Cavanaugh is leaned against a wall in a cave seven thousand feet above ground. His right shoulder is gone and the rest of his arm isn’t far off. His mask is cracked but still works, the right side of his chest is contracted and both his knees gave out some time ago. He’s not only fatigued. . .he’s totally fucked up. He won’t be able to do another mission, not in his life. Usually, when a Black Ops of this caliber gets fucked up like Cavanaugh, they kill themselves and call it an honorable termination. Before they pull the trigger, or slit their throats, or whatever, they push a button on the right side of their vest to let headquarters know they’re fucked up and its all over. Headquarters doesn’t respond, doesn’t try for a search and rescue, they just confirm it and cross your name off the active list and put you on the honorably terminated list. So the question is, with Cavanaugh’s injuries. . . why doesn’t he just push the button and get it over with? Why not just say fuck it and go out with the shred of honor he has left? He already fucked up five years ago and his reputation has been damaged ever since, so what was he trying to prove by staying alive? The answers are those only Cavanaugh is aware of, but another question is, why was he so glad to hear Jason was the one rescuing him? Any other Black Op would’ve been grateful but annoyed. Jason has always been at the top of the class, the boy scout, Mr. Ole Reliable, and that bothered other operatives, but it didn’t seem to bother Cavanaugh. Not in the slightest.
Lets see how you fair against it boy, Cavanaugh thinks, show us all why Lisa chose you.
Jason’s body is settling now and he gradually regains control. He stand slowly then looks up the side of the mountain where visibility is next to none. The snow comes down like a soft avalanche, not enough to kill you but if you underestimate it, it will knock your ass on the ground. Cavanaugh demanded Jason to get to him in ten but Jason knew in his state that was impossible (realistically, it’d take a couple hours to get to a seven thousand foot altitude. However, with Jason’s extreme training, the fastest he’s gotten that high is ten minutes. The training is highly classified and only those with the highest clearance have access to the exact nature of the training.) His body would give him shit and he’d be falling five hundred feet to his death. And, even if he did land in the most plush part of the ground, he’d still be badly injured. His back is the last stronghold of his body, and if that goes out. . .well, say goodbye.
Jason would have to settle for getting there in twenty to twenty-five, maybe fifteen if everything goes smoothly (a very far-fetched maybe). Jason wastes no time setting the harness and getting a move on as it pulls him up as fast and safely as possible, which isn’t very fast. Jason speeds up the process when he can by planting his feet and running up the mountain, but he’s very wary of when his legs start heating up. In about five minutes, he’s at a fifteen hundred foot elevation (which is not bad for him but would be great for a newbie). His heart is beating a hundred miles a minute, pounding like a piston trying to keep a failing engine alive. Only a few more miles to the mechanic Sally! Come on girl, you can make it!
His eyes. . .well, actually, his eyes are sharper than ever despite the snow. Highly focused on keeping the hand-eye coordination in check. Even though his mind is against him, there’s one thing they can always agree on, survival. Jason watches carefully for any slippery part, any ledge where he can potentially misstep. The point of getting away with just a broken back and sore limbs is long gone, because he’s up high. Real high. Another five minutes pass and he manages to get to a twenty-five hundred foot elevation. He realizes he’s got to pick up the pace, Cavanaugh is probably ready to have his ass when he gets there, and Jason knows from experience what happens when Cavanaugh has your ass. Things get broken and someone gets fucked up. Real fucked up. If Cavanaugh has my ass here, at least I can push the button. Jason thinks. Honorable termination is starting to sound really good about now. Now, Jason has never been suicidal. Not in the slightest. He’s encountered death many times and is very familiar with the face of the reaper. However, the growing pain in his shoulders, legs, and back are starting to become unbearable. His poker face is starting to falter, and his willpower is starting to wane. He picks up the pace but his body fights him. His shoulders scream STOP IT! You fucking asshole! while his legs cry silently. His back is trying to remain strong, even with the automatic harness pulling him, Jason still has to account for his own weight. Now, Jason is only two hundred five pounds, but, after a while, that gets heavy (even if you’ve been carrying it around for fourteen years).
Another five minutes pass, and this time he manages to get to a four thousand foot elevation, meaning he’s almost there. He keeps going without rest for another ten and gets to sixty-five hundred feet, and then, one last push, he makes it to seven thousand. When he pulls himself up, he sees the cave about ten feet to his right. The hooks on the harness retract and he walks toward the cave. When he gets in, he sees Cavanaugh.
“You’re late, boy.” Cavanaugh says breathing heavily. “I said be here in ten. Took you seventeen. You lagging on the job?”
“Then what took ya?”
Jason doesn’t reply.
“I see.” Cavanaugh coughs. “You got it too. Your body’s giving you shit, breaking down on ya, huh?”
Jason doesn’t reply. All his energy is put toward trying to stand. If he rests now, he’s not getting up. It’s over.
“I’ll tell ya whatcha got, boy.” Cavanaugh coughs. “Whatcha got, is called Degeneration. Its an injection the guys upstairs administer to newbies when they become Black Ops, right before training begins. The injection is meant to make you stronger, faster, tougher, better. Basically, it’s meant to turn you into a super-soldier. The training you underwent in your twenties was the prime your body up for the injection to do its thing, that’s why we had to break ya first. We analyzed your bodies, figured out your strengths and weaknesses as regular soldiers. We cross-referenced those attributes with that of the strongest soldiers then organized individual training programs. That’s why the only time you did team training was to fight against each other or for simulated field missions.
“The name of the serum is DGX. You can guess what that stands for. The serum is meant to enhance all strengths and weaknesses for a period of time. That remains undetermined because each soldier’s body is different. Some it’d last for a couple months, some just a couple week, maybe a year or two before the Degeneration kicks in. But, there was one soldier, one in particular, where the Degeneration didn’t come in at all. It didn’t come in a week, a month, a year, or even three to five years. In fact, the serum was working perfectly in this one. Every result desirable was coming to pass, and the guys upstairs took notice. I think you and I both know who we’re talking about, don’tcha boy?
Jason didn’t reply
“That’s right,” Cavanaugh coughs, “the guys upstairs noticed ya, and they took a very keen interest to see how the serum was gonna play out. I gotta say, you’re one helluva soldier, boy. For fourteen years you’ve surpassed all expectation, exceeded all standards, and have demonstrated with exemplary fashion what the Black Ops are all about. That’s coming from me, commander to soldier.”
“Why tell me this now?”
“Because this is your last mission boy.” Cavanaugh coughs. “And why do you think that is? Why is this, of all things, your last mission? Right before Lisa Pratt’s wedding?”
“That’s above my clearance, sir.”
“Drop the “sir”, boy!” Cavanaugh coughs. “We’ve known each other long enough. But really, I know you’re not stupid. You’re a model soldier, no doubt. Always followed orders and codes to the T, even now. I’d ask if you know who she’s getting married to, but of course ya don’t. Info’s outside your clearance. Funny though, especially considering how critical you are to the mission.”
Jason gets a look on his face. Cavanaugh notices.
“Ah,” Cavanaugh chuckles then coughs, “now you’re starting to wonder, ain’t ya, boy? Why you for this mission? You were just about to retire, weren’t you? Yeah, I remember. You’d just gotten back from the peninsula. Your usual poker face wasn’t there, you were frustrated. It was your third rescue mission in about five days. You were pissed but you tried not to show it. I bet I know the question that was going through your head at the time, it was something like, ‘aren’t these guys supposed to be Black Ops? What the fuck are they doing out there?’ or something like that.
Jason’s breathing gets heavier as what Cavanaugh says begins to weigh on him.
“Yeah, that’s exactly what you were thinking.” Cavanaugh chuckles. “You went to Pratt’s office and asked to resign. I can bet she looked in your eyes and knew you were dead serious. You were tired of saving people’s asses all the time. These guys are Black Ops! They shouldn’t need saving! And every time you see them, something unusual is going on with them. Their bodies are broken in some way you’ve never seen before. But hey, you’ve been through extreme training, so it shouldn’t faze you. Normally, it wouldn’t but this was different. The guys were falling like flies out there. There were no signs of attack, struggle, enemy ambush, nothing. It was just them looking all mangled and broken, with no logical explanation.
“You wanted out. Pratts knows you’re the thing she’s got, so she offers ya one last mission. Something easy, a retrieval mission. Not too much, right? Yeah, I bet that’s what ya thought. Well? Is it too much now?”
Jason stands there looking grim. His shoulders slumped forward, his legs desperately struggling not to give out from underneath him, long yet shallow breaths are all either of them hear. Jason Maccavelli and Kurt Cavanaugh, two of the Black Ops top operative reduced to rotten slabs of meat forgotten in the freezer, left to rot in a cave seven thousand feet in a cold and unforgiving mountain.
“So,” Jason finally asks in a raspy voice, “do you want me to rescue you or not?”
“Hmph!” Cavanaugh laughs and coughs. “I think you and I know its over for me, boy.” He leans his head back on the icy wall. “You’re almost as fucked up as I am. You have a slither of a chance of escape where I. . .well, thank God for the button, I suppose.”
“Honorable Termination.” Jason confirms.
“With the shit that happened a couple years ago, that ain’t exactly the case.” Cavanaugh starts getting dizzy. His head rocking back and forth as if being lulled. “The guys upstairs are just as cold as this mountain, boy. Never forget that.”
Jason turns to leave the cave. He gets as far as the entrance.
“And boy,” Cavanaugh calls and Jason turns, “watch out for Mr. Stealth.”
Jason nods and leaves the cave.
Mr. Stealth has always been quiet and reserved. Not because that’s the nature of his job, but simply because that’s his personality. No one knows anything about Mr. Stealth. Name, age, address, clearance, nothing. Everything is extremely classified and only of the most protected secret. Mr. Stealth has been dispatched to assist Lisa Pratt with her wedding, to ensure everything goes of without a hitch. He watches from atop the castle, near the spot Lisa had been to watch the sun rise, ensuring no one or no-thing gets out of order or somehow forgets its place. He peaks through the windows, watching the servants and maids prepare everything, and Lisa, oh how he watches Lisa Pratt. He watches the movement of her lips as she gives orders, the movement of her hands as they go on and off her hips, the way her ponytail seems to wag like a dog’s tail. Now, Mr. Stealth isn’t in love with Lisa, not in the slightest. In fact, he’s indifferent. If the higher-ups gave him and order to assassinate Lisa he’d do it in a heartbeat. She wouldn’t know what’d hit her. Mr. Stealth remains outside of the castle, however. He has no interest in ceremonies and niceties of any kind. He lives for the Black Ops. It’s his passion, so to speak, if such a thing exists for him.
Mr. Stealth turns from Lisa and the wedding and looks toward the sun. His face remains expressionless but his energy is anything but. He’s heard many things about Jason Maccavelli. Many impressive things indeed. He’s even heard rumor of Jason becoming the next Stealth Operative, the highest and most classified honor any soldier can receive, and that absolutely thrills Mr. Stealth! Finally, someone worthy of his time and attention!
Now, being the stealthy individual he is, Mr. Stealth has heard Lisa voice her doubts to herself in her room at night. He’s heard her voice them in her dreams as well. He’s heard the chatter amongst the service and help. He’s also heard talks from some of the administration about who Lisa is marrying (the person remains a mystery, only Lisa knows). And, judging from everything, Mr. Stealth thinks the prospect of shadowing Jason Maccavelli an interesting one. In fact, he’s been shadowing him for quite some time.
Mr. Stealth puts his hand to his ear, “Lila, what’s the word on Mr. Maccavelli?”
“He’s just now leaving the cave on Frost Mountain, sir.”
“Ah, he’s decided not to rescue Cavanaugh after all.” Mr. Stealth chuckles. “Smart.”
“Sir,” Lila responds, “Should I return with the diamond?”
“She doesn’t need it now.” Mr. Stealth replies. “Just be here at the appointed time and nothing will be amiss. Keep an eye on Maccavelli, I should like to test him myself should he make it.”
“Yes sir,” Lila says, “and sir?”
“I’d like to make an evaluation on Maccavelli.”
“Alright, what’s the verdict?”
Lila pauses for a moment, “He’s one helluva soldier, sir.”
Mr. Stealth always wears a mask, but, even with it on, one would be able to perceive the grin that’s just come over his face. “Ensure he makes it.”
“Yes, sir.” Lila says. “Black Leopard out.”
Mr. Stealth takes his hand from his ear, “A stellar evaluation indeed, Mr. Maccavelli.” Mr. Stealth pauses, “A stellar evaluation. . .indeed.”
Jason is free-falling from Frost mountain. He decides jumping would be the fastest way to get down, and in a way he’s right. It’s also the most deadly, for if he strays too far from the wall, well, you know the result. Jason jumped right around the time Lila gave her stellar evaluation (for that’s what caused it in the first place). His body is freezing up fast but he remains calm and still. He relaxes his muscles as the frigid air smacks his mask and protective clothing and gear, visibility is next to zero but he can still tell he has a ways before he reaches the ground. The weight of his thoughts seem to be accelerating his fall as he pays no heed to them. He lets his mind put things together, ask questions outside his clearance, and reevaluate his life decisions (and whether they were decisions in the first place). Jason doesn’t know how much time passes, but he gets a feeling he’s about to touch ground real soon; so, he shifts his weight toward the mountain, pounds the accumulated snow off the harness and sets it then out the hooks come, latching onto the rockiest part (even when falling at a rate of 200mph). The hooks drag for a moment but eventually halt his descent and lets him down at a safe rate. Ten minutes pass before Jason touches ground and when he does, he falls to his knees.
He’s exhausted. Bone-tired. Frozen. He tries to take a long, healthy breath but his body’s in no condition to do so. All he can take are short and shallow breaths, taking in little oxygen. He wills himself up and just manages to make it back to his car. He gets in and shuts the door. He tries to start it up but the engine doesn’t want to cooperate. He turns the key again and again, and after a couple tries the car roars to life. He doesn’t turn on the heat because it’ll be plenty hot where he’s passing through next.
The Twin Volcanoes of the Cracked Sea.
The time now is 1600 as Lisa walks around the castle, inspecting the rooms for the umpteenth time. Each room seems to be in order with made beds, lovely white drapes, large, clean windows that look out into the jagged rocks leading to the sea. She checks all thirty rooms and they all look the same. Flawless. Professionally flawless. She, however, does not. Sweat drips from her brow and down her neck and chest, her hair is getting messy again, and when she walks over to look at herself in one of the expansive mirrors, she isn’t sure if she’s looking at herself or Medusa in a bad human costume. Three hours. She thinks. Better start getting ready.
As she’s about to follow her directive, she spots Mr. Stealth outside, waiting patiently. For what, she can only guess but she doesn’t have time for that now. She has to be ready at precisely 1900. As long as Mr. Stealth does his job and nothing more she has nothing to worry about. . .except Jason. Is he going to make it? I don’t know. She thinks. A better question is can he make it?
She pushes the question out of her mind and goes to get ready.