Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Thirteen: Manhattan Rooftop

Jenny Forrest shivers involuntarily as she waits on the rooftop with Street Ronin, Scrapper Jack, and Agent Hu. She’s not cold—her new battlesuit is layered and heavy, and if it weren’t for her enhanced physique she’d probably be pretty warm right now—but she’s all nerves as she waits for the signal. Hu looks like she ought to be cold—the new, fire-friendly outfit Robert made her doesn’t look like it has any insulation at all—but she appears completely at ease in the crisp weather.

It’s because she’s pretty much made of fire, I guess. That’s so not fair.

They’re about a block from the Haruspex Analytics building, on the roof of the Foster-McLaughlin Complex. It’s a taller building—55 stories to Haruspex’s 50—and gives them a clear, unobstructed view of the Haruspex Analytics roof. Street Ronin kneels over the lip of the low wall encircling the roof, staring through a sight attached to one of his many high-powered rifles. The image from his scope feeds directly into Jenny’s visor as well as a small handheld screen, which Jack and Hu are sharing. The display shows two helicopters sitting on a helipad, with a few silhouettes scurrying around them.

“They’re being prepped for takeoff,” Street Ronin says. “We probably want to prevent that.”

“Not yet,” Jenny says.

Street Ronin sighs. “No,” he agrees reluctantly. “Not yet.”

“We’ll move in if they start to take off,” Agent Hu says. “Even if we’re early. It’s only two copters. That means they’re evacuating the big guns.”

“Probably Artie’s evil twin,” Jack adds. “If he’s still here.”

“Wait…” Jenny frowns, fighting back a sudden surge of panic. “Does that mean they know we’re here?”

Jack shakes his head. “Just that they know we’re coming. Doctor Enigma apparently made a lot of noise that the bad guys could definitely hear.”

One of the sensors on Jenny’s visor starts blinking red as Agent Grant appears out of nowhere and steps up to them. She takes a half step back, startled. Jack tightens one fist, then relaxes when he realizes who it is.

Street Ronin doesn’t so much as twitch. “We almost there?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Grant says. “We’re going in now. Can you see the entrance with that thing?” He gestures toward the rifle scope.

“No,” Street Ronin says. “We’ll need your play by play.”

“Well, first of all, Sister Sentinel is a badass.”

Street Ronin nods in agreement. Jack snorts in amusement. Agent Hu just rolls her eyes.

“Um,” Jenny says, “maybe you could be a little more specific?”

“She just pushed a revolving door out of the wall and shoved it into the middle of the lobby,” Grant says. “Didn’t even miss a step.”

“Stronger than Vigilante,” Street Ronin says. “Probably not up there with you and Regiment, Scrapper, but she’s closer than most. Tough to boot.”

“Yeah,” Jack says. “I know who the Bastions are. I’m glad I’m retired.”

Agent Hu stares up at him, then gestures toward the Haruspex Analytics building. “You’re terrible at retirement.”

Jack grins, his scar making the grin look lopsided and a little deranged. “I got a knack.”

Shit.” Agent Grant looks toward the Haruspex building, scowling. “They just activated some kind of impressively fucked up defenses. Big metal plates sliding all down the sides of the building.”

“I got it on scope,” Street Ronin says.

The scope feed updates in Jenny’s helmet, and she’s tempted to utter a curse of her own. A series of metallic plates, arranged like scales, cover nearly the entire surface of the building. The only gaps she sees are strips of the building where she assumes the metal plates emerged.

“There’s an alarm, too,” Grant says. “I can hear it from the outside.”

“Who’s inside?” Jack asks.

“Sister Sentinel and Curveball. Doc is trying to portal in, but it ain’t working. He says there’s interference. Scrapper, can you get through those things?”

Jack frowns. “Probably, but I bet it’d be easier to just rip ‘em out of the wall. Even they’re made out of some kind of super-metal, the building looks like regular concrete and steel. Something would give somewhere.”

“You don’t sound like you like the idea,” Jenny notes.

“Yeah,” Jack says. “I don’t. Tearing ‘em off also means dropping ‘em once they’re free. They might hit someone.”

“Easier to punch through the roof,” Hu says. “Or burn through. We need to take out the helicopters anyway.”

Street Ronin gets to his feet. “Agreed. Time for us to go. Roof is still our best shot.”

“OK,” Jack says. “You ready?”

“Hold on a moment.” Street Ronin reaches down beside his rifle and slings a tightly-packed backpack over his shoulders. He checks his utility belt and gives his weapons a last once-over. “OK. Zero?”

“Ready,” Jenny says, “though I don’t think I’m gonna like the ride. No offense Jack.”

“Heh.” Jack grabs Jenny and Street Ronin, hoisting each up off the ground, one under each arm.

“Right behind you,” Agent Hu says, then bursts into flame and shoots into the air.

Jack leaps, and Jenny suppresses the desire to shriek. This isn’t like being carried into that shipping compound in Farraday City—then, it was almost impossible to tell where they were, what with the storm raging around them. Now she can see everything, and everything is very, very far away.

The buildings below them shrink, then as their arc changes from up to down they very quickly expand. The Haruspex roof comes into view, and grows larger far more quickly than is comfortable.

“Landing might be a little rough,” Jack shouts, then they hit the ground.

Jack bends deep as he lands, absorbing as much of the shock as he can, but Jenny’s head knocks up against the inside of her visor, causing her to see stars, and Street Ronin grunts in pain. Jack drops them on the rooftop, then springs away again, and Jenny can hear a high pitched whining sound as something sizzles as it strikes concrete and steel.

They have point defenses up here.

“We gotta move!” she shouts, and scrambles to her feet. Her suit is undamaged, and the HUD shows that there are in fact four energy weapons placed at the corners of the building.

A column of white-hot flame streaks across the sky, slamming into one of the weapons, causing it to go up in a mini-inferno. Agent Hu streaks across the rooftop, drawing fire from the remaining three. Two hit her square in the back, but she doesn’t seem to feel it. Street Ronin rolls to his feet, grunting in pain, and pulls out a silver disc. He punches down on one end; the other end flashes light, alternating red and yellow. He throws it like a baseball, then runs toward the still-burning weapon Hu destroyed.

It’s a solid throw. The silver disc streaks toward one of the energy weapons, exploding just as it hits the base of the gun. The weapon pops up out of its base and falls over, scorched and smoking. Scrapper Jack leaps to the third, ignoring a hit to the chest as his fist comes square down on the weapon, punching through its shell. He draws his fist back out, pulling the weapon off its base in the process.

Which leaves only Jenny.

Lucky, lucky Jenny.

Gritting her teeth, she runs toward the fourth weapon, currently trained on Agent Hu. She speeds up, noting with satisfaction that while her armor is heavy, it doesn’t seem particularly bulky: it fits well and doesn’t slip.

She’s about ten feet out when the weapon swivels toward her. Light flickers over the… what do you call that? A muzzle? Energy weapons don’t need those, do they? What do you call it then? Um, nevermind…

She leans back into a slide, closing the rest of the distance nearly prone as the weapon fires over her head. She’s there—now what?

I’m not as strong as Jack, but maybe I’m strong enough.

She rolls into a crouch, places her shoulder beneath the barrel, and stands, pushing with all her strength.

Fire lances up her back as she feels a sharp pinch in her spine. Metal groans, then something in the base of the gun snaps. The entire barrel jerks up sharply, then falls over to the side. The weapon is silenced.

That’s when the rooftop lights up with gunfire.

People, Jenny remembers. There were also people on the roof.

She dives behind the ruined weapon as gunfire tears into the roof behind her. A second later she remembers the body armor is supposed to be able to resist small arms fire. She reddens slightly.

Well look, Robert is a genius but I’m not just going to take his word for it.

She rolls, grabs a broken bit of gun, and hurls it back toward the source of the gunfire. She hears a muffled cry of alarm, then footsteps in retreat as the metal bounces and clatters off into the night. Street Ronin pops up with his rifle and fires once, twice, three times. The rooftop is silent.

“Clear,” Jack says, then walks over to the first helicopter. He starts ripping it apart with his bare hands, taking care not to fling parts of it off the building.

Agent Hu lands next to Jenny, eyeing the gun she destroyed. “Nice work. I thought you were gonna do something complicated, like hack the system in order to shut it down.”

“That would take way too much time,” Jenny says. She stretches. Her back pops. She feels a little better. “The direct approach seemed faster. Hurt like hell though.”

Agent Grant blurs in beside them. “OK, things are bug-fuck crazy downstairs. The security guards just tried to knife each other, and now they’re pumping neurotoxin into the ventilation.”

“They tried to knife Sister Sentinel?” Jenny asks.

“No they tried to shoot her. They tried to knife each other. Like, one long cut across the neck. I don’t get it. But that shell is definitely blocking teleporters, so we’re resorting to drastic measures to punch through.”

Jack stops ripping up the helicopter and turns to face Agent Grant. “How drastic, exactly?”

They hear a faint sonic boom in the distance.

“Right,” Jack mutters. He goes back to dismantling the helicopters.

“Should we be worried about this?” Jenny asks, looking around for a handhold.

“Just stay away from the edge of the building,” Street Ronin says. “It’s probably just going to be a little—”

A loud boom fills the air, and the entire building shudders, causing Jenny to stumble.

“—shaky,” Street Ronin finishes.

The building stops shaking almost immediately. Jenny looks around cautiously. “That’s it?”

“I was expecting something more violent,” Hu admits.

“Oh, it was plenty violent,” Jack says. The first helicopter has been reduced to a pile of metal scrap. He heads toward the second. “It was just very focused violence.”

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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