Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Twelve: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby

The lobby looks like a cross between a bank and a tomb.

The floor is polished marble tile, gleaming white beneath dimly lit fluorescent lights hanging from the ceiling. Standing in the gaping hole where the revolving door used to be, CB sees a row of faceless statues lining the wall to the left. The statues that are vaguely Greek, stylistically. They all wear togas, and each has one arm raised in an authoritative manner, as if they were in the middle of teaching some great truth to the multitudes. Six statues in all, evenly spaced down the length of the long hall. At the far end are elevators, the stairwell, and a few other closed doors.

On the right is the lobby desk made of dark, polished wood, with a stone top that matches the marble floor. It’s huge, stretching the entire length of the wall, and looks ridiculously oversized given that there are only three people behind it: two men, one middle-aged and balding, one younger with a full, dark beard, and an older woman with steel-gray hair pulled back into a tight braid. All three are dressed in guard uniforms—dark slacks, gray buttoned shirt, badges—and the men have drawn pistols. The woman with the steel-gray hair doesn’t move at all, calmly taking in the scene.

Sister Sentinel stands in the middle of the long, empty room, next to the shattered remains of the revolving door still spinning slowly in place. The grin on her face is equal parts adrenaline and dare.

The woman with the steel-gray hair regards her impassively. “This is private property,” she says. “You’re trespassing.”

“I’m gonna count to ten,” Sister Sentinel says. “And if you haven’t dropped your weapons by then, I’m gonna assume—“

The two men open fire. Both have excellent form, and they’ve obviously trained with their firearms. The shots all find their mark, bullet after bullet impacting somewhere on Sister Sentinel’s body. For all their accuracy, the shots are ineffective: despite taking an initial step back when the first shot impacts, all the guns do is put tiny holes in her shirt and jeans. She looks down, annoyed, and then leaps through the air, closing the distance between them in seconds. She lands behind them, and before they can turn they’re already disarmed. Holding a gun in each hand, she squeezes slightly. Both guns shatter.

Still not visibly reacting, the woman with steel-gray hair presses a button on the desk. An alarm sounds, something similar to the noise a fire alarm makes, but deeper.

She presses a second button. CB hears the hiss of hydraulics and springs forward, feeling the air move behind him as a massive, metallic clang rings through the air, shaking the ground. He half turns and to see a thick armored wall where the gaping hole of the revolving door used to be. Moments later he hears a slight buzz thrumming behind the sound of the alarm.

The woman with steel-gray hair is shouting something into her sleeve as she backs away from Sister Sentinel. The men are also backing away, in the other direction, both fumbling at utility belts. The young man pulls out a taser; the older man pulls out a knife.

Sister Sentinel rolls her eyes. She’s saying something, but CB can’t make it out. The alarm is too loud. The young guard looks intimidated, but the older man and the woman with the steel-gray hair don’t. They look… resigned.

CB frowns.

The older guard steps behind the younger, wraps his arm around the man’s head and jerks it back, exposing his neck. Sister Sentinel starts in surprise, and the woman with the steel-gray hair takes the moment to press a third button on the front desk, causing the alarm to end and killing all the lights in the lobby. The sound of the deep klaxon is immediately replaced the sounds of the young guard shouting in incoherent alarm, then changing to pleas of “No! No!” as he feels his head being forced back and his neck exposed.

CB draws deep on his cigarette, then throws the coffee.

Emergency lights switch on just as it leaves his hands. It’s a perfect throw, tumbling end over end, the plastic lid firmly in place as tiny trails of coffee leak out the lid’s spout. It crosses the width of the room just as the older guard steadies his knife on side of the younger man’s neck, ready to jerk the blade across exposed flesh. The styrofoam cup smashes against the side of the older guard’s face, the plastic top facing the floor, and as the side compresses the lid slides off. Coffee that is still far too hot for drinking pours down onto the man’s neck and shoulder; he screams. The knife tumbles from his hand as he stumbles away, clawing helplessly at his shirt and the beet red flesh beneath it.

Sister Sentinel curses, grabs the younger guard, and shoves him behind her as she turns to keep herself between him and the others. The young guard stumbles, eyes wide. The woman with steel-gray hair draws her own knife.

CB starts running. Sister Sentinel angles herself to keep an eye both guards—the woman and the burned man—and waits. CB is vaguely aware of a soft blur as Agent Grant blinks into the room, taking a moment to get his bearings.

The woman with the steel-gray hair jerks her head back, exposing her own neck.

“Stop her!” CB shouts. Sister Sentinel takes a step toward her, but hesitates, eyeing the burned guard. She’ll leave the young guard unprotected if she moves in, and there’s no guarantee the burns on the older guard will remain a distraction for much longer.

No, protecting the young idiot is the right call. But he’s not going to get there in time; the woman’s knife has already started to move.

With a quick jerking motion, the woman pulls the knife across her neck. The air blurs behind her and Agent Grant appears, grabs her wrist and twists sharply. The woman cries out in surprise and pain as her hand opens, knife clattering to the floor. A tiny droplet of red oozes from her neck, but nothing more.

Grant grunts as the woman twists in his grasp, then fades and disappears as her other hand slices across the air where he’d been a moment before. He reappears an instant later, inches away from her now-outstretched arm, and grabs it, heaving the startled woman over his shoulder and onto the marble floor with a thud.

“Jesus,” Grant mutters. “They grow ‘em crazy in here.” He reaches down to take the woman’s right arm, and as she struggles to get to her hands and knees he pulls it behind her back, slipping a pair of handcuffs over her wrist, then does the same with her left. She sags, then stops struggling, too woozy to act without the use of her arms.

“They were gonna kill me!”

The young guard keeps Sister Sentinel between him and his former compatriots, scrambling over the front desk and backing away, eyes wide with fright. He points in the direction of the other two, turning to CB, his voice rising in pitch and incredulity.

“Did you see that? He tried to slit my throat!”

“I saw,” CB says. He turns to the guard and points at the heavy metal shell covering the door and windows. “Can you open that thing back up?”

“Two years!” The man’s voice is getting hoarse now. “I worked with them for two years, and this is what happens. Jesus, they came to my wedding!”

“You got cuffs for this one, too?” Sister Sentinel points to the burned guard. “He’s starting to calm down.”

Agent Grant blurs for a moment, then a second Agent Grant appears over the burned guard, forcing him onto his stomach. “Good call,” the first Grant says. He’s staring down at a console set into the front desk, frowning. The second Grant finishes handcuffing the burned guard, then turns to examine the metal shell enclosing the floor.

“Brother Judgment can’t get in,” the second Grant says. “His telekinesis is pretty strong, but this thing doesn’t want to bend. And the Doc can’t portal in, either. Something’s blocking it. I’m gonna guess there’s an anti-teleportation field set up.”

The young security guard is still wild-eyed, gaze darting around the room like a paranoid rabbit, but he’s stopped babbling at this point. CB turns his gaze away from him for a moment to regard the heavy shell surrounding the building. “How’d you get in, then?”

Grant shrugged. “I work different.”

“OK,” CB says, “is the shell just this floor, or does it go all the way up?”

“All the way up,” Grant says. “It’s not the same, though. The ground floor looks like it was deployed from the second floor—dropped down like big metal blinds. The other floors look like they’re just re-enforcing windows and other weak points.”

“Great,” CB says. “What’s the status of B Team?”

“Up, up, and away,” Grant says.

“Outstanding. Maybe Sister Sentinel can do something about these plates—”

“Gas!” Sister Sentinel’s warning is sharp and direct. Grant nods once, his image blurs, and a moment later he reappears, standing in front of both CB and Sister Sentinel, gas masks dangling from his hands.

CB takes one and slips it over his head. “You need one, too.”

“I’m puttin’ it on outside.”

The masks are based on one of Robert’s designs, both thinner and more rugged than the standard fare. CB slips his on quickly and it immediately seals itself over his face. A heads-up display on the goggles identifies the gas as a potent neurotoxin. It hasn’t reached lethal levels, but its rising steadily.

“We gotta get the guards out of here!” CB shouts. A tiny speaker set into the breather portion of his mask amplifies his voice, making it easy for everyone to hear.

“Get to the other side of the room!” Grant shouts. “We got incoming!”

Grant blurs gain and reappears behind the front desk, much closer to the elevators. Sister Sentinel picks up the handcuffed guards, one under each arm, and hurries in that direction. CB curses, grabs the wild-eyed younger guard, and drags him along as he follows.

“Hey!” The young guard grabs at CB’s arm, and tries to twist out of his grip. “Hey! Let go!”

“Shut up!” CB snarls. The guard lapses into surprised silence. “Come on, we gotta get out of the way.” He half-pulls the man over the front desk, then hunkers down as he hears the dull rumble of a sonic boom grow louder and louder.

“Duck and cover!” Grant shouts.

“Dammit.” CB drags the guard down to the floor and covers him with his own body.

Then the entire building shudders as a boom fills the air, shaking CB to his core. Stone and glass and metal fly overhead. The young guard screams in terror as chunks of front desk immediately to CB’s right and left are torn to shreds by flying debris.

A moment of silence follows. CB pokes his head up from behind the lone piece of front desk remaining in that section.

Red Shift stands just inside the building. Behind him, the entire wall is broken: the windows shattered, the metal turned to twisted bits of ruined steel and the concrete turned to flakes and dust. The outer shell buckles inward, and a small, smooth cylindrical hole, slightly larger than Red Shift himself, is punched through it. The edges of the hole glow white with heat.

CB climbs to his feet, brushing marble dust off his trenchcoat, then hauling the now-whimpering guard up after him. “How fast was that?”

“About Mach Nine,” Red Shift says. “Too many obstacles to go full speed.”

“Damn,” Grant mutters.

CB checks the levels on his gas mask’s HUD, then sizes up the hole Red Shift left in the shield. “Kinda wish the hole was bigger.”

Red Shift shrugs. “Munroe effect. With any luck, it disrupted the—”

There is a low hum, sort of a mix between a buzzer and a chime, then a faint gold spark appears to Red Shift’s right. He takes two steps to the left as the spark brightens, expanding into the shape of a Persian arch, its borders purple-black shadow mixed with radiant gold light. A moment later the interior of the arch shifts, and they’re looking out into the pre-dawn sky.

“—anti-teleport field,” Red Shift finishes.

Brother Judgment steps into the room. A gas mask has replaced his sunglasses. His eyebrows rise over the top of the mask.

“Damn,” he says. He looks over at his sister. “What did you do?”

51 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”?

  26. > It was literally SURROUNDED by other instances of the word spelled correctly. Sigh.
    If your fingers are anything like mine, they don’t *care* how many times you have spelled a given word correctly. And I echo your Sigh.

  27. C.B., Thanks so much for this! Amazing!

    It’s been so long since 35 (and 35 made no sense to me at the time!), that I just bit the bullet and reread from the beginning, and then crashed straight through 36. Wow. Really well done – I can see where the breaks would be for 36a, b, and c if you could break from “year 3”, but boy does it work as a whole.

    I actually thought it would be the complete wrapup, since it took that long to “pull in all the loose ends and stories”. But no – it’s just the cliffhanger to Year 4, “on the clock” as it were. Can’t complain about that!

    Since I did do a compleat runthrough (spelling intended), I then did it again, trying to pay attention to blips and continuity issues. I have a bunch of notes (some on 36 might already be noted here), plus a Liberty Family Tree – what’s the best way to get them to you, should you want them? I could post it here or the forums, but it is the size of one of your smaller chapters; plus some of the questions are “I could very easily be wrong here, having not understood context”, so, not sure you want those ideas that public.

    Note: the email registered with my account is live and commonly read, if you don’t want to put anything out in the open yourself!

    Also note: there were threads running through the story that I only saw on the “editing runthrough” – and I’ve read (what was, at the time) the whole story, I think 5 times now. Love the world and character-building that has clearly always been there, but I haven’t noticed happening in serial form.

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