Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Fourteen: Haruspex Analytics

The Chairman is on the phone again, speaking to the Eye of the Labyrinth.

“Your initial mode of egress is no longer available,” The Labyrinth says. “Metahumans have destroyed both helicopters. I am preparing a direct transfer to the remote site, but there are some limitations.”

The Chairman nodded. “Go on.”

“First is power. The power it will require for the teleporters to function will delay the full activation of tower defenses, and the delay will allow the attackers the time to progress further and inflict more damage before full reprisal is possible.”

“I see,” the Chairman says. He bows his head for a moment, eyes closed, as he thinks it through. “That may be unavoidable. Project Recall must take priority.”

“Acknowledged and agreed,” the Eye of the Labyrinth says. “However, the greatest danger is that you and the other principals of Project Recall are still here. You are in danger because our defenses are not sufficient to stop the metahumans from reaching you. Our greatest asset, at present, is that they do not seem to know where you are.”

The Chairman nods again. “We need to keep it that way.”

“We cannot trigger the Incursion Protocols until you have left the building.”

“Because of the power consumption?”

“Primarily. But also some in your group would be affected.”

The Chairman glances at Jason Kline. The young man was doing a fairly good job at looking calm, but there were signs that wasn’t entirely the case.

“Very well. Do what you can, to the extent you can. Sacrifice what you must to ensure our exit.”

There’s silence on the other end of the line as the Labyrinth considers this.

“How necessary is it for the Senator’s ritual to succeed?”

The Chairman frowns. “I would prefer that it did. However, I believe I understand your gambit. It is acceptable.”

“Thank you, Chairman. I will attempt to give the artificers enough time.”

“Thank you, Ty,” the Chairman says. “Good work.”

“Acknowledged.” There is a note of pride in the part of the voice that was still human. “Good fortune.”

The line goes dead. The Chairman puts the phone back in its cradle and turned to the others.

“We have to get to the Thirteenth Floor,” he says. “And we don’t have a lot of time.”

* * *

Outside the building, three figures—two handcuffed and propped up against a park bench, one standing on his own, shivering in the cold—are watching a glowing crack in the world.

The crack is shaped like a Persian arch, and one side of it is the grounds in front of the Haruspex Analytics building. On the other side is the lobby of Haruspex Analytics. It’s a kind of teleportation, obviously, but it feels almost familiar to them… in a way that it shouldn’t, given who created it.

“I can’t believe you guys tried to kill me.” The young man rubs his arms, feeling much colder than he should, even in the early morning air.

The older man sighs, then winces as he shifts his weight. The skin on his face is welting. “You are such a fucking moron,” he says in a raspy voice.

“Hey.” A man in a black suit and long, dark trenchcoat—one of the teleporters, it seems—half-turns toward them, looking annoyed. “Shut up. Cops will be here soon, then you talk all you want as far as I care.”

The older man glowers at Mr. Trenchcoat. The other handcuffed figure, a woman with steel-gray hair, says nothing. Instead, Madeline simply watches. She watches, calm and remote, and waits.

The arch appears to have been created by a second man. This man, dressed in blue jeans and wearing a light tan jacket, is extending his hand toward the Persian arch and swaying slightly as if exerting effort. It’s not a lot of effort, from what she can tell—he’s not gritting his teeth, or sweating, or shaking from exertion—but it’s something that’s requiring most of his attention. That, from her perspective, is useful. Mr. Trenchcoat is more of a problem, since one of the things he’s actively doing is keeping an eye on them. He’s doing other things as well—relaying information to the man in the tan jacket, for one, and he seems to be coordinating the distribution of equipment to other teams, but that doesn’t seem to distract him enough for them to do anything other than talk—and even that is getting harder to do, now.

It isn’t until the second (third?) teleporter arrives with the other woman that he’s finally distracted enough for her to make her move.

“Peter is right,” she finally says, in a low voice. “You really are a moron.”

“I called him a fucking moron,” the Peter says.

“Be quiet,” Madeline says, and he obediently falls silent.

The young man stares at her, his expression a mix of defiance, anger, and betrayal.

“You weren’t the one who was going to die, Justin,” she explains. “You were the one who was going to live.”

Justin goes very still. “Not like that,” he whispers.

Madeline nods gravely. “Exactly like that. And you know why you will. Because one way or another, Haruspex will demand that you honor your employment contract, and this is the way you want to honor it.”

Justin shakes his head violently. “Why would I want to honor it that way?”

“Because,” Madeline says, “you love your wife and son so very, very much.”

There is a moment of silence, then the younger man’s shoulders shake as he suppresses giant, wracking sobs.

She lets him weep for a few seconds, then says, very gently, “we don’t have a lot of time.”

Justin takes a deep breath. He nods. He wipes his eyes with his sleeve. And then he looks around.

“Wait until those two go into the portal,” he says finally. His voice is even, drained of emotion. “Then I’ll need a distraction.”

Madeline relaxes a bit. The kid is finally back in the game.

“I got this,” Peter says. Then they wait.

Mr. Trenchcoat appears to be briefing the new man and woman about the gas, then his silhouette blurs slightly, and he’s holding two more of those gas masks. He hands one over to each. They put them on and step through the glowing Persian arch, disappearing into the lobby.

Justin looks at Peter, his eyes clearly saying now.

“Because you are a stupid little shit!” Peter shouts. “If I’d known you were going to fold like you did, I would have cut your fucking throat months ago!”

Justin takes a step back, startled. Mr. Trenchcoat whirls on them, looking annoyed.

“What did I say, sunshine?” He blurs for a second, then holds up a roll of duct tape. He kneels next to Peter, waving it in his face. “Do I have to gag you? It’s gonna be real fun trying to get it off your burned face. Might take half your face with you! Normally they’d have rules against me doing shit like that, but guess what, pal? I’m officially dead!”

Mr. Trenchcoat is focused completely on the older man, and the man in the tan jacket is torn between Mr. Trenchcoat and keeping that portal open. It’s the perfect opportunity. The young man backs up slowly, angling not for the glowing archway, but for the man-sized hole cut out of the first floor blast shielding.

The hole is still glowing with heat at the edges, but Madeline approves of the choice. He doesn’t need to make it inside undamaged. He just needs to make it inside undamaged enough to do his job.

“Right. Where exactly are you going, kid?”

Justin turns and gapes as he sees Mr. Trenchcoat staring at him. Madeline frowns as she looks between the Mr. Trenchcoat shouting at the older guard, and the Mr. Trenchcoat blocking the young man’s way.

Metahumans are annoying.

“It’s just…” Justin turns to point back at Peter and Madeline. “I don’t want to stand next to them.”

“Tough,” Mr. Trenchcoat says. “Look, count your blessings. All he can do is shout at you, now.”

“I wish that were true,” Justin says. Then he maces Mr. Trenchcoat in the face.

They’d searched him, of course. They’d taken his knife, his taser, his sidearm, and his riot stick. But they hadn’t searched him—any of them, really—as thoroughly as they should have. The mace was in a tube up Justin’s jacket sleeve. Mr. Trenchcoat shouts in pain, disappears… then the one in front of Peter reappears next to Justin, grabs his arm, and twists, disarming him as expertly as he did Madeline earlier… complete with shoulder throw.

That was a tactical mistake. The throw placed the guard farther from the glowing arch, which was probably what Mr. Trenchcoat wanted, but it also put him nearer to the tear in the blast shield.

Mr. Trenchcoat pulls out another pair of handcuffs. “Christ Almighty, talk about ungrateful.”

Justin rolls to his feet with surprising speed, racing to the tear. Mr. Trenchcoat snarls, pulls down his gas mask over his face, and disappears.

The act of pulling on his mask cost precious time, but he still appears in front of the tear before the young guard reaches it.

At that moment, Madeline finally finishes burning through her handcuffs.

The acid splashes on her hand, causing her vision to blur from pain, but that’s not important. She rolls away from Peter, who has almost cut through his own, and charges the man in the tan jacket. He turns, startled, and the portal wavers. Then a dark shape rises off his shoulder, something birdlike and fierce, and slams into her like a ton of bricks. She falls on her back, gasping, as the bird-thing rakes a claw across her face. She feels a deep cold seep into her. She fights the urge to pass out.

The man in the tan jacket turns to Peter. Peter grins wickedly, pulling his hands from behind his back. He holds a tiny revolver.

“Gun!” the man in the tan jacket shouts.

He reaches out his hand, a dark energy flickering over it…

…the bird-thing launches into a sky with a screech of rage, descending on him…

…and Mr. Trenchcoat blips into sight right next to him, kicking him in his gun hand so hard Madeline can hear the bones break.

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

Crap.” Mr. Trenchcoat blurs again, but Justin has already thrown himself through the gap, crying in pain as he brushes against still-glowing metal. The pocket knife in his right hand has already punctured his neck by the time he hits the floor.

Madeline sighs in relief as she feels the energy release. The kid did it.

Inside the Haurspex Analytics lobby, six vaguely Greek statues begin to move.

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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