2 Chase Somewhere in southern Tunisia.
Barely an hour after the hit that destroyed ACME's former tower, Chase Devineaux stood in bright daylight, systematically reconfiguring his next course of action. Tunisia was sweltering. The sun felt like it was everywhere, shining in the sky, reflecting from the sands... glaring into his eyes. If it weren't for the landscape and the occasional wind, the heat would have been unbearable.
He surveyed the horizon. An endless mirage surrounded them like waves of water trapping a sandy island. The desert's only sign of life was the sound of circling air, and the rustling of bags being loaded on to the Boeing.
Chase turned his attention to the shadow of the plane, where Mikal parked his truck. The Israeli was doing another once-over of the vehicle that would take Domingo Chavez to the US Embassy in Tunisia. This would be the man's exit, because his destination was elsewhere.
Mikal Darsha, obviously seeing Chase's glance, returned with a reciprocating nod. "We're good," the agent shut the hood of the jeep, then loosened his shoulders, "Where you want me next?"
"Back in California," Devineaux answered without a pause, "Nothing much we can do here."
According to Deric, Hailey's on her way back to her parents and Vic Fumigalli has been detained. They won't be able to keep him long, the Brazilians would want paper work, and without enough evidence against Fumigalli to qualify him for extradition, all they had was a good 18 more hours... In international terms, that's barely anything.
Time was running out.
"Don't ever press gas too hard," Mikal joked to Chavez in the background, "or you will blow her up."
The team in Brazil must keep Vic detained. A new game was starting, and the only foreseeable advantage was delaying VILE's ability to regroup.
"Euge," Chase called to the pilot with an idea fresh in his head, "How many people do you know in South America?"
3 Joe_Kerr Cape Town, South Africa –
Joe Kerr had been called many things in his life, but one thing no one could accuse him of was being an idiot. Joe Kerr knew better than to bring a car with a GPS chip in it back to VILE HQ, at least not without removing the chip first.
This was why Joe was now in South Africa, riding in a cab towards a particular automotive mechanic shop he had scoured the globe to find. As he entered the garage, he couldn’t help but grin at how well the place matched the owner. The place was sparsely decorated, just enough to be cosy yet practical. It was however equipped with the best tools an automotive mechanic could ask for. The owner was like that; not much for appearances or politics but equipped with the best skills you could ever want as far as cars were concerned.
Joe spotted said owner working on a 1947 Ford Mustang. He flashed his best smile and walked over to greet her.
“Hi Anne, it’s been awhile.”
Ann Gene was the best car guy… uh girl in the world as far as Joe was concerned. She could fix any vehicle and leave barely a scratch on it. Joe had jokingly dubbed her ‘the car whisperer’ due to her uncanny ability to diagnose and work on almost every model of car invented.
“Look what the cat dragged in.” Anne replied in a distinctly southern drawl with a hint of gravel in her voice.
Anne had fair, freckled skin and frizzy red hair that she kept under her cowboy hat. Dressed in a long sleeved chequered shirt which had a knot tied at her waist, denim shorts and brown boots, she was every inch the southern girl her accent implied. Her baby blue eyes sparkled as she examined the smiling jester.
“What brings you over to my side of the world stranger?”
“What else? I got a car I need you to work on - A Porsche Cayman.”
Anne let out an appreciative whistle. “That’s a pretty nice ride you got there. A big upgrade over that joke mobile of yours for sure. Speaking of which, what did you do with the old jalopy?”
Joe swallowed the urge to get into an argument with her over the merits of his ‘joke-mobile’ which was currently resting in VILE HQ. Instead, he let out a laugh before getting down to business.
“Rest assured the old girl’s in good hands. I wouldn’t have it any other way after all the work you did on her. Anyways, the Cayman’s waiting in a plane I got parked about a quarter mile from here. I can take you to her when you’re ready.”
Anne’s shoulder’s immediately stiffened and she stared suspiciously at Joe.
“Why is the car in a plane and why do I have to go to it instead of the other way around? What are you leaving out Joe?”
Joe shrugged nervously. “Nothing of importance. I assure you.”
Anne’s raised eyebrows showed she wasn’t in the mood for Joe’s jokes. Joe knew he had to come clean.
“You want me to work on it? Fine, level with me, hon. How hot is it?”
“Ok you got me. It’s scorching hot, ok?”
“WHAT? No way on earth I’ll work on that car Joe!
“Oh come on Anne!”
“No buts. You know the reason I moved here was because I went straight. I don’t deal in stolen goods no more. Now get out of my garage. I’m still paying the rent on this place and I don’t want any trouble.”
“Relax Anne. The car has to stay in the plane otherwise a pesky little GPS chip in it will activate and we wouldn’t want to draw the cops here now would we? I just need you to me a little favour and take out the chip. I’ll help you carry whatever tools you need to the plane. I’ll even pay you double your usual fee.”
“Anne, please. If you don’t help me, I’ll have to bring her to Chop.”
Anne froze. Chop Sup was an old acquaintance of both of them. He had a reputation of being the king of chop shops. He would pimp out any ride with anything on earth, provided you could afford his prices. Chop definitely had the skills to remove a GPS chip, but he had absolutely no respect for classic cars or beautiful designs. It was safe to say that if Anne was the neurosurgeon of the car world, Chop was the Dr Frankenstein.
As much as Anne did not want to deal with a hot car, a part of her just couldn’t bear Chop’s greasy hands destroying the pristine Porsche Caymen. Inwardly she knew that she was probably the only person on earth who could get the chip out without leaving so much as a scar on the car. Gritting her teeth she turned to Joe.
“Wait. I’ll do it. But it’s gonna cost you TRIPLE my usual fee…and NO FUNNY money.”
“Thanks Anne. I owe you. And don’t worry, I don’t deal in counterfeits. You’ll be paid in genuine, non-stolen cash.”
Anne gave Joe a look that indicated she didn’t believe the thief had honest cash on him.
“Oh come on. My new gig pays well. I work hard to make an ‘honest’ living.”
Anne shook her head and gave a half-grin. He never changes. Can’t understand why I’m still friends with him but oh well, better him that the other 99% of my former clients. Turning towards the Mustang, she gave Joe his marching orders.
“Gimme an hour to finish up this baby and then we’ll leave. I’d better not lose any of my good tools while you’re here. And Joe, this is the last time I’m working on a hot car for you.”
“No problem Anne. Hyuck hyuck. I’ll just pop back into town and make a quick withdrawal.”
Joe quickly clarified his intentions when he saw Anne’s raised eyebrows.
“I’m just going to take some money out of my account to pay you with. I won’t be robbing any banks. Scout’s honour. Oh wait, I was never a scout. Forget that. Let’s just say you have my word that I won’t be getting into any trouble in town. You know I always keep my word.” Joe let out a chuckle and left the garage.
Anne shook her head as the jester left. Some people never learn, and she was no exception. She only hoped Joe wouldn’t be getting her into any major trouble again.
(ooc: Anne Gene is a neutral NPC. If anyone would like to use her in future storylines, drop me an email)
A media hustle was underway to announce Hailey Weller's safe return. With the center of ACME compound being occupied by a giant unstable hole to the parking garage, the new press conference room would be in the academy's lecture theater 2.
Chase Devineaux led a team to the tower's supposed location, but Tanya and a handful of supporting agents, knew that team won't be coming back with ACME's building. It didn't matter what they did with the structure, Tanya didn't care, as long as her side of the story was in line with what the people needed to know.
The young Russian took her job seriously, but there were always points between the beginning and the end where she wondered if this was really her line of work.
Pulling a pen cap off with her teeth, she began to write a draft for the press release. While both her hands were busy, her phone dinged with a message.
"Tanya, on consequent press releases, refer to Mr. Devineaux as Director of Operations. Tell him his job is safe, and take care of residual press from the Leaked E. Mayhem Video. --GM on behalf of the BOD"
That was Gunther Metzger, secretary of the Board of Directors with a set of plain but cryptic directions. Was Chase getting a promotion as an ACME Director? And 'Tell him his job is safe'? Why not tell him yourselves? The Russian pushed her questions aside for the sake of cohesiveness. 'Director-of-Operations,' she wrote with her ballpoint sensing an almost ominous tone as she dotted her i's.
5 EarlJr "Euge,"
Chase called to the pilot with an idea fresh in his head, "How many people do you know in South America?"
Eugene, still in the process of wedging gear into the hold, paused at Chase's query. South America? ACME had already white knighted Hailey back to her family; the only thing left was the VILE detainees. They might prove useful in some form, but even if ACME was able to make charges stick, that wouldn't give Oxide anything actionable. Hopping out of the cargo hatch, Eugene purposefully began his walk-around; both to ensure the engines hadn't ingested too much sand and to delay his answer to Chase's query
"Barring parts of Venezuela, I've got contacts all over the continent," Eugene answered from the engine cowling. "Won't do you much good though; you'll have to play this one by the book, as high profile as it is." The media was not going to let the VILE agents apprehended in Brazil out of their sight, as they were the only ones able to provide the answers ACME and the world at large so desperately wanted.
6 Carmen (As promised, to the gentlemen in this afternoon's chat.)
Once upon a time, and altogether not too long ago, an ambitious wanderer took it upon herself to perform the impossible task of moving a proud mountain. Eventually, she succeeded in the procurement of her prize only to watch parts of her well woven plans flay at the edges. A high-profile stowaway consumed resources and sent a core member of her team to the other side of the globe; while the clues she had meticulously left in the tower were seemingly neglected as its owners ironically chose to reduce the once gleaming structure to dust.
So it came pass that the infamous thief took a course on foot towards a small town in southern Tunisia. The late morning sun made the journey significantly less enjoyable, and by the 30-minute mark, she began to miss her motorcycle. Other thoughts swam through her mind while she traversed a barely visible road. The shawl wrapped around her head served as both shade and disguise, but she would never pass as a local; the more imperative for her to find a friendly face.
An hour later, as the sun rose to ever daunting heights, Carmen Sandiego reached a tan hill. At its foot was a structure formed from earth; a residential complex built into the shadow of the rise, it comprised of several cavities with doors and windows lined in white and painted decoratively in rich sky blue. Its ingenuity made her smile and she exhaled a short, airy laughter at having reached her destination.
The bedouin structure was a town in its own right, but it had neither name nor label. As she approached, its inhabitants readily observed her from their posts with an air of curiosity. A foreign woman walking in from the eastern desert is far from the norm, and she would need to find Saleh's family before she's forced to explain herself.
Rising from a small bench built into the town's facade, a young woman waved in her direction and promptly walked down to greet the stranger.
"You are Saleh's friend?" she asked, her eyes wide with disbelief.
"Yes," replied the thief as she read the woman's face, "Thank you for being so accommodating, I know it was short notice."
"Oh it's marvellous we have a visitor, I just thought Saleh did not have lady friends," the explanation was full of mirth, "I am his sister Lesi, my husband is in Tunis for one week, but you can stay here as long as you need. My children are inside, Doma and Aleph."
"I'm Karen," Carmen introduced herself without a last name.
7 Bran_ap_Brychan Somewhere near Caernarfon, Wales.
Bran, the son of Brychan, slowly made his way through the forest towards his destination. It was a foggy night and the air was dense with the smell of rain. Soon torrents of water would be plummeting to the earth. Bran pulled his grey trench coat about his body and pushed on into the night.
The rain was pouring through the trees by the time Bran reached his journey's destination, a single, lonely grave seated on a long forgotten hill. Bran approached the grave marker and knelt beside it. It was a simple marker, decorated minimally and appearing older than the earth itself. Bran placed a hand on it and felt down the marker until his hand rested on an object. Pulling the object free, he beheld a small chest. The chest was beautifully ornamented with priceless jewels and ancient Celtic carvings. Bran slowly lifted the cover off the chest and withdrew a small piece of parchment. Unfolding the paper, Bran read the words which filled the page. A smile crept across his face, and Bran ap Brychan knelt there, reading the paper, as water soaked through his coat and into his soul.
A sound suddenly echoed through the forest. Bran started and placed his hand on a revolver hidden beneath his coat. He waited a few moments, hardly breathing. He waited, listening for a sound or a sign that someone was there. But no one came, no one. Bran quietly slid the chest back into its place and became one with the shadows, sliding into the darkness provided by the many haunting trees. He turned once more and gazed at the old grave site; then Bran ap Brychan, leaving the hill and the forest behind, reentered the world. He was ready for his new life. He was ready to move on.
8 Vic-the-Slick (According to Deric, he don't speak Portuguese so well, so below is only Vic's perspective. All parties mentioned have approved.)
Vic sat in a cement holding cell picking at paint chips on the bars. He could hear talking from the guards and from the two ACME agents, everything in Portuguese. He wished now that he took more time learning the language.
He knew a plane left and took the Weller girl with it, the ACME Chief and a few other agents were gone. Vic had to wonder what was taking so long.
"Hey Vic," the navigator from VILE sat in the cell opposite his, "when do you think we get a phone call?"
Vic gave an exasperated sigh, "It's Brazil, you lutz."
The navigator took his answer and stayed silent, but only for a few seconds, "So… no call then?"
Suddenly, the two ACME agents he identified as Deric Storm and Cali Corranos walked in to talk to the guards. With them was a butch Brazilian that looked like he came off an army recruitment ad. There was a lot of pointing and a lot of Portuguese, but Vic didn't sense anything good for him in all that. Then the guards came in, removed the prisoners from their cells and Vic followed instructions to the airfield.
"We're going for a ride, ah?" he joked but no one replied.
A plane was waiting, and they were led in. Vic thought it was a little weird how the agents were going about this, but he didn't have reasons to freak out.
The more ACME stayed quiet, the more Vic started to get nervous. But even before he knew it, the plane was on a descent.
"What's goin' on??" Vic asked one of the agents, "You ACME kids misplaced your instruction books again?"
Deric said something that the conman couldn't hear over the noise, but Vic understood what it meant. The plane was going down.
"Alter, das ist wunderbar! We stole the whole tower! How are you so grumpy?"
Kidman continued to stare moodily into space. She had been sitting in the same place for nearly the whole day; slumped over a cafeteria table, chin resting upon folded arms. The storm cloud over her head was near palpable and she stood out easily against the celebration around her.
The tower had been stolen a day or so before, and the second she heard whispers of confirmation she had gone into hiding. She knew she wouldn’t have the capacity to feign surprise at the news and so waited until she was sure it had become common knowledge.
It certainly was now.
‘Souvenirs’ taken from the tower when Carmen’s team had raided it were already being sold around base. She was only vaguely surprised by how quickly they had shown up here.
Another man came up beside the first, a children’s ‘ACME gumshoe’ badge pinned to his hat.
“Hey man, check this recruitment poster! I put in rec room, ya? What’s her problem?”
The first man shrugged. “Maybe she’s sad for the ACMEs?”
Kidman sighed again, this time heavy with exasperation. “None of you think this may have been too much?”
“Too much? It’s Carmen! This is what Carmen does! She sure showed them who runs the game. Put them in their place!”
“Ya, you mess with us, we steal sie ihr haus. Sometimes I wonder if you’re in the right place, Three of Nine.”
The girl frowned at her Borg inspired nickname. ‘Like they should talk.’
She really wanted to argue further, bleed out the building toxicity that had been building since Vic left, but that would mean further questioning Carmen in public. To do so felt like a betrayal, and part of her didn’t want to admit her faith in the woman’s judgment had been so horribly shaken.
She got up and left instead.
It was dusk and Kidman was on the roof again. All around her came the sounds of celebration and it only served to drive her deeper into dread.
‘Am I the only one worried about this? No, there must be others. They probably don’t want to speak up for the same reason I don’t. There’s no point. It’s done.’
‘Well maybe if you had gone to Vic sooner- ’ came her inner voice dissent but she cut it off.
‘It wouldn’t have done any good. What I, what we have to say doesn’t matter. Sometimes I wish I could be a mindless drone or an opportunist that could just jump ship should she run it aground. Maybe that’s it. I…I can’t just not care. I love this place, I love this rainbow, and I love who she must be to have made it. I want you to stay free, Carmen…’
She leaned against the railing. No doubt Carmen was out there, somewhere, celebrating too. She wanted to be happy for her, but worry gnawed at every attempt she made.
‘No. There’s nothing to be done, and maybe it isn’t as bad as I feel. Maybe I’m just a pessimist, a worrier…. ’
She gave a few tries at smiling. It was awkward at best, hindered by disuse and scars, but it did make her feel a little better.
‘Maybe I’m just not used to being so close to the action. I’ve had months to worry over this. They’ve only known the success. Master, why did you curse me with that knowledge if I could do nothing for it? No, no more regret. There is happiness all around. I should take some for myself.’
Kidman gazed down at the partiers, embracing their laughter, their joyful drunkedness, their…confusion?
As she watched, the scene below began to ripple with anxiety. The music quieted and the games halted as the dusk lit up with the screens of so many smart phones. She heard shouting and the girl felt her heart race as she leaned forward to catch the words;
“The plane! The plane, it crashed!”
Thirty-two hours had passed since a team from ACME was despatched from its headquarters in San Francisco to São Paolo, Brazil with the intent to retrieve an intrepid Hailey Weller.
The precipitation had shadowed them – the generous rainfall that had created the lush colours of the Federative Republic transforming into a misty drizzle that blanketed the lunch-time bustle of the bay area. A six-year-old child pitter-pattered through the private terminal of the San Francisco International Airport, clad in a pink-coloured coat that her grandfather had donned for her. She waved two inflated latex gloves, beckoning the elderly man to make haste and join her as she climbed into the first of a short caravan of unmarked SUVs…
* * *
Sophie Conrad, with her profession and role indiscernible behind her placid expression, a generic outfit of a tailored shirt and fitted pants, and the visual absence of an ACME identification tag that had been tucked between the folds of the coat draped upon her arm, kept a steady pace as she moved through the ACME Academy. Five measured steps separated her from the backs of Chief Everard Weller, ACME Agent Nevon Blair, and the young Hailey Weller.
Leading the way was a young blonde woman, conveying a succinct walking brief to the Chief. She was pragmatic in manner, spoke briskly and had a faint Russian accent that Sophie found somewhat melodious.
Lecture Theatre 2 was a 250-seat auditorium that had, not so long ago, seen various groups of exuberant ACME cadets pouring in and out of it for lessons on anything from Criminal Law to Corporate Security. Now, it was packed with every manner of reporter and journalist, all eagerly awaiting to hear from a man so rarely seen in the public eye and yet so important to the institution of ACME.
Chief Everard Weller bent down to take Hailey Weller into his arms. He nodded once at the steady Press & Public Relations Officer beside him, and stepped into the filled room.
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, thank you for gathering at such short notice…”
For a moment, as the Chief of ACME entered, his granddaughter in his arms and a mix of personnel in his wake, a hush fell upon the occupants of the auditorium. Then, a single murmur gave rise to a torrent of confabulation. Sophie kept her eyes on Hailey Weller as the Chief strode towards the front of the lecture theatre, returning a smile and the playful wave that the child had sent her way.
As Dr. Everard Weller took centre-stage, Sophie stole a seat on the third row, disappearing into the mess of media representatives. She turne
d her attention to the surroundings, evaluating the crowd with acute percipience.
It took many long minutes before such a degree of quiet was attained so that the venerated gentleman could speak.
“I am happy and relieved to announce that my granddaughter, Hailey Weller, has been returned yesterday. An ACME physician has examined her and the report is that she is her perfect, healthy self - even though she has missed her ‘Kuppa’ much...”
From her seat, she did nothing to acknowledge the rapid glance that Chief Weller cast in her direction. Everything he had said, was saying, and would say in this auditorium, she recognised existed for the sole purpose of the audience this message was being and would be broadcasted to. She watched, like everyone else in the theatre, as Dr. Weller gave Hailey a light kiss on the cheek - which elicited a giggle from the child -, beamed, and cleared his throat.
“I would like to thank the team from ACME, some of whom are still on their way back; and I would like to thank VILE for their kind cooperation on this... matter. I can't say more. It has been a tiring ordeal. Thank you all and have a good day.”
Sophie stood up, like everyone else in the room, but instead of leaning forward to solicit more words from the Chief or the Press & Public Relations Officer accompanying him, she picked up her coat and slipped out of the lecture theatre. A message would be sent to her mobile phone should ACME require her presence for a debrief.
The excuse of returning Hailey Weller to her undoubtedly anxious parents was proffered as the Chief and his accompanying contingent were escorted from the auditorium. No questions would be answered and no further comments would be made.
The true circumstances of how and why the granddaughter of the Chief of ACME had come to be in his office at such a pivotal moment in the history of the organisation would never be known nor did Sophie consider it anymore important to the current circumstances. All that the child had recounted to the doctor - as they drew smiling faces, miniature clock faces and winged figures with large skirts on the surfaces of purple-coloured examination gloves - was that she had meandered across the ACME compound to tell her ‘Kuppa’ of a cartoon she had dreamt about and had, “like magic”, gone on an adventure to discover that fairies dressed in red, and that their queen was named ‘Carmen’.
* * *
Her steps were swift as she traversed the ACME park grounds, heading directly towards the ACME Medical Center. The 12-degree Celsius air felt five degrees colder and, when Sophie decided that she had put enough distance between her and the media circus that surrounded the square whence a 16-storey tower once stood and the adjacent Academy buildings, she slowed her pace to undo the low chignon that had held her hair in place and lifted her head to expose her face to the wind, enjoying the sensation of its biting chill on her skin.
Her thoughts wandered to Agent Deric Storm and Calina Corranos, the two members of the team who had remained in Brazil with the task of dealing with the VILE representation they had captured. She did not know their directive nor did it feel essential to know it; all she could hope for was its success and their safe return.She considered the video Agent Eleanor Mayhem had transmitted and could only wonder about its ramifications. There had been such differing reactions from the agents she had travelled with that could only be a glimpse into the conflict such an agenda - as well-intended as it was - could cause.
Yet, she hoped that Eleanor Mayhem would not find the persecution Chase Devineaux had appeared to receive from the Board of Directors at ACME. The devoted agent, Sophie perceived, clearly had great feelings for the Field Director.
All these thoughts accompanied Sophie as she entered the Emergency Department of the ACME Medical Center and glanced around at the empty chairs and trolleys that appeared bereft in the low light. The facility was now devoid of patients and only a minimal number of staff remained to attend to any internal medical requirements. Some of these select employees were now gathered in a circle behind the capacious nursing counter in the center of the department. Clearly, something of import had occurred to command such attention.
The sound of her boots against the linoleum-covered floor announced her arrival and a nurse whirled around with widened eyes. “Sophie,” she exclaimed, bringing a hand to her chest, “there has been a plane crash in Brazil!”
No further elaboration was required. The looks on the faces that now turned towards her explicated the necessary details. Sophie Conrad frowned and looked down, her gaze falling upon the flakes of colour that peppered the linoleum beneath her feet, a flash of aggravation betrayed by her expression as she pressed her lips together. Then, she drew a breath and raised her head.
“We will wait for further instructions from ACME Command,” she said with resolution, approaching the counter and reaching over it for one of the tablet computers that had been plugged in to charge. She disconnected the device from its power source and logged-in with her thumbprint to extract a freshly-created roster of medical, nursing, and ancillary personnel that would provide for the needs of ACME for the immediate future. “Don’t assume anything,” she instructed as she departed, the computer in arm.
[Credit: EarlJr, for consult. Chief and Chase, for indulgence and privilege. Carmen, for inspiration.]
With ACME's tower and its attached canteen missing, food trucks along the pavilion provided a temporary spot for staff meals. Siting down with a Bay Chicken Burrito, Ivy Monaghan watched the muted IBN video of Eleanor Mayhem's plea on behalf of Chase Devineaux. This was her second time seeing the broadcast, which had since become viral news across national networks. There was a leak in the company somewhere, but in times like these, that was the least of their problems.
Several weeks ago Chase and a field team had left to Luxembourg, before his departure he asked an odd question.
Chip Masters was sitting in his office, listening to the news station on the radio. When the news conference started, he stopped poking around in the computer's logs for a minute to listen. After what he regarded as a short speech, the IT manager stood up, turned off the radio, and walked around his small office in the basement of the former tower. For a while now, he had been trying to figure out who had forged the password series to gain access to Ms. Mayhem's video file. As he heard the door open, he turned around. "What's going on outside?" he asked.
Winston Payne, Chip's personal assistant, walked in with a new pot of coffee for the overworked nerd. "It's bedlam, sir," the assistant said. "Let's just leave it at that."
Chip sighed. "I guess I should be glad that I'm staying inside, then," he muttered before going back to his desk. "It just seems like nothing is going right for anyone today."
The Ksar Al Rimal Resort in Tétouan was a stunning multilevel structure that breathed an air of classic Moroccan architecture while managing keeping up with modern vacation standards. It's individual apartments included balconies and sun terraces that allowed vacationers to enjoy the view of the Rif Mountains and Mediterranean sea in private. A timeshare here also happens to be one of VILE's local "safe houses."
It was the first time that Flag had to himself since just before he, Vic, and a hacker stole the ACME tower and he welcomed the change of pace. Even though the heist had taken less than a week to pull of, it felt like years had gone by since he was in San Francisco. Even the news of the event seemed minimal and distant when compared to that of the regions local turmoil.
While the resort offered incredibly levels of privacy and would probably be able to hide him for months on end, he felt that he needed to get out of Africa. With 10 minutes to go before he could move his few clothes to the dryer, he made his way to the little kitchen area counter where a phone book sat.
He thumbed through the business section carefully, looking for certain names that would prove bogus to a caller that didn't know certain phrases. Eventually he found one of a tiny boutique about 45 minutes away by taxi. A tiny voice answered his call in a practice business spiel that started off in English, but then was translated to the local tongue.
"I would like to be transfered to the French office please."
After holding for a long while he was speaking with someone of whom he had never met, but had worked with on a few "projects."
"Hello Sieur. I think it's time we met."
(OOC: The following has been vetted and approved by Carmen)
The plane crashed.
The text message Joe received had contained only these three poignant words but it was enough to wipe the smile off his face and freeze him in his tracks. Willing his fingers to move, Joe silently texted his reply to the VILE henchmen who had contacted him on his disposable phone.
As Joe waited anxiously for the answer, he pondered the far-reaching implications that the plane crash could have. Hailey Weller was an innocent little girl who had been in the wrong place at the wrong time. No one in VILE or ACME wanted to see her get hurt. If, by some tragic occurrence, she was hurt or worse yet, permanently indisposed, it would be the greatest tragedy in the history of VILE. Joe figured Carmen would probably never forgive herself if Hailey got hurt. Heck, probably no one at VILE would forgive themselves.
To make matters worse, the backlash from the incident could result in a perfect storm that would engulf and irrefutably change the dynamics of the great game forever; it could even put a premature end to VILE if it really got out of hand.
Before Joe could continue with this disturbing line of thought, he was jolted back to reality by the buzzing of his phone, indicating a reply to his message.
She’s safe. Different plane. The one that went down had Vic.
Joe breathed a small sigh of relief that sweet little Hailey was safe. At least that tragedy had been averted. Joe relaxed slightly before the other implications of the message struck him. Vic the Slick had been on the plane that went down.
It wasn’t that Joe didn’t Vic being on the plane instead of Hailey made the news better. It was more of the fact that circumstances were different. Everyone involved in the game, whether VILE or ACME, knew the risks involved with the nature of the game and were fully willing to take them. Hailey knew nothing and should never have been part of the game. Vic, on the other hand, was a veteran of the game. He knew the risks.
That said, the plane crash was still disconcerting. He hoped Vic, and whichever unlucky ACME gumshoes were with him, had somehow survived.
Joe’s mind continued to consider possible courses of action as he continued the text conversation.
Off the grid.
Noted. Will return ASAP. Prize in tow. No rash actions.
Anne had been observing the whole proceedings with a silent VILE Bot standing by her side. Even though Joe had donned his mask on his return to the plane, Anne could tell that Joe was no longer smiling. She had sensed the tension in the air the moment Joe read the first text message. It had worried her that her normally jovial friend had become so sombre. She knew that the only time Joe acted like he did now was when something extremely serious occurred.
“Joe, what happened? Talk to me, hon.”
“There has been an unfortunate circumstance at work.”
“Joe, I’m so sorry. Was anyone hurt?”
“Details aren’t clear at the moment.”
Joe glanced at Anne’s worried face and softened his tone to put her at ease.
“Don’t worry Anne. It doesn’t concern you. I’m sure no one was seriously hurt in the incident. I do however need to return to ‘corporate HQ’ to settle some matters as soon as possible. Everything will be fine.”
Anne wasn’t buying it but she knew enough to not press Joe for details he didn’t want to share. She moved over to give him a hug and a small peck on the cheek.
“I’m sorry about whatever happened. Look, if you need a friend to talk to, you know where to find me.”
“Anne, you have nothing to be sorry for. You’re a great friend, one of the few I have. I promise the next time I visit, it won’t be on business. Maybe then, I’ll actually get to try that famous fried chicken and collard greens you do so well.”
Anne responded with a warm smile. She was glad that Joe had managed to insert that little moment of levity into the conversation although it was obviously intended for her benefit. She decided to try and lighten the mood a little further with some welcomed news for Joe.
“Sure thing hon. By the way, I have some good news for you.”
“Good. I could use some right now. Let’s hear it, Anne.”
“I managed to get the chip out without much trouble. The Cayman’s still as pristine as when I first started on her. Oh, and I threw in a free engine tune up as well.”
Joe cracked a genuine smile in response.
“Thanks Anne, you’re the greatest. I would stay and chat but as you know, I need to go. Take care of yourself.”
“Right back at you, hon. Stay out of jail, you hear me?”
“Don’t worry. I plan to.”
Anne’s only response to that was to laugh heartily as she left the plane.
Once he was sure Anne was far enough from the plane to not get hurt from take-off, Joe issued the order to VILE Bot.
“VILE Bot, set a course for headquarters. It’s time to go home!”
15 Chase (Chase, Euge, and Mikal are back in San Francisco after this post. It makes no significant progress to time, only clarifies what ACME has been doing in Tunisia.)
San Francisco, ACME Headquarters
Shortly before taking off from the site of ACME's former tower in Southern Tunisia, a call from Arshraq Jal Darsha* prompted Chase Devineaux to go to Tunis, its capital city.
Officials there arrested two VILE henchmen with recording and radio equipment, and a tape of ACME tower's destruction. In an interrogation session with Chase, the men verified that filming the building was their job, and that they had informed VILE of ACME's actions, but had not yet transferred the video footage. Both remained adamant that their employer, Carmen Sandiego, had left with an earlier caravan. While Mikal suggested they were lying and a different method may be required, the Field Director saw further grilling unnecessary.
Overnight, military staff serviced, cleaned, and refueled the ACME plane at an airbase near Tunis. Chase Devineaux and his two companions, Mikal Darsha and Eugene Grovington stayed at a nearby residence, somewhat away from events unfolding at the city center. They talked, much of the night and early into morning hours. Topics included the tower, VILE, Hailey Weller, the press, and Eleanor Mayhem's video. This conversation continued as the plane rose into the skies and headed westward to California.
Somewhere over northwestern Africa, a decided Devineaux sent instructions to Deric Storm and Calina Corranos in South America to take the VILE agents in custody out of Brazil.
Six hours later, over the Atlantic Ocean, Chase received confirmation that an ACME plane had gone down in Central America. The Field Director immediately relayed this news to Tanya Erzin who, after Chief Weller's press conference, briefly announced it to the media in attendance.
Two hours after that, International Broadcasting Network (IBN) obtained and ran crash footage from local sources in Central America. A few more hours and other news networks began reporting on the same video.
By the time Chase Devineaux arrived in San Francisco, reporters were already waiting inside one of the airfield's hangars. Tanya planned clearly, that the pilot and the Israeli agent would exit through the back, while Chase would don a suit and immediately step into the fray.
"I won't be talking about the plane crash," Chase spoke in a low tone as Tanya adjusted his tie, "Nothing on Eleanor's video either." That was something he had to confront with Mayhem privately.
"That is what I expect too," The PR nodded, "This is only small conference, we have to tell them something or they go mad." She then walked him into the press area, the stark lighting temporarily blinded Devineaux as he entered. Tanya had misused the word 'small', giving the impression of size where she meant time. Despite a scheduled 'quick' press announcement, some reporters had to stand due to limited numbers of chairs.
Was ACME Tower found in once piece? ...plans to restore the building? Will there be a... Where is Carmen Sandiego? ...association with Eleanor Mayhem? How was Hailey Weller rescued? ...your resignation?
Questions blared from a variety of sources as Chase Devineaux sharply scanned for the mouths that matched them should he meet these individuals in person.
"I'm relieved to report that we did find ACME tower," his opening thundered through ACME's Marantz speakers and hushed the journalists, "unfortunately, it was not in perfect condition." Board members, Tanya relayed visually to Chase, were watching him, and he subconsciously cleared his throat, "As a result, we've pushed for a private contract to salvage the building while a new structure will be designed and built to facilitate our functioning offices."
More questions erupted, merging into noise that stopped abruptly as the speaker raised his hand.
"We're not taking questions tonight," after drawing a breath and placing his palm back on the podium, he continued, "ACME does not regret the loss of our tower," Devineaux paused for thought, "but we do regret the action of certain individuals, or group of individuals, that may have caused unnecessary affliction onto others; be it worry, disappointment, or fear."
An unusual silence hummed from the crowd sitting in their steel foldable chairs like hornets awaiting further instruction.
"I invite you to take tonight's news with rational judgment. As far as ACME is concerned, Hailey Weller is safe, we have accomplished our objective," Chase firmly projected, "We will stand again, and we will rebuild."
Compliant murmurs broke through pockets of stillness, "I will refer you to Tantyana Erzin, of the PR Department," the statement ended, "Thank you for your time."
Tanya then took the podium, she was a natural now at debriefing the press and wrapping up conferences, no matter how short. More questions arose on the fallen plane, but the Russian only answered with calculated features, "We'll address that as soon as we have more information."
Not far from the hangar, a few ACME board members were waiting for Chase Devineaux to finish. In a meeting that would take place inside a black limousine, the Field Director was about to receive his new title as Director of Operations.
This, the board deliberated, was a reward that would keep him playing on their side for some time to come.
* Arshraq Jal Darsha is Mikal's brother and a head figure in Sayeret Mat'kal, or the Israeli Special Forces. In "Hiatus," he helped ACME gather satellite feeds from Southern Tunisia and marked VILE's Russian plane.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
"How the hell can a drugstore carry only red hair dye..." Sarah grumbled to herself as hands covered with cheap plastic gloves massaged the shade 'Autumn Fireworks' into her scalp. With a steady hand she reached to a bag of disposable eyebrow brushes, removing one only to stick it into her hair, grab some additional color and drag it through her naturally light brown eyebrows.
The last day or so in Brazil had been something of a wash in the ways of work. First it was the spur of the moment 12 hour plane ride as alias 'Hedda Lettiuce' while drunk and then hungover, then the arrival to Sao Paulo's Safehouse which was, even in her humble opinion, a dump. Despite the knowledge of heightened police awareness they hadn't been much to get around.
Sarah had stayed hidden the entire time she'd been in Sao Paulo, staying in the safehouse while sending out informants to bring back information on how things were going. She'd already planned a raid on the jail where Vic was being held - as it was the red tape of the law was on her side and between that and the well greased palms of some of Sao Paulo's finest getting out her co-worker wouldn't have been so much of a big deal. He hadn't even been moved to a high security facility yet.
So why was it that just before she was going to head out to spring him that reports came back that he'd been taken, by ACME, onto a plane which was, last known, headed North? Assuming that it was headed to San Francisco she'd put in a quick call to the law offices of Dewey, Cheetham and Howe. Calling in the lawyers was Sarah's least favorite way to handle things but VILE's legal team, lead by Lee Galese, could have Vic out of handcuffs before their plane even touched ground.
That is, if the plane had made it there. She'd caught news of its crash the moment it hit the lips of the underworld.
The situation Sarah was looking down the barrel of was not something unknown. The last job (the tower) had turned sour, the boss was missing without any word and a cohort was captured. Without marching orders the default plan was to lay low, let the heat die down and wait until either orders came in or she could safely move to another place. She should, in all honestly, just wait for ACME to retrieve their own and their captured, wait until Vic got back to the states and then let Lee Galese and his friends do what they do best.
That said Sarah had been in Vic's place before, a jail cell in Siberia to be exact. When things went south like this thieves had the tendency to think of self preservation first and only but Vic, while she had no deep love for him and was not someone she'd ever trust in a card game, was someone she respected enough not to leave rotting in the Darien Gap.
"We got your plane." a voice called from the bathroom door, the accompanying body of one of the hired henchmen... what was his name... Juan or something... came walking to the doorway. "It'll be ready in an hour, but he says he can only take you to the Colombian edge of it."
"That's fine, I've got a contact up there who can take me in by ATV." Sarah replied, turning her gaze back to the darkened mirror. "We leave for the airfield in 20, make sure you're ready to move."
(Disclaimer: All hunting shall be done only with NPCs, particularly any hunting done with people in animal skin. Despite how it reads, no one was killed in this post, the reader's discretion is advised.)
The whistle of an arrow pierced through the night. In and out of well trimmed hedges, a man dressed as a European roe deer panted breathlessly as he navigated in the darkness. A real deer would have had so much in its favor, the scent of an enemy, near 360 degrees of vision, adroitness and even instinct. This mockery of a chevreuil was doing a terrible job.
Another arrow screeched, this time, landing on the deer's white tail.
The man vocalised a series of high-pitched screams, first at the arrow, then at the rustling of leaves, and finally at the archer who appeared before him.
"Be a dear...," the woman's crystalline sugary voice shattered the faux deer's remaining shreds of pride and it froze, "and try not to scream."
"Oh countess, please countess, no more," said the man disguised as game, "we will never reheat, we will always make a fresh brew."
"Walther," she said with adjoining laughter, "that's all your Countess wishes to hear."
The huntress retrieved an arrow from her cache, and with an Athene arching of both her bow and eyebrows, she struck another projectile on the deer's rump. In the distance, a clock tower chimed the 11th hour, and in the excitement, Walther fainted.
"Clean this up," instructed Contessa Adrianna Covrenzi to her followers, "and try not to damage the roe skin, I need it still."
* * * * *
After a thorough shower, the countess sauntered in her robe to her television, which flickered on as it detected her presence. On the news through various pre-recorded channels were talks of ACME and 'Carmen Sandiego.'
"You are darling," Adrianna stretch her words to comment on VILE's latest tower heist, "taking their building like taking the temple from the Mayans."
She forwarded her recordings to the most recent ACME news broadcast showing its dapper Director of Operations speaking inside a hangar.
"Or maybe..." the Countess paused at a particularly good frame and zoomed in, "you like playing with fire." Anything that interested Carmen, she thought, would interest her, and the way this man wasn't 'taking questions' made her want to jab enquiries.
Adrianna angled her head so that she only saw the blurred grey figure on television through thin slits above her nose, "Tempting," she whispered.
"Roberto!" the Countess' request vibrated in her modern day castle.
"He's not here, madame," a servant answered quickly, "Roberto is due to return from the hospital tomorrow."
"And who are you?"
"Yes, whatever," Adrianna Covrenzi impatiently ordered, "get all my things ready. We're going hunting."
Upon arrival, the 777 containing Oxide was marshaled into hanger two. They were met by Tanya before exiting the aircraft, who briefed the Field Director in her usual rapid fire manner before hustling Eugene and Mikal out one of the rear exits, away from the glare of the media. While understanding the logic of this decision, Eugene was undeniably curious about the media's reaction to this latest tidbit, and elected to stick around and watch.
The press conference itself didn't net much in the way of new intel, but watching Chase enter the limousine with a set of board members induced a raised eyebrow, considering the leaked video alleged they wanted Chase's head on a platter. What would happen then? Eugene was the one who suggested the means for this particular project, but none of it could actually happen without the Field Director's sway. Eugene faced a decision; scrub the whole project, or proceed as planned? After a moment at war with himself, he decided to proceed, leaving himself an escape route in case things went south.
Mentally filing away the press circus for further review, Eugene borrowed an airport tug and shot off across the tarmac to his office. Flight operations at ACME's private field had increased twenty-fold since the loss of the C-5 network, and the airport had turned into a nutroll, with aircraft lined up five deep on nearly every taxiway. Eventually Eugene made it to his office, and after some browsing, found the file folder he was looking for. Opening it, he pulled out the preset contingency ACME had compiled in the event of a missing or overdue aircraft and made a copy of the relevant sections, replacing the original in its bright red folder.
After staring at the outline page for a few moments, he attacked the checklist with a marker, blanking out sections they wouldn't need for this particular incident. Finished with that page, he bought the office computer out of sleep mode and drafted a quick technical explanation they could spoon-feed to detail hungry media. "... an incorrectly set oxygen source selector switch lead to a loss of consciousness in the crew. The lack of crew intervention eventually caused the aircraft to impact terrain at cruise power." Satisfied this would keep the public at bay, Eugene sent this over and encrypted back channel to Tanya, along with the newly redacted emergency plan. 'I trust you'll dispense this at the appropriate time, if necessary. Remember, no survivors.'
Eugene set the sterilization program to clear any trace of sent messages, and glanced at his watch before dropping into his seat with a magazine. It would take several more minutes for the worm to scour the network clean of questionable messages.
Nevon couldn't believe what happened. A plane carrying both ACME and VILE agents went down in Central America, and he couldn't get any details at all. When Deric Storm separated the teams, Chief, Doc Sophie, Nev, and Hailey came back on one plane, and Deric and Cali stayed behind. Nev didn't give it a second thought. Now he wished he could have done something. He tried texting Deric, but there was no response.
Late in the evening, the rookie snuck into the hangar after Mr. G's plane landed to listen to Chase talk to the press. It was so different from what Nevon expected that it almost hurt. The way Chase Devineaux spoke made it feel like he had to choose his words. He didn't talk about the plane at all, and he hurried off, leaving the stage to Tanya.
Nev decided his hero was just as concerned about the plane crash as he was, and was probably discussing it with the board members in that black limo.
On his way back to the dorm he texted Dan: "You awake enough to go grab some slurpees at the quick-e mart?"
(The following is a collaborative entry between Kidman and Joe Kerr)
VILE HQ, Antarctica -
When Joe had returned to HQ following the news of the plane crash, the mood was still relatively tense. No news had yet filtered in as to whether the passengers of the ill-fated plane had survived. Many of the henchmen had spent countless hours checking every possible news source and radio frequency to see if any updates could be found. The disappointment of not having any news, coupled with the fatigue and stress of the situation, had created a rather stifling atmosphere of tension around the place. The only silver lining so far was that a contact from the safe house in Brazil had confirmed that Sarah Nade was currently working on finding Vic, or what was left of him.
Since returning, Joe had not had time to enjoy his new ‘prize’. Instead, apart catching up on some sleep and leaving VILE Bot to be recharged and serviced by the HQ technicians, Joe spent the rest of his time trying to reassure the jumpy henchmen and spread a little cheer around the place; he was after all a jester by trade.
Armed with a few whoopee cushions, jokes about ACME and a few feel good stories about Vic (the few that he had actually been told), Joe went around HQ trying his darndest to lighten the mood. It wasn’t that he was making light of the situation, rather, he figured that the least he could do was make sure that morale stayed up and that everyone was in the proper frame of mind. A mind clouded by sadness and fear, Joe reasoned, would not be in prime condition to react efficiently and favourably to any changes in the situation.
She hadn’t been the one Carmen wanted.
Had it been weeks prior, Kidman might have been devastated. Perhaps part of her was, but like most of her emotions now it lay flat under a growing layer of apathy. After all that, Carmen hadn't wanted her. Vic probably told her of her insubordination, of her desperate bid to save them both. To save everything. Not that it mattered now, now that everything is going to hell.
There was a vague relief to fading away in obscurity, if she could have done so in England. She had been sent to Antarctica instead, on one of the longest, dullest trips of her life.
If the situation had been different, she would have found it exciting to watch the Earth’s terrain slowly morph from one climate to the next. She wanted to be excited. She wanted to be worried. She wanted to be anything other than the dullness that filled her, but all she found was the growing grey.
Kidman now sat alone on the floor in a secluded hallway within the Antarctic bunker. She found the base to be not so bad overall, but her present state recast the place as a tomb.
“I can’t even go out on the roof here, unless I wanted to freeze to death…” she murmured gloomily to an expensive pen, then fell into a quiet brood as her thoughts wandered into darker places.
It was just after lunch and Joe was preparing to do another round of ‘cheering up’ in the place when he found her. It had been her sigh that drew Joe to her; this beautiful young child clothed in dull grey hair and the most haunting eyes you ever saw. She seemed out of place in the installation and her presence intrigued Joe. Deciding to remove his mask, he went over to her.
“Hello, my name is Joe. If you haven’t guessed by my get up, I’m the resident jester. And who might you be?”
Kidman looked up to find a man with a mask in his hand standing above her. He seemed a decent enough sort, and oddly put her at ease.
"Jesting? You must feel so out of place now."
Joe smiled warmly at the curious young girl.
"Actually I happen to think my 'gift' has come in quite handy recently"
“You do realize ACME is going to ruin us, yes? And Vic and the pilot and those ACMEs...”
Joe paused slightly before replying.
“Ah yes, the plane. I won't lie. It's an unfortunate incident but I still hold out hope for the best.”
“I tried to stop all this, Joe. I should have done more, but I was... I didn’t understand what was going on at the time, what she was saying. I was too scared, and by the time it set in...”
Kidman looked at the man’s shoes.
Joe lifted the girl’s face and looked into her eyes. He smiled and replied in an assuring a tone as he could muster.
“I don’t know what you think you could have done but you certainly would have not been able to change the boss’s mind on anything. None of us knew the plane was going to crash either. It’s just one of those unexpected hazards of the game I guess.”
Kidman wasn’t used to being touched and pulled back.
“I can agree with the plane, but I feel... This tower heist is a curse on us. She flew too close to the sun. How could Ma- Carmen of all people do something so, so insane?”
“Carmen’s the boss for a reason. We at VILE trust her to know what she’s doing and to know the game better than us. Every plan she concocts, every move she takes, I believe has its carefully calculated risks. I trust that the Tower Heist was no exception. She knew the risks involved, the possible repercussions of such a bold action;she calculated and decided it was an acceptable gamble and so she took it.”
Joe paused thoughtfully before continuing.
“I don’t claim to know all her reasons or possibly agree 100% with everything. However, I trust her. That’s why I work with her, that’s why I’m here. I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t.”
“Yes... that’s what I’m supposed to do, yes? I know it’s almost like a religion here. Master can do no wrong...”
She trailed off in guilt, then looked directly at him.
“But I can’t do that. Even if she fully planned this from every angle, how, how can she account for the logical conclusion that ACME is going to be mad as hell over this? I know Master is Master, but so was Napoleon until Russia. Japan was tearing up the South Pacific until they thought to bomb Pearl Harbour. Even the best planners get tempted by such things. She’s human, you know...”
The girl paused.
“...And I don’t think I’m able to trust.“
“You might be surprised to know that I agree with you. The boss is human and she does make mistakes. What we have in VILE is not a religion by any means. It’s more of a relationship of trust. We’re a family here. If one makes a mistake, we all suffer together. If one succeeds, we all rejoice together. That’s part of the nature of the game.”
Joe stopped to give Kidman a thoughtful look.
“We all knew what we were getting into when joined up. That’s why a situation like this doesn’t faze me. Besides, no matter how mad ACME gets, they’re bound by their own code of ethics and honour just like we are. It prevents either side from going overboard.”
Kidman smiled grimly.
“Their code of ethics, you say? I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting an ACME, but I do know those who have. I’m a grunt, and I lived amongst grunts. I saw the injuries that came back. ACMEs believe that anything they do against us is justified because they are on the ‘right’ side of the law. Don’t think they won’t modify their ethics to suit their needs.”
Her thoughts warred with each other and she closed her eyes against them. Kidman was tired. He could be right, that this was all being played out over her head and she should lie back and wait like the rest, but the girl couldn't handle this slow burning nightmare anymore. It’d been a year now, and it just kept getting worse.
“Carmen...” Kidman murmured absently.
“It’s so dark down here this time of year... Joe, maybe I’m not built for this like you are. My sense of family here fell away long ago, and I was in a state of inertia until she called on me. Why she called on me, I’ll never know. Something about Chase and lucky charms. Then she sent me out to train. It was too late then...”
The girl stopped and stood up, still looking away.
“I don’t feel I have a family here, the way it was. I don’t trust Carmen’s judgment now, no matter how much I’m told otherwise. What purpose I had once has faded, what I had hoped I could be is now irrelevant, and what I am is...”
Kidman walked off to the side. It was snowing out again. Or not. Often the wind took what was already available and hurled it at the windows as its own. In the darkness it was hard to tell.
“I don’t think I belong here anymore, Joe.”
“You said it yourself, Carmen chose you. In my book, that means you belong.”
Joe walked over to where Kidman was standing and took a moment to take in the beauty of the frigid antarctic weather.
“As to why she chose you, it’s because you’re special. We all are. We each have a talent that makes this team better. Just because you’re not quite ready to play a role in the current phase of the game, it doesn’t mean you aren’t as much a part of the team as we are. The boss sent you to train so that you will be ready when it comes time for you to shine. Don’t give up on yourself so easily. She hasn’t”
Joe turned the mask over in his hand to look at it.
“As far as ACME goes, I don’t pretend to know everything about them or this game. What I do know is that both ACME and VILE have a kind of unwritten agreement that as far as this game goes, we avoid putting anyone in harm’s way, especially the innocent. That’s why you never hear of a VILE or ACME agent shot dead after a botched heist or anything of the like. Of course I wouldn’t put it past ACME to have a few dirty tricks up their sleeve. Given that we do too, it’s only fair I guess.”
Joe let out a chuckle after the last statement as he continued to admire the monotone scenery.
Kidman didn’t really believe him, but part of her didn’t care. It was nice to hear.
“She called on me, yes, but she’s since passed me by. That’s why I’m here. I doubt she would throw me out completely for being ineffective. Master is kind like that.”
Something about the man calmed her. She still felt foggy and dull, but her black thoughts leveled back into grey once more.
‘I might have gone out there if you hadn’t come by...’
“It was a good game, once, but she ended it when she took the tower. I may seem a crazed doomsday lunatic on a street corner, but it will come to pass in some form. I’d rather be wrong. I hope I’m wrong. I would love it to return to the carefree days of cat and mouse, I really would.”
The girl paused. There were no voices shouting in her head for once. It was quiet, mercifully serene.
“I say... Why do you wear a mask?”
The rain pounded against the stone wall which made up the foundations of Min y Coed manor. A terrible storm had come to Wales. Lightning streaked across the sky, illuminating the night as thunder rolled to those who could hear it. The droplets of water, pouring from heaven, were like an army, striking the manor. They fought with all their strength, but the stone would not give. It stood its ground.
Bran sat in an old chair at the end of a long wooden table. There was no movement in his body and his mind was deep within the muck of thought. The room, an ancient war-hall, was engulfed in darkness, save for a single candle which battled against the never dying night.
Bran’s thoughts were still reliving the earlier events of the deathly night. The hill, the gravestone, and the chest all teased his mind. What could they mean? Was there someone else present that night? Bran shook himself out of the trance. There were more pressing matters which needed to be addressed.
Bran lifted a glass of wine to his lips, but no liquid met his thirst. Rising from the chair, he walked to the corner of the room where he pulled a long chord that dangled from the ceiling. The sound of a bell echoed throughout the manor. It was an unexpected noise which rattled the very foundations of the mansion. Bran wandered over to the table near the center of the room. Snatching up a bottle of wine, he refreshed his glass with the blessings of the vine.
Soon the sound of footsteps could be heard approaching the room. The huge wooden door swung open, and a man of great stature appeared. His hair was the colour of dirt and his face was littered with many of the same features as Bran himself.
“You rang, sir?”, the newcomer addressed Bran in a burly welsh accent.
“Ah, Bryn, come in”.
The man approached Bran slowly, almost cautiously. “What can I do for you?”
Bran turned to fill his glass again. “I wanted to inform you that our wine supply is running low”. He lifted the bottle for Bryn to see. “It would be a tragedy if it should run out”.
“I will see to it right away”, Bryn answered nervously, glancing around the room.
“Yes... You do that”. Bran slumped back into the chair, and Bryn, sensing that the audience was over, backed out of the room.
“One more thing, Bryn”.
The voice stopped the man in his tracks. “Yes, sir?”
“Tell Vladimir to prepare the Gulfstream. I shall be needing its services very soon”
Somewhere between San Francisco and the Canadian Border
The rain was pounding against her helmet when she received a message on her communicator. Sammy had pulled off to the side of the road and turned off her motorcycle to read the message sent from Headquarters. Opening it she stared at the disturbing message on the screen, unmoving. The bright and bold words screamed out at Sammy, ‘ACME plane crash. Brazil.'
Stomach churning, Sammy hoped that none of the ACME agents had been hurt. She bit her lip and quickly slid her communicator back into her jacket pocket. She turned the ignition back on and pulled back out on the highway, heading for San Francisco faster then she had been before. She needed to get to ACME Headquarters, and fast. Fear gripped her as she sped off down the road, praying and hoping that everything was alright.
ACME San Francisco Headquarters
When Sammy arrived at ACME Headquarters it was complete chaos. She parked her vehicle and went into the building looking for someone who could direct her to the right place.
People she had never seen before brushed passed her in the hallways with papers and communicators in hand. Sammy pulled her helmet off and headed for an empty desk at the end of the hallway. There was a list with a map of the building sitting on the edge of the desk, Sammy picked it up and perused the map. She found the place, to which she was searching, and turned to go that way.
"OOF!" Sammy grunted as someone bumped into her shoulder.
The stranger peered over his glasses at Sammy, "Excuse me miss."
She looked at the mess of papers and packages in his arms with raised eyebrows. "Need some help?"
The man looked her up and down suspiciously. Deciding that she wasn't too dangerous a character he smiled at her, "Would you mind? I need an errand run."
"No, I don't mind-" her answer was cut off by the man shoving a package into her arms and saying, "Take these to Chase Devineaux's locker, number 73, quickly! I need to grab something else!" And he ran off without a thank you.
"You're welcome." Sammy grumbled, picking up the map once again in search of Chase Devineaux's locker. Finding locker number 73, she turned and hurried on her way.
This was not exactly how she planned to help.
She reached locker 73 and opened the slot to slide the package through. Hearing it drop to the bottom she wondered what this Chase Devineaux would think of a random package lying in his locker. She pulled out her notepad from inside her jacket and grabbed her pen and wrote out a note quickly:
Package was given to me to deliver. Hope that all is intact.
Deliverer: Agent Sammy Regard
She slid the note in the slot and walked out of the locker-room, in search for the stranger that had given her the package earlier.Wonder if he needs me to deliver something else...
(All parties approved.)
Location: Somewhere In The Air, The World
Time: Only Carmen Knows…
The flight had left in the wee hours of the morning, it had no in flight entertainment because the TVs were broken and the food was so lousy that Zack Monaghan didn’t bother touching the tuna paste sandwich. So it was no surprised that Zack’s attire was just screamed comfortable – sweat pants and a hoodie. The very annoyed ACME agent decided to instead absorb himself on his actual phone - it being an iPhone – with some Angry Birds.
The phone that Zack had received the original message had been erased and thrown inside a lake back in Britain. So whatever wildlife was there, whether it be duck or fish, could make any phone call. They would just have to suffer with Rebecca Black’s single if they managed to ever get it working again.
Zack pocketed his phone after losing at the same level twelve times. He closed his eyes and reviewed the message from Oxide earlier in his mind:
“Assemble small team; get to Panama. Further briefing en route.”
The only thought that came to Zack’s mind: What is actually going to happen?
Zack sat like this for a few hours. His attention was only brought back into reality when he realized that there was a voice on the intercom.
“- is arriving now. Vamos a aterrizar en el Aeropuerto Internacional de Tocumen en breve. Por favor, abrocharse el cinturón de seguridad1.”
Zack closed his phone, and buckled up his seatbelt. It was going to be a bumpy landing.
Time Lapse: Few hours
Location: Undisclosed ACME Safe House, Panama City, Panama
Time: 3:43pm (Local)
Zack’s phone and ACME communicator were charging on a table near one of the few outlets inside the safe house. Zack himself was sitting on the other side of the table, a hot pasta dish that he had bought from a street vendor on his side and was reading a copy of “To Kill A Mockingbird”.
Zack had packed light for his trip to Panama. He only had a carry on with a few clothes and had already changed the moment he arrived and was sporting the only thing he had shorts: his official blue and white L.E.A.P. Gear given to him by his acquaintance.
Every so often, his blue eyes glanced at the communicator. He had made a call via the Communicator to the head of the ACME Control Team, Russ T. Nale2, and was informed that his next instructions were to reconnect with Deric Storm’s team and bring them to this location. Well, after he ate of course.
He took a bite from his noodle dish and nearly spat it back out.
It was still too hot.
1Spanish: "We will be landing in Tocumen International Airport shortly. Please buckle your seatbelts." (Courtesy of Google Translate).
2 Russ. T. Nale is an NPC.
24 Ivy (Disclaimer: This is a story-moving post with permission from RP administrators.)
Ivy couldn't sleep. Her mind was on Brazil and the press conference that took place just a few hours before. She tossed over with a moan and glared at her bedside alarm clock. 2:03 a.m. Chase was whisked away so quickly by the board members it was insane. It was like he... oh crud. Ivy mumbled as she remembered something.
She had to deliver the trainee report to the Field Director when he returned, but with all the events surrounding the return of Hailey Weller she had been distracted. Knowing that he would be up early and that she would probably be too tired to see him in the morning, she thought it was best to put it to his locker now. Raking down her messy red hair, the ACME instructor threw herself out of bed and grabbed a pair of jeans from the floor.
# # #
Upon arriving at the staff room, Ivy walked straight to locker #73 and slid the reports in. Her folder seemed to have caught on something and wouldn't go down the slot. Grumbling, she fished through the opening and realized a package was blocking the way. This was a design flaw of the temporary lockers, and a constant source of complaints from academy staff. Attempting to shimmy the parcel out of the slot, Ivy heard an unmistakable ripping of paper and swore out loud. Items from the package fell to the floor, including several letters and a high density SD card.
One of the objects that dropped out was an official-looking note marked highly confidential.
The Note Read:
These have been cleared from Tunis. We have processed the video.
She chewed her lower lip, and looked at the mysterious SD Card. There were no security cameras in the staff locker rooms. There was no one in the building at 2:40 a.m. and Ivy was faced with a professional dilemma.
Taking a breath, she popped the card into her communicator.
A video displayed, first of the desert and then of ACME Tower in the distance. The picture blurred then focused quickly, the operator of the camera must have been at quite a distance, using a very powerful lens. She saw the face of Chase Devineaux, Eugene Grovington, another athletic male in military garb and the man she knew as Khalid Rifai from Venice. Suddenly the screen went white, and the ACME tower seemed to implode on itself. It felt like a second in time... and there was so much destruction. She swore again.
25 Philo "Can't help but think 'dat somethin' went wrong, eh Carrot Top?" Philo said from the doorway, his hands buried in a white towel placing new black spots on otherwise unso iled white fabric. "I mean...dis is Carmen we're talkin' about. It's not so often when you deal wit' Carmen dat something went wrong, but, you can't look at dat an' think that. Well...Gee, gosh, shucky-darns..."
Philo was taking a risk here. He was only a mechanic, and probably not authorized to see the video he was looking at over Ivy's shoulder. What's more, while his probation days were over he DID have a criminal record and he WAS one of Carmen's original henchmen. This could have put him back behind bars in a heartbeat. Still, Philo somehow knew he wasn't stepping on toes, just reliving old glories. Besides, if he were to accidentally let slip some sort of, admittedly outdated, info on Carmen's modus opperendi, he was sure no gumshoe would object.
An unknown location near the Mediterranean Sea
Cooling gusts of midnight wind made small whistling noises when they hit the beaked mask of Doctor Acton Roux. No sooner had he given the boat to Flag did he receive an urgent message from his friends in VILE. Two henchmen hired to film the outcome of ACME's once dominating tower were arrested by authorities in Tunis. Together, the men would meet Acton, and given passage across the sea.
In the chance that these two men were followed, they must move individually out of Europe without making contact with any VILE safe houses for the duration of three weeks.
Good luck has brought Acton time with them, as he secured their transport through his own Mediterranean contacts. Now, he was standing with the two henchmen at a heavily repaired dock on the banks of a busy city, listening to their conversation as they prepared to board a speedboat.
“Did you hear about the ACME plane crash?” said quietly the one called Saleh, “the driver saw it on TV, Vic and two more of ours was probably on it.”
“Speculation,” whispered the other, “but we still must worry.”
“What you mean?”
“You saw what they did to the tower, Saleh, they can do worse.”
“What did they do to the tower?” Dr. Roux’s curiosity emerged and he interrupted their talk.
“Obliterated it,” Saleh spoke, “we had the video, but that was confiscated. Aftermath swallowed Carmen’s motorcycle.”
The doctor’s eyes behind his mask widened and he asked, “Where is Carmen then?”
His question was met with silence and thoughtful glances. Both men were well trained to say nothing.
“Tell me,” Acton enforced, “Neither of you can aid her now. I must.”
The Moroccan named Saleh was fighting an internal dilemma. Finding that his best option may be to trust the strange Plague Doctor, he opened his mouth.
“Last that I know she is with my sister.”
Ivy gasped when she heard Philo's voice behind her.
"Can't help but think 'dat somethin' went wrong, eh Carrot Top? I mean...dis is Carmen we're talkin' about. It's not so often when you deal wit' Carmen dat something went wrong, but, you can't look at dat an' think that. Well...Gee, gosh, shucky-darns..."
"Philo, you saw that tape. It was ACME, destroying our own tower. What am I supposed to do with this?" She looked down at the now blank communicator screen, and the mess of papers on the floor.
Ivy thought she should have been afraid that someone had seen her, but for some reason having another head in the room made her feel less alone. Theories ran through her mind from Carmen being part of this to ACME having something terrible to hide. "Carmen would have never blown up the tower… did she ever say anything to you… about her time at ACME?"
28 Philo Philo shook his head. "Neh." then he paused, and tilted his head slightly up to the ceiling. "Well...dere was dis one thing...maybe jus' about any time Vic brought it up..she'd say it...it's eh, Latin....Falsus in Uno, Falsus in Omnibus. My ma used to day dat too. Shame I don't know any Latin."
Philo moved around Ivy to face her his head tilted down and to the side as he spoke. "Yeh know...one thing about Carmen is dat she always took things for what they honestly were. She didn't make no delusions about nothin'. She was a detective, and she was a GOOD detective, at least as far as you guys keep sayin'. She became a crook, an' she was a GREAT crook, dat much I know fer sure. So deh rest of us henchmen were always wonderin' what coulda come between Carmen and ACME to make her quit if she was deh Carmen we knew, who always took absolute pride in every monument she lifted. Dat's one way teh look at it. Deh other is to think dat maybe somewhere...she made a mistake. Dat's why I said it jus' now..."
Philo dug into the pocket of his jumpsuit and tossed Ivy a set of keys linked to a globe-shaped keychain. "By deh way, I really came by becayse yeh're bike is ready. I take back some o' what I said about Japanese engines. If you make an engine dat tiny an' plastic, couldn't hurt to put four of 'em in a tandem."
*False in one thing, False in All
Ivy half smiled as Philo talked about Carmen.
"Yeh know...one thing about Carmen is dat she always took things for what they honestly were. She didn't make no delusions about nothin'. She was a detective, and she was a GOOD detective, at least as far as you guys keep sayin'. She became a crook, an' she was a GREAT crook, dat much I know fer sure. So deh rest of us henchmen were always wonderin' what coulda come between Carmen and ACME to make her quit if she was deh Carmen we knew, who always took absolute pride in every monument she lifted. Dat's one way teh look at it. Deh other is to think dat maybe somewhere...she made a mistake. Dat's why I said it jus' now…"
She always believed the mechanic to be one of the most misunderstood personalities in the agency. After coming clean from his life of crime, people saw the rough grease monkey exterior as a sort of stop sign, but he did care for his mother enough to leave thieving and always seemed to show a high level of morality… even if Philo himself might not admit to it.
There was also something he had that no one in ACME did, first hand experience with Carmen Sandiego as a thief. There was more Ivy had to ask, but she needed to speak to Chase and Eugene first. She owed them at least that.
By deh way, I really came by becayse yeh're bike is ready. I take back some o' what I said about Japanese engines. If you make an engine dat tiny an' plastic, couldn't hurt to put four of 'em in a tandem."
The redhead grinned as she grabbed the keys. She had almost forgotten about the Kawasaki, and the enhancements he spoke about practically made her mouth water. "Thanks. Glad I didn't drive to campus."
Copying the video onto her communicator Ivy repacked the envelope as best she could and slid it back into the locker. "See you in the garage, Philo."
30 Chase 6 A.M. San Francisco
Chase Devineaux woke to the sound of the radio. Mornings were a time to contemplate, but a news segment on troops leaving Afghanistan was a monotonous trumpet to his muted ears. Eventually, his eyes adjusted to the iron sunrise and focused on the navy face of the timepiece next to his phone.
Last night, like every press conference, Chase had been nervous from the moment Tanya began her briefing. It took concentration, but if the world only knew how fast his heart was beating, or that the raising of his hand was a technique to calm himself, Devineaux imagined his credibility not withstanding.
As the show ended, he was ushered by ACME’s Public Relations to a black limousine, where three members representing the ACME board sat in waiting. One of them handed him a Patek Philippe Nautilus, the same one he lost years ago during Blue Moon Masquerade. The watch bore its original “CDR” engraving while its old strap was replaced with tan calfskin that felt tactile against the tip of his fingers.
“Hailey Weller had that on her when she was rescued,” said Secretary Gunther Metzger, “Carmen gave it to her, to give to ‘Piano Man’… And yes, congratulations on the Tower’s quiet demise.” The tone seemingly sliced through the air and centered at Chase’s throat. He made a mental note to have the Nautilus taken apart by an expert as soon as possible.
In the present, as he half-studied the sodium light fastened to the ceiling of his bedroom, he remembered cold sweat from his hands staining the tan watchstrap a darker brown. He pocketed the timepiece, but in hindsight, he didn’t need to.
“We’ve decided to change your position,” the smoky voice of Barbara Rosen clouded over his doubts, “Director of Operations, we want you to oversee more than field agents, we’ll need you to… do more.”
It sounded unlike any offer he had heard before.
“A new office building will be constructed one lot over, and on the spot of the former tower, we’re placing a park for agents and the like.”
Chase nodded without protest.
“And about the leaked video…”
On this, Devineaux interrupted, “I’d like to take care of it.”
“We don’t think it’s proper—“
“With all due respect, you had your chance to clean that up,” Chase stood his ground with a poignant statement, “but you’ve promoted me, you’ll have to let me do my job. One at a time.”
He remembered seeing Mrs. Rosen smile and noting that she was congratulating him on his brief speech. But in retrospect, that grin looked more self-honorary.
Shaking away memories of the night before, Chase sat up and glanced again at his clock: 6:15 AM. Time was ticking. Bearing in mind the pressure now placed on him, the newly appointed Director of Operations left a message for one of ACME’s most 'loved' Technology Specialists.
“Masters—Meet me at my locker, 73, @800hrs—Devineaux.”
(co-post with Chase)
Chip groaned as he read the text message on his communicator. Locking it back into clock mode, he left the office to find Winston nearby. “I’ve got a meeting in two hours, Winston,” he informed the young intern. “At that time, control is yours. Don’t abuse it.” After getting confirmation from the youngster, Chip walked over into the basement’s restroom to check out his appearance. Staring into the mirror, he noticed white roots showing up in his dodger-blue hair. “I need to take care of that,” he muttered to himself as he went back to his office to grab his jacket before heading off to the locker room. He silently walked over to the locker he was told to go to and leaned against it, waiting.
At 7:55 AM, Chase arrived at the locker and waved briefly to the specialist.
"Have a seat, Chip," he motioned to the benches between the lockers, "How have you been, holding the fort?"
“It’s been a minefield in here,” Chip said. “We’ve been dealing with debris in the server room, someone’s been using our network for illicit purposes, and there are loads of calls asking about how to operate the old 3270s.” He took a deep breath. “But I assume you didn’t call me here to get a performance report about the department.”
Devineaux opened his locker and momentarily stared at the torn parcel that fell to the floor. A note from Sammy Regard told him she was the last person to see this package in tact; and just under it were papers -- the reports he requested from Ivy Monaghan. One tampered delivery, two suspects. But that wasn't the focus. Putting everything back into his locker, Chase pulled out a pink and sea-foam-green envelope with a drawn red heart filled in with marker.
"This," he started by handing Chip the love letter, "was found at Eartha's temporary apartment in Luxembourg, where she was stationed while our tower was stolen."
Chip looked over the envelope. “Good lord,” he said softly as he looked it over. “She must be one hopeless romantic...” He opened it slowly and pulled out the letter inside. After giving it a quick look, he began to mutter. “Dear lord, this is almost illegible...” After reading it a few times, he looked up to Chase. “This is disgusting,” he said. “I would have been better off not knowing that she has some weird stalkerish crush on me. I may have to skip town for a couple of days...”
"That's not a primary," Devineaux interrupted, "Eartha was involved, a part of a whole, for the theft of ACME tower." The Marine captain drew a long breath, "This isn't about personal feelings, but we need a distraction. And this... it's practically a free ticket." Chase straddled the low bench so he was facing Masters for what he was about to say.
"Chip," he said, "you're going to infiltrate VILE."
(In collaboration with Doctor Acton Roux.)
Resourcefully enterprising but infamously private, the exoterically known criminal naturally found comfort in transition. She stayed but one short evening with Saleh's family. Anticipating authorities in the area to be wary, she also never fully unpacked her bag.
Early the following dawn, Lesi's husband arrived home in a taxi from Tunis, where he worked. The driver stopped for tea, honouring a nomadic tradition; and as he did, their current guest studied his car behind a pair of turquoise-lenses sunglasses designed for desert light conditions.
It was a 5-door Peugeot 206 hatchback, likely a ‘02 or ‘03 model, painted in bright canary yellow consistent with 4-wheel charters in the area. Labelled a Supermini, this particular fruit off the Peugeot tree sported a meagre 1.0 Litre, 3-cylinder petrol engine that, the thief estimated, would produce less than 80 horsepower and a top speed of no more than 100 Kilometres per hour. However, for what it lacked in strength, it boosted with fuel efficiency. That manual transmission would give her nearly 20 Kilometres per Litre or over 45 Miles per Gallon, providing she remembered her engines correctly. As she performed calculations in her head, she heard footsteps and glanced up to meet the smile of the taxi's owner."Vous aimez?" the driver asked with an unrelenting grin if she liked the car.
"Na'am," she returned his French with a ‘yes' and an introduction in the Maghreb Arabic dialect, "Sbakhir, ismi Karen.""Ismi Hichem," he gave his name, Hichem, and then asked where she was going, "Ween mechi?"
"Djerba," she replied and pointed eastward.The driver shook his head and spoke quickly in response. Carmen attempted to catch all his words, surmising that he wished not to drive so far yet again after such a long distance from Tunis. Mildly frustrated, she returned to French, a language more comfortable to her for negotiation.
"Combien cela vaut-il," she asked directly how much he wanted for the trip, "en Euros?"The driver paused for thought, and Carmen noted her surroundings while he did, the sun was fully up, letting cooler winds lead in warm air. Finally, the man offered, "100 Euros."
"Cent cinquante euros, et je vais conduire," she countered with 150 Euros, if he'll let her drive.Studying her with curious eyes, Hichem agreed reluctantly. He unlocked the car, handed her the keys and helped with her bag as she took the reins.
During the 200-kilometre, three-hour drive that may have taken four hours, she engaged in light conversation with Hichem. He avoided anything political, but was encouraging when she asked about sightseeing.
Carmen chose the city of Djerba because of its reputation as one of Tunisia's most famous tourist destinations and, more importantly, its large airport. The number of cars visibly increased as the desert road merged into paved highways, but somewhere closer to the coast; the thief sensed that she was being pursued.
A black Mercedes SUV trailed her, two vehicles behind.
To test her theory, she took a small exit towards a seaside road rather than heading straight to Djerba. When the SUV followed, its fate was sealed.
"Prépare-toi," the driver calmly told her passenger to stay sharp. Seconds later, she sped up the Peugeot 206 and wove along beachfront traffic. It felt, familiarly, like the seaside city of Monte Carlo. Behind her, the Mercedes also sped up, its V8 engine easily cancelling distance. M-Class, she thought, and clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth as she conjured another plan.
Quickly veering into the city, Carmen knew the Peugeot's petite size was the only advantage she had against the larger SUV. Streets here were still wide, close to the highway, with plenty of room to kick up sand. Again, this was the black car's game; its wheels provided good traction."Fontaine!" Hichem screamed, warning her of an upcoming roundabout.Carmen yanked the emergency brake and sharply turned the steering wheel, drifting the supermini 90-degrees and nicking the edges off an earthen fountain. Then she slid into a narrow alley, nearly uprooting an incense stall.
"Pardon..." she apologised in hushed, melodic French.
As the driver of the yellow taxi focused on losing the M-Class, it disappeared from her rear-view mirror, unable to follow her into the winding paths of Djerba. Not slowing down, Carmen asked her (now very excitable) passenger if there was a place she could exchange cars.
Hichem did not answer, deep in either thought or panic; yet he yelled again as the Black Mercedes appeared perpendicularly in front of them. The cabin door of the M-Class opened and out stepped a man in a Venetian mask identifiable with plague doctors. His hands raised, showing empty black gloves high above his hat.
VILE's leader recognised him, and the brakes of the old Peugeot protested with a stridulous shrill as it arduously countered the car's speed. Successfully, the 206 stopped just two feet in front of the masked man.
"Ne pas sortir de la voiture," she collectedly told the taxi's owner to stay in the car as she pocketed his keys.
Slowly, Carmen exited the yellow cab.
The French doctor stood between the hood of the taxi and the side of the black Mercedes. Acton Roux, the man forever bound to a raven's mask, was recommended by VILE's panel of experts due to his extraordinary skills. The highest authority in the organisation and this particular employee were never meant to meet, making this occasion very conspicuous.
"Mademoiselle...," covered by the beak, a dry voice produced muffled, interjected words, "I am Acton Roux. I crossed paths with Saleh, after he was detained in Tunis."
She took a step closer to him, and paused.
"It is not safe here," nervousness in his speech extended beyond his birdlike shield, "We must leave, now."
Carmen allowed seconds to crawl past before responding.
"Please remove your mask, Acton," a respectful thread laced her austerity.
The doctor hesitated as if she had requested he placed his head against a revolver.
"Mais," he carefully spoke, "my contract with VILE allows me to..."
"I'm sure endangering me in a speeding vehicle voids your contract," She was apathetic.Without further objection, Acton carefully unstrapped his mask. First to dislodge was the beak, and with additional force, his goggles followed. The doctor squinted briefly at the bright sunlight, but then his eyes fixed at the tall woman. Without his mask to filter the light, her skin seemingly glowed, that affect heightened with the fresh scent of sea air.
With little apprehension, Carmen studied the face of Doctor Acton Roux. A man of no more than 35 looked back at her with dark brown eyes that projected sincerity. Quickly, she categorised his features; the shape of his nose, his brows, the distance between his eyes and (for this, she took off his hat) coffee-coloured hair.
Once satisfied, she gave the man back his headpiece and walked to retrieve her bag from the taxicab. Hichem, now calmer, came out of the car to help her.
"I owe the taxi some fare," Carmen informed Doctor Roux as she placed her pack in the trunk of the black Mercedes M-Class. Hichem began to say something, but the lady hushed him, "I think five-hundred Euros," she estimated, "for the trouble, and repair."
The Doctor agreed, and then the air became still as if something was expected of him.
"Certainly you've brought cash, Acton," Carmen commented, already inside the Mercedes, buckling her safety belt.
"A oui," now understanding, Acton Roux produced the requested fee from a canvas medicine bag. He then bid farewell to the taxi driver and entered the SUV.
"I'd like to thank you," she began as soon as the doctor buckled in, "but you'll have to tell me why I needed your help?"
Acton held his breath before speaking, "Allor, you have not heard about the plane crash?"
Carmen reciprocated with a quiet narrowing of her eyes.
"No," her words softened, "What plane crash?"
(This is a joint post between Ti-Jean and Flag. All parties approved) --
Location: Paris, France
Ti-Jean's office at his company was very basic compared to what most would think. While the walls weren't bare, they only held Ti-Jean's favourite all time pieces, such as the Marilyn Monroe dress. He also had the essentials: a desk with a phone and computer on it and a comfortable seating arrangement for three. The office was missing someone however: Ti-Jean.
Fortunately, the phone that was on the desk was one that Ti-Jean designed himself. It was programmed to allow certain phone numbers to be re-routed to his cell phone.
It was at his studio located in his home where Ti-Jean picked up his iPhone via an Bluetooth device.
"Salut? Ti-Jean Thibodaux qui parle." he said while he marked some purple material with chalk, creating an outline.
"Hello Sieur. I think it's time we met."
Thibodaux made an audible smirk at the comment coming from the VILE Agent. He put down the chalk into a container that was on his workspace.
"What do I owe the honour of this event?"
"Just the usual company stuff." There was a pause. "The news here is limited. How are things looking for us?"
"Monsieur Flag, there has to be another reason than la même chose que d'ahbitude." Ti-Jean replied as he got up from his workplace and walked over to another desk, where his phone lay. "As for les nouvelles, I have nothing to report than what you know. Remember, I might know where VILE stands with the public eyes, but what La Femme Rouge has planned, I have no knowledge of."
"Of course there's more, but I've had this phone for too long. As for our employer... she's gone silent."
"It's the public news I need."
Ti-Jean took his phone and began searching for a particular application.
"Well then, the only thing I can tell you that the public thinks VILE est terrible." he said before smiling and pressing opening the application.
"Also, there was a plane crash and Vic The Slick was on board. I know nothing more than that on that situation."
"We aren't... wait. Vic's plane crashed?" Another long pause, "with the girl in it?"
"Non. Little Hailey was on a different plane." There was a short pause from the fashion designer as he typed something into the phone.
"So, what is the other reason you wish to meet?"
"I can finally buy us into that book expedition"
"Oh? You finally found a seller?"
"No. Wrong book. I'm talking about the one that Rob has.
Unfortunately we're going to need ot follow the rules for a bit."
"Of course," Ti-Jean said and smiled, "We shall have, how you say in America, a fun time."
He closed the application on his phone.
"There should be a limo waiting outside of your house shortly. It will lead you to the airport. We will plan out actions at my studio."
"Good. See you soon." With that, he disconnected.
* * *
The following day another limousine deposited a rather travel-worn figure wearing torn jeans and a hoodie in front of Ti-Jean's oversized house. This would have seemed odd to any regular observer had the resident king of couture not released a grunge line a few months back.
Flag was oblivious to any of the social rules he might have been breaking and he didn't care. He was too tired.
Rather than have to deal with a doorman, there was a intercom by the front door. Flag poked the button on it and waited impatiently for the individual on the other end to answer and let him in.
"Allo? Residence De Ti-Jean Thibodaux" came a crackly, young feminine voice over the intercom.
"Tell the master of the house that his plane's back." was his short reply.
The gate opened without a response.
In his studio, Ti-Jean was working when a young woman in a clean cut pair of jeans and a camel sweater had entered.
"Monsieur Thibodaux, your guest has arrived."
Ti-Jean nodded and dropped what he was doing and began to climb up the stairs.
Flag was found in the foyer with his hood still covering his head, staring distantly at a wall painting that he didn’t see. When he heard the designer and his assistant arrived, he turned his attention to them but otherwise remained silent.
"Merci Odette, you can go back to your post."
The camel sweater clad assistant nodded to Ti-Jean, gave a genuine smile to Flag and left without another word. Ti-Jean was dressed in - what he defined as - standard work clothes. He had a striped pink and white dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up and a pair of dark wash blue jeans, and he had a pair of black rectangular spectacles that did nothing to hide his hazel eyes.
The fashion designer took out his hand,
"Monsieur Flag, it is a great pleasure that I welcome you to my home."
Flag leaned forward and shook the designer's hand - a form of greeting that the Sivoan found fascinating since so much philosophy was placed on the simple action. Shake to gently and you were considered a weak-willed individual, shake to hard and you're aggressive. Flag's handshakes leaned more toward the latter out of a personal choice to intimidate where he could. For Ti-Jean however, his handshake was a little more friendly.
"Thanks for arranging this on such short notice."
Not wanting to waste time, the sorcerer held up his phone for the
designer to see.
"This device needs to go."
"C'est mon plasir." replied Ti-Jean before beckoning his guest to come to a nearby study. Once they had entered the study, he closed the door behind them. His voice dropped to a loud whisper.
"This room is safe to talk in, no one is going to disturb us. "
He moved to the desk that was at the end of the room, opened a drawer and took out a phone.
"This Motorola RAZR will be your new device. I have a special background app designed by moi that prevents ACME from tracing our calls and data. Also, whenever someone gets a new phone within VILE, the numbers already update. Just a little convenient feature I added. "
He came back to Flag and handed him the phone.
"So, where is our target for the book?"
Flags stared at the phone in slight disdain. It had similarities to the device he just got rid of, but enough differences to bewilder
him. He would have to play with it for quite a while before he'd properly understand its features.
"It's in Maryland." He paused as he thumbed through the apps list that he somehow managed to pull up. Is there a tutorial on here somewhere?"
From his jean pocket, he withdrew a booklet and handed it to Flag.
"This should give you the basics. Got a phone number for me?"
Flag took the manual and placed both it and its associated device into his bag, which he then placed this on one of the rooms spare desks.
"Just one for Robert's assistant. We're just going to have to make the arrangements through him."
34. Eleanor Mayhem
Red Tape was, Eleanor Mayhem had decided a long time ago, the scourge of the earth. It was a fact few people would ever have tried to challenge her on, but given the last few days, given the amount of paperwork unloaded on the newly appointed Inspector, she'd decided that there was something worse than simple red tape.
Red Tape when you don't have a desk.
The video of her pleading with fellow ACME agents to help save the career of Chase Devineaux had been released to the agency at large 5 days ago, and had been released to the news stations not long after that, though not by her hand. As promised in the video, after releasing the video she'd gathered her nerve, taken her letter of resignation in hand and marched herself to the Sheraton Seaside where the board of directors had started meeting after the tower was gone. Walking past the secretary she'd busted into the boardroom... and found them all watching her video. On channel 5.
By the letter of what she'd wanted everything had turned out better than she'd been hoping. Chase was not only kept on but promoted to Director of Operations. Eleanor still had a job. She hadn't even been demoted, but more handed a mountain of paperwork to take care of and talked around instead of to before being shoveled out the door.
The boardroom, however anger inducing, was nothing compared to when she finally realized the full effect of having her video released to the public. Her mother had called 5 minutes after she'd left the hotel, crying of reporters and people pretending to be ACME calling to ask questions. It took Eleanor 15 minutes just to get her mother to hand the phone over to her father so she could tell him to go to Aunt Mildred's where things would be quiet.
That was all 5 days ago - and Eleanor had been digging herself out from under her mountain of paperwork since, experiencing 10 hour days sitting at her borrowed table in the hidden lounge somewhere on the fourth floor in the back of Portwood Hall. It was a large space with wide bay windows opening towards the sea but the glaring sun in the afternoon tended to make it less comfortable to the ACME Agents in Training who used spaces like this for an afternoon nap.
Checking her watch and rubbing her eyes as she hit hour four of paperwork for the day Eleanor took a long sip off her mug of tea and gave a stretch, her movements hardly even drawing attention to the three students working at their own tables.
After the meeting with Chip Masters and laying out exactly what the Specialist was expected to do, Chase Devineaux spent his lunch hour outside of compounds. He drove to Ocean Beach and had grilled Atlantic salmon at a local restaurant just above the Golden Gate Park Visitor's Center.
Winter in San Francisco reminded him of his childhood in Maine where the weather was mostly cold and damp. He used to stare out at the ocean like it was a formidable enemy. He couldn’t fight it, and it wouldn’t fight him, but he wanted to conquer it because it was the only challenge his boyish mind could fathom; Dad was in Europe, and to get there, you have to cross the ocean. During the few summers of his young life when his father was in the States, they took trips to the west coast, a few times to San Francisco. Chase had fond memories of this city. Here was a different ocean; the Pacific, always warm, always blue, and unlike the frigid Atlantic in Maine, it swallowed the golden sun. It wasn’t until he started working in San Francisco did he realize the Pacific Ocean's deceptive mood swings. No matter how nice the west coast summers, winters were wet and miserable.
When he returned to ACME complex, his first goal was to find Eleanor Mayhem and finally talk about this ruckus of a video. After considering the amount of work she was given, and the lack of desks at the academy, Chase guessed that she was hiding either at the Library or at Portwood Hall’s fourth floor. He picked Portwood Hall because it featured a small canteen, and Eleanor couldn't smuggle her precious chai into the library.
Through the glass windows from the hallway, Devineaux spotted the Inspector and three younger agents in the lounge. Opening the door, he got the response he wanted: all eyes directed to him, expecting orders.
“You, you, and you,” he pointed to the agents not involved in the upcoming conversation, “get out.”
They gathered their things like tired sailors.
“Move it!” he opened the door wider. They jolted to a start, and as they rushed out he commanded, “Come back in exactly 25 minutes.”
There was a prompt ‘Yes sir’ in response, but Chase didn't hear it when he shut the door.
“Right, sorry to barge in,” he apologized, “How are you holding up? Can’t have been an easy week.”
Eleanor gave a soft laugh under her breath as Chase commanded the eager ACME agents to be out of the room, her eyes moving back down to the paper under her hand as she finished her business and signed off on it before placing it into a pile on the right side of the table without any notable increase in speed due to Chase’s presence.
“Oh, its just another week in paradise. If I were any more spoiled I might have to start and wonder why *they’re* paying *me* to do this.” she replied with an obvious note of sarcasm, though a lack of venom behind the statement considering the amount of times she’d had to sign her name in the last few days. “Though, I’ll be honest, I don’t think you’re too sorry about barging around anywhere, Mister Director of Operations. Not after the last few days.”
Giving a short nod to acknowledge E's dripping sarcasm, Chase Devineaux walked to the inspector's 'desk'. Midway, he grabbed a chair, swung it 180 degrees, and straddled it.
"Let me play this out," he said with his arms on the chair's top rail, "you overhear a private conversation between two superior officers... how did that lead to the video airing on IBN?"
There was a pause, a beat of silence as she looked at him over her glasses, an eyebrow raising for a moment.
“Well, I was trying to hold out for Barbara Walters but she wouldn’t bite so my choices were limited.” she replied, her hands taking a similar position on her table as his did on top of his chair. “Or, put another way, I discovered that the head of a company that I’ve worked for and protected was going to take out all its mistakes on one man, and I believed it was wrong. I used the information I had to fix this problem, which is what I do best. There were... repercussions I hadn’t expected but, given what happened, it could have been much worse.”
"If this was what you do best," he suggested with condescension, like he usually does when an agent didn't perform to expectations and gave him an unwarranted excuse, "there shouldn't be repercussions."
“I thought better of ACME than to have someone from within release video to the press.” she shot back. “Then again I thought better of the board of directors... goes to show where my faith’s been getting me lately.”
"Faith? Only shows you weren't thinking."
“Says the man whose job not only got saved by my ‘lack of thought’ but who got himself promoted due to it.”.
"No, E, you made a mistake," he laid it out, "You don't get to use my promotion against me."
Eleanor’s eyebrow raised again at his tone, displaying a sense of disbelief at his words. “It was NOT a mistake.”
"So the leak to IBN was good?"
"You're an *inspector*, Eleanor! Videos get leaked, you should have known that."
“What happened was worth it.”
He breathed, and tapped his shoe slowly against the lacquered floor.
"You went against protocol," he started, "I wish you hadn't, but you did. The board requesting my resignation wasn't something you could have changed, or *should* have tried to change."
He couldn't tell her that the Board approved his plan to deal with ACME Tower by enlisting the aid of Intelligence Forces conveniently near Tunisia. Chase was confident that if the Tower was his last performance, he had no regrets. Eleanor Mayhem's video helped expose a weakness in the ACME structure that even members of the Board were unable to deny, but to Chase Devineaux, she had betrayed his trust. Her tenacity was always mixed with irrationality, but now, it was even more clear she made decisions with her heart.
“Protocol doesn’t hold water when its working against the people it's supposed to be protecting.” Her tone had turned sharp. “The board wasn’t doing what it was because it was the right thing to do, it was doing it because it was *easy*. Because at the end of the day it's easier to blame one man than for an entire company to man up, grow a pair and tell the world that, collectively, it messed up.”
He lowered his voice, "So you went ahead and told the world for them."
“I told ACME.”
"Risking your career?"
“It was what I had to give - If it had been enough on its own do you think I’d have asked 1200 people to do the same?”
"You had no right to bring anybody into this," his tone, though seething, was still stable, "you created confusion, and once leaked, that caused a frenzy."
“Alright, what would YOU have done if you were in my place? If the Board of Directors decided that instead of taking responsibility for its actions that Chief Weller was going to be fired? Just to make an example of him?”
"Theoretical questions won't help your logic."
“Answer it!” Eleanor’s hand slammed down onto the table.
Chase Devineaux straightened in his chair, showing contempt to her action.
"Respecting his decisions," he replied steadily, "I'd leave it up to Chief Weller."
“I don’t abandon people like that.”
"People need to make their own choices."
“And if it were me? Or Nevon? Or Ivy?”
"What do you mean?"
“I mean *no one* should be forced to make *that* decision.”
"That's your problem," he needed to point out this flaw in her thought-process, "You can't be objective, you can't let things be -- exactly why you're not--" he stopped because the expression on her face instantly changed.
There was a pause. It didn’t matter that he’d stopped, in Eleanor’s mind she’d heard the sentence finish with unspoken words. “Why I’m not special ops.”
Chase remained silent. He didn't mean 'special ops' directly but he spent too long gauging her reaction, nothing he could say now would help.
Her eyes lowered for a moment, her body taking in a deep breath as if recovering from a slap in the face. In all the years she’d worked for ACME, with Chase, she’d called his eyes ‘steel doors’. He hid behind them, he kept himself safe behind them, he faced the world looking like nothing could touch him. Of everything she admired about him she admired those steel doors - because her eyes were nothing like his. As they raised from the floor back to his her blue eyes were windows, letting him see right through. Eleanor was hurt - her failure to become an operative was a scar that never truly healed.
There was a long silence as she just looked at him, the anger and hurt wanting to manifest itself in so many words, words that would slice him down where he stood, make him crawl out of the room broken, beaten. She wanted to tear down those steel doors and make him feel as much a failure as she did.
“We both know that I wasn’t cut out for special ops.” A bitter note hung on her words, “I should have known the moment I figured out that I’d have to change just to get past you. But I did it. I thought, if I could just get better I could be the best of the best, I could be just like Chase.”
Quietly, Devineaux exhaled. *Don't say anything*, he thought to himself, *you'll end up pushing her.*
Pressing her palms to the table she slowly rose from her seat. “I lost 60 pounds, packed on 25 pounds of muscle, changed my hair, my face, my accent, my clothes, my name, all because I believed that it would make me better, that being special ops would make me better. I should have realized it the moment that Chief told me that he wanted me to trail you around Europe just because *he* was tired of being left out of the loop. The moment the Cayman came into the garage with scrapes up and down its sides I should have second guessed. After I got rejected, after I got my runner up prize and settled for Inspector, I *still* kept thinking I could do it. I’d prove you wrong, I’d become the best. Even when you disappeared three days during a media storm I didn’t see it. Its pretty damn funny that in the end it was protecting you that made me realize what my problem is, why I’ll never cut it.”
*You had nothing to prove*, he wanted to say, but her accusing tone suppressed any verbal rebuttal from him. Chase's knuckles felt tight, without him realizing, his hands had gripped taut against the chair's back.
"Because I’m not here to do ACME’s dirty work, to be its dirty little secret. I’m not willing to turn a blind eye and just say ‘The ends justify the means’. Because I’m the woman that threw her career on a grenade for a man who doesn’t give her a second glance, and did so without thought or remorse. I always will be. And, you know? Sometimes, I *wish* you were actually the man you make yourself to be."
Devineaux lowered his head at that statement, intensifying his gaze on the speaker.
"I can give everything I have, change everything I am but I don’t make the cut because I could never make the kind of sacrifices supposedly required of me. Because they leave you empty. And in the end, you're just a shell with a million-dollar smile and a shiny suit--"
Before her sentence wrapped, Chase Devineaux firmly surged from his seat to a standing position.
“I think you’re done,” his low voice dismissed harshly.
Even if she wasn't done, Eleanor made her point. This was no longer about a misplaced video, it was about a misplaced ideal. She was right to wish he was a better man, because for all that he was, the only thing in Chase's arsenal was a diversion into work. He removed a thin mobile drive from his pocket and placed it on her table.
“Copies of security footage from the tower,” his tone cooled with authority, “Up to the point the security room got fried. Yours to process.”
Then he left, reaching the exit just as the three younger agents returned. Each gave a sign of respect when they saw him. It was decent timing, and he walked past them, letting the door swing shut.
She watched as Chase walked away before turning her head downward, closing her eyes, breathing deep, trying to calm herself down. Eleanor could hear the students entering finally, feel their glances at her direction but stood still and remained frozen until she heard a soft tapping from the table beneath her.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
Eyes opened to locate its source, finding cold tears falling onto the exposed documents she’d left out. At last Eleanor gave a heavy sigh and gathered up the papers scattered across the table with a practiced hand. She added the hard drive to the pile and placed the lot of it into a briefcase before she stood up fully, taking a moment to square her shoulders and wipe her eyes, and then removed herself from the room without a second glance to the others inside.
35. Lee Jordan
Lee Jordan was looking for someone. Driving along, he would slow down to get a good look at what he thought might be this person, but something would always turn.
Not tall enough, not thin enough, or hair the wrong colour.
He saw a brunette, average height, walking lazily out of a small alley. This could be her. So he rolled his black Corvette beside the woman. When he stopped, she looked at him with a smirk that he didn't return. In the dark, it was hard to tell.
"Nice car," she commented with the kind of accent that filled the streets of Southern California.
"Let me see your eyes," he said.
She moved in and leaned by his open window. "You got some kinda fetish?" she laughed with a cigarette in her mouth, "I can get contacts."
Lee didn't care for eye colour, but he needed to visualise something in them. Under the street lamps, he could see her eyes weren't what he was looking for. Shaking his head, he waved her off and drove away.
The distraction he hoped for wasn't going to come easy. He wasn't just looking for someone to help pass time, he needed it perfect. He didn't think he was too strict either. He'd resigned himself to let the rules go a little. She didn't have to be 5'10" she could be 5'8" as long as everything else was near right.
But he'd taken too long finding her, the sun was already inching up the horizon, and he was hoping for a meeting with Chase Devineaux. Lee took a southern highway back to San Francisco. While driving longer roads, he chewed on a toothpick to keep himself awake.
It's been barely a week since his long months of trailing Eartha Brute in Luxembourg came to a screeching halt and ACME Tower got swiped from its base. When he was just used for information, it didn't bother him so much, the fact that Carmen still somehow taunted him. But now she was everywhere, the entire world wanted a piece of her. All over again, Lee's mind was consumed.
By the time he got back to base, his eyes looking for a parking spot, saw a tall woman with auburn hair walking fast away from Portwood Hall. He tried to remember where he saw her last, and then the ACME video to save Chase's job came back to mind. He must have seen her on cases before too, but never bothered to notice. Eleanor Mayhem was probably real close to Devineaux, he'll have to think about that some more later.
Lee Parked the Corvette behind the library and looked at his watch, wondering if it was too late in the day to get an word with ACME's new Director of Ops.
(This is a collaboration with Carmen, please enjoy.)
In a black SUV heading towards the airport in Djerba, Tunisia, Acton Roux watched through his visors at the renowned Queen of Crime; who looked unmoved by the news he had offered. He could only imagine what thoughts swam in her mind, while her body only breathed. What exquisite control she held, he thought, over how others may perceive her.
Few, trifle things in life irked Carmen more than when situations force her into a corner. Stationed in the Mercedes with Doctor Acton Roux to her right and an unnamed driver in front qualified as such an event.
She took Acton’s derivative report of the plane crash with a pragmatic grain of salt, as it seemed purposefully vague. Yet, if Vincent Fumigalli did lose his life on this, she must indemnify his mother. The time to emotionally address loss would have to wait until she could systematically sort this out, but remorse was hard to supress and she felt restless.
An idea occurred to the doctor that she was quiet due to unfamiliar company. To win her trust, he would have to try much harder.
“J'ai un avion,” he began to tell her that he had a plane, but the sharp turn of her head mercilessly halted his tongue.
“You’re taking me to the airport,” she apprised with a sternness that was difficult to refute, “Then we’re parting ways.”
“Pas de mais. Ne penses-tu pas que tu as fait assez?”
Acton’s pride sank with injury from her words. He knew he had broken a cardinal rule, yet until this point, he thought his actions were justifiable. Her piercing eyes were not vengeful, but they conveyed in clarity that he was wrong.
Relinquishing to the fact that this meeting with Carmen Sandiego would add no progress to his research, the doctor remained compliant. While he remunerated how he may remain in good favour, he noticed a bandage dressed over her left wrist and hand.
“Were you injured?”
The contusion and slight laceration to the palm of her left hand resulted from abrasion against the stones of the watchtower. It bothered her little now under the tight cloth, and she shrugged off his muffled question, “Ce n'est pas grave.”
The doctor studied what he could see, and decided that someone with obvious experience in medical first aid wrapped the wound. If this person was the leader herself, he needed not pry.
Thus, he did no prying for the duration of the car ride; and took his limitations as he could, only visually examining her until they reached the airport.
“I need you to do something for me,” he recalled her surprising him with an instruction as she disembarked, “Three weeks from today, be at Palazzo Medici Riccardi after midnight, a contact will wait on the bench at a corner between two ‘kneeling windows’,” he took out a book and recorded her instructions, “And Acton,” she paused to grant him a spontaneous smile, “do keep your mask on.”
She shut the car door, and Doctor Roux watched her disappear into a crowd of travellers.
We are now 5 days into Paradigm Shift and fast approaching the one-week-later time stamp, this is what's been happening...
After destroying ACME tower in a covert operation and ensuring that Chief Weller's granddaughter, Hailey Weller was safe and on her way back to the United States, Chase Devineaux, Eugene Grovington and Mikal Darsha (Khalid Rafai) (known as Oxide) send a mysterious message to the Brazil Team.
The plane which held the Brazil Team (Deric Storm, Calina Corranos, Vincent Fumigalli and other ACME/V.I.L.E. affilated operatives) mysteriously crashes somewhere in South America.
Hailey Weller returns to the United States with Doctor Sophie Conrad and Agent Nevon Blair.
Chase Devineaux, Eugene Grovington and Mikal Darsha (Khalid Rafai) also return to a press conference set up by Tanya Ezrin. Chase tells the press that the tower was found, but is being salvaged for parts due to the extent of damage. Chase noticeably does not mention the plane crash, and Eugene edits documents regarding the mission.
Chase is promoted by the ACME board to 'Director of Operations'. He later speaks to Chip Masters and shows him a love letter from Eartha Brute, implicating that the VILE agent has strong feelings for Chip. Chase ends the conversation by telling Chip that he will infiltrate VILE.
In Cape Town South Africa, Joe Kerr gets the GPS tracking off of the stolen Porsche Cayman.
Carmen Sandiego makes her way safely through the desert to meet up with Doctor Roux after a high speed car chase. Dr. Roux's mask is removed for Carmen's eyes only.
In Wales, Bran Ap Bychan decides it is time for him to do something about the situation.
Dr. Sophie Conrad hears of the plane crash in San Francisco, and instructs her medical team to be on standby.
Kidman and the rest of VILE find out about the plane crash, which cuts their celebration short. She eventually meets with Joe Kerr and mentions how she wished she could have stopped Carmen from stealing the tower.
In Sao Paulo Brazil, Sarah Nade is dispatched to find the status of Vic-the-Slick, while in Panama Zack Monaghan is sent to recover the ACME agents.
Nevon Blair meets Daniel Ainsworth to talk about the situations.
Sammy arrives at ACME, and upon her first hour there helps deliver a mysterious package to Chase Devineaux's locker.
In Morocco, Flag calls Ti-Jean. The two speak of a mysterious book with bleached text which Flag may need 'sometime next week.'
Contessa hears of the events via the press conference and decides it is time to 'join the hunt.'
Ivy Monaghan becomes suspicious of the events unfolding, and finds the package that Sammy left in Chase's locker. She sees a video of the tower being destroyed. Philo who happened to be in the locker rooms at the time also sees this video with her, and the two speak briefly.
Chase has a heated argument with Agent Mayhem regarding the leaked video of her pleading for ACME to save his job. Mayhem leaves the argument in tears, and is seen by Lee Jordan, who is obviously up to no good.
(A collaboration with Scarlet)
Constance Faye Kitlyn made her way through the third floor halls of the ACME Medical Center. Today was a special day for Connie. Her Aunt and Uncle were coming down from Oregon to bring her home for the remnant of the holidays. Thomas and Roberta Kitlyn had adopted Connie when she was very young, and, for all practical purposes, they fulfilled the role of parents in her life.
Connie had stopped by the medical center to pick up her cellphone which had been left there earlier on accident. The visit was a quick one, since her Aunt and Uncle would be arriving in just a few hours and she needed to prepare herself. With the cellphone now in hand, Connie started for the elevator before setting her mind on taking the stairs instead. She had always reasoned that, whenever a chance to fit a little extra exercise into her life presented itself, she would be wise to leap on the opportunity.
The days had been terribly slow since the ACME Tower had been stolen. Because all the patients had been evacuated from the medical center, Constance was free to spend her hours as she wished. Connie didn’t really mind the extra time on her hands though. She, taking a class in basic side arm handling skills, had spent many hours at the firing range. Connie learned much from the class, but one fact was imprinted forever into her mind: Firearms are much louder than they appear in movies.
As Connie approached the flight of stairs, an annoying buzzing sound came from her pocket where she had put her phone. Reaching for the phone and flipping it open, Connie saw that there was a single new text message. She quickly opened the message and read it. ACME plane crash. The few, simple words made Connie’s heart stop. Thousands of questions flooded her mind. When did this occur? What had happened? Was the crew alright? This is certainly what ACME needs right now, Connie lamented to herself.
Rounding the last flight of stairs, the young nurse hurried in the direction of the main entrance doors but froze in her steps. Ever since the tower had been stolen, there had been hordes of media personnel plaguing the ACME campus, and, at the sight of the large crowds gathered outside, Connie thought it might be wise to leave by one of the backdoors, in order to avoid being trampled to death. Turning from the horrifying scene, She made her way toward the back of the building.
Constructed entirely of glass and steel and designed to mimic the double-helix of the human DNA, the central stairway of the ACME Medical Center was a veritable work of art, a commanding presence in the center of the main foyer. Within the space dimmed by the temporary closure of the facility, only two figures moved - one, in an eager traverse across the marbled expanse; and the other, in an abstract descent down the spiralled steps.
The latter was Dr. Sophie Conrad, who had travelled with the initial team despatched to São Paolo, Brazil. Her part in the assignment fulfilled, she had spent the preceding two hours on the third level of the Medical Center completing a report of the event transpired and updating the records of the individuals involved - among other things... A quick shower had invigorated her and, with a bottle of Dr Pepper in one hand and the oak-leather carryall she had brought to Brazil on the opposite shoulder, she looked forward to the forty-five minute walk back to her apartment in Mission Bay. She could indulge in the Muni Metro that would deliver her back in half the time, but she needed the exercise after all the hours she had spent flying. She wanted the time for repose and, practically, she wanted the opportunity to choose between a fried egg sandwich from a nearby cafe or a lentil pie from a store she frequented at the UCSF Mission Bay.
Though having already spotted the young brown-haired nurse while partway down the stairs, Sophie waited until she had arrived at its landing before making any attempt to identify the figure. “Constance Kitlyn,” she called out - gently, that she might not startle the girl -, “is that you?”
Connie whirled around to see from whom the voice came. “Oh! Dr. Conrad, Hello! I didn’t see you”, She greeted the médecin enthusiastically. When the young nurse had first joined ACME, the doctor had been kind enough to help Constance settle into the medical center, an act Connie was extremely grateful for.
Sophie smiled, “Hello, are you on your way out?”
Indistinctly, she wondered what Constance was doing in the Medical Center. The younger of the staff had been given a temporary leave from duty - the public reason (aside from the obviously-missing structure about a hundred metres from the facility) being of safety and that it was approaching the holiday period, the private reason being that an extensive security review of all staff members and information systems was now underway.
“I was just leaving. Though I don’t know if I can get back to the dorms with all this commotion”. Connie shot a quick glance back toward the main entrance and the large crowds before returning her attention to the doctor. “Did you have a nice trip home?”
That last word gave Sophie pause. In the twenty-odd months she had been on the West Coast, she had never quite thought of the city of San Francisco as ‘home’ - an ideal already so nebulous in concept - but she knew of those who did.
Then, “We have brought young Hailey Weller home,” was her contented response.
She tapped a button to release the double sliding doors of the east entrance and turned to regard Constance with a warmer expression: “Shall we walk together? It is quite scary out there."
“There are so many media representatives around”, Constance acknowledged, taking another peek at the crowd, which seemed to be growing larger by the moment. “It’s hard for the employees here to get any work done or even move about”.
“A major event has occurred and matters are still unfolding. Curiosity is natural,” Sophie commented softly as they stepped onto a stone-tiled footpath that would divert them around the ACME campus - and the gathering of external press personnel. Curiosity, she thought to herself, that ACME as a private organisation did nothing to dampen but had, rather cunningly, twisted for their purposes. “It will get better,” she said firmly, looking at Constance who still bore the slight shadows of distress on her brow. “How have you been?”
"Oh, I’ve been fine. My aunt and uncle are flying down from Oregon today, and...". The subject of flying brought rushing back to her mind the terrible news of the plane crash which she had forgotten for the moment. "I heard about the ACME plane crash... ".
Sophie took in a slow and deep breath, “What did you hear about the ACME plane crash?”
"Nothing much, and that's the weird part.” Constance eyed Dr. Conrad curiously. “Do you know any of the details?".
“No,” she had to frown. Constance was correct - it was ‘weird’. In a tragedy, the media was always quick to capitalise on the event and expound the damages. The accident involving an ACME aircraft in Brazil was regarded with caution from Sophie, who found it somewhat suspicious that no further details about any casualties had been released in the past hours. “I think it would be best to await further clarification,” the doctor calmly repeated what she had previously told questioning colleagues.
“Your aunt and uncle must be very concerned for you.”
"It's a bit different living so far from my family, and I know they worry about me, but...”. Connie paused for a second. She hadn’t been away from home that long but she was already missing the quiet tranquility of the small town. She was, of course, also missing the many friends who lived in Nod. From her own Aunt and Uncle to the ever blunt, seemingly grouchy Pastor Park, she left behind people who could never be replaced. Connie gave a sad, half smile before finishing her sentence. “...my Aunt and Uncle do realize I can't stay home forever”.
Considering the reply, it occurred to Sophie that Constance was - as she was - an incomer to the city. “Do you like it here in San Francisco?” the doctor queried.
"I do. There is so much to see with all the museums and parks. I enjoy the city and I love taking morning walks down by the piers". Connie sighed. "But it's still hard to be away from home”.
“Yes,” was the sympathetic response, “I understand that.” There was little doubt about the charm of San Francisco. It was flamboyant and sensational, occasionally histrionic in manners - yet always generously tolerant of the many varied who chose to pass through or settle down within its manifest. But, home? That required so much more. At the very basis, it required a connection.
“How is your placement in the Medical Center proceeding?” Sophie continued, moving the conversation away from the subject she perceived vexing, “Are you learning what you wish to?”
"Oh yes! My classes are progressing wonderfully and I couldn’t ask for a better place to work than ACME. Everyone here is so nice and helpful.”, Connie replied enthusiastically. Her first months at ACME had been long and exhausting. The days were filled to the brim with classes at UCSF as well as general ACME classes, and, in between all this, Connie managed to find time to work at the medical center. Even though she had been busier than ever before, Constance would not have traded the chance to be at ACME for anything. This is what she wanted to do. Here is where she wanted to be.
Sophie regarded that reply with warmth and smiled with genuine affection, “I’m very glad to hear that. If there is anything you require, you may always come to me and,” she paused, thoughtfully looking at her walking companion, “I will always help you.”
Connie smiled. Though it wasn’t Nod and probably would never be, ACME was starting to feel like home. She had been making many new acquaintances who, like Dr. Conrad, were very welcoming and friendly.
Of course the transition from Nod would have been much harder for Connie if her dear friend Rose Thorn was not already employed at ACME. Constance had known Rose since they were both young, and their friendship was a deep and strong one; so naturally the fact that Rose was just around the corner made ACME feel just a bit more like home to Connie.
The more ACME became a home to Connie, the more she cared about it and its employees. The recent events with tower and the plane crash had struck ACME hard, and she could feel the tension in everyone she came across. There was an unmentionable force at work within ACME. Something was stirring. Something was happening.
"Dr. Conrad, what’s going on?”, Connie asked abruptly, her voice mixed with concern. “ACME has been feeling so strange lately, and it's more than just the tower. There's something else."
“Oh?” Sophie turned to consider Constance with cautious deliberation. She pondered the astuteness of the young nurse (a quality undoubtedly important in her vocation) - if it indeed was such, as her conclusion must have been easy to come upon based on prevailing circumstances, and was certainly not unique.
"Is this a feeling you've been having for a long time or just now - after what's happened to the ACME Tower?"
"The feelings have been here for a while, but what happened to the tower didn’t help”. Connie paused for a moment before continuing. “It’s nothing empirical. Nothing definite. It just seems like everyone has been acting different. Even the air feels different”. The thoughts of some tragedy plagued Constance’s mind. A whirling vortex of ideas from a nightmare rummaged through her head. Connie closed her eyes and checked herself. She was letting her imagination run again, creating something from nothing. Opening her eyes, Connie looked back at Dr. Conrad and gave a little, embarrassed smile. “I know that sounds silly...”
“No, it doesn’t,” Sophie quietly checked her companion, “what you feel isn’t silly at all.”
This had all begun with a ruse in the fair city of Luxembourg - although she did allow for the certainty of it to have started prior; all events of such audacity must - and she now mused of how far away and long ago that seemed.
“You are most likely right,” the doctor said at last, “there is more to this than what we can see. ACME has been dealt a harsh blow and it will never be the same again.” She looked at Constance intently, holding the nurse with a percipient gaze: “Feelings may not be empirical, but what you do about your feelings can make all the difference.”
(part of this may be missing)
39. Eleanor Mayhem ( I think)
A lucid dream is a dream in which one is aware that one is dreaming. The term was coined by the Dutch psychiatrist and writer Frederik (Willem) van Eeden (1860–1932). In a lucid dream, the dreamer may be able to exert some degree of control over their participation within the dream or be able to manipulate their imaginary experiences in the dream environment. Lucid dreams can be realistic and vivid. It is shown that there are higher amounts of beta-1 frequency band (13–19 Hz) experienced by lucid dreamers, hence there is an increased amount of activity in the parietal lobes making lucid dreaming a conscious process.
Though she believed fully in them she'd never had one. But she knew this was what it was.
Before she opened her eyes she'd figured out where she was.
The sound of the rotor system was prominent even with the doors closed, Eleanor noted to herself as eyes opened to take in the situation from her place belted into a seat aboard a helicopter flying over the ocean. She had wet hair in front of her face, dirt covering every inch of her, an injured arm bandaged tightly and scrapes on every bit of exposed skin though a lack of pain helped her note the high use of pain killers - taking deep breaths felt difficult. Around her sat about 8 others, each as wet and dirty as herself, each in varying states of attentiveness. A quick look at everyone caused her to note that aside from Chase Devineaux strapped in 2 seats down she didn't recognize anyone - but that felt wrong, like something in the back of her mind thought otherwise. Why did it feel wrong?
The air in the cabin was tense, a feeling which spread to her, intensifying to a sensation like ice had filled her veins as a voice came over the helicopter's intercom.
"...Speechless, are we? Perhaps you are now seeing my point, Syshchík. The world is vulnerable, the ease of which it shall disintegrate rests upon the flawed perception of one incongruous mind… Now hear me well, the meltdown has been activated. Sincerely, I apologize to your loving friends, but my demonstration is not yet complete."
"How fast are we going?" Devineaux deftly left his seat, surging to the front of the helicopter to speak to the crew. "Wind direction, maximum speed, distance from origin, possible destinations. I need data, move it!"
Eleanor could not move. It wasn't that she was afraid, she just simply could not move, or even speak to the others nearby; her role in this place was to only observe. Left to watch the reactions of the people around her, from the sobbing of the woman next to her to a particularly stunning blonde woman and a handsome young Israeli talking to Chase by the cockpit. The only exception to the chaos was a man who at first glance she'd simply dismissed as someone she didn't know before. He was fair with long white hair and a set of delicately beautiful features but there was something about him, something in the eyes that made him seem strange, almost other worldly. His eyes were like a California sunset. No, seriously, they seemed to melt from yellows to oranges to reds and seemed... cat like.
The longer she stared at him as he unbuckled his seat belt and wandered around the cabin as if looking for something the more about him she seemed to notice; like a leather bound journal that he held tightly in his hands with a distinctive symbol on its cover, the heavy robes that hid his figure or his... long... catlike ears. Huh, other worldly was right. Her stare remained even as a different feeling of dread started to settle in. Not a cold feeling like ice in her veins but a type of dread that came with a feeling like she should be careful he didn't have a knife.
She could hear the mutterings of the cockpit and its pilot unnaturally well for someone so far away.
"Sir, I'm no rocket scientist, but don't look like we're home free. Best case scenario, we don't feel a damn thing. Worst case, we make it and die of radiation."
A nuclear blast. The helicopter was running from a nuclear blast. Turning her gaze back to the white haired man she watched as his eyes started to dart around, a tension finally coming over him as he started to adjust himself and chant. The words he'd started to mutter were gibberish to her but obviously they had some sort of meaning to him as he spoke them with a desperation that matched the rest of the cabin perfectly. E could feel the hair on the back of her neck start to stand on end as his tone got a little faster just before he opened his mouth wide and swallowed a large mouthful of air.
Outside of the vehicle the world seemed to turn a shade of white so strikingly bright she turned her head away for just moment. She assumed it was from the nuclear explosion that had been threatening the group, but by the time she'd turned her head back the white lights of the world had been replaced by white sand. The helicopter had come to land in a desert, its engine dead, its blades no longer spinning. They had escaped by... unnatural means and White Hair had been the cause of such means. There was no other explanation.
White Hair was the first to run out the door and, finally finding herself able to move she was quick to unbuckle herself and follow, able to poke her head out of the helicopter just in time to watch him lean over and give a loud heave, a black iridescent substance retched from his mouth hitting the bright white sands of the desert. Hopping out of the vehicle she moved to try and help the white haired man but gave pause as she heard Chase's voice in a tone she could not remember ever hearing out of him. It was beyond his normal calm and controlled range, it was... almost panicked.
"Don't touch anything!"
The black substance soaking into the contrasting landscape started to spread, its size growing slowly with a stench which could, just by itself, punctuate the words spoken. As the dark shade was about to reach her feet she started to step back, slowly at first. Finding it started to spread more quickly towards her she found herself having to nearly jump backwards to avoid it. The faster she moved backwards to get away from the dark substance the faster it seemed to follow, and she continued to retreat until she felt her back press itself against something - someone. As she froze in place the black liquid did as well, bubbling into the sand, as if almost herding her into a wanted position.
Turning her head and eventually her body she found Chase Devineaux standing behind her almost casually with his hands in the pockets of a crisp Burberry suit, a stark contrast to the damp, dirty ripped clothes she'd seen on him just moments before. His mood seemed different as well, a charismatic smile on his face as he offered his hand.
"Share an elevator with me?"
"...Elevator?" E asked, her first words spoken since she'd started this dream. She looked, first around for this elevator he spoke of which was nowhere to be seen, and then at him, eyes staring into those steel doors which were bathed in a bit of mischievousness. Finally she held her hand out for his. With sleigh of hand, he placed in hers a piece of candy... on a stick. A red lollipop.
"It's for good girls, they say." He began walking out into the desert, slowing for her to catch up. E paused to look at the lollipop, then up at him and started to follow him across the bright white sands, throwing a glance behind her to watch the sickly black substance bubbling on the desert floor follow them, as if daring her to try and retreat from their march. Following silently time passed though she could not tell how much before they arrived at a set of elevator doors held up by themselves in the middle of nowhere. Chase paused, standing aside to let her pass, staring at her expectantly, waiting for her to press the button on the elevator. It took a moment before Eleanor understood what he wanted but finally understanding she passed by him, turning her back on him just a moment do as was expected of her.
As her finger pressed the button the bright sunlight dimmed, day turning to night in an instant. Beneath her feet the soft cushioning sand hardened, turning into a concrete street as around her rose buildings, curbs and street lights as her only way to see. The temperature of the air dropped dramatically from a blistering hot desert sun to a cold windy snowy night and as E turned to look for Chase she found him gone, in his place a single red rose on the wet concrete.
The elevator dinged, the doors opened and, without much of an option in the current temperature that had found her, she stepped through the door, turning to look at the red rose as the black substance, still following her, covered and consumed it as the shiny metal door closed and the elevator started to ding, indicating the floors she was starting to pass.
Ding ding beep beep beep beep beep beep beep...
Drowsy eyes opened to look at the table sitting next to a bed, eyes without glasses reading the large numbers on a digital alarm clock and a hand finally reaching out to slam the snooze button. Five AM never stopped being too early for a morning run.
(with the lull in the action, I figured I might as well post what Vic, Cali, and myself have so far...)
Darién Gap, Panama
Deric could feel the warm sun on his face. His breathing was labored due to a weight on his chest. He opened his eyes, thinking he would be seeing the form of Calina Corranos. To his horror, he saw the unconscious form of Vic the Slick laying on top of him.
“Well,” Deric said to no one, “this sure as hell isn’t how the dream sequence usually goes.” Getting his bearings, Deric realized that the two of them were connected by a harness. Looking up, he could see the disconnected canopy of what he remembered was his parachute amongst the branches of a tree. Unhooking the harness, Deric rolled Vic’s carcass off, allowing him to breathe a little easier.
‘God, he’s heavier than he looks’ Deric thought as he stood up to get some semblance of his bearings. After looking himself over, Deric was relieved to find that he had no serious injuries or bleeding from parachuting into the jungle. However, there was one small problem, he and Vic were the only ones in the immediate area.
“See ya on the deck...”
That was the last thing he said to Cali the last time on the plane as it was going down. If that was the last thing he said to the lovely Brazilian bomb tech, he would be very upset. ‘Wait,’ he thought as he reached into the pouch where he placed his ACME-issued communicator, ‘I can probably raise her on her communicator...’ His hopes were temporarily crushed when he gazed upon the smashed visage of the item in question.
“Oh, googly,” Deric swore as he threw down the, now useless, piece of technology. Starting to feel a sense of panic, Deric use the only form of technology he had available to him.
“CALI!!!” he bellowed.
“Quiet down willya?” Vic rubbed his head, sitting up, “you ACME kids always yellin’ when yer don need t’be”
The jungle was massive, and they were in a sort of clearing. Sort of, because you couldn’t really see the sun the way a grassy clearing lets you. Here, the sun was through bits of leaves high above. Everything to the left, right, front, and back, were dark. All of it started to get scary.
“Don’t think this is Kansas,” Vic commented and stood up, “CALI!!!” he helped the ACME agent.
“Wow, you don’t say,” Deric snapped, voice dripping with sarcasm, “I would never have guessed that. This place reminds me so much of home. You know what, you’re a bloody genius.”
Calina Corranos was with her brother, Jose gathering the pilot and the navigator from VILE when she heard the sound of her name in the distance.
"Your friends yell too loud," her brother heard it too, "people will find us."
"They're not far," Cali said, "I'll get them."
"You bring them here," her brother shouted to her back as she ran, "we go together to the safe house."
Deric’s ears picked up as heard movement in the brush. He quickly unholstered one of his pistols as he shushed Vic’s yells. “Quiet, Slick! I think we’ve got company.”
“Quién está ahí?” he ordered in Spanish, “Vamos despacio.” A huge smile broke out on his face when he saw Cali appear from the brush. “Oh, thank God. I was afraid I...” he left the rest unsaid.
Calina looked at the two men with a smile too, "Jose is not far, we saw the wind take you a little away from the landing zone, you are okay?"
“Other than waking up with him on top of me,” Deric gestured at Vic, “I’m good now.”
She helped Vic and Deric with their gears, "Follow me, we can talk when we get to safe house."
Deric leaned into Cali as he reached for his pack. “Are the rest of the flight crew with your brother?” he whispered. He, Cali, and her brother had each strapped on one of the VILE crew members before they jumped out of the plane. If any of them were hurt, this plan would be all shot to hell.
“Yes,” Cali smiled when she gave her reply, “is Vic okay?”
“Yeh I’m Okay!” Vic answered for himself, “thanks for askin.” He was in the jungle, hot, and real humid, walking in handcuffs with two ACME agents. When he saw his pilot and navigator with the ACME designated pilot, he felt better.
Deric rolled his eyes at the polyester-garbed criminal’s whining. Even though he had a vague idea where they were, it would be incredibly more difficult if there were people missing, injured, or worse. “Anyone know where we are?” He asked the group, “Based on our direction of travel and how long we were in the air, I’m guessing Panama, but I’d like to make sure.”
After confirming their position, they plotted a course and started making their way out of the jungle. Standing at the rear of the group, Deric logged onto ACME's communications network. Letting the group move a little further ahead of him, he quickly typed a message to the ACME agent who would be awaiting them at the safehouse...
Wonder Twin #2- we made landfall in the Darien Gap region. Should be at the safehouse in about 48 hours. - Calamity
The computer chirped once, waking Eugene and alerting him nothing was left. Nodding at this, he logged off and grabbed his backpack, hoping the shuttle bus to the main campus was still making its rounds. Eugene sighed in relief when he reached the lobby and noted the bus had just arrived for the remaining late night stragglers.
The eight remaining students and one lone instructor all immediately gravitated to a seat and sprawled out while the driver waited his customary five minutes. This driver - Eugene didn't know his name - always did during the last run of the day. Satisfied he wasn't going to leave anyone behind, he slipped the bus into gear and began the half hour trek to ground zero. The events of the last few days had shocked all others aboard into a dazed silence, and all aboard were jarred from their thoughts when Eugene's communicator issued forth with a death metal ring tone; a ringer he had set specifically for the priority channel the Panama team was using.
"Is that news about the crash?" one Cadet I-don't-know-your-name asked, his green eyes anxiously fixed on Eugene.
"Fraid not kid, just another report from Top reminding us to keep quiet." Eugene lied easily. Seeing the cadet's disappointed look, he continued, "Relax, it's easier to do your job when you aren't a bundle of nerves." While Cadet Twitchy took a few calming breaths, Eugene turned his attention back to the communicator to find a report from the Panama Team Lead stating they were en-route to the safehouse. The control team would be able to guide them well enough until they reached their destination, and the safehouse would need every minute they had to prepare for the next stage of the operation. Flicking his communicator's screen off, Eugene leaned back and spent the rest of the bus ride in the limbo between sleep and wakefulness.
All too soon, the bus lurched to a halt in front of the ACME dorms, bringing an end to Eugene's catnap. Giving a quick stretch as he stepped off the bus and stared at the illuminated dormitory building, his thoughts turned to how he could best spend the 48 hours until Panama's unofficially official check-in.