Curveball Issue 35: City of Knives, City of Glass

Part One: Crossfire Safehouse, Minutes Later

The chair in the center of the room looks like it was taken from an old black-and-white horror film—a mashup of an electric chair and the table Frankenstein’s monster was strapped to just before it came to life. It’s made of heavy wood, with metal clamps along the arms, legs, and torso, all closed and locked firmly in place. The back reclines, but at the moment it’s set fully upright—not a comfortable position, especially when all of the clamps are locked in place. The man strapped into the chair is tall, lean, and despite the bruise patterns and scrapes along his face and neck, manages to preserve an air of quiet dignity. Senator Tobias Morgan, the Junior Senator from New York, stares at his captors looking neither unafraid nor intimidated. If anything, he looks impatient.

Two men stare at him warily. Leaning against the wall, a lean man wearing jeans, brown slippers, and a canvas button-up shirt stares daggers at the senator, his expression a mixture of anger, resentment, suspicion, and uncertainty. The other, standing in the doorway, is harder to read. He’s dressed in the black-and-yellow tactical uniform of the vigilante group Crossfire, and a balaclava covers his face, showing only his eyes. They’re hard eyes, taking in much and expressing little.

The man in the canvas shirt pushes off from the wall, stepping into the light. His face and neck are a mess of purple and blue bruises, and the canvas shirt drapes over his right arm, which hangs awkwardly by his side. The senator has a brief memory of that man dragging him out the back of a moving car, then using his own body to cushion his fall. “You’ve seen better days, CB.”

The lean man’s mouth twists into a half-snarl, half-sneer. “I’ll get over it.”

“I won’t,” Senator Morgan says. “So can we get to the part where you let me tell you what’s going on?”

“Why the fuck should I trust you?” CB demands.

This is the hard part. He always knew it would be.

“There’s no reason you should trust me,” the senator says. “But you might be willing to trust my grandfather.”

“I’d trust him with my life,” CB says. “Of course he isn’t around, is he? Johann Richter shot him in the head. And you just admitted to setting it up.”

Senator Morgan forces himself to look CB in the eye. “Yes. And now I’m going to tell you what he told me to tell you.”

CB snorts. “OK. Can’t wait to hear this part.”

“He told me to tell you to remember the story of Garant and Lemieux.”

CB’s eyes narrow in suspicion. “He told that story all the time. Every V-E Day, after he’d had a few.”

The senator nods in agreement. “He also told me to remind you about the conversation you had in ‘88, after the ‘Bar Mitzvah Incident.’ Before you ask, I have no idea what he’s talking about. He said it was none of my business. Just that it was something between you and him.”

CB frowns thoughtfully.

“What’s going on?” The masked man in the Crossfire uniform sounds impatient, and more than a little irritable. Senator Morgan isn’t sure which one of them it is—their uniforms were designed specifically to make it harder to tell them apart—but something in his stance makes the senator think it’s not the speedster.

CB turns his head a little, acknowledging the other man’s question. “Alex used to tell this story. An old war story about two members of the French Resistance, Victor Garant and Sebastien Lemieux, working with British Intelligence. They’d infiltrated the German military as officers. Not particularly high-level officers, not important ones, but the information they passed on was good. They were able to send the Allies information on troop movements, supply lines, logistical stuff. No intel on planned offensives, or anything like that—nothing flashy—just really good targets for sabotage. It drove the SS nuts.”

“Not sure how that applies to this situation,” the other man says.

“It doesn’t,” CB says. “That’s just the setup. One day Sebastien makes a mistake. It’s not immediately fatal, but he knows its only a matter of time before someone figures out he’s not the pure-blooded Aryan he claims to be. So he and Victor move on to ‘Plan B.’”

CB returns to his spot against the wall, staring intently at the Senator. “They knew there was always a danger of one of them getting caught. They knew. So they planned for it. Sebastian gave Victor the signal that he’d been compromised, so Victor ‘discovered’ a hidden stash of information that implicated Sebastien as an Allied spy. He immediately informed his superior officer, and the SS swooped right in. Sebastien was arrested… and then executed, which surprised exactly neither of them. Meanwhile, Victor was given a commendation for his ‘loyalty to the Fatherland,’ and put on a fast track for a promotion. He continued to be an invaluable source of intel, right up to the day Alex smuggled him out of Berlin.”

The other man glances at the senator, measuring him, then turns back to CB. “OK. I see what he’s implying. Do you believe him?”

CB doesn’t answer immediately. He keeps staring at the senator, his face shadowed, his expression unreadable. Then he sighs.

“Yeah. I don’t want to. It’s too convenient a story, you know? Exactly the kind of thing a weasel would use to get you off your guard. But he’s right about ’88. That’s not a story Alex would talk about.”

“OK,” the other man says. “Do you trust him?”

CB makes a face. “I don’t know. Sort of.”

The other man shakes his head. “’Sort of’ isn’t good enough.”

“I know.”

“Look.” Senator Morgan tries to keep his voice steady, but a little quiver creeps in against his will. “I’ve said it before, but I really don’t have a lot of time.

CB and the other man exchange glances. “We’re pretty safe here,” CB says. “If anyone knew where we were…”

“They don’t need to know where I am.”

“Oh.” Understanding dawns. CB sighs heavily. “Right. What do they have?”

“Hair.” Senator Morgan has to work to keep his voice steady. “Blood.”

CB grimaces. “Magic. Hard way to go.”

“Yeah.” The senator looks away, studying the cracks on the bare cement floor. “Yes. I am well aware.”

CB stares at him a moment longer, then turns to the other man. He nods. The other man comes forward, extracts a set of keys from a hidden pocket, and begins to unlock the clamps that bind the senator to his seat.

Senator Morgan sighs as he feels the pressure loosen from around his wrists. “Do you have any recording equipment?”

“We do,” the man says. Definitely not the speedster.

“Please set it up. I need to give a formal statement.”

* * *

Senator Morgan sits on the worn orange couch, sipping a cup of coffee, waiting patiently as Street Ronin sets up the video equipment. CB sprawls on the chair, watching him warily.

“How long do you have?”

“Not sure,” the senator asks. “What time is it?”

“A little after 2AM,” Street Ronin says. “We’ll be ready soon.”

“That’s fine.” Morgan takes a proper drink from his cup and winces at the taste. “A few more hours. I don’t know specifically how it works, but I know there’s a ceremony. It takes time to prepare, time to… cast.” He says the last word reluctantly.

CB nods. “Is there anything we can do?”

Morgan shrugs. “I don’t know. Probably not. I think they keep my… samples… in the main office.”

“Haruspex Analytics.”

The senator nods. “I don’t know where, though. If you destroyed them I’d probably be safe. You can’t do that in a few hours.”

CB shrugs. “We might.”

“No, CB,” the senator says. “If the Guardians and Crossfire joined forces and assaulted that building, the entire group would die.” He glances over to Street Ronin, who is running a last check on the recording equipment. “I don’t say that lightly. I’ve sat on every briefing we have of you both.”

Street Ronin doesn’t reply.

“Just make sure this recording gets out to the right people. And the next time you see Juliet…” Morgan’s voice trails off. He looks down. “Tell her I have regrets.”

“Don’t try to mend fences just yet,” CB says. “We might find a way to save your life, then where will you be?”

The corner of the senator’s mouth turns up, ever so slightly. “Optimist.”

“We’re ready.” Street Ronin flicks a switch on the back of a video camera—a high-end one, CB notes—and a red light begins to blink next to the lens. “When the red light goes solid, it means we’re recording.”

Morgan nods. “I understand. CB, I do have some prepared remarks, but feel free to jump in with whatever questions you have. I’ll answer them.”

“OK,” CB says.

“Recording in five… four…” Street Ronin falls silent, replacing his verbal countdown with fingers. Three. Two. One.

The blinking red light turns solid.

Senator Morgan stares into the camera, projecting gravitas even in his disheveled state. “My name is Tobias Alexander Morgan. I have the privilege to serve the people of the state of New York in the United States Senate. Late last night I was kidnapped by metahumans who were secretly investigating the murder of my grandfather, Alexander Morgan, the hero known as Liberty. What they discovered was more than just a murder—they uncovered a conspiracy against every metahuman living on this planet. For the last fifteen years I was part of this conspiracy; for the last ten I did everything I could to try to learn enough about it to destroy it from within.”

He pauses for a moment.

“I failed.”

He pauses again.

“This recording is, in part, a confession of that failure. It is also an accusation: I am not the only person in government to take part of this conspiracy. Some of the participants are unwilling, being coerced by a shadowy group who use threats and seductive promises of power to buy influence with politicians and judges, soldiers and police. They fear and hate metahumans because they believe metahumans are the only true group that poses a threat to them. They might be right.”

He sighs. “I know there are some among you who will be surprised to hear me admit that. My views on metahumans and the danger they pose to the world at large have never been secret. It was those views that caused them to recruit me to begin with. But let me be clear: I have never, even in my most strident moments, considered a metahuman to be anything less than a human being, and I would never advocate their wholesale slaughter, in the name of ‘security’ or for any other reason.”

The contempt and anger in his voice are genuine.

“During my time as a co-conspirator, I learned a lot about the organization, the people in it, and their plans. I am about to tell you everything. I will name names. I will identify locations. I will reveal plans.”

He takes a deep, shuddering breath. “And then, unless God is merciful and I am very fortunate, I will die.”

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Jordan 29 January 2019 at 1:15 AM

I love this story, ngl, but I do not have a single clue as to what in the flying **** happened with all the Bernard stuff right there.

C. B. Wright 29 January 2019 at 9:59 AM

Heh. Well, I was trying to channel Jack Kirby, so I’m not sure if this comment shows that I failed or that I succeeded. 😀

Jordan 3 February 2019 at 6:03 AM

Both? I think it was good, I just suck at visualizing, so the Bernard segments in the other realm didn’t really land with me.

Overzealous Proofreader 6 February 2019 at 3:01 PM

It made sense to me…

Typo patrol: “the feint braying of donkeys” should be “faint.”

Overzealous Proofreader 6 February 2019 at 9:05 PM

Can pyramids have more than 3 or 4 sides? If so, no worries. If not, perhaps “prism” instead of “pyramid” for the 13-sided objects in part 7?

C. B. Wright 6 February 2019 at 10:39 PM

There are pentagonal pyramids. 13 sides is admittedly taking some liberties with the concept, though. 😀

C. B. Wright 10 February 2019 at 11:49 AM

Fixed feint, is now faint. Took me long enough, though!

Menae8 21 April 2019 at 5:12 PM

When will there be more?

C. B. Wright 21 April 2019 at 5:19 PM

I’m writing issue 36 but it’s going to be huge and it’s going very slowly. The most honest answer I have is “I’m working on it.”

PaynITA 4 June 2019 at 11:38 AM

Dead project?

C. B. Wright 4 June 2019 at 8:16 PM

No, I am actively writing Issue 36 – Patreon subscribers have seen drafts of Parts One through Four so far. But it’s taking a lot longer than I’d like.

Andrul 18 October 2019 at 9:48 AM

Any progress? I know RL has a way of sneaking up and derailing things.

C. B. Wright 21 October 2019 at 7:49 PM

Progress stalled a bit when I hurt my shoulder (partial rotator cuff tear, something with the ligament) but I’m trying for progress tonight!

Gary 30 November 2019 at 12:36 PM

I hope your shoulder heals quickly and you can get back to work soon. I’ve just binge-read this whole story, and…. WOW. Just WOW. More, please, and soon??

C. B. Wright 30 November 2019 at 12:50 PM

Thank you, and welcome!

I am back to writing, and I’ve posted fifteen parts of issue 36 on my patreon so far. It’s gonna be a long one.

Lucario 13 April 2020 at 8:18 AM

Fifteen parts? Wasn’t the previous record… uh, seven?

C. B. Wright 13 April 2020 at 7:41 PM

Yeah, it’s even worse now! I’m starting to write Part 18!


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