Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Nine: Haruspex Analytics, The Labyrinth

The Labyrinth—the primary security hub at Haruspex Analytics—features the kind of cutting-edge surveillance tech that First World countries won’t get for another ten to fifteen years. It also contains capabilities of a very different kind, a power that is unlikely to ever be used by any modern principality, and that combination requires the staff to be very deliberately chosen and trained for their task.

Ty Parks is one of the few members of the original team to survive the initial go-live date. He is not the man he was at the beginning, but enough of him remains to make him the de facto leader of the team that runs the Labyrinth today.

The Labyrinth, true to its name, resembles a maze—if Ms. Ioannou is to be believed, it uses the same floor plan of the first maze to carry the name. But while the first Labyrinth consisted of stone walls that led to a monster at its center, this Labyrinth consists of walls of high definition video feeds. There is also a monster at its center, though the form and nature of that beast are significantly more abstract than the original.

Ty frowns at the video feed he his examining—the outer room of Board Member Kline’s office suite, where his team is still working at their computers—finally dismissing the picture with a wave of his hand. Once upon a time, before the latest retrofit, he would have had to walk to the dedicated feed terminal and type in a command using a physical keyboard. Now, he simply waves his hand, and the electronic mesh inside his data glove returns the feed to the list.

The glove, and voice commands—that’s all you need these days.

He gulps down half a cup of lukewarm coffee and turns to the young woman staring at him questioningly.

“Not yet,” he says.

Ellen Murray is younger than the rest of the team, but she’s resilient in a way most of the rest aren’t. She’s been in the Labyrinth for the better part of a year, and has displayed none of the obvious physical changes that usually manifest. There is only the slightest hint of darkening in her sclera, and the skin on the back of her left hand—where the data glove makes contact—is starting to mottle. “But she’s trying to access the Incursion Protocols.”

Ty nods. “And if she actually gets to them, we flag it and send it on up. But keep in mind, we were asked to monitor them because they were already doing that.”

“I thought we were being asked to confirm it,” Ellen says.

Ty shakes his head. “If they’re asking us to monitor, they already know. If they ask us to confirm, it means they suspect but want proof, and if they ask us to investigate it means they have detected anomalous behavior but don’t have context for it. Monitor, confirm, investigate. Those words are always chosen deliberately.”

“Yes sir.” Ellen accepts the information, even as she obviously chafes against it.

Ty favors her with a thin-lipped smile—he never shows his teeth any more. Too many people find it disturbing. “The board almost always moves slower than we think they should. They’re almost always right.”

Ellen says nothing. He knows what she’s thinking: almost always means sometimes not. But she nods, accepting the instruction, and changes the subject.

“We got a hit on one of the flagged metahumans a few minutes ago.”

Ty raises an eyebrow. “Which one?”

“Curveball. He walked into a convenience store. Bought some cigarettes and a cup of coffee. Looked like he’d been in a fight.”

“Are we tracking him now?” Ty feels his pulse quicken. Curveball is one of the red flag targets—the Board wants to know everything about him.

“He’s between cameras, but we’re expecting him to show up again soon.”

Ty nods, waves his data glove. “Track subject: Curveball.”

The display shifts, showing a map of the last known location of Curveball, and the next seven possible locations where he can be picked up on camera.

Ty tsks in distaste. “Not a great part of the city for coverage.”

Ellen nods. “City government hasn’t finished rolling out the municipal video feeds. The poorer parts of the city aren’t hooked in yet. We’re supplementing with a few Internet security feeds, but adoption is low in that region.”

“Well, we need to try to—”

Ty’s order is cut short as all of the displays in the Labyrinth flicker, go black for a moment, then return.

Ty grimaces, briefly showing his teeth. He doesn’t notice Ellen shudder as he turns in place, searching. “Abel! What was that?”

A stout, bearded man peeks out from around one of the corridors. “We’re drawing too much power again. We either need to throttle back, or borrow from the city. Again.”

Ty thinks it over. “Who did we black out last time?”

“Brooklyn.”

“OK. Bronx this time. Throttle everything back until we have what we need.”

“Give it about ten minutes,” the bearded man says, then disappears around the corridor again.

Ty sighs, exasperated. Ellen shakes her head disapprovingly.

“They’re going to notice, eventually,” she says.

“They already have.” Ty looks down at the empty styrofoam cup in his hand and sighs. “So far they’re blaming it on increased internet usage and an aging power infrastructure. Ellen, our resources are about to be severely limited…”

As if on cue, the light dims in the Labyrinth, and half of the active video feeds abruptly wink out of existence.

“…but when it comes back up I want you to focus on re-locating Curveball. This is the first hit we’ve had on him in New York since the assault on the Forrest brownstone. The Board will want to know. In fact, since most of you will have a little down time, you should probably go ahead and send a preliminary report to the Board now, in case they have any specific instructions.

Ellen nods, shoulder slumping slightly as she realizes she just got suckered into doing paperwork. Ty twists his mouth into a tight-lipped smile.

“What will you be doing?” Ellen asks.

Ty jerks his head over to an elevated platform in an otherwise empty spot in the middle of the Labyrinth’s center. “Eyes and ears.”

Ellen shudders. She’s never had to do that before.

“Paperwork’s looking a little better now, isn’t it?” Ty asks.

Ellen nods silently.

Ty chuckles. “Well, we’ve both got our jobs. Let’s get started.”

Ellen turns and disappears around one of the many video corridors leading into the center room. Ty steps up onto the platform, draws a symbol in the air with his data glove, and says “begin.”

He feels a slight breeze as the two silver cables drop out of the ceiling. As soon as the ends hit the platform they twitch, and as even more length of the cables spool down, the ends rise, snakelike and begin to coil around his body. One, two, three, four, five loops, and when at last the cables tighten, trapping him firmly in place, the ends have reached his temples.

He barely notices as they plunge through the sides of his head, force themselves through his skull, and touch his brain.

Immediately he feels the awareness enter him, and he swims in the sensation of seeing through two sets of eyes—his own, and the eyes of the building itself.

His body shudders involuntarily as his consciousness merges with the awareness that was imbued in the building’s foundation when construction first started, then he feels himself go completely still. This is the point where so many of the others never came back, and Ty immediately focuses on his own will—not fighting against the other awareness, but refusing to cede what remains of his own identity.

Seconds pass, and they reach the balance they need. Ty opens his eyes—their eyes, for the moment—and speaks in a voice not wholly his own.

We are the Eye of the Labyrinth.”

He extends his right arm, now swarming with tiny, silvery-black cables that crawl in and out of his flesh with impunity. It doesn’t hurt; he can’t feel much of anything at the moment. Cables stream out, away from his arm, and embed themselves in one of the displays. A surge of warmth travels up his arm, through his chest, up his neck, and then he is floating in an ocean of images. Every feed in the building is streaming into his mind at the same time.

He can see the Chairman and some of the other members of the Board waiting in his uppermost chambers as helicopters on the roof are prepped for departure. He frowns, considering for a moment what it means: this is the core group—the Board within the Board. There are a few notable additions: Mr. Kline is there, as well as the metahumans Richter and Doyle.

They are leaving Haruspex Analytics, he realizes. The next phase must be beginning.

Ty is not technically a member of the Inner Circle—he doesn’t make any of the decisions—but he knows all the secrets. It is unavoidable. He is the Eye.

He can see the artificers, hooded, faceless, maintaining their circle in the underlevel. A part of Ty’s consciousness doesn’t understand the words the robed figures are chanting. Another part understands them all too well, and this part stirs uneasily as he puts this together with the previous image.

They should have been finished by now, Ty thinks. The senator should have been dead hours ago.

The only reason to continue the ritual is if something has prevented that death. And if it is continuing, and the Inner Circle is leaving, that means they suspect an incursion.

Ty’s mind recoils briefly at the thought of it, then he steels himself, forcing himself to accept what must be. He reaches out again, connects with the internal phone system, and makes a call.

In the first image, he sees the Chairman turn to look at an unobtrusive phone sitting next to an overstuffed chair. He picks it up.

“This is the Chairman.” The voice radiates warmth and strength… and caution. Only a few people know this particular number, even among the Inner Circle.

This is the Eye of the Labyrinth.”

“Ty?” The Chairman sound surprised, but he glances up at the camera that feeds into the Labyrinth’s systems. “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. And I owe you an apology, now that I think of it. I should have called you an hour ago.”

Unnecessary.” The various forms of social niceties that Ty would normally use when he was talking to their unquestioned leader fall away when he’s in this form. “I have surmised you are planning final egress from this citadel.

“Correct,” the Chairman says. “We are expecting a rather forceful incursion.”

Acknowledged. Ellen reported that Curveball was flagged in this city just before a power outage forced us to degrade operations until power is restored.”

“It is very likely he will be involved,” the Chairman says.

Acknowledged. We will prioritize your egress, then the protection of the artificers until their task is complete, then the elimination of threat. What limits will you set?”

The Chairman falls silent for a moment, thinking. Then he speaks.

“Ensure that the first objective has been met. After that, take every opportunity to accomplish the third.”

Ty feels a thrill run through him.

Acknowledged.”

45 comments

  1. At last! Muchas gracias. Read the whole thing, mind is thoroughly blown.

    You may wish to fix the typo at paragraph 6, first line. The “f” is missing from Red Shift’s name.

  2. Typo immune to spell check, part 6, paragraph 91, sentence 3. Did you mean, “The small one jumps to his feet” rather than “his feat”?

  3. Re-reading part two, section where the scene shifts to Jenny: second paragraph refers to Liberty as Toby’s grandfather, third paragraph refers to Liberty as “his great-grandfather.” In context, the intent of the second reference could have been “his grandfather” again or “her (Jenny’s) great-grandfather”.

  4. Great to have you back in the harness – so to speak.
    Minor typo: Part Two, Para 5: a ‘d’ is missing in: one arm hangs limply by his sie as the empty sleeve…

  5. Part two, second section (Jenny), second paragraph, last sentence, linguistic quibble: “At the moment he’s laying down” should be “At the moment he’s lying down”. It may be said that in the previous episode when David moved Toby after casting his protective spell, he laid Toby down, but now Toby is lying down. For edification and amusement, you may wish to go to dictionary.com, enter the word “lay” in the definition blank and hit enter, then scroll down to the “Lay vs. Lie” video and enjoy.

  6. Part 9, paragraph beginning “He can see the Chairman”, last sentence: Richter is misspelled “Reichter”. Possibly Freudian slip?

  7. Part 10, first paragraph, second sentence, first word should not contain the apostrophe. (Autocorrect does that to me sometimes, substituting the contraction for the possessive pronoun. Bad autocorrect!)

  8. Part 22:
    – second paragraph, first sentence speaks of “dimly lit florescent lights” but I think you meant “fluorescent” since the dictionary says “florescent” means “flourishing”.
    – fourth paragraph from the end, beginning “There is a low hum”, another “it’s” that should be “its”.

  9. APOLOGIES FOR THE FORMATTING:
    I just finished reading an excellent and enthralling tale (obviously shaving your head did nothing to kerb your style – I was worried a la Samson and Delilah that you might lose your talent).
    Anyhow, the following typos, misspelling(s), and possible misunderstandings, by me, of your choice of words/phrases to this left-pondian, who only lived in the US for 21 years, triggered my antenna – but the story demanded that I keep reading. This resulted in a quick copy and paste (without commentary) and then a quick insert of the Part Number (so that you have a vague clue where to look).

    Part Seven: Haruspex Analytics, Jason Klein’s Suite

    He wouldn’t be the first to abandon a good team in favor of a promising promotion. To become “a suit,” as Billy would to say.

    Part Eight: New York City, Downtown

    David grins in spite of himself. “Because it’s better ‘Doctor Weird, Warlock Supreme.’”

    Part Fourteen: Haruspex Analytics

    Shewatches, calm and remote, and waits.

    She at Justin. Without hesitation, he bolts toward the still glowing tear.

    Part Eighteen: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby

    The torso comes together in a rough outline, and in a matter of seconds he can the pieces of rock fuse together as the golem begins to reform.

    Blue light flares up again, but it’s different this time. It flickers erratically, like a fluorescent light just before it does.

    Part Nineteen: Haruspex Analytics, Upper Floors

    Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door

    Part Twenty Two: Manhattan, Alpha Checkpoint MCV

    “That’s right,” the Senator’s image says. “Remember when I said the first virus—the that didn’t kill

    It’s bad, Captain. Bad in way that, historically, cuts across old boundaries. . . . .. We’re talking genetic plague, Captian.”

    Part Twenty Seven: Metamorphosis

    As the wind rises, so dow the sound, the thummm growing louder, and behind it a second sound.

    Part Twenty Nine: Downtown Manhattan

    Para 2: It can’t move beyond this spot because the buildings surrounding it are too fall.

    Alishia flies closer to the golem, keying up a volley of anti-vehicle missles

    Part Thirty One: Ingress

    No games, Sky Commando. We have a way to take out thegolem.

    Part Thirty Three: Haruspex Analytics Golem, The Labyrinth

    he knocks a new hole in the side dof the building and jumps.

    Part Thirty Four: Aftermath

    David starts looking through the crowd. “Now we round everyone up and go back to the Nautillus.

    HTH

  10. Back again. Just checked the amendment that you made re. Part Nineteen (which is the deja vu all over again and again) and “on the landing tile” appears at least 5 more times – thanks be to Ctrl-F.

  11. Sorry, my misunderstanding, my septuagenarian vocabulary didn’t extend to ‘landing tile’ as a thing, but google.com showed me the error of my ways – since multiple peoples being advertizing them are.

  12. part ten

    not fighting against the other awareness, but fusing to cede what remains of his own identity.

    refusing to cede?

  13. part seventeen

    She twists his arm, and the he cries out in pain as the carbine clatters to the floor.

    then he tries?

  14. part 24 “Where are these thingscoming from?” Jenny keeps

    not sure if missing a space?

  15. And now to see where Regiment was during all this kerfuffle…
    Thanks for coming back!

  16. Part 22, paragraph 43: “Sky Commander” should probably be “Sky Commando” unless the point is that Captain Banks (understandably) is so badly shaken he isn’t even using Sgt. Webb’s proper title. He gets it right two paragraphs later.

    Part 22, paragraphs 39 and 41: not sure about this. 39 refers to “the worst of the group” as a tossup between Crossfire and Overmind. In 41, Sky Commando tells Captain Banks that Haruspex is “much worse than either of those groups could hope to be”, where “either of those groups” seems to be a reference back to Crossfire and Overmind. Am I misreading this, or is she calling Overmind a group?

  17. One of those typos that spellcheck will never catch: Part 26, paragraph 1, last sentence: “standing father back”: s/father/farther.

  18. Part 27, paragraph 15, sentence 4: the word “shifts” is missing an “f”.

  19. Part 29:
    Paragraph 33:
    – sentence 5: need a space here: durabilityconverging. “durability” is in italics in the actual text.
    – next to last sentence: “it’s attention” should be “its attention”.
    Paragraph 44, next to last sentence: “one a little to low” “to” needs another “o”.
    Paragraph 48, last sentence: “She adjusts her position, putting as much of the base of her cable between herself and the ones closing in.” “as much” seems to want another “as” but I’m not sure exactly what you want here.

  20. Part 30:
    Paragraph 11, first sentence, after the second dash: “is throws it”: s/is/it
    Paragraph 31: last sentence: “keeping out of site” out of “sight”?

  21. Beautiful, beautiful work. Thank you so much for sharing.

    Partway through Part Seventeen there appears to be some paragraph-level cleanup needed at the point where the Chairman nearly comes in to check on Artemis, but then changes his mind. Two versions of the same passage? –>

    “Our guest…” Suddenly the Chairman sounds weary. He sighs. “The resources we will need to expend to keep him in check will be… prohibitive. I fear we will be forced to leave him behind.” Phyllis is surprised by the amount of regret in the Chairman’s voice. Who is he talking about?

    “I should, at least, say farewell…”

    Footsteps close in on the door, and when the door handle begins to turn her heart nearly stops. But it stops, then returns to its original position as the hand on the other side lets go.

    “No,” the Chairman says. “We don’t have the time. It galls me to leave him behind

    Ah. Yes.” The Chairman hmmms thoughtfully. “I fear we won’t be able to take him with us. The resources we’d need to expend to keep him in check are best used on other things. Come, the door is here.”

    The group comes to a stop, and for a terror-filled moment Phyllis is convinced they’ve stopped in front of her door. Seconds pass, then something clicks on the other side of the hall, and the footsteps move off carpet, onto stone. The door clicks a second time as it swings shut. The hallway is silent once again.

  22. @cuatroojos: thanks for the extra updates. They’re all fixed. Sidenote: the issue with the two words being crammed together without a space between them is an oddity because it never shows up in my original text — it’s a result of dumping the text into WordPress. So far I haven’t figured out what it is that’s making WordPress remove the spaces. I assume it isn’t random, though it looks that way to me.

    @Christopher Krebs: aaaaaAAAAAAaaaaaAAAaaaaaaaaAAAAaaaaaa fixed now. 😀

  23. You’ve done a terrific job keeping so many different narrative strands going without getting all tangled. Bravo.

    Part Twenty-Eight, paragraph 4, another sentence-level blip: “He grimaces, thrusting his right hand left arm and his side.”

  24. Part 17, third-to-last paragraph, last sentence: “careless” needs to be in its adverbial form, “carelessly”.

  25. Part 6:
    – Paragraph 73 begins “Int he”; “In the”?
    – Paragraph 93, beginning “David doesn’t reply”: in the second sentence, “exends” looks like it wants to be “extends”.
    – Paragraph 11, first sentence, “more than match”, maybe “more than a match”?

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