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An Operation in Darkness

A fiction piece by Eli Shoup, freshman Mechanical Engineering Major

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“This is a low-class operation, right?” Mr. Finch asked. He warily clutched the holster at his thigh, glancing at his annoyed “comrades.” The claustrophobic interior of the armored truck lurched, causing the group enclosed within to bump shoulders in the dim light. The party consisted of four tactical agents, their commander, and Mr. Finch, sweating uncomfortably in his overweight body. The agents beside him shifted awkwardly.


“Right, Arctic?” Finch whined towards the commander.


“Of course, Finch,” Arctic answered emotionlessly. His eyes were closed, and he leaned against the wall with a unique, smooth rifle gripped in hand. “Only the survival of the Company itself depends on the mission’s success. I wouldn’t worry about it.”


Finch licked his lips nervously. He blinked a few times. The agents flanking him snickered apprehensively, their uniforms slick with his sweat.


“I assume this has been kept on the most secret servers, in that case? We don’t want any. . .outside interference? We didn’t let anything slip, right?” Finch asked, wiping his glasses with a cloth from his back pocket and focusing only on Arctic.


“It doesn’t seem that you read the mission outline fully, Agent Finch. You know what you’re supposed to accomplish, yes?” Arctic growled without opening his eyes.


“Of course!” said Finch combatively. “But this seems like a little much for extracting and destroying intelligence.” He glanced at the agents around him, and their rifles. He swallowed apprehensively and turned to Arctic again.


“He won’t be there, will he?”


There was a laugh. “You really are something, aren’t you?!” a redheaded agent said contemptuously and glared at Finch with a mocking grin. He looked to Arctic with an expression that said this guy’s an idiot.


“Shut it, Valens,” Arctic warned, his patience wearing thin. The truck hit a bump, and his helmet thudded against the wall.


Valens looked at Finch with that same mocking disbelief. “He better figure out what’s going on now, or he’s gonna lose it in the field, Arctic.”


“What?” Finch gawked piteously.


Arctic was silent, but a muscle in his cheek twitched in anger.

“I don’t know what the hell you think your mission is, Fatboy, but you’re wrong. You’re bait—or rather, your info is. We leaked this operation. He is going to be there, and you are going to bring him to us. Work fast and you might get to keep your arms and teeth.”


“Valens!” Arctic’s cold eyes were upon him. Silence engulfed the truck. Finch stared at the floor, sweating more (if that was even possible).


Valens smirked and coolly stared back at Arctic.


“When we get back, I’ll see to it personally that the General knows of your indiscretion,” Arctic said, furious.


Valens’ eyes hardened and his smile faded.


“You’ll be fine, Finch,” the commander assured him tiredly. “We’re meeting one of the new assets at the scene. Apparently, she’s a badass with a rifle.”


Valens shook his head with an annoyed grimace of recognition. The others turned to him. Another agent looked up from tweaking the sights of his automatic and cleared his throat.


“We have plenty of those, sir.” Valens scoffed again.


Arctic’s eyes moved slowly across the cabin of the truck. “Apparently, she doesn’t miss,” he said, smiling now.


Two minutes later, the truck pulled discreetly into the parking lot of the scene and rolled to a halt. Arctic rose and checked his strange gun one last time. The others (save Finch, who fiddled with his holster) followed suit. The driver of the truck made his way around and silently opened the oiled back doors. The group of six then clambered out, Finch with some difficulty.


At three in the morning, with the streetlights cut, the place was dark as pitch. The building, packed during daylight hours, was desolate. Finch shivered in the cold April air and looked up at all thirty floors. He grimaced. Arctic hefted his rifle and signaled the driver, who nodded and left with the truck.


The distant noise of traffic was not enough to conceal their collective unease.


Finch was still gawking. “Dorium Post?” he asked out loud. The newspaper and media business had a history of publicizing corruption in the city. Being at the rear of the place in the dark, it had taken him a second to recognize the building.


He could be anywhere, a tiny voice muttered inside his head. Finch stared wildly at the windows surrounding them. He could be staring through any of those, waiting, watching. You’ll never reach that computer, much less extract and delete those files. Do you like your teeth? Remember the last guy who had a run-in with this maniac?


Arctic hissed something to agent Houser, who got to work on the locked door.


Finch began to panic. “Are you sure this is safe?” His voice was louder than intended, and many eyes snapped towards him in the darkness. “I mean, I’m sure there’s at least one night watchman in there somewhere, and security cameras—top-notch security, yes!”


“Finch, if you don’t shut your trap, I’ll have Valens shut it for you,” Arctic vowed. He stepped closer, “Everything is taken care of. Our inside man disabled the cameras and relocated the guard. Once this door is open, it’s all downhill. We meet the new asset, set up positions, you extract and delete the designated data, we catch the crazy bastard messing with us, and we go home. Now, arm yourself, and let’s get this over with.”


Finch’s uneasy breathing slowed, and he drew the gun from his thigh holster, “Okay . . ."


Houser had gotten the door open and stepped aside. Arctic led the group into the darkened building. The floor was tile, and the pebbles that had collected in Finch’s shoes from the cracked parking lot outside came loose and scraped against the floor. Mouths grimaced in the darkness while Finch leaned against the wall and picked the pebbles out.


No one could see, and their progress was slow going, with Finch and his pebbles still scraping along. At one point, Houser went for his light but Arctic stopped him. “We can talk freely, but if someone sees the light on the outside they’ll get suspicious.” Arctic whispered furiously, shaking his head, “I thought you were a professional!”


“Sorry, sir,” Houser muttered, ashamed.


Arctic continued to lead the way. When he turned around, Finch spotted an odd contraption attached to his head (or what he assumed was Arctic’s head, he couldn’t be sure in the dark), glowing a faint green. Finch assumed it was night vision. He was about to ask why everyone didn’t have one when Arctic stopped the squad by a wall, opening an unoiled door with a resonant creak. Pale light radiated outward. The entire group shifted uncomfortably as Arctic motioned for them to enter. It led to a grimy stairwell, which rose in upward squares to the roof. Finch wanted to complain but thought better of it; he hated stairs. During the climb, an additional presence made them uneasy. They glanced regularly over their shoulders until they reached the third floor, with Finch wheezing steadily. And then the presence they had felt made itself known.

The seventh agent, leaning against the wall, made them jump. It was obvious she affiliated herself with the Company from the start, as she was dressed in ways only The Company could provide. She was clad in combat armor, shadowy purple in hue, which encased her torso and legs. Tactical combat gloves shielded her hands, while a protective black mask covered her neck up to her nose. Her green eyes were exposed, but not for long, as she placed on an additional helm which hid the top half of her face. The helm’s color was similar to her armor, and it was nearly blank a visor which her eyes peered through shrewdly. What looked like a sniper rifle in some prototype form was leaning against the wall next to her, and two strange handguns were strapped to her thighs via holsters.


They stared at each other for a few seconds before she spoke.


“I've been here for the past two hours, monitoring the cams. No one has been in or out of the building.”


Arctic shifted. “I assumed they would have gotten some grunt to watch the cams. It seems below you.”

“It was assigned to me.” She was curt, her eyes lingering on the agents’ rifles. “Those are set to stun, correct?”


“They’re assault rifles!” Houser protested, and the group nodded in agreement (Valens stood silently with his look of max indifference). Arctic, with his smoothed weapon, looked to the ceiling, ashamed of his squad.


“None of you read the mission outline well enough. This is a corner and capture operation. You should’ve brought the new cannons that were handed out a month ago,” she muttered angrily. “Your commander brought his; he shouldn’t have had to remind you guys.”


“It’s possible they don’t want to be killed, Raven,” Valens hissed.


Arctic closed his eyes in exasperation.


Her gaze fell to Valens, a hostile past evident between them. “He’s faced weapons like yours before and escaped, Valens,” Raven reprimanded stonily. “I think it’s best that you stick to listening to your superiors, as they have put more thought into keeping you alive than you have.”


Valens glared yet was impatient to start, so he silenced himself.


The situation was strange, yet what made it so? Finch stared intently at her for a few seconds before coming to the realization that the asset, as professional as she was, couldn’t have been over twenty years old. She continued scrutinizing the rest of the group before speaking again. “I guess nothing can be done about it now. Shoot to injure. You guys have dug yourselves into a pretty deep hole. If he escapes, you will suffer unpleasant consequences. If he is killed, even worse.” She shook her head and looked towards the commander who seemed to be the only one she wasn’t disappointed with. “Your name?”


“Joseph Storm. You’ll hear my squad call me Arctic, but that’s irrelevant. Yours?”


“Raven.” She looked around again. “The longer one of us is away from the cams the greater the chance he has of getting in unnoticed. You know the plan?”


“If it hasn’t changed since we left the laboratory, yes.”


“Alright. I’ll take Mr. Finch here up to level five, and we’ll get working.”


Finch, who had been staring at the floor, glanced up nervously at Raven, who met his gaze. She slung the rifle across her back and proceeded up the staircase, Finch following fearfully in the dim light. Arctic and the rest of his squad stayed on the third floor. The pair could still hear them speaking as they approached floor five.


“...Watch each other’s backs and keep your radios on. I want Houser with Smith on this floor watching the stairs and elevator, meaning one of you stays right here and the other watches the video surveillance that Agent Raven left on. Valens and Williams will be above, on level four, in position for skirmish once he shows himself. Rhodes will be with me on floor five, waiting for the target to make his move on Finch…”


Their voices cut off as Finch closed the staircase’s door behind them. Now it was just Raven and Finch, treading quietly through a hallway of darkness. Finch’s shoes made the usual ruckus, while Raven’s boots made no sound. In contrast to his wheezing and sweating, she was so silent he often had to check to make sure she was still there.


They passed an open doorway which revealed an open office space with roughly fifty messy cubicles covered in piles of papers and yellow sticky notes. The office room included huge windows which let in the light of a crescent moon that had previously been obscured by unseen clouds; a set of double doors on the other side were marked by a crimson “exit” sign which burned brightly in the dark. Raven turned into this room and Finch followed, handgun in pudgy hand, his eyes darting around, searching for something, anything, that would alert him of the danger coming for him. Every filing cabinet appeared to be a hulking silhouette in the moonlight; passing dead computer screens made him jump at his reflection. Raven, now at the doors, glanced backward at Finch, who tiptoed along slowly behind her.


“The quicker we get this done, the sooner you can go home,” she muttered and impatiently pulled the glass door open, ushering the man through.


Finch spoke more confidently than he felt, “He’s not in here somewhere, right?”


They had arrived in a larger, more personal office with several computers and laptops hidden amongst piled files and scattered memos. Pictures of family members lined the walls, and a large window looked upon the city skyline. Finch began powering things on, and glanced over his shoulder at Raven, awaiting her answer.

“Not . . . as far as I know,” Raven replied, studying the glass doors before locking them. “But he has gotten into places unseen, countless times.”


He clenched his hands and sat wearily in the office chair in front of him. The sudden brightness of the computer made him blink in pain, momentarily dazed. “I’ll just, uh, get to work then.” He typed out the leaked credentials that had been given to him.


Raven leaned against the wall and divided her time between lazily eyeing the glass door and observing Finch as he clacked away. The room was silent for several minutes before she spoke again. “So . . . how long is this operation of yours going to take?”


“Depends,” he frowned, focused on his work. “Every system’s different. I have to locate the files and grab them, then find where they’re stashed in the cloud, and delete them there…”


Raven nodded and looked away, appearing both bored and deep in thought. She reached down and twisted the knob on her radio, which began to emit a soft static hum.


“...and, if I’m feeling generous, I will install a virus to please the Company,” Finch continued, assuming she was still listening.


“‘The Company?’” Raven sounded puzzled.


“Yeah, the Company,” he said without looking up from his work.


The recognition hit. “Oh, you mean H.Y.D.E.,” her eyes returned to boredom.


“I guess that’s the real name, isn’t it? I never use it.” His nervousness drained as he worked on something familiar.


She’d lost interest again. Only the keyboard noise and mutterings of the other six through Raven’s radio punctuated the silence. As Finch worked, he couldn’t stop imagining footsteps creeping towards them and other terrors that were to come. Raven and the agents seemed positive that He would show up, but Finch didn’t know why—that maniac had targeted the operations of the Company like a ruthless madman.


Finch cleared his throat again, eager to break the silence. “What exactly do you know about—well— Him?”


Raven blinked under her helm once before she realized what he was talking about.


“Well, I know He isn’t referred to as ‘Him’ in the field. His exploits started several months ago with one of the Company’s classified operations. How he knew about it we don’t know, yet he arrived unexpectedly and dismantled the op’ fairly easily. One agent at the scene testified that all of the power died simultaneously beforehand. He was pretty beat up, though. We didn’t know if his words were reliable. Incidents like that one have happened frequently in recent months—always in the darkness.”


“So . . . that’s what we’re expecting to happen here?”


Raven nodded, looking slightly uncertain herself.


“Anyway,” Raven continued, “The power failure stunts caused him to be dubbed ‘Blackout’ over the air and in the field.”


“Have you seen him before?”


“Several times. I’ve shot at him, fought him hand-to-hand. Even thought I’d killed him once. But he always slips away. The Company wanting him alive doesn’t make it any easier. Valens has been demoted for it—no loss there—and my reputation has suffered, too. I’m surprised no one has been killed yet. It’s about time this nonsense stops.”


Finch mentally noted that the “nonsense” she was speaking of included people like him being injured on a regular basis. Not everyone was combat-trained. “How does he always get away then? With you and Arctic on his tail, it seems it would be impossible to elude the Company for long.”


Raven’s eyes narrowed, “He has these . . . tools.” She sounded bitter. “Like the ‘pulse’ that takes out the power, the agent’s flashlights, everything. He’s also got these massive silver gauntlets, charged with electricity. They pack quite a punch. And then there’s that blank, dome-like helmet that I’m sure has some kind of night-vision.”


Raven had gone from a bored professional to resembling a schoolgirl struggling with algebra. She seemed to notice the change and collected herself.


“Parts of his armor are bulletproof as well. It baffles me how he can get these things when the Company monitors all those delivery networks.”


If Finch was afraid earlier, it was nothing compared to now. He was shaking again, almost unable to focus on his work. It was roughly halfway done, and it seemed pointless to finish if he was going to be hunted down by Blackout.


Raven noticed this, and commanded firmly, “Finish your work. We’ll take care of the maniac and keep him off of you.” She shook her head wearily and moved away from the wall. Something was off. She moved to the door impatiently and surveyed the office spaces outside. “I expected it to start by now,” she murmured softly, lifting the radio to her ear. “Are we seeing anything on the cams? Smith? Houser?”


“Nothing,” replied Houser. “This is possibly the most boring operation I’ve ever participated in. Smith, you seeing or hearing anything in the stairwell?”


Raven and Houser waited for Smith’s response.


Silence.


Arctic’s voice broke through the static. “Houser, check on Smith but make it quick. Something’s wrong here. Valens, Williams, check-in.”

Valens’ bored voice came through. “Here. This seems to be a big waste of time.” Raven looked up to find Finch staring at her, worried. “Everything alright?” he asked meekly.


“It’s too alright,” Raven muttered back. “Houser’s on the cams and seen nothing. It sounds like Smith is asleep. Valens and Williams are hiding down on four. Arctic and Rhodes are with us in separate rooms. And yet nothing has happ—”


“Smith’s out cold! Smith’s out cold!” Houser’s voice rang through the radio frantically. “What?!” Raven, Valens, and Arctic all called back at once.


It was then that the power went out.


The radio was dead, along with the computer Finch was working on. There had been no overhead lights on before, but the ominous message was still sent. He made a pathetic noise and slid out of his chair onto the floor. Raven drew her pistols and dragged Finch to his feet. “Get a hold of yourself!” He recoiled as she set him back in the chair like a child.


Raven left him alone in the office, “Don’t unlock this door under any circumstances.”


He felt a resigned calm come over him. Finch hadn’t finished his task but had managed to copy the files before everything went dead. He clutched the powerless computer to his chest and slid under the desk in front of him, listening for anything unusual.


Outside, he could see Raven through the glass door as she moved swiftly through the rows of cubicles, handguns out. She turned the corner into the hallway and disappeared from view. He was alone now, with one thought dominating his consciousness: Blackout was here somewhere. And he was coming for Finch.


Frantic yelling from below pierced his eardrums. It might’ve come from Houser, but Finch couldn’t be sure. He squeezed his eyes shut and listened in horror.


“WHERE IS HE?!”


“HE WENT IN THERE!”


Glass broke. Suppressed gunfire hissed through the night.


“HE’S RIGHT THERE!” That sounded like Valens.


“AARRRGGGG—”


Footsteps pounded up the staircase; they were coming. It was as if all the fear in him had leaked out, and he couldn’t even panic. Now, it was just acceptance, perhaps.


“Let’s move, Rhodes!” Arctic crossed his line of sight briefly with Rhodes behind. It wasn’t long before their battle cries added to the rest of them. The pulsing scream of Arctic’s cannon joined the desperate staccato of silenced rifles.


“VALENS, WHERE IS HE? WHERE IS WILLIAMS?”


“I’M OUT, COVER ME—AAAGG—”


“RHODES IS DOWN!”


“VALENS, GET BACK HERE! IT’S NOW OR NEVER!”


Valens hadn’t thought twice about leaving the battle. He skidded into view, bolted toward the glass door between them, slammed into it, and tried to pry them open. Raven had taken care of that, however.


“Open this door, Finch!” Valens howled, alerting the entire surrounding area to his presence. Finch shook his head stiffly.


Behind Valens, silhouetted in the moonlight, emerged something—a tall, built figure with a dome-shaped helm encasing his face. A monster from some terrible scene. How he’d gotten through five assault rifles with nothing but his hands, Finch could not even guess. And yet there he was: Blackout, in all his terrible glory.


Valens was oblivious, screaming and yelling at Finch to open the door. In no time, Blackout’s gauntleted hands had thrown him towards the cubicles. Valens hit the ground head-first and was out like a light. What happened next was strange. Blackout’s expressionless mask looked slowly at Finch, and then he strolled over to Valens’ unconscious body as if examining it. After a few seconds, he nodded to himself and turned towards Finch once again.


It was then Raven made her appearance. She seemed to fall from the ceiling, fists raised high in some form of attack. Blackout swiftly sidestepped her move and brought his fist around in a violent swing that would’ve taken her out like Valens, but she withdrew swiftly. Her kick made contact with his domed helm and Blackout stumbled back, which led her to capitalize with a salvo of blows; Raven flew in with a flurry of fists mercilessly, aiming for weaknesses in his armor. Blackout parried her attacks and volunteered a few of his own, striking when he was given openings. Finch began to realize he was watching a battle between two masters of combat. The two of them, locked as they were in the darkness, were impossible for Finch to keep up with; the skill involved he could only imagine.


In retaliation to Raven’s fury, Blackout blocked the bulk of her attacks with one hand and grabbed a solitary laptop off of a nearby desk with the other. A strong swing of the weapon to Raven’s head threw her to the ground, where she leaped to her feet and flung one of her handguns into her fist, leveling it at Blackout.


They were both still for what might’ve been forever. Suddenly, almost too fast to see, Blackout flung the heavy device and Raven, in turn, fired.


The bullet impacted his shoulder, twisting him backward. He stumbled to the ground, but the bullet hadn’t pierced the armor. Pulling himself back up, Blackout rose with fists raised, ready for more and convinced it wasn’t over.


But it was. Raven was unconscious five feet from Valens.


Blackout turned toward the glass door, breathing heavily. He reached it, searched his gear, and grabbed a sharp tool. Within two seconds the glass of the door was shattered; He stepped through the sharp, gaping mouth of the door adeptly, and the featureless silver helm that covered his head peered down at Finch who cowered under the desk, the laptop seized in his arms.


“GiVe It tO Me.” Blackout’s voice was electronically garbled, and his gauntleted hand was outstretched towards Finch—or rather, to the laptop.


Finch knew that he was no hero. Maybe a braver man would have put up a fight, but not him.


Whimpering and staring at anything but the human monster, he extended a trembling hand and pushed the device along the floor. Blackout picked it up, seemed satisfied, and turned away.


“GeT oUt oF ThE CitY. If I FiNd yOu aGaiN, yOu WilL RegreT iT.”


Finch mumbled incoherently. And stared at the ground. And waited. After ten minutes, he looked up to find himself alone, unscathed and terrified in the oppressive darkness.


In the next room, Raven stirred. But by the time she had awoken, Finch was long gone.

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