Curveball Issue 23: AEInterlude

Part Four: Haruspex Analytics

They’ve been gagged and bound for nearly two days, hands stretched over their heads, feet tied together and tethered to the floor. All three figures—two men and a woman—bear their incarceration stoically. There were initial attempts to work free of the restraints, but they proved fruitless, and eventually all three resigned themselves to waiting.

And so they wait, in a darkened room, with nothing but their own thoughts and the occasional muffled sounds of their fellow captives to keep them company. They wait, grow hungry, grow thirsty, and continue waiting.

Finally, toward the end of the second day, someone turns on a light.

The light is painful at first, but as they gradually adjust they see they are in a very empty, unfurnished room. Unfurnished, but fancy—the walls and floor are granite, and the ceiling is covered in baroque plaster tiles. At the very end of this empty room is a simple door, so plain it looks almost shabby by comparison.

It is another hour before the door finally opens. When the man walks in, the three recognize him immediately.

“I apologize for the delay,” the Chairman says. He crosses the room slowly, deliberately.

“That is pure artifice, of course. I apologize for nothing of the sort. Not in this room. Not to any of you.”

He stops in front of them, noting with amusement that they have all averted their eyes.

“This won’t do at all. Very few people are given the opportunity to look at me directly. I suggest you take advantage of it.”

One by one they look up. His face looks as if it had been kind, once.

“Better. Let’s review, shall we?” He turns and begins to pace the width of the room, hands clasped behind his back, like a prosecutor presenting his case before a jury.

“All three of you have been with us for some time. We don’t know how long you’ve been working for someone else, and we don’t know who you are working for…” At this he stops and turns to face them. “Though I have my suspicions.”

He resumes pacing.

“We know one of you—though we don’t know who—is responsible for contacting Alexander Morgan and telling him about Project Recall. We know all three of you were involved in framing Andrew Estovich—yes, we always knew he was framed, I’m afraid, and this, I think, was your biggest mistake. Andrew was not a stupid man by any means, but he was certainly not one of our brightest. He was, however, without question one of our best. I feel compelled to tell you, right now, that it was at his insistence that we carried through with our little charade the other day. The man you identified, so dismissively, as a patsy died a hero’s death in order to root out your corruption and expose it for all to see.”

Two of the three gazes drop. The woman stares back defiantly, eyes hard.

“Of course, you’ve still managed to do quite a bit of damage to our organization. It will take some time for us to trace your activities to learn the full extent of it. But one thing that fascinated me were your efforts to learn more about me, personally.”

He stops in front of the woman with hard eyes, looking directly at her, ignoring the others for the moment.

“Gathering intelligence on the leader of the organization you are trying to take down is not in itself unusual, of course. What interests me is that despite the substantial collection of intelligence you already had on me, it appears you have yet to send any of it on.”

He locks eyes with the woman. The woman struggles valiantly, but her gaze breaks.

The Chairman smiles. “It tells me that you have correctly deduced that the intelligence you have is not only incomplete, but it lacks something that will place it in the appropriate context. That everything you have is meaningless, perhaps even detrimental, if it were passed on without the context you lack.”

He begins to pace again.

“I can’t pretend to like any of you, of course, but I find myself strangely grateful. I wasn’t prepared for how keenly I would feel Andrew’s death. One of the dangers of being in command behind the scenes is that it is easy to forget what sacrifice entails. I require my people to make sacrifices every day, and they make them. Seeing Andrew make his… reminded me of what, exactly, that entails. Of what I owe the people who work to make my vision—their vision—come to fruition.”

He stops in front of the woman again—the two men are much closer to breaking than she is—and offers her a thin smile. “You have, if anything, made me more committed to my task than ever.”

The woman narrows her eyes.

“In light of that,” the Chairman says, “I have decided to help you. After a fashion. I will give you the one thing you tried, and failed to find. I will give you context.”

He turns away from them, reaches into his jacket, and pulls out a small cell phone. He presses something on the screen, holds it up to his ear, and waits.

“It’s me,” he says. “Yes. I just wanted to congratulate you and your team on a job well done.”

Pause.

“Not at all,” he continues. “You were brought in under difficult circumstances, and you handled the matter exceptionally. Each of you should be proud of what you’ve accomplished. That matter is out of your hands, of course, but I would like you to be more involved in the day-to-day business of Project Recall going forward. We are facing unprecedented threat and scrutiny, and I believe your team’s involvement will go a long way in mitigating much of it. Please report to Mara in the morning.”

Pause.

“Of course. Thank you. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”

The Chairman puts his phone in his jacket, then turns back to face the prisoners.

“That’s done,” he says. “Where were we? Context. I promised to give you context.”

All three are staring at him. One of the men is clearly on the verge of breaking, his eyes wide with fear. The other still resists, but he has accepted the inevitable outcome. He is simply trying to cling to himself for as long as he can before he succumbs. Only the woman tries to fight back with the only weapon she has—her eyes. But now there is a hint of uncertainty behind her gaze.

“Context,” the Chairman repeats. He frowns, considering, then nods to himself as he reaches a decision.

“I don’t believe we’ve been properly introduced. Let us start by telling you my real name…”

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