[ Derringer ]: Carmen isn't ALL ACME agents think about, you know.
Kidman is suspicious.
[ Kidman ]: What else, then?
[ Derringer ]: There are other criminals out there too ;) Your boss doesn't consume all of our waking thoughts.
[ Kidman ]: Well that's good. Master needs to be free.
[ Derringer ]: Well I wouldn't go that far.
[ Kidman ]: You have no idea what chaos would ensue if she were gone.
[ Derringer ]: Enlighten me?
[ Kidman ]: Master is a cleansing element of the underworld. She keeps many things in check. Chase knows more of it than I do.
[ Derringer ]: Well as I see it, there's only one Carmen. I'm sure you'd agree no one could pull of the stuff she does or run VILE the way she does. so getting rid of her would leave you guys in a scramble.
[ Kidman ]: For many, Master is the third option between the black and white. There are many who cannot chose white. Without Master, our only choice would be black. Really, many of us are not criminals at all.
[ Derringer ]: That's a shocker.
[ Kidman ]: Is that sarcasm?
[ Derringer ]: Partly. Everyone has hard knocks. Not all of them are lining up to join VILE. There's always a choice.
[ Kidman ]: Not for me there isn't.
[ Derringer ]: Because you've convinced yourself to see it as such. But I know how loyal you are to Carmen so...
Derringer saves breath
[ Kidman ]: Perhaps, but I can't think of any other existence I could have where I could remain unmarked.
[ Derringer ]: ...unmarked?
[ Kidman ]: There's no record of me anywhere. It has to stay that way. Most people would just make a fake past, but I can't lie, so it's not an option.
[ Derringer ]: Hm I was about to suggest that. Is it wrong to lie to protect yourself?
[ Kidman ]: I'm not capable of it, mate. Design flaw, I guess.
[ Derringer ]: Well I'm starting to see your point.
[ Derringer ]: But not everyone in VILE is in the same boat, I'm certain
[ Kidman ]: I may seem straight up fanatical, but it's more complicated than that.
[ Derringer ]: Not fanatical at all. I see where your worldview is coming from.
[ Kidman ]: Lots of refugees, ex-cons, defects, exiles, ect. Society won't have us, but we aren't really that bad. Master runs a lot more than what you know. Take Anja, for example. She doesn't even know what Master really does.;-p But technically, she works for VILE.
[ Derringer ]: Oh please...there are tons of strays in acme as well
[ Kidman ]: Strays is one thing, people that need to stay off the grid is another. ACME is a law based thing. It's just not safe for some.
[ Derringer ]: I'm just not buying it completely. I dunno.
[ Kidman ]: Well some of us ARE straight up criminals.;-)
[ Derringer ]: It'd be fine and dandy if you guys were just laying low together. But when you start stealing things... Then I start to lose sympathy.
[ Kidman ]: Yeah... but you could argue that that is a service too.
[ Derringer ]: And how so?
[ Kidman ]: Makes people learn about things.
[ Derringer ]: lol! because I'm sure Carmen's aim is to educate the public on valuable objects ;)
[ Kidman ]: Hey, the Mona Lisa is only famous because it was stolen. Plus, it's far more entertaining to watch than most world news. A touch of fantasy in a mundane world.
[ Derringer ]: Entertaining for you, yes. maddening for other
[ Kidman ]: Oh come on. You always get the stuff back.
[ Derringer ]: Because what would she do with otherwise?
[ Kidman ]: Sell it is what most would do. Hold it for ransom. Blow it up for kicks.
[ Derringer ]: And that's something I'd seriously ask her if I ever came close enough....where do you even put things like the statue of liberty?
[ Kidman ]: MAJICK!
[ Derringer ]: well you can't really sell a lot of the things she takes. holding it for ransom seems like a viable option....and blowing it up is too crude for Carmen's taste
[ Kidman ]: You see?
[ Derringer ]: But to be fair, she's the only one who has the know-how to even pull these kind of thefts off.
[ Kidman ]: And if Master was gone, there would be a power struggle and lots of people like Contessa would be off the leash, which you DO NOT WANT.
[ Derringer ]: Still, you guys wouldn't be as organized. Much easier to round you guys up.
[ Kidman ]: Yeah, you'd think that...
[ Derringer ]: Even if you guys were to get a new head, they wouldn't be nearly as skilled.
[ Kidman ]: Things take on a whole new dimension when dicipline is thrown out.
[ Derringer ]: This is true.
[ Kidman ]: Go team Master!
I discovered the chat module last night, or rather, actually engaged the chat module last night. I've considered doing so many times before, but...
I've been here for so many years, and yet, where, or what, is 'here'? My daily actions revolve around serving her, for which I am paid. That much I know for sure. That would indicate a working relationship. I am working for her. Working for her means I belong to VILE, or does it? I'm not a thief, not by trade. Not for the challenge. I steal what I can't gain effectively with my budget. My happiness comes from well-sorted databases, well-tended machines, and those few, wonderful moments when I succeed in fixing something thought lost.
Of course, I don't know her.
Perhaps it is a sort of gratitude, that she created this rainbow in the grey void between black and white, someplace not only hospitable for me, but...happy. And yet, last night I found myself wondering; do I even understand the nature of this rainbow? I certainly don't trust the rainbow. Or do. I trust it not to be trustworthy. That seems reasonable, yes?
Am I too cynical, master?
I ask you, and call you master here, as a sign that you know this board better than I. You made this board, this rainbow, after all. That is no easy feat, no ordinary quest. Some part of you may be a fugtive like I am, but look what you've done with it! I honour you for that. Carmen, is it true, that all of VILE is of the best moral character? Am I wrong to maintain my natural distrust? I have become so comfortable with it.
What's more, am I correct in even... being here?
VILE is a group of individuals... that's what Joe Kerr had said last night. An individual, a self-contained vehicle of self-determined course. I'm more of a shadow. I never saw any shame in that before. Shadows are natural things with valid purpose, but perhaps...not here. No. Not true. If I left, I'm almost sure it would be noticeable within a week. Would it be of any consequence? I'd like to think so. I would like to continue to feel content with what I am and what I do.
But should I?
(Written by Kidman, Carmen, and Vic. Edited by Kidman. 'Combined with Edge of the Earth')
Kidman was on the roof, as usual. No one else came up here and it had a wonderful view of the moors. Everywhere in the moors had a wonderful view of the moors. She felt safe here, where she could see everything and no one could see her. There was a time when this base saw more action, many years ago, mostly training. She had been trained here. She once thought to finish it and go on to be an agent like the others, go out and pock the walls set by law-enforcement with rainbows.
But she had never been able to take that last step, last steps.
That would mean going....out there.
The wind tugged at her hair. It always amazed her just how much stronger the wind was up here. It was only a two story building. It took very little to move into the current and be swept away. She had been careful to avoid it but knew if she wanted to remain in this group, she would have to do something to benefit it. There were all kinds of cracks to be filled and Kidman schooled herself in the art of odd-jobbing. Back when this base had been useful, she had been useful, but both had faded with time.
"If I could just stay here forever... "
Carmen wasn't a fool. Of course she knew this place was still occupied, even if she wasn't familiar with who did so. Someday the remaining stragglers would be sorted and reapplied where they could be useful, mixed back into the fold.
Kidman hoped it never came.
'I was so tired, Carmen, I'm so scared, of everyone. I don't exist outside of here....'
She paused, squinting into the growing dim. One by one the field lights flickered to life, the halogen hum her friend. Earlier she had attempted to speak to others, just in case she was placed back in the world. Just to see what it was like.
It had been daunting.
'Has it really been so long?'
"I should have been a doctor. I should be, yes? With this gift of mine. I would go to medical school and learn how the system works, how the chemicals interact, how the polypeptides align. Perhaps I could cure something, forge an antibody from a disease. I could and I should. Whenever someone fell off a roof or Ivy broke one of us in half, I could fix it. I would have to practice, train, suffer for it, but at least I would, could be something. If I wasn't so scared..."
Kidman looked at the scars on her hands, ghostly lines on ghostly skin. The never seemed to fade. She wondered if they were as noticeable to others as they were to her. She never told the truth when asked about them. She didn't lie; no, she was unable to lie, but simply brushed it aside. The questions stopped eventually and she let her short past fade into her comfortably dull routine. She almost never thought about any of it anymore...until recently.
Something was moving in the wind, and it was gaining on her.
'borrowed' Bell 212 painted to match an Italian Police Helicopter was dropped
off in Slovenia and exchanged for an Airbus A318. Vic "The Slick"
Fumigalli was able to pay for this on credit, since VILE was known for being
good on their word. He knew he did a great job, but from the singular look on
Carmen's face, he wasn't sure if one mistake was going to spoil this for him.
VILE agents sat dotted about the plane, most were asleep as the bird glided northward. Vic glanced at Carmen. As was usual with most short flights, she was awake.
"Should we talk about this?" Vic said as he stood next to her seat, "You remind me of an angry version of yourself."
"Did you send for a transport to pick up Kidman?" Carmen asked instead, ignoring his inquiry.
‘She's asking about work, that's good.' Vic thought. "Yeahum... got that taken cared of."
"Perfect. And no, this isn't the time to talk. We'll go over everything after we reach the safe house." she replied, dismissing him.
Vic complied and went back to his seat, then stretched himself out and took a nap.
Kidman looked at the letter in hand, then back at her cipher, and the letter again. There was no use checking it a third time. It said what it said, and really, she couldn't be completely surprised.
It was a long time coming.
She spent the next day in a state of constant bombardment. Shelf upon shelf of dusty memories and emotions rained down upon her at every turn, each demanding space in her tiny knapsack. Truth be told, she wanted to leave it all behind. How could she hope to stand before the Lady buried under so much debris?
'I should have cleaned this out years ago, but it was so much easier to pretend it wasn't there...' she thought now as she sat huddled against the pre-dawn chill. The transport would be here soon. She swore she could hear the engine's murmur on the wind and a speck came into view. It suddenly dawned on her that she would be interacting with a new person; whoever it was piloting, and a new sense of urgency took her.
'I have to make a shell. Who will I be? What can I maintain the easiest? What would give me the best advantage? Why is this even necessary? Because this is another person, or because this is a person closer to the center? Good god, I forgot, there is no hierarchy. That's what Mr. Kerr had said. I have to make a whole person! I...I don't even know how to begin.'
Her thoughts were interrupted by the roar of the helicopter and the rush of wind against her face. She couldn't help but feel a thrill in it, but as the door opened a burst of fear sprinted out in front.
'This copter leads to Carmen. You're in over your head.'
The moment of doubt turned over into rebellion and she thought on it no further as she quietly took her seat.
The pilot glanced at her. "You been here by yourself this whole time?"
Kidman watched her home shrink and fall away below her. "It wasn't always empty, but yes, I suppose I am the last one."
"Why didn't you ask for a new position earlier?"
She had no answer for that, not one she wished to say. "How long until we get there?" she asked instead.
Mercifully the pilot didn't press. "A few hours."
The girl nodded and let her head fall back against the seat. Now that she was in the air she felt...lighter. Long ago she used to ride in the back of transport copters as they brought supplies up from the channel. She had planned to learn how to fly one herself, but then...
The grass was bright green below and the sun was hot. People were everywhere, yelling, laughing. There was a crowd, gathered around some beautiful machine. So much fanfare!
"The leader is here! Our leader is here! Look, girl, look. Our leader!"
She could barely see her but she could feel her, hear her. Awe, and then, inexplicably, terror.
"She's coming, she's coming!" They cried around her. The noise grew louder, the colours brighter, garish, and the girl grew smaller, grayer. At last she turned to flee, but hands grabbed hold. The light was almost upon her-
"Hey! Wake up! You having a nightmare or something?"
Kidman awoke with a start, her seat belt clenched in her hands. "Oh, I, I'm sorry. I must have fallen... how long was I asleep?"
"The whole trip, but you didn't start fighting 'til now. Don't worry; base is just down there. You'll be off in a few."
"Thank you..." was all she could manage to say.
The A318 eventually landed on a small stretch of old road among former farmland. Those that exited the transport with her scattered as soon as they reached safety. This would strictly be a drop-off; the plane will leave by morning to be exchanged with another source of transport. All VILE members disembarking here would remain at the nearby facility until further notice.
Carmen departed the plane in full regalia, the color-changing Alexandrite gems about her neck alternating between aqua green and violet as they reacted to the varying light sources. A navy blue woven bag was draped over her right shoulder; one of the few indicators that this was present-day. Even the foggy fields around her looked convincingly antiquated. Due to the expedited nature of the retreat from Venice, backup wardrobes had been omitted, and so she now dragged, with some difficulty, the weight of the beaded dress as she maneuvered down the flight of stairs in her laced boots. For the masquerade the thief aimed for authenticity, and while she looked like a queen, she hardly felt like one as she stepped off the perilous metal ramp.
Bright white lamps in the airfield lit a path to the current temporary base of operations; an old compound not far from some marked swamp grounds. Within peripheral vision, Carmen spotted a pale face peering at her.
‘Yes', she recalled, ‘this one.'
She turned towards the girl and smiled warmly.
"Come with me," she called in her calming contralto. Her hand moved out to Kidman with the palm facing downward as if she expected it to be held but continued on ahead, leading the young woman to a private room.
Vic shot a quick glance at Carmen's action and scratched his head instinctively. He couldn't stay long; he had to go visit his Ma soon, but he might as well stay long enough to see what Carmen wanted with this kid.
Kidman gazed numbly at the halos in the mist. Her heart was exhausted and sought an empty space, but even in the calm of twilight she could not hold onto peace.
Carmen was coming.
She had hoped that Carmen would have already been there, already involved with something, leaving it to someone else to direct the girl where to eat, where to sleep. She was still just a grunt, she reasoned. There would be no reason for the Lady to address her directly unless it was necessary and most likely as part of a group. However, if she was just arriving now, she would be sure to note all that surrounded her.
‘Including me. No, she won't notice me. It will be fine, just fine.'
A shadow of a thought drifted up to the surface. ‘You're afraid of her.'
Kidman blinked. She poked the statement and it gave forth the same threads of fear she felt from the dream she had had on the way over. The one she had had so many times before but failed to understand. She brushed it aside.
‘I'm not afraid of Carmen. I'm just nervous. Anyone would be. She's Carmen. Besides, the summons means nothing. I'm just being pulled back into the fold, is all. Re-consolidation.'
The voice beneath her just laughed, tugging at the dark corners of her mind as it did. Then it jabbed her in the side.
‘Look up. She's here.'
A dual rush of excitement and fear washed over the girl as the glare of headlights poured down upon the path below.
‘She's human. She's not an image, she's a person. She bleeds and cries and brushes her teeth like everyone else. That's the magic of it, that someone could weave such high fantasy out of a mundane world. Don't forget, don't lose sight, or all is lost.'
Still, the urge to hide was strong enough that Kidman shrank into a corner as she watched the plane land and the tens of people spill out from it into the fog.
‘She's not there,' Kidman thought with a clash of relief and disappointment, but the last figure to leave brought her back to full attention.
"mother of god..."
The words slipped from her lips as Carmen descended the ramp dressed in a way she couldn‘t comprehend.
‘What is she...? Why is she dressed like...? Are you taunting me? Your presence wasn't enough to crush me, you had to dress like that?'
The thoughts made no sense to her and she couldn't find the means to interpret them over the loud, singular plea from her consciousness for her to stop staring.
‘Stop staring, stop staring, goddamn you, stop staring! She's going to notice, she's going to-'
The Lady looked her way and the world froze in stark relief.
"Come with me."
‘That voice...' Kidman thought as the woman reached out to her through molasses.
Carmen didn't wait. There was no reason for her to wait. She had made a command. There was nothing else but to follow, and yet, the girl could not move.
‘What does she want with me? What could she want with me?'
Tears stung her eyes as she felt the stares fall upon her, all asking the same.
‘What are you doing? Follow her!' A voice screamed inside her.
The sun was hot and the grass was green, and all around the colours grew garish. The light grew near and she was graying... no, not graying but fading, translucent, and fragile.
‘I can't, I can't! She, she‘ll see right through me!'
With a sudden jolt her vision became clear. It wasn't Carmen that she feared, but what Carmen could easily do. What perhaps only Carmen could do.
‘You knew this.' she thought angrily at her subconscious. ‘You knew and you let me come anyway. Why? Why are you killing us?'
‘Killing us?' her soul raged back. "I'm saving us! You're the one that buried me. I saw a second chance. You have two choices now, both of which may end terribly, but which would you rather have? Dying alone and wasted, or dying after having lived?'
Kidman felt herself fall away as she watched Carmen walk ahead into the mist. This was perhaps her last and only chance to salvage some meaning to her life.
"I joined you because I believe in your unusual heart. I have to put my faith in it now." she whispered to her retreating figure.
She closed her eyes and followed.
The long and dreary hallway echoed with the sound of Carmen's alternating heels, nearly drowning any noise made by her follower. This rhythmic tempo grew louder as they moved deeper into the base, away from the clamour at the entrance. In front of an imposing steel door, the resonance ceased and the air filled with cold silence.
Carmen's voice penetrated the stillness.
"It's too quiet around here." She said as she unlocked the door with a simple key.
Inside, a warmly carpeted hallway extended into a bedroom with antechamber, one promised to VILE's ringleader. Carmen left the door open after walking through, the beat of her shoes now dampened by the softer floor. She pulled her bracelets off as she walked, the left one first, then the right, and discarded each onto the carpet, followed by her earrings and necklace. By the time she reached the large leather chair in the bedroom's sitting area she had left behind a veritable trail of accessories. Last to leave her was the woven sachet, which she placed beside her as she sat down.
The thief exhaled melodiously into the evening as she rested on the furniture. In sharp contrast to the pleasant quietude, her mind was overflowing with thoughts. Everything led to the golden Mask of Helen, and the operation that surrounded it.
Her eyes focused on the pale face in the room with her, and she leaned gently forward to study it further. When she had first discovered a name on her roster that ACME had yet to acquire, she thought it would be to her advantage. Yet seeing the girl now, Carmen realised that she may have been too hasty. Whether or not Kidman would play a role in her new game with ACME would be determined in the next hour, but first, a formal introduction.
"Hello Kidman," she said with a smile. "Do you know who I am?"
Every step had echoed in the girl's mind, the tick of a clock counting down to something massive, waiting to envelope her as she traveled further into the darkness.
The urge to pick up after the woman as she dropped her things was surprisingly strong but Kidman fought it off. Cleaning was a nervous habit she couldn't indulge at the moment. Now she stood before her, caught in a three-way battle of wills, her fear, her anger, and Carmen.
"Hello Kidman," Carmen said with a smile. "Do you know who I am?"
The girl looked at her, puzzled. Was this a trick question? "Yes...?"
"Very well then, do you know why you're here?"
"In this room? No...n-not at all, no."
'Good god, her voice...'
Carmen smiled, a glint in her eyes. "Have you seen the news yesterday evening? Particularly one about a new year celebration in Venice?"
Kidman felt she might burn away under her intensity. "No, I, I don't generally follow...I-I'm sorry, was I supposed to?"
Something kicked her in the shin. ‘Stupid! Don't act so feeble. Feeble people are useless.'
Carmen seemed unperturbed. "Ah, no matter. I'll tell you of it. There's a man, Kidman, named Chase Devineaux. Are you familiar with that name?
"Not... so much." Kidman murmured and looked at the floor "I've been rather secluded as of late..."
Then her attention shifted.
"Is he dangerous? To you?"
Carmen laughed at the mention of ‘dangerous'.
"Let's just say he's equivalent to ACME's... lucky charm. He's proven rather... effective. He returned to ACME not long ago, and already it has caused complications for us."
Kidman felt herself relax just a bit. '...her laughter is beautiful....'
"Are you looking to steal him, then?" she asked without thinking and immediately chastised herself.
The woman let it pass. "Ah, no. While that's not often a problem, I foresee a direct setback. We used to be... friends, he and I. I feel he knows me, perhaps a little too much for comfort."
The idea of anyone knowing Carmen well enough to be troublesome bothered her.
"Can anyone really know anyone?" she said, again without thinking and clapped her hands over her mouth.
‘What is wrong with you?'
‘I just, I want to talk to her, like-'
Carmen paused briefly and Kidman cast her eyes to the floor once again.
"I'm sorry... It's... been a while since I've been around...people."
"Yes..." Returning a kind smile, the woman accepted that apology, "Now, the reason you're here, is that I may need a 'lucky charm' of my own."
Kidman's heart jumped in her chest. ‘Me? Useful to her?' "But I... How?"
"Mm, precisely. You're not at all ready."
The girl looked away. ‘Now that you've seen my decrepit state... No, I can't, I can't lose this. I need to, I have to, even if it to use my body to prop open a door.'
"I could be." She said, her voice calm with resolve. This was the path she had chosen. There would be no more running now. "What is needed of me?"
Carmen drew a long breath.
"I'm going to be taking ACME Tower... from its foundations." She said solemnly, for the first time solidifying her intentions.
Kidman cocked her head. "Why ever for? Could you not just steal its contents?"
"One would think, but I need to get rid of the C-5... among other things."
"For reverse engineering?"
"I don't want the technology this time, I want it gone."
Kidman wanted to ask why, but decided against it.
"It could take many months," Carmen continued, "but during all this, I want you to complete your exercises."
"Will I be with other people for these exercises?
"Yes, there will be others."
A flash of old memories, happy memories filled the girl's head. The thought of returning to that comradery, that atmosphere she had lost so long ago, outweighed the fear she had of being out in the open again. Exercises were generally not considered ‘fun', but for girl it was almost exciting.
Carmen recessed further in her chair. "Tomorrow I'm leaving with Vincent and I won't see you until after the tower has been stolen and then returned to ACME, but I'll be following your progress."
"I'll do my best." Kidman said as she stuffed her fear of failure in a corner. She would deal with it later. Then she paused. Carmen was right there, in front of her. After all these years...
The woman was somewhat surprised. "Mm, don't thank me yet. We'll speak more on this when you're ready."
"No... I mean... for what you have given me already. Sanctuary."
Carmen nodded politely as she made a mental note to tell Vincent to keep a watch on all trainees. "I haven't given you anything I wouldn't want for myself."
Kidman wanted to say more but her survival instinct stopped her. "I should... I should go then..."
Carmen studied Kidman again, unsure of what she's seeing, and the girl's mind seemingly filled with astraddled fear. 'No, no, don't look through me!'
The headache that had plagued the woman all evening returned before she had the chance to note that it was momentarily gone. Carmen briefly closed her eyes as she recoiled with pain. "Yes, and ask someone to bring me water and a some codeine? Please."
Kidman's attention snapped back. "Oh! Are you hurt?"
Carmen laughed listlessly at the oddly hopeful comment. "I've been flying too long, and I need to deal with a lingering headache."
The girl's mind immediately switched into a different state, mapping out how and what would be needed to alleviate the pain.
'No, damn it. Get out of here!' screamed the voice inside her.
'But, but I can fix it!'
The thief noted the girl's hesitation and it occurred to her that she might need to clarify her statement. "Kidman, you may go now."
"Yes! Yes, I'll get that, straight away, yes." Kidman stuttered thankfully. She took one last look at the woman in the chair, wanting to remember her as best she could for the coming months, then bolted from the room.
Vic walked down the hallway from the other side of the facility, a metallic container in hand. As he came up to the door of his boss's den-of-the-day, he saw the kid Carmen had met with run out in the opposite direction. The con man unconsciously scratched his head again as he knocked against the doorframe.
"Can I come in?" he asked, his eyes already far inside to where Carmen rested in the leather armchair. "I got you something to drink."
"Shut the door on your way in." Carmen spoke without looking at him, her concentration remaining upon the task of unlacing the Venetian boots that were suffocating her legs.
Vic stepped in, careful to avoid the abandoned jewellery and stopped at the dividing line between the bedroom and whatever room it was in front. Some V.I.L.E. agent might run in to help Carmen with her shoes, but Vic knew better than that. She was the kind of gal who needed a lot of space. If it wasn't his business to sit next to her; he liked to stay a respectable distance.
Carmen thrust her footwear to the side and gave the con man her attention. "You said you have water?"
Vic entered and handed his leader the stainless steel canteen. "It's elder flower. One o' the doctors said you should have some sugar."
Carmen accepted the vessel and placed it compliantly on the low table next to her ottoman.
paused a moment in thought. "You know, that kid, she entered to be a
lackey. You know that, right?"
"I do know," the thief replied, "but people change status all the time. You saw her supervisor's reports? She was doing very well... and then she suddenly stopped."
"So you want me to put 'er back into the fray with the other four noobs?"
"I've spoken to her as motivation; the rest is yours. I want the full report after, then have Rosso recommend one of the four to me."
Vic took note of everything and nodded. The one newbie deemed best suited would get the promotion. He was almost certain it wouldn't be Kidman.
"I got one more thing," he started, "Prospects on a new talent, goes by the name Kerr, when I get more info, I'll set that up and you get to d'cide."
A knocking at the door indicated that the order of painkillers and water had arrived. Vic Fumigalli accepted the delivery.
Carmen imbibed the elderflower drink, its saccharine warmth soothing but acted as an instant reminder that she was tired. She placed the drink down and stood up
I need to sleep. We'll review in the morning."
"Still want the codeine?" Vic asked
"Leave it." She replied with an air of finality. "Goodnight."
Kidman spent her first night after meeting Carmen hiding in the swamp, crying.
For her, it was the worst thing that could have happened.
"What does she want with me? What does she want with me?" was all she was able to repeat to blackness around her. She had been wet and cold from sitting in the mud, but she hadn't known where else to go to be alone. They had all seen Carmen lead her away. They all stared now and the girl had no answers.
Now, a month later, she still had no answers, but many unsettling theories. There was much time to form them in basic training. At the very least her new home felt close enough to her old one for comfort. Another derelict compound cloaked in secrecy, removed from the world yet perpetually watching over it. Base 210 was much busier than 407 had been when she left it.
'That is an easy enough thing to accomplish,' Kidman thought as she felt about for the tumblers in her practice lock. She could have taken the lock to a quiet place to work, but she made the effort to stay with people. She didn't necessarily talk to them, she just wanted them there, proof of Carmen's power. It was easy to slip back into the background when there were others around. She could be a happy, faceless brick in her fortress once again.
Although that was an illusion Vic wouldn't let her have.
'He's watching me again. I see him, talking to teacher, glancing at me.'
She felt torn. Kidman would have loved to have met Vic under normal circumstances. The man was a legend, after all; almost a right-hand man, but it was because of this that she had reason to worry.
'He's watching me for her...'
The pick she held jumped from her fingers and hit the floor with a telling 'clink'. Vic looked up and Kidman looked away. Every time he was there she fumbled. It was especially bad if he showed while she was in physical training. She had come by most of her injuries in his presence.
'The things he must tell her.... though if he tells her I'm a failure, perhaps she might forget me.'
A wave of anger washed over her. 'How dare you wish such a thing?' her soul's voiced raged, so fierce it caused her to hunch over in her seat. 'Pick up the pick and do it again. Do it until you get it right, until you are useful. You will be useful to Carmen. That is why you are here. That is why you exist now. Don't you dare seek to shirk your responsibilities to the master.'
Kidman stared at the pick dully, then managed to pick it up with shaking fingers.
Her soul took pity on her.
'Don't you...want to help her? It's Carmen. You know where she could be vulnerable. It can't be left unguarded. We can't let her fall. She is hope, and she is wonderful. Don't you want to protect that?'
The girl sighed heavily and glanced over her shoulder. Vic was gone.
'Yes... I know what I wish for her, but I doubt I could provide. That job requires a stronger person than I am, far better than I am, and I doubt that is why she sent for me... Why...why did she send for me...?'
Suddenly the room was too noisy and open and hard, so she left.
Kidman spent the rest of her day in hiding in an empty room, mind full of fog.
By month two Kidman had an answer, as far as she was concerned. Even though Vic no longer showed up to watch her, she still felt that others were, and though she accused herself of paranoia, she was quite sure the trainers were coming down on her harder than anyone else.
'I'm being built up for something. I know I am. Why build up a grunt, then? Because they are expendable, yes? I was a leftover on the edge. I was already gone. I never was if records are to be taken literally. I have no real skill-'
'Except the one-'
'and no one will miss me. I'm to be sacrificed.'
The thought alternately scared and comforted her. She wasn't sure herself what she meant by 'sacrifice' and even if she did have the nerve to ask Carmen, she wasn't there.
'Not that she'd say.'
Kidman picked another lock with ease. She would have to try something harder but again she delayed, and again her soul chastised her for it.
'If you're so sure Carmen is going to 'sacrifice' you, why are you still here?'
She had little experience with the woman herself, but she knew of her, what she symbolized to her. Carmen was an outpost in the black and white world the girl felt trapped in. Someone wonderful. She was physically attractive, yes, but the girl was more or less blind to that. No, Carmen was a force, a nature, a miraculous collection of traits that should not be able to coexist with each other as they did. A beautiful machine that made beautiful tears in the flat wall of life. The black band of the underside's dark nature lay tight against that heart to be sure, and there was little standing between it. All assumed Carmen was strong enough to withstand anything. It would be a lovely fantasy, but she was human, and therefore fragile.
Such a soul... needed to exist, needed to be tended, protected. Must be. Deserved to be.
Kidman put her lock down with an air of conviction.
There was research she needed to do.
Things began to change.
The girl was still quiet and strange, but seemed less haunted, if by just a hair. That wasn't where the difference lay, though. As if to confirm suspicion of her conscious effort to remain unnoticed, her performance suddenly lurched ahead. She wasn't the best by any means, but her nature towards it went from apathetic rote to an almost unnerving focus. The need to consume knowledge, all knowledge spread out in all directions. If an odd course of instruction was posted, the girl was the first to sign for it. Nothing was too daunting and it seemed the only thing keeping her from running off the edge was lack of prerequisites needed for the more dangerous courses.
You could ask Kidman why, but she'd just look away shyly. Not cold, just...quiet. What kind of quiet shifted about under her calm facade, but still somewhat more approachable. Her heart was beating now.
The idea of sacrifice had had time to lie at the bottom of the ocean of her mind and the ocean had already begun to claim it. It didn't look like it had; a cold, unfeeling thing. It now supported life, and that life called still more to it. Humanity returned to her, and as it did, so did her perception of Carmen.
Kidman was fiddling with a flight simulator, as she had been for the past eight hours. She didn't have plans to ever fly a helicopter for work purposes. She doubted Carmen would trust a new pilot with one of their few machines. No, she just wanted to know it, to finish what she had started so long ago.
It nagged at her that she should be doing something else, something that would aid The Cause.
'I am aiding the cause. I'm fixing something in my head. My head must be fixed if I am to think clearly during Dire Times. I must learn concentration. That's what Master would want.'
'That's what Master needs. Poor Master...'
Kidman didn't talk much, but she had begun to, and a more human version of Carmen was presented to her as she interacted with her fellows. Carmen's triumphs, Carmen's struggles, Carmen's possible fears and difficult past. It was a more tangible layer to a somewhat intangible being, one the girl could identify with.
'She's an orphan, like me. Well no...not really like me, but with the same... missing...ness. Our names are just labels given for the sake of convenience. There was no true beginning. We just...formed. That lack of grounding, I wonder if it affects you like it does me. I wonder if the idea of trust is as foreign to you as it is to me. The idea of safety, of permanence. You step into the current and you have to keep running. There's no where to rest...that is safe... You went deeper into life, where the current is strong, but with this tower...where are you going, Carmen? What if...you get washed away?'
Something on the control panel beeped and Kidman brought her mind back into focus.
No one else seemed worried about Carmen's dips into danger. Then again, no one knew about this one, no one so far as she knew. She would have given most anything to have someone to talk to about this.
She felt a new presence and looked up. Vic was there again, asking about her, no doubt.
'If only I could speak to you...'
Dear cache of thoughts,
While going through my things, I found this old account I wrote when I was young and the world was bright. May it serve as a warm reminder of the joy I had.
Operation Car Alarm #409-81
As we all know, Carmen makes the most interesting heists ever to be concocted. After hanging around the water cooler long enough, I have learned the details of quite a few of them. This one in particular caught my eye (or ear). This is the case of...
Operation: Car Alarm
By agent 200309
March 23, 1997, the Caribbean
At this point in time (and she still is) Carmen was on a mask kick. Don't ask me why. Ever since this grand heist Carmen hasn't been able to get enough of them. Rumor has it
she will decorate the new lodge hall with them. It started a long time ago, about a month, when she saw this exquisitely carved mask in a reference book, a.k.a. Carmen's gift catalog. As usual, when Carmen wants something, she just goes out and gets it. But this proved to be a problem.
Step one of any heist is to locate the site of the object. This was at the Alvo Pacifica Grande Museo. Next one checks security. Now it is boasted in security clubs a certain seismic system that is used in government offices around the world. One can make not one sound, not touch the floor for a second, and not possibly break in without this irritating little device going off.
Alvo Pacifica just so happened to have one of these.
Our hero stood on a hill about 500 yards away from this museum for days, peering at through her 85x scope, wearing a Hawaiian T-shirt and culottes (you haven't lived
'till you've seen Carmen in this!) looking for some way to get around this minor setback.
You can't destroy the alarm, it will go off.
You can't go in as a guard, the area is off limits to guards after closing time. Why? The alarm.
You can't steal before closing time, the shifts are 3 hours long and there are cameras.
Yes the cameras CAN be rerouted but that might cause just a little suspicion.
You can't come in as a tourist. Where are you going to stuff a mask that big? In your hat?
Maybe if she didn't make a sound....
We called in a dedicated ninja from division 820 (Japan) and sent him in. True ninjas make no sound at all, but this darned alarm went off anyhow. The guards swarmed in and arrested poor Kasagi but we intercepted the police car and sent him home with a bonus on his paycheck.
Now Carmen was SURE there was no way around this alarm.
"Ach!" said she.
But our hero had not given up yet!
That point didn't come until about a week later.
Saddened by her defeat, Carmen went out to the supermarket to get herself a treat. Exit Carmen with a bottle of sherry and dried apricots. As she passed a rather beat up car next to hers, she brushed up against it ever so slightly and a booming alarm was set off. This was very unexpected!
Being the thief that she is, Carmen ducked between the two cars and waited for something to happen. It took a second for her to realize it was only the alarm of the car next to her. She stood up and surveyed the scene. No one was looking, no one was running toward the car, yelling and screaming.
No one cared!
A slow a steady smile appeared on her face.
A day later Carmen called a meeting in the center square of 410 (Jamaica) Everyone who residentially worked there plus a few others were seated in a semi-circle. The sun was hot and Carmen still hadn't shown up yet. Some were threatening to leave, when suddenly Carmen pulled up into the middle of the square in an old brown car that looked very similar to the car that drove the laundry downtown.
She honked the horn merrily, her cheerfulness bouncing off the puzzled faces.
Carmen stepped out the car and faced them, then pushed a button on her key ring and the car beeped. The crowd waited for something to happen but nothing did. A man in the second row asked the inevitable.
"Carmen, did you just set the car alarm to that thing?"
"Why? That car goes off at anything! It's a pain in the neck!"
A second woman set in. "You don't think your car is safe? What are we, criminals?"
The crowd laughed and Carmen with them. Then she answered with a plan that could only be marked as the genius that was Carmen.
"Note the car. It has a very, very sensitive alarm. It goes off at just about anything."
Carmen kicked the car and the arena was filled the blare of the car alarm. She shut it off.
"What do you do when you here the sound of a car alarm?"
"Nothing" answered guy #1.
"Because the dang thing goes off so much you know it's probably just a malfunction. You kicked it. Doesn't mean you were stealing it."
"So car alarms are disregarded because they go off for next to no reason."
Carmen looked very happy at this point.
"What other very, very sensitive alarm can we think of?"
The light bulbs began to appear over various heads in the audience.
"Good God Carmen that's brilliant!" shouted one.
"Capital idea, Mad'am Sandiego!" said another.
"I don't get it." said a third.
To which Carmen the Patient replied, "As thieves we have come to fear many types of alarms, especially the ones we can not hear. Lucky for us, the seismic in Alvo is quite loud and quite irritating."
"And this is good, how?" asked Number 3.
"Car alarms! Loud and noisy and irritating as they come. But what makes them different is no one pays any attention to them. Why? Because they are so defective, no one takes them seriously! A thief could sound one and still get away."
"It's true!" came a call from the back.
"I've done it too!"
The calls of many proud car thieves filled the air. Carmen clapped her hands and all were silent. Except one.
"Carmen, the seismic 62 is not a car alarm. It is quite efficient."
To which Carmen the Benevolent replied, "The system is so sensitive, anything will make it go off. We must set it off numerous times until the police believe the system ineffective, thus eventually giving us enough time to slip in and out. It is as simple as throwing a rock through a window, over and over again." and at that, Carmen kicked a small stone at the car, sending it once more into a fit, which she righted quickly.
"Carmen, won't the police find the rock and know someone was doing it and it not just the alarm?"
"Why yes, if we where using a rock, but we aren't. Instead, we will be using... ice."
"Sculpted into pellets, the ice will be shot through an air duct in the ceiling. Seeing as Alvo is in the Caribbean, the pellet won't last long after it's purpose has been fulfilled. No evidence, no mess, except a small drop of water. We will keep close tab on conversations until we feel that the situation is ripe, and then, it is ours for the taking."
The crowd looked at her, stunned. She was a beautiful woman, in her red light linen blouse around and matching palazzo pants. A straw hat shaded her face but one could still see it beaming, the blue eyes sparkling.
Standing there in front of that beat up brown car, stood a genius.
The crowd cheered!
She was their genius, their boss, their thief!
"Nothing can keep her down!" they cried.
Good ol' Carmen comes through again.
* * *
And so it went, Carmen and a few selected would climb to the top of that hill and shoot the pellets over and over again. Every time the alarm went off. Every time the police responded diligently...until the forth or fifth time, that is. Now, the police know that if there is an alarm sounding, they must respond, but there were much more important things to deal with and the temper was growing short towards Alvo Pacifica.
They were demanded over and over again to have the system fixed. And each time it was checked, but for obvious reasons, no glitch could be found. Soon they would be ordered to replace the system or scrap it all together. A seismic 62 would cost millions to replace. True it was insured, but for the life of them, they could not find proof to prove it to the insurance company, thus the cost would fall completely on their shoulders. So they began to weigh the odds. True, a ninja had just tried something, but other then that, all had been quiet. What more could they do but keep checking the system?
And so it went.
Alvo Pacifica, Caribbean. Thursday, May 7, 1997. 1:27am
It was now a month later. By now the police all but ignored the signal coming from Alvo Pacifica. As well, the guards decided that the evening soccer game was far more entertaining than seeing who was "breaking in".
Which was fine with Carmen.
She strolled around until she found what she had come for, then flew up through the skylight again. It slowly occurred to the guards that someone should shut off the alarm. A guard rose out of his comfortable chair and ambled down the hallway without a care in the world. Until he saw the empty display case.
"El diablo es aqui!" he cried. Soon the building was swarming with police as well as two familiar detectives.
Boy George (agent #200899) was the only one close enough to make out what Zack and Ivy were saying, though he didn't make out everything. So what he couldn't hear, he ad-libbed as best he could.
Detective dialogue according to Boy George: (Stuff we are pretty sure he
made up is in parenthesis)
Ivy: (God d--n it!)I can't believe we fell for something so obvious! No duh it was a Carmen crime!
Zack: Don't blame yourself.(Carmen's just the best thief in the world! We didn't stand a chance!)
Ivy:(Yeah I guess your right) But she just walked right in and swiped the (couldn't pronounce the name of the mask so he called it the voodoo mask) Voodoo mask! All this time and it had just been a trick!
Zack: Well we know she can never try something like that.
Ivy: I bet she would.(And we'd probably fall for it again too.)
Zack: Well, we have a run away mask on our hands and no clue yet.
Ivy: I think that was all she wanted to do, Zack.
Ivy: You know what really boils my pasta? She used a crime detection unit against us! The irony of it! (makes me so God d-ned mad! If I ever get a hold of her I'm going to kill her!)
Zack: That's Carmen for you. Ya gotta admit, it was a good idea.
Zack: Well it was.
Ivy: (@#$%!)Hey, there's someone in those bushes over there!
Ivy: There! (and my God what a hunk a man HE is! D--n he's hot!)
This is where he goes off the deep end. Needless to say, Boy George got a beat down from Ivy when she caught him. His description of that scene typed would have so many parentheses with dashes in them that there would be basically no text. I'll just say it wasn't pretty and leave it at that. Now before you all think everyone here is like that, they aren't.
Boy George has a bit of a cursing problem and he's incredibly narcissistic.
What is common however, is a general fear of Ivy, because, well, Sandiego rules state we can't hurt them, but Ivy sure can hurt us, and she takes the liberty quite often.
Still, it was kinda funny to see Ivy chasing him. Boy George is such a womanizer and Ivy was just the perfect justice.
Wait a minute, I'm getting off track here!
As I was saying, that is what conspired between our detective friends. Meanwhile Carmen has changed clothing and has escaped using the metro. At 2:00 in the morning, public transportation isn't as low on Carmen's list as it is during the day. Besides, everyone would be combing the air and sea for her. They would never suspect getting on a common subway.
Ah, the genius of Carmen.
She came up at a rendezvous point and was picked up by an ordinary looking cab that one of our guys drives part time. We all regrouped in the basement of the Blue Shell Inn.
Then, we partied!
Everyone who had been a part of the crime was in (I helped! I had to carry equipment, but I helped!) which was about twenty people. It was a very good party indeed. The best part of these victory parties is when we all get Carmen to stand on a box or a table and have her make a speech about what great thieves we all are and that together we could take over the world and such.
Once we all started singing Gospel music. The entire time Carmen spoke we kept crying out, "Yeah Sister! Say it loud, Sistuhhh!"
It takes a while but Carmen eventually gets into it.
So like usual Carmen made her speech and we acted like a bunch of idiots until about 6 in the morning when the owner kicked us out because he would be opening for business soon. Carmen had a glass of wine or two, then left at about 3am. She usually leaves early. Many others did as well.
She went back to this huge stone hovel inn the rurals and had a good sleep.
We, on the other hand, continued to roam around the countryside until 7 or 8 then went back to camp. Carmen generally doesn't mind or even care what we do off-duty. So long as we were ready to go by 8:00 on Monday, we could do whatever we pleased (To a point of course).
We all woke up in time the next day to see our beloved leader on TV.
Needless to say, it had been a success. The media was all over the story, all inadvertently praising Carmen's genius. Most of the reporters caught on to the idea of a car alarm, and hailed her even more. Ivy's quote about Carmen using a crime detection unit against the law was repeated several times and the legal system was scolded over and over again for letting something like this happen.
Carmen was in a very good mood for the rest of the week. The next night she started a string of thefts all relating to the mask theme, but none would compare to what she had just pulled. I believe that particular crime wave is over now, but sure as the sun rises, Carmen's already started something else. That is for sure. She couldn't keep away if she wanted to. And if that wasn't assurance enough, another volume of Carmen's "gift catalogue" is missing.
"Whoever says I do it to prove myself intelligent is correct, but what I really wish to prove that a solution can be found for any situation... and that I will always find it." - Carmen Sandiego
(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.
(Excerpt from 'Saving the Lain', the second epic fic thing I did with the wife, circa 2001)
"So.... uh, this is your train?" Matt asked Carmen awkwardly.
Seldavia made a face behind his back. ‘Lame.'
She was almost sure that Carmen was thinking the same thing, if she was even listening.
The woman was huddled over her laptop, now connected directly to the train via a port under the window frame.
Matt seemed unwilling to look Carmen in the eye, for all his brashness. This secretly pleased Sel, knowing that she held the respect of someone so mysterious that Matt couldn't fathom her. But he certainly was going to try.
"A-hem hem Hem!"
A few people looked up, Carmen not being one of them. Matt proceeded to go into what appeared to be a desperate fight to clear his throat of phlegm. Seldavia shook her head in embarrassment, more for him than herself.
"Do you need some water?" Carmen asked without looking up.
"Uh no, yes! Yes some water would be good... So, what are you doing?"
A few other agents looked over her seat.
"Yeah Boss, what are we going to do about the outsider?"
"I left a whole bunch of stuff out in the open, I'm so sorry, I didn't have time-"
"We aren't going to just abandon Sub-White 1, are we Boss? My stuff is there and -"
Carmen glanced up at her worried henchmen.
"No one's abandoning anything. This is temporary. I'm not getting any of you killed over material possessions, but if you're so worried...."
Carmen clicked a few more keys.
"She can't get into any of your rooms or workstations."
"Or our bar?"
"No, not even the bar."
A cheer went up from the back row.
Carmen looked amused and Matt saw his chance.
"So, where can she go?"
"Well, I have her limited to the corridors. I'm sure she'll pace up and down them a bit, get bored, and leave."
"Unless she graffiti's the walls." added another comrade.
Seldavia suppressed a laugh as Carmen spoke to someone on her headset.
"Carol, could you send a line out to our field agents and tell them to take a train to White Base or sub2, which ever one is closest to them."
"So you run this whole operation by yourself?"
Carmen sighed. "In a sense. They run it. I coordinate it."
"But you're the master schemer of some of history's greatest crimes. Your network is unrivaled!"
"Oh it has plenty of rivals..."
"So why are you in crime, anyhow? You seem so...legit."
"Let's just say that law-abiding world is for people who need laws."
"And you don't?"
"What's the real reason? You didn't just wake up and decide to be a kingpin."
"That's pretty much it. Masahra, can you watch this for me? Tell me when the activator bar turns red."
"Then where did you get the money?"
"Thought you were an orphan."
"Is that so?"
"It says so in the dossier."
"Do you believe everything in the dossier?"
"What else is wrong?"
"My IQ is actually 300."
"You're not going to be straight with me, are you?"
"Did you think I would be?"
‘Ask a stupid question...' Seldavia thought, and was surprised when Carmen winked at her in response.
‘Did she hear me...?'
"Why not? I'm a trustworthy kind of guy." Matt asked, oblivious.
"Well if you really must know it goes like this;"
"Wait, let me get my note pad."
"I was working as an undercover agent in Ireland back in the eighties. It was raining and I hadn't eaten in days. I was about give up and go to a punk rock concert."
"And there was this little man dressed in green. I had heard about this gang before, and I knew the bounty on them was very high."
"So I traced him back to his hideout by using the unusual sky display as a guide."
"Then I grabbed him! He tried to bribe his way out, but I had been forewarned of his kind. Eventually he gave me his life saving which he kept in a big black pot. I don't remember the exchange rate for gold back then, but it was a pretty good sum."
Matt sighed. ‘Why do I even bother?'
"Yeah, thanks for that."
"No, thank you. It feels so good to finally get that off my chest. Now, if you don't mind..."
"Alright, alright. Is there a restroom on this train?"
"Next car over."
He had just closed the door when the entire car exploded into laughter.