Curveball Issue 22: King’s gambit

Part One: Haruspex Analytics, Top Floor

“Thank you all for coming. I regret the necessity.”

Though he is, as always, covered in shadow, the tension in the Chairman’s posture is unmistakable. The boardroom is silent, all eyes on him. Jason Kline shifts uneasily in his seat, instantly regretting it as it squeaks in protest.

“As you know,” the Chairman continues, “we have been operating under the shadow of a very serious security breach. Someone has betrayed us, quite overtly, on at least two separate occasions. We still don’t know the extent to which they have betrayed us covertly. The damage may take years to undo. This is especially worrisome in light of our decision to suspend Project Recall until this matter is settled. We’ve made great strides there, and now that progress is in danger of unraveling completely.”

A low, worried murmur fills the room. The Chairman lifts one hand, motioning for silence, and it quickly fades away.

“To counter this danger, I have tasked Mr. Kline and his group with discovering the identity of this mole… this traitor.” The Chairman’s voice hardens, then smoothes over once more. “Today he will report on the progress of his investigation.”

Showtime.

Jason stands, clears his throat slightly, and nods respectfully to the Chairman. “My team and I have been analyzing the known security breaches. So far, there have been at least two, and we are strongly considering adding a third.”

Jason holds out one finger. “First: someone leaked information to Captain Alexander Morgan, aka Liberty, about the existence of Project Recall.”

He extends a second finger. “Second: after Crossfire assaulted the TriHealth facility in downtown Manhattan, someone ensured that our standard protocols were not followed and a Code Ultraviolet was issued by the police, calling Sky Commando and other unvetted forces to the scene.”

He extends a third finger. “Our third potential breach was the attack on the Forrest Brownstone. While Ms. Ioannou has taken responsibility for that breach—” he pauses a moment to nod toward the striking woman sitting to the Chairman’s left. “While she has taken responsibility for it, a closer examination of the events behind the attack led us to believe that she did so mistakenly.”

Mara Ioannou, a tall, slender woman with coppery skin and dark black hair, tilts her head to one side, listening intently. The thick curls of her hair part at her neck, revealing a large silver earring cast into the shape of a double epsilon.

“What we learned,” Jason continues, “is that the original order she authorized was altered and manipulated by a third party intent on ensuring that the response would be inadequate. When Curveball’s email was answered, the assumption should have been that he was on the scene. The team that was sent in was not rated for metahuman engagement.”

“Question,” the Chairman says. “What about the event in the Bronx? Sky Commando appeared on the scene there as well.”

Jason shakes his head. “Unrelated to the security breach. However, the fact that it wasn’t part of the security breach gave us some important data that allowed us to improve our model, which helped us determine who the mole actually was.”

He starts to pace around the table, causing the board members to shift and squirm as they all turn to follow him.

“The first breach was the riskiest—actually delivering information to Liberty, information unknown in scope that Liberty has, we assume, passed on to Curveball in encrypted form. The individual must have had easy access to the information. Someone who was expected to have the information. Someone who would be able to oversee the sabotage of a response protocol. Someone who would have learned about the Bronx incident, and seen an opportunity to sabotage us further to ensure that the next time our organization tried to suppress a Code Ultraviolet, it would fail. In short, it had to be a member of the board, sir. Someone sitting in this room.”

The reaction is pretty much what he expects: some of the members of the board already know this, since they’ve been pre-vetted. They either sit stoically, holding their cards close, or they steal glances at the unvetted board members, wondering if one of them will betray themselves. The unvetted members look around in alarm, some of them immediately asking questions or voicing their objections, some of them even rising out of their seats to object. Jason keeps walking around the room, largely unnoticed as the attention turns to the confirmation that one of their number is a traitor.

The Chairman allows the tumult to continue for a few seconds, then once again raises his hand for silence. It takes a bit longer this time, but once again the room settles down. When silence returns, the Chairman turns his attention to Jason once again.

“Mr. Kline. Have you determined who the traitor is?”

“I have, sir.” Jason stops pacing and turns to face him. “I can, without reservation, identify the traitor sitting in this room.”

The Chairman nods once. “Proceed.”

The silencer attached to the pistol he’s been hiding beneath his suit jacket prevents everyone in the room from going deaf, but in the enclosed space the shot is still incredibly loud. The moment he pulls the trigger, everyone in the room jerks back, involuntarily flinching away from the sound. Everyone, that is, except for the distinguished-looking white-haired man sitting in the chair in front of Jason. He topples forward, blood spraying out of the back of his head, covering Jason and spattering across the men and women sitting beside him.

The immediate reaction is one of alarm, and some cries of fear and pain from the sudden noise. That reaction is quickly mastered as the surviving board members realize what happened, and what it means.

The Chairman doesn’t recruit fools.

The room falls silent as everyone looks at the corpse of the white-haired man bleeding on the table.

“Andrew Estovich,” the Chairman says, “was a traitor. He betrayed me, and he betrayed all of you. He was very good at going unnoticed—Mr. Kline, I believe you had originally cleared him of suspicion?”

“Yes sir,” Jason says. He switches the safety on his gun and returns it to his jacket pocket. “He was in the first group we vetted.”

“Mr. Kline came forward with their findings earlier today,” the Chairman says. “I can’t dispute the facts. Mr. Kline, if you would summarize.”

Jason manages to keep his voice steady as the dead man’s blood runs down his neck and pools in the collar of his shirt. “I ordered a closer look at the initially vetted pool of candidates, and we noticed discrepancies in Mr. Estovich’s activities—both personal and financial. His job performance had slumped. He had personal accounts, accounts he believed were untraceable, that contained large deposits made by an unknown third party. This led us to examine his personal computers more thoroughly, where we found the program that was used to modify the protocol that triggered the action on the Forrest Brownstone. Once we found that, we were able to tie him to everything else.”

“What else did you learn?” the Chairman asks.

“He was the only one,” Jason says. “The way he set up his security shows that he was too paranoid to trust anyone. He was working for someone on the outside, but he was the only one they had on the inside.”

“I see,” the Chairman says. “Do you know who he was working with on the outside?”

“No sir,” Jason says.

The Chairman nods. “Well. I won’t pretend I’m happy to learn of Andrew’s betrayal… he’d been with us for a very long time. But thank you for your work. I expect you’d like to clean up, you’re excused with my thanks.”

“Yes sir,” Jason says. “Thank you sir.”

Board members shy away from him as he heads to the exit.

“As for the rest of you,” the Chairman says, “I suspect some of you would like to clean up as well. We’re going to take a two-hour break. When we return, our first order of business will be getting Project Recall back on schedule.”

Jason steps out of the boardroom, leaving behind the cramped, stuffy room and stepping into cool, fresh air. He forces himself not to shudder as he rolls back his blood-soaked jacket sleeve, exposing the transmitter embedded in his cufflink. He raises his wrist to his face and activates the transmitter.

“Go Phase Two.”

He hurries down the hall, eager for a long shower and a change of fresh clothes.

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