The Sickness Within: Part Three

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher B. Wright
Last Thursday

The Haruspex Analytics situation room isn’t like the board room. The board room is intended to intimidate; one of its primary functions is to distract people who aren’t accustomed to it. The situation room is set up to minimize distractions while accessing information and making decisions. It’s a long, narrow room with a long, narrow table sitting at the center. Paneled display screens are set into the walls, and each place at the table has its own computer and monitor, tied into the communications network Haruspex Analytics uses to conduct its various operations, in real time, across the globe. Pizza boxes, soda cans and half-empty mugs of cold coffee are scattered across the table.

Jason sits alone in the room. The only light comes from his monitor and one of the large screens set into the wall. The monitor is flashing a Haruspex Analytics screen saver. The screen is showing a map of the United States, with a line tracing a bus route from southern New Jersey to Jackson, Mississippi.

Missed them in New Jersey.

Missed them in Mississippi.

Jason exhales slowly, eyes closed, as he tries to coax the exhaustion out of his body. They didn’t get off at Jackson: obviously they passed their tickets off to two of the other passengers at one of the intermediary stops. They could be halfway across the United States right now, and Jason doesn’t even know where to look.

Curveball and Jenny Forrest are officially in the wind.

Jason rubs his eyes and forces himself to his feet. He feels slightly off balance—fatigue makes him clumsy, and he places one hand on the table to steady himself as he stumbles awkwardly out of his chair. He rummages through the pizza boxes until he finds an uneaten slice and grabs an unopened Pepsi from the table, then sinks back into his chair with a grunt.

The pizza is cold. The Pepsi is warm.

It’s not the end of the world. The meeting with Martin Forrest went well. He took the business card, which meant Jason has a foot in the door. He’d come up with a few more reasons to have follow-up meetings, strengthen the professional relationship, and in time he might be able to develop Martin as an asset. He’d have to be careful, though: Martin Forrest was an ex-cop. He had plenty of experience dealing with informants.

So it’s not the end of the world. There’s still a potential in. But developing an asset takes time, and he’s not sure how much time they have. He returns his attention to the bus route, and feels his irritation rise. What was Curveball’s plan? Did he even have one? He had some contacts on the West Coast—at one point the Guardians of Justice worked closely with the Sentinels of Liberty out of San Francisco—and a few of the original members were still active. Was he trying to contact them? Jason has a vague memory of a file suggesting those relationships were strained, but he can’t remember where he read it.

A high-pitched beep announces that someone is using an access card to unlock the door. Jason sets what’s left of the pizza and soda on the table as two members of his team enter the situation room.

“Told you he’d still be here.” Phyllis Tanner is a middle-aged black woman who looks more like a housewife than a security analyst. She smiles at Jason warmly as she sets her purse down in front of her computer.

“Good thing I didn’t bet you.” Will Davison is a blond, blue-eyed surfer who still gets carded everywhere he goes. He grins good-naturedly as he throws his keys down in front of the computer to Phyllis’ left.

“What are you guys doing here?” Jason hadn’t expected anyone in for hours.

“Looking for you.” Will sits down in his chair. His grin widens. “We found something.”

Billy found something,” Phyllis corrects. “I just told him where to look.”

“Like I would ever have thought of this on my own. Anyway, the point is we found something.”

Jason feels a faint stirring of hope. Phyllis and Will are an odd pair, but they’re one of the most effective teams he’s ever worked with. “What did you find?”

“Thought you’d never ask,” Phyllis says. She sits in front of her computer and begins to type. Immediately the screen with the map updates to show Curveball’s file—not the new one Jason created, but a scan of the old paper file he saw his first day in the board room.

“This thing again?” Jason doesn’t bother to hide his skepticism. “I thought we all pretty much agreed the file was useless.”

“It still is,” Phyllis says, “except for this.”

She keys in something and the image zooms in until the very top of the page fills the screen. In the upper right-hand corner is a string of numbers followed by the letters “AV.”

Jason stares at the string for a moment, then shrugs. “The file number? I don’t get it.”

“The file number isn’t important,” Will says. “It’s the letters.”

Jason frowns. “They aren’t part of the file number?”

“No,” Phyllis says. “I know that for a fact. In the 80s and early 90s metahuman files were all numbers. Don’t ask me why, I don’t know why, but that’s the way it was. ‘AV’ stands for ‘Abbreviated and Vetted.’”

Jason’s frown doesn’t budge. “Abbreviated?”

“It’s not the whole file, Jason.” Billy’s voice is tight with excitement. “It was one of the terms of his pardon. He was debriefed by the FBI concerning his activities for the three years he was a criminal, and after the debriefing all his official files up to that moment were sealed and a new, ‘abbreviated’ file was created that excluded most of that information.”

Jason’s frown changes from dismissive to thoughtful. “What kind of information?”

“His criminal files,” Phyllis says. “Threat assessments, speculations on his powers, known associates, suspected associates, investigations into specific crimes.”

One eyebrow inches up. “You have that?”

Phyllis and Will both wear exactly the same self-satisfied grin.

Jason looks from one to the other. “How?”

“When I figured out what ‘AV’ meant, I started looking into the terms of his pardon,” Phyllis says. “When I saw a judge ordered his old files sealed, I knew we could get our hands on the information…”

“…because if a Judge orders information sealed,” Will continues, “you can put money on someone, somewhere deciding ‘hell no,’ creating a copy, and hiding it for later use.”

“Who had the copy?” Jason asks.

“FBI,” Will says. “They were in charge of most of the metahuman stuff in the 80s, before Bush created the FBMA. And there were some players in the FBI who really didn’t want the FBMA to happen. Fought hard against it. I figured there was a chance one of them was keeping records. Like Hoover. Turns out it was the head of the New York field office.”

“That makes sense,” Jason says. “That was his home city.”

“And where Liberty flipped him,” Will says. “And these files are probably going to be really good intel for us down the road. But that’s not the part you want right now.”

“I’m pretty sure it is,” Jason says.

“Listen to Billy, Jason.” Phyllis types a few commands into her computer and the map returns to it’s original view—the bus route from New Jersey to Jackson, Mississippi.

“OK, this is brilliant,” Will says. He’s almost giggling with excitement. “So the files on Curveball as a criminal talk about the crew he ran with. They scattered after he flipped, but there’s speculation in the last few files that he tipped them off first, as well as a few reports of him continuing contact with two of them.”

“OK,” Jason says. “Not sure where this is going, though. The contact obviously wasn’t that extensive. Curveball’s life was pretty public after he turned hero.”

“Until the PRODIGY incident,” Will said. “The government started a massive manhunt for him, never found him. Not until the Guardians had taken out the Yuba City cloning facility, but he wasn’t hiding then.”

“After that,” Phyllis adds, “he retired, and disappeared again. Not even the people who cut his check knew how to find him.”

“Yeah,” Jason says. “I already went down that rabbit hole.”

“He’s in Farraday City,” Phyllis says.

Jason frowns. “We checked Farraday City.”

“We need to check again. He’s there, Jason.”

“Phyllis, you know I trust you and Billy, but—”

Phyllis rolls right over his objections without batting an eye. “The files Billy found had chatter about Curveball staying in touch with his old crew. There are only two who are called out specifically. One of them, Remote, was linked with him romantically. The last time there was a report of contact between Curveball and Remote, she was in Farraday City. CB disappeared two days later.”

Jason stares at the screen, hard. “Not definitive.”

“We got more,” Will says. “The day Liberty was retired, there was a metahuman incident in a town called Silverlane. An armored villain calling himself ‘Doctor AEvil’ tried to rob a bank there. He and his crew were overpowered by the bank patrons after the entire lobby sprinkler system activated, short circuiting the good Doctor’s armor.”

Jason stares at Will levelly. “Doctor AEvil?”

“I didn’t name him,” Will says. “But here’s the thing: Silverlane is only three hours out from Farraday City by bus. And immediately after the incident, someone cashed a US Government Abstention of Service check.”

Jason returns his attention to the big screen. Phyllis types into her computer, and the route expands until it shows all the official stops, then zooms in on Farraday City. A line travels west from the city to a small dot representing the town of Silverlane. “Interesting.”

“We did a little checking,” Phyllis adds. “Some social engineering. We were able to confirm that someone has been cashing the same check at that bank every month for the last six years.”

“Did you get a description?” Jason asks.

“Sort of,” Phyllis says. “The woman I talked to said the guy looked like he was in a rock band.”

Jason studies the screen a little longer.

“OK, I buy it,” he says. “Curveball was in Farraday City before he came up to New York.”

“For at least six years,” Will adds. “And maybe ten, if we use his reported contact with Remote as a starting point. Six to ten years to develop resources in the city…”

“…all the time keeping a low profile so that nobody knows he’s developing those resources…” Phyllis adds.

“And he chooses a bus route that stops there, and he’s mysteriously absent at his ticket’s destination.”

Jason nods slowly. “He’s in Farraday City.”

“He’s in Farraday City,” Phyllis says.

Phyllis and Will beam at him.

“Good work.” Jason speaks briskly, all business, but he’s grinning on the inside. “I need to contact Mara. The Board wants him taken care of immediately.”

“Do we need to bring in the rest of the team?” Will looks a little uncomfortable. “I was hoping to get some sleep.”

“Go home,” Jason says. “Sleep. Don’t come in till noon, and don’t worry about dealing with Curveball—that’s not our job. The Board has someone specific in mind for him.”

Comments

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You make it hard to try and

You make it hard to try and help you edit... I keep getting caught up in the story and want to read thru to the end ASAP ;)

Was he trying to contact them?
Was/Would

And these files are probably going to be really good intel for us down the road.
these/those? not sure on this one...

Heh. That's...

... a good problem for a writer to have.

To the first, it should either be "was he trying to contact them" or "would he try to contact them" -- I chose "was he" because Jason was thinking about what CB was doing in present tense.

I went with "these files" because if they had been holding actual paper files someone would be waving them around in Jason's face. It seemed to fit. :)

--
Writer, former musician, occasional cartoonist, and noted authority on his own opinions.