Curveball Issue 18: A Game of Secrets

Part Two: Benjamin Hotel, NYC

Martin Forrest knows his brother-in-law is waiting for him in his room before he even walks into the lobby: the Senator’s car is parked on the street, a conspicuous armored black sedan with government plates. He forces himself not to roll his eyes as he nods to one of the Secret Service agents standing by the door—he’s met enough of them to recognize their faces, even if they aren’t forthcoming with their names. The agent doesn’t reply, of course, but he has no doubt that his arrival is being passed on up the chain. He steels himself: meeting with Toby is never pleasant, always exhausting, and he’s already tired.

The elevator is empty, and the trip to the fifth floor is far too short. Two of the Secret Service are stationed by the elevator, two more by his hotel room door. As he walks toward his room, one of the men steps forward, arm outstretched.

No,” Martin says.

The man stops for a moment, blinking in surprise.

“If you think for a minute that I am going to agree to be searched before being allowed in my room you are out of your damn mind.” Martin hates lashing out at a guy who’s just doing his job, but damn it all if Toby doesn’t bring it out of him when he pulls stunts like this.

“It’s OK.” The voice is muffled through the door, but it’s obviously Tobias. “It’s all right. Just let him in.”

The Secret Service agent returns to the side of the door. The other agent opens it for him. Martin walks through, muttering an apology under his breath.

The Benjamin is a fine hotel, but they needed a room in a hurry and couldn’t afford one of the elaborate suites. The room is perfect for a vacation—one king-sized bed with everything arranged around it—but it’s going to be another month before they can move back into the house, and Martin is starting to feel cramped. Senator Tobias Morgan sits in front of the room’s one desk, set against the wall between the bed and window. His briefcase is open, stacks of paper spilling out over its edge and onto the desk itself.

“What are you doing here, Toby?” Martin goes over to the small closet, takes off his jacket, and puts it on a hanger.

Tobias stands. “I’m sorry. I should have told the men to just let you by—it didn’t even occur to me. And I know it was a bad idea to come. I know that. Too much bad blood between you and me, and me and Julie, a lot of it my fault. But I’m stuck, Martin. People are trying to force me to take actions that are going to make matters between us so much worse than they are right now, and I really don’t want that.”

He sounds sincere, but that doesn’t mean much.

“What are you talking about?” Martin demands. He goes over to the king-sized bed and sits on the edge, glowering at Tobias the whole way. “And where’s Julie?”

“I don’t know,” Tobias says. “She was out when I arrived, which is why I… broke in.”

Martin shakes his head.

“It’s important,” Tobias says. “Important to you. Jenny is in trouble.”

Martin’s heart skips a beat. He feels his blood run cold. “Jenny?”

“There’s no easy way to say this,” Tobias says. “Jenny… I have video footage of your daughter shooting a security guard with his own weapon.”

The room sways for a moment. Martin places one hand on the bed to keep his balance. “What?”

“I’m sorry,” Tobias says. “I was trying to think of a better way to tell you, but there’s no good way to say that.”

“Video footage,” Martin repeats. His voice sounds hoarse and raw in his ears. “It’s real?”

“I think so,” Tobias says.

“Why would she shoot a security guard?” Martin isn’t shouting, but he’s working up to it. “That doesn’t make sense.”

“In her defense,” Tobias says, “it looks like she was being held hostage by the guard. The whole situation is complicated.”

“And why do you know this before I do?” Martin’s voice is getting more and more shrill. “I’m her father for—”

Tobias raises one hand, and Martin breaks off. The sudden silence is startling—he didn’t realize how loud he’d been.

“They told me because this is very much a federal matter.” Tobias reaches into his jacket and pulls out a flask. He unscrews the top and offers it to Martin.

Martin smells gin. He takes the flask and drinks. “I think you’d better tell me everything.”

Tobias reaches into his briefcase and pulls out a stack of papers. He sets them on the bed beside Martin.

“I’ll need you to sign those,” Tobias says. “What I’m about to tell you is classified. I’m reading you in.”

Martin takes another sip from the flask.

“I told you this situation was complicated,” Tobias says. “I wasn’t lying. Just… hear me out before you start shouting, OK?”

Martin nods.

“It starts with the Pit,” Tobias says. “I sit on a committee responsible for its funding and oversight. It’s a mess. Due to our metahuman incarceration policies, it’s filling up faster than it’s emptying out. Due to the special equipment it requires to counteract metahuman abilities, it’s much too expensive to just build another one. Essentially we’re stuck: we need the one we have, we can’t afford to build another, and in less than two years we’re going to run out of room.”

It’s something Martin has heard before. The problem of overcrowding at the Pit had become a resource management nightmare for the warden and her people, and a civil rights nightmare for the ACLU. The part about it filling up in two years is new, though.

“Fortunately,” Tobias says, “we haven’t been sitting on our hands for this one. Ten years ago we stumbled across a potential solution for the problem we knew was coming. And now we’re very close to making that solution real.”

Martin hands the flask back to Tobias. “What solution?”

Tobias takes a drink. “It’s called Project Rosegarden. It’s a form of gene therapy—well, not exactly. I get the specifics wrong every time I sit in on a briefing. The big picture is that you can inject a metahuman with some kind of drug that alters a metahuman’s DNA and chemically suppresses their abilities.”

“Really?” Martin stares at Tobias in astonishment. “It can actually do that?”

“We are very, very close,” Tobias says. “I’m told it’s only a matter of months before we start formal trials. If we can get this to work we won’t need a facility like the Pit, except for the most extreme cases… we can transfer prisoners to normal facilities. We can even start granting parole. If this works then the entire issue of managing metahuman criminal behavior changes forever.”

Martin thinks about that for a second. “And someone won’t like it.”

“Hell, Martin, I’m one of its supporters and even I don’t like it.” Tobias sighs and rubs his temples. “It’s a constitutional nightmare. People will compare it to forced sterilizations, and… well, it’s not a bad argument. Right now we’re looking at it as a more humane alternative to locking a metahuman up until they die, but… you know how these things go.”

Martin looks at Tobias curiously. “What do you mean?”

“I mean eventually someone is going to get the bright idea to use it more,” Tobias says. “They’ll say ‘let’s mandate that it be used on metahumans who can’t control their abilities,’ and someone will sponsor a bill to do just that. And if it passes, then someone else will sponsor a bill giving parents the right to use the treatment on their metahuman children, if their children are found to be in medical peril. And then someone else will mandate that it be used on anyone not willing to register with the government. Eventually it’s going to go too far.”

“That sounds like Alex talking,” Martin says.

“Yeah,” Tobias says. “Granddad and I used to talk about this a lot. Argued, really. He didn’t approve, but he also couldn’t think of anything better…”

“What does this have to do with Jenny?”

“Right. Sorry.” Tobias takes a breath. “We’ve tried to keep this research secret for a number of reasons, but there are two big ones. The first is purely PR—how it will be received, especially by some people in the metahuman community. The second is a bit murkier, ethically speaking. Rosegarden is based on technology we pulled out of PRODIGY.”

“Ah.” Martin nods slowly. “Yes, I can see how that would be a problem.”

“It’s a hard sell,” Tobias admits. “PRODIGY focused on turning metahumans into remote attack drones. The technology involved was invasive, there’s no other word for it. But the research that went into that tech… well, even Granddad said it would be a waste not to use it. And PRODIGY had set up an extensive network of medical facilities that it used to conduct this research, and all of those facilities were organized under a dummy corporation posing as an insurance company. TriHealth.”

“Which is a legitimate business now,” Martin says.

“Yes…” Tobias shifts uncomfortably. “It is, but we’re still using it to continue the work on Rosegarden.”

“I… guess that makes sense,” Martin says. “Might as well use what’s already there instead of building it over again. And?”

Tobias looks away. “The incident involving Jenny took place at a TriHealth facility.”

A sharp pang shoots through Martin’s chest as he takes a ragged breath. “Tell me.”

“They tripped an alarm at a TriHealth facility in Farraday City, of all places,” Tobias says. “The guards all had digital video recording equipment embedded in their uniforms. Based on the footage we recovered, they attempted to subdue Curveball and failed—he took most of them out non-lethally. However, one of them was holding Jenny at gunpoint, and—well, the video doesn’t show exactly how it happened, but we have a clear image of Jenny pointing the guard’s own gun at him and firing twice.”

“You said it was self defense,” Martin says.

“I’m pretty sure it was,” Tobias says. “It looks like the guard had her at gunpoint. But… that’s tough to prove. And apparently the thing she did—the… move she used on the guard—I’m told that takes quite a bit of training to pull off.”

“She trained with Alex,” Martin says. “Since she was a kid. It was a thing they did, for some reason.”

“Oh,” Tobias says, then frowns. “Oh. Well. That explains it. But it gets more complicated, Martin. Don’t get me wrong—I know we have our issues, but I also know you raised Jenny right. She’s a good kid. And I may not like Curveball, but I made my peace with the fact that he was a legitimate hero a long time ago. But a few days ago Crossfire attacked the TriHealth building downtown, and we’re pretty sure they’re the ones who blew up my house in Schenectady.”

Martin connects the dots. “Oh, no.”

“Yeah,” Tobias says. “Crossfire are officially classified as terrorists, Martin. And whatever the truth may be, right now it looks like Curveball and Jenny are colluding with them. People want to go after them, hard, and the only reason nothing has happened yet is because I’m spending a lot of political goodwill to hold that off. I can’t do that forever.”

“I have to talk this over with Julie,” Martin says.

Tobias nods. “I understand. Look, sign those papers—there are some for Juliet as well—talk it over, decide what to do. But if you decide to try to contact Jenny, please let me know. If I can tell everyone that steps are being taken to extract her, we can make sure our people don’t get in the way. Or even help, if you’ll let us.”

Martin nods. “We’ll talk it over and call your office.”

Tobias gathers up his papers, puts them in his briefcase, and closes it with a click. “I’m sorry. I know we don’t—we haven’t—what I mean is—”

“Yeah,” Martin says. He smiles weakly. “I get it. Thanks Toby.”

“We’re family,” Tobias says. “And honest to God… we’ve already been through enough.”

They shake hands for the first time in years. Tobias leaves, taking the Secret Service with him. Martin is left alone with his thoughts, wondering what to believe.

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