanished upon its fulfilment, and made no sense to have returned.
As he sat up he found himself amongst a mess of theater seats and papers. He grabbed one of the sheets and remembered that he had spent most of the night in the auditorium transcribing and adding to the notes he initially scribbled on his arm.
This wasn't abnormal for him. He frequently did this when he didn't have access to his journal. However, as he recalled the events from the night before - Carmen mixing him a concoction of citrus and ginger to theoretically alleviate the side effects of the poison in his system and him seeking out the disgruntled gray cripple to inform her of her assignment - this act was the only thing he could think of that would have triggered such a horrible dream.
As he collected his notes, it made more sense. After all, the inscriptions detailed out the ritual he planned to carry out in hopes of going back to save his wife. Even so, as he added the last paper to the stack in his arms, he couldnt shake the feeling that he was starting to run out of time.
[Journal Entry] Flag/Kidman
Of all people, of course she would be matched with Flag, but Kidman soon found this pairing came with a consolation prize; a trip to New York City. The midnight gamble with ACME months before had introduced her to the city, and really any city, but she had been too distraught to fully take it in. What memories did remain excited her, the flash of light and noise, the steady roar of activity, the energy.
While Kidman was glued to the window of the cab they hailed at the airpot, Flag had sunk back into his seat to focus inward to remember the routes that he had taken the last time he had visited the metropolis. Having met with Ti-Jean at Rockefeller center, this was all he could go on when he gave the driver their destination. From there they would have to walk to the boutique front for a small number of VILE's dealings.
"Hey," he called Kidman’s attention as a thought dawned on him, "How many places here were on that laptop you left behind?"
She glanced back at him a moment. “Cripes, I don’t remember. That seems an eternity ago. Anyone I sacked got warning if it was inhabited. Why do you ask?”
He considered her response and frowned. "Do you know if the takedowns continued while we were in Russia?"
A flash of black and white static rose in her mind at the mention of Kamchatka but she pushed it out. “I don’t know for sure, but I would assume everything halted after the C-5 blast in San Francisco. Those of us that went to Russia were heavily monitored by ACME, so we were a little cut off.”
"I guess there's nothing to worry about here then." He returned his gaze out the window and back to his thoughts.
The cab skimmed a curb to squeak out of gridlock as a bicycle courier careened around them, seemingly oblivious. Crowds of people dictated whether a green light could be heeded, pressing their luck against rickshaws and limousines, while delivery trucks double parked into the middle of the narrow crossroads, opening their doors with abandon into oncoming traffic. It seemed that everyone was just one step away from an accident, yet it all rolled on, order in chaos.
“Where are we going?” The girl asked at last.
There was a pause as he failed to remember the word that his previous correspondent called the shop. "A custom clothing store."
As the cab slid to a jarring halt beside Rockefeller Plaza it was easy to see how one could be certain of their destination by memory. Kidman exited the car at tilted her head back in awe as Flag paid the fare. She had seen buildings this tall once before, but the memory of the Accolade was little more than an overexposed blade of light and fear. These were grand, stately pillars of human confidence and prosperity and Kidman found a strange comfort from being cradled in their shadows.
The sorcerer pointed out the shop in question amongst the storefronts that surrounded a massive skating rink encircled with flags. The scent of roasted chestnuts tempted her while cold stole at her cheeks but the girl was forced to tune it out to navigate the crowd until they came upon an opulent window display of evening wear.
“‘Ti-Jean’. Is this it?” She asked as she fell mesmerized by the sparkle of beadwork on burgundy chiffon.
Flag nodded as he pushed the door inward and entered the boutique. They were immediately greeted by a young woman who inquired if they had an appointment. They weren't given a chance to answer because another woman - who Flag recognized as Ti-Jean's assistant from the mansion - came up to the desk and directed them through a door at the back of the shop.
Here they were greeted with a room full sewing machines and fabrics so rich, they were almost uncomfortable to be around. The assistant then had them wait while she retrieved the effects that Flag had left behind over a month ago. When she returned, he rifled through the rough leather messenger bag to take inventory of its contents.
Satisfied that everything was accounted for, he handed the bag to Kidman and inquired about getting a phone to replace the one he fried. [Assistant] nodded and then directed Flag towards another part of the oversized storeroom, leaving Kidman alone in the sewing studio.
In this momentary calm the rich fabrics caught Kidman’s attention again and she plonked Flag’s heavy bag down on a cutting table to touch them. Silky fabric slipped through her fingers, the colour so lush she could taste it. Photos of attractive models in fabulous repose adorned the walls around her, and she tried to picture herself in their place as she leaned back against the table. So young, elegant, beautiful -
Suddenly Kidman’s hand slipped on the smooth working surface and she ended up on the floor with a crash of sewing supplies, along with the contents of Flag’s unclasped bag.
The bag itself remained half hung over the edge table with a pair of jeans stuck part way in their escape, but the rest lay strewn on the floor at the girl’s hands. There were hair ties, an open box beside two ancient books resting atop something wrapped in cloth, and a hair brush with a long silver hair caught in it, which Kidman seized upon immediately.
“Finally got one!” she whispered as she unwound and pocketed the hair it with a supreme sense of victory, then turned her attention to the books. The first looked so old that it might crumble by breathing on it, and she gingerly put it back in its box. The second was covered in black leather and looked far sturdier, but when she touched it something about it compelled her, and after a few seconds of experimenting Kidman managed to disengage the lock.
“What is this thing…?” she breathed as she turned the yellowed pages, filled end to end with complicated diagrams and formulae in a language she had never seen. At first it all blurred together in a mass of meaningless squiggles, but the more she looked at it, the more she felt the words trying to seek her out, whispering incoherently in her ear.
The book shifted slightly and the girl lifted it up to find the last object. Even though it was still wrapped the thing pulled her in, and a growing drone of shadow dimmed the world around her as she picked it up. It was heavy and growing heavier.
"Okay, we'll be back to pick that up in a couple of hours." Flag's voice echoed from across the room as he returned to it. He only got past the first desk before he noticed the pile of fabric on the floor and his assigned companion amongst the strewn contents of his bag. "What are you doing?"
Kidman jerked her head up as if pulled out of a nightmare. “Huh? I fell off the table. So did your bag. Things came out.” She said haltingly as she stood with the books in hand, leaving the wrapped thing on the floor.
He clenched his teeth and moved past the girl to shove his Items back into the satchel; taking an extra moment to make sure that the palamset (sp?) was unharmed.
"You better make sure that stuff is returned to its place." He advised menacingly, gesturing to the boutique's disheveled materials.
“Sorry, sorry sorry, yes sir, sorry.” Kidman said as she hastily set things right. Then she buttoned up her coat and followed the man outside.
“Where we going now?” she asked as she jogged to keep up with his pace.
He pointed to a sign down the street that proclaimed the location of some sort of diner. "There. I can't remember the last time I actually ate anything."
Inside it was loud and full of tourists, but the warm scent of deep-fried entrees made her realize how hungry she was herself.
After deciding what she wanted, the girl slowly stacked the creamer cups, careful to avoid eye contact. “So…. Where are you from? The guys say you’re an alien.”
“Our guys? You have those ears and such…” She paused. “How did you get to be so good at human stuff?”
He seemed annoyed at her avoidance of his question and remained quiet for a bit. The waitress came by and dropped off their drinks and only after he had downed a third of his glass of water did he answer her second question.
“Were you scared at all? In the beginning, when you didn’t know anything, how did you get by?”
Flag shrugged. "I would say I was more dazed than anything else, but I had help thanks to Carmen. She made sure that I learned English."
He drank some more and looked out the window and quickly became bored with what he saw there. "I didn't leave the base for quite a while."
Kidman’s shoulders slackened with relief. “Me neither….
While he saw the opportunity to continue the conversation, he didn't take the bait. The silence between them was long enough for their server to bring their food, which he dug into readily.
“Why Carmen? How did you know it was safe to entrust yourself to her?”
"What do you mean?"
“You’re on a foreign planet, you’re dazed, you didn’t speak the language. You were vulnerable, so you chose Carmen to protect you.” Kidman replied slowly with a hint of uncertainty. “I mean, she did protect you. Right?”
"Ugh." He rolled his eyes and took another bite of food to prevent himself from starting another fight with his assignment.
"I didn't 'choose' her. She kept me from dying - and before you ask, that's none on your business."
Flag stared at the woman-child a moment before flipping the conversation around on her. "Look. There's obviously something bothering you. Just get it off your chest already."
Kidman poked at her cup of coleslaw. “You’re the person most like me that I’ve ever met, and you seem to stand on your own. I want to do what you do.”
"What's stopping you?"
“I have no idea what I’m doing? I don’t even have real name. I made ‘Kidman’ up!”
He genuinely laughed at her dilemma, highlighting the irony of her outburst.
"You're kidding, right? That's an advantage. You can become anyone you want; do anything you want. Our 'organization' is a resource for facilitating just that."
At this the girl went quiet, remaining so until after the check had been paid and they were on their way again. She could get a name, fake the papers, get a job, do anything, but it would be a fake life, and fake things didn’t last.
It was already growing darker as it was wont to do this time of year, and all around her the city redressed itself for evening.
Sara Bellum/Joe Kerr
Under the bowels of the old theatre, hidden from the prying eyes of men and mice alike, stood an old cellar devoid of wine and barrels. It had been an unexpected find for the VILE crew and no one had really known what to do with it.
Then she had returned with all her technological insanity and immediately everyone reached a consensus that the cellar should be left for her to do as she pleased; most had expected her to transform it into some sort of laboratory and Dr Sara Bellum did not disappoint; in fact, she surpassed all those expectations and then some.
What had been a musty cellar was now covered with instrument panels with dozens of lights and gauges on each, measuring works in progress that few could follow. Some of the shelves had been replaced, and now held more specific tools for more active work. Under some overhanging lights was a drafting board holding multiple different blueprints, each one ready to be worked on when inspiration struck.
A couple of workbenches stood off against opposite corners of the room, and in the center was a giant table, cluttered up with papers, blueprints, and bits of machinery. The scientist obviously had a new bit of technology on her mind, but it was impossible to say at a glance what it was. Every day there was more being brought in from her previous home, and some of the boxes had already begun to spill out into the other tunnels under the theatre.
To add to the biometric and retinal scanners that filtered any access into the lab, the entrance to what had once been the cellar had been completely changed and remodeled such that now it was only accessible via the hidden passages snaking throughout the old theatre; the same passages that only the VILE crew knew about and used fully to their advantage.
Through one of these passages now walked a certain VILE Jester replete with twirling staff and mask. Joe Kerr had been planning the next string of thefts, for when the game would inevitably restart, when he had come upon a simple realization: he needed to secure transportation.
VILE had its own private fleet of various modified planes but for what he had in mind, they would need something a little more...versatile.
With that in mind, he had decided to consult VILE's own wizard of technology to see if she had something that would serve his purposes.
Subject Identified…Joe Kerr
Sara looked up from the drafting board where she was hastily scratching some notes into the margin of one of the blueprints. She saw the Jester enter and nodded. Now that she was in business again, she should expect members of VILE to be coming to her with requests. It was not usually the most enjoyable part of her job, though, considering quite often they had the most plebeian requests.
One time she had even been asked to fix an mp3 player. She had told that one to try Google and never to bother her again. Still, this man had potential. It looked like he could come up with interesting costumes, perhaps he could have interesting ideas too.
Joe Kerr walked towards Sara cautiously, for once taking care not to act or look like the namesake of his chosen costume.
“Dr Bellum, we haven't met. The name's Joe Kerr.”
“I assumed as much. I try to listen to as much gossip as I can, and you are apparently very gossip-worthy. However, based on the stories I was expecting you to be...hmm, I don't know, bouncier? But I digress. What is it that I can help you with?”
“ I was hoping to request your assistance with a certain problem of mine. You wouldn't happen to have some highly modified skycranes lying around would you?”
“Skycranes?” she scoffed. “As handy as they are they are far too unwieldy to keep in storage. I know a few private salvage yards that have them though. Or who knows, with how the Internet has become, perhaps you could find them on that eBay site. Unless, of course, you're looking for more than a new paint job?”
“Not unless it's some new vanishing paint you've invented.”
Joe chuckled slightly before continuing in a more serious manner.
“As you know, Skycranes are useful but they have several drawbacks: Limited range, slow speed, hardly any stealth, limited passenger capacity, to name a few.”
“Very recognizable silhouette, trouble with high altitude flights…”
“I was hoping that with your genius, you could maybe do away with these little shortcomings and make some VILE worthy versions that I could use in some upcoming heists. After all, if the rumours I heard regarding the MAMBA are correct, this should be chicken feed for you.”
“I built the MAMBA from the ground up, all wired and tested and built to do what it was supposed to do. Modifying one of the Skycranes would be much different. But you are right, it would be easy. It would just be more like pig slop than chicken feed. I'll see what I can do. If there is a time requirement I can't promise it will be quick, but I'll scrounge up the parts I need, get in contact with the ones who have some lying around.”
The Jester smiled behind his mask. All the pieces were falling in place; soon the game would begin once again.
Chase Devineaux was in his temporary office at the older parts of the academy. Once reserved for storage, it was now a makeshift operations center while Accolade was under construction. Behind his desk, near the window, was a large package marked 'Berkel' addressed to C. Devineaux from Emilio Mitidieri, San Francisco. It started out as a joke, but it would seem the first piece of decorative furniture to arrive for Devineaux's new office was the 1930s meat slicer.
"Is that the Berkel?" Ivy's voice followed a very brief knock at the door, "Wow, you're taking that seriously."
"Yeah, that escalated fast," Chase agreed, "how's everything?"
"Euge called me," she went directly for the topic's jugular.
"I know, Command said there was contact," He was partially expecting the ACME Commander to report something, "so, update?"
Ivy took a seat in one of Chase's two chairs. She didn't like her first choice, so she took the second. Now satisfied, she leaned as far back as the chair would let her.
"He wants me to stay here until he gets back."
"So he's coming back."
"He didn't sound any different..." Ivy's mind drifted to a different thought.
"Coming back on his own?"
"I don't know," she was in that lethargic pose, one arm over the back of the chair, the other across Chase's metal desk playing with the cap of a pen.
"Ivy," Devineaux called her to refocus, "Am I investing on a search and rescue or are we waiting?"
"What did Rosen say?"
"She doesn't know, still busy with the fallout from Kamchatka -- Olga Glebovi for one. Everybody's on Mandarory Rest Period, I reported Euge on one too. If he gets back before the month mark, he's fine."
"And the ASP?"
"Handled," Chase shrugged, "Next inventory check is after MRP."
"Thanks Chase," Ivy exhaled, "he's coming back."
"Good," Devineaux could relax once the pilot was accounted for.
"Why aren't you on MRP?"
"I am," he replied, hinting to his desk's relatively empty surface, "this is about as good as it gets."
The Stone Harbor Complex had a building that used to act as both a hotel and shopping centre. It housed luxury clothing from Paris and Milan in a petite row of boutiques lining the lobby area. This hotel was named the Salistine Palace, a portmanteau of Salina and Christine; supposedly names the founders' wives.
On the second floor of the Salistine was a grand ballroom with a high, lofty ceiling meant for lavish chandeliers. Carmen stood among the vestiges of bygone eras in a clear area at the room's heart. While construction persisted on other parts of the complex, the palace was hers for the while, and its ample gathering space will act suitably as her gym.
Six sturdy punching bags hung by chains from thick scaffolding. Among them were wooden casks filled with debris resting on once carpeted floor now littered with both sea sand and dirt, accumulated over time.
She first began the exercise by disorienting herself, and then with a handful of sand, cast its grains into the environment. Light taps were barrels while deeper resonances were bags. The nadir of particles preceded a crescendo of strikes against predetermined targets.
Patty was in the Aviary, watching some workmen measure glass to be put up and restored. While walking back, she saw some activity from the windows of the Salistine Palace's second floor. She didn't know they were working up there already, so she went to investigate.
When the college girl lock-picked and squeezed through the ball room's doors all she could see was a cloud of beige and a dark figure at its center moving around. There was a sound like sand being thrown, more dust got kicked up. It looked a little like a dance she saw once on stage, and through all that, Patty coughed.
The cough distracted Carmen and she paused long enough to assess its origin. Walking towards the source, she ushered the girl outside and exited with her; proceeding to remove her dust mask and the blindfold underneath.
"You were doing that blind?" Patty asked wide-eyed.
"What are you doing walking around construction areas without a hardhat and mask?"
"Could you teach me to do that?"
"Throw sand around?" she laughed and shook lingering particles from her braided hair, "be my guest."
"No, fighting blind-folded?"
"It's the same basis," Carmen explained while removing weights from her ankles and padding from her arms, "you train your ears to compensate. When you first start, I suggest using a bo."
"Adrianna was going to teach me the javelin, could I use that?" Patty sat on a work bench and Carmen took a seat with her.
"Did you speak to her much while I was gone?"
"Was I not supposed to?" Patty knew there was something between Carmen and Adrianna, she just wasn't sure what exactly.
"We're nickels to a dime," the thief referred ironically to her relationship with the titled British-Italian.
"Then I talked to her lots," Patts admitted, "She's nice, very vocal though. What's on your mind, is it about her taking the ACME guy and Dr. Roux?"
"Heavily," she confirmed, "I'd send someone after her but I think it's already too late."
"Can you keep a secret?" she turned to Patty, "Sometimes, doing the right thing requires a lot of patience... and sometimes, I feel like patience is all I have."
Patts looked to the dusty ground, "I have to learn some of that, patience."
"And sometimes," Carmen stood and began walking to the exit, waking whirls of dirt, "it's about sea salt and caramel ice cream."
"Are you serious?" the younger thief followed with a smile, "It's freezing outside."
As if that mattered, Carmen gave a reassuring wink and the blond Larceny knew she was totally having ice cream in frigid weather.
While watching the flame-haired figure walk swiftly across the room, Colleen resisted the urge to follow and introduce herself. “Could there be anything more profitless than an eleventh hour acquaintance?” she tittered while stirring her kale shake.
Once back in her room, she studied her latest creation. She gingerly cleaned the multiblock copolymer-coated lenses, reflecting on the painstaking handiwork put into their making. She then placed the parting gift in a box and tied it shut with a red cord. As Colleen set the box in a delivery robot's gripper, she realized she was unexpectedly shaky. She inhaled deeply, reminding herself of the Berkeley Hackathon and that today's maximums have a way of becoming tomorrow's minimums.
After a final check of her bag for the necessities and quick glance at her transit schedule, it was unquestionably time to leave. Colleen looked straight ahead while walking out the doors, wanting to avoid any potential rose-tinting. There was only one more errand before going off into the recesses.
San Francisco's Workshop Café was calm in the evening, with legato keyboard clicks and intermittent buzzing from the La Marzocco machines replacing the usual chatter of other cafes. The only distractions in the austere new place were the rich scents of brewed coffee, chocolate, and caramel filling the air. The paired-hacking session started in half an hour. Colleen, much more relaxed now, went over all of the bullet points of her hacking companion's bio. As it turns out, the 17-year-old Firoz Khan was already fairly accomplished with an impressive “My First Blackhat” profile in 2600: The Hacker Quarterly and several pieces inPhrack Magazine. His specialty was database attack vectors.
As the young prodigy joined her at their worktable, she recalled the need for perceived passivity. “Less is more.” she thought as her mind flashed back to a professor showing her an image of the Kanizsa Triangle illusion to demonstrate the mind's natural inclination to fill gaps. She took out a sheet of paper with the details of his ‘challenge'.
“I tried to find a fun one for you. This may actually be too tough, though.” she said. “But, I can always dig up something from my freshman year…” she offered blithely. Firoz looked stung, to Colleen's relief. He grabbed the page of complicated sequences, giving them a cursory glance.
“No, tough is good. This is approved, right?” he asked.
“Of course.” she lied smoothly. “In fact, just use my laptop. Also, no VPN's. Leave it traceable.”
Recap time! This post will be updated as more character stories are finished in journals. Please message an admin to edit or add key character points for your character only.
The story thus far:
Carmen and VILE
At the beginning of Cadence we see that Carmen and Flag are in a monastery at the boarder of Germany and Austria. Their conversation reveals that Flag had remained loyal to Carmen throughout his actions.
This allows most of VILE to gather at their new base, the abandoned theater to debrief, including notable appearances from Ken U Belevitt, Patty Larceny, Anja Larsdotter, Sarah Bellum, Kid Kidman, Joe Kerr and Vic the Slick. During this time Flag met up with the rest of VILE and was asked to test Kidman's worth to VILE. Sara Bellum unrevealed the Mamba, a moving amphibious VILE base, which seems to have drawn much attention from Joe Kerr.
Meanwhile at ACME...
Most of ACME is on their Mandatory Rest Period. Chase handles the press about ACME's involvement in Torun Zamok, but misses a promised dinner with Macy Gartner. New agent Colleen Slate found a hacker and has started a 'challenge' for him. Sophie Conrad recovers from her injuries and travels to Maine. Zack returns to ACME for a short time. Ivy gets a useful gift from Colleen, but before she can use it a phone call from Eugene stops her search. Nevon enjoys MRP in St. Louis. Mayhem returns from Boston. Gunnar and Gudrun anticipate their wedding and speak of moving to Russian Hill. Nace Bilby and Molly O'Sullivan meet and have their first date. Lee Jordan boards a plane to Italy looking for Achille Mondadori.
And Eugene, Contessa, Roux
After flying to India the trio ended up in Tanzania where it was revealed that Contessa's uncle is still alive but had become a recluse and shut in. Using Eugene's ASP to reach him and Dr. Roux's mysterious vat to lure him out. In an unexpected move, Adrianna reveals she never planned on extending her uncle's life and ends it while he is in the vat, destroying much of Roux's work in the process.
Three Months Later...
Start your next post briefly explaining what you've done in the 3 month time gap and go on your way or simply just start at the 3 month later mark. It is now the end of May 2013 for your character.
Flag and Joe Kerr, with hints of Kidman and Jack B Nimble thrown in.
3 Months Later -
The sunlight streamed brightly over violently churning streams of a set of waterfalls made famous in literature thanks to a certain fictional detective. Minutes away from the waterfalls was a statue of said fictional detective posed upon some rocks.
In front of the statue stood a short Jester and a much taller silver-haired man. Both men, along with their feline companion, looked rather out of place in the peaceful Swiss mountains; in fact, those who saw these strangers had immediately taken them as omens of a tragedy soon to occur.
“The great Sherlock Holmes, a detective of the finest caliber and a man without peer in his day...probably because he didn't exist. Hyuck, hyuck.”
While the Sivoan had temporarily donned a mask to match, his visage was nowhere near as jovial as that of his accomplice. Outside of the gold clasps that held shut the traditional robes of his old office, he was a chilling mixture of silver and black from head to foot.
Instead of answering the quip, he studied the statue and made many complex calculations in his head regarding it; a task that he felt would have been easier without the piece from Joe's collection covering the top part of his face, but he knew that they needed to be as showy as possible right now.
This need was possibly what had caused Joe to suggest using the "C5 trick" that Flag used in Kamchatka. Instead of trying to correct the man, the sorcerer merely said that it was faulty and he would likely need medical treatment afterwards.
But it was a brilliant means of instantly attracting the attention that they wanted. After the incident in San Francisco, the entire world was on lookout for occurrences of ACME's stolen technology.
They decided that a short-range rendezvous was the best way to go. Flag would take the statue to a small crew some miles away. There he would receive whatever medical attention he could from Kidman - who apparently had ACME training in being a field doctor.
From there they would split ways. Joe and a man Flag had never met would take the statue to a secret location, while he and "Ghost" laid low for as long as they needed for him to recover. They would all meet up again later, when the time was right.
"We can only hope that our pursuers are half as competent as his legend claims he was."
He pulled a small decorative incense box from his pocket and handed it to Joe. "Are you ready?"
The Jester pulled out a small white card and laid it beside the Israeli incense box. On the card was printed the following riddle:
"E=MC=one away from a walk"
On the back of the card, drawn in invisible ink, was a ball.
“Ready. Let's get this show on the road.”
Red and white electricity sparked as Flag moved towards the statue. It crept along the ground and launched itself at random objects until it ran out of things to explore. Then it collapsed in upon the alien as he placed his hands upon his target; signaling to the crowd with a freak clap of thunder that their monument was gone.
As predicted, the ‘magic trick' and the disappearance of the iconic statue had drawn the attention and ire of the surrounding audience. With the crowd focused on getting some answers from the clown, no one noticed the shadow in the sky that was slowly approaching them.
Joe waited patiently as the angry mob closed in around him; then without warning, the Jester released the shot of smokescreen from his jester's staff and enveloped the area in a black fog.
The modified VILE Helicopter overhead took that as its cue to descend and lower the rope ladder. As it did so, the winds whipped up by its blades cleared the smoke screen, revealing the Jester now on the rope ladder and Carmine on his shoulder.
The modified blades whirled swiftly and silently, allowing the Jester to deliver some instructions in what little mangled German he could muster.
“Call ACME. Make sure they get those” Joe paused to point towards the incense box and the printed card lying where the statue had once been. “And tell Chase Devineaux, the game's afoot….again!”
With that, the VILE Helicopter flew away, Jester and cat in tow, leaving behind a both enraged and befuddled town of Meiringen.
Act 1, Scene 2
A heart beat and several miles away from Reichenbach falls, there was a second crash of sound as a platform awaiting a stolen monument received it's load. This was the cue for a small number of grunts to spring into action; some attending to the statue, others the sorcerer that delivered it.
Flag had felt fine at first, but was rapidly made aware of an intense pain exploding out from behind his borrowed mask. Ripping the antique from his face he discovered that he was bleeding profusely from his sinuses.
A ways away a small, grey-haired girl made careful note of the nature of the man's entrance. The scent of cinder, the scarlet light, and the bristling static that had brushed against her heightened senses confirmed her earlier suspicions.
“What happened?” She asked as she opened one of her medical bags. “Quick, pinch the bridge of your nose while I get some towels.”
Flag did as he was told without argument and received the towels readily. After a short while the bleeding slowed enough for him to receive a proper check up.
The sclera around one of his sunset irises was blood red, making him look even more frightful than before. While the problem itself was harmless, what caused it had her concerned. For a moment her hands hovered in indecision, then put them down. The bleeding has stopped, and for now that was enough.
“You seem to have popped some blood vessels in your eye, but you should be fine.” Kidman stated, the paused before adding; “I see your gifts have a downside as well.” with a touch more empathy than she intended.
The Sivoan nodded and watched as the crew finished preparing the statue for its trip. "You were informed such during briefing."
“Ah yes, your ‘'defective transporter'…” Kidman replied as she threw the bloodied towels in a plastic bag. While it was somewhat comforting to know the great sorcerer had limitations himself, it wasn't by much. “It doesn't worry you that openly mimicking something that is now seen as a weapon of mass destruction could get us targeted in a really bad way?”
"That was kind of the point."
With the confirmation that he was physically fine, he stood up and unbuttoned the coat he wore over top of a black t-shirt and pair of blue jeans. "Although ACME will know that this is neither their technology, or that of the Russians, they will send their elites to investigate. I need to see who they send."
Kidman pinched the bridge of her nose. Sometimes it felt like VILE was trying to get itself massacred. “The usual, no doubt. Chase, Ivy, those other guys in Kamchatka. If you had been with us during the raid, you could have hung out with them. Why does it matter?”
Flag laughed at the irony in her statement. "I was there, just on the wrong end of the situation. As for why..." he thought out his answer as he folded up his coat and began searching the area for his duffle bag, "Aside from the director, I don't know who is who and I need to see if a certain someone is among them."
Something about his voice stilled and Kidman scuffed her foot on the pavement with indecision.
“And then what?” she asked at last.
The Sivoan watched her intently as he decided on how much information he wanted to divulge. "I guess it would depend on if they show up. If not, then we'll just keep helping Joe."
Once again Kidman at a loss for words, and for a moment she keenly wished she was back at the theatre. “Is Carmen in on this?”
Flag gestured toward the sky crane even though he was referring to the heist in general. "Isn't that obvious?"
“Right….” She wanted to press further, but somehow it didn't seem safe. It should've felt safe, though. He was Carmen's chosen, after all. “You healed her too, yes? I saw her get shot, but she had no mark of it. You can tell me. I'm...curious about your method.”
He shrugged as he found the bag with his possessions near a tree. "I didn't heal her. I just screwed up this same dumb trick and she got really lucky."
He sat down and fished a brush out of his bag and began working on separating out a top layer of hair that he would be able to clip his ears back underneath; allowing him to blend into society a little more readily than he would otherwise.
Kidman watched the silver strands of his hair slide over each other as he moved, only dimly aware of just how captivated she was by it.
She ran her fingers through her own dull grey locks, now back to its original length about her ears. Several hairs broke off and she tossed them away.
“You aren't afraid of people figuring out that it's majick?”
"It's not at the top of my worry list. No." He finished with his hair and shoved the brush back into his bag. "Are you ready? We should be away from here before that thing takes off."
Meanwhile in Sweden, sometime before the Svensson wedding...
Dan wished he had studied the Swedish language more before he arrived for Gunnar's wedding, but language barriers weren't going to stop him from creating an awesome bachelor party for one of his best friends. Even if they had only one night to plan it out. Nevon had found the place on his phone and Dan eventually negotiated with the club's organizers. ‘He loves Sweden.' Ainsworth said, ‘Do something really really Swedish… and… and he hates Russia.'
A series of ‘Ja. Ja. We get it' came back with a sincere smile and Dan figured they were set and ready to go.
On the night of the party he and Nevon waited outside Gunnar's apartment with Nevon. When they saw him coming out Nevon distracted him with a friendly greeting while Dan threw a black bag over his head from behind. They ushered the Swede quickly into a waiting cab as he swore at them. Daniel sent a quick text message to Eugene, “The Dala Horse is galloping to the stables.”
As a junior member of the exclusive ACME Bunker Boys Fraternity, Eugene had been relegated to the minor role of keeping his frat brother's portion of the bar reserved. It was a difficult job, and the free flow of beer was sorely tempting. Bar snacks could only keep a man satisfied for so long…
The sound of the bunker's distinctive ringtone shook him from his second plate of hot wings, and Euge noted the message with some slight satisfaction, even as he silently questioned the need for code phrases. The question of getting Gunnar to the bar had come up before, and it was with trepidation Euge gave in to Dan's insistence to ‘let him worry about Gunnar.' That worry was soon overshadowed, and Euge's eyes widened as he looked to the stage. His fingers crept towards his communicator as he considered raising the alarm, then stopped. A malicious grin slid across Euge's face as he tore into another wing. The rest of the Bunker Boys would have to see for themselves.
Gunnar kicked and muttered from under his bag some very verbose opinions of Daniel, Nevon, and Russians in his three favored languages.
“Welcome to your Bachelor Party!” Dan yelled as he sat Gunnar down and pulled off the hood. The lights had just been dimmed and entertainment was about to start.
“My… what?” he yelled, “I had not even wanted a bachelor party!” The most Swedish of the Bunker Boys then looked around, his eyes rather adjusted to darkness by now and able to recognize some of the details of the room. “This is a bar crawl?”
“What kind of best buds would we be if we just let you get married without a stag night, yo?” Dan grabbed a beer which would be his planned first of many on this joyous evening. He saluted Mr. G as they took the seats closest to the stage and then started to dig into the chicken wings.
As the lights dimmed he heard a few Swedish words spoken but couldn't understand anything, except when they said Gunnar's name and then ‘Sverige' and ‘Ryssland' in long wrestler-announcery tones. Gunnar buried his face in his hands and groaned a very loud groan.
When the spotlights came on, Dan couldn't quite believe his eyes. In one corner was a short blonde woman wearing the Swedish flag as a bikini, her opponent in the opposite corner was a pale, dark haired woman in a faux fur ushanka and boots donning a similar Russian flag outfit.
“This… can't get any better,” Dan stuttered at the absurdity.
“Ta ut sirapen!” Yelled the announcer. The crowd cheered as some bouncers pulled away a floor tarp, unveiling a syrup pit.
“I take that back.”
The girls jumped at one another in the pit. Even from his seat Dan could see that it wasn't actually syrup but some sort of slick oil. Apparently the women weren't told this either because the Russian lunged forward and slipped nearly immediately, falling off the stage and onto Gunnar's lap. He yelled and reflexively shoved her off of him and clambered over the back of his chair, tipping it over and tumbling to the floor.
A rather large and angry looking man stood up, yelling at Gunnar and rushing at them. Eyes wide in panic, the Swedish boy scrambled across the floor and tried to find the escape hatch.
It was clear the big man was the Russian girl's boyfriend and he sure wasn't happy. Dan stood up to try reason with him. “Woah guy, slow dow-” He hadn't finished his sentence before the man took a swing and Dan ducked just in time. Looking up he caught a sight of Mr. G who seemed ready to help break up the fight. Gunnar had managed to disappear behind the bar counter, hopefully not with a gun in hand.
As the fight quickly escalated and the large man took another swing at Dan, Euge quickly jumped in, attempting to catch their assailant in a choke hold. The other guy reacted quickly, and ducked out of it before turning to face Euge. Several blows were exchanged before the two went to the ground. Somewhere in the midst of the brawl, Euge had found a broken chair leg and was hitting him repeatedly with it, oblivious to the Swedish cops storming the bar.
While Eugene made sure the big dude didn't turn them into bunker-boy-slush, several of the club's patrons were circled around the fight either yelling for it to stop or cheering them on. Daniel was too busy holding back the clawing angry Russian girl when he heard someone yell out to him in Swedish.
“Mr. G, we gotta bou--” Dan didn't finish his sentence before he felt a thousand metal hooks over his skin. As the electric sting of a taser ran through him, he let out a yelp that sounded something like an angry groundhog. The next thing he remembered was the Swedish police taking them outside in cuffs to sit on the curb along with everyone else who participated in the bar fight.
The Polisen sat him down between a clearly unhappy Gunnar and an aggravated Mr. G. For a few moments the cops spoke to one another while going through their ACME IDs. “Dude, do you know what they're saying?”
Gunnar turned to look at Dan with an of-course-I-know glare. Then a phone was handed to him by a short officer. “One phone call,” he said in a Swedish accent. Gunnar groaned, afraid of what might happen should Gudrun find out. This was not a good way to precede a marriage.
Dan shrugged. He was already with his emergency Swedish contact. “Do… we call Gudrun?”
Euge sat sullen on the curb, holding an ice pack to a swollen eye and fuming at the quick end to the bachelor party. Dan's second emergency contact idea had merit, but it could cost Gunnar a happy wedding the next day. With a heavy sigh, Euge resolved to jump on the grenade. “No. Call Ivy instead.”
The bridal suite was full of boxes, flowers, and all manner of small trinkets strewn about in a form of organized chaos for tomorrow's ceremony. But Gudrun Nygård wasn't a fussy woman, and had dismissed her bridesmaids and friends for the evening. All except for Ivy Monaghan, who was a long way from home and jet lagged enough to be wide awake.
“So the silver coin goes in your left shoe and the gold one in your right?” Ivy held up the tiny white satin heels, tucking the kroner into their respective folds.
“Ja. It is so we will never be poor. That is very important.”
Ivy laughed. Even though he never outright said it, she knew Gunnar had been angling for a raise. “You two are really meant for each other.”
Turning to Gudrun, Monaghan suddenly spied sparkling tears in the girl's blue eyes. “What's wrong?”
“I do not know if we are meant for each other,” Gudrun put her thoughts into words, “Ivy, if a husband always wants to hides things from his wife, does that make a good or bad marriage?” She sniffled and spoke with her voice one pitch higher. “What if he does something stupid like doesn't even sign the marriage documents because he thinks it protects me?”
Ivy tired to be as calming as she could, “These are just pre-wedding jitters...”
Gudrun shot a glance at Ivy, “Would you marry Gunnar Svensson?”
“Well…” Ivy wasn't sure how to respond.
“He sees me as a thing and not a person,” Gudrun shrugged with tears in her eyes, “and I am a person too, I belong to myself, he can't make decisions for me and think I would be happy. So childish.” While she loved Gunnar, she couldn't picture herself married to him by tomorrow, at least not at this moment. Picking up her backpack with trembling hands, she began to put things away. “Ja, I should leave.”
“Gudrun, no.” Ivy held onto to the other end of the blonde's backpack to slow her down, “of course he made a mistake not asking you about Torun Zamok… and maybe he has a lifetime of secrets he'll never share with you in fear that you'll be drawn into a world he doesn't want you involved in…”
Gudrun tilted her head, “Vad?”
Ivy paused, “Um, nevermind....” Sitting next to Gudrun she continued, “Isn't it possible he does all these crazy things because he wants you to be safe? You're that important to him.”
Looking inside her pack Gudrun smiled sweetly. The only things she had thought to take looked back at her. It was the small book Gunnar had purchased from her shop before they had become friends, some photos she had taken of him at track, and of course her engagement ring in a box to be soon matched with her wedding band.
“OK, you are right, Ivy.” Gudrun placed the items back on the night table carefully, “He is silly, but I will always love him. We work this out.”
Ivy breathed a sigh of relief. Crisis of the night averted. She decided it was time to let Gudrun rest for the, then her ears picked up the riff of an Aerosmith ringtone from her communicator. Knowing Eugene left for a bachelor party only an hour ago she answered with a smile, “Did you miss me already?”
Gudrun walked over just in time to hear Ivy whisper a harsh English word she did not recognize, so she asked, “Everything OK, ja?”
“Ya,” Ivy answered too fast, “I mean yes, we're all good. I… need to go pick up somebody... at the airport…”
The blond Swedish girl rolled her eyes slightly, “Is it Gunnar?”
“Promise-promise me, Gudrun, that you won't hold this against him.”
“Ja-ja,” Gudrun smiled agreeably, “better today than tomorrow.”
Barely light, the morning air was refreshing as her feet found cadence against the sawdust path. Through the trees, the clear dark-grey waters of the Klarälven was glimpsed and Doctor Sophie Conrad rapidly left behind the angular white hotel building she had exited from and followed a tributary of the river north. It was just as she paused to cross a road that her bright, blue eyes spotted a familiar figure, bent over loosened shoe laces.
With a smile, she strolled to flank the brown-haired man. "God Morgon, Gunnar Svensson," she laughed softly, "what a coincidence."
The Swede blushed as his attention was captured by the familiar woman. She always managed to appear at the strangest moments, he mused. He had been tying his shoes in front of the Nygård apartment for the greater part of the last ten minutes, hoping to catch a glimpse of his fiancée and talk to her. He was apprehensive of what her mood might be if she had found out about the details of last night's debacle, and he wished to assuage her--possibly by blaming the true instigators of such a boisterous event.
“God morgon, Doctor Conrad,” he returned, finally and speedily tightening the knots on his shoes. He arose from his crouching position and eased towards his friend. “Glad that you have come to Sweden. I hope it is enjoyed?”
The city of Karlstad was small and the doctor surmised that it was likely no coincidence that she had met the younger agent where he had been found: the street name she recognised as part of the residential address of Gudrun Nygård.
"It has been lovely," Sophie replied amiably, having not yet heard of the recent events the gentlemen of ACME had been a part of, "thank you for the invitation." She had always found Scandinavia particularly beautiful and its people invariably warm. "We plan to go out to Lake Vänern in the afternoon. Shane has wasted no time in commandeering a boat. Perhaps we will find some dragons - but I will convince him that we should not chase them so that we may be at your wedding intact tomorrow." Both her eyes and voice danced as she referred to the old English poem of Beowulf and the intrepid sense of adventure in the man who would accompany her to the imminent festivities.
The boy laughed and shook his head in amusement, quite familiar with the story of the Viking warrior.
Sophie had introduced Gunnar to Shane Huntington, her long-time best friend and partner, over one of their dinners during the Mandatory Rest Period earlier in the year. Like he had done for her before, Gunnar had been ever-ready to lead a good dash around the hills of San Francisco and the men had become acquainted over their run times, down to the last millisecond.
"How are you faring, dear Gunnar?" Sophie addressed the agent in a more serious tone, putting a hand on his arm.
He had always been uneasy around women, but over the course of their friendship that had been kindled at ACME, Gunnar had come to welcome the Swiss doctor's company. Her mature and gentle guidance had helped him throughout his completion of his education with the Academy. “It is a great morning, very promising for Midsommer,” he answered, referring to the Scandinavian holiday. “And it is good to be home for pancakes.”
"Speaking of which," Sophie pointed out with a smile, "I've yet to have any here..."
The young man chuckled. "I have forgotten to invite you to breakfast. You should join with us in the next hour. My sister cooks the best pancakes in Värmland.
“Sometimes is it an advantage to have all the family together,” he added with a mischievous smile.
The doctor clasped her hands together in grateful anticipation, but her reply was measured. "I will ask Shane, but it certainly sounds a better proposition than a hotel breakfast. I'm sure he will concur. Now,” she stretched, “are you only beginning your run or have you finished? I would like to do a circuit around the city before the indulgence."
He bit his tongue a moment, embarrassed to divulge the true nature of his stalling on the street corner. "I have only started. And just gathered a long break, so I am fresh to run if you are ready also."
"Let's go then," Sophie nodded to direct them across the road, "and we shall talk about things other than the weather, too..."
The two friends ran in companionable silence for awhile until they passed the bright red building that was the Värmlands Museum. Gunnar pointed out the structure to Sophie. There, they veered west, then south, and the latter spoke again.
"You must be feeling much," she acknowledged the anxiety etched on the brow of the man beside her. “You've waited so many years for this..."
Gunnar grabbed an extra deep breath from the mellow air, always hesitant to express his true emotions. "I've been waiting so long... But I am afraid it is maybe not something she would want after we are married. I trust I have done many things which might upset her."
"Do not do Gudrun the discredit of minimising her decision,” the reply from his companion was keen. “As surely as you have decided to spend the rest of your life with her when you proposed, I am certain she has decided to spend the rest of her life with you when she accepted.”
There was a pause as Sophie cast a glance at the GPS-enabled map on the device strapped to her arm. “We all come with our own pasts that we must learn to accept. When we choose to attach ourselves with another, we must learn to accept their pasts, too,” she continued gently. “Gudrun is a very good and very sensible woman. She will know this."
"That is what I don't understand,” the Swedish runner explained, “You know... I am a foolish boy. Why would she like me?"
"Oh!” there was a laughing exclamation in response, “if only it could be counted - the many relationships that have been tested by such a simple question." She slowed her steps and caught Gunnar with a look, "Sometimes, there is no why in love, there is only who."
He unconsciously slowed his kick as he pondered her advice, raking a hand through his hair. "She is the right girl, you think? I would not believe there is one better."
Sophie smiled to herself. "Surely what I think does not matter if you do not believe you'll ever find better," her reply was gracious. "Have faith in yourself, dear Gunnar,” her words gained the determination and firmness she hoped to pass to her friend, “and have faith in Gudrun."
He simpered with a hint of sorrow. "I never had the first. But I have the other."
Spring-heeled Jack paced back and forth impatiently at the rendezvous site, as best he could. The fine-motion pistons in his leg supports were not perfected yet, meaning that his “walk” resembled more of a prowl. That suited him just fine for the moment, though, since he felt it added to his mystique. Glancing once more at his new compatriot, his eyes narrowed slightly behind his goggles.
“I still think that if Carmen wanted this to be my big test, she should have been here. I mean, it's all well and good that she trusts your judgement, and I appreciate your support on the decision to bring me in, but how will she know just how good I am if she doesn't see me in the field?”
Joe smiled behind his mask.
“Believe me, she'll know.”
The Jester stepped back from examining the statue and turned to face the newest addition to VILE's eclectic family.
“When it comes to Carmen, you'll soon realize that she's always in the know. It's why she's the undisputed leader - Scientia Est Potentia”
Satisfied that the Baker Street Detective was securely fastened to the skycrane, Joe started to head inside.
“Let's get moving. We've got a lot of things to do. Besides...”
Joe paused to gesture to Carmine
“...she hates getting her feet wet in the snow.”
“Right. Don't understand why you felt the need to bring the cat with us, anyway. We can control the kind of evidence we leave. Cats don't understand that.”
Joe stifled a laugh as Carmine let out a low hiss before running ahead into the skycrane.
“So anyway, this being the first caper and all, my job is to get the knickknack, but how much creative freedom do I get in regards to how I nick the knickknack? I'll follow your instructions this one time, since I'm new, but I do have a few flourishes in mind, if I'm permitted them.”
Signalling to his companion, Joe hastened to follow the feline's lead. Once they were seated comfortably in the skycrane and ready to take off, the Jester addressed his companion's concerns.
“Stick around VILE long enough and you'll learn that we all have our own unique flourishes; the game would grow quite stale otherwise. Basically, you can steal what you want, how you want, as long as we have the means for it. The only thing you have to keep in mind is the rules of the game. Carmen is a stickler for those rules, as are most of us.”
Jack stopped what he was doing and listened attentively.
“The rules of the game are pretty straightforward: Do not damage the integrity of whatever you steal, do as little damage as possible while stealing, and above all do no harm to anyone, ACME or otherwise. Basically, just follow the Hippocratic Oath. Hyuck Hyuck.”
Jack laughed. “As long as I'm allowed the provisos that I can terrify them and maybe shove them if they get in my way, I can accept those conditions.” He was about to turn back when the jester spoke again.
“Oh yeah, one last thing. It's an unwritten rule at VILE and I don't know if anyone told you, but we always return what we steal sooner or later. It might seem weird to you at first, but it's how we operate.”
“Works for me. What use have I for what is, in essence, old kitchenware or one-of-a-kind housing decorations? All I want to collect is time challenging myself, the loot be hanged.”
Joe laughed heartily as the skycrane began its vertical ascent.
“I think you'll fit in just fine”
Sydney Opera House 20:32 hrs local time
Designed to elevate the mind from mundane routines, the Sydney Opera House featured a wide curving staircase that, as the architect put it, the common man 'must transcend before reaching divine music above.' In a black tuxedo, a visitor now at the top of these steps looked at his watch, refused a flute of champagne, and entered the concert hall.
His timing was razor sharp. Lights dimmed as soon as the usher left Chase Devineaux at his seat. On stage was an orchestra, a composer, and Russian Violinist Alena Baesa. First prize winner of the 3rd Sendai International Music Competition in 2007, Alena was an acclaimed artist, prodigy, and former ACME agent. Her biological father was also a prolific information broker.
Devineaux watched a former trainee with enough silent pride as she commanded the violin, and the audience. After her performance, Chase left his seat and moved towards the back stage area when his phone buzzed.
"You are in Sydney?" Baesa's voice, like her violin, was virtually frictionless, "I thought that was you I saw."
"I'm here," he confirmed.
Alena appeared and pulled him to the back. Short in height with strikingly dark hair and deep brown eyes, she was fast on her heels. Leading him through carpeted hallways, they arrived at the greenroom where she handed him a thin briefcase.
"I don't like talking to him," she revealed discontent at Chase's request to connect with her biological father Sergey Klimov, "Why you want framework from Kamchatka and a 19th century Italian cookbook?"
Devineaux shook his head once, reminding her she was no longer an agent. "Don't ask questions you'll regret," he opened the case and looked at its contents, then shut it tight. "Papa Sergey still in Odessa?"
"Like a fly to death," she shrugged with a half smile.
"When are you heading back to Moscow?"
"Soon," Alena hinted to her pristine violin, "this Antonio Stradivari is on loan from the State Collection of Russia, they will want it back."
"Stop by Sweden with me?"
"Ai da," she said with prolonged vowels, "If Sweden is work and you use me and the Stradivari as cover, curses on you."
He smiled and she deftly returned it.
"Excellent," Chase verbally solidified, "Meet me at the airport Tuesday 600 hours."
((Introduced NPC: Sergey Klimov -- Information Broker, Odessa, Ukraine. To be used sparingly for Kamchatka chapter. Alena Baesa is non-recurring.))
Danny was suited up waiting for the Svensson wedding to start. He was feeling a little woozy from being tasered, but since the night ended before too much alcohol was consumed he was happily not hung over.
Killing time by flicking through international news feeds he scanned a few quick stories: ACME planning to reclaim land for a new airfield and even Ex-mercenaries from Torun Zamok being caught after escaping over to Japan. Not wanting to think too much about work he went into weird world news and read about the Sea Serpent sighting in the small town of Stone Harbour.
"Heh." Dan showed the blurry picture to his fellow ACME comrades, "That looks so fake. Who believes this kinda news anyway?"
Meanwhile at ACME San Francisco...
Justice Matthews rushed down ACME's Alameda Airfield, ducking past new flight 101 students as they emerged groggily from the simulator pods. She hadn't been on a big case in months, but with most of the core team on mandatory rest period the Cowgirl jumped at her chance to go toe to toe against V.I.L.E. again.
Earlier in the day, Crime Net's clue sleuths deciphered a set of words left in Switzerland: "E=MC=one away from a walk" coupled with Israeli incense. Without a functioning C-5 however, she hoped travel delays wouldn't stop them from an arrest.
As Justice found the plane leaving for Haifa, she looked around for her teammates. Chief Weller was unclear about who else would be going with her, but in true-ACME fashion she was sure they'd figure it out on the fly.
"Going to Israel?" She noticed the man with unusually large red sunglasses and tipped her hat. "Looks like we're pardners.
Evgeni Gavriilovich had applied his signature red shades per usual. He was decently confident that they gave him a decently confident appearance, for he wanted to appear decently confident in order to impress everyone in his first tour of action as an ACME agent. When the pretty American girl acknowledged him, he was confident that they had decently produced the desired effect.
“I'm go to Israel. Yes,” the Russian confirmed, smiling boyishly. He tipped an imaginary cap back at her, then self-consciously brushed at his thick red-brown hair. He hoped she thought his sunglasses were really cool so that she might be distracted from his awkward gesture.
After an uncomfortable moment, he decided on the best way to introduce himself to the cowgirl. “I'm Evgeni Gavriilovich, from Russia with love.”
[Posting as NPC: Paco Márquez while Dan is on MRP]
Paco Márquez popped a stick of gum into his mouth as he ticked off the last item on the plane's safety check. As a recent graduate under Chief Pilot Eugene Grovington, he was here to help taxi rookies and sleuths from one point to anther across the word. It was a job he took great pride in. In fact, Paco was very much an ACME fanboy in every way. He had dreamed of becoming part of the program since his days growing up in Manila. After being accepted at the Asia HQ, Paco moved up the ranks until he was given the chance to be where every fanboy aspired to train, ACME Headquarters in San Fransisco.
Readjusting his Chase Devineaux trading card, which was blu-tacked to the dashboard he waved to the team of detectives who were boarding the flight to Haifa. There was a pretty cowgirl and an emo-looking young man with red sunglasses.
"We leave in ten minutes," Paco tapped his watch, "Make sure you have your seat belts on. I fly fast enough so you can catch V.I.L.E. without a C5."
[Journal Entry] Flag/Kidman
In what seemed ages hence, two anomalies crossed each other upon a tarmac. They took each other in, sized each other up, then continued on their way under the eve of a solar eclipse. A year passed, damaging the more tender of the two while second grew further estranged. In spring they met again and remained together, bound by the conditions of their necessary refuge.
It hadn’t started well.
Kidman sat a few chairs away from her partner, idly drawing figures in a sketchbook as they waited for their plane to refuel. Flag spent so much time with his journal that the girl had come to want her own, but while he used his for study, she used hers for meditation. She found her thoughts easier to catch once visualized and imprisoned on paper, and today’s resulted in yet another picture of Flag.
She glanced at him and he ignored her as per usual, but that didn’t bother her as much as it had.
She'd lived with Flag for a few months now, and every day she found herself regretting her behaviour upon their reunion even more. The reasoning for this were not clear to her at first. The man was distant, moody, dismissive, and at the corners of her mind, frightening.
Yet daily exposure had brought out further subtleties. He was indifferent, but mindful. He was moody, but patient. He was dismissive, but intelligent enough to justify it, and while he still frightened her, Carmen had spoken for him. She grew to respect him and developed the Rules of Flag to rightly do so, which she wrote down as she decided upon them;
Keep talking to a minimum.
Answer questions as directly as possible.
Attend to details before they are noticed
Maintain as much emotional neutrality as possible.
Do not bother Flag when he’s concentrating.
Flag likes meat products
Not asking Flag her hundreds of questions was by far the hardest rule to stick to, so she listed them in her book as well, whittling them down to the most important and then waiting for just the right time to drop one. Following most of them were fairly difficult for her first, but the drive to prove herself to the sorcerer resulted in discipline and independence.
Kidman watched her senior, did as he did, and did what he bade her to do, absorbing the methods of human interaction as he had learnt them years before. After months in service Kidman could navigate mass transportation and manage most errands on her own. Eventually she took to testing her skills in whatever town they were currently in. More often than not she succeeded, but in the rare event she got in over her head, she could call on Flag to bluntly put her back on track.
Despite being a singularity in a strange world, he had effortless confidence and focus. He was strong, he was worldly, he was what she wanted to be, minus the gruffness.
And then, something else...
The girl drew Flag’s face carefully, trying to capture what she sensed. There was a droning static beneath it, a weight, a fire. She had shared a room with him for nearly ninety nights and saw the effects of his nightmares, but there was nothing she could do. The Rules of Flag forced her into silence, and so they kept on, two anomalies under a new eve.
Chase, Kidman, and Flag
Flag watched out the window of their room in the Victoria Hotel as a his accomplice made her way across the street to the moderately policed Sherlock Holmes museum. There she had instructions to cautiously poke around like the teenage tourist she portrayed. Although his staying in was required, he found that he wasn't fond of handling his tasks remotely through someone else.
With the aid of a pair of binoculars, he was able to see his accomplice get stopped by the police and then redirected around the crime scene. From there she made her way towards the entrance of the museum and disappeared from site. If all went as expected, then she would contact him via phone after completing a tour of the limited exhibit space.
Kidman didn't like being on her own for this sort of thing, but this was her chance to prove to her reluctant mentor that she was worth his, and ultimately Carmen's time. She had practiced her disguise a few times already, but no matter what she did, she still felt far too obvious.
No matter. Only one agent really knew her face and he wouldn't be here. This was field work, not something the Director of Operations would be involved in. To anyone else she was just a blond preteen in the typical preteen style, Bieber t-shirt and all.
The tour of the one-room museum was over almost as fast as it began and she was left alone to peruse the displays while the curator returned to her desk by the door. Out of boredom, Kidman pulled out her pink phone to play a game and swore when a helicopter passed overhead.
The 85 kilometer helicopter ride from Bern to Meiringen, Switzerland was only about half an hour -- almost nothing given the time line of previous events. The weather was cool, pleasant in early June. He let the guiding officer, Otto Henne of the Swiss INTERPOL Bureau, take him around the crime scene. As they entered the museum, Devineaux let himself wonder why he felt he needed to be here when the information on the clues had been forwarded to San Francisco and there were more than enough agents were on hand.
However perplexing the notion was, it was brief, and he spotted a familiar figure. A confused teenager was texting among the tourists, snapping images of investigating detectives. Although Kidman was in disguise, he quickly recognized the awkward way that she carried herself from the not-quite-concluded Kamchatka episode. It wasn't obvious, but to Chase, it was telling.
"Otto, aller à l'est," he immediately instructed the federal police to 'go east' while keeping his eyes on the target, "Block off the garden exit, I have a possible suspect -- blond, pink phone."
She adjusted her phone's camera to capture the detectives at the scene as much as she dared without it looking too obvious.
"Do you see who you're looking for?" she whispered over her headset, reluctant to get any closer.
Flag flipped through the photos as they arrived on his phone and after a moment he dropped the thing in disgust. Naturally, the one ACME agent that he didn't want to show up would be the only one to appear.
"Abort mission. We've only got the director and while he'd work, he'd cause problems."
The Sivoan was about to hang up, when he noticed the expression being worn by the shoots main focus.
"Better run. He recognized you."
Otto's uniform must have alerted her and the target receded behind cover. The helicopter overhead closed in as an effort to help, but only succeed in distracting her pursuers.
"Nous avons perdu le suspect de vue," the helicopter reported its inability to find the suspect.
No, of course, Devineaux thought as he signaled Otto Henne to call off the chopper.
"We can still try track her in the area," Otto voiced in English after the helicopter pulled away, "Why were we chasing a teen?"
"I'll need to see video surveillance," he ignored the question, "everything you have in this area hours before and after the theft."
"That is all back in Bern," Henne pointed north-northwest in the direction of his headquarters.
"Then take me back to Bern," Chase walked back in the direction of the helicopter. Otto Henne followed suit. Within the next few hours, ACME's Director would be reviewing the 'magic trick' V.I.L.E. agent Joe Kerr and his cohorts had performed.
Constance Kitlyn moved at a quick walk towards the airplane that sat in the hangar. She wore a casual pair of dark colored jeans with an ice blue, form fitting hoodie which came to the middle of her thighs. Her golden hair was tied up in a short ponytail. In her right hand, she struggled with a rather large and bulky, black backpack. Dangling from her left shoulder was a smaller, square blue bag which sported a red cross on its front.
She had volunteered for this small assignment; partly because she needed a change of scenery and partly because she wanted to distract her mind which to her dismay seemed to constantly dwell on the events of the past year. Whatever the reasons she was boarding this plane were, Constance determined to have a pleasant trip.
Handing her bags to a hangar attendant who then threw them quite roughly into the luggage compartment, Constance warily made her way over to where a few other agents waited for the departure and greeted them with a small, awkward wave. “Good morning. I'm Constance”.
(Co-post between Jack and Joe)
Jack sat frustrated at the computer back at the hideout. He had been clicking away on the internet for over three hours, trying every possible search that he could think of. Finally he closed the window and turned to face Joe Kerr.
“Explain this to me. Here I am, ready to go after it, and yet my heist in the Louvre, the bloody LOUVRE, was easier to plan. It's a tiny little place, you'd think it'd be easier, but no. Sure, plenty of pictures of the interior, but not a single bloody floor plan in the lot. Google, one of the greatest tools the modern thief has in his arsenal, has outright failed me.
I never try to tie my whereabouts to the heist, but I may have to on this one. I think I'm going to head out in the morning, hop across the pond, and have myself a little tour. Unless of course you thought to bring back a brochure or a map or some such for me?”
“You know what they said about that lot and their secrets, Jack.” Joe laughed and stroked Carmine's fur as she continued to sleep peacefully on his lap.“Truth be told, my heist isn't that easy to plan either. I'm still trying to figure out how to do it without provoking World War III or getting captured by Mossad...”
The Jester involuntarily shivered at the mention of the latter.
“...I'll take my chances with ACME any day over them”
“Yes, well, I think Carmen would prefer not starting World War III over gaining a bauble and provoking ACME. So make sure you get it right, for all our sakes, alright?” Jack chuckled.“I don't think even Houdini could work his way out of an nuclear blast.”
He sighed and reclined in his chair slightly. “That being said, I heard that VILE and ACME had a bit of volent spat with some gentlemen in Asia. Is that some standard modus operandi that us poor laymen never heard of?”
At the mention of Kamchatka, visions of Torun Zamok ran through Joe's mind. Behind his mask, his countenance darkened.
“THAT…” Joe all but spat out the word as he rubbed Carmine's fur to soothe her agitation as well as his own; “...incident was brought about by a figure who has no respect for the sanctity of human life or anything else, for that matter.”
Calming himself, Joe continued as Jack listened.
“VILE and ACME may not always see eye to eye, but we both value human life, respect and honour among other things. I do not have the full story, nor am I allowed to divulge everything that I know, but what I can tell you is that that individual was enough of a threat to warrant ACME and VILE working together.” Joe paused to consider his words.“Carmen is more than just VILE's leader. In many ways, she's the lynchpin keeping the balance between both sides. Anyone who threatens her, threatens the balance.”
Joe's mood lightened as he smiled again behind his mask. “It's why I restarted the game, to remind everyone why we do what we do.”
“I doubt ACME sees our balance as a good thing,” quipped Jack, chuckling, “but I see where you're going with it. I am a firm believer that there always has to be evil in the world, so that good has something to struggle against and grow stronger fighting. ‘Tis better that the evil be ourselves, who have no designs for true destruction, just some chaos here and there, rather than monstrous men who believe themselves to be the only wolf in a worldwide flock of sheep.”
Behind his goggles, his own eyes saddened slightly as he recalled his own personal past, but shook it off very quickly.
“I'm just glad I came in at the start of this round, rather than the dark intermission, personally. I wouldn't know what to do in direct warfare.”
And I hope you never have to learn, Joe thought silently to himself. Carmine's meow woke the the Jester out of his revelry and he turned to find his companion back at work on the computer. The Jester smiled and resumed his own preparations. I wonder how ACME is doing with my clue.
Euge as NPC Field Agent Fariq Nassar
Fariq Nassar got the call at 4:00 AM. An automated dispatch from ACME Global, routed through the Middle East Subcommand he was currently stationed at, roughly shook him from his sleep, and he rolled over to acknowledge the obnoxious communicator.
>>ACME TEAM INBOUND. ETA 0800 LOCAL. HAIFA INTL
Mind now fully warmed up, Fariq couldn't help but be irritated at his unplanned wakeup call. Nothing to be done at this point though, except plunge into the day. His cot, however inviting it looked, risked oversleeping. As the team's ride from the airport, he was also the face of this post, and a screw up such as abandoning foreign agents to hoof it themselves would be the last straw for Fariq.
Grabbing his go bag, Fariq tumbled out of his quarters and started with a slow jog to the cafeteria. Cobbled together sandwich in hand, he looked at his watch. Plenty of time to wake up at the gym before hitting the motorpool and presenting a fresh face to ACME Israel's guests.
There wasn't much to talk about through the plane ride. Justice tried to get a bit of sleep, and when her mind wouldn't rest she took to studying French for her next ACME language exam. Every few hours she would turn back and see Constance looking out the window, or Evgeni playing gambling games with himself.
When Paco finally put the plane on the ground in Haifa, Justice jumped to grab her bag. The message from Headquarters said that they would meet a contact here who would take them to the Haifa Museum.
"It's so dry here the catfish must be caryin' canteens," she said as the acrid air hit her. Shielding her eyes from the desert sun, Justice looked around for any ACME vehicles or indication of their contact. Evgeni had no clue what the cowgirl said, but he assumed it was something cute and played along. “It's melt all the snow Siberia with a handful of this sand.” He smirked, believing he had spoken something brilliant enough for her attention.
The Russian gazed across the sands and wiped his forehead with his scarf. He was starting to get the feeling that his heavy black gear was not suitable for this kind of climate. But who could have known? The travel brochures always made the location look more pleasant. “So this where Chernobyl landed.”
He pulled out a pair of binoculars and scanned for approaching vehicles. He did not want to be out here too long.
To his dismay, Fariq saw the chime on his communicator indicating the ACME aircraft had landed early. Quietly swearing to himself, he made a hard right, fully intending to abuse his authority and drive across the airport right up to the plane. The security gate was agonizingly slow, but Fariq eventually made it, slowing to a crawl as he drew close. The white SUV wasn't near as fancy as the ones he saw during his short stint at the Europe Command, but he hoped the insignia on the side looked professional enough.
Leaving the engine running, he jumped out and waved to the assembled group before attempting a greeting in somewhat rusty English. "My name is Fariq. I have been, um, assigned to your case."
Eyeing the larger man, he gestured to the vehicle. "This truck has the good AC. Get in before you cook."
The plane ride had been fairly uneventful besides a few sections of unfortunate turbulence which had thoughtlessly tossed them around rather roughly, but, when they finally reached their destination, Constance was relieved to stretch her legs after such a lengthy trip. Upon exiting the plane, a wall of uncomfortable heat hit her and she hastily took off her hoodie and slung it over her shoulder. Grabbing her bags, she moved to where her companions stood.
Just then a white car came racing across the runway towards them. After coming to an abrupt halt, a tall man popped out and introduced himself as their contact and then invited them into the SUV which he mentioned had air conditioning. Upon learning this absolutely lovely information, Constance quickly took up his offer and jumped into the back seat. “You showed up at the perfect time. Thank you”.
Spying a pack of water bottles on the seat, Connie snatched a few up and tossed them to her companions. “We can't let ourselves get dehydrated when we have a day's work to do.”
Joe, Evengi, Justice, Connie, and Paco
Haifa, Israel -
The sun beat strongly upon the desert land, scorching anything foolish enough to be exposed to its assault; hot, dry winds bearing the scent of sandalwood offered no respite from the blazing heat. The inhabitants of the land however, seemed to ignore the heat. Much rather, what was on their minds was the threat of war that always seemed to loom over the land.
That same thought was also on the mind of a certain VILE Jester as he walked through the halls of the Haifa Museum. Joe understood that in this land considered holy by Christians, Jews and Muslims alike, the slightest spark would set off a war that had been waiting for years to happen; one that could easily turn into World War III.
Joe had thus chosen to use stealth and subtlety for this heist, ditching the Jester's suit and mask for a janitor's uniform and cap. He had entered the museum in the guise of an elderly tourist with a cane, taking care to make a big impression on security. He had then slipped into the janitor's closet when no one was looking and changed into his current garb.
Slowly biding his time, the Jester scouted the museum, making note of where all the cameras were, taking care to ensure that his back always faced the cameras.
Justice took a long drink from her water bottle, then turned to thank Connie, "Much appreciated, Sugar."
During the ride their Israeli contact confirmed that nothing was taken from the Haifa Museum of Art within the past 24 hours, so Justice hoped they had the advantage of beating V.I.L.E. on timing and possibility setting up a stakeout.
"Looks like it's in a pretty open area, " She pointed to the spot on the museum floor plan, "we'll set up some extra security in case V.I.L.E. strikes. I say we divide up, me and Connie can go towards the lithograph and check for any weaknesses while the boys make sure the halls and exits are safe. With any luck, we'll bag a criminal before they strike and be back in time to have Steak Night like the ACME pros."
Having observed some suspiciously ACME-like activity in the museum, the Jester knew that time was of the essence. Surreptitiously, he rolled the janitor's cart to where his prey was, MC Escher's “Three Balls” Lithograph. Reaching into the cart, he pulled out a pair of infrared goggles and a smoke grenade. Putting on the goggles, he tossed the smoke grenade and a thick blanket of smoke instantly filled the room.
The smoke accomplished two things for Joe - one, it hid him temporarily from the camera; two, it set off the smoke and fire alarm which in turn would mask the security alarm.
Moving quickly, Joe removed the Lithograph from its frame, carefully rolling it up and tucking it into a compartment in the cane which he had stashed in the janitor's cart. Quickly, he took off the janitor's uniform and then proceeded to attempt to limp out of the museum in his old man disguise, complete with cane and lithograph hidden therein.
Paco was glad he followed the Detectives. While he was just the pilot, it was a rare opportunity to see ACME at work. Walking into the stone museum lobby, the place seemed a little quieter than it should.
Suddenly a smoke grenade rolled across the floor and started filling the dark room in a mist. Blaring alarms came up, and Paco turned to the others.
"Fire? Is there a fire?" he yelled, seeing staff rush around them.
Justice's eyes seem to brighten as she saw the various exhibits. She wanted to pause and look at the vibrant paintings at least for a moment. Large spaces devoted to art was scarce where she was from, and one of the many reasons she joined ACME was to see more of the world, but she knew there was a job to be done here. The small group of ACME agents had to be professional after all.
The sound of something rolling caught her attention, and the next thing she knew, their Filipino Pilot Paco was yelling about a fire.
As people began rushing around, the cowgirl was knocked to the ground. She looked up in the milky haze and saw a smoke bomb laying on the floor next to an MC Escher exhibit sign.
Coughing, she covered her nose and mouth with a bandanna before trying to signal to her fellow agents, "Someone took the lithograph!"
The Russian agent had worn his sunglasses inside--as usual--tinting his entire world with a soft red. He had never been too interested in the visual arts, but he made sure to scratch at his crooked nose and about his ear to project the illusion that he was deeply engaging with each piece. Every now and then, he would fondle the microscopic scruff on his chin.
He was glancing at the cute ACME cowgirl from the corner of his obscured brown eyes when the air suddenly became heavy and a nebulous cloud of chemical vapor expanded throughout the hall. The Russian was new to this game, and he automatically deferred to his natural habit: follow the lead of the pretty girl. Wrapping his black scarf over his mouth, he approached the emptied cannisters of the smoke grenades and took in Justice's observation.
“It's can't be far gone!” he insisted, then scanned the area for suspicious-looking characters. Crowds of people were rushing out. There was an old man struggling along at the back of the exit lines. He had only covered a short distance. His approximate trajectory and velocity would have likely placed him at the blast point when it had occurred. But mostly there were several beautiful women lining up to exit nearby. Surely, one of them could not be the culprit.
“Hi, sir,” Evgeni called to the limping man. “Hi, sir! I'm help you.”
Turning slowly, the disguised Jester saw what he assumed was an ACME agent running towards him. The agent in question appeared to be a young man with distinctly Eastern European features; and unless Joe had been mistaken, the accent was ...Russian?
Thinking quickly, the Jester responded in a disguised voice, laced with what he hoped was a believable amount of panic.
"What's going on? Someone tell me what's going on?"
Constance hadn't been as quick to cover her face when the smoke filled the room. As it entered her lungs, she spun into a coughing fit. Choking and sputtering, she leaned on a nearby wall to steady herself. Here she tried to regain her bearings. The room was still covered in a thick blanket, but she could make out the forms of people running for the exit. Over the clamor, she heard Justice shout that the Lithograph was missing.
Deducing that the thief would most likely be leaving in the chaos, Connie stumbled towards the door with the crowd. Suddenly a hulkish man, fleeing in panic, pushed her from behind, and she was sent crashing head first to the floor. She lay stunned for a few seconds and looked around in confusion. Slowly realizing her peril, she managed to pick herself up and crawled away from the path of the charging mob. By now she was completely out of breath and she slumped down in exhaustion.
As Justice got up, she thought she saw Connie's small frame being pushed around and eventually knocked to over. The worst of the crowd was rushing to the exit, with faster museum guests already near the building's door and a few staff members trying to open vents to remove the smoke. Paco was behind her and Evgeni seemed to be speaking to an old man. Her focus however, was making sure Connie wasn't hurt.
As she dashed towards the Constance, the spur of Justice's boot got caught on something. She ignored it until she saw the blonde was okay, shaken up but otherwise uninjured. It was then that she tried to remove the cloth from her boots, and noticed it was a janitor's uniform. So the thief had been here all along.
"Shut the front door," Justice yelled out, "We need to gather the guests, one of them has to be V.I.L.E.!"
Hearing those words made the Jester's blood run cold. It took all his self-control not to stiffen up in the presence of the ACME agent who had been assisting him.
Running through scenarios in his mind, Joe quickly realized that things were looking grim; due to the nature of this heist he had not brought any of his usual gear so there were no gag bombs to turn to. His only hope was a daring escape but even that was looking unlikely as the guards started to follow the ACME agents' lead and lock the front doors.
The only thing he could do now was probably to put on a show and hopefully buy his accomplice time to flee the scene. Surreptiously, he put his hand into his left pants pocket and switched off the VILE communicator.
Outside the museum, in the parking lot, Mickey sat waiting in the unmarked getaway car with Carmine on his lap. The cat let out a worried meow as Mickey looked at her with sympathetic eyes.
Suddenly, a sound emanated from the spare VILE communicator Joe had given Mickey. With a sickening feeling, Mickey checked the screen and noticed that Joe's status was changed to 'offline'. That had been the prearranged signal that things had gone wonky and Mickey should take Carmine and flee back to Stone Harbour.
After a quick apology to Carmine, Mickey started the car and drove away; all the while both the feline and driver were looking in the rear view mirror and praying that their friend would be safe.
It took a few more minutes for the smoke to clear. As the doors closed, it seemed now that the guests would be questioned one by one. Paco wasn't a detective, he was just a pilot... so Fariq and him stayed to watch ACME work.
Paco suddenly noticed the old man Evgeni was talking to earlier had a rather grim expression. He hoped that this did not cause too much discomfort to the locals. Upon closer inspection however, it seemed to him that a bit of the old man's beard seemed to be peeling off. Not quite sure on what to do with this information he tried to signal to the detectives, pointing at the old man and making beard-like gestures with his hands.
Glancing around, Joe knew that his chances of escape were non-existent. Any attempt would probably result in him getting gunned down - not an experience that he ever wanted to try.
The Jester also knew that his ruse was up as he had seen one of the surrounding agents not-so discreetly signal at him.
Joe chuckled inwardly. Had this been anywhere else in the world, he would have had his usual bag of tricks and these agents would have had no chance in apprehending him. However, due to current circumstances, it looked like he was going to be caught, by a squad of rookies no less.
Leaning toward the Russian agent beside him, he whispered just loud enough for him to hear.
[if you want the statue and the lithograph back, let's talk privately]
Much of the last few days have been spent traveling through the air - with brief stops in Switzerland, The United States, and now Japan. Thankfully this international flight had built-in wireless, which allowed Flag to log into a site built around a webcam feed of an osprey nest somewhere in Africa.
Today however, instead of an almost still image of an empty nest, there was rough video of the inside of a museum as it filled with gas. The camera had been positioned at the building's entrance and Flag watched carefully as it relayed images of the patrons as they fled the noxious cloud.
It didn't take long for him to realize that the ACME agents on scene were neither experienced nor anyone that would work for his purposes. Having already written off this heist as a dud, he was about to click off the website when the feed went dead.
That's not good. He thought as he refreshed the page and was once again greeted with bird nest imagery.
The video had been relayed from a tiny camera to Joe's communicator before it was forwarded to whatever hacker the jester had hired. The way that the feed had cut out strongly hinted that one of the two VILE agents (if not both) had been caught.
Carmen would not like to hear that.
Undisclosed Location: Israel: Interrogation room, ACME presiding
After Kamchatka, Joe had taken it upon himself to pick up a little bit of Russian during the downtime; if they ever had to visit the motherland again, Joe wanted to be somewhat prepared. The Jester however, never imagined having to use it so quickly.
The gamble had worked however. It had got him, and the ACME agents, out of the museum without anything untoward happening.
Now seated in an ACME interrogation room, the unmasked Jester awaited the arrival of one Chase Devineaux. Joe had already given up the next clue to the previous interrogator and hinted that if he hurried, he might be able to stop the crime from happening at all. However, whatever else the Jester had to say was strictly reserved for someone he had to be sure he could trust; as far as ACME agents go, it was a pretty short list.
Chase Devineaux's experience with VILE's Joe Kerr was somewhat rocky. The clown had stolen the Director's Porsche Cayman and returned it as part of a desperate deal in exchange for the probable location of a 'mutual friend'. They met again over training in Hawaii and eventually took part in a hushed joint-forces operations in Kamchatka.
"Mr. Kerr," he spoke politely, knowing by now the detained didn't smoke, he offered water. The silent gesture needed no reciprocation, and the cup of drinking water he held promptly rested next to Joe.
"I understand you cooperated well with my friend, Agent Aimes," he hinted to the direction of the now closed door and unbuttoned his suit, resting himself casually into the interrogator's chair.
Devineaux's jaws tensed, betraying any cooled demeanor he may have painted.
"Kamchatka ended abruptly," he continued placidly, "I trust your employer is well, to be executing another heist so soon."
The Jester let out a wry smile.
“That's not the issue at hand. We need to discuss more pressing matters. Oh and by the way, it's nice to see you again too.”
Revealing a hidden tarot card, the Jester slid it toward the man seated opposite him.
“This goes with the incense box from the previous clue. My associate in Michigan probably has the doll which will complete the set.”
Chase looked at the card and then back to the clown, hesitating adequately before accepting it. Temperance, the tarot icon sent flashes of recognition in his mind but the Director said nothing.
"Pressing matters," he moved the conversation, "you were saying?"
Joe's face took on a grim look as he continued.
“I only know him as Flag. He's after one of your guys, I don't know which one; I only know the target was supposedly involved in Kamchatka. This set of clues is supposed to lure that agent out. Flag seems desperate to get back something he lost. Stop him before it gets out of hand; Flag's not exactly one of us, you understand?”
"Carmen warned us about him at Kamchatka," he reiterated a memory, "if this concerns you, then it concerns me too."
Again, he turned the card in his hand.
"The missing statue, as long as we're being civil," Devineaux gave a half smile, "Am I going to see it anytime soon?"
The Jester returned the half smile with one of his own.
“I'd love to return it, except that I can't possibly do so whilst I'm behind bars can I?”
“What can I do for you?”
“Get me to a more...hospitable country and release me. Upon my release, I'll see to it that the statue gets returned within 24 hours.”
The Jester turned his half smile into a full one.
“It was too big to fit in my garden anyway.”
“And what guarantee do I have you won't just run? No offense, but I know how tempting freedom is.”
The Jester's reply was immediate and one hundred percent serious.
“You know us...you know her.”
Chase nodded once.
“You have someone return the statue, the moment that happens, have your lawyers start the legal proceedings. Israel won't hold you, and you won't be extradited to Switzerland.”
“Sounds like a plan to me. Aren't things so much simpler when we just talk like friends?”
[Journal Entry] Flag/Kidman
Every time Flag entered the decrepit bank he felt that he should at least be somewhat worried that someone would nail him for trespassing; that something as stupid as a recurring B&E would be what finally does him in. These fears were unfounded and as usual, there was nobody to stop him from entering
He had heard of cities being referenced as "sleepy" before, but this one was comatose. Even in the daylight hours, one would be hard-pressed to find people in the heart of downtown Jacksonville, Florida. How it was that Carmen (or rather a different version of her) had once chosen this void of human activity to play host to her eccentric lunacy was beyond him. Yet, as he stood in the very spot where she had saved him from certain death time and time again, he found himself grateful for it.
The sorcerer absently pressed the point of a wicked dagger into the calloused tip of his index finger as he paced the floor in thought. Now that he had all of the elements needed to create the amulet he wanted, it seemed obvious as to why all his previous attempts had failed.
With a sigh of frustration, he dropped his hands and made his way back to the marble counter that his charge had been leaning on. She had been a regular annoyance ever since their assignment and yet he suspected that she could play a necessary role in the task at hand.
"You've let it slip a few times that you have certain... abilities. What exactly can you do?"
Kidman froze and fear nettled under her skin. “What? I never said." came her forced reply.
He watched her reaction carefully. While it was true that she never actually came out and said anything of the sort, certain aspects of her body language reflected those of magicians that hid from him on his home planet.
"You don't have to lie to me. I know."
Kidman’s heart sank. Of course Flag would know. He was of her kind.
“Why do you want to know?” she asked as she took a step away. While she respected her senior and did her best to aid him, this was a far more dire matter and something about him frightened her.
Flag had bluffed, of course. However now that she openly admitted it he was glad he had taken the gamble. Next, he just had to confirm a suspicion that he had regarding the hand gestures she made at him after he had stolen the Sherlock Holmes statue.
"Because I need help." He admitted and glanced over at the faded remnants of a diagram he drew almost a year ago.
The girl’s attention steered away from his knife at the word ‘help’. “With... what?” she asked cautiously.
The sorcerer reached into the pocket of his coat and fished out a small plastic syringe box, which he then tossed to her. Inside it was the diamond that he had stolen from the Russians, though now it had been split into four and placed into a golden triangle setting.
"That. I can't hold it." He said as he held up his left hand to showcase the burn marks he received.
Kidman eyed the pendant dubiously, then back at the sorcerer’s burnt hand. “Then why would I be able to?”
"Because it's not attuned to you. Go ahead and try it."
She gingerly touched the thing in the box, but nothing happened.
“You just want me to hold this for you?”
"I want you to hand it to me when the time is right." He corrected before getting to the point of her involvement. "What I need to know is if you are a healer or not."
Kidman nodded slowly.
"How much damage can you heal?"
“I don’t know. I wanted to find out in Kamchatka, but...” She still didn’t know what had happened to that mercenary and Kidman pushed the possibilities away. “What sort of damage?”
Her rambling grated on him. "A potentially fatal wound. Depends on how much of my blood the amulet needs."
She was about to decline when a memory came to her. “I can mend a torn jugular vein.”
His expression flattened at her suggestion of taking time, largely because if it were an option, they would not be here. The event she recalled however, was more in line with what he wanted to hear.
"Then... you should be able to handle this." He stated as he fished his journal and a piece of chalk out of his satchel.
Kidman watched him with growing ill ease. The sorcerer wouldn’t be making this sort of request unless she was his only option, and that made her responsible. “Tell me why I should.”
He raised an eyebrow at that. "Have I offended you so grievously that you wish me dead?"
She winced. “This diamond is worth risking your life over?”
He leveled his gaze at her. "Yes. It is."
“Why?” She replied as she fought for calm.
The sorcerer shifted his gaze towards the dust-covered windows and weighed the evening shadows he saw there against each other. He was becoming impatient with her questions and it showed.
"I need it to save my wife."
“Flag….” The girl murmured softly, momentarily caught off guard. She could see truth in his eyes, and she slackened with a sigh of defeat. “What do I do?”
Taking her hand, he led her over to the dust-covered diagram and pointed at a spot in particular. "I need to fix a few things, but when I get to this point, hand me the pendant." He then directed her further down the elaborate drawing and stopped on another spot and offered her the dagger.
"When I get here, kill me."
“Kill you? I said I could heal you, not raise the dead.”
He shot her a look. If their conversation carried any weight, she'd realize that he wanted her to help him survive the wound she inflicted. However, he also did not want her to hold back while inflicting it.
With the knife in her hands he stood up and walked across the diagram to what one would assume to be his starting point. "I need to redraw some things. Use that time to compose yourself."
The knife now seethed with such cruel anticipation that the girl fumbled and dropped it, then frantically rubbed her hands on her pants.
“Dammit.” she muttered as she retrieved it, then watched the tall man in black retrace his lines in the waning light, trying to ignore the wriggling sting in her palm and the rising bile in her stomach. The dust disturbed by his footsteps added an ethereal quality to something so solemn, and she dreaded the moment they’d stop.
An eternity passed while he checked, double-checked, and rewrote things on the floor in chalk. It was then something of a shock when he was suddenly upon her again.
"Before we begin, I want a demonstration of your abilities." He held out his right hand - palm up- towards her. "Heal that."
She stared at it, unsure of what he was talking about, then realized he wanted her to make the wound herself. “Jesus Flag…” she muttered bitterly, then closed her eyes and gave him a fair paper cut.
He frowned as a tiny bead of his own blood accented the shallow cut. "That's pathetic."
“I have my limits too.” she shot back shakily. “If you waste me on a big wound now, I won’t be able to finish the real task.”
Flag held back anything else he could have said in favor of watching her carefully as she grabbed his bleeding finger and forcefully shocked it back into its former state. As the tiny slice in his finger vanished, the faintest of grins appeared on his face. Apparently satisfied, he made his way back the center of the diagram and signaled the start of the ritual.
Although Flag was speaking his native language, he sounded like he was merely practicing a rehearsed speech as he read notes from the floor. Contrary to his muted tones, the markings on the ground glowed vibrantly as as they fed off of a charge from the sorcerer himself.
Kidman took a step back as the air crackled to life. Her body responded to it and for a moment she knew a new kind of peace before reality returned. The knife in her hand seemed desperate to infect while the amulet awoke with its own signature, and she clutched both tightly as she waited for Flag’s sign.
Casually, he paced the perimeter of the circle furthest from her while continuing his quiet monologue. However, he was soon making his way up the larger one and heading in her direction. Once he was within an arms reach, he held his hand out to receive the charm from her.
With trembling hand she passed it to him and braced for what may come.
Flag grit his teeth and withdrew his hand back against the burning coal in his hand. Fighting the pain for the sake of the ritual, he pushed onward; mouthing his focus as he traced the second of the three outlying circles.
Although his hand was clasped tightly around the pendant, Kidman could see that it was glowing and getting brighter with every step that brought him back to her. This time when he was within arm reach, he shot his hand out and grabbed her shoulder - a wordless indication that it was her turn to act.
“Oh god, Flag… Forgive me.” Kidman whispered as she grabbed his wrist. The air between them was wild with a charge that whipped her hair from her face. In the last few moments she had sought something to compel her to stab him; some anger, some vengeance, even some form of dutiful detachment, but only through love could she find the means to harm him, slicing down the length of his wrist for the sake of his wife.
Although her task was done, he maintained an iron grip on her shoulder in order to keep himself from reeling back from the dagger's bite. Throughout this, he continued to chant and when she dropped the dagger he held the pendant downward so that gravity - with the aid of his heartbeat - could do its job.
The blood pouring from his wound was pulled into specially crafted channels in the setting that somehow didn't overflow and the light the diamonds cast began to pulse green. The charged air around them to become heavy and humid.
Without a single drop of blood hitting the ground, the only indication that Flag was dying was his sagging posture and slightly relaxed grip on Kidman's shoulder. Just as he was about to collapse the amulet flashed a blinding white light and flicked off.
As vision returned she could see that he was grinning.
The sorcerer dug his nails in and sent a jolt through her as he completed a circuit with her subclavian and axillary arteries. He then changed the energy so that it matched that of when she healed the sliver on his finger, eliciting a similar response.
She was healing him now regardless of if she was prepared or not.
“Flag!” Kidman gasped as the man tore through ages of psychic wreckage to get what he wanted, and she sagged against him, clinging to his wounded arm as the flood overrode her senses.
He fought to keep from be dragged down by the weight of the girl as he drained her. Before she became another corpse to deal with, he broke contact by shoving her aside and dropping her to the ground. Flag then staggered a couple of steps before righting his stance and closing off the ritual.
With the last circle traced and the words said, he opened his hand and inspected the amulet. It's glow was gone and the gem's sparkle along with it. It seemed faded and further study would show that the four parts of the once flawless diamond were now riddled with inclusions.
It was perfect.
The alien was almost giddy when he made his way back over to where the girl was laying. Knowing that she wasn't dead, he nudged her with his the toe of his boot.
"Get up. It's time to leave."
[Journal Entry] Kidman
The diamond had rebuffed Kidman’s increasingly desperate attempts to access Flag’s biological matrix until a flash blinded her. Then she only had a moment to see the sorcerer smile before he swallowed her whole.
Kidman opened her eyes to pulsing darkness. She didn’t know how she had gotten in, nor did she know yet that she couldn’t leave. All that mattered was fulfilling her purpose, and she braced against the swell of life as it rushed past her, consciously manipulating what essential tissue wouldn’t heal on its own in time.
The effort soon took its toll, but when she tried to reallocate energy to support her life functions the girl found her system unresponsive, and then to her horror that she was unable to break away at all. He had locked her in. Kidman pounded on the walls of her mind, but she was far too weak to escape. Burning stripes of frozen light tore at her senses as her life peeled away, dulling and dimming as she fell into the abyss.
In the enveloping darkness she felt such sadness, bitterness wrapped in vicious curls of anger that billowed into malicious, acrid desire.
The tension suddenly lifted and somewhere a distant pain radiated through the shifting shadows. From within them a woman’s face took form. It was somehow familiar; warm and benevolent with wise blue eyes and hair like smoke, but before the girl could reach for her the world went black again.
“[Get up, Serrye!]”
Rough hands lifted her and tossed her back into an orange chair. She hated that chair. The armrests were cold and stuck to her bare arms when they strapped her in. Everything was cold here, the light, the bed, the faces. She knew what they wanted her to do, but she hated them and would give them nothing..
“[You will stay here until it is mended. No food, no bathroom, understood?]”
She didn’t look at him, his ugly, craggy face. She didn’t look at the beeping machines, the bruises on her arms, the mouse in the cage with its broken leg. But she wanted to look at the mouse. She wanted to take it and run away, but even in her bellergant haze she knew If she healed it, they would only break more.
The mouse kept calling to her, plaintively squeaking, begging…
* * *
Kidman awoke into a body made of sand, unable to move under its weight and barely even breathe. Hours crawled past as her heart sought a steady rhythm, her lucid moments spent trying to comprehend her new reality as the river rolled in the distance.
She surreptitiously checked on Flag and smiled inwardly to know he was alive, but she didn’t wish to speak to him. She didn’t know what to say.
Kidman glanced at her hand as the bank fell into shadow. A small mark by her thumbnail was still visible, where a frightened mouse had bitten her years before. She had healed it after all, she remembered. Her long-held fears were true.
She returned her attention to the man and watched through her lashes as he inspected his pendant, the blue of dusk casting him in a black silhouette above her. Carmen had given her to him. She trusted him, and despite everything that had come to pass, he was a vast improvement, considering what she now knew of what her life had been.
True he had nearly killed her, even smiled while doing so, but he had asked for her assistance and she had agreed. He’d nearly killed her, but he hadn’t actually done so, and in the depths of her heart, she understood what drove him.
Kidman felt his boot push her leg again and she fully opened her eyes at last.
“Happy….?” she asked with much effort.
He raised an eyebrow at the question, but then smiled slightly and nodded. "Quite."
She smiled in return.
Flag, Carmen, and Kidman. Special thanks to Chase. :-)
Flag and Kidman saw nearly nothing of the Nakashibetsu airport as they were greeted with a limousine upon landing. They were then delivered to a small dentoutekina - a traditional Japanese house comprised of wooden exterior walls, paper inner walls, and a tile roof. The structure wrapped itself around a well kept garden and emphasized privacy for those within.
Inside of the small structure, the scent of tea, pine and paper permeated just above a low note of cinder. A woman sat statuesque behind a low table. Her dark hair gathered in a neat but loosely braided singular bun. Strands of curls travelled down her neck to the edge of a desaturated brown and aquamarine kimono that, aside from its perceivable shape, was likely not Japanese.
"Oh good, it's you," she spoke in American English as her guests arrived, "I wasn't sure I lost a tail in Sapporo, the anticipation was killing me."
Visibly relaxed, she offered tea.
"I should leave the island anyway," working quickly, she handed Flag a small brown envelope but snapped it away from his reach for one brief question, "This... isn't coming back to bite me, is it?"
As she recalled, the last time these pieces of paper led her somewhere, it was a slightly unnerving experience. Yet before he could answer that question, she let him have the notes. Curiosity and trust made an odd but vital concoction for this relationship between the thief and her alien.
Looking back to Kidman, she gave a slight nod before asking a less rhetorical question, "Then, how was your trip?"
The girl tensed as attention shifted to her. She had dreaded this meeting since she had awoken at Flag's feet, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. Resigned, she calmly gave her reply under a facade of serenity.
“It was good. I learned many things from Mr. Flag and I am honoured to have known him. I feel I am more useful now, and I will strive to repay you for all you have granted us.”
Flag's only reaction to Carmen's play with the papers was to smirk and shake his head before making himself comfortable across the low-slung table from her. He reached for the tea, but paused ever so slightly when Kidman answered her question.
As someone who made life and death decisions based on as much information as she can perceive in as little time as possible, the thief felt a recurring oddness in Kidman's tone. She gave a brief knowing glance at Flag but said nothing to reflect her notions.
"I'm glad you had fun," she lightly smiled, "mindfulness is a virtue."
She reciprocated Flag's action and pushed the teapot so it rested directly under his paused hand.
"I take it you're about finished with your end of the operation as well?"
Flag nodded as he filled his cup. “I almost have all the information I need...”
While his tea cooled, he reached into his satchel and pulled out a letter of his own before sliding the ones he had received from Carmen in its place. He then pushed it across the table to her.
“And that's the information you had requested.”
Thanking Flag with a genuine smile, Carmen watched him finish his tea and pardon himself. He needed to continue on with something else and since she had promised she would support him, VILE's leader turned a blind eye for now. She was nonetheless quite eager to see the task concluded.
With the meeting fulfilled, Carmen motioned for Kidman to join her in the waiting limo. The girl followed quietly behind, but paused a moment to glance back at Flag's retreating figure, his silver hair swaying in time with his gait. Something twisted in her heart as their distance grew, and she turned away with a sigh.
It felt a thousand years had passed her over the night of the amulet ritual. After a lifetime of knowing too little she now knew too much, aging her, and while the nervous, fearful creature she had been was gone, the weary old woman emerging was unsure of how to proceed. Only once the drive was well underway did Kidman finally voice her fears.
"Carmen…” She started in the same slow, measured alto as before. “I don't feel comfortable with this ritual."
"Ritual?" returned a cooled inquiry.
“The one he's been working towards these past few months. It would be one thing if it only involved himself, but the addition of an ACME Agent concerns me."
The thief paused.
"What do you mean, which ACME Agent?"
“He appeared to have had several in mind, but the only one he found was...” Kidman stopped. Carmen had been explicit in not wanting to hear anything of the Grey Man, but for now it couldn't be helped. "Chase.”
For the first time in a long time, Carmen Sandiego was speechless. The lack of grounds with this new information required her mind to seek out reasonable explanation. In compensation, her glance quickly darted to the windshield and the road ahead.
“These rituals are dangerous,” Kidman continued wearily, “He nearly killed us both to create the amulet, and I have little doubt he would do what he felt necessary for his wife's sake."
It was a longshot, but the lead was never above taking the words of a ‘grunt' into consideration if they were viable. The reason Flag gave for his Diamond Quest in Kamchatka was to reunite with his wife. With that in mind, it did not seem feasible to Carmen that someone she invested confidence in would defy her trust in this manner. But if a reunion required something she disapproved, for weal or woe, logic instructed that Flag may overstep this boundaries.
"And yet, why be backhanded about this?”
"Because," Kidman replied, her voice traced with guilt, "when the last of your heart's at stake, you're capable of almost.... anything."
Deciding that her best course of action was not to ignore this, Carmen requested a drastic security option. She needed to track Flag's phone; and in the case that the sorcerer did not have the device on him, she requested a bridge to detect Chase Devineaux's personal satellite communicator.
VILE's leader and her current companion would take the smaller jet out of Nakashibetsu airport. If the tracked coordinates proved suspicious, Carmen may need to make an impromptu landing.
In geological terms, the island was relatively new; a volcanic thing thrust out of the water in a violent collision of tectonic plates an unknown number of years ago. The green jungle that covered the isolated landmass indicated that it had long since lost its enthusiasm for the surface and cooled - leaving an empty but reinforced cone and a number of caves.
Flag exited one of these as he watched the ghosts of his memories run out before him. To his left there was a brunette that he had forgotten the name of and ACME's director. To his right was the director's dark-skinned friend and Eleanor Mayhem, whom he had once secretly harbored a great amount of respect for. The five of them ran out onto the beach and into the maw of a helicopter that was supposed to do… something.
The Sivoan shook his head and the figures were gone. None of these memories really happened despite the fact they had guided him here. Instead of continuing to the imagined arial extraction point, he turned and made his way up a path that lead to a slightly more important landmark he had spent the last 6 years slowly constructing.
The climb up the staircase that he had commissioned be blasted into the side of the mountain took a couple of hours to climb and generally left him exhausted. This time he had taken twice as long to make sure that he enjoyed the hike since - if all went according to plan - this would be the last time that he needed to make this trip.
A diagram greeted him at the top of the stairs. It was similar to the one that he had drawn on a bank floor numerous times, except that it was much larger and only comprised of two concentric circles. It had taken him the better part of the week to make sure that the accompanying math and instructions he had chiseled into the rock was as it needed to be.
The only thing that was missing was the wire, which he laid into the grooves amongst the imagined remnants of a board room where he once spoke with a beautiful puppet. He smiled at the thought that she would have disliked the way that he marked up her base of operations.
Once that was done, he ran the wire back towards the mountain and plugged them into a large outlet box that had been temporarily installed there by the contractor that he “sold” the island to over a year ago; a smart man that had thought to harness the geothermal energy of the dormant volcano - much like a smart man that had decided to do the same in Kamchatka.
Flag snickered at the parallels between the two locations as he watched smoke from the electrocuted dust rise out of his archaic circuit board. It was extremely crude compared to what Tweed and ACME had once had access to, but it also allowed for a thinking element that neither had.
The sorcerer made his way towards the center of the live diagram to watch the sunrise. All that he had to do now was wait.
[Journal Entry] Chase/Flag
Earlier, using Joe Kerr's confessions, whatever plan Spring-heeled Jack had was thwarted by a team of agents. Evidence was uncovered and more than a few things were lining up.
Background logic to Chase Devineaux was now clear. The silver-haired henchmen that he watched on the monitors in Kamchatka was the same one that helped Vic the Slick procure ACME Tower I, a little over a year ago. There was a strange aura about this man, as if they had met in one of ACME's many interrogation rooms and had exchanged a decent amount of words. But nothing in Devineaux's memory could pinpoint when.
It seemed right to Chase that this Flag character would switch sides, from Carmen to Melana. Judging from the observation of his behavior over the past few months, the probability was high. Joe Kerr's notion and consequent items collected throughout this case made the last pieces of a complete puzzle.
Melana Lancaster set this up.
The island Chase tracked down was, in his head, a former Russian facility that was created to harness natural volcanic thermal energy. All this seemed so convincing as he plotted his course on the prototype unmanned helicopter.
That's why it was so surprising to find only vegetation. The facility he thought he would find... never existed.
* * *
The facility had existed. In another time frame, in another reality. The memory of it kept tugging at Flag's thoughts and he had to remind himself that it had never been built in this timeline. However, It was this this strange adventure that reacquainted with his "magic" abilities, which in turn lead him to seek out a VILE scientist by the name of Gustav for help on truly exploiting them.
What they had discovered was that the Sivoan had a lot in common with an electric eel in that all along his spine (including his tail) were cells that had the ability to generate electricity. The question of how he lost his connection with the function of these cells was chalked up to the physical shock of his previous injuries - the effects of which had finally subsided.
The more that the he worked at it, the better that he was able to control the biochemical jolts he produced. Eventually, he learned to multi-task with them and was able to both power and manipulate some very basic robots of Gustav's design. While this was definitely progress, it was a long way from recreating the events of the island incident.
Eventually, he realized that the reason he was able to teleport a whole helicopter full of people was because he was in tune with his environment and familiar with his destination. His mind was able to make all the necessary calculations on a subconscious level and his body manipulated whatever energy it could to accomodate.
After that, It didn't take much to draw parallels between his abilities and ACME's C5 system. From there he began to realize that he might also be able to imitate the (now mythical) Chronoskimmer and go back in time to undo a mistake that would allow him to save his wife. In fact, he suspected that many of the spells that the people of his home planet performed were based on the same principals that powered the teleportation technology here.
In an attempt to confirm this, me mentally devoured Gustav's scientific journals and essays. Together, they were eventually able to replicate the personal ACME technology with the aid of an old shipping computer. Unfortunately, this was where their advancements stopped.
As it turned out, time travel was an extremely personal thing as everyone move through it in their own way. Having this perception blown apart and reconfigured was even more unique and he needed someone who know this feeling to make this project work. He was only aware 5 people that shared experienced with him and only 2 he had been able to confirm survived his last attempt at this ritual.
It was around 3 in the afternoon that the distant clouds began to pool and pulled Flag out of his reminiscence to watched them with mild interest. Over the next few hours it grew into a sizeable and noisy storm that thankfully decided to head in a southeasterly direction away from the island. He would have continued to watch it had a small dot in the storm not caught his eye.
The almost silent helicopter traveled wide and for a while seemed to be uninterested in his little piece of paradise, but then it came around and grew in size and shape until it vanished behind the divide. Had he not been certain that the helicopter belonged to ACME, he would have guessed that they aimed to land near the closest signs of civilization the island had to offer - the caves. Instead he assumed that the "detectives" on board the vehicle were trying to use the storm as cover and would try and sneak up the mountainside to get to the cliff.
He liked the stealthy approach. It indicated that there was a nominal amount of specialized individuals (or ideally one) that would attempt to stop him as opposed to the small army that he knew ACME had. This he could handle.
The sorcerer knew that he didn't have much time to ready his "spell" before the occupant(s) of that helicopter would find him. He began tracing the large concentric circles with his bare feet, using both his own energy and that of the wires in the rock to connect bridges in the circuitry of the cliff-size supercomputer. His movements formed an elaborate dance designed to use muscle memory to trigger and process routines and subroutines in his mind.
Naturally, he could not memorize all the necessary computations, so he made a cheat in the form of an amulet engraved using the nitrogen of his own blood. He had made similar pendants before; once back on his home planet of Sivoa and one Earth-forged. The original was left behind when whatever trick of fate landed him on this mundane planet and the later had been destroyed the last time he attempted this ritual and sent him to re-live the same time loop he had suffered twice before.
Not wanting to repeat that mistake yet again, he sought out the purest natural diamond that he could and was blessed when he found a twin to his original pendent. The ritual with the brat had allowed him to use the diamonds entanglement to transfer the base functions for all his spells/programs over. He finally had something of a failsafe.
Chase had arrived moments before he completed his dance and while it caught Flag somewhat off guard, he was more pleased to see the director than he was surprised. All that was left for him to do now was kill the director and give voice to his program's run command the moment that the life left his eyes.
The director jumped backwards when Flag attacked and he barely missed the man's face. Using the momentum of his miss, the sorcerer spun and attempted to connect again.
Something seemed to warn Chase about Flag's hands and the man went out of his way to avoid them even though it was evident that the Sivoan was tired from his hours long ritual. Annoyed by the director's heightened sense of self preservation and ability to keep a distance, Flag grabbed the long part of his coat and threw it upward to hide his next attack.
The sorcerer was finally able to shock the director, but was unable to connect long enough for it to paralyze him. He spun to repeated this successful attack and landed another blow just as the director rolled away and aimed a kick at his feet.
Flag twisted and leapt backwards to prevent his ankle being crushed. unfortunately, this allowed ACME'S director to put half the cliff between them. The Sivoan had had enough.
Reaching into his coat pocket, he pulled out his dagger and aimed at at the back of Chases head. Just as he was about to let it fly, there was a sudden flash of red followed by a hazel glare.
Flag's faltered in his pursuit as the scene of so many nightmares unfolded in front of him. However, Instead of his wife, Carmen stood between the sorcerer and his phantasm. In that moment he knew a truth that she had been keeping from him and it sent his mind reeling. So much so that, he didn't fully register Chase protectively moving her out of his way until it was too late.
The first bullet caught him fully in the chest, while the second one embedded itself in his ribs after tearing through the hand holding the knife. The third one got him in the gut and sent him backwards.
As he hit the ground, Flag heard Carmen scream something, followed by the director's own shouts. He wasn't able to make out anything other than the sum of their noises as a sharp smell of burning hair dominated his senses. Some of his must have landed on a filament in the diagram and it's stench reminded him of something that he now found ironically amusing.
Whatever argument the others had started was abruptly interrupted by the sound of laughter - his laughter, and that only ended when his vision faded and he spoke the last word needed to reset everything.