Curveball Issue 17: Enemies Within

Part Two: Haruspex Analytics

Jason Kline shifts uncomfortably in his chair as he looks at the impassive faces staring back at him. His team has been using the situation room as their primary workspace, and they’re used to having it all to themselves. Seeing so many members of the board sitting at the long table is unnerving.

“This sucks.” Michelle Lawrence is a small woman who always dresses in sweats—her preferred uniform is gray sweat pants and a blue hoodie. Usually she has the hoodie up, with the drawstring pulled out so far that the hood covers everything but her eyes, nose and mouth. She claims it helps her think, and as far as Jason can tell it works. Today, however, the hood is down, and she’s staring at the impassive faces like someone about to face a firing squad.

“You’ll be fine,” Jason says. “You did all the work, you should get the recognition.”

Michelle snorts through her nose, and Jason manages not to smile. The only recognition Michelle is interested in is from people she considers peers. The people who pay the bills are not peers.

“Recognition is your job,” Michelle says. “You’re the team leader, you get the recognition. That was part of the fucking deal, dammit.”

“OK, yes,” Jason says. “I get it. But we don’t have enough time to brief me before I brief them. So you have to brief all of us.”

Michelle narrows her eyes, but she nods reluctantly.

“We just need a few more minutes to get everything set up,” Jason says, turning back to the board members lined up along the far end of the table. As always, they simply stare impassively, betraying no emotion whatsoever.

He turns back to his team. Michelle is staring at her laptop, typing furiously, trying to ignore everything else. To her left Billy and Phyllis are muttering and comparing notes, ever the strange, mismatched, and uncannily effective pair. Billy Davison, a blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfer from California, is pointing at something on his screen, looking at Phyllis questioningly. Phyllis Tanner, a middle-aged black woman with swirls of gray in her hair, shakes her head disapprovingly. Billy shrugs, nods, then turns back to the screen. To their left, Simon Yin is hunched over the computer that controls one of the many paneled screens set into all the walls in the room. His long, slender fingers fly over the keyboard, dark eyes glaring at the screen as he frowns slightly.

“Got it.” Simon looks up, nodding toward Jason. “He’s hooked in.”

“All right,” Jason says, then stands. “Thank you for your patience. We’re still trying to get more intel on what’s going on.”

“What is going on?” asks one of the board members. He’s an older, white-haired man with craggy eyebrows and a slightly reddish nose. His expression is just as impassive as the rest of the board members’, but his voice betrays impatience.

“Michelle Lawrence was here when it started,” Jason says, gesturing to his right. “She’ll walk all of us through it as soon as the Chairman arrives.”

The members of the board straighten a little. The white-haired man frowns slightly. “He doesn’t usually attend meetings.”

“Connecting now,” Simon says. The paneled screen immediately behind him blinks once, and then the image shifts to display a shadowy silhouette in a darkened room.

“Ah.” The Chairman’s unmistakable voice comes through the panel speakers crisp and clear. “I can see you all now. Good morning.”

“Mr. Chairman,” the white-haired board member says respectfully.

“Hello Andrew. I felt circumstances were serious enough for me to sit in on this briefing. Members of the board, I’m afraid we’re about to travel through some very unpleasant waters. I’m going to let Jason’s team give you the whole story, but the short version is we’ve just suffered a very serious lapse in security, and it’s going to affect how we go forward with Operation Recall.”

The impassive mask slips for a moment, and the members of the board look briefly startled.

“Go on, Jason,” the Chairman says.

Jason sits, then nods to Michelle. Michelle sighs, then stands.

“I was in the situation room working on something else when one of our triggers went off.”

“Triggers?” The white-haired board member, Andrew, leans forward, frowning.

Triggers.” Michelle’s eyes blaze. She hates being interrupted, especially when it’s about something everyone in the audience should know.

“We sent the board a briefing on the changes we made to the security protocols after the assault on the Forrest brownstone,” Jason says, trying to give Michelle a little time to calm down. “It was obvious they needed to be updated. One of the changes we made was to put triggers in place to inform us when specific events occurred.”

“Please save the rest of your questions until the end,” the Chairman adds, and Andrew immediately leans back in his chair, expression neutral.

Jason nods to Michelle.

Michelle takes a quick breath, looks down at her laptop monitor, and continues.

“A little after 1 AM this morning the TriHealth facility in Manhattan was attacked by the metahuman Vigilante of the rogue group Crossfire. The trigger we received was a notice that TriHealth was transferring its sensitive data to its designated remote facility as a result of that breach.”

At the mention of Vigilante and Crossfire Jason can see the board members shifting uncomfortably in their seats. He doesn’t blame them. When Michelle first told him, his reaction had bordered on panic. To their credit, they don’t interrupt.

“Given the circumstances surrounding the trigger I decided to monitor the situation personally,” Michelle says. “It went about as well as could be expected. Security assumed Vigilante was trying to get to the server room, and personnel engaged him on the eighth floor, trying to delay his progress until the data was copied and the servers could be wiped. A security team and three high threat units were on hand as the stairwell underwent rapid sanitization. It is regrettable but not entirely surprising that Vigilante survived. The high threat units and most of the security team did not.”

The fidgeting in the audience continues.

“About twelve minutes into the encounter a series of explosions originated from the server room. At that point Vigilante fled the scene. The origin of the explosions has not yet been determined, though it’s possible the sanitization agent, which had leaked out of containment and into the 8th floor, was a contributing factor. We’ll need time to do a thorough investigation before we can say for certain. We might not get that time.”

Jason can see Andrew actively struggling against the desire to interrupt.

Michelle sighs. “A number of protocols are in place to prevent incidents like these from getting even more out of hand. One of the most important is to ensure that our contacts in the NYPD and other response agencies are first responders. Those protocols were in place and, by all appearances, worked well. A highly-placed asset in the NYPD was on the scene and was starting to lock it down when a Code Ultraviolet was issued, and everything started to fall apart.”

Andrew apparently can’t contain himself any longer. “I apologize Chairman, and I apologize, Miss Lawrence. But once our assets are on the scene it should be impossible for a Code Ultraviolet to be issued.”

“I agree,” Michelle says. She doesn’t sound angry this time. Jason supposes Andrew’s apology helped. “As far as we can tell, the Code Ultraviolet did not go through the normal chain of command. I haven’t been able to trace its origin yet. Unfortunately, Sky Commando was working the night shift and responded immediately.”

Michelle sighs again, this time more heavily. “Our assets attempted to get her to leave—to the extent that they may have compromised themselves, unfortunately—but they were prevented when federal agents intervened. Division M showed up shortly after Sky Commando did and invoked a proximity clause to take control of the scene. Apparently the TriHealth building is close enough to a federal building that the claim had teeth.”

“It is.” The Chairman has been quiet through the entire briefing, nothing more than a silhouette on his panel. Now all eyes turn toward him. “We have used that proximity to our own benefit on a number of occasions—it’s one of the reasons we chose the location. Unfortunately, tonight that worked against us. Miss Lawrence, if you don’t mind I’d like to take it from here.”

Michelle nods once and sits down, looking relieved.

“Ladies, gentlemen, we have a problem.” The Chairman doesn’t sound angry, but the tension in the room rises just the same. “If all our protocols were in place and functioning as expected, as Miss Lawrence claims—and I have no reason to doubt it—then there are only two scenarios that adequately explain the Code Ultraviolet being sent out in such an unorthodox fashion.”

Jason raises an eyebrow. His team hadn’t had any time to speculate on this part of their findings, and in his brief call to the Chairman prior to the meeting they hadn’t discussed it.

“First,” the Chairman says, “it’s possible that Crossfire managed to send it. We have intelligence that links David Bernard, the former Sky Commando, with Crossfire as recently as last week. Bernard was able to seriously complicate our move against the Weekly 832 by calling Sky Commando to the scene, and he may have access to back channels that we’re unaware of. Crossfire may have their own access as well—we’ve long suspected they have their own assets in the NYPD…”

Jason sees some of the board members nodding thoughtfully.

“The other possibility,” the Chairman says, “is that the Ultraviolet was triggered by the mole within our organization.”

The tension in the room ratchets up even higher.

“You will notice that the entire board was not invited to this meeting,” the Chairman says. “Those of you who are here have already been vetted and cleared by Kline’s team—in other words, the people sitting in this meeting right now are the only people on the Board you can trust. The only exception to that is Mara—she’s currently out on assignment, but she has also been cleared and will be briefed accordingly when she returns.”

The tension eases a bit.

“Now listen very carefully,” the Chairman says. “This incident is going to cost us a great deal. A similar event in our Farraday City location has me convinced that the metahuman Curveball is coordinating with Crossfire, and based on their actions we have to assume that they’ve made a connection between TriHealth and the death of Liberty. The incident at TriHealth is now a federal matter, and I fully expect that before we can put our own assets on the ground there, the current investigation will uncover a number of very inconvenient things. In other words, there’s no doubt we’ve been compromised and it’s going to affect the Project Recall timetable.”

The silhouette leans forward so that his features are almost, but not quite, visible. Jason finds himself straining to try to see, but to no avail.

“We’re going to have to pivot,” the Chairman says, “and put more assets in play. But I don’t want to do that until we’ve found our mole. The damage our traitor did to us this morning will be trivial compared to what he or she might do in the future. That’s why I’m directing all of you to make finding this mole your top priority. Project Recall is on hold until the traitor is found and dealt with.”

Jason looks at his team. Michelle is nodding in agreement. Billy and Phyllis are still hunched over Billy’s laptop, murmuring to each other quietly as they argue over some piece of intel they aren’t ready to share yet. Simon stares off into space, head tilted to one side… Jason knows that look. Something the Chairman said just gave Yin an idea.

“Everyone in this room now has the same job,” the Chairman says. “Find the traitor. Solve the problem. Make it go away.”

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