(More Kidman past, following http://carmensandiego.info/blogs/entry/How-it-began-part-two May end up not being canon...but I worked hard on it and I like how it came out, so here it be.:-))
"And that is why Batman is better than Superman."
Kidman nodded absently as she dozed on the garage counter. The scent of warm hay drifted in through propped open windows, carrying away with it the usual smell of diesel, while in the distance the stop and start of an engine droned over intermittent construction noise.
Suddenly a curdling scream ripped through the afternoon's comfort, sending the lot of them out of the garage to find a construction worker huddled over a body on the ground about a 100 feet away.
"Someone get a medic!" The man cried out as he fought to staunch the blood rushing from the woman's neck.
"I'm on it." Ted, one of the garage mechanics assured as he dialed into medbay. "The hell happened here?"
"Ma' nailgun slipped, got ‘er in the neck. Ah' think it hit somethin' big. Aw God, Jan, don't die on me!"
A fearful Kidman hung back as others rushed in, but the gathering crowd swept her forward until the injured woman suddenly came into view. She sensed a body in panic, struggling to to regain what it had but failing. Something slipped across her mind's eye and when the girl moved next, it was on instinct alone.
No one noticed the small agent force her way through the ensuing chaos, nor noticed her pale hands amidst the others pressing a bundle of bloody shirt against Jan's neck. Only after the medevac helicopter came and went did anyone notice her; slumped unconscious in the dirt.
Several hours later, a small group of technicians sat around in medbay tossing cards into a hat.
"Hey, hey Kid. Hey. Hey. Hey."
"Stop it, Tony, that's annoying."
"Your face is annoying."
Kidman rubbed her head as her teammates came into view.
A thin man with scraggly beard stared back intensely. "What the hell happened to you? I didn't know you was afraid of blood. Probably shouldn't look at your hands."
The girl held them up with some difficulty, for her whole body felt as if it was filled with wet sand. "Oh, that's not my blood. I say, is the lady okay?"
"Okay, not afraid of blood. Why'd you pass out, then?"
Kidman paused to put words to it. "I think... I used too much thought to make to fix the hole. Is the lady okay?" She asked again.
"It don't really take much thought to hold a shirt down-" he got out before Ted elbowed him in the ribs. "Jesus, Tony. Kid nearly saw somebody die, okay? Drop it."
Rum, a large man with a warm, deep voice gently pushed Tony aside. "Jan'll be fine, hunny. They thought something major got cut, but it just passed over. A miracle, they're saying, ‘cause where it hit, it shoulda got somethin' real bad."
"Bloody." Boulder muttered in disbelief. "Crazy how that stuff ‘appens."
Kidman looked at them quizzically. "It did cut open. We just closed it is all."
The others looked at each other with uncertainty until Tony asked the obvious;
"We did what now?"
"You know, when you.... you show the pieces to grow back. With thoughts." She hazarded, trying to demonstrate with her hands. Kidman wasn't entirely sure what she had done, but it didn't feel like anything unusual, just difficult and exhausting. "And not you guys, the man next to me."
Tony scratched his head.
"You mean the guy that was with her? He wasn't healing her with thoughts, Kid! He was applyin' pressure to stop the blood! Don't you know first aid?"
"But I... Are you sure?"
"People can't heal with thoughts!" The thin man burst out in exasperation.
Kidman stared at her hands as something ominous rippled beneath her mind.
Rum reached over and pat the girl on the shoulder sympathetically. "Ahm sorry, hunny, people just can't do that sort of thing, but don't worry much about it. Jan'll be fine. Go have a wash off an' get some sleep. You had a rough day."
"You're better off without ‘em anyway." Tony said as he lit a cigarette. "‘cause if you really did have magic healing thought powers or whatever, they'd lock you in a lab." He let go a puff of smoke. "Forever."
Kidman stood in the shower for what seemed like hours that night, trying and failing to match two pieces of reality together. What had happened with the artery was real, she was sure of it. All that she had perceived through Jan had left imprints in her mind as memories do, although differently than usual.
‘If people can't heal with thoughts, why can I?' She thought as stepped out into a bathrobe. ‘I'm just like everybody else.'
She caught sight of herself in the mirror, and for the first time, really looked.
A growing mystery looked back.
Grey hair wasn't like everybody else. She hadn't seen it on any another young person. Then there were her scars. She had seen those on other people, remnants of terrible injuries, often from terrible things like wars, fights, or prisons, although there was the occasional mislaid firecracker.
‘Then where did all of mine come from? How? Why?''
The bathroom grew colder and dimmer as Kidman traced the lines on her face.
‘What... happened to me?'
She had never cared much about her hazy memory before, but now as she cast about the inky blackness for answers, its true horror finally made itself known.
There was nothing there.
Nothing at all.
Darkness stole up behind the sun's fading glory and slowly embraced the small figure traveling towards it.
Kidman had wished to circle the island, or walk as far as she could. Days before she had managed to haggle away some money from Vic, and with it she had bought new clothes days before. Only now had she gotten to wear them.
The fever that came on the night she had arrived had certainly not been welcome, but it turned out to be not entirely unwelcome. For nearly three days she had been forced away from herself, and she found her mind a much quieter space when she returned.
Kidman paused to pick another shell off the beach. She already had tens of them in her wicker basket, but the thrill of finding the 30th one was the same as finding the first. Still, the action of bending and standing made her slightly dizzy, so she promised each shell would be the last.
It had been concluded that a compromised immune system had be the cause. Custody with ACME would have been more than enough, but the loss the mask to Chase felt like a loss of virginity, and the dreams...
Kidman's face darkened and she looked out over the ocean for solace.
The consensus had been that she never speak of the dreams, for it made people nervous. Had she never found 'San Raphael' meant something, had not spent nearly 24 hours in isolation drawing them, had not felt the ghosts of her lost beloved's affections for the grey man, surely she would be inclined to agree that they meant nothing.
The fever had seemingly burnt much of her memory of them, the trauma they carried remained, and she dearly resented being left alone with them. Carmen's fear and exhaustion now had a solid context, and months of suffering now made sense, but she couldn't speak of any of it, to anyone.
It hurt more than she would ever be allowed to say.
Kidman saw a piece of glass in the sand and sighed, then placed it in her basket to throw out later. Again the thick ooze of lethargy swayed her and she steadied herself against a bench.
It could have been the explosion, it could have been the fight with Rosen, it could have been the vague coherence that in a month's time they could all die in the Russian wasteland and leave a madman free for their failure. It was more likely a cumulation of all of these, yet something stood out amongst them; the sight of the back of her shaved head between two mirrors in her hotel bathroom.
Beneath the fuzz ran two long, S-shaped scars. It was the last thing she could recall before falling ill.
Nausea rose at the memory and she shook it off as she continued on her way.
She had kept her head covered ever since by a white fisherman's hat, and when the day had been brighter, a large pair of sunglasses. The sun hurt her skin when it touched her directly, but she resolved to let it do so to make her skin colour to a more natural tone and possibly erase some scars.
She had forced herself to buy clothes with colour, and now wore the loose, red and white striped tank top and grey-blue linen gaucho pants she had procured. Her shoes were merely plastic flip-flops, though chose to go barefoot when she could. A wicker tote held her only other possessions; the hotel key card (possibly a disposable phone) a bottle of water, a half eaten bag of chips, and dozens of shells mixed with glass.
Really, Kidman owned next to nothing.
‘Just like poor Mr. Chase.'
No, she would never be like Chase. He was fully human, and while she didn't believe she was an alien thing, she felt it, deep in her bones.
"Chase..." she murmured to the stretch of sand ahead. It was growing ever darker and a voice nagged at her to go back to the hotel. She paused to watch the water roll over the sand instead. She had never seen a beach like this before. Once she had gone with her old group to Blackpool, but it was nothing like this. Everything here was so lush and vivid, every wild inch of it beckoning her to renounce her grey ways and to stay here forever.
A vision of Carmen freezing in the tundra slammed her back to reality, and the voice in her head whined ever louder of the dangers of dark places until she reluctantly turned back.
If she had to put herself in danger, it should be for a good cause, but going back meant having to socialize.
Kidman kicked up an extra bit of sand as she walked back towards the remains of the day. Happy as she was to be back with her fellows, being so resurfaced an old wound. Vic, Joe, and Patty were seasoned agents, trusted agents. Had Vic told them that she had failed to merit that rank a year before? Details of the night she had met Carmen had gone in and out of focus over the months, but the emotions were burned to memory. The Queen had looked disappointed in what stood before her.
Really, she couldn't see Carmen being happy at any of them if they could manage to find her. They would be breaking the cardinal rule; don't look for Carmen-
Kidman paused mid-step.
"Roux!" she said to herself "That's where I know that name! He was the last to see her."
He had tracked down the boss in a rather reckless fashion, and yet, he was still allowed to stay.
‘I suppose that's something, but Joe and I went to ACME, and then convinced Vic to give over her things on a hunch. The others have a history, so she might spare them, but I...'
It didn't matter. She would do it all again. Even if the visions had been dismissed as the offshoot of psychosis, she still believed them.
‘I did what I felt I had to.'
And for a long while after Kidman thought of nothing. Warm as Hawaii was, it was still winter and the breeze off the ocean made her wish she had bought a jacket, but there was no money left for that now.
‘I'm almost there anyway' she thought as she caught sight of the neon motel sign in the distance.
Other concerns sought to present themselves but she wouldn't allow them. The raid was out of her depth of understanding, a year's worth of nightmares were now consigned to her ever incoherent history, and the confusing flickers of attachment to ACME's Director of Operations led her into places she felt she had no business being in.
For a second the sight of her head scars blinked in to her line of sight and her jaw tightened. She clutched her hat miserably in the middle of the vacant street, a solitary thing bathed in the pale pink glow of the (hotel name)'s sign.
Kidman looked up at it with faint nostalgia. She had often imagined Carmen hiding in one of these old motels when she first went on the run. She had always wanted to experience it for herself, and she wrapped herself in the comfort of old fantasies she ascended the ancient stairs.
‘Please, Master, just let us find you and know you are safe. That is all I want. Past that... I no longer wish to think on.'
Kidman lay on her back on the extra comfy mat on the floor. She felt much lighter now, freer, perhaps even as free as before she turned to hiding. She had been holding her breath for so many years, swimming for so many miles. At last, land.
It was quiet in her small cell. Quiet and dim. And safe.
The ACMEs had been more than merciful with her, especially Chase.
He had kept the lights off in her cell. He had been patient with her mask, had even come down himself with a gentle solvent. He had kept her out of the system, and now, most importantly, he had listened.
‘The signal to Chase...' came a whisper in her mind and she gently turned it away. ‘The signal is sent.'
No one had ever asked her about the dreams before, so she had never described them, or even sought to pin them down. "What is San Raphael?" had been more a question to herself after hearing it said aloud. She hadn't expected an answer.
Certainly not that answer.
‘If that was real, then how much more?'
There was much time to do very little with, and the girl was exhausted, so she turned her attentions to sleep and investigating what she had long sought to ignore.
It proved to be more difficult now.
The red fire was more a phantom ache, even during the times of day it was usually the worst. Kidman reached for Carmen's pen for perhaps the hundredth time before she remembered it was gone.
‘The pen... Was that it? I focused in it so much. Is that how this happened? Can I get back to her without it?'
After several hours she eventually made headway, and made note of everything that seemed significant.
Now she floated at the surface and arranged the data she had.
‘His eyes... When I asked why he hadn't ended it yet, he didn't have an answer. He didn't know. He should have known. This should have been something he would map out long ago, but he hasn't.'
She closed her eyes and recalled his face. He wasn't stone anymore, but flesh and blood. He was human as any other, and his iron eyes held shades of emotion as any other.
‘Perhaps you don't know because you don't want to.'
There was no denying that he had saved VILE.
The irony lightened her heart.
‘After months of trying to destroy us, you throw us a rope.'
Kidman had been surprised that Joe would even tell Chase that VILE was on the edge of disbanding. If anything, it should have made ACME less inclined to help, but Chase gave him the chip instead. Kidman had come instead for the files or ACME's resources, something she had initially failed at.
Kidman closed her eyes and smiled softly.
That didn't matter now.
Chase was clearly concerned, and even if he couldn't find the files or didn't believe in her clairvoyance, the seed was set. He would know what he needed to know when he saw it now.
At last she was free to rest.
‘...the signal to Chase, to Chase...' whispered in her ear as she drifted back to sleep.
‘He has it, Carmen....' she murmured back. ‘It's going to be okay...'
(OOC: This isn't to slander Ivy. It's to show the enviroment Kidman grew up in, and how she developed her fear of Ivy. Also, I don't know much about Chase, or I'd be afraid of him, too.;-p)
It was a cool fall Saturday, the sort where you got a bunch of friends together and fixed machines while a taped Brit-com played on in the background. There were at least six grunts either doing odd-jobs or drinking coffee, one of which was unusually small.
"I'd like to go live someday. What do you guys think?"
A man with a five o'clock shadow glanced at the grey-haired girl that was handing him tools. The term ‘go live' was a grunt term for going on a heist, or any situation where arrest was possible. ‘Grunts', as they lovingly called themselves, usually worked behind the scenes. Very few actually went to the front line, and while some considered it a great honour to be chosen to do so, others had a different view.
"Go live? And risk getting Ivyed? No thanks. Maybe if I had fightn' skills or sommik, but I like my bones how they are."
"You know, beat up by Ivy, the ACME chick."
Kidman scratched her head. She was still getting her footing and didn't know much about ACME, other than the fact that they wanted to catch all her friends and put them in jail.
"Why would she beat you up?"
"Because we're criminals?"
"I thought we were just arrested if we got caught."
"Well, that's how it's supposed to go down," came another voice from across the garage. "There's supposed to be this thing that if we don't hurt them, they don't hurt us, and usually, it works. But then... there's Ivy."
Kidman chewed her lip. "Surely it can't be that bad..."
"Yeah? Hey Boulder, you got access over there?"
A heavy built man with tanned skin looked up from his computer. "Aye. Whotcha lookn' fer?"
The room went quiet.
"The kid here doesn't think she's that bad. Why don't you go over there and take a looksee?"
Kidman heard a few chuckles as she looked over Boulder's shoulder at the screen. A red-haired woman stared back with frightening intensity. She was smiling.
"That there is Ivy," Boulder said as he scrolled through what VILE had collected of her. "‘Multiple black belts, with specialty in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Taekwondo. Also incorporates kick boxing, Krav Maga, and Black Tiger Kung Fu. Has short temper and is easily provoked. Has caused serious injury. Use extreme caution.'"
"You want to see? We have pictures of the injured."
"We got pictures? I wanna see this."
A thin man with a mangy beard came over to the table, followed by the others as Boulder navigated the database.
"All right, so this is from a job in Russia. We had two grunts blocking for Carmen to get out. Her brother just fakes his way out, but Ivy-"
"Sails right through the air, slams a guy right in the shoulder, full force. Bam! And then down on the floor! The guy's just blocking! No gun, hands out, you know? But he got out okay. Just bruising. No wait, dislocated shoulder. See?"
Kidman winced. "Why, why would she do that? It says security was already there!"
"Because she likes to hurt us, kid. Because we're the bad guys, and heros beat up bad guys."
"Yeah, ‘cause, you know, we ain't human beins or someten' Tell her that one with the sphinx."
"Yep. Infamous Sphinx incident. Okay, so some grunts are on top of the Sphinx, the one in Egypt, and they're there to make sure the kids get the clue Carmen left for them. And Ivy just sweeps his legs out, just knocks him over the edge."
"‘Sweep the leg, Johnny. No mercy.'"
"And that thing is high! He managed to fall onto a ledge, but busted his leg up real bad. Guy could have died, though."
Kidman looked at the picture of the man's leg. "She knocked him off? Did he come at her?"
"He was a watcher! I mean, what do they expect? Do we ever hurt anyone? I know we grab them sometimes and lock ‘em up, but seriously, your average mugger on the street does worse. But here's the thing; the only one that does this is Ivy. Here, this guy got kicked in the face. In the face!"
"This chick here, another dislocated shoulder, broken collar bone. This guy, broken nose. This guy... oh this guy really got f*cked... He was on a log transport and Ivy cuts the ropes. Guy falls off the truck, over a cliff, and then the logs land on him. And these are heavy, right?"
The thin man squinted at the picture on the screen, then whistled. "Greg Mirkum... You know, you don't often hear about that one because it makes the boss upset. I mean, Ivy busts on us, but she didn't mean for that to happen. Besides, we don't know for sure that's what killed him."
"Aww bollocks, Tony. Wha'd she think would happen? We're noffik but traffic cones to these guys-"
"Whatever. I still say she should know she probably killed a guy."
"There's no proof of that. You can't just something that serious without knowing for real."
"But we can agree that this guy, right here, got knocked off the truck when Ivy cut the lines, and then died, like, two weeks later for no reason."
"Rum, for god sake, we're f*cking criminals! You think they're gonna be all pansies with us? And we aren't being made to do this. Greg could have fallen off on his own."
"But he didn't fall off on his own. He got crushed because Ivy don't see us as worth a thought. We're supposed to care about them, but f*ck us, right? And we aren't just criminals. We're flippn' VILE. We're the PG of crime. He was a nice guy. He didn't deserve that. No reason for it. No reason."
The room got quiet save for the rain and the Brit-com's laugh track, which was now wholly inappropriate. Kidman anxiously pulled on her fingers as Boulder continued to scroll through the injury reports. They were mainly regular work-related accidents mixed with a more than a few others related to live events, but whenever it was mentioned that an ACME agent was involved, Ivy's name was alarmingly common.
"But...why, then? If the others don't, then why her? Why do the ACMEs allow it?"
Boulder shrugged. "I don't know, kid. I don't think she killed that guy. Some say she did, but most don't. I will say she does a lot of damage, and she don't seem to care how much. As for why ACME don't stop her? Like Jag said, we're f*ckn' criminals. We're awesome f*ckn' criminals that do it classy and try not to hurt anyone, but they don't care about that part. As far as they're concerned, we deserve anything they give us, an Ivy's only too happy to do it. Stay away from her, or she'll break you too."
From that day on, Ivy became a point of fear and frustration for Kidman. She soon found that a few of her guardians had suffered Ivy's wrath at some point, and was further traumatized when she began to see the results first hand.
Most didn't care or laughed it off. They had had worse, and what could a thief expect?
But others were like her; docile types that lived in the grey space that Carmen had provided and had little experience with violence. They were the engineers and technicians who needed to be on site, and couldn't conceive of a reason to fear a broken rib.
Was it mistaken identity? Heat of the moment?
Or was it that this Ivy truly enjoyed what she did?
VILE had very little in the way of proper propaganda, but as the grunts circulated their war stories, Ivy's infamy grew, until she became a veritable boogeyman.
Keep alert, or Ivy will throw you off a building.
Train hard, or Ivy will kick you in the face.
Don't mess up, or Ivy will break you in half.
And above all, don't get caught,
Or Ivy might kill you.
(Continued from http://carmensandiego.info/blogs/entry/How-it-began-part-one )
She wasn't found until nightfall, when she followed the smell of food into the cafeteria.
"Hey, hey, who are you? You can't just come in here."
The girl looked at the man in front of her blankly, then pointed at the pasta on another man's tray.
"You don't talk?"
The girl continued to point at the pasta and the man scratched his head.
"Anyone know what the hell is going on here? Jesus, looks like she fell in a chipper- Wait, where are you going?"
The girl was now trying to get behind the lunch counter. The man sighed. This was one of those situations that called for the police, but that wasn't how things were done. Not around here.
"Somebody get this kid some medical and some food- Hey, you can't just take that!"
Kidman's first, and perhaps only theft at VILE; a handful of pasta.
‘This kid' became Kid, with ‘Kidman' added later as a half-joke in reference to Nicole Kidman that stuck. Other than that, little was known, and really, little was asked. VILE wasn't the sort of organization to pry. At first she merely floated around, but curiosity led her to be drafted into small tasks, and from those she mastered larger ones. She did eventually learn to speak, or remembered how to speak, and when she did, she had a strange accent that couldn't be placed, but it soon wore down into the lilt of northern England.
Kidman wasn't aware at first what VILE was, and by the time she did, she didn't care. Theft wasn't presented as a terrible thing when the stories of Carmen were told. It was a daring game against the world, a fantastical thing that only Carmen and her magical team could do. A team she was part of.
Her naivety wore away with time, to a certain extent, and she became fairly on level with those around her, except she didn't look back. It didn't occur to her to. How would she know? How would one know they were missing their memory if they could not remember having one? No one asked, as it was considered bad taste to do so. Clearly the girl had escaped something terrible to have such scars.
Clearly to everyone but Kidman.
Lots of people on base had scars.
Lots of people on base had grey hair.
She had been told once that she looked like an ‘anime character' and was shown a picture of a young girl with silver hair. If it was in a magazine, it had to be normal.
Unusual, but normal.
She had her uniform, her little room above the garage, her teammates, her pasta. For nearly two years Kidman was normal, unusual but normal, and very, very happy.
For the first few minutes, that was all the girl could perceive. Then the wind, the heat of the sun, the scratch of that within which she lay, and pain. She sat up. Squares of green sprawled out before her, endless to the horizon. She watched the grass move in waves with the wind. Her mind was empty of thought, save for the barest of basic.
The girl stood up weakly, fell, but succeeded in staying up the second time and surveyed the space around her.
'A field. This is a field. I am in a field. Those are bushes. That is grass.'
She looked at her hands, then at her clothes. An old white t-shirt and blue and grey striped pajama pants. It did not feel familiar, but nothing did, and somehow did not seem to be cause for concern. A sense of urgency flitted at the edges but she could not grasp it. It was, as dreams tend to be, just how it was.
It eventually occurred to her that standing in a field was not amounting to anything constructive and she slowly made her way across the moor towards a narrow dirt road, each step purposefully placed.
‘Roads go places.'
This particular road was upon a particularly steep hill, and so the obvious direction to go was down.
‘Rocks make my feet hurt. Don't put feet on rocks.'
Whether she walked for minutes or hours, she couldn't say. All there was was forward until such time that she arrived Somewhere.
That first somewhere was a dilapidated shack. A man in old jeans and a checkered shirt reclined in a rocking chair in front of it; a beer in hand and a radio at foot.
The girl stared at him.
The man stared back. "The hell happened to you? You fall in a chipper? Wots with tha hair o' yor?"
The girl cocked her head, but said nothing. Some of the words made sense to her, but she couldn't quite find their meanings.
The man stood up to get a better look.
"You speak English? Jeeze you're a right mess. Wotcher name, kid?"
She sensed that a response was expected, and soon grew visibly frustrated with being unable to.
The man sighed. This was one of those situations that called for the police, but that wasn't how things were done. Not around here. He pulled a transceiver out of his pocket.
"Hey Yeller, I got a situation up front. Some beat up kid just wander' in, don't speak a lick."
A fuzzy sound answered back and an argument commenced, but this was of no interest to the girl, and so she wandered past unnoticed to the path beyond.
It was her natural state.
‘No...' her inner voice reminded her. ‘Your chosen place.'
Kidman was huddled on the floor in yet another empty hallway, her head between her knees. Days passed and she pulled further and further away from the others. She was a mummy unearthed; once preserved in stasis but now rapidly decaying. The pain of it had turned her so bitter that she could no longer bear to interact with anyone. She couldn't stand the sound of her voice or the words she spoke; all so grey and acidic.
She couldn't stand what she was.
"I'm so..." She murmured dully. "Look at them all, so strong, confident, full of memories, full of humanity, full of...stuff. I should be like that. I could be calm and graceful, like Master."
Another jag of pain.
"Master... how could you...? No. This isn't your fault. You didn't make the rainbow for me. You didn't make it for anyone. I just hid here because it was convenient and you haven't thrown me out. I have nothing to do with you, Carmen, or anyone. I have nothing to do with anyone. I can't relate...to anyone."
Her inner voice began kicking at her again.
‘Then get up and do something useful. Go talk to people. Stop being so pissy and get up!'
The girl stirred, but lacked the will to do much more.
The voice continued to berate her.
‘You think you're the only one with problems? The only one with demons? The only one who's 'different'? So you didn't get chosen. So VILE is about to slide into chaos. Do something about it! You're so afraid of being-'
Suddenly the voice scratched away and something buckled inside her. White warped with shadow, the feel of hands, a tumble of noise, a fear of drowning. A wave of heat rolled over her and the girl fell forward with a gasp. She grabbed desperately at her hair for focus, but it just came out in grey, matted clumps in her clammy hands.
Then it stopped.
Kidman lay on her side, cheek pressed against the cold tile floor in a daze as the urge to vomit came and fell.
‘Don't think of such things...' she bid the voice weakly.
For the first time in weeks, perhaps months, the cloud of acid that clung to her fell back.
In her delirium she was calm.
She turned over on her back, letting the cold seep through her sweat-soaked clothes to pull her back from her nightmares.
"I'm so... angry...." She said again, much softer, sadder. "So angry at everything, everyone...."
The empty holes in her mind had been so easy to ignore before, but not now. Now was the time to galvanize, to center and solidify against the enemy, but there was nothing there. Any attempt to build a new identity had invariably failed, There were just too many unknowns, rendering her impotent on almost every level she could conceive of. All she could do was built card houses with shadows and try and accomplish as much as she could before it collapsed again. Now that would not be enough.
"Even orphans know who they are, where they came from. I tried, Carmen, really I did, to get past it, but what kind of person...?"
Kidman glanced at her reflection in one of the thick-paned windows. A sickly thing looked back. She was not what one would call attractive. Her hair was flat grey, and her skin pale and thin. The scars, the circles under her eyes, and awkward manner; there wasn't much beauty there.
But at least it was something familiar.
"That is me, there. That is me." She said with absent resolve.
She wasn't well liked, she wasn't particularly skilled, save for the one skill she could never use, and she felt a life she never had slipping away before her.
She would rather be angry at Carmen for forcing life upon her, but it was just too absurd. Carmen was just a person. And a god. And a person. And a god. The woman controlled her very existence through VILE's oasis. Kidman could get, food, water, shelter, safety without anyone asking who or what she was. It would be impossible anywhere else.
But Carmen was also just a person.
'A person who did something incredibly stupid.'
The weaker side of her rushed to chastise but this time Kidman sided with her more belligerent voice.
"She did something stupid. Taking the tower was stupid. No one wants to tell her it was stupid. No one wants to believe Carmen, the Master, could do something stupid, and because of this Master was allowed to do something stupid. Now we'll all pay, just like Vic."
A stronger person, a less fearful person, a more valid person could have stopped him from leaving. A more valid person would have the right and ability to tell Carmen the truth. Any person could, really. All people were valid. They were born, were children, were teenagers, climbing layer by layer from the solid earth. Carmen was just a person like all others.
"But that's still more than I am."
Kidman slowly pulled herself up into a sitting position and looked at herself in the window once again.
"There's got to be more to me than this... I felt it, for just a moment."
It had been there, a flicker of something more solid in her, something good, but it disappeared beneath the blades.
"Perhaps I'm not meant to..." she thought as she slumped against the wall and fell away to sleep.
Ever since his in-depth discussion at the Austrian cemetery, Flag found himself bouncing from one place to another in order to "prepare" for the heist to come. However, preparation only came in the form of information delivery and had he known that he would have to deal with so many people, he would have outright confessed to having the ability to pull the heist off himself - an exaggeration regarding his personal abilities, but accurate enough when considering their rivals technology.
If it was so easy, then why all of the preparation? It was for his safety, of course.
The Sivoan always felt an odd sense of protectiveness from Carmen. It wasn't the kind that a child would feel from its parents, but more like what a prized possession would receive from its owner if it had the ability. Perhaps this was because he was something of a rarity on this planet... and she certainly liked to collect rare things.
Conceivably, he should have been grateful for the extra consideration for his well-being, but he really just didn't care.
His idle thoughts faded as the Cessna touched down on the short runway of a training facility that belonged to somebody else in the syndicate. As the small plane slowed to a stop he picked up the leather messenger bag that held his only possessions along with another case that needed to be delivered.
A company of trainees jogged past as he set foot on the tarmac and he found himself oddly comforted by the sight. Despite the disgust that some people had for these "grunt farms", he understood that the brainwashed instincts that they instilled were necessary in making sure things were done properly. No amount of ACME training could match the loyalty and reflex that the camps physical drills ingrained into their newest members.
It reminded him of his military training back home.
Clearing his head of anything but the assignment associated with this pit stop, he made his way towards the compound to drop off his package.
Kidman always looked when an aircraft landed. It could be Carmen, after all. It almost never was, but it could be. This time, as usual, it was not Carmen, but what she saw stopped her dead cold.
'He has gray hair. His hair, his hair is gray. He isn't old but his hair is grey, and....are those ears? Are those...? It...that...'
Flag had just reached the door when he felt eyes on him. Even though his employer has ensured that he didn't have to disguise himself within VILE territories, he often did so because it prevented awkward situations like this. He turned to shot a warning glare at the girl gawking at him and fell short. For a moment he felt displaced and confused at the similarities between them, but then settled on the notion that she had been a lot more successful at changing the color of her hair than he had ever been.
"Nice dye job." he said dismissively and returned to his errand.
Kidman cocked her head. "Dye job...? You mean, my hair?"
The immediate reaction was to be saddened by the remark and shy away, but it looped back over on itself given the appearance of the speaker, emboldening her further. "It...it isn't dyed. This, this is how my hair is. It is this way because...I, I don't really know why it is this way. But it is. Like your ears."
Flag found the door was locked and grunted under his breath. "Wonderful."
He had tuned out the girl as soon as he turned away from her, but with the new predicament her words started to seep into his awareness. "Say that again."
Something about the man's voice made the girl recoil and a voice screamed at her from the back of her head.
'Shut up! You don't know if those ears are real! You're going to screw up everything! Just turn around and walk away.'
'Walk away, dammit!'
"Oh...I'm sorry. I just noticed your, yes, I'm sorry, I'm off."
She fought with herself a moment longer before she reluctantly turned to walk away.
Flag sighed at his situation. "You're fine. I should have done better to hide them if I didn't want commentary."
The girl stopped short. "They're...real?"
'No no no! Keep walking! Oh damn it...'
"How...how is that possible? How are they real?"
He waved the question off. "Long story short, I'm not from here."
He preferred doing things solo, but he also had a small time frame in which to deliver this package before his trip to San Francisco. "Is there another entrance where I can drop this off?"
At that Kidman blocked out the angry voice in her head entirely. She needed the information he held.
"I can show you another way in if you'll answer a few questions." She stated bluntly as her mind swore loudly in her brain.
Flag let out another small sound of frustration at that. He didn't particularly want to answer any more questions but would allow it this time. "Walk first. You can ask on the way."
Kidman led the way. There were thousands of questions she could have asked, but there was only one that mattered above all else. "If you aren't human, why has no one tried to capture you yet?"
The walk that they had barely started came to a halt at that one question. It was a question dripping with experience, and that unsettled him more than he would ever admit. "They've tried. ACME even succeeded once, but that's another story altogether".
He knelt so that he could bring his slitted sunset eyes to meet her cool gray ones. "What makes you ask that?"
Kidman's heart pounded against her chest as a wave of fear passed over her. She couldn't find her voice at first, her thoughts drowned out by the screaming in her head.
'Look away! Look away!'
She came to her senses and did as her head commanded.
"It just seemed a logical question to ask." she said just a little too awkwardly, a little too loudly. She was stuck now, half way in and half way out. She knew she should run, but the need, the desperate need for this knowledge was just too much. "Why don't you hide? Aren't you afraid?"
"Right..." He stood up and allowed himself to be led again, disappointed in the answer that he received. As promised though, he continued to answer her questions. "I hide as much as the rest of VILE does."
The moment he started walking again the girl spilt out her questions haphazardly like a bottle uncorked. "Is that why you work for her? Because it is safe here? Were you not afraid of what she would do? What the others would think? Has anyone ever tried to do tests on you? Are you a genetic mutation or are you from another planet? How did you get here? Can you get back? Can you do any majick? Has anyone ever made you do majick? Does ACME know? Did ACME try to do tests on you? Did Master?"
Flag turned around, the annoyance at the sudden bombardment of questions clear on his face. "My reasons for working with that daydreamer are my own, but VILE makes it convenient. Nobody has done tests on me because frankly, I haven't given them the ability to do so and please..."
He set the document case down and crossed his arms. "... tell me what gives you the impression that I have a knack for prestidigitation?"
Kidman paused, more in her own head then out of it. "Presti... You mean majick? I'm sorry, that was rather crude... I mean advanced...hyperphysics... Doesn't matter. The important thing is that... Well how could you make it... Of course... you're stronger..."
The girl's face fell, but she quickly recovered. "Do you think they would have done tests if you hadn't gotten away?
He shrugged, his arms still crossed and the annoyance at her avoidance of his questions apparent. "They had the chance to. I was in their medical care at the time."
Kidman stared blankly. "They didn't...not even question it? How is that possible? I mean...the ears! How could they not want to...?"
Her voice fell away as she unconsciously traced a scar on her chin. "I'm sorry. For all the questions. The door is down those stairs..."
The Sivoan kept his eyes on her. "You're not from Earth either, are you?"
Kidman stared ahead. "I don't know what I am..."
"How could you not know what you are?"
The girl balled her fists in frustration. "I, I just don't. How would I know what I am? I just woke up here one day. These scars were new then, but I don't know where they came from. But they came from somewhere. I had to come from somewhere and I'm afraid of somewhere, because that's where the scars came from."
She looked off into the distance. "If I get caught... somewhere might come back for me..."
Flag smirked a little at that. "Scars are a story of survival. Why be afraid of something that you've already overcome?"
He had more scars than one could count. Numerous floggings, failed rituals, fights, etc. were etched all over his body and were the primary reason he wore such heavy clothing. What thwarted him now was the question of why - when he hated kids- was he talking to this girl?
After a pause long enough to let his former statement soak in, he turned towards the basement entrance she indicated. "We can continue this if you would like, but I have to drop this stuff off for Carmen or else she'll probably lecture me."
Kidman wavered. "At least you know where yours came from... mine...mine feel more like a warning of things to come."
She looked down the stairs. "You don't have to worry about Master lecturing you...she isn't here."
This was the second individual that Flag had met that referred to Carmen as 'master,' and he shook his head at it. Although she was to polite to say so, he was fairly certain that she didn't care to be addressed as such.
He let a small laugh escape. "I didn't mean that she'd lecture me now."
"Oh... " Kidman said, then thought a moment. "Master...never mentioned there was another- a non-human... Does she know?"
Kidman stared at him for a long moment, unable to say anything.
'She knows....but did nothing? But wait.'
"Do you... Would you happen to have any...abilities, as it were? Not from here? That she might find useful? If so, does she know? Has she asked you to use them? Do you think she would...make you?"
She waited for the angry voice in her head to scold her but nothing came. It was listening too, despite itself.
They reached the door at the bottom of the stairs and he paused to find the words he wanted. "She doesn't know the scope of my abilities, but recently has taken an interest in them."
He placed a hand on the door handle and pulled the door open. "Carmen does appreciate the talents of her minions, but isn't known for forcing them to do something against their will."
Kidman stopped short. The voice in her head awoke from its stupor and started its racket once again. This time she was inclined to listen to it. She had gotten what she sought from the man, and although the information was one person's opinion and could easily be less than true, it was something, and something was far more than nothing.
"Thank you," she said instead, took one last look at the man and ran off, leaving him to enter the compound alone.
(Kidman and Vic, edited by Vic)
At last the weight of impending doom was too much for her to manage alone.
‘I need to talk to someone. It just rattles around in my head, around and around. I just need to know, need to...'
Kidman saw Vic was hanging around again. She was still intimidated by his rank. Technically there were no ranks, but he was the closest to Carmen. Truly there must be something special to him. Usually she would be content to stay away, especially as he was currently involved in conversation with someone else, but something pressed her on.
She took all her nerves and put them in a jar.
"I...say, you're Vic?"
"So I was sayin' to the pilot..." Vic stopped. The pale faced Kidman girl was talking to him and VIc had a mind to shrug her off. He already talked to Russo yesterday about bringing that Narwar Nevir trainee for Carmen to test after the tower.
"Shouldn't you be trainin' kiddo?" He asked her back.
Kidman stood her ground. "This is training. Can I...speak with you? A moment?"
"Talk fast, kid, I got alotta work ahead."
She could feel her nerves catching up with her but pushes them back. This is important.
She looked off to the side "So...what do you think about Acme tower? It's big...yes?"
Vic paused, then excused himself from the navigator he was talking to and pulled Kidman to the side, "Okay, kid, keep y' voice down. So... she told you, ah?"
"Perhaps too big. Does she...know how big?" Kidman replied, ignoring the other question.
"She knows more than both you ‘n' me combined in a room full of geniuses." The conman replied evasively. "Why you askin' this?"
"Because I don't feel as certain. I know what I say doesn't matter much, but I don't think she should take the whole tower. She listens to you, yes? Would you...mention it?"
Vic knew what the girl was feeling, but this ain't right, no one questions Carmen 'cept for maybe herself.
"It's a trust system, you get that?" The henchman sounded a little annoyed, but he pushed that away. "She's got her head straight on this, I can't say much that'll change her mind."
"Have you tried?" The girl felt she was walking off a cliff, but she couldn't stop. "She can't be left alone with her own mind. No one should be."
"What are you sayin'?" Vic couldn't believe this was coming from a trainee.
"She must collaborate with someone. Are you saying she plans all these things alone?"
Kidman felt her panic grow. It was worse than she thought, so much worse than she thought. ‘They've left you to yourself this whole time? You've been alone? Good god, you'll drown!'
She began to pace in a circle.
Vic sensed she was in some kind of mode and tried to calm her down. "Listen, kid. For every 10 things I know about Carmen, there's another 20 that I don't."
"That isn't an answer. Does anyone give her feedback?"
"Y'only know 'er as something distant, one o' these days, y'll see how she is, she don't need feedback."
"This is not good, not good. I need to, I have to, she needs to..."
Vic huffed out air, "If yer wanna talk to her, kiddo, maybe you'll catch her when she comes by in a week or two."
"When is she....the tower?"
"She ain't takin' it. It's me and Flag. Now you just sit tight until this is over."
"But...please, the things this will cause-"
"I'll keep it quiet ‘bout your questioning her," Vic interrupted.
Kidman straightened as much as her shaking body would let her. "If she were here, I would question her myself! I would. I would I would. If I'm the only one who will, I will."
"You get yourself some sleep, looks like training's getting to ya."
"I've been sleeping too long! I'm, I'm already too late. Please, don't make it too late. I'll write a note! Just stay here. I'll get some paper. Then I'll take the blame for speaking."
Vic signed and scratched his head. "She won't change her mind, not this late into it. Besides, she's on her way t' distract ACME already, you won't get that note to her in time, Kiddo."
Kidman felt the ground slide sideways. ‘No....'
"...but, but there's still time.... Master's smart enough to know that..."
Vic wondered what that Master title was all about. "You don't wanna go questioning her now, don't be stupid."
"Yes I do! She could be putting herself in terrible danger doing this. Not the heist itself, but the fallout. You must know this! Tell me you know this!"
Vic shrugged. He knew what she meant but he couldn't support her behavior this far into the process. A week before the tower gets swiped, this girl don't know the process it took to get here. "It's like this for all the heists. Even if Carmen knew this was suicidal, she'd never back down."
Kidman kicked a rock angrily as tears formed in her eyes, cursing herself for not having spoken to him sooner. "Because no one talks to her! She's lost in her own self! God damn it, Vic, don't you care? Am I the only one...?"
"Al'right, al'right, Kid, I gotta go."
The girl ran after him as she cast about for thought, clutching at the sand slipping away through her fingers.
"Wait, wait! P-please, at least let me write a note. I don't want her to be alone."
Vic couldn't deny that, it was childish, but Carmen ran a sort of orphanage here.
"Fine." He said and got out a pen and a scrap of paper from his wallet. "Write."
Kidman grabbed it and pressed the paper against her knee.
'Don't take the tower. Repercussions too high. Please, please abort!' she scrawled upon it, fitting as much message as she could in such a small space before handing it back.
Vic looked at it dubiously before he put it back in his wallet. "I donno when I'll next see 'er, though."
"Send it as an email? Oh! On the phone! Just say you heard it from some henchperson and you thought it was funny. So long as she hears it! You can have my paycheck!" she added and fumbled abound around in her bag for the check.
Vic sighed again, this time, heavier.
"I don't want your money, girly. Look, I got a small window when I communicate with her, but that's after the tower get hijacked."
"Call her now, then!"
"She's been plannin this one a long time, don't mess it up for her."
"I'm not, I'm trying to fix it for her!"
"Not that simple, it ain't."
A sense of futility fell about the girl. There wasn't enough time to get him to understand.
"You're just going to say nothing...? There are always choices...when you use your brain and not your brawn...."
Vic thought for a while, and then fumbled in his pocket for something.
"Here," he said, handing a pen with a red garnet embedded in its cap, "it's hers. Take it. When she asks for it from me, I'll tell 'er it's with you." He checked his Timax watch. "Now I gotta go or this thing blows up without me."
Kidman took the pen sorrowfully and cradled it in her hands. "I'm too late, too late...I'm so sorry, Master..."
"Stop your worryin', kid, she'll be dandy. You'll see." The polyester suit said as he rushed down the hallway.
The girl watched him go, utterly drained.
"I'm so sorry..."
Kidman was on the roof again. She was sure she wasn't supposed to be up there but she doubted anyone really cared. If they did, she could just claim it was part of her training. She was unable to lie outright, but so long as a piece of truth remained in the statement it was fair game and everyone was expected to know their way around a fire escape.
Training ran smoothly now. The girl had evened out, a steady B, B+ level. There were some places she was oddly efficient, such as picking locks and other arts of precision, but she was never able to gain any ground where physical strength was needed. She was capable of great bursts of speed or strength, but she lost it after a handful of seconds, and once gone, her body was next to useless.
The girl found it worrisome.
'What's the point of being able to crack locks if I can't do the legwork to get to them? I'm amazed I can even get up here. And if they chase me... No, I just need more practice. My muscles have to grow eventually, yes?'
The problem had never come up when she first joined. Then again, she hadn't gotten this far when she first joined. Somehow she had sensed that being a full on agent wasn't the best way for her to go and had veered off towards maintenance. She soon found she preferred being just be a cog in the machine.
'Now I'm not sure what you want with me." She said to the clouds above. "If you even remember me."
It had been so long since that damp, chilly night. Carmen came and went, came and went, all around the world. Time passed, and the girl was still here. True, Vic still popped up here and there, but by now Kidman assumed this was something he did for everyone and had always done. It meant nothing.
"Maybe you just wanted to scare me."
But what about the tower?
Nothing had come of it. Had it been a fake secret to test her? Carmen had never made it clear that this was a secret, though. That had been the girl's assumption.
"Maybe she was just tired."
'No...that's not it...'
Kidman nodded in agreement with her inner voice. She and her soul fought much less now, having grown closer, almost one for the common goal that led her up here now. Something was rising in the wind again.
'Do you feel it? Is it our restlessness?'
It was impossible to say.
'We did what we could to prepare,' it answered back.
The girl nodded again. She had put her helicopter training on hold to take up low level electronics and as much medical science as she could take in. It had been a difficult choice to make, but while being a pilot was what she wanted to be, it was not what she was needed to be, regardless of what Carmen's ultimate intent for her was.
It was the way of things.
However, with her growing awareness of herself came the growing need for confirmation that the one she loved was indeed the one she loved.
She needed to see Carmen's face one more time.
"I came to you with a vision and a feeling. The vision, though probably still accurate to a degree, is a distraction; one you designed yourself. The feeling ran the other way. I felt a good heart and a complicated soul thriving yet wearing under the strain of such weight. I felt..."
Kidman closed her eyes and tried to recall the woman's face. It had been dim and she had been tired and scared. The memory was scratched and faded, but she could still just make out her face, the face beneath.
"When you spoke of that tower...I felt the room tilt sideways around you. You spoke as if you were as certain as always...but you weren't. I didn't think about it until now, perhaps...unable to conceive of it until now, that you could feel uncertain. What a stupid thing to think."
A gust of wind tried to take her gray cap from her head for the third time, but by now the girl had pinned it to her collar. The lights from the airfield twinkled in the growing dusk and voices of comrades floated up about her. It felt like home, home as it once was.
"You made this, but you sleep and bleed and brush your teeth like everyone else. You're human. I still maintain my admiration for what I already know of you and you will always have my gratitude, but before I can go any further...I need to see you, really see you...one more time."