The Lesser of Two Evils

Zack leaned back in the beach chair, letting the hot Caribbean sun beam down on him and warming the Aruban sand around him. The soothing sound of waves rushed and bubbled in front of him, and the shouts from a volleyball game behind him drifted lazily into his ears.

He really had to hand it to the Agency to find the best places for a vacation. Not that he really needed one, as they hadn't been very busy over the past month (hence the extra vacation time), but he certainly wasn't going to say no to fun in the surf and sun.

Enveloped in contentment and warmth, he was just drifting off when several cold drops startled him awake. His eyes jerked open to see his sister bending over him, a surfboard tucked under her arm. "Are you going to come in the water, or are you going to lie around all day? If you wanted to do that, you could sit on the porch at home."

Zack stuck out his tongue at her and readjusted his sunglasses, which had begun to slip off his nose. "Hey, you have your version of the ideal vacation, and I have mine. Besides, I don't know how to surf."

"It's never too late to learn."

"Not interested. I've got everything I want right here. Go drip on somebody else."

Ivy flicked her hair at him, peppering him with seawater, and stalked off, ignoring his indignant shouts.

Jasmine grinned at her, offering a bottle of water. "He's right, you know. Are you going to force him to have a good time?"

Ivy took the water and gulped it down. "It's a sibling thing. You wouldn't understand."

"Lao Li's trying to get a volleyball team going. You game?"

"Sure, I'll be right there." Ivy left her surfboard near her towel and gym bag and followed Jasmine to the volleyball net, where a small knot of Acme agents were trying to hold their own against a vacationing college team.

The sun was setting when Zack felt Ivy shake him awake. "Wake up, Lobster Boy," she said.

"Huh?" he shook his head and started to stand up, but fell over. "Ow!" He glanced at his arms; they were beet red.

Zack made an exclamation that he certainly would not have made at home, and Ivy erupted in laughter. "It's not funny, Ive," he grumbled. "I put on enough sunblock to grease a pig."

"Zack, you were sitting in the blazing sun for hours. Even SPF 80 is only going to work for so long."

"Why didn't you wake me if you saw I was turning the color of a tomato?" Zack demanded irritably, gingerly picking up his things and folding his beach chair.

"I didn't see. I've been playing volleyball. Sorry, Zack, but I can't watch you all the time."

Zack grumbled and limped like an old man all the way back to their hotel room. Once there, Ivy suggested that Zack fill the bath with cold water. "It should stop your skin cooking," she told him. "I'll go down to the gift shop and see if they have some burn cream."

But even after an ice bath and several applications of burn cream, Zack was in too much pain to sleep. Ivy rubbed her eyes when he turned on the TV for a distraction. "Let's go down to the little cabana between the beach and the hotel," she suggested. "I'll sleep on the patio chairs outside, and maybe you'll find a nice girl to talk to."

The cabana was surprisingly busy, though they didn't see any other agents. Ivy stretched out on a patio chair on the edge, as far away as possible from the band that was playing near the bar. Zack got himself a nonalcoholic pina colada and looked around. He felt slightly intimidated; all of the girls were older than him, and the few nearby were snickering at his full-body sunburn.

"Of course," he thought to himself. "Most kids my age would still be vacationing with their parents." He wondered what the sniggering girls would say if he showed them his Acme ID, and frowned in dismay when he dug into his pockets and realized he'd left it in the hotel room. Most likely they wouldn't believe any of the many stories he had to tell, even if those pretty girls were familiar with the famous brother-sister team…

Deciding to stay in the shadows until he came up with a strategy, he found a little table near the edge with just one occupant, a woman in her mid-thirties. "This seat taken?" he asked.

The woman muttered something inaudible and gestured that he could sit down. She was wearing dark sunglasses in the middle of the night, and appeared to be falling asleep with her head resting heavily on one hand. Zack wondered if she'd had a few drinks too many until he noticed that the can in front of her was an energy drink.

Puzzled, but deciding that it was impolite to stare, Zack turned his attention to the rest of the group, sipping at his pina colada. The breeze felt good on his burned skin, and the music and the dancing took his mind off the pain. After about twenty minutes or so he felt drawn in by the Caribbean beat and got up to join the dancers.

He didn't dance long. The folds of skin in the back of his knees and elbows cried out when they rubbed together, and the water loss in his body drove him back to the table to retrieve his drink. The woman had her head down on the table, her dark hair tied back in a messy ponytail. She was wearing a long-sleeved blouse and jeans, which looked too warm for the nighttime Equatorial weather.

Zack felt a twinge of concern. He placed his hand on her shoulder and shook it slightly. "Ma'am?" he asked. "Ma'am, are you all right?"

Her head jerked up, sunglasses askew, and what looked like a flash of fear crossed her face. It was hard for him to tell in the dark.

"Are you all right?" Zack asked again. "It's okay, I'm an Acme detective," he added, even though he knew he didn't look it. "Are you feeling okay? Need help getting back to your room?"

The woman put her sunglasses firmly back in place and said, "No…just drifted off. I can get back fine, thank you." She stood somewhat unsteadily, but walked briskly across the patio.

Zack followed from far behind, wanting to make sure she reached her room. But the woman walked right through the lobby and exited the hotel.

Scratching his head, Zack walked back to Ivy and shook her awake. "Feeling better?" she said groggily. "Ready to go back to bed?"

"Ivy, there was this woman…"

"Can't give girl advice now, Zack. Too tired."

"No, no, she looked kinda beat up, or maybe sick, and I don't think she was actually staying at the hotel."

Ivy yawned large enough to split her face. "You think she was an assault victim, or something?"

"No…it's hard to explain, really…"

Ivy stood up from the patio chair and stretched. "We can contact the local police if you like, maybe give her an escort home…"

"Nah, she's gone now…it just kinda struck me as weird…"

Ivy, however, was too tired to be bothered by it. The pair went back up to the hotel room, where Ivy fell asleep immediately, but Zack stayed awake for at least another hour.

Predictably, Zack was groggy the next morning at breakfast. Mostly he was concentrating on not putting his face in his eggs, while Ivy and several of the other detectives chatted together.

They were trying to decide if they wanted to do something as a group. Tatiana suggested they go shopping; Armando groaned and invited all of the guys to a watch a soccer game. Ivy cast her vote in with the guys, with a few cutting remarks to Armando, and the talk devolved into a philosophical discussion about shopping, sports, and gender differences.

Suddenly all of their communicator watches went off at once, and the Chief appeared in the middle of the table, to the consternation of the other diners. "Good morning, how ya doin', ooohhhh, pancakes, just a short stack for me, thanks…"

"What's up, Chief?" Ivy asked.

"Ah…just wanted to give you a heads up…the C-5 system's not working properly," he informed them.

"So what else is new?" Jasmine asked, with a sigh and a roll of the eyes.

"Ha ha." The Chief pulled a face. "Someone's managed to hack into the system, inserted a virus, and tried to disable it completely. It's good for short distances, but I wouldn't try using it to get back to base right now, unless you want your head and feet to end up on two different continents."

"Carmen?" Tatiana asked eagerly.

"Wishful thinking," said the Chief. "No, the virus didn't look like Carmen's work at all. Actually, we think the perpetrator was probably outside your department…just wanted to let you know."

Lao Li grinned. "Hey, we're not in any hurry to leave."

"All right…enjoy your vacation!" And with that the Chief disappeared.

In the end, the group split off in ones and twos, and Zack and Ivy decided to take in the sights. As they wandered around the capital city, looking at the colonial architecture, they heard a disturbance behind them.

An angry tourist, her shopping bags scattered across the street, was shouting furiously at someone further down the avenue. The two detectives suspected a pickpocket until they saw three men run down the street in the direction the tourist was shouting. They were obviously not police officers, but one of them was holding a gun.

"What on earth was that?" Ivy asked no one in particular. She and Zack joined several passer-by in gathering up the tourist woman's shopping and bringing it back to her. She thanked them profusely in Dutch.

"Are you missing anything?" Zack asked her.

"No," she told him, "but the nerve of some people! I was just walking down the street, and this woman rams right into me…she wasn't even looking where she was going! There was plenty of street for the both of us…"

Suddenly she pointed behind the two detectives. "There! There she is!"

The pair whirled round, and Zack exclaimed, "It's her! The woman from last night!"

The mystery woman fled down the street at an amazing speed. Suddenly several loud cracks rent the air and a window near the woman shattered. The street erupted in screams as the three men from before pursued their quarry.

"Where are the police?" Zack demanded to the air around him.

"C'mon! Let's follow them!" Ivy shouted to her brother as she took off after them.

"What?! What are we gonna do? They're armed!" Zack exclaimed as he followed her.

"We have to do something…no Acme agent should ever let something like this pass them by…"

The two of them sprinted down the avenue, following the sound of gunshots. The woman was dodging and doubling back in an attempt to lose her pursuers, so in no time at all they saw her run off to their left, down a narrow alleyway. The three men cut in front of the detectives, but the pair could still see the woman leap on top of a dumpster, then jump over a 10-foot wooden fence at the end of the alleyway.

"Did you see that?!" Zack exclaimed in amazement. Ivy could only nod.

They ran down the length of the street, trying to see if the woman would double back again and come out near them. There were several sharp cracks, and the sound of a bullet ricochet came very close to Zack's head. He yelped and pressed himself into a doorway, Ivy following.

As they peered from the doorway, they saw the woman running toward them. Even from several yards away they could hear her rattling, gasping breath. She stumbled once, and they realized she was nearing exhaustion.

"Hey!" Ivy called to her in a stage whisper. "Over here! We're Acme detectives!"

The woman gave them a brief glance and continued running.

"What in the world?" Ivy wondered aloud. "Why wouldn't she let us help her?"

"Maybe she doesn't speak English," Zack suggested.

The three men stormed past them without even looking at them. "We've got to try and help her," Ivy said. "She looks like she's about to collapse…and we can't fight the men without any back-up. Where the heck are the police?"

Zack thought for a moment, then said, "I have an idea…but we'll need to contact the others. C'mon, let's see if we can get close to her again."

The pair ran together, following the sound of gunshots. Ivy felt the woman's technique to shake her pursuers strangely familiar, and briefly wondered how she managed to find the right place when she heard the woman running toward her once again.

As the woman ran past, both Zack and Ivy leaped out, each taking one of her arms and shouting, "C-5 to the Four Winds Hotel!" A bright blue light enveloped them and they disappeared, leaving the three men standing in consternation.

They reappeared in the now-empty cabana of the hotel, surrounded by the other agents. The woman fell to her knees, coughing and breathing with shuddering gasps, her arms trembling with exhaustion as she spread her palms on the ground.

"Are you all right?" they all asked in turn.

"Stand back! Give her room to breathe!" Ivy ordered.

"Do you need water?" Tatiana came running with a full glass.

"Who are you?"

"Why were those men chasing you?"

"Do you need a doctor?"

The woman waved away the water and their questions, still breathing hard. They all waited in silence as she tried to catch her breath. Finally, after several minutes, she made a weak gesture toward Tatiana and took the proffered glass. She drank the entire glass, water running down the sides of her mouth.

"More?" Tatiana asked as she took the glass back. The woman nodded, and Tatiana ran back to the hotel lobby.

Zack kneeled down in front of her. "You do speak English, right?" She nodded.

"Why didn't you let us help you before?" Ivy demanded.

"I need…" the woman's voice was hoarse. "I need to get to the British Embassy…"

"You have an American accent," Jasmine pointed out.

"American born, British citizenship," she explained. "Work for an NGO…"

"Which one?" Armando asked.

"Not much time…have to get to the British Embassy…" she took the second glass of water Tatiana offered her.

"What's your name?" Ivy demanded. "At least tell us that."

Armando started making guesses at her NGO. "United Nations? Amnesty International?"

The woman stood. "I have to get to the British Embassy, quickly. I can't tell you why…they'll come after you too…"

"We're Acme detectives," Lao Li assured her.

"You're too young…"

Something about the woman's evasiveness was irritating Ivy, and suddenly she put her finger on it…the woman wouldn't look them in the face, even though she was wearing sunglasses. She took the woman's arm. "Look at me," she ordered.

The woman twisted her arm in such a way that she slipped easily from Ivy's grasp and turned to run. The little knot of detectives blocked her path. On a hunch, Ivy ripped the sunglasses from the woman's face.

As the woman turned, Ivy could see right into her startled blue eyes.

There was a collective intake of breath, and then the entire group dog-piled on top of the woman. Several of them went flying as she wrenched herself upward with astonishing strength, and ran toward the beach.

She didn't get very far. The sudden burst of energy was too much for her and her knees buckled, pushing her down onto the beach. As the detectives approached she brought herself to a half-kneeling position, her arms up in a defensive stance.

"I have not eaten or slept in seventy-two hours," she announced. "I don't want to hurt you, but if I have to defend myself I will!"

"We're not going to hurt you, Carmen," Ivy said dismissively. "What on earth are you running from?"

Zack wondered if her lack of sleep was making her hallucinate. "You know who we are, don't you?"

Carmen looked about ready to answer, but suddenly a spasm of pain crossed her face and she clutched her right arm. The group could see a small dark stain beneath her hand. Several detectives in the group rushed to her side.

Just before she fell unconscious, they heard her say, "Please help me….they're going to kill me…"

"Well, we're out of bandages," Jasmine said as she wrapped the angry red wound on Carmen's arm. An old bandage, which had come off during the struggle, lay on the floor.

"I see mostly bruises," Ivy said as she examined the unconscious woman, noting that some of the bruises were the size of her hand.

"Can we come in yet?" Zack's voice came in from the hotel hallway, where the male members of the group had been temporarily banished.

"I can't believe they made an attempt at the hospital," Tatiana said, hanging up the hotel phone. "No wonder she didn't want to go in for medical treatment."

"I wish we knew who 'they' are," said Ivy. "They must mean serious business if they can do this to an ex-detective and master escape artist."

Once they were able to confirm that there were no more serious wounds, they let the male detectives and the Chief inside.

"Is she going to be okay?" the Chief asked anxiously.

"I think so…" Jasmine told him. "I think she needs rest more than anything. Nothing life-threatening at this point, but she nearly ran herself to death. When she was fighting us it reopened the wound on her arm."

"When's the transport helicopter going to be here?" Armando asked the Chief.

"Not for hours," he replied in anguish. "Do you think you can hold your own against these guys?"

"We've got half the police force stationed all around the hotel," Lao Li told him. "I think we can last a few hours."

They all sat in silence for several minutes, lost in their own thoughts. Finally, Zack raised his head and asked, "Chief, do you know who would want to do this?"

He frowned. "I'm sure Carmen's made plenty of enemies, one way or another," he said. "People she arrested…competing thieves…"

"Yes, but who would have the skill and tenacity to try and kill her?" Ivy demanded.

The Chief pulled is face into an expression of concentration. "Moulin…van Drour…Errimaigne…"

"We saw three men running after her," Zack told him.

"Doesn't necessarily mean anything," Armando said. "Whoever it is behind this could have hired professional assassins."

"This is insane," Zack said to nobody in particular.

They waited for an hour in silence, watching the digital clock by the bed flash the minutes away. Nervous tension pervaded the room, so that even switching on the TV seemed dangerous. There was very little sound except for their own breathing, and they all watched the unconscious woman sleep, as if afraid that if they looked away she would suddenly stop breathing.

Finally Zack expressed a desire for some water, and picked up the glass by the bed. It smacked into the lamp, and Carmen's eyes flew open. In a spilt second she snatched Zack's wrist, and he cried out in pain as the glass shattered onto the floor.

Before anyone could move, Carmen released him, and said in a strange dreamy voice, "Sorry, reflex." She sat up, blinked a few times, noticed the group of people staring at her, and glanced around the room. "Where am I?" she asked. "What happened? What day is it?"

Ivy ticked the answers off her fingers. "You are in the Four Winds Hotel in Aruba, we were hoping you could tell us that, and it is Friday, February eighteenth."

She looked around at them all, at the room she was in, at her own disheveled clothing. "Am I under arrest?" she finally asked.

They all looked at each other. "I guess that's a given, yeah," the Chief told her.

She seemed to have trouble processing this information. "Oh well…the lesser of two evils, I suppose," she said, and laid down back in the bed.

They stared at each other, then at her. "Excuse me?" Zack asked, wondering if she was still half asleep.

"Lesser of two evils…you can't escape death…" came the inexplicable reply.

The Chief seemed to shake himself out of a trance, then planted himself in front of her face. "All right, listen up! What HAVE you been doing all this time, and what's all this about people trying to kill you?!"

She merely grumbled and rolled over.

The Chief gave her a look of extreme indignation, then turned to face her again. "I said, what have you been doing?"

She opened one eye, and replied grumpily, "I believe I have the right to remain silent?"

"Uh well…yes…" he sputtered.

"Fine then," she said, and rolled over once more.

The little group all looked at each other. It would have been funny if it were not so strange.

Satisfied that she was not in any immediate medical danger, the little group relaxed a bit. There was nothing more they could do than wait either for her to wake up or for the transport helicopter to arrive, so Zack took out a travel chess set and started a game with Tatiana. Every few minutes one of them would look out the window, as if expecting rifle-laden assassins or ninjas dressed in black to be waiting on the other side of the curtains.

Three hours later, Carmen awoke again, and this time she was more coherent. "I'm sorry, but does anyone have any aspirin?"

As Ivy dug into her suitcase, the Chief demanded, "Are you going to tell us what you've been doing?"

"Running," said Carmen as she took the proffered aspirin from Ivy.


"Does anyone have any food?" Carmen asked. "I haven't eaten in seventy-two hours…I could eat a rock…"

Tatiana rifled through her suitcase. "I think I have some energy bars…"

The Chief was turning red. "WELL?!"

Carmen reached into her blouse and pulled out a tiny memory stick, of a model they had never seen before. "Moulin created a virus which could cripple the entire Agency system, from the records to the C-5 system. I understand that a very very basic version of this program was unleashed earlier this morning as a test."

Puffed up, the Chief demanded, "And what are you doing with it?"

"I stole it, silly, so he couldn't use it." She handed the chip to Zack. "You can't burn it and you can't break it…I suppose you'll have to let the bomb squad blow it up, or something."

"Why didn't you just give it to us, then?" Jasmine asked.

"Well, I didn't want to get caught, of course," Carmen told her, as if discussing the weather. "I found out about the whole thing at the last minute, completely by accident. It was all I could do to get the damned thing away from him…much less bring it to you without getting arrested."

"You almost got yourself killed," the Chief admonished her.

"Well, I don't really want to risk spending the rest of my life in prison," she said glibly, taking the energy bar Tatiana gave her. "But like I said, you can't escape death…so I had to make a choice."

"I dunno…you pretty much collapsed toward the end there," Armando said, grinning.

Carmen shrugged. "It really doesn't matter at this point. I'm in no condition to go anywhere. One of the reasons I came to Aruba was because I knew you were here. I figured…as a last resort…if I turned myself in at least I'd be safe."

"So you're giving up?" Armando asked hopefully.

"I wouldn't go that far," she replied.

Ivy felt like she should argue this point, with a show of bravado and a threat of imprisonment, yet somehow it seemed inappropriate. She had never seen Carmen in this condition. In addition to the wound and bruises, she had dark circles under her eyes, and her face was lined from worry and dehydration. She moved stiffly, and her shoulders slumped forward in exhaustion. Without her hat and coat some of the air of untouchable mystery was gone, but she still maintained the old Carmen self-confidence.

The Chief, who had been staring at her with his face scrunched up, finally demanded, "Do you have any idea what you've put me through?"

"I told you, I found about it last minute…"

"I mean all of it!" The detectives all turned to stare at him, in the middle of a discussion no one realized he had started. "The running away, the thievery, the crazy stunts…ten years of this! Why??? Why on earth would you do this?" he planted himself right in front of her face. "You almost got killed!"

Ivy could sense that there was a myriad of emotions behind the woman's face, but she merely looked tired. She stared at him for a few moments; then, inexplicably, she began to laugh.

Ready to explode, the Chief shouted,. "This isn't funny!"

She apologized, still laughing. "I'm sorry, I'm not in my right mind. Did I mention I haven't slept or eaten in seventy-two hours? I've been constantly on the run all that time…" She started laughing harder.

"She's finally lost it," Ivy heard Armando mutter next to her.

"Sorry, sorry, dark humor I suppose…if you had been there from the beginning…" Carmen calmed down slowly. "How can I explain? Eh, I know…hey, Chief, remember that child soldier we rescued from the rebels? The one who was forced to kill his own family, and then when he was adopted, his new family was so worried when he didn't look both ways before crossing the street?" She was laughing uncontrollably now.

"Dark humor indeed," said Jasmine, nudging Ivy with a little bottle of sleeping pills.

"Here, Carmen, you didn't take your aspirin," Ivy said, handing her water and the pills.

She took them, still attempting to control herself. "It…it uh, it doesn't make sense unless you know the whole story, I suppose…"

"What is the whole story?" Zack demanded.

"Oh…I can't tell you that…it…it's best that you don't know. I left because I was bored. Not enough challenges. I stand by my story." Her eyes were half-closed, and she began muttering incoherently. Suddenly she shuddered and shouted, "I won't tell you anything!"

"Take it easy!" Zack exclaimed. "You don't need to tell us now. Go to sleep, you need it."

"I won't…I won't disgrace their memory…I haven't fallen that low yet…might be a thief, but I won't ever betray…I won't let you hurt the children…" She lay back down in the bed and closed her eyes.

They all stared in silence for a few minutes. "Should we set up a psychological evaluation when we get to base?" Tatiana finally asked.

Ivy turned to the Chief, a thoughtful expression on his face. "Did any of that make sense to you?" she asked.

"Not really…" he said slowly. "I have a few guesses, but…" He hung there in silence, then finally said, "I need to check a few things. The transport helicopter should be here soon. It'll land on the helipad on the roof that the hotel uses for medical choppers." And with that, he disappeared.

After about five minutes of silence, Zack commented, "This is the weirdest thing we've ever done."

When the transport helicopter arrived, Carmen was still asleep, so they were relieved to find that it had a stretcher for transporting the injured. Indeed, the Agency helicopter was quite large and well-equipped, and included such things as an IV drip and oxygen, which they didn't need.

As the pilot and co-pilot informed them that they would be taking off, the detectives tied down the stretcher and strapped themselves into their seats nearby. The cabin was large enough and the walls thick enough that they could talk normally, without the need for headsets.

An hour before they reached San Francisco, they heard and earsplitting scream and turned to see Carmen awake and struggling with the stretcher bonds.

"What's with you?" Armando demanded. She looked up, startled, then went back to pulling at the restraints but not as desperately as before.

"I had a nightmare, that's all. Why am I tied down?" she demanded.

"So you don't get away," Zack told her.

"We're in a transport helicopter, several thousand feet in the air. What am I going to do, jump out the door? I don't have any of my…" Carmen clutched at her blouse. "Did I give you the memory stick?"

Zack held it up, and Ivy undid the stretcher restraints. Carmen sat up, a look of relief crossing her face once she saw the memory stick. She glanced about the cabin, briefly assessing her surroundings. "How far are we from San Francisco?"

"About an hour," Jasmine told her.

Carmen ran her hands distractedly through her hair. "Good…good…I told you to destroy that thing, didn't I?"

"We called ahead to the bomb squad, they'll dispose of it when we get there," Zack said.

Carmen sighed in relief. "All right then…next order of business, I suppose…" she looked up to see all of them staring at her. "What?"

"What do you mean, 'what'," Ivy said. "Are you going to explain yourself at any point?"

A ghost of the old Carmen smile crossed her face. "Since when have I ever given you a straight answer to anything?"

Zack moaned in agony. "You mean you drew all of us into this whole thing, and you're not gonna explain any of it?!"

"It's better for you if I don't," she said, her expression turning serious. "Just obliterate that thing once you get back to base."

"Once we get back to base, you mean." Armando produced the special electronic handcuffs they always used for these cases. "Sorry, but if you're feeling better, we're going to have to take precautions." Carmen didn't object or try to move when he put them on.

"I know your hands are supposed to go behind your back," he said, "but we don't want to tear up the muscles in your left arm any more."

"Thanks," she said simply. She was so offhand about it that everyone was immediately on their guard, but she didn't do anything for the rest of the trip.

The transport helicopter landed on a helipad on top of the Agency headquarters. The little group of detectives escorted Carmen out of the helicopter and into the building, watching her closely, but she simply walked calmly with them.

Finally, as they were nearing the holding cells, Carmen said, "Well, I think you'll all be safe now that you're back at headquarters. This place has security measures you don't even know about, which were installed even before I was working here."

"Such as?" Zack asked.

"Well, such as safe rooms and hidden escape exits, should anyone dangerous actually manage to break into the Agency. Here, I'll show you." She moved toward a door on the right side of the hallway.

"Carmen, that's a broom closet," Ivy told her, her tone suggesting that perhaps Carmen could use more medical care.

Carmen opened the door, revealing that it was indeed a walk-in closet, with a couple of brooms and mops as well as a bucket. Carmen stepped inside and pulled a string hanging down. The light bulb turned on.

"Carmen, seriously, it's a broom closet," Zack said, the slightest hint of a laugh in his voice.

"Well, it is now," she said as if explaining to a small child. "But it changes to an escape tunnel when I say…banana!"

The closet door slammed shut. The entire group rushed the door, tugging at the knob, which of course was locked.

"Banana!" Zack yelled. The door didn't budge.

"Zack, it's not going to work again, if it's programmed to keep pursuers out. Move back!" Ivy ordered. With a flying kick, she cracked the middle of the door and ripped out the top hinge. With a little more maneuvering they were able to pull it out, but of course the closet was empty.

"Where did she go?" Tatiana demanded.

Zack stepped in and examined the ceiling and the walls. Looking carefully at the corner of the back wall, he said, "This part has just the slightest crack…it must be a hidden door that opens automatically when someone says the password."

"I guess we should alert the local police and the rest of the Agency, to look outside," Jasmine said dispiritedly. "But I suppose she's as good as gone."

Zack brought the tiny memory stick up to his face. "I want to examine this closer," he said.

"What, do you want a microscope?" Ivy asked. "It's as close to your face as it's going to get."

"No, I mean take it to the lab. I want to see what the virus looks like, and if there's anything else on it."

As the others organized a search for Carmen, Zack and Ivy visited the Crimelab, which had a special computer for analyzing viruses. Zack inserted the memory stick into the USB port and began tapping at the keyboard.

"Whoa, this is one nasty virus," Zack said in shocked awe as he studied the computer's analysis. "It would have taken out all our communications, the C-5 system, the Chief, and all our computer records."

"It looks like there's more than just the virus on that thing," Ivy said, leaning over Zack's shoulder.

Zack examined the other files. Their eyes widened in horror as they scrolled down the files. "Zack…" Ivy said slowly. "There's a file for every agent…both active and people who've left."

Zack ticked off the information. "Home address, addresses of family members, personal strengths and weaknesses…"

"All the information an enemy of the Agency could want." Ivy drew in her breath as she stood up straight. "Zack…can you imagine what Carmen had to do to get this to us?"

Zack didn't answer. Words had failed him.