Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Nineteen: Haruspex Analytics, Upper Floors

The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

Deeper? Jenny frowns as something gnaws at her. Deeper isn’t quite right, but she doesn’t really know why.

She scolds herself for letting her mind wander. Semantics can wait—right now, she needs to focus. The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

The stairwell echoes with their footsteps as they reach the next landing. Street Ronin crouches, his rifle trained on the closed door—a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half—separating them from the rest of the floor. Agent Grant stays in the stairwell, watching for anyone coming up or down the stairs.

Jenny keeps below the window’s line of sight, creeping to the door’s right. A subvocalized murmur activates one of her helmet’s fancier sensors, and it quickly scans the hallway beyond.

Nothing. She shakes her head. Street Ronin nods in reply, gestures to Agent Grant, and they proceed down the stairs to the next landing.

The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

It’s not right—it can’t be right. Whatever they’re doing, they’re not going deeper. She grinds her teeth in frustration as she tries to force the thought back. What does it matter? Sure, they’re 20 floors above ground but they’re still going down, and without any windows they might as well be underground. “Deeper” works as well as anything. Why is she so stuck on it?

It’s the darker part that should be bothering her. The fluorescent lights in the stairway are still on, still glowing white—but they might as well be a children’s nightlight for all they actually light the space around them. She squints as she looks down the stairs, noting they were almost at the landing that marked the halfway point between floors. Two floors up, she remembers being able to see the halfway point clearly from the top of the stairs. Not any more—she’s halfway there before she can see the shape of it.

It even darker past the landing (the deeper they go) and Jenny activates a low-light display on her helmet. She turns it off again in irritation—the image is washed out, as if the light were at normal levels.

The stairwell echoes with their footsteps as they reach the next landing. Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door—a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half—separating them from the rest of the floor. Agent Grant stays in the stairwell, watching for anyone coming up or down the stairs.

Jenny crouches, keeping below the window’s line of sight, and creeping up to the door’s right. A subvocalized murmur activates one of her helmet’s fancier sensors, and it quickly scans the hallway beyond.

Nothing. She shakes her head. Street Ronin nods in reply, gestures to Agent Grant, and they proceed down the stairs to the next landing.

The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

Her dissatisfaction with the notion of deeper surges up again, and her irritation nearly turns to anger at herself for being distracted by word choices. She’s usually only like this when it comes to her job, when imprecise language creates misunderstanding.

Well, I guess this is my job now too, isn’t it?

She thinks about that for a second. Yes it is—at least for the moment—and she needs to focus on doing it. They’ve reached the midpoint again, and Jenny is gripping the railing loosely with one hand in case she misses a step.

How did it get this dark? And if it’s this dark, why are the lights still shining?

The stairwell echoes with their footsteps as they reach the next landing. Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door—a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half—separating them from the rest of the floor. Agent Grant stays in the stairwell, watching for anyone coming up or down the stairs.

Jenny crouches, keeping below the window’s line of sight, and creeping up to the door’s right. A subvocalized murmur activates one of her helmet’s fancier sensors, and it quickly scans the hallway beyond.

Nothing. She shakes her head. Street Ronin nods in reply, gestures to Agent Grant, and they proceed down the stairs to the next landing.

The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

She considers the possibility that if this is her job, and she’s treating it like her job, then it might be appropriate to consider why she’s reacting so strongly to the word “deeper.” She’s reacting, she realizes, the same way she would if she were reading an explanation from an engineer who’d made an assumption that was fundamentally wrong and had based an entire design around it.

Street Ronin stumbles on the stairs ahead of her, just for a moment. She can barely see his hand tighten on the rail for support, then leave it there as they continue down. Her own hand grips the rail. She can’t really feel it through the gloves of her own suit. Just a vague pressure. It’s so dark they can only see a few feet in front of them.

This is wrong. But how?

The stairwell echoes with their footsteps as they reach the next landing. Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door—a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half—separating them from the rest of the floor. Agent Grant stays in the stairwell, watching for anyone coming up or down the stairs.

Jenny crouches, keeping below the window’s line of sight, and creeping up to the door’s right. A subvocalized murmur activates one of her helmet’s fancier sensors, and it quickly scans the hallway beyond.

Nothing. She shakes her head. Street Ronin nods in reply, gesturing to Agent Grant.

The deeper they go…

“Stop.”

Jenny blinks in surprise as she realizes the command came out of her mouth. And it is a command: crisp, clear, brimming with authority. Street Ronin and Agent Grant both stop, turning to face her. Neither speak. Both wait.

“Something’s wrong,” Jenny says. “Give me a second.”

Deeper. That’s what I’m stuck on. I’m stuck on the word “deeper,” and I can’t find any rational reason why.

Either she’s become a completely different person in the last twenty four hours—it’s possible, she concedes, given all the crazy things that have happened—or some part of her brain that is treating this as her job has reached a conclusion about the word “deeper,” but hasn’t figured out how to tell the rest of her yet. Option B makes more sense to her, so she quickly reviews every remembered irritation surrounding the word.

Deeper isn’t quite right

Whatever they’re doing, they’re not going deeper

not… going… deeper…

Imprecise language creates misunderstanding.

The problem, Jenny realizes, is that she’s assuming she’s being picky about word usage when she’s actually objecting to the declaration of motion. It’s not that “going deeper” doesn’t accurately describe descending a staircase from the top of a building in Manhattan, it’s that the phrase assumes they’re moving to begin with.

And they’re not. They’re not moving at all.

The darkness surrounding them disappears. Jenny blinks involuntarily as the near total darkness is replaced with cold fluorescent light, only to realize her eyes don’t hurt.

She stands in a stairwell landing, facing a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half. Street Ronin stands to her left, hands at his side, his rifle laying on the floor at his feet. Agent Grant stands to her right, eyes glazed, expression remote.

“Hey.” This time, Jenny’s voice doesn’t sound crisp, or clear, or full of any kind of authority of any kind. It’s cracked, and hoarse, barely above a whisper. Her tongue feels thick and swollen. “You guys OK?”

They don’t respond. She can’t see Street Ronin’s features under his visor, but Grant doesn’t react to her voice at all. He simply stares into space, blinking occasionally.

“Hey!” Her voice cracks as she tries to speak louder. “Ronin! Grant! Snap out of it!”

Still no reply. Whatever weird place they were in a few seconds ago, Jenny is the only one who managed to get out. And, she realizes with alarm, that may only be temporary: the room is steadily growing dark.

Oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap oh crap

Jenny grabs Street Ronin and Agent Grant, each by an arm, and does her best Scrapper Jack impression by kicking the metal door with all her strength. It doesn’t shatter, but the frame does, and with a pop and screech of tearing metal the door flies down the floor’s main hall until it topples over about a third of the way in.

Jenny heaves, throwing both men forward. She’s certainly strong enough, but they aren’t cooperating, and dead weight is awkward to control. Agent Grant slams into Street Ronin just before they pass through the door, causing the armored man to clip the door frame with his shoulder. Jenny winces as his shoulder takes out a chunk of sheet rock before he crumples into the carpet just on the other side. Grant goes a little farther, hitting an office door then collapsing into a heap about five steps past Street Ronin.

The deeper they go, the darker it gets.

Jenny can barely see. The stairwell echoes with their footsteps as they reach the next landing. Street Ronin crouches on the landing tile, his rifle trained on the closed door—a rugged metal door with a thin rectangular window traveling up the top half—separating them from the rest of the floor. Agent Grant stays in the stairwell, watching for anyone coming up or down the stairs.

No. That’s not right. She kicked down the door. She threw Street Ronin and Agent Grant through the door. They aren’t there any more, so why is she—

Jenny crouches, keeping below the window’s line of sight, and creeping up to the door’s right. A subvocalized murmur activates one of her helmet’s fancier sensors, and it quickly scans the hallway beyond.

Nothing. She shakes her head. Street Ronin nods in reply, gesturing to Agent Grant.

The deeper they

Someone shoves her, hard, and then she’s flying through the broken doorway, sprawling on the floor next to Street Ronin. The air in front of her shimmers and Agent Grant appears, bent over, wheezing and coughing.

“What… the… fuck?” Grant gasps for air, coughs, then looks through the doorway into the stairwell, horror and revulsion stamped into his face. “What the fuck was that?”

Jenny starts to retch, realizes what a bad idea that would be in her helmet, and forces back her gag reflex. She gets on to her hands and knees, noting with surprise that she hurts all over. Grant’s abilities are weird and useful and impressive, but super strength isn’t one of them. She’s pretty sure he isn’t responsible for this.

“Uhhhh…” She takes a deep, steadying breath. Some of the pain recedes. “Evil magic spell, I think.”

“Right.” Grant stands, then quickly props himself up against a wall to keep himself from falling again. “Well. It sucks.”

Jenny climbs to her feet, crouching, hands on her knees. “Well, hopefully that’s the—”

All of the lights in the hall go out, engulfing it in darkness. Then the hall is flooded with red as emergency lighting activates. A rasping, high-pitched shriek comes from the far end of the hallway, followed by others.

“Nice job,” Grant says. “You were going to say ‘hopefully that’s the worst of it,’ weren’t you?”

“No!” Jenny protests. “I was going to say ‘hopefully that’s the last of it. I wasn’t tempting the Gods of Escalation, I swear!”

“How is that better? You dodge the Gods of Escalation by calling on the Gods Of Yet Another Goddamn Thing?”

As if on cue, the shadows at the end of the hall come to life and try to kill them.

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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