(This is an excerpt of ‘TSE' a massive Carmen fiction that my wife and I wrote, circa 1999. I was very new to the world and so some suspension of disbelief is required where my technical knowledge is obviously lacking.)
"Show her my what?" Carmen asked as Kidman fussed over the buttons on her coat.
"Show her your empire!"
"Kidman, that would take literally years."
"Just give her an overview, point out some key points of interest, dazzle her with the hidden beauty of the INL! Really sell it."
The woman looked amused.
"You want me to convince her to stay, don't you?"
Kidman polished a button carefully.
"I never said that...I just want her to see what you really do."
"Is that so?"
She paused and let Kidman finish fiddling with her button.
"You realize, small one, that I can see right through that."
"Don't tell her."
"Oh for heavens sake, Kitty."
"But even so, I do think she should know of what you really are as opposed to the false rumors and myths that surround you. No doubt she has been bombarded with the same that I was when I first lived within the Agency walls."
Carmen took sudden interest. "What myths?"
"Well....that you left for the fun of it."
"Yes, I know that one well enough."
"That you are an idiot because you chose a life of crime-"
"'Chose'...yes, I've heard that one, too."
"That you're poor."
Carmen laughed softly under her breath.
"That Proff. Bellum makes all your gadgets because you can't-"
"They also think that all you are is a thief, living in a warehouse somewhere, existing for your next theft and only that. I like that myth the most."
"Because...," Kidman murmured happily as they knocked on Seldavia's door, "it is so magnificently false."
"Isn't it, though?"
"So will you show her?"
"You just enjoy the reactions. If I blindfolded you I'd bet you wouldn't enjoy this nearly as much."
"But you won't, will you?"
"Oh of course not. I'm not going to ruin your fun."
After a few moments the door finally opened and out stepped a rather calm, if not resigned Seldavia.
Kidman grabbed her immediately.
"Oh...hey Kidman." Seldavia said with a soft smile, still emotionally exhausted.
Carmen smiled apologetically in response. "Kidman would like to show you ‘the truth about me'."
Seldavia looked at the woman before her. She was an unusual beauty, a graceful pillar of calm that radiated with effortless power. Kidman looked so small and childlike in comparison, yet strangely at home. Seldavia's first thought was to feel ashamed at her own appearance, but passed it off. It was a new day. Apprehension prevailed, but a ravenous curiosity was making itself known beneath her caution.
Kidman ran in past her as Seldavia and Carmen stared at each other. "The fluers are happy again!"
Seldavia turned and felt another wave of emotion wash as she saw Kidman stroking the petals of her damaged flowers. They were different now; beautiful, and Kidman was in awe of them as had been the original plan.
Surely it was an omen of some kind.
"The truth about you?" Seldavia asked in an easygoing, almost daring manner. ' Show me what you've got, but I still don't trust you yet...'
"Well, rather, the truth as to what I do. Come, the limo awaits outside."
And they went.
"This is Ground facility 115." Carmen declared over the roar of engines.
They were in an underground airport that appeared like something out of a Sci-Fi movie; a dormant volcano brilliantly altered to avert catastrophe should it decide to reawaken. Construction lights were strung up like stars far above their heads and the many jets and liners; both bought and stolen, taxied about the endless tarmac, their reflectors blinking obliquely as they rolled towards the oncoming dusk.
Carmen ushered the two aboard a rather commonplace freighter and they took off shortly after.
"Carmen, this plane doesn't look to be up to your standard of luxury." Seldavia said, half amused.
"I have my reasons."
"Okay, then where are we going?"
"Yes Kidman, the ice castle."
"It's a wondrous place Master has nestled in the Urals, our own magnificent laboratory that stretches for miles on her private property. Though she has a great multitude of labs throughout the world, Master built this one specifically for her refugee scientists."
Carmen rolled her eyes at the use of the word "Master".
"You sound like an infomercial. ‘Nestled in the Urals...'"
"I suppose I should tell you what I really do for a living seeing as you are one of us now."
A steward brought in tea and shortly departed.
"I always thought you were a thief. Aren't you?"
"Why yes, amongst other things. It was my sole curriculum for many years until I had enough money to do what I do now. The art of theft is a dying one, like sword fighting. It is beautiful, skillful, yet so misunderstood."
"Yes, but stealing hurts the population."
"So a museum does without a piece for a few months. I don't rob people's livelihoods. The museums usually get their artifacts back rather quickly and some free publicity. The Mona Lisa isn't famous because of skill alone."
"So why do you do it?"
"For fun. On the side."
"On the side of what?"
"Tell her, Master, tell her!"
Carmen sighed. ‘So rare to see her so happy, though...'
"You mean tell her as you would? Fine."
Carmen drew herself up in a mock pose of arrogance.
"I am a technological kingpin in both the black and white markets. I am the president of various companies, and one rather unique group named the INL. These persons, numbering almost two thousand by now, are the 'henchmen' or 'gang mates' in my ring of thieves.
"But we aren't all thieves. The INL is a sub-sect, an underground society with all the positions of a country to itself. Of these, most are either thieves, political refugees, hackers, ex-military officials, scientists of all kinds, doctors, and petty criminals of other kinds. Some are here because they want to be part of this Empire and reap the benefits of it. Some are here because they wanted to do something different with their lives, but almost all have one common identity. We can no longer function in our current societies. The scientists and doctors can't get funding, equipment, or interest in order to carry out their research.
"There is a group known as the Collective of Fugitive Scientists, or CFS, which consists of a growing number of scientists that are here because their lives were in danger for what they knew, but felt they must continue their work. I provided a haven for them."
Kidman puffed up in her chair, obviously enjoying Carmen's performance.
"Then there are hackers who needed purpose, thieves that needed inspiration, petty criminals that needed discipline, and young persons that found the military disillusioning after the Gulf and Nam wars and were ready to fight the system. We are all here, waiting and watching, moving below and above the surface in a new world we claimed for ourselves."
Kidman clapped and Carmen motioned for the steward to bring her something stronger to drink.
Seldavia probably would have as well if she drank at all.
"But what do you do with all these people if your main drive isn't theft?"
"It's a company in the end. All of us use what talents we have to steal, alter, create, and sell. Each has his or her part. If you've ever come across something in forensics that has a pyramid of three dots, it means I'm proud enough to have such a thing linked back to my dedicated team."
"What about the competition?"
"I assimilate the competition."
Kidman looked up from her tea.
"Carmen does that, she shells them out and then buys them in."
"I see." Seldavia replied flatly.
"I didn't think you would be impressed. There is the taint of illegality on it that seems to diminish any accomplishment it might be to nil."
"Oh not at all! I don't really have a grudge, so long as you're not hurtin' anybody."
"I should hope I don‘t..."
"So you run a multinational company in the black-market and you steal on the side."
"Corporation, and the INL is a League."
"Cooperation is generally used for extremely large companies."
"I get the feeling you aren't comprehending just how much I control. Look out the window to your left."
Seldavia looked down into the mountains and her jaw dropped.
Interwoven around four peaks was an immense white structure of glass windows and domes that seemed to rise naturally from snow. The sheer magnitude of this complex, sitting somehow hidden in the mountains, somehow inconspicuous to the Russian reconnaissance, was hard imagine, even though it was right below her.
Kidman happily watched her expression. She was so proud of Master.
"I see you're enjoying yourself." Carmen remarked.
"You know me all too well. Look at her stare. How beautiful..."
They landed on an air pad lit in airy splendor.
Carmen tucked Kidman under her jacket and motioned for Seldavia to ready herself for the cutting winds that awaited them. Guards immediately surrounded them as they stepped off the plane and escorted them in. Seldavia looked at Carmen as she ran ahead, luminescent under the cold lights, her black trench coat in sharp contrast with the driving snow, hair whipped wildly by the wind.
That woman belonged here.
Seldavia marked the view as a snapshot in time, something to reflect upon at a more tranquil time.
They cleared security with a flash of lights and paperwork and Seldavia found herself in a lab coat with a security tag around her neck. Kidman was wearing neither save for her uerthermine glasses, most likely a new pair after all this time. Two black-clad guards, who turned out to be good-natured ex-military workers from the States, followed the trio as they went. Seldavia hadn't believed the idea of ex-military in Carmen's ranks, but it became clear that this was a large category of INL as she was introduced to security personnel they met along the way.
Carmen walked at a frightening clip down the softly lit hallways, asking her guards to open doors here and there, coaxing Seldavia inside, and introducing her to the local staff and machinery. As the woman led her along the twisting corridors of the labs, Seldavia had to wonder why Kidman seemed so at ease here when it looked, well, though not the same as, but close to the resemblance of the Complex she had just been rescued from.
"And now the coup de grace...."
Carmen led them into a plush lobby that ran in a circle around something massive. Seldavia had seen a massive dome of glass from the plane, but so far had not seen anything with one from inside until now.
"Inside this door is the Bay. In here is where my most grand creations are made. There are usually about ten different projects going on at any one time, so it is quite busy. Watch yourself."
With a flourish of identification the guards swung the glass door wide to reveal a magnificent room of impossible proportions. The doors opened to a catwalk that encircled the observatory with stairs leading to the ground floor. Seldavia walked to the rail in awe. The room was at least a quarter mile wide.
Below she could see the various projects taking shape amidst the noise and chaos. People scurried back and forth with this and that, others at terminals, while still others were welding or tinkering with their projects. She could see three distinct vehicles; along with two more that seemed to be in their early stages, as well as many smaller projects out of a Bond movie. The great glass dome covered the whole of it, underneath which was a crisscross of wires, pipes, and metal rafters, chaos in an orderly fashion.
After a while a couple scientists noticed their Grand Master on the high walk and almost all work ceased as they paused to greet her, some quite enthusiastically.
Carmen looked embarrassed and Kidman looked happy.
Gradually work resumed once more.
"I guess seeing you is a rare occurrence."
"Of course. If Master stopped in here all the time nothing would get done," Kidman chirped gaily.
As she spoke she spied a scientist pushing her way through the crowd towards them. The woman was dressed in a designer lab coat that bore markings that Seldavia would later recognize as a sign of high rank. She had a short, thick mop of dark brown swirls with a rather conspicuous white streak up the front, and what seemed like a slimed down version of infrared goggles.
She greeted Carmen in Italian and shook her hand, then ruffled Kidman's hair, as was the common and accepted form of saying hello to Kidman, then turned to Seldavia and spoke in Italian until she realized she wasn't being understood.
"So you are ze girl who brought home my niece? Graci, graci! So proud of young courage you have. Let me introduce myself. I am Professor Bellum."
"You're Sara Bellum? But your hair..."
"Ai! Zey still have dat horrible picture of me in Agency files, don't they? No, my hair does not stick straight up like dat. So, you've heard of me?"
Carmen was trying hard to suppress her laughter. She had made sure that Acme never changed Sara's picture.
Seldavia shook her hand.
"Well yes, I have. You're Carmen's main engineer. Didn't you leave at some point-"
"No, I never left."
Seldavia felt a soft jab in her side as Carmen interjected and she deduced from the woman's face not to press further.
"I see you already know quite a bit about Professor Bellum, but let me tell you a bit more. Sara has been with us for nine years after she was 'downsized' from the cooperation she came from, Lumini."
"As you can see, Lumini ees no longer in service." Sara said with a smug smile. "I oversee ze board of Technology department, and dis place is my own personal domain. Look up. You see zose windows on the walls in circle below dome? Ze second row above them is ze windows to my apartment complex."
The Bay was roughly a quarter mile in diameter itself and roughly four stories high. From where the three stood, they were on the third floor. Below them was another overpass spanning the circle with white marble walks and the various labs and offices behind the doors that lined it. Then there was the ground floor. At the level they stood on and starting about fifty feet to the side were five by ten foot windows that ran also ran the span of the dome, offering the surrounding lobby area a spectacular view.
Carmen explained that the offices on the Third Floor were for the bulk of the inhabitants here. They had not only a view of the mountains outside, but when they walked outside of their offices, they were greeted by the windows into the Bay.
Seldavia looked up. There was still yet another level of windows above that.
"What is the Fourth floor?"
Carmen pointed to the East side.
"Higher ranks. Starting from that marker there is where the East Bay Apartments start. Every six windows is a room. As it gets closer to the South end, every ten windows is a room, and the whole West half is Sara's alone."
"Indeed eet is."
"Where do the normal people stay?"
"There are no normal people, Seldavia."
"But this can't possibly house them all."
"Of course not. Many of these scientists are on sabbatical or drafted for special projects. At least half of these rooms are rented out, though the fee is high, but so is the salary. Some live off premises and stay at the camps, while still others rent the economy rooms of the Ground floor. Oh yes, and there are more living quarters in Building H in the East wing."
"If my dwelling was not in such a disarray I would take you up to see eet."
Seldavia looked up.
"Uh Carmen...there's a man on the roof..."
"Yes, that's a janitor. Don't worry, he has a harness on."
"What is he doing? Can't he fall through?"
"He's removing of some of the more stubborn pieces of ice on the dome. No use having windows if you can't see out of them and sometimes the embedded heating strips go dead. It is a large space, after all. As for him falling through, this is made of double sheet bullet proof plexi-glass, and even if he did fall, the filter would stop him."
"To keep unwanted light from getting out."
"Anything you would like to show us in particular, Sara?"
"Well, I do haf zis one theeng. Follow me."
The group descended into the chaos along with the two bodyguards.
The noise on the Floor was deafening. Engines and protocol signals and beeps, and the ever-constant paging of various technicians to other sites echoed off the walls. Every once and a while something would rise above the din and make itself clear, sometimes an electrical snap, sometimes the whirl of a new motor being charged.
The seas parted as the Most High walked through. Almost immediately the workers identified Seldavia from the Reception last week and congratulated her, thanked her, and some even blessed her.
Finally Sara stopped and picked up a curious device off a lab table that several scientists had been bent over.
"Zees is a long range scrambler. Eet jams security electronic systems temporarily. You just point and cleek zis button here and...but not before you push dees, dees, and dees....and then you haf to calibrate it 42 degrrees, zen you haf to decide what level you want eet on. Then you aim and push dee button. Eet soundz complicated but eesa not. Here, you try."
Seldavia took out her hand to hold it but suddenly realized she was still as a lack for fingers and jammed her hand quickly back her pocket.
"No, no thanks, I'm afraid I'll break it."
They waved goodbye to the professor, who was already lost in her own world, and began the walk back to the gratings. Seldavia walked quickly without a sound.
Carmen looked puzzled but it passed quickly. She was still unaware of the condition of Seldavia's hand and so thought nothing more of it, but Kidman looked highly concerned.
"You haven't told anybody about your hand?" Kidman whispered at her, just loud enough to be heard by the woman beside her.
"No...it doesn't matter Kidman."
"Of course it matters! You must tell Master!"
Kidman sighed, then got an idea.
"Master, can we show Seldavia the Medical District in Poland? 602?"
"I don't see why not, but I thought the Medi-Sci gave you the creeps."
"Only in some places..."
"Well if you don't have any objections, little one. How about you, Seldavia? Are you feeling up to it?"
"Yeah I'm fine, lets go!" Seldavia said with mock assuredness. Damned if she was going to show her weak face again.
Carmen gave her a look that pretty much said she knew better, then stopped a security cart.
"Take us to the airlift, please."
Carmen turned to Seldavia.
"The indoor airlift here is also quite impressive, I might add."
The security cart drove them to the West wing of the Bay and reached a set of interlocking heavy metal doors. Security was passed and the cart drove through into a hexagonal metal corridor lit by tiny blue lights that caused for an eerily beautiful glow against the circuitry and metal. They were on a elevated trestle to the side, as shuttle tracks lay below. Seldavia watched the cars come and go in a ghostly metallic silence that was intermittently broken by Kidman testing the echo factor. At last the cart reached a second set of doors, more security, and they entered the airbase overhang, then down the ramp onto the floor.
"Kidman, stop that. Put your coats on, is usually cold in here."
The noise was deafening. They could hear the vibrations as they were coming down the corridor but the sound increased a hundredfold within. Jets of all sizes taxied around them, threatening to crush them with one false move.
Kidman started playing with Seldavia's hair.
Seldavia looked at her incredulously.
"Kidman, what are you doing?"
"No it's okay, it's fine, but why now? With all these things everywhere?"
"Things? Oh, the planes. I don't know."
Carmen looked on calmly. Kidman was a reminder to her of what really mattered in this high tech, and sometimes impersonal, world.
"Kidman seldom knows why she does the random things she does. I suppose that's just her way."
Seldavia felt herself calm as well as Kidman braided any lose strands she could find, then braiding the braids with the braids.
"Master, where's our plane?"
Carmen had out her laptop, the screen lighting up her lap the same pale light as the airbase.
"Our plane is that one there, the 747 in the corner getting refueled."
Carmen got out of the cart and made arrangements with the officials guarding the plane and then with the pilots.
"Carmen, do I still need this lab coat?" Seldavia asked.
"Might as well keep it, or I'll have to get you another at Medi-Sci. Don't lose that pass."
"Come on then- Kidman, stop playing with her hair for one minute so you can look where you're going." Carmen remarked as Kidman tripped over a fuel hose.
Kidman resumed her braiding once they had boarded and Carmen resumed with her laptop.
Seldavia propped herself up next to the window, half listening to the conversations of the agents around her as she watched the ground fall away, leaving the bright bustle of the Bay to be swallowed up by the cold, starry night.
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