Dead Reckoning
rating: +21+x

The bow of the speedboat crashed into a wave, spraying saltwater into Katzin's nose and mouth. A very unfamiliar sensation to a man born and raised in the Midwest. He reflexively licked his lips. Long ago, he'd decided that the open sea wasn't for him. When he retired, he'd rather have a house on the lakefront.

Agent Patrick Katzin had stationed himself at the helm of the boat, hands wrapped around the wheel. His eyes flicked over to the compass; he was making sure to follow the compass heading that would take them to the island. His partner, Agent Gertrude Singer, stood towards the back and meticulously took inventory for the third time thus far. The sun lingered at its high point, lighting up the high points of the water.

The agents were here for one simple reason: to extract an anomalous cannon from the island. Presently, it belonged to Oblix, a company who'd made a name for themselves through some dubiously legal plays in the public broadcasting sector. Given that they were implicated in a disaster that killed 1,500 people, the SCP Foundation decided that it no longer belonged in their hands. Katzin, Singer and an as-of-yet undisclosed undercover agent had been tasked with covertly smuggling the cannon out of Oblix's island complex without anyone knowing better.

It was a mission just like any other. Quiet. Aware. Effective. No one would know that it had vanished until long after their boat was dry.

Speaking of dry, they were breaking rule number one of a partnership: you have to talk to each other. Singer finally broke that silence.

"So, what makes you the best agent for the job?" she asked. If I understand, their commander selected Katzin specifically for the job. An odd request, given that Katzin was working for another department at the time.

"I've made extractions similar to this mission," Katzin replied. He turned to look at Singer, causing the sunlight to glint off of his mirrored sunglasses. "Directory Stanley wants a sure thing, and I can deliver."


"What are you trying to say?"

Singer reattached her pen to the clipboard and made direct eye contact with Katzin. "Then why did he have to bring you back? If you're the Savior of Sneaking, why did he get rid of you in the first place?"

Katzin paused for a second to think about it, and then turned back towards the empty horizon. He said the same thing he'd told himself every day for the past seven years.

"I made an executive decision seven years ago. I minimized losses and completed the mission. Unfortunately, that caused something of a scandal." Katzin paused, looking down and dusting his suit with his hand. "The Ethics Committee came for my career. It was decided that I should have no further interaction with the Operational Task Force."

"Minimized 'losses?'" Obviously not the best way of putting it.

"I completed the mission. That's all that matters. If I could go back, I'd do it again."

Singer opened her mouth to respond, hung there for a second, and then went back to inventory. She glanced over to Katzin again, who couldn't tell whether she was annoyed or disgusted.

"As of now, we have twenty hours until Peters' deadline," Katzin said, to himself more than to Singer. "We need to act quickly."

Singer did not respond.

Katzin turned his gaze back to the horizon, where the target island had come into view.

"We're here," said Katzin. "Remember: be quiet, be aware. Be effective."

The undercover agent had identified a rocky cove on the island's south end. Oblix hadn't built anything there yet, and it was unlikely a security guard would check there during a regular patrol. To top it off, the water was calm. Katzin barely had any trouble docking the boat and anchoring to a rock.

Back in the day, Stanley would've been on the boat with them. Thanks to new technology, they didn't have to do that. The boat was equipped with a high-power radio transmitter. With it, Katzin and Singer could communicate directly with Director Stanley, who was stationed at a Foundation outpost on a former oil rig.

Shortly after the agents made their way up from the cove and were no longer in danger of getting their dress shoes wet, Katzin took out his radio from inside of his jacket.

"Let's give the radio a test run," he said, extending the antenna. He cleared his throat before he depressed the button. "This is Hansel, reporting that we've reached the witch's house, over."

"That's just idiotic," Singer said.

"I don't know, we don't want Oblix knowing that we're here," Katzin replied.

"I think that, if Peters hears us talking about the Brothers Grimm, he'll know that something's wrong."

"Peters isn't even here. The Foundation sent an ambassador to keep him distracted."

Singers' next thought was interrupted by Stanley's reply. "Understood. What is your current status? Over."

Katzin raised the radio. "We have not yet been seen. My sea legs are coming back. Where do I meet Agent Hor-" He stopped himself and pinched the bridge of his nose before he corrected himself. "…Gretel? Over."

"Look at that," Singer said sarcastically, "now Oblix is about to come crashing down on us, private military and all."

"They wouldn't dare," Katzin replied. "They're holding a ballroom dance in their mansion, way over there. By my reckoning, they have a few dozen VIPs."

"Gretel is currently posing as security for a ballroom dance on the main floor of the mansion," Stanley said. "Pretend to be culinary staff in order to get in. From there, make your way down to the laboratory."

With Katzin's suit and Singers' dress, they looked just like high-class culinary staff. The kind that a certain group of people did not background check as well as they said they did. The agents would be able to sneak in without anyone realizing.

"How are we getting in?" Singer asked. "What's our entry point?"

"I'm a people person," Katzin replied. "I can get myself— us, in."

"You need a backup plan, just in case one of them gets smart."

"You're right." Katzin picked up the radio. "Understood. Do I have the clearance necessary to use knockout gas on any guards that I encounter? Over."

"Knockout gas?" Singer exclaimed.

Katzin fingered the tube he kept next to his gun and his cyanide. He glanced over to Singer. "You don't get as far as I have unless you're willing to tear-gas a cronie. If I have to."

Stanley replied posthaste. "Emergency situations only. Avoid guards if at all possible. Over."

Katzin raised the radio, intending to give Stanley a piece of his mind, but Singer grabbed his forearm and pulled it away.

"Don't. I'm sure Stanley hired you back on the condition that you don't make these calls in the first place."

"Remember that Oblix is using a potential international incident to blackmail the Prime Minister. What's wrong with wanting to see this through?"

"Do you really want to rot in Site Security for the rest of your life?"

"I wouldn't mind it. It's not a bad job. Lower risk of fish people pulling your toenails out for information."

"Patrick. Behave."

Katzin exhaled through his nose before talking back into the radio. "Understood. Over and out."

Singer sighed. "There. Now, before we commit to any atrocities, let's get into the tunnels and find Horn."

"Can't wait," Katzin replied in a patently sarcastic tone of voice. After taking a minute to collect his thoughts, he set off in the direction of the mansion. He had people he needed to convince.

Dr. Maxwell Daniels was an important man. He always walked not only with purpose, but with dignity. When he marched on by, you'd stand up a little straighter and work a little harder. If he wanted to meet with you, you wore your Sunday best and ended every sentence with "sir". At least, that's how Daniels saw himself. However, as the director of the Foundation Corporate Relations Division, he wasn't too far from the truth.

The Oblix Headquarters Tower was an odd duck, being a hybrid between a television broadcasting tower and a corporate office building. Naturally, the broadcasting equipment occupied the top half of the building, while the offices were on the lower floors. This lent itself to the paradox where it was much more prestigious to meet someone on the 3rd floor than it was on the 30th.

Briefcase in his left hand and fake FBI credentials in the right, Daniels walked through the state-of-the-art automatic sliding doors and turned briefly to the secretary.

"Agent Daniels, FBI. I'm here to talk to Peters."

Without missing a beat, Daniels then turned right back onto his path. He wasn't about to be stopped by the secretary's meager protests. If Peters wasn't ready to talk to him, so be it.

Daniels took the elevator to the 3rd floor, in order to avoid wrinkling his three piece suit. He made a beeline straight into Peters' office, making a point of only introducing himself with a simple "hello".

The first thing Daniels thought when he saw Peters was, "time has not been kind to this man." The combed-over bald spot was the first evidence of age that he saw, but then he noticed the saggy skin, the boils and the blatant use of makeup. He might've been muscular once- he had broad shoulders- but the vitality had long since faded.

"I missed a charity party for this," Peters said, "so this'd better be important."

Daniels pulled out a chair and sat down, making level eye contact with Peters.

"The FBI is investigating you for smuggling illegal items," Daniels replied in a monotone. He opened up his briefcase and gently placed a folder on the table. "Your company has bought bonds from several shell companies based in the Soviet Union and South America. These companies are known groups of interest to us."

"So you're investigating my company for… doing business?" Peters leaned back. "Every company buys bonds. Are you really going to indict me for that?"

"We've already talked to some of your executives." Daniels opened the folder and tapped his finger against a set of transcribed conversations. "They weren't consulted." Daniel flipped through the folder to a set of financial statements. "In addition, those groups of interest started sending some interesting cargo to certain addresses. These addresses are owned by shell companies which, eventually, trace back to you."

"Those aren't associated with me," replied Peters, pushing his glasses up his nose. "Your paper trail's a fabrication." Peters leaned in and talked in a loud whisper. "Why are you really here?"

Daniels stood unfazed. "We want to know what kind of cargo you're receiving."

Peters leaned in closer, trying to intimidate Daniels into submission. "I'm on first-name basis with the Director and the Deputy Director. All it takes is one phone call to end your career."

"Go ahead, make your call. I'm not leaving and neither are you."

"Am I being detained? Do I need to call my lawyer?"

"We're already talking to subordinates we know are involved. This is a courtesy. We're giving you an opportunity to avoid pain and anguish." Daniels didn't smile, or even as much as flinch.

Peters leaned back. "I'll continue this conversation with my lawyer present."

"I can wait," Daniels replied.

He watched as Peters dialed the number of a very expensive attorney on his landline phone. Inside, Daniels cracked a smile. A small, clean, well-respected one.

The private mansion was, intentionally, a monument to human greed. By my count, there were thirty bedrooms, two kitchens, a ballroom large enough to hold the Texas State Assembly, and a marble fountain dedicated to wasting freshwater. All made out of materials badly needed in the third wood; concrete, wood and labor. The kind of place that dazzles the eyes, but makes one sick to think about.

Of course, Katzin and Singer didn't take the front entrance, reserved for the guests and the important people. There was a side entrance, reserved for what pretentious people call "the help". Butlers, chefs and the like. Katzin tried the door, only to find that it wouldn't open. Singer pointed to a keycard scanner. Neither of them had a keycard.

"What do we do now?" Singer asked.

"We could always try knocking," Katzin said.

Katzin knocked on the door. Five seconds later, a security guard opened the door for them. Katzin spun a tale about how they'd gone on a walk, tripped, and unfortunately lost their wallets.

"She doesn't have a pocket," Katzin said in a much less rigid tone of voice than usual, "so I was holding hers. Then I trip and fall. First I burn the beef, and now this. Just my luck today."

The security guard brought them inside to check their credentials. Katzin walked ahead of him, opening the door to let him into his office. What happened next was a matter of calling Stanley and telling him to intercept a particular phone call to a particular catering company. After being chastised for their "irresponsibility", the security guard shooed them into the kitchen. They had a lot of work to do, supposedly.

From there, they graciously offered to take a shift from a relatively-overworked chef and a server. Singer was a natural chef, who blended right in tossing seasoning across a varied number of overpriced dishes. Katzin, who could barely make a microwave dinner, decided it would be better to take the place of someone who served the food, rather than prepare it.

The ballroom was just about what you'd expect from one of the richest men in the world. The marble and granite checkerboard floor, the intricately carved wood set pieces and the massive stained-glass window oozed wealth like gold. The live orchestra was overkill, like Peters was trying to throw away as much money as possible. They played a soft classical tune that slowed Katzin's heart rate and made him feel calm.

Katzin couldn't imagine being actually invited to this party. The VIPs, who all seemed to be at least 50 or older, danced rhythmically in their fine silk suits and flowing dresses. I'm in the wrong business, Katzin thought to himself, scratching his index finger against the fine wooden table.

He eyed the security, trying to recognize Horn. He knew he was looking for a blonde with a weak chin who sucked all of the energy out of the room.

"Excuse me, sir, I don't recognize you from earlier."

Katzin turned around to see Agent Albert Horn, wearing a vest labeled "SECURITY" and a blue beret. He'd gotten a little fatter since Katzin has last seen him, but he still had that same permanent frown. Horn motioned for him to come over, Katzin obliged.

"Does the Black Moon howl?" Katzin asked.

"The ravens only crow for four horsemen."

Katzin nodded. "It's good seeing you again, Horn."

"I wish I could say the same."

"Can we conduct business?"

"Not like this. It's suspicious for a security guard to be talking to a caterer for this long."

The live orchestra suddenly cut out, and one of Peters' cronies, who seemed to be missing his right ear, started talking.

"Congratulations, everyone. We've reached our goal of $300,000 for Save The Somalian Children. Let's celebrate with some lobster."

"Looks like I need to prepare some lobster," Katzin said in a way that no one would hear, but provided pretense for leaving. "Guard, could you please escort me to the kitchen?"

"That makes no sense. Why would I escort you to the kitchen?"

"Listen, just take me to a private place, pretty please."

Horn took Katzin down a hallway before he started giving him the evil eye.

"How does it feel, almost blowing the cover that I've worked six months for?" Horn angrily asked.

"We were nowhere close," replied Katzin. "A trust-fund kid raising his eyebrow at me for talking to the help doesn't count."

"Every detail," Horn said, pinching his finger and thumb together, "needs to be *perfect*. Otherwise, that's something the enemy can use to find us out."

"I'm not concerned with the enemy 'finding us out.' I care about extracting the anomaly we were sent to extract."

"Do you know why Stanley wanted you on this mission in the first place, Katzin? Did he tell you?"

"Because I know how to break into a building without being noticed."

"Same as me and everyone else that works for CARD. It's a career move, Katzin. How are you dumb enough not to see that?"

"'Career move'? What does he have to gain from bringing me back?"

"There are people in the Foundation who don't like the espionage operations we've been involved with. I don't blame them; at the Foundation's scale, brute force followed by memory wiping is just as effective. For his entire career, Stanley's done nothing but push espionage. AORD, OTF-CART, and now CARD. So they hate Stanley.

"These people are a majority, but not enough of a majority to just outright cancel it. So their plan is to send CARD on a handful of missions against smaller-time targets. Not Groups of Interest, just small people, like who they think Peters is. Their plan is two sided. One, it makes sure we never get impactful results. Two, if we screw up, they can turn that into a scandal. They can point at us and say 'look at CARD. They barely do anything for us except get us into trouble. Why are we keeping them around again?'

"So Stanley figures this out and then hires you back. If the mission goes well, splendid, he can take credit. If it doesn't, he can pin it on you. Either way, his career is safe."

"Are you serious?" Katzin said. "That's why I'm here right now? Stanley's trying to beat the numbers game?"

"Stanley told me that himself, believe it or not. He still hates you. Everyone does."

"For wanting to complete the mission? For wanting to do what they ask us to do?"

"You killed fifteen people, Katzin. It's not what you're doing, it's how you're doing it."

"Ends justify the means, Horn. You never understood."

"I understood completely. You use this job as an excuse to be a psychopath."

"We don't have time for this. Singer is waiting. Show me what you wanted to show me."

Katzin realized he was now hunched over, leaning into Horn. He straightened himself up and cleared his throat.

"Just letting you know you're on borrowed time, Katzin," Horn said with a shrug. He pointed Katzin down the hallway and the two continued forwards. The silence between them was excruciatingly tense.

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