Phosphenes. That's what Mrs. Choi called them in science class that morning.
She ground her knuckles deeper into the bridge of her nose and stared out into the forever behind her eyelids.
You'd think that learning the science behind something that looked this cool would ruin some of the magic, but nope.
The magic remained in the kaleidoscopic, whirling digital distortion, pixels exploding into violet and green fireworks of intricate geometry, like the Ukrainian Easter eggs she saw on that field trip last year.
But like all wonders and fun trips, this also had to come to an end eventually. She opened her eyes, returning to her bedroom and the rainy night and stared balefully down at her algebra homework, the worksheet tinted gold by the desk lamp, questions six through ten still unanswered. She sighed.
Reaching over to the edge of her desk, she tapped the volume up a couple of notches on her laptop. The speakers responded with the sound of dusty vinyl, classic boom-bap and languid jazz guitar and she sank deeper into her seat. On the screen, the video portion of the stream remained, the mysterious photograph of The Studying Girl.
Then, without warning, the music stopped. It didn't just drop away, as if the wifi was messing up, it actually ground to a halt, like a machine running out of batteries. The teen's head popped up, her expression confused. Webstreams don't do that, especially ones as popular as this.
The photograph remained on her screen, but it had changed---it was still the usual cheery image of a girl and her cat, but now it was grainy and in black-and-white. Her eyes widened as, even more strangely, words began to appear, as if typed across the picture.
Her chair clattered to the floor as she read the message and leaped to her feet---unable to look away, she went to the only resource she had left.
"MA! C'MERE! YOU'RE NOT GONNA BELIEVE THIS!"
THE BALLAD OF THE BURGLED BEATS
a case from the files of the ACME DETECTIVE AGENCY
transcribed for the public by "violeteyes"
ACME WORLDWIDE HEADQUARTERS.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA.
A BIT BEFORE THE PRICE IS RIGHT.
BUT NOT SO MUCH BEFORE THAT THE TRAFFIC'S STILL REALLY TERRIBLE COMING OVER THE OAKLAND BAY BRIDGE.
The Chief of the internationally-renowned Acme Detective Agency strode across that august organization's lobby, heels clicking out a driving cut-time beat on the marble floor, the sound of a woman on a mission. There, waiting for her (and standing atop the F in the Acme coat of arms' motto - vigilans fidem virtutis) was her chief of staff, the special agent in charge of training new recruits and head of the roster of gumshoes that worked the majority of cases Acme received.
But to her, he was just Greg.
Greg, a perpetually-disheveled, disreputable-looking sort at the best of times, was perhaps even moreso today---bleary-eyed and unshaven, but she paid this no mind as he fell into step beside her.
"What's up, Chief?" he asked, as they simultaneously shouldered through the double doors out of the lobby and into the offices.
The Chief could be considered to have a stormy personality at the best of times, but her expression was absolutely forbidding as she handed a manilla folder over. "Carmen Sandiego. She's back, and this time, it's personal."
Greg flipped the folder open, revealing a blown-up print of a screenshot of a popular website.
"Tens of thousands of people around the world, listening to one of the most popular internet streams out there, and when it suddenly vanishes, only my daughter Carolina sees this message? The message is clearly meant for us. For me."
Greg looked up from the folder. "So, wait, the beats...have been bagged?"
The Chief nodded. "Percussion purloined, loops looted, samples swiped...lock, stock and turntable."
Greg nodded back, grimly, stuffing the folder under his arm and turning towards the back door. "I'll gather the gumshoes. I'll keep you up to da---"
"No." The Chief's statement was level and direct. She folded her arms. "I'm running this case, Greg. I'd be glad to have your help, but she's very clearly taunting me. If she gets wind I'm not involved..."
Greg sucked at his teeth for a moment in annoyance. "She goes to ground, we don't get her, we don't get the loot, we're a laughingstock. Just like..."
"...Berlin," they finished simultaneously.
"Right, I follow. Either way, Chief, we'll call the bullpen and see what we can scare up."
The bullpen, as Greg termed it, was a trio of detectives killing time at the newsstand across the street. He stuck his head out a service door and squinted into the morning sun for a moment, shielding his eyes to see who was out there. "Ayivor! Stine! Ohtani!" he shouted, waving them back inside. "Strap on yer jammypacs, we got work to do!"
Keith Ayivor (the Ghanaian forensic sysadmin, the man who could track anybody on the planet by means of photos of their cat, let alone their browser history) slipped his phone into his pants pocket, nudging himself out of his lean and back to standing with a push of shoulder on wall. "Time to make the donuts?" he asked.
Jenna Stine (the Bostonian criminologist, the woman who spent a semester her sophomore year ranking the possible suspects as to Who Buried Paul just because she could) folded down her newspaper and stepped down off the curb. The headline: BELIZE-GUATEMALA BORDER TALKS HEAT UP. "More like eat the donuts, I missed breakfast."
Tomiko "Toko" Ohtani (the Vancouverite hardware expert, more likely to dab Hoppes No. 9 than Chanel No. 5 on her wrist) paid Arturo for Jenna's paper and followed the other two back to the office. "Breakfast, shmeakfast," she retorted, "breakfasts come and go, but getting your shot at Carmen? Happens only once, maybe twice in a lifetime."
Jenna snorted. "How do you know it's her and not, like, some schmuck from Tallahassee with a bad haircut and a worse manifesto?"
Keith chuckled while Toko shrugged. "Gut instinct?"
Back inside, the Chief started putting bullet points up on a whiteboard, while Greg slurped noodles out of a paper takeout box and Stine poured Ohtani a coffee.
Keith looked askance at his boss. "You're actually eating last night's chow mein?"
Greg shrugged. "It still is last night, for me."
The Chief turned at this, sighing maternally. "You can do better than that, Greg."
Greg chewed thoughtfully, swallowed, then launched the container from three-point range, sinking it in the trash can in the corner with a dull clang. "You're right - Stine, get me a danish."
Jenna now had her turn to turn a bemused look on her supervisor. She gestured with the coffeepot at the desk behind him, saying "...you're standing right next to them, boss," and trying really hard not to instead end the sentence with "jerk."
To his credit, he apologized immediately. "Whoops, sorry, Stiney."
The Chief sighed the sigh of the eternally put-upon and turned around. "If we could perhaps focus, gumshoes?"
Toko settled in behind a computer. "Tech blogs are reporting that it's just gone, no sign of a message."
Keith looked up from his phone. "My source inside YT is denying they took it down, and also claiming all its backups and public records of the station's library have been wiped."
Jenna frowned, hopping up to sit on a desk, crossing her legs and resting her feet on the desk chair. "What bothers me is the method. Carmen likes having something she can physically move from place to place. A data heist is fairly unlike her."
Greg frowned, halfway through his pastry. "I think we need to focus on the physical particulars. Carmen wouldn't expect us to chase what's solely an electronic paper trail."
Toko frowned, tapping further at her keyboard. "The data must have been downloaded to an individual machine, possibly dumped to storage media. Keith, you think you can isolate where that data went?"
He tucked his hands behind his head and took a deep breath. "You're essentially asking me if I can track a transfer of data we essentially understand to be "a bunch of music," one of millions made every hour in every country on the planet and see if I can find where it was sent to, if it was sent anywhere at all?"
She shrugged. "Yeah?"
He chuckled, spinning around in his desk chair and logging into his machine. "Of course I can."
The Chief recapped her marker and tossed it dejectedly into the gutter at the bottom of the whiteboard. "What bothers me," she said, "is that by signing the message herself, it doesn't give us much of a head start on figuring out which of her V.I.L.E. lieutenants actually swiped the songs."
Greg added his two cents of alliteration. "Hijacked the hip-hop?"
Jenna smirked, digging through a filing cabinet. "Misappropriated the music?"
The Chief rolled her eyes. "Oh, shut up."
Before the Chief could be sassed further, Keith's machine pinged. "Oh...kay," he said, leaning in towards his monitor. "My sniffer routines have tracked the package to a machine in a PC bang in Seoul...or possibly Antarctica, but I'm going to say that's a false positive."
The Chief nodded. She respected results. "Good work, gumshoe. Now we need to---"
But whatever the next step in the Chief's plan was to be, it was cut off by Toko's phone ringing. Well, "ringing."
Four-part harmony suddenly burst forth from the device: "Oooooh, Rockapella! Is on the phoooooooone..."
She picked up, punching it to speakerphone. "Nnnnyello."
"Word on the street is you're hunting up some clues and Carmen's henchman du jour is making you see red," said the voice on the phone. "Come down to the lab, we think we've got a source who knows who bounced with the beats."
The lab, two floors down, lived up to its name and more. GNDN pipes crisscrossed through half-exposed walls and ceiling. Colorful chemicals cheerfully burbled away in Erlenmeyer flasks. The lighting was somewhere between a haunted house and a warehouse rave. Electricity arced between a set of Tesla coils in the corner. In the center of the room were four men wearing labcoats over vests and ties, and all of them wearing fedoras, even though they were a) inside and b) in the twenty-first century.
"Okay, Rockapella, what do you have for us?" asked the Chief, folding her arms across her chest.
The one who was on the phone, his hair in various small braids, interrupted, holding up a finger. "Awp!" His much taller, basso-voiced compatriot stuck his thumbs into his lab coat's lapels, holding them out as a smug millionaire might do in a midcentury comedy. The third opined, "As you can see, we're wearing labcoats, so isn't it more like..."
"...DOCapella?" the foursome asked, in harmony.
Jenna cracked up, Greg put his face in his hands with a groan, and the others had more moderate responses.
The Chief sighed. "Okay, then, The Doctors Apella, what's the scoop? And," she warned, "after a pun that terrible, it had better be good."
The Doc with the longer, darker hair gestured over towards a desk where a miniature television had been set up. Rabbit-ear antenna deployed, it was then further festooned with wires, oscilloscopes, bits of tinfoil, and a blue, tree-shaped air freshener. The Doctors began adjusting the various bits of gadgetry, trying to tune in a signal.
The very tall Doc began the explanation. "Since we first got wind of the heist this morning, we've been scouring the globe, not just for beats, but for their absence as well. After poking into a Harsh Noise Wall lab in Sheffield and a Free Jazz festival in Bueno Aires, we appear to have found the most complete absence of beat on the planet." He fiddled with the tinfoil wrapped around one of the antenna poles. "It's in Greenland."
The static on the screen resolved itself into an image of two robed figures holding guitars. Behind them, an unbroken wall of amplifiers. "They're in Greenland," he corrected himself.
The two figures stood, both long-haired, one bearded, their figures mostly hidden by their hooded robes. As inevitable as a rising tide, as unrelenting as the oncoming storm, they touched their instruments and The Sound began. The oscilloscopes went berserk. The tiny television began shaking, barely able to contain the entirety of the signal.
Closed captioning translated it into English.
GOOD MORNING, ACME GUMSHOES. WE ARE SUNN O))).
The detectives leaned closer to squint at the text.
WE HAVE TRAVELED BEYOND THE ARCTIC CIRCLE TO COMMUNE WITH THE AURORA. IN THIS PLACE WE HAVE LEARNED MANY THINGS.
The television's vibrations began to move it across the desk. A Doc pressed down on top of it to keep it still. Still, the roar continued.
WE DO NOT KNOW THE NAME OF THE CRIMINAL YOU SEEK. HOWEVER, WE KNOW THEY LEFT SEOUL ON A FLIGHT BOUND FOR THE CAPITAL OF ARKANSAS. WE APOLOGIZE IN ADVANCE.
The chord changed subtly.
WE CAN TELL YOU THE FOLLOWING FACTS ABOUT THE CROOK THAT WE HAVE HEARD FROM THE ETERNAL VOID AT THE HEART OF ALL THINGS.
The hooded figures did not look up, however, the tiny black-and-white text continued to crawl up the bottom of the screen.
HE ENJOYS FENCING, SEAFOOD, AND OPERA MUSIC. GOOD LUCK, GUMSHOES.
The sound from the transmission spiraled off into nothingness, and the screen went dark.
Toko frowned. "Well, that was...succinct."
Keith wiggled a pinky in his ear. "And loud."
Jenna was already halfway back to the elevator. "Well, come on, these dossiers aren't going to search themselves!"
A HALF-HOUR LATER.
Jenna slumped against a filing cabinet, her hair hanging down into her face. "Okay, I really wish these dossiers would search themselves. Got anything, Toko? Keith?"
Keith rubbed at his temples. "Eye strain."
Toko stretched. "PMS. How many henchmen does Carmen have, anyway?"
Greg sighed, taking a long swallow from his diet shake. (Nujrabes! Its Da Bes, as its label proclaimed.) "Too many."
The Chief yanked on a stuck drawer and swore, while Keith slipped a pair of aviator shades out of his coat pocket and put them over his eyes. Toko broke out into giggles at his unfashionableness. "Yikes, Keith, are you auditioning to be in Apocalypse Now II? Gonna go patrol the Mekong Delta?"
He chuckled at that and playfully waved her off. "Oh, like you'd know the first thing about looking good."
She closed the cabinet and opened the next one. "I know enough not to look like a goon from a seventies cop show."
Jenna shrugged, flipping through another dossier. "I like his glasses."
Keith sat back up, grinning. "See, at least someone around here knows what's good."
A HALF-HOUR LATER.
"What about this guy? 'Nashville Ned, the Machete Mauler?"
"Is using a machete really anything like fencing?"
"Eh, put them on the pile, we'll sort it later."
A HALF-HOUR LATER.
They sat circled around Keith, his laptop, and the communal pile of pizza boxes.
Greg glanced at the next name on his list. "Robocrook?"
Keith banged on his keyboard and pulled the file. "Doing ten-to-twenty in Leavenworth for a crypto scam."
Toko passed Jenna a file with a shrug. She glanced at the front page. "Justin Case?" she asked.
The Chief looked up from her own reading. "No way. Is that actually the name he picked?"
Jenna blew upwards, pushing a dangling curlicue of hair away from her face. "Really way. Looks like it's actually his birth name, the poor fool."
Keith's report was even less helpful. "We've actually got him under active surveillance. Unfortunately, he's been in the ABC Islands for a week, and...there he is. Working on his backstroke."
Jenna pulled the next file off her stack and frowned. "David Edward Valentine, alias Valentine's Dave, alias Msr. Eddie Valentine."
Keith and Toko both looked confused for a moment, each starting a sentence "Wait, Eddie Valentine---"
However, they finished them entirely separately:
"---the theatre critic?"
They looked at each other, the confusion only having increased. Greg chuckled. "Well, looks like there's more sides to our friend Mr. Valentine than we might think," he said.
Keith turned back towards the computer. "Okay, let's see...he's active, not being watched...God's Eye is retasking a Topaz-sat, the financials say..." He grinned, clicking through several more submenus. "...he chartered a suborbital flight last night from Seoul, final destination Little Rock." He squinted. "We've got him on a local traffic camera, he's in the city. Topaz will give us a better fix on him by the time we get there."
Jenna looked back at the Chief. "Enough for a Person of Interest warrant?" she asked, grinning with excitement.
The Chief nodded. "If he hasn't handed the goods off yet, we may well crack this case before V.I.L.E.'s plot even gets off the ground. Gumshoes, looks like you're headed to Little Rock!"
THE CORNER OF 9TH AND MAIN.
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS.
THE SAME DAY.
JUST BEFORE JUDGE JUDY.
The man at the wheel of the huge black muscle car idling at the stoplight was fretting. He slicked back his hair with one hand and tapped the steering wheel with the other. He tugged at his fingerless gloves. The instructions were clear enough, and he was being well-compensated as always, for his service and for his silence. He still didn't like being an errand boy. He glanced in the rear-view mirror before hitting his blinker and turning off. An errand boy---a messenger boy. His instincts screamed at him to get out of town, but what Carmen wanted...Carmen got.
APPROXIMATELY 30,000 FEET ABOVE THE CORNER OF 9TH AND MAIN.
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS.
THE SAME DAY.
JUST IN TIME FOR THE EVENING NEWS.
Aboard the private jet Acme had been able to obtain for the run to Arkansas, Jenna was telling Greg the story about the time she and Keith had gotten crossed up in Zimbabwe, Keith groaning with head in hands, while Toko napped, her White Sox cap yanked down over her eyes.
Turning around in her seat, the Chief hung up the phone and addressed her crew. "Okay, gumshoes, listen up. Here's the scoop on Little Rock."
She clicked a button, and a slideshow began running across the monitors.
"It's the capital of the state of Arkansas. It's home to the Old Mill, which was featured in the opening scenes of the film Gone With the Wind. Pinnacle Mountain State Park. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library. It has produced multiple jazz saxophonists of note, including the legendary Pharoah Sanders, the late Art Porter Jr., and the aforementioned 42nd President of the United States. And, having done a semester in lectures here at the University of Arkansas-Little Rock, I can safely say that unlike Sanders' work with John Coltrane, the city is exactly as boring as you think it is."
Greg guffawed at that.
The Chief grinned momentarily, then it was back to business. "Gumshoes, your mission is threefold. Find where Eddie Valentine has stashed the loot, the hard data required to get the lofi hip hop radio station back online. Obtain the warrant for his arrest---which should be on file with the local badges. And, lastly, unless he still has the loot on him, apprehend Monsieur Valentine. Ms. Ohtani, you're our expert on the ground, what's the plan?"
Toko sat up with a yawn, drawing a legal pad out of her briefcase. "Based on Jenna's assessment of Valentine's character, we should be able to handle the collar with minimal assistance. If we can pull a local unit to wherever we find him, we should have no trouble remanding him to custody. That doesn't mean you can sleepwalk through this one, however. He's an accomplished swordfighter, and usually carries a dueling sabre. If he draws, and we don't expect him to, it can get messy real quick."
The others nodded and she continued. "Now, as for who goes where..."
THE WILLIAM J. CLINTON PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY & MUSEUM.
LITTLE ROCK, ARKANSAS.
JUST AFTER WHEEL OF FORTUNE.
The Chief realized, crossing the parking lot of the Clinton Foundation's complex, that Toko's assessment of her abilities as an enforcer of law may have been slightly overkind, looking up at the sizably lengthy main building and realizing that if any of V.I.L.E.'s goons were on site to secure Valentine, trouble was sure to follow. She smiled, however, remembering her early days as a DJ in a city torn apart by gang warfare. She could handle trouble.
She was stopped by site security at the gate, as expected, and as she described the issue to Houlihan (and Hanrahan called her badge in to Acme, amusingly enough), Houlihan began clicking through the security cameras with a much more determined focus. She raked the fingers of her free hand through her buzzcut and cycled through the available views of the building. "Iunno, Chief, you'd think that if this guy's in there, he'd have tripped a motion sensor or five, but if you say he's one of Carmen's..." She stopped midsentence, yanking on Hanrahan's sleeve, the nearest part of him she could reach. "No friggin' way. Hanny! Look at this guy! He's in the Oval Office!"
Hanrahan and the Chief leaned over to look at the monitor. There, for all the world like he owned the place, sat Eddie Valentine in the big chair behind the desk in the replica Oval Office. His feet, in obnoxiously elaborate, silver-capped black cowboy boots, were crossed on the desk, and he appeared to luxuriate there, dressed in his half-greaser, half-musketeer, mostly-leather attire.
It was a moment's work for the two Hs to get the Chief into the building and through to the Oval Office. By the time she arrived, he'd abandoned the chair and was standing with his back to the rest of the room, gazing out the windows behind the desk.
"Valentine." She announced the name without rancor, merely stating the fact.
"Chief," he replied, turning around, hands folded behind his back. "What might I do for you on this fine evening?"
"You're under arrest on charges of theft, fraudulent use of services, hacking, transport of stolen goods, and really, whatever else the Koreans want to throw at you."
He pursed his lips in a half-frown, his pompadour jouncing a bit as he nodded. He stepped out from behind the desk, leaning against a bookshelf and distractedly nudging at a framed photograph of the forty-second President having a laugh with Vaclav Havel. "I suppose I am. And what if I told you that I had no such goods on my person?"
She stepped around a couch and over to Valentine. "I'd ask where Carmen took them." The look in her eyes brooked no disagreement.
Eddie's eyebrows lifted in amusement. "And obviously I'm not going to give that up. Now, listen!" He raised his voice slightly as the Chief made as if the situation were going to get physical very quickly. He took a half-step back, raising his palms in front of him. "If we do this the hard way, I'll cool my heels in interrogation and give you nothing. Or, you can let me tell you what Carmen wants you to know, and maybe you'll get to find out yourself. If I had my druthers, I'd be halfway to Pakistan by now, but no, I get to play messenger. So what's it gonna be, Chief?"
The Chief narrowed her eyes. "You're certainly free to waste time in the bin, but sure. I'll humor you. What's Carmen got to say to me tonight?"
Valentine chuckled. "Go home."
The Chief's expression could melt steel. "What?!" she demanded, voice tightening. Behind her, Houlihan and Hanrahan barged into the room, expecting trouble.
Eddie chuckled. "Ah, that look on your face...no. Go home to San Francisco. Get your detectives. You'll receive a message tomorrow. Noon. Play the game. If you solve the puzzle, you'll get your shot at the queen."
The Chief nodded. Eddie held out his hands, wrists up. "Alright, Mr. DeMille, I'm ready for my close-up," he quoted, and the two Hs obliged him.
ACME WORLDWIDE HEADQUARTERS.
SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA.
JUST ENOUGH BEFORE NOON TO START GETTING ANXIOUS.
Toko groaned, sloshing the remnants of the current pot of coffee around and clearly considering drinking it straight. "How do you get jet lag when you haven't even gone anywhere?" she griped.
The rest of the crew seemed in a somewhat approximate state.
"I swear," Greg moaned, "Mrs. Pumpkinklanger."
"Who? asked Jenna, looking moderately more together, but still clearly not wanting to be at work on the weekend.
Greg sighed, staring at the conference room table they all sat around, everyone's phones out in case they're the one that gets the call from Carmen. "The lady that lives upstairs from me. She's always complaining about how loud it is in my apartment, she doesn't think twice about vacuuming at three in the morning, though."
Keith chuckled ruefully. "Oh, I understand how that goes. I need to get out of the apartment life." He fiddled with a hand-wired device whose partial casing bore the name "Trace Buster-Buster," plugging his phone into it and turning it on with a beep.
The Chief remained silent through the morning's banter. Something about the encounter in Little Rock had shaken her, clearly, but she hadn't relayed whatever it was to the rest of the team. Instead, she stewed.
The tableau was shaken by the sound of a telephone. Not one of the crew's ringtones, all the phones in the conference room were dark and silent. This was the jangle of mechanical bells. They all frowned at each other for a moment, then en masse, piled out of the room to find what phone was ringing.
It was fairly obvious - a conspicuously empty, freshly-dusted desk in the next conference room over, with a mid-century black plastic telephone sitting squarely atop the desk. It was the sort of phone that no-one at Acme would have used in over fifty years. Who had set it there, none could say. The Chief strode up to it and lifted the receiver to her ear, then thought better of it and held it out to where they could all lean in and listen.
An anonymous voice, disguised by filters and made to sound narrow and tinny, spoke: "This is a recording. It will not repeat. The game begins now. None of you may leave this room until you have solved the puzzle, or the game will end. We are watching."
Keith, incensed, mouthed out something along the lines of "How did they get in here?!" while Jenna shushed him silently.
The voice continued. "You will have to move quickly. The information you need is in seven different countries, but everything you need to get it is in this room. If you can follow the trail Carmen has laid for you, you may yet catch up with her. Your first clue is at 6-0-6-5, in forty-nine meters. This message ends. On your marks, get set, go."
They immediately began talking at each other, trying to make heads or tails of the thing.
"What on earth does any of that mean?"
"There's something about it that sounds familiar..."
Keith, realizing he had his laptop with him, opened it up and set it on the desk. "What is identified by four digits and has a length of forty-nine meters?" he asked, rhetorically, already hitting a search engine for information.
Toko lifted the phone, checking it for numbers or other markings. "We need to check for physical evidence as well. Too bad we can't dust the phone for prints."
Spurred on by Toko's action, Jenna grabbed the top drawer of the desk and yanked it open, seeing if anything was hidden within. It wasn't until the bottom drawer that she found anything, a small electronic device with a large antenna on it.
The seniormost agents in the room recognized it immediately. "A world band radio!" Greg exclaimed. The Chief concurred. "They used to be part of every gumshoe's Acme Crimenet Travel Kit. Quick, set it up!"
They set the radio down in the middle of the table and tried to orient the antenna in a manner that would allow them to pick up a decent signal---always touch-and-go with shortwave radio. Jenna snapped her fingers. "That's what the message meant, we're supposed to tune it to 6065 megahertz in the forty-nine-meter band!"
Doing so promptly provided howling static.
Toko frowned. "We've got to get at least a basic idea of which direction to point the antenna. Keith, who broadcasts on that frequency?"
Keith wiped sweat from his forehead and pounded out his request on his keyboard. "Radio Tehran...but it looks like they're infringing on Radio Sweden's signal."
Greg pointed at the wall, then at the window dividing the conference room from the other offices. "That's the north wall, so, ballpark it...I think if you point it at that light fixture, no, over one more, that's Scandinavian. Ish."
The radio sprang to life, a transmission coming in. Thin, difficult to hear, but definitely a transmission. "--ige. Message repeats. This is Radio Sweden calling Acme Detectives. We have been told you need this information to solve your case. Your first number is 1. Your destination is 4-8-3-5. Best of luck from Sverige. Message repeats."
"So, another station?" Toko asked.
"And we need seven." The Chief muttered, gnawing on one of her knuckles. "The chain has to lead somewhere, but...where? Keith!"
Keith was already searching for the next station. "Something called Ozy Radio out of...Perth?"
The antenna was dutifully pointed out towards the external windows, over the ocean.
The radio spoke the next piece of the puzzle. "Ozy Radio on the line widda message for Acme! The second number is 1, your destination is 9675. Keep attem, boyo!"
Jenna, lacking a piece of paper, dug a pen out of her blazer and started writing on the palm of her hand, starting with a pair of ones.
Keith next called for Radio Pacifico out of Lima, Peru, but this time, the number was zero. Jenna looked thoughtful and inked that down as well.
The next announcement, on Radio Botswana, was bookended by a dawn chorus of barnyard animals, a somewhat disorienting experiment in musique concrete---or just plain weird, if you asked Jenna. A further 1 joined the first three digits on her hand.
Radio Thailand's World Service at 1575 put up less of a fight getting tuned in than Pacifico had, but the air in the room was tense as it became clear that the IBC signal was just nowhere to be found.
Greg fumed, muttering. "I've been to Italy. I have family in Milan. I know it's there. Why isn't it coming in?"
"We're going to run out of time at this rate, guys," Toko muttered. "Focus."
Keith dug up the answer with a few more inquiries to his laptop: "They have a repeater in Florida. Try and pull that one."
Jenna let out a sigh of relief, 110101 scribbled on her palm after the Italians got their part of the message out. But it was the final station that blew the detectives' minds the most.
Keith pointed the way. "Amsterdam, something called---"
The radio responded. "---the MIGHTY KBC, keeping shortwave alive on Six-Oh-Nine-Five!"
Greg looked at the Chief. "...is that Wolfman Jack?"
The Chief shrugged. "A decent impersonator, I guess?"
The voice on the radio continued on. "This goes out to all the detectives at Acme, working for the weekend! Go get that crook! Your number is zero, and I hope you know what that means, because I surely do not!"
Jenna frowned at her hand. "1-1-0-1-0-1-0. What do you got?"
Keith blew air out through his lips, looking up at the ceiling. "Binary of 106?"
Greg shrugged, scratching an itch in his ear.
Toko chewed on it for a moment. She looked at Jenna and they simultaneously hit on an answer. "Phone number."
The Chief grabbed the phone, dialing 110-1010 and expecting to get the mechanical voice again, but instead, a breezy laugh on the winds of a voice from her past.
"Nicely done. One more destination for you to work out, though," said Carmen Sandiego.
"Bart Howard, 1954."
The Chief's response was out of her mouth before she even realized she was answering. "Fly Me to the Moon."
Carmen chuckled. "Gladly. There's a room reserved under the name of Winston Leg-Thigh at the Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino. You can find me there. Or maybe you can't. You'd better get a move on, though, Detective. I won't be here forever."
The line clicked, disconnected.
"She's on the moon," she said, simply.
TRANQUILITY BASE HOTEL AND CASINO.
SEA OF TRANQUILITY, TRANQUILLITATIS BASIN.
...DO THEY EVEN BOTHER KEEPING TIME ON THE MOON?
Even with the advent of affordable space tourism, the length of the three-day journey from Los Angeles Interstellar to the Moon itself was an unavoidable fact. The length of the equator, encircling the entirety of the Earth, is only a tenth of the distance from the Earth itself to its lone natural satellite. So it was with that consideration in mind that the Acme team arrived on the scene, expecting that Carmen was still in the building---if she had given them the opportunity to chase her here, it wouldn't make sense to expect the detectives to arrive any earlier than this.
It was also with the consideration that, perhaps, if it was quicker to arrive there from the Earth, they might have considered updating the carpets at some point since 1982. The decor was dark, with mirrors, wood paneling and neon accents that gave the room a mysterious, even forboding feel.
The Chief, toting a rolling case behind her, went up to the counter, looking for all the world like a mother on vacation, whose children were red-blazered Acme Detectives. The man at the check-in counter smiled. "Hello, welcome to Tranquility. I'm Mark, how may I help you?"
As the Chief checked in, Greg and the gumshoes began casing the scene. Greg nibbled on a packet of peanuts he got on the flight. Keith was on his phone, frowning at the information thereon. Jenna put a hand on Toko's shoulder and pointed something out. Toko frowned, nudging Greg in the ribs, who in turn looked, saw, and tapped Keith on the shoulder.
The Chief returned, holding an impressive-looking antique key. "We're apparently in the Mansa Musa Suite. Four bedrooms, so someone will have to double up." She paused before continuing, noticing that everyone appeared to be looking off at something in the distance. A rhythmic clanging was noticeable, and it was soon clear that the clanging was coming from a pair of twins, two men who sat next to each other, pulling the handles of their slot machines in total synchrony. Crank, whir, clang. Crank, whir, clang.
The Chief narrowed her eyes and IDed the pair sotto voce: "Double Trouble. V.I.L.E.'s twin titans of thievery. Watch yourselves, gumshoes. There is almost certainly some sort of trap laid for us here."
Double Trouble turned in unison, still pulling their levers, smiling blandly at the detectives for a moment, before returning to the business of gambling.
Keith squinted off into the distance. "I make Mae Hemm and the Contessa at the hotel bar."
Greg frowned. "And I think that's Top Grunge on the pinball machine over there."
Jenna looked up. "Oh, they've got pinball? Whizzo."
Toko started walking away, stepping back to call for the elevator. "Come on, I'm feeling exposed here. We need better intel."
The richly-appointed sitting room situated between the four bedrooms of the Musa suite served as headquarters for the detectives. Draped in rich fabrics and decorated in a fusion of African and Arabic styles, the room looked every bit the match for its namesake, the richest man in history.
It was soon determined that each would take an initial pass around a portion of the complex, reporting to the Chief back in the suite. However, after the other four made their exit, the Chief herself had no more than sat down in the armchair next to the mantlepiece when a decorative column on the far wall rotated in place, revealing a miniature elevator.
Standing in the elevator, now stepping out into the room, was a woman. Tall, dark-eyed, dressed all in red, with a wide-brimmed hat atop her head, she smiled slyly at the Chief. "Hello, ▓▓▓▓▓▓."
The Chief was shocked, not just at the use of her name, but the fact that, for the first time in twenty years, she was face-to-face with Carmen Sandiego.
Sandiego's smirk never left her face as she approached the Chief, who rose to meet her. "I know, you're thinking, can it have been all that time since..."
"...Denpasar, on the beach at Sanur," the Chief finished. Carmen looked impressed, but the Chief continued. "You think I would have forgotten something like that?"
Carmen shrugged, even this a slow movement, dripping with elegance. "Certainly not. Your memory has always been one of your strongest points. I wonder why it's failed you so abjectly today, however."
The Chief folded her arms across her chest, replying dryly, "I am positively vibrating with anticipation as to what tortured logic leads you to that conclusion. Better yet, I want to know why you came back. You said you were done."
Carmen laughed. "...haven't you noticed how often I lie, ▓▓▓▓▓▓?"
The Chief didn't reply, simply waiting for an actual answer.
Carmen sighed. "Ugh, I forgot, there's never any fun bantering with you when you're like this. It's because it's another turn in our game, Chief." Carmen loaded the title with as much disdain as the word could carry.
"So, naturally, now that my team is downstairs and out of reach, you've come here to gloat."
Carmen rolled her eyes, clicking her tongue. "Tsk. No. Getting you here was only a test. I wanted to see if you were as good as you used to be."
The Chief stepped forward, now mere feet away from the master thief. "I'm better than I used to be," she snarled. "I'm better than you used to be, you traitor."
Carmen made a show of checking the nails on one manicured hand. "Ho-hum, are you still banging on that tired old drum? Just...forget it. I know, we had good times at Acme, but that's not me. This is me. It's the only me you get." She reached into her pocket and dropped a pair of datacubes on the end table next to the lamp. "There's the whole of the station library, the software, the whole schmeer. I appreciate that you played my game, and..." She grinned, tipping the hat back on her head for the moment. "...I can't wait for the next one."
"You know I'm going to take you out of the game one day." The Chief didn't take her eyes off Carmen as she picked the cubes off the table, pocketing them. "...and why this station? What had they ever done to you?"
Carmen laughed again. "You really don't know? The master detective, on this case since the beginning, hasn't figured it out?" Her laugh seemed to grow louder, filling the room with mocking echoes and followed by, incongruously enough, the roar of wind. The Chief glanced from side to side in a sudden panic---had the atmospheric containment been breached?
Her train of thought was once more derailed as Carmen's hat flew off, directly into the Chief's face.
By the time she pulled it away, Carmen was out the door of the suite.
By the time the Chief got to the door, Carmen was in the elevator at the end of the hall. "How can you steal what's already yours?" she asked, slipping a pair of familiar-looking headphones over her ears.
The Chief gripped the hat in her fist, unable to reach the elevator before it closed. The mystery wind had died. The Chief stood alone in the hall. There was a slight crinkling sound. She looked down. Tucked into the hatband was a photograph.
It was of a girl studying, while her cat rested in the windowsill on a rainy night.
On the back, inked in ballpoint, "Carmen, 197X."
Greg was first to return. He had a beef-and-bean taco half-in, half-out of his mouth and a bagful more in his fist. He ate the rest of the first one. "Hey, Chief, taco?" he asked.
The Chief was distracted, still looking at the photograph in her hand. "Greg, when you got into this business, did you ever think that the wins would be just as frustrating as the losses?"
To his credit, he figured it out immediately, snapping his fingers in annoyance. "She was here, wasn't she?"
The Chief nodded.
Greg grabbed his hat from his head and slapped his thigh with it. "Can you even believe it? Ugh." He sat down heavily next to the Chief. "Well, on the upside..." he began.
The Chief looked up. "Hm?"
"...how long do we have this reservation for?"
"I believe the manager said a week?"
Greg grinned. "Well, it beats a week in Cleveland, right?"
The Chief sighed, starting to warm to the idea. "I'd have hoped for Hawaii, myself, but beggars can't be choosers, I guess."
Greg nudged the bag closer to her. "We'll get her next time. Go on, have a taco, you'll feel better."
And oddly enough, she did.