Uninvited Guests: Part One

Submitted by C B Wright on
Curveball, by Christopher Wright
Loft Apartment, Queens

The sound is quiet, even in the near total silence of the room: the faint sound of crickets chirruping on a summer night. It does not, however, go overlooked. The man throws off his covers, rolls out of bed, and lurches toward the jacket thrown over the back of an office chair. The room is dark, the curtains drawn, the only light comes from an old digital clock displaying 2:25 on a red LED. He fumbles for the inside pocket of the jacket and pulls out a smartphone. It’s not a model you can buy on the market.

The light radiating from the slab illuminates the tired features of Jason Kline’s face. He’s only been home for a few hours. He and his team have been busy. Looking at the number on the display, it looks like he’s going to have to be busy again.

He turns on the phone, says “two minutes, please,” then puts it on hold. He sets it down on his desk, reaches over to turn on the desk light, and slips into his chair. He shivers as bare skin touches cold leather—he’s only wearing boxers—but he ignores the cold as he places his smart phone in a cradle to the right of his monitor, then turns his computer on.

Almost immediately the monitor flickers to life, numbers scrolling up the screen like they do in The Matrix. Jason hates that movie, but he likes the screen saver.

Half a minute later his phone beeps, and the monitor displays the Haruspex Analytics login screen. One user name, one password. He places his thumb on the screen of his smartphone and leans in to the monitor so his eye lines up with the webcam attached to the side. The smartphone screen flashes, a light runs down the length of his phone. The webcam emits a small white light, illuminating Jason’s right eye. A second later the monitor blinks and displays the profile for the incoming call. No identity is shown, but the security credentials are higher than his own, even after being read in to Project Recall. It takes a moment for the computer to verify that the connection is secure, then a green bar displays under the profile.

Jason takes the phone off hold. “This is Kline. Line is secure.”

Herr Kline.” A German accent. Not very thick, but noticeable. “I apologize for the time of night. I expect you were asleep.”

Jason stifles a yawn. “That’s okay,” he says. “I was told to expect a call. I… I’m sorry, I’m not sure what protocol we should use.”

The voice on the other end of the line hesitates. “How secure is your home?”

“We're taking every precaution,” Jason says. “Under most circumstances, I’d say this line is as secure as it could possibly be.”

“Most circumstances?”

Jason frowns. This line can only be used by personnel with the highest levels of access—the Chairman, certain members of the Board, and a very few highly placed employees. It’s only used when confidentiality is absolutely necessary. Which means, in theory, it’s almost as secure as meeting face to face in a SCIF. But “almost” is one of those words that gets people in trouble.

“We still haven’t found the source of the security breach,” Jason says. “Until we do, I can’t guarantee this connection. Our mole could be one of the people involved in setting it up.”

The other end of the line is silent. Jason waits.

“We will have to take the risk,” the man says. “I need you to work on this now.”

“OK,” Jason says. “Let’s get started. Am I authorized to know your name?”

“Richter,” the man says. “You may call me Richter.”

Jason blinks. Johann Richter. The man who killed Liberty. “All right. Mr. Richter. What can I do for you?”

“This morning I returned to Captain Morgan’s penthouse. I wanted to—I wasn’t convinced we’d made a clean exit. The police have, as yet, found nothing, but I suspected there was more.”

“Oh?” Jason leans in. “What did you find?”

“Morgan had a security system. The EMP sweeper should have destroyed everything, but… there was a hard drive.”

Jason frowns, keys in a few commands at his computer, and calls up a file on Alexander Morgan. “You think it survived?”

“Perhaps,” Richter says. “It was in a different room, down the hall. There may have been enough space between it and the device for it to have survived the blast.”

“Do you have it?” Jason asks.

A small sigh escapes the other end. “No,” Richter admits. “When I arrived someone had already retrieved it. He… evaded my attempts to subdue him.”

Jason hesitates and stares at the screen, frowning. “So he was a metahuman? Was he a hero?” An alarm goes off in the back of his head.

“Oh yes,” Richter says. “Well… after a fashion. And one who trained with Morgan. The influence is unmistakable. It was our mutual friend.”

Curveball.

“He was in town for the funeral,” Jason says. A few keystrokes later and the profile for Curveball—a new file he’d finished keying in himself, not eight hours ago—displays next to Morgan.

“I know,” Richter says. “He delivered the eulogy. I found it quite moving.”

“OK,” Jason says, “so we have two, maybe three problems. First, you think Liberty’s security system may have recorded the attack, and that there’s a possibility it might have survived the EMP.”

“Yes.”

“Second, someone has already taken the hard drive. You think it’s Curveball.”

“He was in the room where the drive was kept,” Richter confirms. “What is the third problem?”

“Do you think he recognized you?”

There’s a long silence on the other end of the connection. For a second Jason thinks they were disconnected—it’s irrational, because the monitor still shows the blinking light that identifies an active connection, but the silence is unnerving.

“Yes,” Richter says. “His tactics—the way he fought—they changed. At the start it was very aggressive. He was fighting to win. But during the fight he changed his mind, decided to run. I believe he recognized me.”

A list of Morgan’s known associates began to scroll down the screen under his profile. Jason’s new program began to flag entries that were also known associates of Curveball, and then flagged suspected associates in a different color. “How did he escape?”

“He… jumped off the balcony.”

Liberty’s penthouse was on the top floor. Jason’s eyes widen. “Do you have any idea where he went?”

“No,” Richter says. “He has a legitimate reputation for being able to avoid capture. Ten years ago the United States Government branded him a fugitive and marshaled every resource they had to try and track him down. They failed miserably. And he uncovered a government conspiracy in the process. A very embarrassing three months for the United States.”

Jason exhales, a long, slow breath. “Okay. That’s not good. If he knows who you are and he’s in the wind, then he’s had the opportunity to tell others. If word gets out you were involved in Liberty’s death—”

“That will not be the end of the world,” Richter interrupts. “That is one of the reasons I was chosen to do it. I am, after all, his oldest enemy.”

“As soon as you’re connected with Liberty’s death we’re going to have every hero in the city gunning for you,” Jason says. “The registered heroes we can manage, but there are others...”

He hears Richter sigh in frustration. “You are probably right. We cannot afford to have groups like Crossfire involved. I will prepare to leave immediately. You will handle the hard drive?”

“I’ll do what I can,” Jason says. “I’ll contact my team, and we’ll get started.”

Jason waits for the connection light to turn red. It stays green.

“Are you a Jew, Herr Kline?”

Jason blinks. “What?”

“Kline is a Jewish name. Or, at least, it is an American bastardization of a Jewish name. Americans insist on changing everything. But if I am not mistaken, Kline is Yiddish for ‘little.’”

Jason tries to keep his voice steady. “I didn’t know that.”

“You didn’t?”

“I’m not Jewish.”

“I see.” Richter sounds almost disappointed. “Well. I will leave you to your work.”

The connection light turns red.

Jason sighs in relief. He reaches for his phone, preparing to contact the rest of his team, but a name on the screen catches his eye. It’s one of Curveball’s “suspected associates.” He frowns, clicks on the name, then swears in amazement as he sees the picture for the first time.

“Jenny?”

Jennifer Forrest. Daughter of Martin and Juliet Forrest. Great-granddaughter of Captain Alexander Morgan.

“She never mentioned that,” he mutters. Not that he would have expected her to. Still… is this something he can use to his advantage?

Maybe.

He reaches for his phone, calls his team, and plans out the rest of his day.

Comments

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Odd. I've just noticed that this entire issue shows up in the "Fiction only RSS feed" in a different order than in the "Unexplored horizons.net" RSS feed.

In the latter, the order is as would be expected: Title page, part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4.
In the fiction only feed however the order is: part 4, part 2, part 1, Title page, part 3.

I have no idea why I would want to read this thing in *that* order.
Though I guess it might amuse your fictional fiction reviewer to no end.. :D

Weird.

I don't know why it would do that...

Updated to add: I just added a tweak to the RSS feed that might sort that out.

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