Curveball Issue 35: City of Knives, City of Glass

Part Three: Crossfire Safehouse

Senator Tobias Morgan stares down at his hands. They’re trembling slightly—either from fear or exhaustion, CB can’t tell. The Senator certainly looks exhausted, and if everything he’s saying is correct, he has plenty of reasons to be afraid.

“The government is full of cabals.” The Senator’s voice betrays nothing of the tremors in his hands—it is as strong and confident as it has always been. For most of the time CB has known, he’s hated the smug surety in that voice. Now it sounds less smug, more defiant.

More like Alex.

“It’s unavoidable, in the long term. Nobody ever wholly agrees with the party line. With any party line. There are people who think it goes too far. People who think it doesn’t go far enough. And then, of course, there are people who think the party line completely ignores the real problems people are facing. So other groups form. Sometimes they’re smaller, more ‘pure’ groups within your own party, sometimes they’re groups that stretch across party lines that focus on individual issues. Not exactly secret, but you don’t really tell people outside the group what you’re working on until you’re ready to move.”

“Cabals,” CB says. “Like this one you’re in now.”

Senator Morgan shakes his head. “This one is nothing like the others. When they first approached me, I thought it was just another ad hoc group of concerned politicians who were trying to find ways to work around roadblocks. And it was one of my pet causes. It’s no secret I’m in favor of increased metahuman oversight.”

CB’s hands clench into fists. He says nothing. If the Senator notices the reaction, he offers no comment.

“It became apparent, however, that this group was a lot more organized than most, to the point where I quickly suspected there were outside forces involved. At the time I assumed it was just another political action committee, though a very disciplined one. But I never met with a lobbyist. I only ever met other politicians and staffers who were ‘on board.’ I always wondered about that, but it never raised any alarms. Until PRODIGY, at any rate.”

PRODIGY again. Bad memories that never fade.

The kid is thin—painfully so—and filthy. He’s strapped into the monstrosity that is part medical bed, part coffin, but he’s long past the point where struggling is a concern. The left side of his head has been shaved. Wires attach to three implants that look to have been drilled directly into his skull. The rest of his hair, dark and matted, falls down to thin, bony shoulders. Wide eyes stare into space. His eyes are so dilated CB can’t tell what color they are. His mouth is open, and though no sound comes out it’s easy to tell he’s screaming.

CB shakes his head, dispelling the image. The Senator does notice this time, and his expression is more sympathetic than expected.

“How does this link to PRODIGY?” CB asks.

“They were the ones responsible.” The Senator’s expression is remote and unreadable. “They are the ones who placed me on the investigatory committee.”

“Right,” CB says. “I always figured you were there for the coverup.”

Senator Morgan’s eyes narrow. “I almost wasn’t. When it became clear what this group needed me to do, I very nearly exposed the entire thing.”

“Yeah?” CB feels a familiar flash of anger rise, crowding out all his other, more tactically sound impulses. “What kept you?”

“My grandfather,” the Senator says.

The anger dissolves. CB falls silent.

The Senator’s mouth curls in grim amusement. “Yes. When I realized what I was being asked to do, I was nearly ready to expose the entire thing. It wasn’t easy. I was quite certain the moment I did so, the shadowy forces behind this political cabal would turn against me, and my political career would end. I was frightened of that. Very frightened. So I turned to my grandfather, America’s greatest hero, and I told him everything. I told him what I was about to do. I told him how afraid I was to do it. All I needed was for him to tell me I was doing the right thing, that it would be hard, but that doing the right thing had consequences. I’d heard him give the speech before. That’s all I needed, and I would have thrown away my career by doing the right thing.”

He laughs then. “That’s not what he did. He told me I was a good man, but that I was making a mistake.”

CB blinks. “What?”

Senator Morgan grins—probably one of the most genuine expressions of mirth CB has ever seen on the man. “That is exactly what I said at the time. And grandfather just laughed and shook his head. Then he started telling me what the four of you did when you took PRODIGY down.” He eyes CB thoughtfully. “I have to say you played it perfectly. We all thought we were watching the Guardians of Justice disintegrate in real time. Liberty was the patriotic soldier, Regiment the reluctant citizen, you the snarling rebel and Gladiator the primadonna who took his toys and went home. And in the middle of all that distraction, you were able to uncover what they were really doing.”

CB shrugs. “It wasn’t my plan. It was Robert and Alex, mostly.”

“Grandfather didn’t see it that way,” the Senator says. “But he said the biggest flaw the plan had was that it ended when you discovered the facility where the kids were being held. It had to—the kids needed rescuing—but that was your last card in the deck. Then he said I had the opportunity to be a new deck.”

“Oh,” CB says. “He turned you into a spy.”

“I guess so. I began participating in the coverup. Officially, I was shocked and appalled that the entire affair had happened, but I wanted to be sure that it minimized the damage done to our long-term metahuman policy goals. As time went on, I started openly speculating if the technology we recovered could be of any use, and bemoaned the necessity of destroying it all. Eventually they made contact. Eventually they brought me in. And eventually—a process that took years—they trusted me enough to tell me what Project Recall really was.”

“Yeah, but…” CB frowns and shakes his head. “How did they not find out? If they’re as paranoid as you claim, how did you manage to keep your cover? Sure, OK, they don’t like metahumans, but it’s obvious they’re not above using them. One telepath is all it would take, used at just the right time—”

“No telepaths,” Senator Morgan says. “They’re not opposed to metahumans, exactly… they’re opposed to how many of you there are. But they’re absolutely opposed to telepaths. They’re terrified of them. I was told, when I reached a certain level of trust, that if I ever developed telepathic abilities I would be killed outright—nothing personal, that’s just the way it was. And I believed them.”

“No telepaths,” CB repeats.

“None whatsoever. They use other methods to ensure loyalty.”

“Like keeping hair and blood samples?” CB asks.

The Senator nods. “Which brings us back to the main subject… because I really don’t have much time.” He says it candidly, almost off-handedly, but CB can see dread in the Senator’s eyes. Whatever is waiting for him in the very near future terrifies him.

“OK,” CB says. “Back to the matter at hand. Tell us what you know about Project Recall.”

“It’s a virus,” the Senator says. “It kills metahumans. It also, at the moment, kills people who aren’t metahuman but carry a few specific metahuman genes. The specific version they’re using is extremely hard to spread, and they’re using… magic… to—” He frowns, reaching for the right words. “I guess the best explanation is to teleport it directly into people.”

“Yeah,” CB says. “It seems like a really impractical way to kill us.”

“Killing you is only the first part,” the Senator says. “And it’s not the most important part. Did you know the initial version of the virus was supposed to be completely harmless to everyone, even metahumans? They wanted it to be too weak to affect a healthy adult. Unfortunately they couldn’t get it to survive long enough.”

“That makes no sense,” CB says. “The currently plan apparently hinges on killing the entire male metahuman population, and the only reason they’re settling for half is because the magic they’re using depends on some kind of curse that can only be used on men.”

“I don’t understand magic,” the Senator says. “And I wasn’t involved in that part of it. My part—the part that all of their pet politicians are neck deep in—comes after, when the babies start dying.”

When the babies start dying.

“Maybe I better shut up and let you explain,” CB says.

The senator has too much self control to smirk. “Here’s the scenario we were given: at some point in the very near future, every metahuman male is going to die. It will be a horrible, painful death. Nobody will know exactly why it happened, because nobody—as far as we know—has researched metahuman genetics as extensively as we have. They simply won’t know what to look for. About a year after that tragedy, infants will start dying at birth. Nobody will know why. It will be another global crisis of epic proportions. It will create a period of worldwide instability unlike anything we have ever seen in history. It will eclipse the Black Plague in terms of fear, despair, and utter hopelessness.”

A strangled, half-uttered curse causes both the Senator and CB to turn to stare at Street Ronin. He has abandoned his position behind the camera, which is still recording the exchange, and is leaning against the wall, breathing heavily.

“What’s wrong?” CB asks.

“He figured it out,” the Senator says.

“The virus only kills metahumans,” Street Ronin says. “But they’re putting it in everyone. Every single male on the planet. It only kills you if you have the right genes, but it’s still there.”

Oh. Shit.

CB looks at the Senator, and is surprised to see that he is barely keeping his rage under control.

“That’s right,” the Senator says. “Remember when I said the first virus—the one that didn’t kill people—was discarded because it didn’t last long enough? The virus stays in your blood. Given enough time, it does more than that—it alters your DNA. It becomes a virus that is transmitted through your DNA. You are given tiny little building blocks that embed a kill switch into any human with the metahuman gene. And then—”

He breaks off for a moment, taking a deep, shuddering breath, forcing the anger back one more time. “And then, after all the male metahumans are dead, the rest of the world will go back to their lives. And that involves having children.”

“It’s not about killing the metahumans we have now,” Street Ronin says. “That’s just collateral damage. They’re making sure there are never any metahumans again. Ever.”

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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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