Closed Ultramarine

Discussion in 'Role Playing Games' started by Lee, Jan 13, 2018.

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  1. Joe Kerr

    Joe Kerr V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    114
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    VILE Agent, Part-Time Security Consultant
    Location:
    Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
    Color #:
    8a2be2
    [Co-written by Carmen/Joe]

    Dusk, Later that day...

    The natural underground cavern that became docking station to the MAMBA was cool and airy. It was large enough to cover the entire snake, but not in one full connected length. The elongated chambers were sectioned so individual segments of the craft can be maintained. Once ready, each craft would enter the water before linking in formation.

    For now, they were receiving the full treatment before venturing into Harbin. Engineers hovered around the amphibious craft, within the next few days, she must be airborne.

    Carmen stood over a modest wooden desk, five vials of oil displayed before her. Two were frozen solid. Natural and synthetic lubricants, the result of an overnight test, were being judged before further field application. She had informed Neb earlier that she would be overseeing the maintenance of the MAMBA before dinner, and in the meanwhile, she had informed Joe Kerr to meet her down here for a long-overdue conversation.

    Removing a glove from her right hand, she picked up one of the frozen vials and the oil quickly melted with her body heat.


    "Number nineteen," she nodded and a nearby technician jotted this into her notes.

    ***

    Descending the stone staircase that led into the underground cavern, Joseph Kerr paused for a moment to admire the beauty of the MAMBA, albeit in its separated form. Each segment was fully capable of functioning on its own and was in its own way a unique masterpiece of engineering.

    However when fully assembled, the complete beast far and away surpassed its individual components in every way possible; combining the strengths of each of its members whilst eschewing their shortcomings, the leviathan-esque super-craft, the brain-child of one Carmen Sandiego, was power, grace, beauty and speed all rolled into one; the epitome of perfection.

    It was also, as Joseph also noted with some humour, in many ways a perfect representation of VILE as an organisation.


    Each agent of VILE was, for the most part, a master thief in their own right and an expert in their chosen field of specialty; chemistry, medicine, mythology, archaeology, the list just went on. And yet, the whole was clearly greater than the sum of its parts; as a unified team they were able to accomplish far more together than apart, and with Carmen at the helm, there was seemingly no limit to what they could achieve.

    However, VILE would only be formidable for as long as they were able to function together; a single individual operating differently from the rest could easily undermine the whole. Likewise, the MAMBA could not afford a single, malfunctioning segment; hence, the intense maintenance on each of the individual crafts which would comprise its whole.

    Joseph walked across the various sections, briefly smiling when he spotted the one he’d been previously tasked with field testing, before finally coming upon his captain, engrossed in stringent testing of potential lubricants.

    “Good evening Carmen, might I suggest using a blend instead of a single strain? It would be most fitting for the MAMBA.”

    ***

    The leader glanced up with a positive nod at the suggestion. Then she turned to the technician and excused her.

    “We haven’t spoken for some time, Mr Kerr,“ her voice echoed slightly in the limestone caves, “How have you been?“


    “Technically we did speak to each other this morning,” he replied with somewhat forced mirth. “I’ve been as well as I could be, I guess, given the circumstances and all.”

    Briefly he glanced to the work table and its surrounding area.

    “What about you? It seems that you’re always buried in your work. Ever hear of a vacation?”


    “I was on vacation,“ she smiled briskly in light reply, “Art in Abu Dhabi.“

    She noted his prior forced mirth, and hinted towards the docked vessels.

    “Walk with me, please,” Her invitation preceded a question, “You had a heist recently, along with some colleagues... Tell me of it?”


    ***

    The jester was fairly certain that Carmen already knew of the details; nothing in VILE ever escaped her attention. Not knowing whether to interpret this as a test or simply as genuine concern, he decided to humour her with an abridged but truthful version of the truth as they walked toward the crafts.

    “Neb, Flag and myself went to Wales to steal some old books from a castle; you’d have to ask Neb or Flag for details on which ones. We thought we had everything planned and scouted, but we were still taken by surprise; there were secrets and traps not accounted for within the blueprints, and worse yet, a castle custodian with a ‘killer punishment’ for anyone who crossed him.”

    Joseph allowed himself a wry smile at his pun, however, the smile disappeared almost as quickly as it came. A brief moment of silence reigned before Joseph abruptly stopped walking, removed his mask, and turned to face Carmen directly.

    ***

    His authenticity warranted attention, and the thief stopped to heed her companion.

    ***

    “Truth be told, we were lucky to escape with our lives. We were foolish...I was foolish. I should have known better than to break your rules; the moment they told me it was personal property we were after, I should have called the whole thing off, but I didn’t.”

    Turning his mask over in his hand, he looked down to see the lifeless visage seemingly mocking him with its smile.

    “I should have been more prepared, more ready for anything; but I took it for-granted that it would be a regular retrieval. I wasn’t prepared enough, didn’t have enough backup plans...wasn’t ready to deal with the hostile response.”

    ***

    There were two others on this heist, the blame on only one seemed unbalanced. Logic told her to stop him, but as leader, she wanted to hear more.

    ***

    Clenching his fists tightly, he looked up to face Carmen again, his voice laced with equal parts resolve and regret.

    “I’m the reason Neb got hurt; I was the senior agent on the team and I failed them...failed you. No amount of apologies will ever make it right, but, I sincerely apologise for my failure, and I...I completely understand if you no longer require my services.”

    As he said the last few words, the jester bowed in respect and apology to his employer, role-model and, he hoped, friend.

    ***

    "Is that self-doubt in your tone?" she voiced her observation. Since the day she met him, Carmen felt Joseph Kerr's intellect was nestled in his boldness. The mask he wore seemed lacking in purpose now, more than ever.

    "What are you thinking, Joe?"

    (continued in part 2)
     
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  2. Joe Kerr

    Joe Kerr V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    114
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    VILE Agent, Part-Time Security Consultant
    Location:
    Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
    Color #:
    8a2be2
    (continued from part 1)

    Letting out a huff, the jester stood straight again and let a melancholy expression colour his face.

    “Do you recall that when we first met, one of the things we found kinship over was our common belief in non-lethal means?”


    She nodded kindly, remembering the moment, “And now?”

    “I still keep to that belief, but with the way things have been turning out, I have to wonder, is our stance getting outdated? Is it doing us more harm than good?”

    ***

    There were times in her life that she pondered the same thing, but instead of interrupting, she allowed him to continue.

    ***

    The jester began to elaborate his point, his voice getting unintentionally louder and more agitated with each passing moment.

    “The game has changed, more players have entered, and they seem to be changing the rules. ACME might be happy to continue to play by our non-lethal rules but other law enforcement agencies are only too happy to shoot first, ask questions later. And the other factions on our side of the law? They have no honour and no scruples; spilling blood for them is like sipping water.”

    Stopping to catch his breath, Joseph continued in a softer tone.

    “I am afraid, Carmen. I am so afraid that our methods won’t be enough to protect those we care about, to protect who and what we love. Look at Neb; she got injured because I was too concerned about not harming the owner of the castle, who, I might add, was more than happy to rain arrows down on us.”


    A few stray tears started to stream down his cheeks as he looked straight at Carmen.

    “I don’t know if I could ever forgive myself if one day we lost one of our family because I kept sticking to this stance...because I was too cowardly to take one life in order to preserve another;

    ***

    His words resonated, and the thief inhaled audibly.

    “Saving a life is always braver than taking it,” she intonated ‘always’, “And I’m sure you’re aware of the billions that go into non-lethal weapons for law enforcement.” The fact remained that fatalities were lower, for good reason. But Carmen felt that the man before her had other reasons to feel unsettled.

    “Where is this coming from, Joseph Kerr?” She tilted her head slightly as if to see him from a different angle, “Why are you so afraid?”

    “Back in Wales, when things were going wrong and we at risk of dying, it wasn’t the risk of dying that got to me, it was how helpless I felt. Helpless to save anyone, helpless to do anything to try and protect the people I care about.”

    He paused to catch his composure before continuing.

    “VILE is the only family I have left. I can’t bear the thought of losing you guys, but yet, I feel so helpless to stop that from happening, like there’s nothing I can do to protect anyone, like my gags are just mere child’s play, not worth a penny when it comes to an actual battlefield.”

    “We almost lost you in Russia, I almost lost Neb in Wales, and now Patty is missing. I’m afraid I’m losing the people I care about, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

    ***

    Taking a step forward, Carmen studied Joe in his dark wool sweater, and the way he swayed the mask in his hand as he passionately spoke. She felt compassion. There were times she wondered if this was truly a family, or merely a group of selfish individuals gathered together for solidarity and the occasional grifting. Some time ago, the events in Kamchatka changed her perspective; but instead of sharing this new-found point of view, she turned inward. Perhaps now was the time to reveal her thoughts.

    She took the mask from his hand and absently flipped it around in hers, appreciating the craftsmanship.

    Turning towards the parked sections of the MAMBA she seemingly avoided his concerns, “I’ve been much too busy with this project, I’ve forgotten something I wanted to propose a long time ago,” she began to walk again, “Follow me.”

    In an area next to the docking station, a silvery lab was under renovations. Construction workers were cleaning windows and sealing corners with high-grade silicone.

    “Your dedication to these ‘gags’, Joe, save lives,” her reasoning was calm, “Your creations functioned well at Torun Zamok, and I think we need to take that to a higher level,” She continued, “I was hoping you might want to use this lab to further your repertoire; namely, safer weapons and better defense.”

    With a breath and a willful half-smile, she returned to his worries, “I can’t guarantee that you’ll never feel helpless, Joseph Kerr,” those words were weighted in truth, “I also can’t guarantee you’ll never lose a family member.”

    Giving his mask back to him by placing it over his heart, she paused, “But we can both do our best, can’t we?”

    ***

    Joseph watched silently as she returned his mask, her words replaying in his mind. In awe, he glanced back at her, taking in the full weight of her offer.

    “You’d trust me with all this? Even after my previous failures, you’d still trust me with the safety of our family? With...with your life?”

    Naturally, she nodded, “Failure is only evident in the lack of trying.”

    “I’m overwhelmed, and truly honoured. Thank you,” he flashed her a warm, genuine smile and then enveloped her in an even warmer hug.

    Surprised at the hug at first, her initial stiffness warmed into an open smile. “Thank you, Joe,” there was emphasis on the word ‘you.’

    Stepping back, he wiped away the last of the stray tears and looked once again at his mask; its formerly taunting smile now seemed to radiate with hope.

    “You’re right. I can’t change the past, and I have no guarantees about the future, but I can do my best in the here and now to ensure that we, all of us, have a future to look forward to.”

    Pausing, he turned back to Carmen, eyes full of resolve set over a heartfelt smile.

    “To that end, I, Joseph Kerr, gratefully accept the task that you’ve laid before me.”


    ***

    VILE’s leader smiled and took a long breath as her eyes glanced about the facilities.

    “There’s something else,” she began, “You were here when I was not, do you recall your last conversation with Patty?”

    “Unfortunately, no. I saw that Russia affected her more than she let on, but between Vegas and Wales, I never got the chance to follow up on that. Come to think of it, I’ve probably been gone just as much as you have.”

    Falling silent, the thief signed lightly, "That's all right, we've all been rather busy." Carmen quietly decided that she should confess now than wait until later. "I haven't had contact with her for months," a determined nod followed, "but I'm hoping to change things, starting with this research facility"

    Taking a step towards the door, she wrapped her coat closer around her waist, "Get acquainted with your new lab, Mr Kerr. Report to me if you need anything."

    Then she smiled, "And thank you, for taking this on."
     
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  3. Kid Kidman

    Kid Kidman V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    120
    Gender:
    Female
    Occupation:
    Currently named Neb Ulyss
    Location:
    Here and there
    Color #:
    323E4F
    [Cowritten: Kidman/Carmen/Acton Roux]

    The next week was spent in a relative haze of disbelief and transition for Carmen’s new shadow. The extraordinarily private master thief had requested that the woman move into her apartment, because of course she did.

    By now Neb had given up trying to make sense of the changes in her life. A decision had been made, however hastily, over a plate of tacos and now she was on for the ride.

    But that didn’t fully quell her concerns.

    A crotchety warning given during an uncomfortable plane trip lost to time played at the edge of her mind, and the silver haired specter continued to drift around the premises with no resolution in sight. She was back with her fellows, but the discussion with Joe had reminded her of just how much separated them.

    With her mind on uneven ground, Neb made the move to Carmen’s apartment as low key as possible; transferring her belongings via relocated teleporter pad and leaving behind whatever didn’t fit for some future hermit. By the end of the week her new living space had been set up, but she had yet to live in it.

    The trip to Harbin would come first.


    ***

    Every section of the MAMBA utilizes 150 to 170 square meters of space. Manufactured from scratch, features included modules that were interchangeable for different functions. At its most basic, one segment can seat up to 35 people comfortably or carry 230 kilograms (approximately 500,000 pounds) of active cargo. At its most extravagant, the MAMBA’s prestigious head could be converted into a two-bedroom apartment with office, conference room and 1.5 baths; with enough room for a handful of staff.

    This was the current setting for the journey to Harbin. Carmen wanted to work, and the full office would give her some time to look over plans. The 10-hour flight was a night flight, and they were expected to arrive at Harbin by morning. She would have a few hours to rest then before meeting up with Vincent Fumigalli and his Italian artists.

    Once aboard the plane, Carmen threw her white down parka into the side closet and traded her boots for a pair of slippers. She sat on the bed first and laid out a stack of papers and a tablet that folded out into a screen and controllable surface.

    Beyond, she could hear Neb making her way into the room. The thief looked up. Hopefully the hydraulic doors won’t disorient too much.


    ***

    Take off for a night flight was always thrilling, especially when there were clouds to climb out of, and Neb spent the ascent where she always did, in the cockpit, watching a flaming sun set into the cloud floor.

    She would have stayed for the afterglow, the dusk, the slow reveal of tiny stars, the lot of it if there wasn’t somewhere else she felt she was supposed to be. Still she hesitated, uncertain of why, until air turbulence jostled her into movement.

    Eventually she found the door to Carmen’s apartment, drew a quick breath and typed in the key code she’d been given. The door swung wide, but before Neb could properly greet her boss, the apparent luxury of the space derailed her.

    “This is a plane?” she asked in astonishment.


    ***

    The thief smiled, indicating towards the nearby sofa, “Have a seat, please.”

    She had finished, at the same moment, a text message to Acton Roux to come meet her in 10 minutes. They would need to speak of his role as ‘nutritionist’ and how that may be masking his more eager talents.

    “Did you place all your things in the room next door?” she inquired.


    ***

    Neb fought the urge to wander around the mini hotel room and sat down. “Room? Oh! I forgot I actually have a room in this thing. This is so weird… I’ll have to go get my bag out of the cargo bay.”

    ***

    “I’ll have it brought there,” Carmen moved to her bedside table and pressed a button, “You can unpack later.”

    Another moment of swiping through her screens, and VILE’s leader looked back at her employee.

    “Do you still have that bracelet?”


    ***

    “Yeah!” Neb snapped out of her stupor and held up her arm. “Aye, still here. Usually have it in my sleeve, you know, so it doesn’t get caught on things.”

    ***

    Doctor Acton Roux received the Red Lady’s text message and immediately removed himself from the seat he sat upon. The MAMBA was both a private jet and a moving base, and he found it marvelous. He looked at his companions, all members of VILE that shared the same space but sectioned into varying invisible spheres. Some were reading, others pondering, but all were silent.

    Acton moved towards his commander’s apartment. As he stood before her door, he could already sense her presence. From the design of the path, the panels of light emitting diodes and the perfume that permeated effortlessly through the breather of his mask.

    He raised his hand to knock, but paused at the sound of voices. Acton knew better than to remain where he was. But he was not without curiosity. There were foldable seats attached to the wall nearby for waiting staff, and he sat in one. Then he turned up the volume amplifier of his mask, and exhaled when he could hear her voice, clear as spring water.


    ***

    “Good,” her lips curved into a smile, “lift your arm up, please.”

    Propping herself against pillows and headboard, she crossed her legs and placed the surface closer.

    “I have another one,” she lifted her hand to show a moonstone pinky ring, “when I touch mine, yours glow; watch.”


    ***

    The teardrop on her bracelet band flickered blue, and even though she was the last person that should say it, “What witchcraft is this?” slipped from Neb’s lips.

    ***

    Carmen smiled at those words, “Isn’t it, Kit?” A minor distraction appeared on her tablet and she swiped to affirm action.

    “Resonating crystals,” she explained, “I’d like to say it’s magic but for now, it works because you’re connected to the MAMBA’s internal WiFi.”


    ***

    Nothing else Carmen said to the girl registered past the seemingly innocuous nickname, and her eyes widened as the unspooling of time suddenly ground to a halt. “What...did you call me?”

    ***

    The thief’s glance snapped to her companion’s as she retraced her words.

    “Did I call you an odd nickname?” She raised her brows, “I apologize.”


    ***

    Neb slowly sat back but kept her eyes on the woman in front of her, her thoughts slow and deliberate. After what seemed an eternity, she played her card. “Master?”

    ***

    Once, and many times, Carmen found herself remembering certain things that were seemingly impossible. The answer she received from Flag gave her some understanding of what may have happened, but she thought she was mostly alone.

    “They’re fading,” she finally spoke, “The memories. They come and go, at times more vivid than others.”


    ***

    A tear slipped down Kidman’s face, then another as her grayed-out perception of Carmen began to gain colour, until a quiet stream steadily trickled over her cheeks.

    “I have them, all of them. I’ve been alone with them for years, until I found Flag several months ago,” she said softly, her expression shifting from a fleeting glow to a gently bit lip after she mentioned his name.


    ***

    Carmen placed her palms on Kidman’s cheeks to quell the tears.

    “Is that why you’ve been so strange?” At these words, she moved, letting her follower climb onto the mattress, “It’s about Flag?”

    The thief rarely dealt with internal conflict, even less had she given time to these disconnected visions. Since the moment she began experiencing the residuum of these parallels, she understood they were quite directly linked to the man; but any further rumination invariably resulted in fatigue.


    ***

    Neb realized her expression had betrayed her once again, but found less reason to be concerned about it. Instead she sat down and closed her eyes, letting the conflagration of emotion surrounding the man pour into his name as she breathed it out in confirmation.

    Then she looked over the flying bedroom to gain her thoughts, slowly bringing her gaze around until Carmen was just outside it. “You were out with him last week. Are you two...close?”


    ***

    The question seemed irrelevant. To VILE’s leader, perceived relationships and truths were two very different things. She thought to immediately point out that fact and question if closeness mattered.

    But that would be heartless.

    “We’re closer,” her words were gentle, “Now, more than then, I suppose.” She breathed and leaned back into the pillows, indicating openness. “But leave that out, please. He clearly concerns you, tell me why.”


    ***

    This wasn’t what Neb wanted to hear, for more reasons she was not comfortable admitting to, but she maintained course.

    “I don’t know what you remember, but…” she started, pausing momentarily to consider how best to approach this. “Flag got pretty desperate about trying to get back to his wife, so he asked me for help. He….”

    The girl dropped off. It hurt to divulge information that could put the silver-haired man’s happiness at risk, but her alliance with Carmen outmatched her alliance with him.

    “He took it a bit far,” she finished with a sigh.


    (Continues next post)
     
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  4. Acton Roux

    Acton Roux V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    17
    Gender:
    Male
    Color #:
    403050
    [Cowritten: Kidman/Carmen/Acton Roux]


    This was not specifically new information. The fact that her silver-haired friend had certain tendencies played a role in her decision to bar his involvement in some parts of VILE. But over the years, he had proven himself dependable, and trustworthy enough for her to willfully disregard past actions. But has the past returned?

    “Was it a ritual?” her inquiry rose from the cusps of those fading memories. Mentally, she made note to refer to them as ‘reliquiae’ because she needed definition, and Latin was sensible.


    ***

    “You do remember!” Her face brightened temporarily, then faded.

    “But yeah... He brought me to an abandoned building without saying why and then didn’t tell me what he wanted from me the ritual it already started. He nearly killed me in the process,” she confessed, her last words almost a mumble


    ***

    “Kill you--?” The last time Carmen spoke of Kidman to Flag was in the capacity that he would train her. Yet as she considered, another thought came to mind and she asked, “Did it have something to do with diamonds?”


    ***

    Neb raised her brows shot up.

    “You know about it?” She asked with surprise. “It was one diamond, not sure where he got it from, but he said it was a link to one that had all his powers at home. This time around he said he made a necklace out of it for you-”

    She stopped short as she tripped over the same ghosts of jealousy that had come after her in Indiana, but she pushed them away. That diamond was a stupid thing to be jealous of. Its existence was bad for everyone.

    “Don’t ever let him have it back. So long as he doesn’t have it, we should be safe,” she said, then paused again with uncertainty. “But then again... Flag isn’t one to give up easy. He told me he thinks his wife is here now, and that could lead him to use me for something else.”


    ***

    “I do have the jewelry,” she gave affirmation. The gift, she thought, signified a shared story between the thief and her arguably machiavellian friend. Something to amend for past misdeeds and a reminder that, while he was not her ideal VILE associate, he would do his best.

    “Do you think the rituals are done,” her words broke through ruminating silence, “that he won’t seek them any longer?”



    ***

    “If I was certain of that, I wouldn’t have tried to hide from him.” she said sadly. “Aside from maybe you, Flag doesn’t seem to like anyone, yet he’s been helping me with my immortality thing. At first it was awesome-” The glow momentarily returned “-but then I realized...Flag doesn’t help unless there’s something in it for him.”

    ***

    “And you don’t believe this ‘something’ is good?”

    ***

    “It could go either way... Much of what Flag does for me is good. When I’m around him, I feel good, I feel normal, strong, and I care about him a lot, but... then I remember what he’s capable of, and I smack myself for putting myself in danger.”

    ***

    A nod from the leader indicated agreement. While she had never feared Flag directly, her stance on his trustworthiness have shifted in varying degrees.

    “And…,” she wanted to address something else, “You said ‘immortality’?”


    ***

    Neb’s face fell. I can’t believe I told yet another person. She sighed. At least it was Carmen this time.

    “I don’t know if you figured it out from my med docs, but I don’t really have a lot of time left,” the girl said sadly as she slowly pulled off today’s choice of wig to reveal the grey mess it hid. “I need more time, for lots of reasons, so I’m going to build a thing that’ll let me heal myself.”


    ***

    Almost indolently, she began to comb her fingers through Neb’s hair. The tips of her digits felt scarring along the scalp, but she found it no less fascinating.

    “Grey is beautiful,” she smiled and kissed the girl’s forehead, then her palm lowered to tap lightly at Kidman’s cheek, “What do you need, to build this ‘thing’?”


    ***

    Neb still startled from physical contact but had begun to so less and less, and now she found herself gently leaning in. “It’s in those books I stole off Bran-,” she added a degree of anger to his name, “-but I still haven’t figured out how to translate the directions into an actual thing.”

    ***

    Listening, she nodded with confidence, “Share them with me.”

    ***

    The girl found tears welling up again as Carmen fully stepped past the veil, and she couldn’t stop herself from embracing the woman with all her heart. She knew now why she had been so nervous to see her. She had been called to see a friend who had become a stranger, and found the stranger to be more a friend than she’d ever hoped to have.

    Rosen’s words rose again, but she didn’t care to heed them. If they’d really ever mattered to her, she would have left VILE long ago.

    “It’s such a relief, a relief to have someone I can talk to who knows it all, that I don’t have to worry about. I feel like….some part of me can rest.”


    ***

    For some time after the embrace, Carmen let her companion lean against her shoulder.

    “Then rest,” she smiled, certain that things were now moving in a better direction. In a softer tone, she ended, “You’ve given me much to think about.”

    Once she ascertained that her current ‘roomate’ was asleep, Carmen rose quietly. Her wrapped dress clung under the weight of Neb’s torpor, and she carefully maneuvered until the fabric was freed.

    They were at cruising altitude, and lingering thoughts in the thief’s mind rendered her both fatigued and famished.

    She opened her apartment door to an awaiting figure.

    “Acton?” her query was also apparent in her expression, “How long have you been waiting out here?”


    ***

    Doctor Roux stood up when he saw the door opened. “I have not been here long,” he glanced around for the correct words, “You... summoned me?”


    ***

    “I did,” Carmen nearly forgot this meeting, “Would you like a drink, something to eat?” She motioned for him to follow her, despite his answer.

    ***

    “I will have something,” he shadowed her footsteps, “we are speaking of my role as nutritionist?”

    ***

    “We are,” she teased lightly, turning to pinch the curve of his beak, “I’m considering the termination of your employment, Acton.”

    ***

    He was quiet, “a oui?” That playfulness was unanticipated, but he coveted it.

    ***

    “You’re a chemist as well?” the thief continued as she opened the door to a private meeting room, “And from the data I’ve discovered, quite the healer.”

    ***

    Acton remained curious and entered the meeting room. “I am happy to serve in any way,” he noted behind his mask and picked a seat as the door closed behind him.

    ***

    “Of course, we’ll get to that soon,” Carmen smiled, sat opposite of her timid employee, and crossed her legs, “But first, I need you to detail everything about Adrianna’s last heist.”

    ***

    Behind his large obscured goggles, the plague doctor blinked.

    ***

    “I mean it, Acton,” VILE’s leader insisted, “Everything.”


    ***
     
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  5. Joe Kerr

    Joe Kerr V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    114
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    VILE Agent, Part-Time Security Consultant
    Location:
    Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
    Color #:
    8a2be2
    Joseph Kerr sat silently by one of the Mamba’s viewing windows, taking inventory of his thoughts. The conversation with Carmen had taken a great weight off of him but in its place were two smaller, but no less poignant, burdens.

    The first was a positive one, an onus on him to improve both his own and VILE’s repertoire of weapons and defensive tools. Inspired by his employer’s vote of confidence, Joseph had already started to compile a list of ideas and future projects to work on; those would have to wait, however, till after their little jaunt in Harbin.


    "I haven't had contact with her for months,"


    Carmen’s admission had triggered the second burden, shaped it and gave it form.

    Intelligence was a highly prized form of commodity in their ‘industry’, and VILE’s leader always made it her business to be in the know. For her to admit not knowing something took great humility and the jester respected her for it; but it also brought him great concern.


    For Patty to go so far off the grid, it implied that it was either highly intentional or that she was highly incapacitated, possibly even dead; both options were equally disconcerting.


    Her eyes


    Briefly, Joseph recalled the last encounter he had shared with Patty; he had known something was off from the moment he looked at her.


    Her smile didn’t reach her eyes.


    Regrettably, he had not acted immediately on his suspicions, opting instead to give her a few more days before confronting her. He had failed to foresee his involvement being required in Vegas, and he certainly had not counted on her pulling, well, a Carmen, on them...on him.

    Looking out the viewing window and taking in the scenery, he whispered quietly to no one in particular.

    “Where are you, Patty?”
     
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  6. Vic

    Vic Confidence Man

    Messages:
    22
    Gender:
    Male
    Color #:
    008000
    Vic “The Slick” Fumigalli waited until his feet were both firmly on Harbin before throwing his hands into the air and shouting, “We’re here!”

    The ride in the MAMBA was swag, smooth and easy all the way from VILE HQ to the cold river ways of this Chinese Island. The craft landed out in international waters, a yacht came to pick them all up, and the MAMBA sank beneath the waves like the serpent that she is.

    “Welcome to Harbin!” Vic shouted, getting off at the docks while attendants were busy with bags. He took out about $50 worth of local money and put it into the hand of somebody in charge. Then leaning in and cupping his hand, he whispered, “Make sure everybody’s taken cared of, ah?”

    From the docks, it was a short ride to the hotel, where everyone would split up faster than Vic could say “Let’s gamble!”

    Soon after they landed, they met up with the Italian team, eager to win this year’s medal with their ice sculptures. Vic was proud, even without having done any of the sculpting himself. They were an Italian Alpine team from the north, near the border with Switzerland. They started with local sculptures and festivals, and are now one of the few teams to compete outside of Italy.

    Later in the day, they were all going to meet up, Sponsor and Sponsored, with a nice big dinner party. As soon as Vic said the fair was their playground, the group dispersed.

    “See everybody back here at eight!” he shouted out. Hopefully, his herd would find their way back.
     
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  7. Chase

    Chase Director

    Messages:
    612
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Director of Operations
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Color #:
    536373
    The Doctor, The Detective, and The Damsel...

    [Co-Written: Patty/Chase/Acton Roux]


    Patty Larceny was in Harbin for the first time in her life. The ice festival was an event that started in the sixties but didn’t gain traction until social media made it popular. Want to know what your Instagram buddies are up to this winter? Where did they get a picture of that kitsch ice palace? It’s probably Harbin.

    To blend in, she wore a dark brown coat with fur-lined hood. Her black tight jeans were 2 layers of woven thermal protection in a movable mesh so it was easy to do a full split in them. A pair of coffee-tan ear muffs pressed against her blond hair. Used for communication with her mentor, Gunnar Maelstrom, for the moment, they were turned off. She didn’t need interference.

    Somehow, she managed to convince Chase Devineaux to join her cause. He was arriving on a separate plane, and he was supposed to meet her here. Maelstrom was furious the negotiations didn’t take place. This was the second time ACME’s Director of Operations slipped through the Biologist’s leathery fingers. Patty was relieved, but she didn’t know how long she could keep this charade, or the one she’s going to be building starting right now.

    Chase had spotted her first, because by the time she saw him, he was already making a path to her. He was smooth.

    Patty led him to a quieter corner.

    Carmen is here, VILE arrived earlier” she revealed, “The Seal gave her up, he’s meeting her to relay information about Kamchatka.

    Dennis Holtz,” Chase confirmed The Seal’s name, “I’m not counting on him being useful.

    But you’ll save him?

    Did my part, local police is looking for him. They’ll take him to a precinct. His people should get the contact then, that’s his ticket out.

    Have you reported back to ACME?

    I have one job, get Holtz back, then I’m on my own time.

    We’re going to need all the time you’ve got,” Patty nodded. Now for the next part, she bit her lower lip and inhaled, “Chase, how well do you know Acton Roux? Because you’re going to have to be very convincing.

    I know his type enough,” he replied, “but you start first, let me study his words and we’ll see how well I do.




    After landing in Harbin, Dr Acton Roux followed Vincent Fumigalli and the group for a small tour of things. When much of VILE dispersed, he stood still, not quite knowing that to do.

    He took a long walk around the grounds, watching children play. He wondered what life would have been like had he acquired children. Then as he passed by a group of humans and their pets, he wondered why he had never gotten an animal companion. Perhaps the life of a researcher was meant to be solitary.

    Suddenly, as he entered a path towards the edges of the island, he heard footsteps behind him.


    Dr. Roux?” Patty greeted him when they were far enough away from the main fair, “Can we talk?


    Miss Larceny,” he shook his head in disbelief, “You are here to see Carmen? Things are all well now, oui?


    It’s good to see you,” she smiled, “I can’t see Carmen… it’s a little complicated.


    Mais... qu'est-ce que tu veux dire?” his voice was softer, “You are loved, there should never be complications in that.


    Chase Devineaux walked up, pausing next to the blonde.


    Acton’s eyes widened, but it would be unseeable behind his goggles. “Patty, have you joined ACME?


    I’m not ACME, Dr. Roux,” Chase used his most convincing tone, “I’m here on a friendly capacity. Your former colleague finds herself working for a madman. And from what she tells me, things are about to get bad for your team.


    He sounded confident, and the American arrogance in which he conveyed knowledge made Acton slightly envious of ACME’s Director. It is no wonder he commanded such respect. His voice still rang out to the doctor as he heard it in the halls of Torun Zamok. To be in this man’s position, even for one day, must be the dream of many.

    How can I trust everything is true?” Dr Roux questioned.


    Amber?” Devineaux looked towards the young lady.


    Do you remember Adrianna ever talking about Gunnar Maelstrom?” Patty asked bluntly.


    Her again… Acton was beginning to believe he would never be free of the Contessa. Yet sadly, he did hear of this Gunnar Maelstrom and it certainly was through the pristine white teeth of Adrianna Covrenzi herself.

    Oui,” he nodded. He barely had time to catch the name ‘Amber.’


    I’m stuck with Maelstrom,” she admitted with a fur-lined shrug, “I can’t leave yet, I need to make this right. The only way to do it is from the inside, and only if I have both of you with me.


    She has a plan,” Chase added, “a good one.


    Dr Roux stood eye-to-eye with ACME’s Operations Director. Who was this man, to think he could change the fate of so many? What could he possibly wish from this involvement, surely it was not to simply save VILE?


    More people can die, Acton!” Patty spoke honestly, “Really important people! You need to help me.


    He thought, for many seconds. Her earnest request and the demeanour in which the ACME revealed himself. This was no trap, but even if it was, Acton was not one to back away from a plea.

    Tell me what you need of me.
     
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  8. Joe Kerr

    Joe Kerr V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    114
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    VILE Agent, Part-Time Security Consultant
    Location:
    Tivoli Gardens, Denmark
    Color #:
    8a2be2
    [Co-written by Patty/Joe]

    Harbin, China
    Harbin Ice Festival

    “Ah, this brings back memories,” Joseph Kerr said aloud to no one in particular. The last time he had been surrounded by this much ice was back in the Antarctic HQ.

    Back in simpler, happier times.

    A peal of laughter from some nearby tourists snapped the jester out of his ruminations. Shaking his head, he looked around, remembering the reason they were here. Vic had gone out of his way to plan this for all of them; Joseph owed it to him, and to the rest, to not be a party-pooper.

    Resolving to forget his worries and enjoy himself, Joseph took a deep breath and wandered into the frozen labyrinth. Brilliantly carved ice sculptures, lit up by colourful LEDs, lined every path of this winter wonderland; frigid effigies of creatures both real and fictional delighted guests at every turn, and interspaced between those, intricately carved models of famous buildings from around the world.

    Joseph smiled a genuine smile as he observed the patrons around him take in the sights; families celebrating at every corner, children marvelling with pure innocence and joy whilst parents capture the moment via their device of choice, couples posing for selfies in front of the statues (especially the ones of an anthropomorphic cartoon feline and her friends), and groups of teens having a laugh at every turn.

    The jester also observed, with much humour, that many of said groups wore matching winter outfits; it was not unusual here to find a family all clad in the same colours or couples wearing matching winter outfits.

    Joseph himself was wearing a simple maroon winter jacket over white pants and black boots. He also wore a simpler version of his usual mask, in a show of solidarity with Acton, who as far as Joseph knew, was never without his.

    Thinking of Acton also reminded Joseph about his family, VILE; The group of thieves were somewhere around but their presence had been obscured by the sea of people that continued to flow through the maze. The continual assault of the rainbow lights around them also made it hard to spot the usually colourful bunch.

    Patting the small sling bag which contained a limited assortment of his usual repertoire, Joseph scanned the crowds, trying to look for the green monstrosity he was certain Vic was attired in.

    Glancing around, he froze abruptly at the sight of a familiar blonde.


    Is that who I think it is?

    Blinking a few times, he looked up again to see a different blonde where the first had stood.

    Shaking his head, Joseph decided to attribute the odd incident to wishful thinking. Resuming his quest for Vic, he froze again when the same figure resurfaced in his line of sight.

    Before he could ponder this validity of this hallucination, he heard it, clear as day. It was her voice, calling his name; that unmistakable voice that could cut through the clamour of the crowd as though it was a silent room, that voice that was equal parts charm and mischief, sweet and sassy; that voice that had once echoed through the halls of VILE, filling it with laughter and cheer.

    It was official, Patty Larceny was here.


    ***

    Patty Larceny didn't need that much time to find her target, but she needed time to collect herself. She was given orders to take a VILE member alive, because he may have the codes to the Mamba. Distinctively, she remembered Joe flew one section. Gunnar Maelstrom made her choose who to take, and she thought it was better that she took care of Joe than if some thug beat him up.

    When she found Joe, she called out to him, and then she started walking away.

    She let him follow her for a few minutes, leading him through the grounds and into the Russian Art Exhibition Hall. Today, a group wedding was happening elsewhere on the island, and the hall was temporarily closed for cleaning.

    "We can talk in here," she said when he got closer. Then she took his arm and pulled him inside, giving him a quick hug, "Good to see you, Joe."


    ***

    A myriad of emotions were running through the jester’s head as he began to register that the young woman in his arms was real.

    Relief, concern, joy, hope, fear, anger and regret all battled for control, and each one brought with it its own myriad of questions.

    Finally, Joseph settled for the one question that encapsulated it all.

    “Where the hell have you been, Patts?”


    ***

    With dance-like movements, she took a few steps backwards. In the empty exhibition hall, large windows streamed in lights from outside. The white snow and technicolor LEDs made the place look like a fancy nightclub, without the noise.

    “I’ve been around,” her smile was shallow, “How have you been, Joseph Kerr, have you been working on new toys?”


    ***

    Behind his mask, the jester frowned at her question.

    “You never call me by my full name. Something’s definitely up with you. What’s going on?”


    ***

    “Of course something’s up!” there was a soft chuckle, “I haven’t been around for a few months, did you notice?”

    She gave him a short apologetic shrug, “How’s Carmen?”


    ***

    Given her coy attitude, Joseph was unsure if Patty was really accusing him of not caring enough to have reached out earlier, or if there was some other hidden meaning to her words. He decided to answer based on the former.

    “She’s fine, but you’re obviously not; you haven’t been since Russia. And yes, I noticed.”

    Moving closer towards the young blonde, he carried on in earnest.

    “I’m sorry if you’re upset that I didn’t confront you about it; believe me when I tell you that not a day has gone by that I haven’t regretted that.”

    Kindly offering an open hand, he continued.

    “But I’m here now, and I’m willing to listen, if you’re willing to talk”


    ***

    She listened to his words, and slowly nodded, “I do want to talk, that’s why we’re here. I guess…”

    But that wasn’t why they were here, and she soften her voice to ask, “Can I see your mask?”


    ***

    Despite certain reservations about their situation, Joseph smiled softly behind his mask; he had always had a soft spot for the VILE princess, and her request brought back memories of a more carefree time between the two.

    “For you, anytime.”

    With a graceful flourish, he removed his mask and passed it to her.

    “Now that I’ve taken mine off, will you take off yours?”


    ***

    Patty accepted the disguise with a smile and tossed the object playfully around.

    “I wasn’t trying to be secretive, I just needed time to think…” she spun Drama in between her palms, “it’s not like I wanted to cut her out, or cut VILE out, but I don’t think I can go back,” the pain in her voice was authentic, “Deserters don’t rejoin VILE, do they?”


    ***

    Looking her dead in the eyes, Joseph countered with resolve.

    “You know that’s not true. We’ve all been waiting for you to come back; no one thinks of you as a deserter.”

    Softening his tone, Joseph resumed his soft smile.

    “Why won’t you come back? Is it the same reason you went off the grid? Are you in some sort of trouble? We can help you...if you let us.”


    ***

    “Trouble...” she threw the mask up and caught it again, “Oh Joe… you’re just, really, really sweet.”

    A bell rang low and outside those floor-to-ceiling windows, the sky lit up with fireworks. The blonde erased distance between her and the jester, and then closed her eyes before gently pressing her lips on his.

    “This isn’t personal,” she said when she pulled away, her irises glimmered with lights beyond.

    In quick succession, she put his mask over her face, and unlocked the compression on a sleeping-gas bead she swiped from his cache. The seal of air filters clicked over an empty smile just as a cloud of soporific hissed around them, “And I’m sorry.”


    ***

    Stunned by the kiss, it took Joseph a few moments before he could process the cloud of knock-out gas surrounding them and leading him into an unwanted slumber.

    As he hit the floor, he gazed up at her masked face, the etched smile highlighted by the glow of the fireworks continuing overhead, he used the last of his strength to utter one word before letting the darkness engulf him.

    “Patricia...”
     
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  9. Chase

    Chase Director

    Messages:
    612
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Director of Operations
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Color #:
    536373
    [Cowritten: Chase/Patty]

    As Kerr dropped, fireworks still flickered colors over a sleepy haze, and Chase Devineaux in protective gas mask emerged from the shadows. He had to shave for this. The only thing available didn’t work with the beard. Volunteering to help this young woman was turning out to be more of a ride than he intended, and this was only the beginning.

    “That’s harsh,” he commented over the fallen jester, “Why not tell him?”



    “I need to follow some orders,” she wiped her eyes, “Help me put him in the car, I got thugs waiting at rendezvous.” She had to wonder about her predicament when the person she trusted most was an ACME agent.


    Chase nodded, “Anything else you need? We might not have another chance to talk freely until things fall in place.”


    “Make sure Carmen gets your communicator,” Patty instructed, “that’s going to keep her away and buy us some time.”


    “Consider it done,” he hoped she was right, because the idea didn’t make any sense to him, but the detective wasn’t about to get into the head of a woman.



    “Where’s Roux?” the blonde asked.


    “Doing what you told him to do,” Devineaux hinted towards a general direction.


    “We’re making good time,” Patty dusted herself off.


    Chase confirmed and removed Joe’s bag, handing it to the blonde. Then he lifted the sleeper over his back. He walked to the maintenance car parked behind the exhibition hall and carefully put the jester inside, “I don’t envy you, buddy,” he said under his breath, checking the man’s pulse for measure, “Good luck.”


    Walking close behind him, Patty retorted, “I heard that,” she took off Joe’s mask, gave Chase a look, and got into the driver seat.


    Devineaux nodded again, shut the car’s rear door, and tapped its roof twice to signal readiness.


    “Hey Chase,” Patty spoke softly before he was out of earshot, “It’s probably better if you don’t talk.”



    Silently, he chuckled, “You take care.”


    “You too,” she started the electric engines, and drove away.
     
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  10. Flag

    Flag V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    30
    Gender:
    Male
    Color #:
    808080
    [Cowritten: Flag/Carmen/Kidman]


    Harbin, capital of Heilongjiang, China

    Large scale festivals often had a theme for their annual events. This one was no exception with its official "Ice Snow Blooming Garden, Fantastic World," but it made no sense read as presented. As individual words, it was better and on that level, Flag found himself in the garden.

    Specifically the ice sculpture garden. He had no particular reason for being here other than being out of the hotel, where he had spent a considerable amount of time writing and arguing with himself over if he should.

    Writing down life events is not normally something to consider a big deal, but for most, such documentation doesn't have a tendency to turn into an outline to be followed. While he was in uncharted territory now, he had no way to guarantee it would remain that way, and he was tired of following. He was also running out of pages.

    Flag adjusted the strap of his satchel and turned away from the garden to spy a couple of friendly figures observing a large red bell. Without consideration and with a small shrug, he made his way toward them.


    ***

    In red tonight, the thief blended into a sea of men and women in similar colors. She was in a Balmain trench coat; its naval theme straitened her shoulders slightly and gave her boots an extra ‘authoritarian’ feel. To top it off was a ushanka of synthetic fleece.

    In the cold, Carmen walked slowly towards the brass bell. The light around it glowed crimson and she smiled with slight mischief.

    “If today was any other occasion, I’d consider removing this bell,” she said to her shadow. With hands tucked in her pocket, she nudged Neb with her elbow, “Should we give it a ring?”


    ***

    “Only if I get to take a picture of us doing it,” she replied as she lengthened her selfie stick.

    Neb was not at all dressed inconspicuously. A while back she’d attended a Burning Man gathering and had bought a long, blue/green sequined, faux fur-lined coat for the occasion. It had long bothered her that she might never have a use for it again, so she wasn’t about to let this opportunity pass.

    Everything else was black so not to clash, and she’d gone without a wig for the night, finding no point in doing so under her furry black cat-ears beanie.


    ***

    “Alright,” playfully, she switched hats with Neb. That ushanka looked better on her companion. The cat ears fit over Carmen’s head, letting her long curls interweave into a wool scarf as it covered her nose and mouth, “I’ll take the back, you stand about… there, and see if you can still touch the log.”


    ***


    Neb didn’t understand Carmen’s seeming obsession with taking her hats, but the current result was hilarious and both hats were outfitted with the same technology, so she simply enjoyed it.

    “Omg a picture with Carma Zandigo!” She said as she leaned back to get into frame, making sure to tip her hat forward enough to hide her eyes.

    This was the life she had longed for but feared to try. It was hard to take those first few steps alone, slightly less hard with a friend that may or may not kill you, and infinitely better with the one you wish you had all along. “Ready to bong?”


    ***

    “Hold…” Carmen indicated as she pulled the log back. It was heavy, but a relatively easy swing given the leverage from attachments above, “And now!” Like a weight that was never there, she released it.

    ***

    The log swung forward like a burden released, but as it did Neb caught sight of a tall figure in black approaching them, his identity becoming clear as the bell tolled.

    She bit her lip, but showed no other sign of discomfort as Flag came around. At least he’s not wearing that robe anymore. “Hey Flag, want a picture with the bell?”


    ***

    The Sivoan nodded in greeting to the both of them as he arrived, but paused as he noticed the swapped hats. "I'll pass..." His response drew out as he suppressed a chuckle at what had to be Neb's goofy hat on a woman capable of matching his own levels of stoicism. Confronting the awkward silence he brought with him, he studied the bell, raising an eyebrow as he returned the girl's inquiry and extended it to their doyenne. "Do you?"

    ***

    As Flag approached, Carmen unwound her scarf and placed it back around her shoulders. "We just took one," she answered, and before she could say more, pairs of bride and groom began crowding the area. With their vows recently officiated, the group-wedding participants were now taking souvenir photos.

    In the distance, fireworks lit the horizon. There was a delay of 9-10 seconds between the lights and the sounds indicating a distance of approximately 3 kilometers.

    "They’ll start the show here soon, let’s find a vantage point?" with an amused smile, she readied to take a step.


    ***

    “Wait just a sec, I want to get everyone,” Neb said as she pulled Flag into frame. She didn’t know why she did it. Perhaps it was her newfound sense of freedom, or she was drunk on the air of festivity, but the moment the man’s body pressed against hers she was overcome by something else she couldn’t place.

    Her face flushed hot red, almost steaming against the cold, and she stepped away suddenly, then passed around her phone to disguise her confusion. “Flag you didn’t smile- oh look! One of the brides photobombed us!”


    ***

    As another photo was taken, Carmen's glance wandered to the lines of coloured lights woven into snow. The thermal earmuffs she wore also served as acoustic enhancers and she thought she heard a familiar voice; but as she sought the source, it was gone.

    Adjusting the cap with cat ears over her mess of hair, Carmen exhaled a cloud of vapors before touching Flag's arm.

    "We need to talk," she initiated and then turned to Neb, "Please follow, don't stray far."

     
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  11. Narrator

    Narrator Agent

    Messages:
    13
    Gender:
    Female
    [Cowritten: Kidman/Flag/Carmen/Maelstrom]

    Carmen’s choice to speak with Flag alone concerned the shadow, as did her sudden shift in tone, and she lagged behind with growing unease.

    The Sivoan had also noted the change in tone and chose to interpret it's serious weight as a command to follow. As they traveled away from the bell, the mood shifted back towards a slightly lighter air thanks to the joyous crowd that traveled in the same direction around them.

    At one point she grabbed his hand and guided him up an inclined path that was notably less populated.
    As she walked towards higher ground, Carmen listened for voices.

    Once they reached the top of the hill, she began in a softer confession, "I should have told you... earlier,” her eyes checked the area briskly, “I set up a meeting with a contact, regarding Kamchatka, but he hasn't appeared."

    As she spoke, her heart quickened and she absently unlatched a button on his wrist to peel back his glove.


    The hushed laugh that escaped Flag was visible briefly before the wind took it away, but the smirk remained. Having her crew on hand for a bit of espionage made more sense than a frozen midwinter party. He started to comment on it, but was silenced when the cold bit his hand, save for where his fingers were trapped by his now reverted glove.

    Guessing that she recalled a detail that even he forgot on occasion, he flipped his hand over so that she could see the geometric design branded there.


    The tattoo was familiar, she removed covering from her right hand to feel its grooves, "Is it a crest?" Tracing the lines on his palm, she noted how close she was, still, to the frigid winter that loomed over this northern subcontinent.

    "It's not a gang tattoo, if that's what you're worried about." He offered sarcastically, poking fun at her mention of the volcanic fortress that they had both spent an unpleasant amount time in years ago. He then shook his head and glanced out over the festival, clearing away the bad joke and acknowledging the request to keep an eye out for the informant.

    She was still holding his hand when he brought his gaze back to it. "My wife's crest. I didn't have one to contribute." Flag side-stepped closer so that she could get a better look at it.


    Tilting her head slightly, she thought she saw the symbol flicker in low light. “This isn’t ink,” she observed, and in that train of thought, her vision lifted towards Neb.

    "She fears you." Her voice was hushed, she told herself she would address things before they fester and this was necessary, "There are things she remembers, similarly. But she fears you. Should I be worried?"


    "Does she now?" Flag’s eyes flashed in the girl's direction and he frowned. "That's... interesting." He opened his mouth briefly to say something else, but closed it again in slight exasperation at the notion. "I'm afraid that I can't stop her being upset over something that happened in another time, but," he brought his head around to rest his eyes on hers, "you've nothing to fear from me."

    Nothing, her lacquered nail traced a circle, to, another circle, fear, it rounded the last and returned to the center.

    Staring again at the mark she noticed it was on his hand and not her own.

    “I believe you,” collected, she pulled his glove back over the palm and snapped its clasp, “I appreciate this honesty, it’s—”

    Her amplifiers registered that familiar voice again and she froze at its clarity. An approaching figure dispelled any remaining doubt.


    On cue, opening night’s main fireworks display blasted in the background.

    “Keep the line tight, ladies, attack in formation, the back of this hill is a long fall, she won’t jump,” Gunnar Maelstrom hammered his boots to the ground walking up to Carmen and her minion. He had been following them on this ice-on-snow-on-ice of an island, and the time to claim her was about right. Lucky for him she liked secluded places. Unlucky for that henchman with her, the marine biologist didn’t need any other VILE member.

    “No hug for Maelstrom?” he taunted with his voice loud over the fireworks, “I came all this way…”

    Analyzing the situation, Carmen stepped closer to Flag; her controlled breathing obvious in its attempt to hide surging adrenaline.

    “I count five, two male, three female,” a paced contralto, both to clearly inform, “I’ll talk to the lead, watch my back.”


    As Carmen stepped forward, he caught her elbow and shook his head. "They're not here to talk."

    The group of them were moving all wrong for negotiations. The 'lead' had spoken, but his words were insincere and his hands were hidden as he approached. The others were keeping his slow and menacing pace but the distance between them was growing; a flanking maneuver.

    "Sorry Carmen," Flag said as he grabbed her from behind and about-faced so that her feet were resting gently against the slope. He reflected her commanding tone back at her as he released his hands. "I'll meet you in Beijing."


    “Wait—“ in the cold, or under temporary paralysis, Carmen’s attempt to protest Flag’s course of action yielded no differing results. She found herself upon the slope.

    With a start, two of the attackers immediately tailed their red-clad target. While one quickly found herself plunged backwards into the snow—stopped by the henchman, the other slipped easily downhill.
     
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  12. Acton Roux

    Acton Roux V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    17
    Gender:
    Male
    Color #:
    403050
    [Cowritten: Acton Roux/Neb/Carmen]

    Doctor Acton Roux had never travelled so quickly on foot. While he had procured a trolley (and with oddly expert precision, drove it across icy pedestrian roads) he must still run through yards of freshly fallen snow to reach his destination.

    The bell tower, the bell tower, he recited in his head, then deliver the Communicator. But when he arrived, he noted that his information from Patty was not all correct. First, there was no tower, only a bell; and Carmen was not at said location.

    His eyes spotted a figure he recognised and rushed to her quickly.

    “Carmen,” he tapped on the smaller woman’s shoulder, “Where--?”


    Had Dr. Roux shown seconds later he might have missed the girl altogether, for as she watched Flag suddenly push Carmen off the overlook, she’d tensed herself to run. Instead the doctor’s sudden tap transferred that tension into her arm and she nearly smacked his beaked mask in reflex.

    Acton veered slightly and ducked away from the young woman’s back-hand. He caught her wrist, and for a moment, he paused at the lines of scarring at its side. At first he thought they may have been self-inflicted, but it did not seem so. When she spoke, he released her.

    “Oh shoot, I’m sorry, dude, we gotta--” Neb scrambled for words as she pointed towards the spot the thief had disappeared. “Flag just shoved her off!”

    It was time to run yet again.

    The easiest route to the bottom of the hill was to come around the side rather than over it, but that path was still on a bit of an incline, and Neb skidded several times as she came up on the snow dusted figure. Only then did she understand the situation, and she reached into her belt for her taser.

    From some meters away, Acton could see two figures reaching the concave of the hills. One was the telltale red that he had come to save, while the other was a smaller woman dressed in navy. Her uniform indicated that she was one of Harbin’s security service, but those women wore black.

    He watched her gather momentum from the snow covered ground to launch herself towards Carmen, and Acton was forced to react. Intercepting the woman, he struck quick pressure upon her sternum and let his palm slide up to the nerve concentration beneath her jaw. By the time the woman landed from her initial leap, she was unconscious.


    Neb watched Dr Roux’s defense with macabre appreciation.

    A sternal rub and a vagal strike? That’s the real reason why you don’t fight the medics, she thought with a grim smile as she helped Carmen up.


    Recovering her stance from an unplanned slide, Carmen's eyes widened at the doctor's strike against the woman that pursued her. She had never estimated Acton to have such reflexes, but before she could quell that thought, noise from above bounded her to action.

    "Acton, take Neb to the north beacon and get out," she referred to the nearest rendezvous point, her voice stifled from fatigue or frigidity, "Flag and I will meet you both in Beijing."


    Acton looked to the source of the sounds above. He could make out electric arcs masked by skyward pyrotechnics and mounds of snow.

    "Sauve-toi toi-même, tu nous sauvera tous," he quickly reminded Carmen how much rested with her, “Je vais aider Flag.”

    Then he turned to her shadow, "Take care of her."


    Composing her thoughts, Carmen knew her friends were right.

    Patting the coat of the shorter woman, he slipped ACME’s communicator into its pocket. He would have no time to explain any of this, but his tasks were done. He must now do as promised and weave his way separately into the web of the enemy.


    “Acton,” she spoke not far above a whisper, as he ascended the hill, “Ne pas se battre, négocier.

    Neb had followed Dr.Roux’s glance up the hill, only for her heart to plummet at the sight of Flag’s distinct ultraviolet electricity. She was so close, but there was nothing she could do to help him. Reluctantly she tore her eyes away and reoriented herself with the task at hand

    “Come on, we have to get out of here,” she said as she grabbed Carmen’s hand. “Come with me.”


    It took much more focus than normal to command her muscles to move. But as leader, she was nothing if she didn’t trust her people. She had to trust that Flag would win, that Acton would aid, and that Neb, whose hand suddenly took hers, would know what to do.

    The thief scanned the her surroundings, with sights set on an inconspicuous maintenance shed she had seen while studying the map. “This way,” she gripped Neb’s hand and pulled her south. Using landscape for cover, Flag’s decision bought them a safe gap. At the building, she noted it was used for electricity and storage. The door was simple to unlock, but as all brick structures tend to be, it was even colder inside. Breathing an uneasy cloud, Carmen covered her head and existing hat with the black scarf.


    In a twist of irony, while Neb would stumble over daily minutiae, she was knife sharp in a crisis. She pulled off her coat and turned it inside out to hide the sparkles, though in truth she could have managed well enough without it. Underneath she wearing the best arctic military surplus she could get her hands on, and within her many pockets she felt her phone buzz.

    “Vic has a route for us.” she said as held the phone up for her boss to see. “He wants us to take you to the exit. Other guys are supposed to flank us to make us look like a bunch of tourists, then he has a cab ready. We still need to disguise you in some way-”

    She stopped to look at Carmen, who now had her scarf wrapped over her head to hide her cat ears. [“You look like a babushka,”] she remarked in Russian without thinking, then paused. “Maybe we could use that...”


    “[It’s so cold, I feel like one,]” she replied in a Moscovite accent. On the ground where Neb had switched her coat, was a fallen black mirror. Its palm-sized screen reflected moonlight from outside.

    Carmen knelt to study the object. It was an ACME Communicator, and its anodised aluminium body were inscribed the letters ‘C. A. D.’

    “Where did you get this?” She looked at Neb’s face and knew there was no answer, “Alright, we’ll figure this out,” she pocketed the phone, “Let’s move.”
     
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  13. Narrator

    Narrator Agent

    Messages:
    13
    Gender:
    Female
    [Cowritten Flag/Maelstrom/Acton Roux]


    Carmen's sounds of protest fell on deaf ears as Flag pivoted away to intercept first one, then two uniformed figures that aimed to follow her down the hill.

    “No, NO!” The Norwegian fumed at the disappearing red trench coat. He moved to follow her, but the way this bodyguard stepped up told him no one else was getting past. Maelstrom’s only window just bolted shut.

    The first charged at him the the intent of knocking him over the slope as well, but he planted his feet and threw his forearm forward; catching the woman by the throat as his right hand seized her wrist. He twisted, using her own momentum to send her colliding into her partner, who noticed. Reeling backward, she dodged, then dove over her comrade to roll down the hill.

    Cursing under his breath, the VILE henchman ripped off his gloves and readied to greet the remained three assailants.

    Flag was this one’s name. Patty said something about him. The tall, silver-haired punk-looking henchman was a kind of hitman that used electric pulses. She said to expect him close at hand, she didn’t say this close.

    If the biologist wasn’t getting his prize today, he was going to punish the guy that’s stopping him.

    “Hurry up!” He barked the order, “kill him!”

    A short man with a baton took his turn to charge as the taller one behind him clicked a button on a telescopic pole, that launched a metal lasso into the air above Flag.

    The Sivoan determined the rope to be the greater threat and jumped to the side as the smaller guard closed in. The motion lowered Flag's point of balance and he caught the man as he closed in.

    They tumbled in the snow briefly before Flag pressed a hand to the man's face and sent a charge through it. The now unconscious guard landed on Flag's satchel and the Sivoan scrambled to unbuckle himself from it in time to grab the leg of yet another blue-clad hill jumper.

    Gunnar Maelstrom watched how those charges worked and the speed from contact to stun. There wasn’t much he could tell. Was he carrying wrist chargers, had he got batteries in that coat? Impatient, he stomped a foot, “Get in there!”

    The small grunt didn't appreciate having her attempt at following her more successful comrade in pursuit foiled. As she fell, she turned to aim a kick at Flag's head. He let her go and absorbed the blow with his forearm.

    They both raced for the opportunity that presented itself then. She tried to pull away to ready her next move and Flag grabbed her ankle again, jumping to his feet and pulling her center of gravity out from under her.

    “Idiots, just find a way to hold him down!”

    The woman’s head barely connected with the ground when the loop of rope - smaller and attached to a pole - entered his periphery, threatening to catch him by the throat. Flag brought his other arm up and flipped it off before it cinched.

    The man holding the pole grunted as he jerked the pole back and swung the other end of it like a polearm at his target. Flag ducked the first swing, caught the second and attempted to electrocute the man through it.

    As the sparks failed to travel through the non-conductive aluminum staff, a fourth minion - who had been hanging back to observe the battle as it unfolded - seized the opportunity to mimic swinging her catchers pole at the VILE henchman's head. She had more success and sent him staggering closer to the slope he was trying to defend.

    The lead saw VILE’s defender getting tired and took a step forward, and then another. “Give me an opening!” He commanded.

    Flag just barely registered the barked orders as he recovered his senses. The notification drew his awareness to the group's leader who bore down on him with thudding steps and a heavy posture. From this, the Sivoan ascertained that he should not be allowed to connect.

    The commander threw his first punch and Flag dodged, catching the man's arm as he spun and using the momentum to send him back into the snow. It was a repeat of his trick with the first attacker, but as the lead caught himself, the similarities ended.

    Landing on his feet, Maelstrom growled and bounded back.

    He charged at Flag again, who pushed his arm away and managed to get a clear shot to the back of his head. The sorcerer sent a charge through his arm as he made contact, noting that his attack sparked off of a strange bit of metal hidden under his collar.

    That electric shock was mitigated by equipment, and though it didn’t kill him, it made him mad.

    The commander dropped, but made noises of complaint - indicating that he wasn't out of the game quite yet. Flag moved to change that fact just as a he felt the bite of spun fibers on his left wrist.

    He was jerked backward by the taller of the two male goons, who had managed to catch him with his loop. For the second time in a handful of minutes, Flag found attempting to wrestle the polearm from the man's hand. The rope around his wrist provided him with some extra leverage and he was able to rip the pole out of the guy's hands just in time to return a blow to the head to the smaller female assailant.

    Not forgetting about the man he liberated the pole from, Flag spun and jabbed it into his chest, before bringing it up and into the man’s jaw. A loud grunt of frustration brought Flag's attention to the fact that their leader had recovered from his shock.

    Grabbing the grunt by the shirt, Flag pulled him off his balance and into the path of a super-powered fist that was coming his way. A sickening crunch came from the man as his jaw exploded, but was drowned out by the last of the fireworks.

    Flag jumped backwards to put some space between them when he felt something brush his ankle. Glancing down he saw yet another bit of rope close in just before his leg was yanked out from under him by the taller of the two women. The smaller wasted no time grabbing the pole attached to his wrist and the sorcerer found himself lying supine in the snow, pinned down by a relentless tug of war from those with the catchers loops.

    Further insult was added when the first man - having recovered from the shock to his face - returned to catch his other wrist with a loop of his own.

    Bringing his right foot over the laying man’s rib cage, Maelstrom sniffed, rubbing the back of his hand over his own nose, where he felt some blood. He knelt down to look at this thing glaring back at him and sneered.

    “So she ran, didn’t she? Left you to die for her.” The fireworks were over by now, and Carmen was long gone. He unzipped his overcoat and pulled from the covered belt an oversized bowie knife.

    He adjusted his foot so it was closer to the VILE’s neck and lifted the blade up with a revolting grin, “Here’s t--!”

    “Wait!” Acton’s voice rang as he rounded to the top of the hill. The climb in thick snow was more difficult than he anticipated, and in temperatures much below what he was used to.

    Maelstrom stopped when he saw the man in the plague mask. He knew this one too. Patty talked about him like some crooked genius. The girl said she could funnel him out and convince him to join their cause, and when the madman put two and two together, he grinned again.

    “You’re here to join me, Plague?” He asked, almost snake-like.

    The doctor paused, not for breath, but to assess the sight before him. Even if he must, he could not fight them all at once. To this extent, what the young lady had told him of this man’s violence was correct. But Patty could not have known Flag would be a victim in the fray... could she?

    “That man is important” he replied, ignoring the question, “He knows more about her than any of us.”


    Thick eyebrows folded together at the center, then the aggressor looked down at the punk under his boot, “You don’t say?”

    Behind the mask, Dr Roux felt time running out. By now, the pressure on his chest was restricting enough air into Flag’s lungs that he looked pale. “I can help you,” a convincing lie, “but I need him.”

    “Well…” The Norwegian laughed with his words, “Why didn’t you say so from the beginning?”

    He pocketed the knife and lifted his fist, bringing it down across the jaw of the silver-haired man. There was no protest, each of the punk’s tensed limbs dropped at the strike. Maelstrom grabbed Flag’s senseless arm and pushed his sleeve back to search for some kind of connection to a weapon. Finding none, he came to an unnatural conclusion.

    Acton took a step forward, “That was unnecessary.”


    “Sure it was!” pushing his boot into the limp form, he stood up, “There’s more we have to do, we’ll need to contain this eel.”

    “Eel?” the doctor could not hide his uncertainty. Taking his place over Flag, he checked the man’s pulse and timed his breathing, both were steady.

    The Norwegian didn’t answer, instead he was looking around at the fairground from over the slope that the red trench coat disappeared. Not a trace.

    “Grab the punk, let’s go.”

    Acton made a stance to stop the others, he would be the one to take his own comrade.
     
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  14. Kid Kidman

    Kid Kidman V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    120
    Gender:
    Female
    Occupation:
    Currently named Neb Ulyss
    Location:
    Here and there
    Color #:
    323E4F
    [Cowritten: Kidman/Carmen/Vic]

    Further away, a small soviet girl leads her babuska to the exit. Babushka has stayed up far too late and far too long in the cold tending to her flock. Now her flock must take her home, but the road to babushka’s house is fraught with danger, and her escort is vigilant as she leads her through this candy-coloured wonderland.

    Neb had bid Carmen to remove her red coat, but piled her own inverted around the woman’s shoulders to further distort her silhouette. The darkness and multi-coloured hue should be enough to hide them within the crowd, once they got to it. They were leaving the outskirts now, but as Neb turned east, she saw two forms struggling out of the corner of her eye.

    “That’s one of ours,” she said quickly, and Neb scooped up a handful of frozen powder as she sprinted over the snow. From behind she ripped the hat off Maelstrom’s distracted guard and shoved the icy handful under her many layers. Instinctively the guard reached up to claw the snow out of the back of her jacket, and the girl slipped under to strike her unprotected torso with her spiked stun gun.

    “Deck her now!” Neb shouted to her fellow as their assailant doubled over. The VILE agent complied and delivered the raw power the girl lacked, sending the guard to the ground.

    “Nice.” The girl said with a nod of approval. ‘You okay?”

    “Yeah, where’s the boss?”

    “You mean babushka? She’s over there. Help me bring her home.”


    ***

    Following a path set for her, Carmen felt strangely lost. When in thought, her hands sought activity. Her fingers now curled over the rounded edges of the discovered communicator in her pocket, and her thumb blindly traced its grooves. In her other hand was Neb’s grip, and she paused when it was suddenly released.

    As Neb ran into the fray, Carmen observed from the shadows. It’s true, she had been out of touch; the employee they discovered was unknown to her. The fight was short and satisfactory. When Neb ‘introduced’ her, the ‘babushka’ walked up to the scene.

    Smiling with her eyes, a disguised Carmen nodded in greeting, “What is your name?” she pulled her scarf down to asked the younger woman.

    “Chung Ara,” she replied and revealed her Korean heritage.

    “Thank you, Ara. This is Neb, my Shadow,” VILE’s leader expressed gratitude, “Show us the way?”

    Ara dutifully acknowledged, but it would seem she already knew Neb’s identity as well. As the Korean walked, additional men and women joined them, taking positions to the leader’s left, right, front and back. Carmen remained reposed as she slowly disappeared into the a crowd of disguises.


    ***

    Despite the critical nature of the mission, Neb couldn’t help noticing a steady swell of pride as other members joined their ranks. It had been many years since she’d been part of group like this, and for a moment she longed to drop back into their nameless obscurity. Then she glanced over at Carmen, who was growing more human by the second.

    I don’t know why you chose me over everyone else for this job, she thought as she gently wrapped her hand around the woman’s wandering fingers. But I’m here.

    They passed through the great ice facade that separated this fantasy from the gritty world beyond and walked up to the great roundabout in front of it. Neb didn’t know which cab was theirs but the rest of the group seemed to be better informed, and they gently pushed their matriarch in the direction she needed to go. Still holding Carmen’s hand, Neb went with her and opened the door to the car she was presented with.

    Their leader went in first, and the group, their mission was complete, began to disperse. Neb paused in entering the cab and pointed to the injured Chung Ara. “Wait, you’re injured. You come with us.”


    ***

    Once in the warmth of the car’s heater, VILE’s leader found it difficult to breathe. She removed her hood, hat and scarf, then leaned back against the headrest.

    “They’re missing,” she stated as if reading from invisible texts. In a way, she was. Her mind had been repeating the names of those who came with her but were not heading back, “Acton, Flag, Joseph…” she recited in alphabetical order, “They’re missing.”


    “You need to get some rest,” Vic reminded from the driver’s seat, he was in disguise too, “I’ll give you the full report in the morning.”

    “How many?” Carmen demanded without raising her voice. From the front passenger seat, Ara looked to her with concern, and the woman in the back repeated herself, “He got through, how many did he take down?”

    “Two employs',” Vic replied, “then you’re right, those three also missing.”

    “Bodies?” She turned to the window.

    “We got them, we’ll have them flown back on a split section of the MAMBA.”

    “No,” she was firm, “I want to see them.”

    Vic thought about it, man was this bad, then he finally agreed, “You got it, boss.”

    This winding cab ride took them to a wide bank of the Songhua River where VILE’s MAMBA quietly awaited. Disguised under ice, she rose from frozen waters in complete darkness.

    Members boarded, and when coasts were clear, the sectioned amphibious craft floated straight up, and into the clouds.
     
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  15. Carmen

    Carmen Queen of Crime

    Messages:
    37
    Color #:
    c00000
    Some time later...


    As the MAMBA took off, Carmen removed Chase Devineaux’s communicator from her coat and studied it. The miniature monolith had no power. Dark blue crystals forming the back panel indicated it utilised solar energy, but without any sun, and no compatible cable, the thief ventured to place it on a wireless charging disc. In seconds, it chimed the first three notes of the ACME corporate jingle and a bar of silver light glowed along its top edge.

    While its battery gained power, VILE’s leader removed the layers of clothing that shrouded her. Only a black turtleneck and cotton denims remained, and over her shoulders she draped a leather jacket. Here she counted her breaths.

    Events were unfolding. Outside of her organisation, only one other person knew she would be in Harbin. It’s clear that her moustached contact, the Seal, never quite made it out of Lake Baikal. When white trucks arrived, the last sentence Chase Devineaux said to her was: “They’re probably marine biologists, I got this.” He was right, they were led by Gunnar Maelstrom. Her every move since Siberia had been compromised.

    Someone who knew her, quite intricately, was helping the enemy.

    After they reached cruising altitude, the fleet’s highest commander rose from her seat and headed down to where the fallen were secured. She passed by a medical unit where Neb was tending to Ara Chung, and paused long enough to watch both figures bond.

    The deceased were covered in thick tarp and strapped onto extendable surfaces for transport inside a sealed section of the MAMBA. An attendant stood in front, waiting for her. When the doors opened, Carmen felt a chill, she glanced to a wall where red letters indicated the temperature at 2 degrees Celsius.

    She felt lightheaded.

    With the tempo of flight, Carmen gripped an overhead steel beam for support. The attendant loosened and peeled back covering to show two lifeless faces. The thief did not recognise them, Hector Wu and Jing Lan, and she found herself feeling briskly guilty for not acquiring that repertoire. Her expression was solemn as she listened to how the deaths would be handled; the families would be notified in upcoming hours, and all expenses paid towards rites in their home countries. Neither had children but one was a newly wed. As VILE Syndicates, they were legally contracted under a strict insurance program, allowing immediate surviving relatives to be fairly compensated.

    But the word ‘fair,’ at this very moment, seemed inconceivably distant.

    With thanks to the attendant, she headed back towards the MAMBA’s head. Checking her own communications, she remained uneasy, neither Acton nor Flag sent word to Beijing.
     
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  16. Eugene

    Eugene Airfield Staff

    Messages:
    53
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Flight Instructor
    Location:
    San Francisco, CA
    Color #:
    003366
    [Cowritten: @Chase / @Carmen / @Eugene ]


    Early AM, San Francisco time


    Returning to the wirelessly charging communicator, Carmen noticed the battery had replenished fully. Picking it up, the unit turned on, needing no security verification. This was strange. Inside, the device contained only basic applications. All contacts remained, but without call history. In the images collection, there was only one video--It was recorded today.

    Once she pressed ‘play’ the feed was mostly clear, but darkness dulled some details. From the pixels, she saw his face shaved, and she held back a reactive pride.



    “Chase Devineaux,” he stated his name, “I’m well, unharmed, I’m holding the communicator, filming myself, there isn’t any duress.”

    He turned the camera around in his location to indicate that he was alone, and Carmen noted immediately that it was in Harbin.

    “I’ve secured release of the Seal,” he continued, “I’m now on an unofficial capacity, tracing the steps of Syndicate Boss Gunnar Maelstrom. I’m connecting recent incidents to activist group Ultralett. I estimate return within 25 days.”

    The next part was specifically for ACME.

    “I’m not working alone, but I’m also not linked to VILE,” his brows furled slightly, “They only have this communicator because we crossed paths.”


    An exhaled breath without vapors, he was somewhere with heating.

    “I’d like to request,” he lifted an arm to show his watch, “the GPS range on my trackers extended, and temporary access to ACME’s deep satellites.

    “To avoid detection, this will only transmit location data between 1325 and 1350 UTC.

    “Only use this information passively,” he emphasized the passive, “send no one until I give word.”

    The camera shook as Chase shifted position.

    “Twenty-Five days,” he repeated, “I’ll be in touch on this device if I need more.”



    No, she thought, he can’t be serious. She would need to contact an ACME Agent… one that ranked high enough to grant his requests, yet sympathetic enough to understand the situation.

    As she returned to his contacts list, her fingers swiped through and, for some reason, hovered over first-names starting with ‘E’.

    Her decision was made for her when the communicator began to buzz. Eugene was calling, and the receiver immediately accepted.


    "Your buddy at the bait shop doesn't have the first clue what he's talking about."

    The ruffled voice of ACME’s Chief Pilot invoked a much needed moment of humour. With benign effort, Carmen smiled in reflection of the irony.

    "I'm going fishing, not opening a sushi shop..."

    She had crossed paths with Grovington many times, she studied his files after that Blue Moon in Venice, but they had never spoken in person. She knew he was categorically Chase Devineaux’s ‘best friend’, but she had to wonder what a man may tell his confidants.

    "Are you even listening Chase?"

    “Eugene Grovington?” husked fatigue tore through her voice as she spoke his name. She cleared her throat and introduced herself, “Carmen Sandiego,” but her words remained scarred “I need to send you a video, I believe…” she ran through his titles, monikers and nicknames, but she couldn’t rightly bring herself to say them, they were all lies. It wasn’t Chase that needed this pilot’s aid...

    “I need your help.”


    While a subconscious fraction of Euge’s mind registered the lack of Chase’s customary greeting, the relaxed state induced by the soft background noise of San Francisco bay delayed comprehension, at least until a distinctly feminine and not Chase voice interrupted his rant.

    Eugene Grovington? killed any further thoughts of fishing, bait, or the state of Her Imagination’s teak deck. Carmen Sandiego,her greeting quelled any lingering suspicions and caused an involuntary mental shift into work mode, even as the hairs on the back of his neck stood on end.

    The communicator flew from his ear to eye level, where the display confirmed he wasn’t subject to some bizarre auditory hallucination. The advanced voice stress analysis features of the communicator weren’t necessary as the device returned to his ear; the mere presence of her voice on the line, coupled with the clipped breathless tone, spoke to the complete wrongness of the situation.
    I need to send you a video, I believe… I need your help.

    Euge’s jaw tightened at this proclamation. Admitting the need for help could take a lot out of anyone, yet Euge sense her threshold for this concession had been passed some time ago. After nearly a minute of silently contemplating his possible options, Euge had his answer; “I’m ready.”
     
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  17. Narrator

    Narrator Agent

    Messages:
    13
    Gender:
    Female
    (This post loosely recaps the Introduction and Act 1, in point-form)

    ACT I - Summary
    • Chase is investigating [something about Marine Biologists]
    • Carmen tests out the MAMBA at Lake Baikal
    • The two incidentally meet and crossed paths with a new Patty Larceny
    • Patty disobeys Maelstrom and doesn’t bring in Chase
    • Maelstrom nabs The Seal, a contact, instead
    • Renee tells Chase her findings: The voice on his tape matches VILE's Patty Larceny.
    • VILE begins the journey to Harbin
    • Chase was ‘kidnapped’ from Negotiations in Moscow by Amber Argos
    • Carmen makes Joe her gadgets guy
    • Carmen accidentally calls Neb ’kit’, Roux overhears their conversation.
    • Carmen demands information from Roux on Contessa Adrianna’s last heist
    • Joe reminisces about Patty
    • VILE arrives in Harbin
    • Patty (with Chase) recruits Roux
    • Patty uses Joe’s weapons against him.
    • VILE enjoys some R&R in Harbin, but it's a particularly cold winter and celebrations are cut short when Gunnar Maelstrom shows up.
    • Maelstrom gangs up on Flag, Roux saves Flag’s life.
    • Eugene Grovington contacts Chase Devineaux about fishing bait, only to find Carmen Sandiego in possession of Chase's phone.
     
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  18. E. Mayhew

    E. Mayhew Inspector

    Messages:
    2
    ACT II


    ACME Airlines Flight 409 - Chicago/San Francisco route

    “Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Alameda Airfield, San Francisco California, USA. Local time is 8:43am and the temperature is 45 degrees fahrenheit. For your safety and comfort, please remain seated with your seat belt fastened until the Captain turns off the Fasten Seat Belt sign. This will indicate that we have parked and that it is safe for you to move about.”

    The 100 passenger capacity Airbus A318 was currently boasting a whopping 27 passengers, so the abundance of extra space plus her rank had given Eleanor Mayhew the luxury of spreading her work out over the entire aisle for the last four and a half hours she had been in the air. With her suit jacket sprawled over the back of one chair, her overnight bag laying haphazardly under another chair and her secure tablet balancing over a crossed thigh she looked relaxed, if a bit messy.

    It had been a week since she’d seen Chase Devineaux, who’d asked her to stop by the ACME Detective Agency Global Headquarters so they could talk. It had been over two years since she’d been back in San Francisco, or on the west coast for that matter; she’d been busy working as second in command of the domestic Midwest Branch. After they’d put an end to a two year long rift between them Eleanor had agreed to a meeting with him. He’d even promised to meet her on the airfield.

    With the plane safely on the airfield, currently moving to its parking spot, she reached for her cell phone and, realizing it was still in the breast pocket of her jacket grabbed over the chair to blindly reach for it. It took a moment but eventually she was able to call Renee, Chase’s secretary and her contact for this trip.

    The answer to the phone came quicker than she’d expected, fast enough that a part of her almost threw up a red flag… almost.

    “Good morning Renee… would you tell the dear Director that I’ve come to call, as asked?” she asked, almost cheerfully.


    Renee Grovesnor stopped short at the beginning of the call, forgetting her manners. She gasped to say something, but mulled on it before actually speaking.

    “Agent Mayhew?” She knew who it was, but needed to acknowledge the name, “I need to transfer you to Eugene Grovington right now, are you still at the airfield?”

    There was a pause as E sighed to herself out of range of the microphone on her cell phone and shook her head. Why was she not surprised? Not in the slightest? Of course in her mind she imagined something had come up like a meeting, or maybe a minor case going sideways and making him step in, but more likely than not a meeting. After all that negotiation thing he’d mentioned back over a week ago was far too long ago to still be relevant… right?

    “Yes, the plane just touched down.” she answered back calmly, after all there was no need to be upset with Renee. “It should be unloading in a few… I just need to grab my stowed luggage and I’m ready to leave.” By stowed luggage she meant her guns, which she planned on bringing to the in house gunsmith at the Accolade for inspection, cleaning and upgrading as needed. By California law they had to be locked and kept in the storage compartments under the plane - her only checked luggage.


    This was good news, Renee considered as she prepared the video sent from VILE’s leader to Pilot Eugene Grovington into a sizable data package.

    “Okay, once you have your baggage, wait for me. I’m coming to pick you up.”

    Eleanor’s head shook again, but paused as she realized that Renee was going to take her… to Grovington? Not just have him pick her up? That seemed… off. A heavy swallow and she finally answered. “Sounds good, Renee. I’ll be waiting on the tarmac in front of the plane…” Leaning to look out the window she narrowed her eyes, noting how close the plane was to stopping in its final place for the trip. As a light feeling of dread started to eat at her she wanted to ask if something was wrong, but stopped herself. No… no her gut instinct was wrong. Eugene Grovington ran the airfield, he was in charge of transport and was, she knew, a friend of his. Maybe it was nothing. Just more of Chase feeling guilty.

    “I’ll see you soon.” Hanging up she started putting herself together, getting ready to move as soon as she could.


    Arriving in a gray golf cart with ACME’s rudimentary white and blue stripes, the Assistant to the Director of Operations pulled up and immediately waved to the woman she recognized as Eleanor Mayhew.

    “I’m here,” she greeted, “I’m so sorry, Agent, I just got information early this morning…”

    She spoke clearly but without much context as they drove past hangars into the heart of the airfield, “I thought we might need a trusted field agent… then you called and I remember, you might be up for this.”

    * * *​

    The details of Chase’s video clip were already blurring slightly in Euge’s mind, his conscious efforts to recall the message now hampered by the immediate work of preparing the waiting aircraft to follow the Director’s trail of breadcrumbs, wherever they may lead. Euge checked his watch, more out of nervous habit at this point than any real desire to know the time. It had been three hours now since the call and subsequent video which had set him into motion, time which he had spent ensuring the readiness of the 777 he had picked for this excursion. The aircraft, now laden with fuel, the ASP, and other assorted ACME reconnaissance equipment, silently awaited its crew.

    Euge’s thoughts were stirred when he heard the electric whine of an airfield cart approaching. Looking up from his rewatch of Chase’s video, he was met with the approaching form of Renee chauffeuring a woman Euge could only assume to be Eleanor Mayhew. The assistant informed him earlier of her arrival; yet another appointment missed by their mutual friend.


    Renee got out of the electric cart and nodded to the pilot.

    “Mr. Grovington,” she smiled with purpose, she reported the information to him already, but she liked to repeat for clarity, “This is Eleanor Mayhew. She was supposed to meet the Director, but...”

    “Thank you, Renee. I’ll check with you for any updates after we’ve made contact. Eleanor, I’ll give you a full briefing once we’re airborne.” Terse introductions made, Euge made to close the aircraft door, signalling ground crews they were ready to depart.

    “For now...” Euge grunted as he slid on his sunglasses and took his seat at the controls; “I hope you packed for Hawaii.”

     
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  19. Acton Roux

    Acton Roux V.I.L.E. Agent

    Messages:
    17
    Gender:
    Male
    Color #:
    403050
    [Written and edited by the people mentioned in this post.]


    The Tour

    The exit and flight from Harbin was excruciating long. Acton Roux sat across from six pairs of eyes that watched him constantly. Around his shoulder was a satchel dropped by Flag during the altercation. It contained one leather-bound book, a well-used phone whose lower left corner had impact damage, and what looked like a ceremonial kris in its traditional sheath. Luckily, no one had questioned his found possessions.

    From what his mask picked up, he listened to parts of Patty’s conversation with Gunnar Maelstrom. This time, the blonde did much better than her mentor. He lost their main target, Carmen Sandiego, but his 'Valkyrie' managed to secure three. The doctor counted, he and Joe were two, and not including Flag, Chase Devineaux must be the third.

    Maelstrom’s thugs took turns sleeping as they watched him. But behind this plague mask was a man of great patience. The role he played now was to gain their trust. A large part had to do with Patty’s ‘recommendation’, but he knew in the discernable future, he would still need to prove himself.

    Once they landed, sunlight streamed across Acton’s goggles, and the minutes that followed made his mask uncomfortable. The ocean was loud, and over it he could hear locals shouting in Malayalam or Tamil, roughly establishing their location.

    A ride in the back of a wooden truck followed. It smelled of spices and rotten vegetables. Painted at the guardrail of the stowage area were words written in Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu along with the English translation ‘Use sounds and lights at night’. Coconut plantations rolled by. They were clearly somewhere along the southern coasts of India.

    Some time later, they arrived at an abandoned zoo. His truck stopped near the entrance where Gunnar Maelstrom and Patty Larceny also disembarked. Another truck parked down the road at what seemed to be a supplies station to unload items. While the truck that contained Flag and Joe drove off to the east. High enclosures that once held large exotic animals loomed in the eastern corner. Between it and where the doctor stood now was an early Victorian-style aviary whose decrepit chartreuse frames were empty of glass.

    Acton,” Patty called but he did not reply, he waited first until he was sure where the last truck was heading, “Acton!

    He turned, and followed her gesture inside.

    You’re a little deaf behind that mask?” Gunnar Maelstrom voiced. The man was in indigo dyed linen and a pair of tattered jeans, tall; but less large than when he seemed under layers of fur at Harbin. For his size, Acton observed, the Norwegian’s face and neck was disproportionately thinner. Hollowed cheeks barked orders at people around him, pointing with thin, slightly reptilian fingers.

    When they reached the end of the building, the three entered into a small office. Paints on the wall hinted at recent renovations, but water stains were prevalent. On the table before them, Maelstrom placed down a parcel wrapped in black. He effortlessly flicked the corners of the cloth back to reveal a foot-long ophidian object.

    I wanted one of my trustworthy people to do this,” he emphasized on ‘trust’ and grinned, “But liten valkyrie thinks it’s better if you do it.

    Acton touched the object, lifting it to study. It looked somewhat similar to a trilobite, a network of reticulated limbs and suction attachments hid under its smooth shell.

    Do what, precisely?” The doctor asked, and the marine biologist reacted with mirth, signalling to his student.

    You’ll have to put this on Flag, it’ll terminate his ability to electrocute,” Patty explained, “I’ll take you to the labs.” She picked up the device, wrapped it again and pushed it into Acton’s chest.

    Accepting the item, the masked doctor followed the blonde into an old four-wheel-drive. Worn by tropical weather and ocean spray, the 1989 Land Rover Ninety, a brand now ironically owned by India’s Tata Motors, was still in good shape.

    This may be difficult,” he said as they reached the vehicle.

    You saved Flag,” she began, “but Maelstrom wants this on him, and none of these thugs are going to care if he lives or dies. You said you needed him, now prove it.

    Acton nodded without a word. Unable to pry open the door, he waited for Patty but she also ignored unlocking the car, so he ended up climbing in as well.

    Did you see her run?” bitterness seeped in her voice as she turned the ignition. The masked doctor knew who ‘her’ was, very distinctly.

    You wanted her away.

    I wanted her safe, but her people were dropping left and right,” she whispered frustration in fast, disappointed words, “and she did nothing, absolutely nothing!

    No,” unusual sternness raised in Acton’s voice, “you set her up to run. You can’t do that and be mad at her. Pick one.

    Patty was hurt, but he was right, and she took a breath. “Shut up,” she spoke softer, “you’re starting to sound like Chase.

    Pointing with her hand, she indicated their arrival at the zoo’s tallest building—its large animals enclosure.

    Driving one wheel up the curve to prevent the car slipping from muddy slopes, Patty stopped the engine. The enclosure itself used to hold several animals, the sign in front displayed donkeys and horses as well as giraffes, apes and tapirs. Acton wondered what happened to these beasts.

    There are three wings,” she told him as she got off the car and walked through arches that held thick wooden doors kept open by logs, “Flag is near the labs, Joe’s held in the old stables, and Chase,” she paused, “he’s in the silo.

    The doctor exhaled. ‘Labs’ was a very loose term for what he was seeing.

    You have two, maybe three hours,” Patty instructed as she threw him a set of keys, “Maelstrom’s coming.

    Of course, that was expected. Taking the keys and entering the facilities, Acton Roux headed straight for the silo. Remnants of wheat grains grated against his boots and one of the keys unlocked a stainless steel gate. At the top of the silo was another door, and yet another key opened it.

    Inside, Chase Devineaux, with a thick navy sack over his head, shifted as he turned to the door. His back was against a metal wall while plastic straps bounded his wrists. The VILE agent reached into his carried bag and unsheathed Flag's kris. Using the knife to slice through polymer, he released the suited man and knelt before him to remove the blind.

    It was almost like looking into a mirror... after facial reconstruction.

    Doctor,” the plague mask greeted.

    Detective,” the prisoner replied.

    (this post continues below)
     
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  20. Chase

    Chase Director

    Messages:
    612
    Gender:
    Male
    Occupation:
    Director of Operations
    Location:
    San Francisco
    Color #:
    536373
    [Cowritten: Chase/Acton Roux]

    We may have a problem,” Chase Devineaux temporarily removed the plague mask from his face. He and the doctor switched identities back in Harbin as part of a plan to infiltrate Maelstrom’s Ultralett. Establishing that Acton lacked the demeanor to properly take this role, his masked costume was lent to Chase who used it as the perfect disguise. But now certain skill sets were on the table, “I need to put this, on Flag, safely.

    Chase unwrapped the metallic device.

    Oui?” Acton rubbed his wrists, “What is that?

    It goes on the spine…

    Yes, but that,” the doctor interrupted in his usual Brittany English, “the bag you carry, it is not mine.

    To explain how he got the bag, Chase had to recount the entire event, starting with what happened when he followed Patty to the Exhibition hall. While Roux, dressed in his suit, was transported with Joe Kerr; Chase, in the plague mask, travelled three kilometers west to intercept Maelstrom. Carmen escaped, Flag was safe, and this satchel belonged to him.

    Acton did not have time to react to everything in the story, but he placed a hand on Chase’s’ shoulder, “There is either something very noble or very wrong with you, Monsieur Devineaux,” the doctor noted, “but what you have done will not be forgotten.

    Chase shook his head, “I haven’t done anything yet… help me figure out this spine thing?

    In the bag was a black journal expertly bound. The Frenchman stood with it in his hand and flipped through the pages. Thoughts of another began revealing itself to him in forms of graphs and drawings, but the language was indiscernible. He felt an odd connection, as if these depictions were of the same ideas as his own, “May I keep this?” he asked his counterpart.

    Sure,” Devineaux replied, “Journal’s heavy, and this phone’s a brick without a charger, both might be safer with you in here,” he paused at the ornate blade, “I’ll keep the dagger.

    Turning back to the sectioned device and the man that studied it, Acton joined him. “What have you concluded thus far?

    The way it’s shaped, this bend…” Chase indicated the curves, “it’s for lumbar attachment, you think?”

    Oui,” Acton agreed after some study, “partial lumbar and partial sacral.

    So movements might be restricted?

    It will be quite difficult, the lumbar supports much weight.

    What if I modify it?” Chase proposed, “turning the device upside down and adjusting here and here... maybe I can put it mostly on the thoracic. Less risk?

    Acton nodded, “Oui, much better, the rib cages can help as support,” he picked up the attachment and moved it in his hand to judge weight, it was quite light, “From the looks of this you may not need to make any incisions, only ensure the attachment is precise.

    I only need to mark and match each vertebrae?

    It does not seem entirely mechanical,” The doctor noted, because his own creation, a vat of fluids that no longer existed, was also not quite organic, “Do you know what it is for?

    No, only that it stops his electric pulses.

    He would not be happy, but do what you must,” Acton exhaled, “you have a plan for getting us out, oui?

    I do, but I need time.”

    Then I wait, and remain at your service.

    Chase nodded, “One other thing, this mask… is insufferable in the heat.

    There is a circulation system for warmer climates,” the Frenchman held the mask and showed the Director, “Its button is here.

    Why didn’t you tell me this in Harbin? I nearly suffocated on the way here.

    We were in subzero temperatures, non? I did not think you needed it.

    There was a moment of bemused silence, on Chase’s part.

    Bon courage, Monsieur Devineaux,” the doctor smiled patting the detective’s back, “You make a fine Acton Roux!
     
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