Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Sixteen: Haruspex Analytics, Roof

Torn bits of helicopter are heaped into three neat piles at the center of the roof. The team gathers at the heavy security door leading to the stairwell. On a hunch, she scrolls quickly through a number of different settings in her visor, chooses one, and waits as the display fades from the color palette of normal vision into the blues, yellows, and reds of heat signatures. The door is mostly varying shades of blue, with some yellows around the digital keypad that serves as an external lock.

“I don’t think there’s anyone on the other side,” Jenny says. “Not reading any heat.”

Street Ronin touches something on the side of his visor, then nods in agreement. He turns to Jack, who stands beside Agents Grant and Hu, waiting patiently. Hu, no longer burning, is wearing a tight black bodysuit that looks far more comfortable than the asbestos “swimsuit” she’s used in the past.

Street Ronin gestures to the door. Jack flashes him a lopsided grin, steps forward, and with a single smooth kick the door buckles inward, tearing off its hinges and hitting then tipping over a guard rail. The sound of heavy metal tumbling down a flight of stairs follows.

Grant shakes his head. “Must be nice.”

“Pretty nice,” Jack agrees. “Come on.” He steps through the now doorless frame and starts down the stairwell. Street Ronin follows, and Jenny steps in behind him as Grant and Hu take up the rear.

They descend a full flight of stairs and come out on a landing considerably larger than the one on the roof. The misshapen security door is here. Deep grooves cut into the floor from the stairs to the center of the landing, where the twisted rectangle sits, bending up like a misshapen toboggan. The stairs continue down, but Street Ronin places his hand on Jack’s shoulder, and the large man steps onto the landing and moves over to the door leading out to the floor.

The door has another electronic lock, but it doesn’t look nearly as sturdy as the one sitting in the middle of the landing floor. Street Ronin moves carefully to the left of the door and crouches. Jenny moves immediately to his left, crouching after him. Agent Grant hands Hu his pistol, then produces another. They position themselves further back and to the right.

“Scrapper Jack goes in first,” Street Ronin says. “Zero, you go in after. Agent Grant, Agent Hu… no offense, but I think it’d be better for you to hang back initially. Sidearms in a melee isn’t a good mix.”

“No shooting from the back,” Grant says. “Got it.”

“Zero, try to find a computer. We’ll give you room to work.”

“Got it.” Jenny forces the tremor out of her voice. She wonders, yet again, if she’ll ever get used to this.

Street Ronin raises his right hand, showing four fingers, and silently counts down.

four-three-two-one

Jack kicks. This time the door shatters, splintering into a shower of wood shards. Gunshots fill the hallway, and Jenny sees Jack’s shirt ripple as multiple projectiles hit his chest. Jack nods once, then breaks into a run, disappearing from view.

Street Ronin stretches out on the floor, peering around the corner as he brings his rifle to bear. At the same time, Jenny launches past him, bolting through the door frame.

Her armored feet land on thick, red carpet—not the kind you get in regular office spaces, where the rank-and-file work. Jack barrels on, rushing past a set of doors as the gunfire somehow begins to sound more urgent. She can see three figures crouched about halfway down the hall, little bursts of light flashing from carbines. Jenny hears the crack of Street Ronin’s rifle, and one of the figures falls over, gripping his leg.

Jenny focuses on the doors Jack just ran past. They’re as good a place to start as any. She chooses the one on the right, shoving her shoulder into it with all her strength. She’s not as strong as Jack, but the door rips free of its latch, swinging open so quickly that she nearly stumbles into the room.

She’s momentarily surprised to find two armed men in the room, crouched by the door. They are nearly as surprised to find her.

The moment passes. The armed, black-clad men step back from the door, raising their carbines. Jenny lashes out, snagging the arm of one and pulling as she steps forward, placing him between herself and his partner. His weapon isn’t fully raised and it discharges into the floor as he jerks forward. She twists his arm, and he cries out in pain as the carbine clatters to the floor. His partner takes a second step back, raising his weapon, fully intending to fire whether or not there’s someone standing in his way.

Jenny pushes. The trapped man flies into his partner, both collapsing to the ground in a tangled heap. The second carbine fires wildly, leaving small holes in the ceiling and one of the walls—but not getting anywhere near Jenny.

She kicks the carbine out of his hand, hard, and it clatters uselessly across the floor. She looks down at the men, struggling to untangle themselves, wondering what to do next.

She knows what Street Ronin would do.

She doesn’t know what she will do.

A gun fires immediately behind her. She whirls around to see Agent Grant standing in the doorway, firing across the hall into the now opened door on the other side, where a third black-clad man carrying a carbine ducks behind the wall. Grant’s outline blurs and he disappears. The room across the hall flashes as a gun fires, then she hears the wet thump of a body hitting the floor.

Grant steps into the doorway, giving her a thumbs up.

Jenny checks on the men on the floor. One has actually crawled to his knees, reaching for one of the carbines. Jenny drives her armored knee into the man’s face, breaking his nose. He falls, head snapping back as his hands fly to his face. He hits the ground hard as blood spills through his fingers.

Jenny grabs the second man by his collar, dragging him upright only to shove him into the wall separating the office and the hall. It’s not a load-bearing wall and it cracks where the man hits. He slides to the ground, unmoving.

Jenny scans the room quickly. It should be as good as any… she crosses quickly, stepping over the man still covering his face, and opens a faux wooden door at the far end.

Jenny activates her comm. “Found it. Down the hall, first door to the right.”

“Copy.” Street Ronin’s voice is calm and measured. She hears careful, precise shots echoing down the hall. “I’ll be there soon.”

The desk is higher quality than the average office worker’s, so Jenny figures it’s probably a middle manager or a specialist’s desk. On it sits an empty laptop cradle—the employee must have taken the laptop home.

That’s OK; she doesn’t actually need the computer.

Two ethernet cables extend from the back of the cradle, traveling down the length of the desk and disappearing into a floor plate. Jenny pries up the plate to reveal two ethernet sockets, one green and one red. She toggles the comm on again.

“Do you want fast or quiet? I can’t do both.”

“They already know we’re here,” Street Ronin says.

“Fast it is.” Jenny removes the red ethernet cable, then pops open a panel on her armor’s left arm. She pulls out the end of a ruggedized ethernet cable and plugs it directly into the red socket. Immediately her helmet’s display shows its computer running through thousands of login scripts, trying to take advantage of one of the publicly known exploits before moving on to the creative stuff.

Seconds pass. A few more shots ring out, then everything falls silent. A moment later Street Ronin and Agent Grant appear. Street Ronin takes note of Jenny, sitting on the floor with the ethernet cable running into her armor, and takes cover behind the mildly overpriced desk, his rifle trained on the door. Agent Grant stays in the outer room, occasionally peering up and down the hall.

“Where’s Jack? Hu?”

“They got called to the lobby,” Street Ronin says. “Apparently there’s another giant magic robot.”

“So it’s you, me, and five copies of Agent Grant?”

“Not copies!” Grant protests from the other room.

“Two copies,” Street Ronin says. “He’s still being used as a relay until we punch through whatever’s blocking our signal, so three of him are spoken for. Someone has noticed us, by the way. Travers is picking up a lot of crosstalk on the LEO bands.”

Not copies!” Grant insists.

“I hope this Agent Henry is as good as Travers thinks he is,” Jenny says.

“He is,” Grant says. “And the new Sky Commando is pretty on top of things.”

“David thinks so,” Jenny says. “He trained her.”

She can feel the disapproval radiating through Street Ronin’s visor. She sighs, exasperated.

“Fine. Doctor Enigma thinks so.”

“The distinction is important,” Street Ronin says.

“If you say so.” Jenny doesn’t bother rolling her eyes—it wouldn’t do any good, since her face is covered. “Though I should point out that so far Crossfire is the only group I’ve met who seems to think that.”

“Do you know if Doctor Enigma is going to want to keep his identity secret?”

“…No,” Jenny admits. “How could I? He hasn’t said.”

“Then until he makes the explicit decision to reveal his identity to the world, maybe we should stick to calling him only by his code name. Especially while we’re in a hostile environment.”

Jenny tries to find a way around that point and fails. “I really hate how much that makes sense.”

“At least you admit it,” Street Ronin says, a hint of grim amusement in his voice. “How’s it going?”

“Their security is really good,” Jenny says. “I’ve burned through all the script kiddie stuff and moved into ‘be creative.’ I wish CB was up here, I could use him to make it go faster.”

Grant laughs nervously. “He’s a little busy right now.”

“Excuses…” Jenny mutters. She clenches her jaw, fighting back her impatience. They’ll give her the time she needs, she just needs to make sure not waste any of it.

She almost misses it because she assumes it won’t be there to begin with. A very simple, basic flaw on an old network switch that doesn’t look like it’s been patched in years. Once she’s past that, there are a lot more files to see. All she has to do is find an account with a poorly-chosen password… even in a company specializing in security, employees get lazy.

“I’m in!” she says. “I’m looking for something useful…”

It’s not too long before she finds a schematic of the building. She goes through it quickly, looking for something obvious. She finds it.

“Found a building schematic. I think they need to get to one of the sublevels. Six floors down from the lobby.”

“Good work,” Street Ronin says. “Agent Grant, did you get that?”

“Yeah,” Grant says. “Any chance I can see the map?”

Jenny looks around and spies a standalone inkjet printer set on a shelf next to the desk. “Hold on.” She unplugs herself from the floor socket, then walks over to the printer, studying it quickly. She jerks a USB cable out of the side, then a USB connector extends from her left index finger. “This will only take a second.”

The printer lights up, screeches once, then begins printing out pages. A minute later, she grabs the printout from the tray then walks into the other room, handing them to Grant.

Agent Grant scans the printout, quickly flipping pages. He stops at one and points. “Here?”

“That’s the one,” Jenny says.

“Right. Back in a sec.” Agent Grant blurs for a moment, semi-fades from sight, only to reappear again, no longer gripping a printout in his hands.

“CB’s a little distracted, but it looks like he’s assembling a B team.”

“Time for us to move, then,” Street Ronin says. “Zero, are there any other interesting places on the map?”

“A few that don’t look like places you’d find in an office building,” Jenny says, “but they’re unlabeled.”

“Sounds like places to visit. Where is the closest?”

“Five floors down,” Jenny says.

Street Ronin climbs to his feet, readjusting his grip on his rifle. “After you.”

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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