Caleb wasn’t in the mood for long explanations. The words drifted past his ears like oil.
“The mansion will be moderately guarded. Intel tells us that there’s a research facility in there. You will be sent out at exactly 2300 hours and are expected to complete this assignment and report back all within three, to minimize risks.” The man fixated his gaze on Caleb.
“You are to retrieve a ledger with minimal—“
“I know that already.” He abruptly spoke.
“I know you do, but protocol states that I deliver all necessary information to you. It’s so you can’t blame me if someone decides to bring an RPG and empty it into your face. If it helps, I’m trying to make the details less boring.”
Caleb let out a sarcastic chuckle.
“Besides the ledger and the dead assholes I decide to mess with on the way, anything else I should know?”
“Just that there shouldn’t be any dead assholes at all, if possible. You know this.” The man said.
“It was a metaphor, Steve.”
“I’m serious, Caleb. You know what can happen if the bat hears about this. Hell, even alerting Nightwing is going to be trouble. So kill only if absolutely necessary.” He closed the suitcase containing all information about the operation and straightened his tie.
“Those are loose conditions you’re giving me. How will I know when it’s ‘absolutely necessary’? When I have a rifle up my backside?”
“Pretty much. Go suit up.” Steve ordered.
Harrumphed, Caleb stood up and walked out of the briefing room.
He looked at the clock. 2200 hours meant he had another hour to suit up. Caleb grumbled. He really didn’t like how Orion was too skimpy with their schedules. Couldn’t they have briefed him at least three hours earlier so he’d have more time for personal necessities? He couldn’t exactly go relieve himself in the middle of an operation, now could he?
He entered the armory. The room was lined with equipment specially tailored for espionage and spying purposes. He picked out his stealth suit and hastily put it on. He moved his fingers and legs and was pleased with the fit around his limbs as he always was. Pulling out a metallic drawer from the wall, he picked out five knives that could fold into their handles and inserted them into small sockets. Two on the sides of his calves, two on compartments in his forearms, and one in a sheath on his belt. He stepped in front of the mirror.
Besides his mask, everything else he needed was in his suit or his belt. Paralyzing needles, soundcrackers and a small amount of anesthetic. He opened his eyelids with two fingers as he removed his contact lenses. He strained. To his naked eye, normal lights seemed unbearably bright and painful, like a flashbang exploded right in his face. Even his ears needed their own specialized shields to avoid being overwhelmed by the sounds in the city. The only place he could ever take his contacts or earpieces off was his room, which was dimmed to his tastes and soundproofed. He put on his mask and heard the comforting ‘whirr’ sound as it turned on.
Caleb looked at the mirror. He examined each inch of his black mask, designed to look like a Japanese oni. He ran his hand through each terrifying curve. It flattered him to think that he needed this mask because his senses were too strong for his own good.
Caleb stood at the rooftop of what was made to look like a small, unassuming apartment that was the home base of Orion. Well, what part of it that was above ground, anyway.
One more minute to deployment.
He steadied his breathing and closed his eyes. Even at this time, Gotham was still a busy hub. He could hear the zooming of cars down below. The whispering of the wind.
Thirty seconds to deployment.
He felt himself sinking deeper into focus. He could hear people talking in the building right next to them. He could hear a couple arguing over what was more important between a drama series and the football game on TV.
Fifteen seconds to deployment.
He crouched down low. He could feel the vibrations in the earth that were too weak for everyone to notice. He could hear the blood rushing from his veins. His breathing.
Five seconds to deployment.
He felt his muscles tightening and relaxing. He felt himself drowning yet serene, tranced in focus. He could hear the heartbeat of the whole crew on the floor below that was assigned to monitor him on his mission tonight. He felt primal instincts taking hold, and his senses sharpened beyond the impossible. He opened his eyes.
He took a running start and leapt off the rooftop. He ran through the rooftops with ease, his every step carefully poised as to not make so much as a single noise. He traveled through Gotham without any difficulty.
There was one last rooftop of a house on the outskirts of Gotham before Caleb saw a large lot of land, on it stood a mansion that was, to his moderate estimate, a little less than a hectare in size.
“That’s it, Caleb. Reinwald’s mansion. Take it easy.” Steve said through radio comms.
He leapt off the rooftop and landed softly on the grass.
“Careful. Might be trapped.” Steve said.
“I don’t smell any metal or gunpowder on the grass. Going forward.” Caleb replied.
“Copy. Proceed with caution.”
Caleb was reluctant to proceed through an open field. He wasn’t used to it at all. It didn’t help that the mansion was well lit around its outskirts.
“Steve, any cover I could use?”
“We’re working on it.”
After a few seconds the lights around the mansion went out.
“We’ve temporarily cut the power grid around the area. Move fast, though. This will only work for about two minutes before backup power kicks in. There’s a small window you can slide through on the east wing. Will take you about thirty seconds tops.” Steve said.
Caleb wasted no time running through the grass. Before he could get to the window, he stopped.
“Somebody’s coming. Armed.” He could hear footsteps in the grass and the familiar tapping of a gun against Kevlar.
“One minute and fifty-one seconds, Cal. Make it quick.”
The mask’s eye visors receded as he pressed a button on its left side. As it did, his eyes adjusted almost immediately to the shadows around him. He could see each brick of the mansion with detail, and each blade of grass as if it were day. A man with a stout build walked around the corner, unknowingly right in front of him. He delivered a precise punch to the throat and he felt the slight crunch of bone as the man dropped on the grass.
“He’s alive. I caught his jaw slightly.” Caleb replied to what he knew Steve was thinking as he dragged the body out of sight.
There was a window on the low side of the wall. He opened the glass pane gingerly and slid in. He landed in a locker room.
“Forty-nine seconds till power comes back on. What do you see?”
“A men’s locker. I can smell their damn socks and used underwear. Been used recently, too.” Caleb grimaced.
“Visor up, Cal. Power’s coming back on soon.” said Steve.
Caleb complied. The power came back on and his eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the
bright lights, even with the visor on.
“There is a two-way corridor outside that door. The split also splits into two each. Take the left, then take north.” Steve said.
He opened the door without hesitation.
“Slow down, chief. Who knows if there are guards around each corner.” Steve said.
“I’ll know if there are any.”
Caleb made his way through the corridors with silent steps.
Good thing they aren’t used to being breached else this would have been a lot harder than it is, Caleb thought to himself.
“Why aren’t there any security cameras?” Caleb asked.
“Apparently this place is off the books. They’re backed by Reinwald himself, so how could anyone ever contest? Besides, they really can’t risk the shit they’re doing here being stored in tapes. Nobody knows this place exists.” Steve replied.
“Not even the bat?”
At the end of the long hallway, there was a single door. It had a finger pad on top of the knob. Caleb pressed his ear against it and tried to listen in on the other side.
“It’s soundproofed. I can’t get past the biometrics, too.” He said to Steve.
“Damn. We can’t try to hack or else they’d know someone was trying to get inside.”
They both fell silent for a few seconds.
Then Caleb heard the sound of footsteps at least twenty paces away. They were light footsteps.
“I got someone. This one’s unarmed.” He told Steve.
“Doesn’t matter. Could be our only way in. Monitor my power, would you?” Caleb touched his left palm with two fingers from his right. His suit made a faint buzzing sound as his active camouflage refracted light around him, turning him invisible. He pressed himself as flat as he could on the wall.
A woman in a lab gown came into view. She strutted along the hallway with confidence. Walking right past Caleb, who was still pressing himself against the wall, she laid a finger on the biometric fingerprint scanner. The door unlocked with an audible click. Before the woman could shut the door again once she was inside, a needle was fired expertly into her neck. Caleb caught her before she could fall on the floor. Luckily, there was no one else around. He laid the woman gingerly on the floor. His camouflage wore off with a dull whirr and he was visible again.
“Intel says there’s an archive down the hall. There shouldn’t be any guards inside but be careful. You could trip an alarm.” Steve warned.
“Copy. I’m not sure where to put this one, though..” Caleb looked at the unconscious scientist.
“You should have thought of that beforehand. We can’t afford to keep making these mistakes, Cal.”
“Bah. I’ll make this quick before she wakes up.” Caleb replied with an irritated tone.
Caleb stalked through the hall. Occasionally, he would hear the silent thrumming of machinery in the walls, which normally meant that it was trapped, probably with a motion sensor. In those cases he would take detours. He found various vaults which Steve had told him to leave behind, which he grudgingly complied.
Just as he felt his patience burning its last leaf, he came across the archives. Inside it were shelves filled with boxes which were filled with books.
“We’re looking for AX-29, Caleb. It should be in the east wing.” Steve said.
“Here it is.” Caleb picked up a black ledger. On the cover was written “Experiment AX-29”. Inside the ledger were massive walls of text that Caleb couldn’t have cared about less. He closed the ledger with a grimace.
“I can’t imagine what you want with this. The first page is enough to make me throw up.” Caleb tucked it in his belt.
“Just bring it back, Cal. You let us worry about what’s inside.” Steve replied, not even trying to hide his annoyed tone.
Before Caleb could reply, an alarm sounded in the facility.
“She shouldn’t be awake yet. Not with a direct shot in the neck.” Caleb said, alarmed.
“Well, maybe some guards found her. It’s what tends to happen when you leave a body just lying around.”
“What’s my power at?”
“Your suit can sustain another minute in camouflage, but no more.” Steve said.
“I’m turning off comms.”
“You’re doing what? Caleb, what the hell?”
Caleb turned off his radio communicator. After a few seconds, the alarm stopped. He was still inside the archives, hidden among rows of shelves. It was the perfect playground. And as he heard cautious steps around him, he knew it was playtime.
Six sets of footsteps walking outside. Two stopped at the entrance, four went in. Caleb crouched down low and crept on all fours on the floor. He saw a switch on the wall.
My, oh my. How incredibly stupid, he thought to himself. It took all his effort not to giggle as he switched the lights off.
All six heartbeats went faster.
“Captain, everything alright in there?” He heard a voice say.
“Not sure. I think someone’s in here. Sweep the area!” He heard another voice command.
A guard was coming up on his flank. Three others were in separate sections of the archives. Caleb’s knife popped out of its socket in his forearm and unfolded with an audible clang. Of course, only he could hear.
As the guard came around the corner, Caleb closed the distance between them with one stride and buried the knife deep in his eye. He caught the guard by his Kevlar suit before he could touch the floor, and pulled out the knife as he lay down the corpse. The scent of blood was oddly satisfying.
Five guards left.
There was one guard coming his way. This one had a shaky grip on his gun, which was poised and ready to fire. His breathing was also erratic, like he was afraid and unsure. Caleb flattened himself against the shelf. He saw the man. A tall, thin figure that couldn’t have been more than 26. Caleb almost felt pity for the man but he let all conscience wash away from his mind for the meantime. He knew he would enjoy breaking this one.
As his unfortunate victim went near enough to see the corpse of his dead colleague in the dark, Caleb snatched the man in one silent motion. He pinned his prey on the floor with his hand on the man’s mouth.
Caleb chuckled in the man’s face. He made sure that every curve, every detail of his mask was visible. He saw fear in the man’s eyes.
“Did you say hello to your friend over there? I killed him.” Caleb poked at the man’s neck with his knife. The man struggled.
“Did he have a family?” Caleb paused for a short moment.
“Oh wait. It doesn’t matter. He’s dead.” He chuckled.
“Do you have a family? A momma? A dada? A brother?” Caleb asked. The man whimpered.
“I see, A sister.” Caleb said slowly and menacingly.
“What did you say your name was again? Bah. I’ll just call you Fred. Can I call you Fred?”
“I think I’ll pay your family a visit sometime, Fred. We’ll have so much fun.” Caleb said with emphasis. He smiled in delight as he saw tears streaming down the man’s eyes.
“I need you to do something for me, Fred.” His voice was low and intimate.
The man’s sobbing was muffled by Caleb’s hand. His heart was beating out of his chest.
“Scream.” Then Caleb plunged his knife into the man’s arm as he faded into the shadows.
A bloodcurdling cry pierced the facility.
All five remaining guards rushed to the scene.
“Shit, Jimmy..” The captain almost gagged as he saw the grisly corpse. He knelt beside the sobbing man, whose face was now pale and sickly.
A minute of camouflage was more than enough for Caleb to run out of the facility and escape into the night. He even had time to look back at Fred and giggle.