Over in not-so-jolly old England, the rain fell in sheets, beating mercilessly off the stone walls of the recently restored theatre. Within the establishment, its residents were a blur of activity.
The Contessa and Sara Nade had both returned in the past six hours and gotten down to work immediately. Sara had started by first helping Vic check on all the VILE safe houses and HQ branches, temporarily shutting down most of them as per Carmen’s orders.
Patty Larceny, meanwhile, had taken to monitoring the various communication channels and decoding the various messages that flowed back and forth on VILE’s intelligence network. News of certain defections had filtered through to HQ; to say the least, it was not received very well.
Vic stepped back to catch a breather as The Contessa could be heard yelling about some incompetent seamstress. He chuckled and wondered which unlucky henchmen had been on the end of her wrath. The grunts really should have known better; given recent events, everyone was on a short fuse, some shorter than others.
Despite this, Vic was grateful to have her back in the fold. Contessa may not have always gotten along with the rest of the crew, but she was surprisingly among the more loyal members of the family and could be counted on to helping out in any way she could.
Currently, the wealthy heiress had taken a shine to producing costumes and sets for the theatre and was now working with Sara Nade to prepare the henchmen for the theatre’s upcoming production - The Tempest.
The irony of the choice was not lost on Vic; and yet, he had chosen it for just such a reason. Carmen herself did not touch the running of the theatre; she didn’t have the time. She had entrusted the job to Vic who had initially taken it on with some trepidation.
After getting the hang of things though, Vic had started to make some bold decisions regarding what plays the theatre would stage. He usually would pick something that was a sly nod to whatever heist Carmen herself was busy planning or pulling off; at other times, the choice of play was something that he knew would appeal to her wry sense of humour.
It was a gamble really, but Vic wanted to do what he could to bring a smile to her face; more than anyone at VILE, she needed a regular dose of humour. Vic’s thoughts were broken off by Patty tugging his arm.
“Vic, help me out with this. I don’t know if I decrypted it wrong. It’s from Carmen but that’s about all I could make out.”
The conman smiled as he took the message and tried to decipher it; he instantly realized what the problem was.
“You decrypted it correctly, Patts. It’s just that it isn’t in English. This is Romanian. I recognise a few words here and there but not enough to translate this for you.”
“Perhaps I can be of some assistance,” offered Sara Bellum who had just walked in. The usually flamboyant scientist was noticeably much more muted.
Vic gratefully passed the message to her; if there was one VILE agent in the entire establishment who could read this, other than Carmen, it would be the eccentric Dr Bellum. No one, save for Carmen, really knew which country Sara actually hailed from; she was well versed in most Eastern European languages and did not possess an accent that would have been distinctive of any country in particular.
It didn’t take very long for Sara to translate the message. In a somber voice, she read aloud:
He is that curling serpent that in ocean is.
Sea-fright he is, and the shadow under the earth.
As she finished reading, Sara looked over to Vic who had gone four shades paler than usual; being well-versed in Carmen’s word games, he had recognized the passage from which this verse was taken almost immediately. Taking a deep breath, he whispered one word to the astonishment of those around him, “Leviathan”.
Shame, humiliation, bewilderment, flabbergasted, flummoxed, distraught. Such words were usually not associated with ACME’s finest but today, it seemed to fit.
Zack, Ivy, Lee and Tanya stood crestfallen in front of the ACME Director of Operations as they did their debriefings. To make their already dour moods even worse, each team of agents had had to submit a written copy of their mission report, in triplicate.
With his legendary poker face on, Chase Devineaux speed-read through the various mission reports. Meanwhile, the agents took turns giving him abridged oral versions of their report while trying to gauge his reaction; a task that they soon realized was an exercise in futility.
Behind the mask, Chase Devineaux was deeply concerned; glaring details in each report played repeatedly in his mind. Like a broken record, things that could not be reconciled.
In each case, Maelstrom’s goal had been accomplished with help from ex-VILE henchmen now pledging allegiance to him. He had also somehow gained access to inside information; information that proved vital to the downfall of both missions.
Finally, Chase Devineaux looked up from the reports and addressed his agents. “Are you all completely sure that you did not leave anything out of your reports, willfully or otherwise?”
“Yes sir!” four voices replied in unison.
For a moment, silence reigned in the office; the only movement among the agents in the room was the involuntary blinking of their eyelids. The four agents glanced nervously as the Director of Operations wordlessly reached for the phone on his desk. The click of the phone buttons echoed deafeningly throughout the room.
The silence was shattered as Chase Devineaux started the fateful conversation.
“Madame Director, this is Chase Devineaux. Regarding that matter you mentioned, I regret to say it is as you feared; no, actually, it’s worse.”
The four agents across the table looked nervously at each other as Chase listened to Rosen’s reply. He had not put this call on speaker so they had no way of knowing what direction this conversation was taking; although from their perspective, it looked to be heading south, fast.
Silently, they prayed that this particular phone call did not concern them and/or would not end the way they feared it would.
Their hopes were dashed when Chase replied to Rosen and uttered words that could and would give any ACME Agent nightmares for years to come.
“Yes Madam Director. We’ll come up to your office right away. Thank you.”
As Chase put the phone down, Zack, Ivy, Lee and Tanya looked at each other with one thought in their minds…
(apologies for the long hiatus. Writer's Block is a killer. I've got some inspiration again. Hopefully the momentum continues. - Joe)
Chapter 6: Nature of the storm
Barbara Rosen cut an imposing figure in her 5 ft 8, 230lb frame. Decked out in a no-nonsense, no-frills business suit with her black tresses tied up in a bun, she glared at the agents before her through ebony rimmed spectacles. With a glare that could curdle milk, she appraised each agent thoroughly.
Briefly, Zack wondered what sort of top-secret technology ACME had used in order to create windows and mirrors that did not shatter under her piercing gaze. He also wondered how Chase Devineaux managed to coolly stare back at her without so much as a single flinch; perhaps there was some truth to the cyborg rumours.
Whatever respite Zack may have found in his brief moment of levity was quickly forgotten as Rosen began to address the agents.
“What I am about to tell you is top-secret and off the record. Am I clear?”
The four petrified agents in front of her could only nod in reply; behind them Chase Devineaux observed passively, seemingly unfazed by the potential demise of his four prized agents.
Throwing a few files on her desk toward the agents, Rosen continued her diatribe.
“I regret to tell you that unfortunately, your missions were merely the latest in a string of failed missions. Each time, the missions failed due to the crook in question somehow staying one step ahead of us.
Now, if the crook in question was a certain infamous scarlet thief,” she paused to glance at Chase who maintained his impassive facade.
“We wouldn’t have that big of an issue. However, when it is her bumbling henchmen that do so, and with what appears to be access to inside information, that’s a whole other story.”
Opening the first file on her desk, she continued.
“In addition to all of those petty thefts, Frank M. Poster was broken out of jail three months ago. Whoever was responsible chose the perfect moment to do so - every available field agent was busy chasing down Carmen on the other side of the globe at the time.
With the C5 no longer operational, there was no way for us to get on his trail on time, let alone stop him. Similar occurrences ensued in the following weeks, resulting in Pearl Diver and Jonah Fark being freed from custody as well.
Given that they were Carmen’s henchmen, and that she was always the convenient distraction, we attributed the events to being part of whatever master plan she had hatched. However, when she failed to involve these henchmen in her subsequent heists, certain suspicions started to get piqued.”
She paused to direct her gaze at Chase, who up till this point had been silent. Comprehending the non-verbal command, he left his perch of the back wall and strolled over with a graceful suavity that just seemed to ooze from him.
“When I personally pursued her a month ago, I briefly questioned her about the prison breaks; she denied any involvement in the matter. From what I could gather, she wasn’t too pleased about the incidents either.”
Every agent in the room tossed a suspicious look his way; there had long been rumours of a special relationship between Chase and Carmen. The former, seemingly oblivious to the gazes, continued on.
“Given that Carmen has a policy of never lying to us, I had no reason to doubt her. As your mission reports will now show, she was obviously telling the truth; apparently Maelstrom had found someone to coordinate the jailbreaks on his behalf. And yes, Carmen got away...again.”
His obligatory portion done with, Chase deferred back to Rosen with a simple glance. Resisting the urge to roll her eyes, Rosen opened the next couple of files for the agents in front of her.
“A little over a month and a half ago, we received a security alert from the ACME Mainframe. A security update patch had enabled the system to detect a previously unknown variant of Trojan hiding in the archives. Cyber division was unable to pinpoint the exact amount of time for which the Trojan had been previously active; they were, however, able to trace the entry point of the Trojan to one user account - Zack Monaghan.”
As predicted, her last words sent the four agents into a tizzy of outrage and confusion. It didn’t take long for the younger Monaghan to explode into claims of innocence.
“Whoa! Hang on a minute there! Rewind and freeze! I’m innocent! I didn’t do anything! Ivy, Tanya, you gotta believe me. I wouldn’t do such a thing.”
Zack would have gone on but a light bulb suddenly clicked.
“The STUN suits! That’s why Maelstrom’s henchmen had STUN suits. The hacker was working for Maelstrom. Wait...you think I”M working for Maelstrom?!”
Ivy, Tanya, and surprisingly even Lee were about to jump to Zack’s defence when they were cut off by the eerily calm yet decisive voice of the Director of Operations.
“We’re not accusing anyone of anything, yet. What is for sure is that all signs point to the presence of a mole in ACME; and he or she is working for Maelstrom.”
Any some what calmed tempers soon flared up again when Rosen carried on where she had left off.
“Having gone through all the evidence, we have come to one unfortunate conclusion: As of this very moment, the four of you are our best suspects.”
Chase and Rosen stood back and listened to the barrage of protests that flew their way; all four agents vehemently protesting their innocence.
“This is ridiculous. My brother and I helped put Maelstrom away last time he escaped. Why would I help that madman?”
“I’m a computer genius; I wouldn’t have used my own account if it were me and I would certainly never get caught. Uh, not that I did it of course.”
“Why the hell does everyone suspect me? Sure I was a traitor once, but I learnt my lesson. Besides, Chase has me on a short leash; You really think I could pull this off with him watching me 24/7?”
The only member of the quartet who uttered not a word was Tanya; but it was evident to all present that she was silently fuming at the absurd allegations. The barrage of protests going on around her only served to further fuel her anger; it did not go unnoticed by Chase that her clenched fists were turning paler than usual.
“ENOUGH!” Every agent froze. In the frenzy of emotions, they had all forgotten whose office they were in. Being on bad terms with the ACME Chairwoman was a really, really bad thing; being on bad terms with her AND getting her riled up was tantamount to a death sentence.
Rosen fixed a steely gaze onto Chase who calmly supplied an explanation.
“The reason you are our best suspects should be obvious to all of you. Zack and Ivy are, according to legal papers, the heirs to VILE. The two of you are have also been known to work with Carmen on several different occasions, even helping her escape on one or two of them. Also, it was Zack’s user account, and Ivy, you are close enough to your brother to easily figure out his password.”
Chase fixed his own medusa-like gaze on the sibling duo, seemingly daring them to protest. Wisely, they kept quiet. Nodding, Chase turned to the other blonde in the room.
“Tanya, you are our PR and therefore have high level clearance to almost every ACME department. Being that you are mostly independent, it is also easy for you to have your activities go unnoticed and/or untraced. You are also dating Zack, making you able to guess his password just as easily as Ivy would be.”
To her credit, the Russian bit down her tongue and simply stared quietly in defiance.Every eye in the room now turned to Lee.
“Lee, you know better than anyone what you’re capable of if you put your mind to it. You have betrayed us before as well, so that would put you pretty high on the suspect list.
Yes, I have you on a short leash, but that doesn’t mean you couldn’t have found a way to do things without me knowing. Despite you would have others believe, you are also pretty proficient at computers, yourself.”
“What Director Devineaux here is trying to say,” Rosen interrupted, “is that there are perfectly valid reasons why we suspect each of you. No formal accusations and charges are being made at the moment but there will be a formal and thorough investigation starting tomorrow.
In light of that, your four are hereby suspended from active duty until this whole mess clears up. Report back at 0800 hours tomorrow for a series of interviews and lie detector tests. Failure to turn up will be taken as an admission of guilt.”
Aboard the Calypso, a certain insane scientist stepped off a chopper and was greeted by Pearl, Jonah and the former first mate of the ship.
“Well done, my agents. Soon, the world will once again bow before the name Maelstrom!”
I know how you feel Joe and believe me my latest story well...a very long hiatus I'm not making up just keep on waiting as of now I have to write the next story on paper and pen before I blogged again that's what I do when there's no update whatsoever.
A scream of frustration filled the air as a series of rapid strikes pummeled a hapless sandbag. Zack observed silently as his sister continued to vent her frustrations on the unlucky punching bag. By his count, it was her third one today; and judging by how violently she was abusing the gym apparatus, number four was probably not far off.
Still, he couldn’t really blame her; Lee, Tanya, his sister and himself were all in need of blowing off some steam. That was why the foursome had entered the gym together and taken to working out with a passion.
The firing range would have been Zack’s first choice but they had all been banned from touching any firearms until the investigation was completed. Said investigation had gone rather poorly today, from their standpoint.
Hours of pointless, and frankly somewhat biased, interviews and multiple lie detector tests later, the exhausted and frustrated quartet had been released on probation. They had been ordered to stay overnight in the ACME dorms and not leave the compound; they were also still suspended, technically.
“I can’t believe this. We pass every single lie detector test and they still don’t believe us.” Ivy’s complaint caused the others to pause what they were doing. Her words had been the first ones uttered, not counting various grunts and screams, since the four agents had entered the gym. Being the only ones there, they had let silence be their music of choice as they worked out their bodies and thoughts.
From his treadmill, Zack shared a look with Tanya who had paused her pedaling; they both shared Ivy’s sentiments. Even Lee had passed all the lie detector tests with flying colours and it was impossible to fool one let alone multiple lie detector tests.
“What really gets on my nerves is that Chase never once put in a word for us; not in front of Rosen, not to any of the agents interviewing us, not one word!” To her credit, the fuming redhead managed to restrained herself from using some more colorful descriptives in her rant.
“You know sis, Chase has never really been one to mix business with pleasure. Maybe he’s just going about this like he would any other issue; you know, stay professional and impartial and all that.”
Seeing her boyfriend trying to put in a few earnest words, Tanya thought it prudent to pipe in also.
“I will second that. In all my years working with Chase as his media liaison, he’s been nothing but a consummate professional. He’s always dealt in facts, never letting emotions cloud his judgment…”
Tanya paused to reach over and give Zack a well deserved slap to the head for his “except when it comes to Carmen” quip.
...I believe it’s just how he does things. Frankly I’d be a little surprised and disappointed if he did show some bias toward us.”
“Besides sis, with Rosen breathing down his neck, we can’t expect much more from him either. His hands are just as tied up as ours. Ow.” Zack finished meekly whilst rubbing his head.
Lee walked over from where he had been bench pressing. “I know it’s not my business but for what it’s worth, Chase has never let pass grudges get in the way of his dealings and interactions with me. He’s probably that way with everyone else too, friend or foe.”
The explanations seemed to placate Ivy temporarily. Just as she was about to further comment, another agent ran into the gym, huffing and puffing away. Apparently, the unlucky chap had been tasked with locating the four and summoning them to a meeting with the Director of Operations.
“Speak of the devil...ow!” Zack’s smart mouth had earned him another slap to the head from the blonde beside him. “Ok, ok, I get it.”
Chase Devineaux strode across the cement floor of the ACME holding cells, his immaculately polished black leather shoes creating light echoing clacks. Stopping in front of a particular cell, he gave a nod to the officers in the room, sending them away. With file in hand, he turned to look at the occupants of the cell.
“You know, Director, when we heard that you wanted to talk to us, we didn’t think it meant being thrown in ACME holding cells.”
Chase raised an eyebrow at the furious redhead from which the comment had emanated. Her blonde companion also voiced her displeasure at their current ‘accommodations’.
“I’m sorry to say, Director, that this is most unacceptable. We have done nothing deserving of such, such, vile treatment. No pun intended.”
Across from the girls in a cell of their own, Lee and Zack also stood up and approached the bars.
“Yeah, come on Chase, I mean, Director. I understand business is business but the charges are bogus and you know it. We passed all the interviews and test too, didn’t we? I know we’re good, but we’re not that good that we would bluff our way through.”
“Your concerns have been duly noted Ivy, Tanya, Zack.” Chase made a point of pausing as he said each name and looking at the person square in the eye.
Turning to the only member of the quartet who had not said anything, Chase cast him a curious glance.
“Aren’t you going to say anything, Lee?”
Lee Jordan just scowled in response.
Chase took one last look around to ensure that no one was around before swiftly pulling out a cloned security card and using it to open the two cells. Before any of the four agents could question his actions, he gave them a signal to keep quiet.
Pulling out a smaller file from his coat, he tossed it to Ivy before talking in a low voice so only the four could hear him.
“I apologise but this was the only place other than Rosen’s office where we could talk undisturbed. If my suspicions are right, my office has already been bugged by our mole. For the record, I never believed that any of you, even you Lee, were responsible.”
Seeing the confused looks in front of him, Chase continued.
“The file I just handed you is a copy of the information we have on what we believe Maelstrom has been up to lately. Given Maelstrom’s penchant for disregarding human life, we need to quickly find him and what remains of the crew of the Calypso.”
The four agents all had grim looks on their faces at the mention of the Calypso and her crew. It was an unwanted reminder of their recent failures, and of how high the stakes were.
“It gets worse, he has another hostage. I just forwarded to Zack’s phone a video I received not too long ago. Maelstrom’s somehow kidnapped Renee and left me a clue to find her. I need you four to solve the clue and stop Maelstrom. Meanwhile, I’ll be here mopping up the mess and clearing your names.”
Like a kid in a classroom, Zack raised his hand. “Uh does this mean our suspension's lifted? Cause we can’t do anything without our badges.”
“Not too mention, our personal effects.” added Lee.
In response, Chase handed his cloned security card to Zack before fishing out a pair of car keys from his coat and tossing them to Tanya.
“Holding box 4 and 5. You’ll need the card to open them. The card should also get you access to the garage. Take the Hummer. I’ve pre-programmed a location into the GPS. An old friend will meet you there. As of now, you four are not only still suspended, you are escaped suspects on the run to clear your name. Failure is not an option. Am I clear?”
As the reality of the situation dawned on the four, a mixture of dismay, fear, panic, determination and sadness crossed their faces.
“Don’t worry. If anyone can pull this off, it’s you four. Just...make sure not to blow up the ship. We don’t need a nuclear explosion to explain away in addition to everything else. By the way, you might want to pick up your stun suits and stun guns before leaving. They may come in handy.”
Giving Chase a thankful albeit sad smile at his attempt to lighten the mood, Ivy gave the others a nod as they prepared to accept their fate.
“Oh wait, Lee, if you would do the honours.” Chase said as he turned around.
Picking up Chase’s implications immediately, Lee walked over and flexed his arms.
“Ready or not Chase, this is gonna hurt you a whole lot more than it’ll hurt me.”
That was the last thing Chase heard before he felt a hard whack to the back of his head, and the darkness enveloping him soon after.
Tanya was tearing the road up in the Hummer whilst Zack and Ivy looked over the file and the video. Lee meanwhile served as her copilot, looking out for traffic.
The ride remained silent and tense with Lee’s occasional guidance and the instruction of the GPS being the only exceptions.
On reaching their destination, the four now ex-agents stepped out of the vehicle and looked around.
“Alameda Naval Air Station? Why would Chase send us here?” Lee wondered aloud as he inspected the area.
“Cool. This is where one of favourite shows sometimes gets filmed.”
“Head in the game, little bro. We’re wanted criminals now, at least until we clear our names.” Ivy chided with a small measure of humour. Any further remarks though were halted when a familiar playful voice called out.
“Well, well, I always knew you’d come over to my side of the law, Detectives. Or is that, ex-detectives now?”
The quartet froze in their steps and turned in unison to the source of the voice.
The scarlet-clad mastermind watched in amusement as a mixture of disbelief, anger, confusion and happiness crossed the four faces in front of her.
The unasked question of “what are you doing here” hung in the air as Carmen mischievously grinned while they appraised the situation.
Finally, it was Zack who broke the silence.
“You’re the ‘old friend’ Chase mentioned, aren’t you?”
Carmen laughed before replying in her usual playful tone ,
“I assure you Zack, Chase was merely being philosophical with the term”
“The enemy of my enemy is my ally…” Tanya wondered aloud.
“Makes sense, you hate Maelstrom just as much as we do, and who better to take in four fugitives than the biggest fugitive in all of ACME?”
Ivy gaped at Lee’s acceptance of the situation and at how Zack and Tanya could come to such ludicrous conclusions.
“Guys, are you crazy? We should be arresting her!”
“On what authority Ivy? Last I heard, you four were escaped prisoners. In ACME’s eyes, you’re just as much a crook as I am. Even if you were to arrest me, ACME would arrest you just the same when you tried to bring me in. It won’t clear your names.”
As much as it galled Ivy to admit it, Carmen was right; they were all wanted by ACME, making them just as much a felon as Carmen.
“Then what will?”
The four former agents looked at each other, silently assessing their situation; working with Carmen was their only real recourse right now, and at least with her they’d be safe from whoever ACME would send after them. Plus, they always did say better the devil you know...
“Fine. We’ll follow your lead for now. But I’m warning you, as soon as we stop Maelstrom, you’re fair game as well”
“I couldn’t ask for anything more, Ivy.”
Turning away, the ever classy thief walked towards one of the old hangers and opened it to reveal one of her signature VILE airships hidden within.