First Flight

February 12, 2018:

Oracle recruits a new Bird for her aerie.

Gotham

Characters

NPCs: None.

Mentions: Red Robin

Plot:

Mood Music: [*\# None.]


Fade In…

The signs are scattered. A mention here, a query there, a set of purchases from a number of different merchants that add up to trouble. The signs are scattered, but for someone who knows where to look and what to find, for someone who's interested in knowing whether someone in Gotham City is trying to create some serious explosives, the signs are incontrovertibly there.

It would have started when Arnavi began picking up the trail. First, a mysterious email including screenshots that pointed to a particular group. Then, a backdoor admin login to a group of anti-metahuman fanatics who somehow believed they could find a safe haven in Gotham.

And then, today, a courier-delivered package to wherever Arnavi was at 45 minutes past sunset. She could have been at home. Or going for a walk. Or in the car. Wherever she was, a box about the size of a LexPhone box was delivered to her by a courier who didn't seem to need her ID or signature and didn't so much answer questions.

The only identification on the box was a green-ink stamp of what looked like a Greek-style mask of a woman. It wasn't a symbol you saw much, though there were places one could find it online.

The Oracle. Not well known, but deeply respected and spoken of in the internet and darkweb equivalent of hushed tones. Of fear and respect.

This is all new to her. Sure, she'd like to think she's old hat on the web, but by virtue of age alone that isn't true. But Arnavi tries. She's dug deeper this year than she's ever bothered to before, casting a net far and wide, trading favors and and taking names. But this was all new. This was someone talking back to her, but she never did know how to respond. It was one-sided, a flirt with no name, and here and now she found a sudden announcement in the form of a gift.

But then, she was tracking down a bomb-maker. It might not be wise to go opening random packages, and if anyone were watching as she sat on the edge of her bed, costume half on and half off, mask laying beside her, they might think she were pondering a secret to the universe.

"Fuck it."

With only another moment of reverence for the enigmatic Oracle, she uses a thumbnail to strip the packaging and lift the lid on the box. She doesn't wince or otherwise look at all apprehensive, instead there's a glint of excitement in her eye, the thrill of a thrill-seeker who used to spend to much time cooped up inside. It's rare anything can raise her pulse in the confines of her own room, and she purposefully put off chasing a lead to sit here, to open this, and take a step or two down Oracle's rabbit hole.

There's a reason it looks a lot like a LexPhone box. It… isn't a LexPhone inside, or at least the phone is of no obvious brand. It looks like any phone and no phone. Plain, simple, unadorned, but it's in a case with a symbol embossed on the back of an eagle about to catch whatever prey it's after, claws and talons extended.

Under the phone is a tiny earpiece. One would have to look closely to see anything at all once it's in. There is also, curiously, a slim-fitting pair of wrap-around goggles that have a small enough profile to fit under, say, a mask or cowl.

And, of course, there is a small neatly-printed card, black letters on red:

Oracle offers assistance on the Humanity First case. If you accept, please confirm by use of the enclosed.

No instructions apart from that. Presumably, Arnavi is assumed to know how to use a phone and earpiece.

For what it's worth, there are also charging cables that were clearly made by someone who has worn out enough charging cables to hate the way they're made. These, at least, are not disposable.

Nope!

Nopenopenope.

The box is closed. A drawer is opened. Then furiously shut hard enough to rock the desk on it's legs. Her little bed creaks the moment she lands on it, head smashing back to one pillow while she grabs another to pull over her face. I'm not screaming, you're screaming! Well, that's what she tells the pillow, deep in a mental space and trying to calm herself down to a point of rational thought.

Twenty minutes go by, an eternity that she is certain is much longer. All the while her own phone buzzes and beeps beside her. Notifications she would normally be glued to. Without thinking she snatches it up and shoves it to the wall with a SMASH, cratering drywall and sending her phone sliding dead into the space between her bed and the wall.

A beat goes by, and the pillow flies, and then she's on the edge of her bed once more, pulling her costume on and up, the technologically advanced thing seamlessly closing at the front, all the way up to her high collar. Repurposed from the first real villain she ever fought, she jokingly calls it her MMO loot. You know, when she talks to herself. Because she's the only person who knows.

Until now.

"Hng."

Finally that draw is yanked open, and she pulls out everything to lay it out on the bed. Not taking any chances, she puts the earpiece and goggles on first, then pulls her mask over them. As if they were made together, her mask confirms to the goggles and sticks them to her face, and in the mirror she sees the lenses blocking out her eyes. Like a real hero. It's terrifying. Wonderful. She turns the phone on, slips it into the armored pouch on her little utility belt, and sits back as she waits for it to boot up. Still staring into the mirror. A beat passes. Come on Alice, keep your nerve in this, The Looking Glass.

The phone boots up. It appears to be a perfectly normal, bog-standard phone, though there's no brand splash page for the OS or the phone brand. There is, however, the usual sort of "hello" screen when it first comes on.

It asks for a user name. It's not asking for first and last name. It just has one blank there. Spaces seem to be allowed.

Whatever Arnavi decides to put in here, the next page includes Terms and Conditions. They're actually quite short. Should Arnavi choose to read them, she will find them a little different from the usual ones. This phone MAY be used for personal purposes, but Oracle recommends against it. The software and hardware are proprietary and not for transfer to any other individual or device without permission of Oracle. Should the end user fail to abide by these Terms and Conditions, the hardware will be forfeit. Nothing else seems that out of the ordinary.

And should she accept this and boot everything up, the goggles will flicker just slightly and add a very low-profile heads-up display in Arnavi's vision. The earpiece will play a brief chime. Nothing else obvious will occur just yet.

There's all this build up in her mind, possibility spiraling out of control, she doesn't read that shit! She's never read an EULA in her life! Sure, she has a name! Red Bird. Red… Birdia. Crimson Shrike. Red Red Wiiiiiiine. There is a long, disconcerted stare at the wall as she tries to figure out for the life of her something she's been pondering for WEEKS. Finally, she looks down, mind racing backwards through bird names. It has to be a bird. Why? Well, reasons!

Red Sparrow.

Raging against all caution, she inputs her email address as well to sync everything up. Why? Because she idiotically ruined her old phone in a moment of abject panic. So, moc.liamotpyrc|12lruGsniboRdeR#moc.liamotpyrc|12lruGsniboRdeR ends up in her phone, oblivious that Oracle may already know about her fangirling over Red, and the obvious inspiration for her name.

"Uh… hello? Hullo. I'm trying to reach the entity known as Oracle. This whole thing is causing me great distress because I am home and yet inexplicably still wearing pants. Comfort level dropping. Over."

A beat, she tries something else.

"Hello phone, this is birb, over."

The voice that answers her second request (no explanation as to why it didn't answer her first one… well, one explanation: Barbara Gordon, sitting some miles distant in a clocktower, had a mouthful of udon. But everything's been coming up roses with this recruitment so far, and now that Red Sparrow is online (the poor sweet thing; Barbara is debating whether Arnavi and Tim should ever meet, but she can work that out), she has her first new friend.

"Hello birb. Red Sparrow, this is Oracle." The voice is calm, pleasant, and clearly a computer voice. Or at least, if it's a real person talking, that real person's voice is well disguised but still clear and audible.

"I'm pleased that you have decided to accept my assistance, and that you have decided to assist me in this matter. Depending on how this mission goes, we may work together in the future." A pause. "Oracle had this hardware delivered to you in order to make your mission tonight easier and to give you time to prepare. We will be working together, should you choose to continue to accept my help. You may begin reconnaissance whenever you choose or prepare however you like, but our operation tonight will begin at 2:45 AM. Current recon suggests the greatest probability of success at that time."

"YES! YAUS!!!!"

This, she blurts out, while leaping into the air, cutting her off at 'probability of success at this time.' There's a furious sound, and if Oracle can see through her goggles, she's already leaping out of her window, the fifth floor fire escape bearing her weight for the briefest of moments. Then she leaps.

Excitement got to her. Oracle will know it the moment she sees her leap for a building that must be 30 yards away. An impossible jump, one that she must be making because she feels on top of the world, at the height of her game. One of the team.

For anyone watching, it is the jump that seems not to end until she hits rooftop and rolls forward, momentum bringing her back up to her feet without missing a step. Does Barbara remember practicing that move with Bruce, over and over again, so long ago? But Arnavi doesn't practice, she just does, her physiology making up for experience. It could be so dangerous. It was so dangerous, but know it or not, Oracle just made it a whole lot safer.

"2:45? That's not long. Long enough to swing by Minyong's Grocery, make sure those idiots from last week didn't get out of the hospital and decide to make another atte-"

There's a skid, a long slide of a gravel lined roof, a plant of her hand, and she lands, right on the edge of it, feet dangling over.

"Wait a second. Are you eating? Oh my god I am starving. Tell me what you're having. Let me live vicariously through the world of robots that eat, and dream of electric sheep."

Of course she can see. She can see, as it were, through Red Sparrow's eyes, but it's only one screen of many. She can monitor so much from here: heart rate, blood pressure, exact position, and a dozen-plus other factors that may just help keep this girl alive.

Distantly, Barbara smiles. It's going to be a delight finding the limits of Arnavi Mehta — and then demolishing them.

It's hard to quantify the sound of surprise. It's a sound of silence, of breath not taken and words not spoken, though her voice filters scrub most of that. But she lets out a sharp laugh: "The voice of Oracle has chicken udon with veggies. Oracle isn't a person. It's not an AI. It's a network, and that network includes its voice, and that voice is me. And sometimes, that voice needs udon."

"Holy shit. I don't have to call you 'Voice of Oracle' do I? Can I just call you The Voice, and pretend i'm hoping that Pharrell picks me? What if I just call you Oracle anyway, since that sound cool, and makes me feel like I'mTalkingToALegendWhichIAmOhMyGod." As her words blend together in excitement, she pushes off of that building, sliding downward, finding a handhold here, a place to push off with her foot there, until finally she backflips to land in front of little corner grocery store. The street is more or less dead, and those who do see her suddenly give pause.

The door swings open to a jingle, and an Asian woman in hair curlers looks up from behind her counter, her face lighting up as the Red Sparrow gives a wave. "Hey Mrs. M, everything good? You good? Yeah? Uh-huh. Sounds pretty good!"

Really she has no fucking idea what the woman is saying, because she's saying it in Mandarin, and the Red Sparrow is just doing her best to be polite. "Hey do you have anything with noodles, chicken, and ve-" A Snickers flies through the air and she snatches it without looking, the Red Sparrow's money apparently no good here.

"Close enough!"

With that she's on her way again, jumping from little more than a two step run to find an awning and flip over it, a little outcropping of cement on the building enough for one arm to fault her to a flag pole that holds her momentum for two whole spins before she's roofside again.

And tearing into her candy bar.

"So tell me, Mysterious Voice of the Oracle, what do you got on this Humanity First nonsense? I see you have a GPS overlay for me which is just, absurdly fantastic, but I'm wondering more about manpower, firepower, all that shit that's going to matter once I get to smashin' and dashin'."

"You can call me 'Oracle'." There's another laugh in that voice. God, it reminds her of herself. Herself fifteen years ago, maybe. She's too young to feel this damn old, but she does all of a sudden. Just for a moment. But she settles back in her chair and, for just a few minutes, slides on her goggles. It makes Red Sparrow's view something like VR for her: she can almost feel the leaps and bounds that take her from place to place. She can almost feel the Snickers land in her hand, can almost feel herself dangling her feet off the edge of the roof.

The sigh is mostly inward.

"The Voice is also fine. Either or. So. Humanity First. It's not even the only organization of its name, as far as I can tell. It's a noncentralized anti-metahuman militant organization. The good part about it being noncentralized is that no one base is immensely tough. This one has eight men, six of whom are between 18 and 25, one in his forties, and one in his fifties. Don't underestimate the older ones. The one in his fifties has been an agent provocateur for decades. Whatever group is blowing things up, he goes with. He'll be the brains of the organization. The man in his forties is the leader. He has just enough smarts and charisma to whip a half dozen young men into some semblance of order. They're operating out of a small warehouse near the docks where they can get shipments in and out without looking suspicious. If we can nix this base, we can take out a lot of the firepower of these people.

"The downside, of course," she continues, "is that they're working with high explosives and they're well armed. They probably won't intentionally blow the place up, but caution is of the essence. I don't believe they have anything more evolved than pipe bombs and automatic weapons, though." Just that. Who would be worried?

"Oh. This is fine. Just fine. We'll be fine."

Nothing about how she says that makes it sound like she'll be fine. But hey, she's also chewing on a snickers so who knows how resolved she really is. If Oracle didn't have a first hand account of the Red Sparrow's movements, no one would ever believe she'd take the time to find a trash can for the wrapper.

This one happens to be at a rooftop party, a high society affair in a recently gentrified area not to far outside the Narrows. The landing of the Red Sparrow certainly doesn't go unnoticed, and her hands find her hips after she deposits her wrapper, letting at least one person get a photograph before she gives dual fingerguns, and simply backs off the rooftop.

Oh the gasps fuel her, twisting through the air with a freedom that Barbara will see and feel as something not at all taken for granted. This is a freedom indulged, a freedom unearned. There's something there, some joy that can't be spoken to, but if Barbara knows who she is, then she knows exactly why.

When she was twelve she started having trouble standing for long periods. Pain that sunk into her knees and hips. At thirteen, she'd break her bones trying to go for a run. Since then, she'd been confined to her home for the most part, in a wheel chair that had been her prison.

This, that joy, that purpose with every motion, is proof positive she does not take her second chance for granted.

"Yeah, so, those old dudes gots to go. I've seen American History X, I know who the real problem here is. The thing is, uh.. I mostly just break bones, and leave the cops to clean things up. I guess.. I guess if we get them all wrangled with illegal explosives near by and tag 911, that should be enough? I usually don't stick around for the arrest."

Her speed is impressive, topping most Batlings who might try and make their way across town on foot, because nothing goes to waste, and very simply, she can run faster than all of them, pounding rooftop and pavement at a frightening pace until she's just a mere block away.

"Also. I guess this means you know who I am. Don't worry. I know you can't return the favor. Not yet. Maybe never. I only ask that you immediately reveal the identity of the Red Robin to me, for reasons, none of which happen to be trying to beg for an autographed cape. Or like. Some coffee time, or something. Actually, I'll settle to know what he takes in his coffee. Give me this, Oracle! I need it. PUHLEEZE!"

Oracle doesn't even hide it this time. She's laughing. It's even audible over the headset. It's not mocking; it's merry and delighted.

"I like how you play it cool," she says. "Tell you what. Let's see how this goes and we might work together again. It's possible that Red Robin will be a part of future missions. He's an excellent resource and one of the finest investigators I've ever seen."

Which, for both Oracle and Batgirl, is saying something.

She knows, of course, who Arnavi is. She knows why her adrenaline flows the way it does. She knows how much her heart flies when she leaps from rooftop to rooftop.

"I don't need to tell you," Oracle continues, "that we don't kill. We let justice take its course wherever and whenever we can." Not that there's much justice in Gotham City. Anyway. "Your goggles will give you a great deal of information including night vision, if you want it; heat signatures; IR and UV vision, and various other functions you'll become more aware of in time. If we continue to work together, we can work on tailoring these to your personal needs and abilities. This is a try-out period for the both of us. I have complete confidence in your ability to pull this off."

"You have a grasp of this," Oracle continues. "Our job tonight is effectively to keep the police alive. You will have ten minutes from our start time to disarm and disable the men in the building. Several will be asleep, so the quieter you can work, the better it is for all of us. Can you think of anything that you need to make that happen that you don't already have?"

"You got is Bossacle."

There's a moment of silence as she lands on the edge of a building very near where these guys have made their little lair. "Okay before you say anything else, 'Bossacle' sounded a lot cooler in my head before I decided to say it, no doubt emboldened by THE ORACLE telling me how much they like me playing it cool. So, allow me to wow you again. As once again. I play it so so cool. And never. Ever. Ever. Call you that again."

There's no response to the whole killing bit. There's a reason this all happened. Navi is smart enough to know that, just like she knew that Oracle must know who she is. The Red Sparrow follows the one rule. Well, two, if you count the 'no guns' thing. As she begins walking across the roof it might seem as if the sound's cut out, putting on an impressive display of self awareness to creep into position and lower her voice to a whisper as she scans the warehouse.

"Hmm. Yes actually. I need a Sparrowmobile. Now hear me out. Use some super science Stark Industries shit to make it sound absorbent, and then I could slowly pull it into their warehouse. You with me? Alright. Now imagine their faces, as I slowly roll over their feet, waking them up one by one. Just the feet, all the while giving them the dual fingerguns as I drive by. I mean come on, it would be like meme-ing in real life."
Somehow, she manages to pause as she creeps just to the edge of the building and looks down. "Turn the HUD off, please. Full disclosure, for the things you can't know about me from external reports or surveillance. I see everything. Hear everything. Four of them breathing slow, fast asleep. One barely breathing at all. He has sleep apnea. One doesn't know he has high blood pressure that's giving him headaches, but I can tell from here, I can see the veins moving in his head. Guard duty is his thing, because he won't be sleeping tonight anyway."

A beat. "But no really it'd help to know what Red takes in his coffee. That way I can get caught I can shout 'Red Robin likes it without sugar, because he's sweet enough!' or, you know, whatever, confusing them into a drooling mess so I can make a daring escape."

The suggestion of the Sparrowmobile is met with polite silence.

Oracle does, however, switch off the HUD at Navi's request and inquires: "Is there any information you'd find useful on a HUD? I can leave it as is for now." She doesn't need to say she can watch from where she is; that's probably obvious to anyone who knows who Oracle is. She knows when you are sleeping, et cetera.

"If you need, there's a small cache of useful tools in the corner of the building rooftop to your northeast. Look by the HVAC intake for a small metal box." There are, amazingly, smoke pellets and knockout gas and even some Batarangs.

"I love the HUD. Just a command to switch it off when I need too. Maybe even eye motion activated, if you can do that? Or voice. Voice is fine too. Or maybe touch. I'm probably being to demanding here. Anyway, I love all the information, it's just sometimes I need less, to get more. When I got cocooned up by those mists way back when, it gave me more than Captain America's body. It just.. I wish I could show you what it was like. Seeing everything so clearly. Anyway, it's why this works. No matter how strong you are? A bullet is stronger. Unless you're Superman. Or like, Wonder Woman. Or.. right. Anyway, you know what I mean."

What's that? Goodies? Of course she goes to get them.

Working this way for so long, with little more than mundane gadgets to see her through, it almost brings a tear to her eye to see what's waiting for her in that metal box. There's a long bit of silence, fingers almost shaking as she reverently stares at these items, meant for a hero to put into action, in hands that do not deserve them.

"Oracle."

Her voice is so subdued, caught apart from the bubbly, talk-to-much excitement that has consumed her this evening. Now it is all too serious, and like the gift of her renewed strength, she vows silently not to waste this, the chance to one of them. The chance to be more than she ever thought was possible.

"I'll make you proud. HUD on please."

Then she's a silent shadow, slipping off the roof to almost crawl down the wall, twisting and pivoting to land silently near the entrance where the single external guard rubs his forehead and gnashes his teeth. For him she has only love. Her gaze looks for anything resembling a camera first, and then he'll find arms with unbreakable strength wrapped around his neck in a rear choke. It sinks in fast. Hard, but careful enough to make sure she doesn't break anything as she ushers him off towards dreamland.

"I love the HUD. Just a command to switch it off when I need too. Maybe even eye motion activated, if you can do that? Or voice. Voice is fine too. Or maybe touch. I'm probably being to demanding here. Anyway, I love all the information, it's just sometimes I need less, to get more. When I got cocooned up by those mists way back when, it gave me more than Captain America's body. It just.. I wish I could show you what it was like. Seeing everything so clearly. Anyway, it's why this works. No matter how strong you are? A bullet is stronger. Unless you're Superman. Or like, Wonder Woman. Or.. right. Anyway, you know what I mean."

What's that? Goodies? Of course she goes to get them.

Working this way for so long, with little more than mundane gadgets to see her through, it almost brings a tear to her eye to see what's waiting for her in that metal box. There's a long bit of silence, fingers almost shaking as she reverently stares at these items, meant for a hero to put into action, in hands that do not deserve them.

"Oracle."

Her voice is so subdued, caught apart from the bubbly, talk-to-much excitement that has consumed her this evening. Now it is all too serious, and like the gift of her renewed strength, she vows silently not to waste this, the chance to one of them. The chance to be more than she ever thought was possible.

"I'll make you proud. HUD on please."

Then she's a silent shadow, slipping off the roof to almost crawl down the wall, twisting and pivoting to land silently near the entrance where the single external guard rubs his forehead and gnashes his teeth. For him she has only love. Her gaze looks for anything resembling a camera first, and then he'll find arms with unbreakable strength wrapped around his neck in a rear choke. It sinks in fast. Hard, but careful enough to make sure she doesn't break anything as she ushers him off towards dreamland.

Barbara… does know this feeling. She knows it so much. She takes a deep breath, muted from the microphone, and for a few moments she blinks rapidly up at the ceiling. Yeah. She knows. She didn't realize how much that moment is still in her from such a long time ago.

But it's back to business.

"Voice commands are "HUD on," "HUD off." For future reference." But Navi seems to figure this out awfully quickly. There is, for what it's worth, even through all the voice masking and digital trickery, emotion in Oracle's voice.

"I know you will, Red Sparrow. HUD is on."

There is a camera, but as her eyes fall on it, the little red light winks off in no more than three seconds. That's part of the magic of Oracle, and of unsecured ports on security systems. The guard stiffens and tries to struggle, and if Red Sparrow didn't already know, it actually takes longer to choke someone unconscious than the movies suggest. But it's eerily silent in this alley apart from the choking gasps that end in a man sagging and still.

It would look impossible to an outside observer, the way she arches back, using his weight as a countersink, her head turned to the side and fixated on anything but the man she's choking out. Moments tick by and certainly, this isn't the first time she's done this, careful enough to give him time to ragdoll. Even then she's even more careful to move him out of the way, to bind his wrists with zip ties and gag him with one of his own socks. His shoes? Red Sparrow tosses them into a nearby tashcan, certain it's going to be hard for him to run even if he can break the zip tie, to run away barefoot on Gotham's streets.

Then she turns, to creep towards the building, to climb up, and slip in through an open window that she knows is clear. Here she listens. Here she waits, prowling past boxes and other things stacked high, careful to spot the cameras for Oracle to deactivate. The sleepers she'll leave for now, heart rate rising just a little, as the adrenaline begins to flood her in preparation for what's to come.

There is a talent that the Bat family had to learn quickly. All of them did at one point or other: Barbara, Dick, Tim… they learned the skill of communicating without words. With a look or lack of it, with a gesture, with a twitch of the eyebrow. It's a hard thing to learn and it comes primarily from working together consistently, from learning one another in ways more intimate than lovers. Sometimes family can manage this, when they're really close. Sometimes two people manage it quickly. Sometimes it never happens.

Red Sparrow seems to be pretty good at it.

When she looks at a camera, it winks out. One after the other. The two women are, it seems, learning each other. Learning to work as one.

The sleepers continue to sleep. Nothing so far has awoken them. As Red Sparrow climbs toward the window, she will find that if there was security to notice anything coming through it, it's been disabled.

Two men, even at this hour, are working in the lab. It's an open area created by walls of crates and old, rusted equipment. They're currently cooking… something that smells absolutely hideous. The smell was wafting through the window; it was a good way of finding the window in the first place.

The third man is not hard to spot: there's a little blink-blink of a dot in the lower-left corner of Red Sparrow's vision, and if she follows it she'll see the hidden man walking to a set of stairs leading to an office above it all. Evidently there's some paperwork that needs doing.

It occurs to her, as she stalks through the building, how very rude she's being. And so she moves to introduce herself, leaping from behind some boxes in a way that should cause a ruckus when she lands, but it's almost too-silent. At least until she powers a foot through one of the men's knees, a hand hooking on his neck as she grab's the other man's wrist, pulling them towards one another to smash their heads together.

But don't worry. She's still being gentle, more or less. A a fist following in towards the jaw of the man who somehow tries to remain standing, to send him tumbling sidelong.

It shows that she doesn't have the commend of those gadgets just yet, hesitant to use them until she needs to, And so, she breaks into a run, a run that takes her towards those stares, leaving those two unconscious in her wake, vaulting them in a single bound and listening, for a mere moment, for alarm from beyond the door.

If the man is ready, she's going through the drywall, beside the door. If he's not, the door will be just fine to kick off it's hinges and send tumbling towards the man's desk and waiting paperwork.

No matter which, the fury of the Red Sparrow is upon him moments later, Inhuman strength and speed allowing her to turn moves she learned from the Bourne movies into something that actually works, twisting at joints, breaking limps - she doesn't always know her own strength. To disable most people, she goes for simple, terrible pain. Pain that's also meant to be a deterent.

Oracle doesn't say 'hey why aren't you using the knockout gas, this is what it's for'. She's here to observe as much as anything else. She wants to see how Red Sparrow does things, her reaction times, her strategies. There's a lot to learn from someone's fighting style and skill.

When the first two men get punched and kicked, they… aren't super quiet about that, but apart from a couple-three low cries of pain, they don't manage much else. One of them does try bashing Arnavi over the head with whatever he was stirring the gross concoction with, but he mostly just manages to knock over his kettle instead. It's probably not going to blow up. It doesn't happen immediately.

It's the older man, the leader, who she attacks next. He's not her match in speed or strength, though he's no slouch at either, and he makes up for it in actual skill. He lets out an angry cry of pain, but he's fighting back fiercely, cruelly, aiming blows to Arnavi's own joints, then her neck and her eyes. Her eyes, at least, are protected by goggles now, but he's exceptionally well trained. He's going for pressure points, for those places that hurt the most. As much as she's probably hurt him, he's not crippled by it.

It isn't often she finds someone who can even try to keep up with her now adays. But even this man, well trained, tough as nails, will find her a slippery opponent. The Red Sparrow sees him move before he moves, can pivot as his fist comes in to duck underneath and reach out to grab the incoming wrist. She takes the hit in the armpit, teeth gritting as she brings her arm forward to wrap him up. He's got a hundred pounds on her, easy.

It does not matter.

Blood explodes from his nose as she slams skin and bone five or six times stronger than his own into his face. With a twist of his wrist, she'll wrench until it snaps, and only then does she let go, powering a fist into his ribs. Inelegant. Brutal. She makes him pay for turning these people against their good natures, but she does not let fury grip her.

It is not the kind of person she is.

In the end she'll sweep one of his legs hard enough to break it, her brutal, terrifying strength on full display - as well as how much she usually holds back. Once she's dismantled him, she'll notice the blood at her nose and mouth, not his but her own. She'll feel it all later, but now she searches him for weapons, ties him up, so he can't escape. Then, she's on the move again.

Now she has the sleep pellets, ready to go, and rushes back towards the remaining men, those who had slept. She almost expects them to have awoken, and so she stops to listen first.

It takes time, it takes effort, but it's not that long before the leader goes down. In the end, Red Sparrow's just way beyond his ability.

"You have five minutes," Oracle says, her voice soft and distant. She says it right after Arnavi knocks out the head guy. "Before you leave, if you have time, make sure to get images of the documents they have in their office." Because if somehow this evidence goes missing, this way they will know who's hiding this info.

Behind the door, there is… silence. The silence of sleeping, yes, except for one. The sleep apnea guy is stirring, waking up. Is it due to noise? To his own snoring? It's hard to say.

Five minutes. Five minutes! Holy shit! Her missions have never been timed before, and so this puts a little bit of sweat on her brow. First, these guys. She activates the pellets and rolls them under the door, trusting that'll keep them knocked out long enough for the police to get here. This done, she's rushing back to the office, ripping files out to look at them, one after enough, careful to hold each page in front of her spiffy new goggles so that Oracle can get a recording of it.

Finally she's tosses the stuff to the ground, making it look like part of the struggle, and she takes an extra minute to search the head guy before doing a mental count. Did she get them all? Were any missing?

But she doesn't have to just wonder herself. Not anymore. She has someone on her team.

"Oracle, anyone else out of pocket or moving? I think I have most of them pinned down, but I need a second pair of eyes. I think that was all the documents, and I took a look at the chemicals they were using. I have no idea what these guys were up to, but it was BIG. I'm talking level a building big."

The Red Sparrow rushes to a window, and in the distance, she can already see police lights coming.

Given the sounds that come from under the door after Navi rolls the pellets under it, they're definitely down for the count. Snores are quieter, and the guy who was waking up coughs, sniffs, and… definitely isn't waking up anymore.

There's only a few seconds before Oracle replies: "The building is clear. Well done, Red Sparrow. Maintain a low profile. Nobody's gotten up yet, but I'd recommend hurrying. The men downstairs won't be down for long."

In the office, meanwhile, there are numerous papers. Ledgers, receipts, and various other information — including a timetable. There's also a locked safe, but it might take too long to crack into that.

There's nothing she hates more than a leaf unturned. In her time wheelchair bound, she spent her time streaming on Twitch, amongst other things. She was known as Sidequest Arnavi, because she just couldn't let it well enough alone. There she stands, precious seconds ticking by, as if some better angel and horrible demon were fighting on her shoulder.

Finally she moves to the safe, leaning in and closing her eyes to focus her absurdly honed senses on the tumblers within the safe as she begins to turn the lock. At the same time she can hear sirens, distant but growing. It won't drown out the sounds of the tumblers, because she hears it all, the difference in pattern enough to pick it out, her mind forming a picture inside as she turns and turns, back and forth, working against time to try and peel out the combination.

She only has a few minutes, but they're upstairs. She only has a few minutes, but she's faster. She knows this. Her other hand tosses pellets through the open window. When the police arrive, they'll be momentarily greeted by smoke, a distraction meant to buy precious seconds.

Approval is as inaudible as any other silence, but if Barbara were in the room…

Inside the safe is a gun. Lucky nobody had the time to level one on Red Sparrow. It was that speed that kept her safe. That lack of hesitation. It's what kept her alive tonight.

Another time, it may do the opposite.

Also inside: a pile of money and a cell phone. Oracle doesn't hesitate: "Take the phone. The GCPD won't be able to get into it." It goes without saying: Oracle doesn't have those kind of limitations, legal or technical. She doesn't love removing evidence, but when she's the only one who can make use of it…

"Your best path out is through the roof. There's a broken skylight up there. Be careful of that glass."

It takes every bit of willpower she has not to break that gun in half. Instead she disengages the magazine, just a little. Pushes the slide back, just enough to get the remaining round stuck in the slide. Just so that if this idiot does get up, he's going to be holding a stovepiped weapon versus a lot of angry police officer. A glance at him, and she's pretty certain, he's not getting up. Not with that broken leg.

The Red Sparrow is already moving when she takes up that phone, stuffing it into a belt pouch as she dashes through the building and towards that skylight. Senses flare, eyes focus. "HUD off."

In her mind it maps in slow motion, every shard of glass, and the space between them, muscles coiling, a trajectory set. Her breath is held as she hits a table and vaults, eyes falling shut, back arching as she's forced through the difficult maneuver, accomplished only because she has a combination of sensory information and a body that surpasses human limitations.

In short, she's cheating. Her foot catches glass, just barely, at the sole. It doesn't cut, but it does send glass tumbling, and when she lands from that backflip it's with a heavy crouch.

"HUD on."

Feet pound the roof, and though she doesn't have instructions just yet, she's already on the run.

"Alright, how do I get this to you? What do you like in your coffee? Cause after tonight, Orc-Daddy, I owe you at least that mu-" When she lands on a rooftop again, she holds up both hands. "Okay! Done with trying to give you nicknames! Holy shit I am bad at this."

Through the smoke, the police officers move in, sidearms raised, peering through the darkness. They find spilled fertilizer, they find pipe bombs in various stages of development, they find eight variously disabled, unconscious, or very asleep people. They find a great deal of paperwork. They find, in other words, that the anonymous tip was correct and that someone's been there beforehand.

They don't find the way Red Sparrow got in or out, though they're not quite sure where that shattering glass came from. The whole PLACE is a mess, though.

"I'll send the coordinates to your HUD," Oracle replies. She sounds faintly amused. "The nicknames are fine. I like it. And I think tonight, if you're picking up coffee, I'll take a caramel latte with two extra shots espresso. When you get to the drop site, you'll find an old phone booth. I know, right? The phone itself is a false front. It'll open when you get close. You'll find a few things inside, including a bag to put any evidence in. That would be the phone you picked up. Any other pictures you took I can get remotely." Because of course she can.

"What the hell is a phone booth. Ohhhhhhhh, right like.. Uh, yeah I saw them at the airport once."

Her age shows, and as she parkours through the city, heading back home - not to the phone booth, it becomes clear she's intent on changing before she makes any kind of drop. After all, ordering coffee in a skin tight costume probably isn't the best way to keep a lower profile.

"Oracle."

The word sticks in her throat as that serious tone returns, and she stops to catch her breath. That part doesn't take long, but she does give a pause to look out over this city they all want to protect.

"This has been.. it's been an honor. Even if you never need me for anything again. Thank you. Thank you for everything. I'll get you that coffee."

"I can't imagine," Oracle replies, "why you would think I wouldn't need you again."

She lets a moment of silence pass. "You have been an asset tonight. You showed me what you have. A little of what you have. Together, I think we can do a great deal. Sometimes, the authorities can't — or won't — see justice done. We're the ones who fill in the spaces between."

"You need to decide, though," Barbara continues, "whether you want to do this. Whether this is the life you want. It's not easy to step away from if you decide you want to. It's no kind of normal life. Doing the things we do, knowing the things we know… it is rewarding beyond belief, but there is nothing lonelier than taking a life of standing outside. You will have a life where nobody can really understand what you're dealing with. You're going to know things you wish you didn't. You're going to have to lie to the people you love when they ask you where you go at night. It is… isolating. It's painful and dangerous. If you die, you won't be the first or the last I've worked with who does."

Another pause, and then: "But if you are willing to go the distance, I'll be with you the whole way."

As Oracle lays out the life she'd lead by doing this, it only reminds her of the life she lead before the mists changed her, cocooned her up, and changed her life forever. It stings her eyes to think about it now, to think about being trapped in her home, in her room. Isolated, alone. What she did then on her blog, recording the tales of those heroes who helped Gotham, talking to people through a computer screen, and nothing more. What Oracle describes is the life she had before.

But with no where near this purpose.

There's a hard swallow, and she lets out a little breath. "Then it sounds like we're in business, Oracle, because I've been there and done that, and I can do it again. I have to do it again. You don't get given this power and shirk the responsibility, you know? I stood on the sidelines forever and ever. Now, i'm going to do what I couldn't do before. In those places, like you said, where justice doesn't happen and we can make a difference."

Then she takes a breath and leaps from the building, her trajectory taking her home. "I'll have this dropped off - along with your coffee - within the hour."

A little sigh from Oracle.

"I knew you'd say that."

It's wistful and bittersweet. It's approving and sad. History turns itself over and over, folding upon itself. It is what it is.

"I look forward to working with you. Keep in touch, Red Sparrow. I know I will."

When she does at last get to the phone booth, it will open in proximity of her phone. Inside, she'll find a few things.

There's a package of nonreactive plastic ziplock bags and some nitrile gloves, just in case.

There's five thousand dollars in twenties.

There is also, underneath it, a piping-hot takeout box of chicken with udon and vegetables.

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