Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Twenty Five: Haruspex Analytics, Also Not

Artemis’ form blurs, then silvers as he assumes his battleform—a humanoid shape consisting entirely of an alloy that, aside from his instantiation, exists only in theory. He turns to the side, sweeping his right arm across the hall. Humanoid monstrosities scream in fear and rage as his arm, currently a razor-sharp blade almost the length of his body, cuts them in half. Their screams end abruptly, though the monstrosities taking their places shriek all the louder for it.

One of the people behind him gasps in shock. He thinks it’s the young woman, the one in the hooded sweatshirt, but he doesn’t have time to check. He turns again, his other arm sweeping across the width of the hall, and a second line of creatures is cut in half. It is not an elegant strike, but he has no time for finesse.

He sweeps his arm across the hall. Bodies fall. He spins, letting the force of his turn carry his other arm around. Bodies fall. He faces forward, crouching slightly, shortening his forearm blades as he prepares for closer work.

There’s no end to them that he can see. A seething mass of headless, faceless, shrieking creatures, intent on tearing them limb from limb, and he is the only line of defense between the oncoming horde and the three who rescued him from his prison. He’s not confident of their chances: He’s tired, and sluggish, and still shaking off pieces the odd, comfortable haze that was worming its way into his soul as he sat in that damned room. Even now, knowing what it was, he yearns to return to it.

He sweeps with both arms. Bodies fall to the ground in two pieces. He ignores the smell filling the hall, and concentrates on the still-living monsters still bearing down on them.

Twist. Cut. Turn. Slice.

His head swims. His arms feel heavy. He’s not sure why he still gets tired in this form: at the moment he literally doesn’t have cells. But despite the complete lack of a biological structure, he still feels an ache in muscles he currently doesn’t have, and burning in lungs that are not there.

Twist. Cut. Slice. Spin. Stab.

He grunts in pain as one of his arms-turned-blades passes through the intensely cold purple-black fire erupting out of a creature’s neck. He notes with alarm that the initial, sharp stab of cold fades into a general cold numbness… and that the numbness is slowly spreading.

The shape of the blade wavers a moment. His mind conjures an image a comfortable chair by a window with an ocean view. He can almost hear the crackle of a warm, inviting fire in a fireplace as the cold metallic color of the blade softens into something close to flesh.

And then there is shrieking, many hands grasping at his arm, a mob of blue fire surrounding him, trying to knock him over or tear him apart. The blade reforms and he spins once, knocking bodies away and cutting them to ribbons in the same motion. The struggle begins anew.

He can hear the three people behind him talking in low, even voices. He can’t hear what they’re saying, but he notes the lack of panic in the back and forth: they’re discussing their options, making use of the time Artemis has given them to determine their next steps. That impresses him, even as he’s sure they’re deciding there’s not much they can do beyond trying to make for the stairwell that isn’t blocked by an army of monsters.

It would be better if they did. I can be more effective if I’m not protecting them.

But he is protecting them, at least for the moment, and whatever the tactical advantages might be, he doesn’t want them wandering off. If it weren’t for them, he’d still be sitting in that chair believing he was looking out the window, staring at the ocean…

The fog in his mind grows a little thicker. He can almost smell leather-bound books.

He pushes the thought away and cuts savagely at the crowd in front of him. He overextends as he attacks, momentarily putting his balance at risk. He’s in no real danger—so far the only thing that hurt him was accidentally touching the strange fire that takes the place of their heads—but it requires more energy to pull back. He sucks in a breath and tries to convince himself his arms don’t feel heavier.

“It’s Overmind!”

The voice—electronically distorted, but almost familiar—comes from behind the creatures. The ones closest to Artemis don’t react, but even as he cuts more of them down he can see the ranks at the very back burst open: a figure covered in blue-gray armor grabs one of the creatures and throws it into a group of others. They all collapse in a heap, howling in rage.

“LaFleur!” The voice is coming from that armor, which is absolutely Thorpe’s work, though he’s positive it isn’t Thorpe wearing it. He watches the armored figure duck low and perform a nearly flawless spinning kick that knocks two of the creatures to the floor. He recognizes the style immediately: it’s very close to how Liberty used to fight, which would make the armored figure Jenny Forrest, or “Zero.” She’d been wearing a makeshift armor before; apparently Thorpe decided an upgrade was in order.

He takes advantage of the new confusion to cut out a little more space between himself and his foes. The attention of the shrieking mob is divided now, roughly half on him, half on Zero. That’s better news for him than it is for Zero—while he’s certain Thorpe put actual armor in that armor, it doesn’t look like it can withstand half a crowd of supernatural monstrosities.

Down!”

Another, more familiar voice shouts out a single command, and Zero drops to the floor. Artemis turns, gesturing sharply, and his three liberators immediately drop to the floor without comment. A rapid succession of ear-splitting booms echoes down the hall, and Artemis feels bullets impact across his lower back. Creatures scream, and fall, and scream again. Street Ronin, he assumes: someone who clearly knows Artemis won’t be hurt by small arms fire in this form.

Interspersed between the rapid discharge of Street Ronin’s rifle is another firearm: a semiautomatic pistol, firing a steady, rapid stream of shots… steady, but the sound travels up and down the hall in a pattern that doesn’t track with linear movement.

Teleporter. Agent Grant, most likely.

He turns to view the room. It is indeed Agent Grant. He and Street Ronin are coordinating their attacks surprisingly well. As soon as Street Ronin stops firing, Grant teleports into the midst of the creatures, shoots, relocates, and shoots again. This disrupts their initial surge toward Street Ronin, at which point Grant teleports back behind him who begins firing again. Zero stays close to one wall, avoiding the spray. Before Artemis has time to gather his strength and rejoin the fight, it’s over.

The last creature falls, the last shriek ends in a rasping, choking cry. All that is left is silence.

“Overmind…” Zero takes a step forward, her foot landing in something wet that squelches audibly as it lands. She stops, looks down, and shudders. “You all right?” Her voice is tight, almost strangled. It looks like her gaze is fixed on the blades extending from his arms.

He allows the blades to shift back in to hands, but maintains the rest of his battleform. “Recovering. I was confined for…” He frowns. “I’m not sure how long.”

“Couple weeks,” Grant says, stepping carefully over portions of bodies as his shoes squish in the carpet.

“A couple of weeks…” Artemis is suddenly overcome by the smell of tea and old books. He sways momentarily. “I’m still shaking it off.”

Stop!

Street Ronin stands twenty feet down the hallway, rifle raised, trained on Phyllis Tanner and her two companions. For their part, the trio stands completely and utterly motionless. None of them look afraid, but they are all paying their undivided attention to his rifle.

“Who are you, and what are you doing?”

Zero turns to face Street Ronin, helmeted head cocked to one side in curiosity, then her gaze drifts to the three new faces. Agent Grant, despite not covering his face at all, is even more unreadable—he has that bland, non-committal “cop face” that isn’t quite anything.

It’s interesting to see the government agent read the room and agree with the terrorist’s tactical assessment. Artemis wonders if the tactical assessment is wrong. It’s a trick question—the assessment is wrong, but there’s no way for them to get the right answer with the information they have.

Besides, he didn’t immediately open fire. He’s making allowances for being wrong.

He considers jumping to their defense, but holds back.

“Phyllis Tanner.” Phyllis doesn’t take her eyes of the gun. “My colleagues are Simon and Michelle. We worked here.”

“Past tense?” Street Ronin sounds skeptical.

“That’s right,” Phyllis says. “But not too far past. When we found out what they were planning to do to us, we tried to escape. Only made it this far. I think there’s something about this floor—or maybe just this hall—that kept us from turning into…” her eyes drop to the floor, her gaze resting on one of the creature’s bodies. “…them.”

“How’d you find out what they were going to do?” Street Ronin asks.

“We broke through their network security,” Phyllis says. “Specifically, Simon did. Those things are part of something called the ‘Incursion Protocols.’ We decided we didn’t want to be part of that.”

Street Ronin appears to relax a little, but he doesn’t lower his rifle.

“We would like to defect,” Phyllis continues. “I don’t know if we have any specific information that will be useful to you, at this point, but whatever we have is yours.”

Street Ronin stares at them for a long time. Nobody speaks. Finally, Artemis breaks the silence.

“They are responsible for freeing me from my prison. We had planned to seek the rest of you out together. We were interrupted by this ‘Incursion Protocol.’”

“I think it checks out,” Zero says. Street Ronin nods but doesn’t otherwise react.

“Seriously, I think we can—“

“Hold on a moment.” Agent Grant raises one hand, waving away the rest of Zero’s words. “We just breached the ritual site.”

“Really? What’s it like?” Zero’s voice is brimming with excitement and worry.

“Really annoying. They’re doing something—it’s hard to describe—but everything’s bent and turned sideways. Can’t really get a tactical picture. Magic is creepy and sick, just in case you were wondering.”

“What can you notice?” Zero says.

“Shit. Uh… well, this better work. The Senator isn’t doing too hot. I think they’re about to break through whatever it is Doctor Enigma did.”

“What?” Genuine alarm from Zero. “What’s happening?”

“He’s thrashing around, like in a nightmare. Except it… uh… looks like it hurts. Sorry.”

Artemis frowns. “What Senator? Who’s Doctor Enigma?”

“Not now,” Grant says. His brow is furrowed, his voice frustrated. “I’m trying to get to the center, to get a clear shot at the leader, but something keeps—Jesus, the room keeps tilting sideways every time I flip…”

And then his eyes widen in surprise, and a slow grin spreads across his face. “Holy shit. I think we did it!”

Zero sucks in a breath. Street Ronin has actually half-lowered his gun at this point.

“Yeah. Yeah! Curveball and Brother Judgment worked out some kind of play in advance. The cultists were trying to hide the identity of the ritual leader, but apparently it’s hard to do that when you have a fucking telepath on your team. Brother Judgment just really ruined their day.”

“What about my—” Zero stops herself. “What about the Senator?”

“It’s like throwing a switch.” Grant smiles at Zero. It’s a genuine smile, not a trace of mockery in it. “He’s, uh, unconscious, but he’s definitely not in pain. Breathing normally. Pulse steady. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen an unconscious man look relieved before.”

Zero sighs, relaxing slightly. Street Ronin nods approvingly and lowers his rifle. Phyllis Tanner stares at Agent Grant, brow furrowed, calculating. Artemis wonders how much intelligence she has on everyone. Does she know of Grant as a teleporter only, or is she aware of his other, more obscure gift?

He notices one of her eyebrows lift slightly. What ever she didn’t know, he’s certain she just figured it out.

“Wait.” Phyllis takes a step forward, then stops when Street Ronin immediately raises his rifle in reply. “Look, not trusting us is a smart play, but it’s a bad one right now. If you’re right, and you just disrupted some kind of ritual of theirs, that means they’re about to escalate everything.”

“Oh…” The Asian man exchanges glances with the woman in the hoodie. “Oh… that.”

“That what?” Agent Grant looks from the Asian man to the woman in the hoodie, then back. “Simon and Michelle, right? What’s going on, Simon and Michelle?”

“The Incursion Protocols,” Phyllis says.

Agent Grant looks at the bodies on the floor. “Looks like they’re not much of an issue just now.”

Phyllis shakes her head. “There were more than one.”

The entire building begins to shake.

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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