Part Two: Driving, Manhattan to Jersey
“… so Travers thinks the Federal Government is compromised, and he doesn’t know how far up it goes,” CB says.
Jenny says nothing for a moment. CB watches the lights play off her face as she guides the car down the streets of New York City.
“Damn,” she says finally.
“Yeah,” CB says. “At the moment we’re on our own. Travers can’t help until we help him first. We need to figure out what the conspiracy is, so he knows how to look for it on his end.”
“Damn,” Jenny says again.
“Well you wanted to come along,” CB points out.
Jenny laughs bitterly. “I get the feeling I’m going to regret that.”
“There’s still time to go home,” CB says.
“No,” Jenny says. “I want to find out who killed my great-grandfather.”
CB shrugs and settles back in the passenger seat. “Your choice.”
The lights in Manhattan are pretty tonight. Most of the time CB doesn’t notice; tonight he does. Maybe it’s because he’s tired. He’s suddenly acutely aware of every bruise, every ache, every cut on his body. He has a lot of them.
“I’m beat,” CB says. He closes his eyes.
“No way,” Jenny says firmly. “You’re not sleeping until you answer some questions.”
CB opens one eye and glares at her. “So today I got into a fight with a Nazi supersoldier, leaped off a tall building, then got into a fight with a small army. What’d you do?”
“I went to a funeral,” Jenny says.
“I also went to a funeral. Where I had to deliver a eulogy.”
“Yeah, OK,” Jenny says, “sorry. Fair point. You’re tired. But before you get some sleep you have to answer some questions.”
CB groans. “What questions do you have that can’t wait till later?”
“Where do you want me to drive to?”
“Oh,” CB says. “That. OK, I guess that’s a fair question.”
“Well I’m glad you approve,” Jenny says. “Do you have an answer?”
CB thinks. “Go to Jersey. If you manage to get through Jersey before I wake up, go to… hell, get on 95 South and just keep going. I’ll be awake before you have to do anything else.”
“Jersey it is,” Jenny says. She turns down a side street. “Lincoln Tunnel OK?”
“Fabulous,” CB says. “Can I sleep now?”
“I have more questions.”
“Christ. Fine. Ask.”
“What’s your name?”
CB raises an eyebrow. “Uhhh… CB?”
“No,” Jenny says, “your name. Your real one. I mean, your handle was ‘Curveball’ and I know you said that was a nickname, and that everyone always called you CB, but what’s the name on your birth certificate?”
CB shrugs. “Don’t have a birth certificate.”
“I’m serious,” CB says. “I’m an orphan.”
Jenny rolls her eyes. “Come on.”
“I know, right?” CB sits up in his seat and rubs his eyes. “But I’m serious. I was deposited rather unceremoniously at an orphanage. There was a card with the letters ‘C’ and ‘B’ on it—nobody knew what the hell that meant. It could have been my mother’s initials, my father’s initials, my mother’s and father’s initials, my initials—anything. Nobody knew. The orphanage had to call me something, and that was the only thing associated with me, so that’s what they put down. They always told me I could decide for myself what it stood for, and I decided it stood for ‘Curveball.’”
“Seriously?” Jenny shakes her head. “You’re trying to tell me that your legal name is—”
“CB,” CB says. “My Social Security number is assigned to ‘CB.’ First name ‘C,’ last name ‘B.’ It makes filling out forms awkward. Which is why I mostly don’t.”
“I can’t believe you don’t have a real name,” Jenny says.
“It’s real enough. I answer to it. Everybody went by their nicknames when I was growing up anyway. My best friend was a guy named Sin.”
“Your best friend’s nickname was Sin?”
“It was the 70s! Are we done?”
“No…” Jenny sees a sign for the Lincoln Tunnel and turns. “What is it you actually do?”
“Do?” CB stares at her with a blank expression on his face. “What do you mean?”
“Your power,” Jenny says. “Superpower. Whatever. Andy and I never knew. We figured you were just really, really well trained. Like a commando, or something. But that doesn’t make sense, since you were a villain. Which is very interesting, by the way!”
CB keeps staring.
Jenny colors. “When I was in college I found a website that was devoted to the Guardians of Justice. It was pretty popular. It had a whole section devoted to you and the forum had a huge debate over whether you actually had any powers at all.”
“Oh yeah?” CB smiles slightly. “What did it say?”
“Split 50/50. One group thought you were just a really good athlete, who maybe—maybe—went through some version of Project Paragon, sort of like a ‘Liberty Lite.’ The other theory was that you were psychic, and your power was to confuse people.”
“Well I’ll tell you what,” Jenny says, a little sharpness creeping back into her voice, “I’d be willing to believe that. Because you confuse the hell out of everyone you meet.”
CB laughs again. “It’s not a bad guess. It’s not right, but it’s not a bad guess.”
“So tell me,” Jenny says. “What is it you do? You said earlier it ‘scaled.’ What does that mean?”
CB stares at the half-formed reflection of himself in the passenger-seat window. It disappears every time they drive by a street lamp, then reforms when the street grows darker.
“I make things happen,” he says.
“Oh,” Jenny says. “Well. Thanks for that. Now I feel much better.”
“I can’t explain it,” CB says. “I don’t know how it works. Sorry I can’t be more specific. But I make things happen. Good things to people I want good things to happen to, bad things to people I want bad things to happen to. If I let go and slip into the moment, I can make good and bad things happen at the same time.”
“What kind of things?”
“Well, when someone tries to shoot me they usually miss,” CB says. “No matter how close they are, no matter how good a shot. They miss, or the gun jams, or misfires… nine times out of ten. Back at the house, they tried to blow me up with grenades. They were all duds, until I got out of blast radius. Then they took out your living room.”
“That was your fault?” Jenny asks.
“Yeah. Sorry. At first I thought basically that I was manipulating the laws of probability. But Gladiator keeps saying that the laws of probability aren’t like the laws of gravity, because probability isn’t a force, it’s just a mathematical expression of how other forces interact with each other.”
Jenny laughs. “So if it’s not that, what is it?”
CB shrugs. “‘Manipulating the laws of probability’ was all I had. The smart guy took it away from me.”
“And when you say it ‘scales?’”
“Hard to explain,” CB says. “But the bigger the stakes, the bigger the side effects. If I’m fighting a… mugger, or a shoplifter, not much happens. Maybe he trips on a shoelace. When the stakes go up—when the fight is harder, when the situation is more dangerous—the effects are more noticeable. And there’s usually more property damage.”
“Tonight was a lot more dangerous than a mugger,” CB says. “I was also pretty angry. When I’m angry it scales higher.”
“So,” Jenny says, “you don’t fire laser beams out of your eyes, you can’t pick up a car, but you ‘make things happen,’ and when the stakes are high you make them happen more… you just don’t know exactly how.”
“That’s right,” CB says.
Jenny sighs. “The ultimate slacker hero. Fine. Last question: what do we do next?”
“Well… we’ve got two USB drives with information on them.” CB pats a trenchcoat pocket. “I don’t think anyone knows about the information Travers sent us. The information Alex emailed me, though… someone tried to level your house in order to get it back. We need to figure out what’s on those. We need to figure out who we can trust. Then we need to round up the people we can trust, form a posse, and bring the hurt to whoever’s behind this.”
“So who can we trust?” Jenny’s question sounds plaintive. She scowls after she asks it.
“Good question,” CB says. “The people I know we can trust can’t help us right now. There are a few people I think we might be able to trust, but I’m not sure how to contact them… and getting a few of them to trust me might be a challenge…”
“Why?” Jenny asks. “What did you do to them?”
“Well…” CB pushes the passenger seat back as far as it will go and closes his eyes. “We have basic philosophical differences about fundamentally important things.”
“Doesn’t that describe your relationship with pretty much everyone in the world?”
CB laughs softly. “Yeah, it does. Good point.”
They pass through the Lincoln Tunnel. They’ve been in New Jersey for five minutes when Jenny says, “OK, I lied. I have one more question. Why were you a villain?”
CB doesn’t answer. He’s asleep.