Curveball Issue 13: Shadows

Part One: Farraday City Bunker

By mid-morning the rain in Farraday City has increased in strength and in volume. It’s dry in the bunker, but it’s humid, and they can hear the rain pounding the ground above them. Everything feels wet, even though it isn’t.

“Coffee,” CB says.

He steps into the living area of the bunker carrying a small metal tray with three mugs. The mugs radiate heat, steam evaporating into the air.

Jenny sits on one end of a beat-up vinyl couch, wrapped tightly in a blanket, legs tucked up under her chin. They all changed the moment they got there, but her hair is still damp and she’s shivering from cold. Her hands dart out from under the blanket and wrap around a mug, greedily soaking in its heat.

“I’ve never seen it rain that hard before,” Jenny says.

“It’s going to get harder,” CB says. “Farraday City gets like this every once in a while. It’s a pain in the ass.”

He holds the tray out to Red Shift. The man is dressed in some of CB’s spare clothes—his uniform hangs over a chair in the kitchen, drying out. The clothes look strange on him. He has the build of a runner—which makes sense, since he is the Platonic Ideal of runners everywhere—and he’s a little taller than CB, which makes the clothes look both too small and too baggy.

CB sets the tray down on a small table next to an old, leather easy chair. He sinks into the easy chair, takes the last mug off the tray. For the next few minutes they drink in silence.

“Ugh.” Jenny lowers her mug and makes a face. “No cream? No sugar?”

“Sorry,” CB says. “I’ll go shopping soon.”

Jenny wraps her blanket tighter around her body. “I’m cold. This isn’t normal, is it? This isn’t the right season for cold, even with all that rain.” She tries to keep her voice casual, but CB can hear the worry in it.

“It’s actually perfectly normal for you,” CB says. “You’re about to start cocooning.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Jenny says.

Red Shift leans forward, staring at Jenny with interest. “Is she now?”

“What are you talking about?” Jenny demands. “What’s cocooning?”

“It’s something that happens to a lot of metahumans when they get the first full dose of what they can do,” CB says. “Your body is having trouble adjusting because of… reasons…” He waves a hand, gesturing vaguely.

“Because for all your life, up to now, your body has always had a pretty good idea of what your limits are,” Red Shift says. “Learning your physical limits is a pretty big part of development, and by the time you’re an adult—which you are—you know how fast you can run, how strong you are, how much pain you can take before things got dangerous. All those limits are stamped into you. It’s instinctive.”

“What he said,” CB says. “And a few hours ago you blew past all those limits like they were nothing. Your body is now officially ‘very confused.’”

Jenny laughs sharply. “I think my mom gave me this talk once.”

“Those changes took place gradually,” Red Shift says. “This adjustment is going to take a few hours, a few days tops. Your body really isn’t going to like that. So it’s going to shut down. You’ll slip into a coma for a while, then—”

“I’m going to what?” Jenny’s eyes widen in alarm.

“It’s not dangerous,” Red Shift says. “Your body is scaling back in order to ease back into itself, try to rebuild its understanding of what you can do. When you wake up, you’ll have an easier time adjusting to your new… uh… I don’t actually know what you do.”

“Liberty’s great-granddaughter,” CB says.

“Oh,” Red Shift says. “OK. So… stronger, faster. Right. Well, Miss Forrest, after you wake up you’re going to still need to test the waters a bit, get used to what you can do, but your body will already be a lot of the way there.”

Jenny tries to process this. “Did it happen to you? Either of you?”

“Yes,” Red Shift says.

CB frowns. “Not exactly. It’s complicated.”

“I’m shocked by your answer,” Jenny says. “So basically I’m going to pass out soon.”

“You’re cold now,” CB says. “That’s usually the first symptom. You’ll get lethargic pretty soon. Then you’ll fall into a deep sleep. After that you’ll fall into an ever deeper sleep. We’ll probably wind up dragging you off to bed.”

“The hell you will,” Jenny says. She stands, wobbles a bit, then walks out into the hall. “I’ll put myself to bed, thank you very much. See you whenever.”

CB grins as she leaves the room.

“So she’s a metahuman,” Red Shift says. “I had no idea.”

“She says she was fighting Richter when you showed up,” CB says.

Red Shift shakes his head. “She was about to be executed by Richter when I showed up. I didn’t see what happened before.”

“Fair point,” CB says. “So why did you? Show up, I mean. Isn’t New York your turf?”

“Isn’t it yours?” Red Shift asks.

CB scowls. “That was a long time ago.”

“And you wound up here?” Red Shift shakes his head. “That doesn’t makes sense.”

“What doesn’t make sense?” CB sounds a bit defensive.

Red Shift stares at him levelly. “Look, I know it’s been a while, and I know we weren’t exactly on the same page when we were both working New York, but I’m pretty sure you didn’t turn into a guy who decided to move to the most crime-infested city in America and not try to do anything about it.”

CB doesn’t answer.

“But here it is, ten years later, and apparently you’re living in a slum on the beach and you have a secret bunker. So you’re doing something. But there are no reports of anyone doing anything in this city. There are reports of people trying and disappearing. This is the Bermuda’s Triangle of heroes. Nobody ever saves the day.”

“Yeah,” CB says. “You ever wonder why that is?”

Red Shift frowns.

“I mean, occasionally there’s a very public report of a would-be hero of Farraday City getting killed. Every few years, that makes the news. But there are a lot more examples of would-be heroes who actually start to make progress and then they mysteriously disappear.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Red Shift asks. “To figure out why?”

“I’m here,” CB says, “because this city makes no goddamn sense. No sense at all.”

“It’s a corrupt city run by crooks,” Red Shift says. “It seems pretty straightforward to me.”

“Yeah,” CB says. “I know. Look, I first came down here because a friend needed help. I got pulled into the disappearing hero thing, and while I was nosing around I tried to piece together the power structure. For ten years I’ve been pulling together bits and pieces of all the little groups and big groups that are involved in running this city. Each time I learn something new I think it’ll be the piece that makes it all make sense. Thing is? It doesn’t. This city shouldn’t work.”

“I don’t understand,” Red Shift says.

“Neither do I!” CB gets out of his chair and starts to pace. “There is no single group in this city that has enough pull to tell any of the other groups what to do. Individual criminal groups run different parts of the city, and they all mostly cooperate to keep the whole thing going. But there aren’t any power plays. Not that I can see. In the last ten years there hasn’t been a single instance of one crime group trying to move into another group’s territory. Does that make any sense to you?”

“No,” Red Shift says.

“No,” CB repeats. “Right. It makes no sense. And none of these groups are big enough to call the shots, but the way the city hangs together it’s obvious someone is. Someone has to have the bird’s-eye view to make the whole thing work. But I can’t find any trace of them. No communication. No tribute. Nothing. There’s a big empty space where the top dog should be.”

“Come on,” Red Shift says. “There has to be something.”

“I know that,” CB says. “I’m not saying they’re not there. I’m saying I can’t find them. And that’s pretty significant. I’m good at that kind of stuff. When I was in the Guardians, when it came to discovering something it was either Gladiator or it was me. Want to break down the atomic structure of a new killer virus? Gladiator. Want to trace a weapons shipment to the metahuman gang that sold it? Me. Want to trace the radioactive emissions of a mutated war beast to the lab that created it? Gladiator. Want to find a crime lord’s hideout? Me. The fact that I haven’t found the asshole who runs this place after ten years of looking for him makes no sense.”

CB sighs, then sinks back into his easy chair. “There’s no reason I shouldn’t be able to figure this out. Farraday City is a nasty piece of work. But at the end of the day, it’s not particularly subtle. It’s a big dumb evil city filled with big dumb evil crooks.”

“If the structure is as mysterious as you claim,” Red Shift says, “then there has to be more than that.”

“Doubt it,” CB says. “Scratch the surface and you just find more surface.”

“You just have to keep digging, I guess,” Red Shift says.

“Nah,” CB says. “It’s surface all the way down.”

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