Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Twenty: Haruspex Analytics, Ground Floor Lobby

A single rasping shriek, high pitched and rising ever higher as it goes on, emerges from somewhere behind the stairwell door. Almost immediately it is joined by dozens of other voices, similar in pitch and frenetic despair. The phrase Chorus of the Damned runs through CB’s head. “How long?”

Brother Judgment stands in the middle of the broken lobby, concentrating. “A few minutes? They’re a few floors down.” Another scream, much fainter, and farther away, causes him to look up. “And many, many floors above.”

David Bernard stands, swaying slightly, then straightens. “You said they weren’t quite human.” He sounds tired. CB wonders what kind of toll all this is having on him.

“That was then,” Brother Judgment says, voice dry. “I’ve gotten to know them a little better. It’s complicated, and I won’t be sleeping for a week.”

David nods. “I definitely get that part. Still, if you could give me something I might be able to narrow it down.”

Brother Judgment thinks it over. “An ocean of murder poured into human skin?”

David frowns. “That’s not as narrow as you’d think.”

“It’s… evocative,” CB says.

“They’re here to kill us,” Brother Judgment says. “That’s pretty much it. It’s their purpose, their calling. I want to say ‘divine calling,’ but that’s not quite right, but it’s a purpose that fills them so completely there’s no room for anything else. They won’t stop, won’t surrender, and won’t accept ours. And they’re… happy about it.”

“Come on,” Grant says. “That is not the tortured screaming of a happy man. Except for this one place in the Village—”

“Shut up, Grant.” Hu is floating near the ceiling, still engulfed in flame, but she’s dialed back the heat quite a bit. “The point is we’re not going to be able to deescalate this. Are we?”

Brother Judgment shakes his head. “No way that I can see.”

“Then we don’t,” Red Shift says. “Lethal force.”

Nobody says anything.

“It’s pretty clear-cut,” Red Shift continues. “These are not innocents. They’ve been performing medical tests on human beings, and discarding their corpses when they get what they want. We just saw one of them willingly slit his own throat and turn into a monster.”

“Come on, man.” Blink shakes his head, looking at Red Shift in disbelief. “You can’t think everyone in this building is in that deep. I mean, a whole building in the middle of the city? There’s gotta be some people who just took a job. Cleaning staff. Temps. Interns. That kind of thing. These people could be mind controlled.”

“I don’t think so.” David Bernard shakes his head sadly. “Not the way Brother Judgment describes their thoughts.”

Another scream, much louder this time. They can hear the faint echo of many feet stomping up stairs.

“The kind of power they’re tapped into isn’t natural to this universe. It can’t exist on its own. It needs either victims or collaborators. The victims it kills, for power and sustenance. The collaborators… it changes them. It scoops bits of them away, filling up the empty spaces with something that makes nihilism look kind. Assuming Brother Judgment’s description is correct—which I do—then these people have had so much of themselves scooped away there’s nothing left to recover. They’re genuinely monsters, now.”

CB exhales, his gas mask fogging a little. “I am so tired of this shit.”

He pulls off his gas mask, letting it fall from the fingers of his left hand just as he places the cigarette in his mouth with his right. Everyone in the room looks on in surprise, some going so far as to shout a warning, or a more generic but equally appropriate “what the fuck are you doing?” but he ignores them. He doesn’t inhale until the lighter makes fire: when he finally does, the cherry burns bright red and the entire world clicks into place around him. After that he breathes in deep through his nose. The air smells metallic, but that’s it.

“You can take your masks off, now,” he says. “I made it go away.”

Everyone just stares at him. Then Red Shift touches something on his visor, and the mouthpiece opens and retracts. “How did you do that?”

“I’m pushing,” CB says. “Because that’s where we are right now.”

Red Shift grimaces. Jack looks startled. The others have no idea what he’s talking about.

“Look,” CB says, “our objective is six floors down. Whatever these things may have been an hour ago, right now they are monsters dead set on murdering us. I am dead set on getting six floors down in order to stop the Junior Senator of New York—a guy I really don’t like, for the record—from getting murdered by an evil magic spell. We’re running out of time and I am all out of fucks to give.”

Another series of screams cuts through the air, very close this time.

“Here’s what we’re going to do. These jokers are gonna pour through that stairwell door like water and we’re gonna pound the ever-loving shit out of ‘em. Hold back only so far as not to bring the building down on us. A minute into the fight, some of us head downstairs. Me, Agent Grant, Blink, Doctor Enigma, Brother Judgment. The rest of you are going to keep these assholes busy. Follow when you finish.”

Sister Sentinel frowns. “I get the basic plan—we draw fire while you slip away—but how are you handling the slipping away part? If they’re coming in through the stairwell door, it’s not going to be easy to go through the stairwell door.”

“We’re not using the stairwell door,” CB says. “They’ve turned off the elevators, but it’s still a straight drop down.”

Blink raises an eyebrow, then turns and jogs to the elevator. “You know, if I get down there first, I can pop back and grab the rest of you one by one. Save a lot of time.”

“It’d be safer if we go as a group,” CB says.

“No time!” The floor is shaking now. They’re getting close. “Look, me and Grant will go. Pretty sure the we can infiltrate to a safe place and bring the rest of you in easier and faster than the group can.”

“I like it,” Grant says. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s a terrible plan, but it’s got moxie. Let’s do it.” He turns to follow Blink.

“Don’t die, Grant!” Hu shouts.

“Don’t blow up the building!” Grant shouts back. “The city gets touchy about that stuff.”

They duck into the elevator and disappear from view. Seconds later, the stairwell door flies out of its frame, and a wave of living shadow streams into the room.

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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