Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Thirty One: Ingress

The Alpha Mobile Command Vehicle site is an odd mishmash of uniformed police, armored police, and CB’s team. CB’s team is currently divided into “people who can reasonably do something against a giant walking animated skyscraper” and “people who will reasonably be turned into a carbon smear if they try to do something against a giant walking animated skyscraper.” The people in the first category are currently out there trying to keep the building from moving further into the city…

Trying to keep the building from moving further into the city. That is actually a thing we are trying to do today.

That consists of Jack, Red Shift, Sister Sentinel, and Derecho, plus a few other New York heroes who showed up to help. They’re young, and CB has never heard of them, and compared to a guy like Jack they’re not really in the same league—but none of that really matters at the moment. They are helping, and CB’s the last guy to discount something like that.

The rest of his team isn’t really suited to taking on “the Kaiju,” as the other metas on the scene have been calling it. Well, Agent Hu is, but CB needs her for something else, so she’s at the Alpha site standing next to her partner and another man—a black man in the same kind of suits they wear, only this time with sunglasses—and fuming.

Jenny is fuming as well, though after seeing what those armor plates did to the city outside the evacuation area she’s more interested in being part of the evacuation and recovery efforts, figuring that’s where her talents would be more useful. Street Ronin stands silently, keeping apart from the cops but obviously monitoring more than just LMA Band they were all given access to. Brother Judgment and Blink are standing together, Brother Judgment’s gazed fixed on the building, while Blink occasionally shoots CB a questioning look. Each time CB shakes his head no.

Not yet. Getting there, but not yet.

That leaves LaFleur, David, and the turncoats. The Supervillain known as Overmind is standing watch over his rescuers: a middle-aged Black woman, a young Asian man and a hoodie with legs. They look desperately unhappy to be where they are, though also a bit relieved at the same time.

David Bernard is trying to explain to the new Sky Commando how the end game has to play out. It’s not a pretty ending, but to her credit Sky Commando isn’t dismissing it out of hand. She’s asking questions, trying to poke holes in the plan, and trying find other options—something she ought to be doing—but she’s not actively opposing it. She wants to know that when the blame for everything falls on her shoulders, she’s willing to take what comes because there was nothing else to do.

A uniformed officer comes up to CB, expression unreadable. CB faces him, tensing slightly, wondering what this is about.

“Captain said I should give you this.” The officer reaches out, an unopened pack of cigarettes in his hand.

CB takes them. “Thanks,” he says.

“This is gonna help?” The cop is an older guy, thick dark curly hair mixed with streaks of gray, thick mustache and sideburns making him look more like a fixture from a 70s cop show than an actual police officer.

CB looks down at the cigarettes. It’s exactly the kind he smokes. He expertly tears the plastic around the top and pushes back the cardboard, revealing full rows of unlit cancer.

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s kind of a trigger for what I do. It’ll help a lot.”

The cop shakes his head. “My wife won’t believe it. But I’m gonna tell her anyway…”

CB smirks, reaches into his trenchcoat pocket, and pulls out his lighter.

Jenny sidles up to him, watching him go through the process of lighting up. She’s helmeted, so he can’t see the expression on her face, but he’s pretty sure he knows what that expression is.

He pulls, the cherry brightens then fades as he exhales, watching the smoke curl. The world, ever spinning, suddenly clicks into place.

Time to push. He’s been pushing, almost constantly, ever since they breached the lobby, and it’s giving him a headache… but it’s time to push more. Time to go all in.

Push. Push. Push.

His brow furrows as he concentrates, and the world starts spinning like it always does—but it’s not like it always does. It’s different this time. This time, he’s controlling the spin, just a little, making it wobble this way and that, letting him see more angles and possibilities. It reminds him of the early days, when all he could see were angles and ricochets, lining up shot after shot to determine which was the best.

“I found him!” Brother Judgment points up to near the top. “I know Ms. Tanner said the guy originally worked on the 13th floor, but apparently he moved. He’s about a quarter of the way down from the top.”

With that announcement the world shifts a little. Possibilities change.

CB nods. “Good enough place to start.” He activates his comm link to the metahuman channel. “Let’s group up. Agent Grant, Zero, Overmind—you’re with me. Jack, you and the rest keep doing what you’re doing. Brother Judgment, we need you to stay here so you can link us without getting killed. Blink, you’re shuttle service, and Agent Hu… you OK with this?”

“I’m ready when you need me,” Hu says, looking grim.

Brother Judgment grits his teeth, but nods in agreement. “Hate staying behind. Makes sense though.”

“What is going on?” Sky Commando sounds very much aware that things are happening whether she approves them or not, and is not happy about it at all.

CB walks over to David, tapping him on the shoulder. “You have one of those headsets that goes over the special channel, right?”

David nods.

CB holds out his hand. “Let me borrow it for a sec.”

“Curveball?” Sky Commando’s voice grows a little sharper over the line. “What is going on?”

David removes the headset and hands it over, CB slips it on and opens the Ops channel. “Sky Commando. Let’s talk over here instead.”

There’s a second’s delay as Sky Commando switches channels. “How did you get on this line?”

“I borrowed Doctor Enigma’s headset. I figure you probably don’t want to have this conversation in front of everyone. I’m kind of bad for discipline when that happens.”

“Fine,” Sky Commando says. “What exactly is going on?”

“Nothing,” CB says, trying to sound innocent. “I don’t have a reputation for pulling these kinds of stunts at all, and you won’t find a single cop on the force who will swear uncontrollably when you mention my name.”

There’s a brief silence on the line, then Sky Commando says, voice tight with anger, “there are a lot of people putting themselves on the line right now, and you better not be playing games with any of them.”

Fair reaction. He tries keep the snark out of his voice this time. “No games, Sky Commando. We have a way to take out the golem. Look, I know you’re at the top of the chain here, but we know how to take this thing out and if you tell us to stand down we absolutely won’t.”

He sees David wince visibly at that. CB shrugs. There isn’t any time.

There’s another brief silence over the line. The noise in the city grows louder as the building finds new parts of New York to destroy.

The LMA Band opens again. “This is Sky Commando. Curveball is leading a team into the building to neutralize the threat. Our task is to keep it occupied to keep it from going further into the city. Render all aid to Scrapper Jack and… Doctor Enigma. Captain Banks, I want MTHD forces to close and engage with heavy weapons. We’re not going to bring it down, but we can keep it occupied. We need to do that for as long as possible.”

CB opens the Ops channel again. “There will be a point when Brother Judgment will tell everyone to pull back. That will be just before the target gets neutralized. We… won’t know what will happen to the building at that point.”

Sky Commando switches back to ops. “What’s the worst case scenario?”

CB thinks it over. “Timber?”

“Shit.”

She switches back over to the Metahuman channel. “When I give the order to pull back, I want everyone to take that seriously. Put as much distance between yourself and the target as you can. Don’t stop until I tell you to stop. Try for two football fields if you can.”

She switches back to the ops channel. She sounds angry, but controlled. “If Brother Judgment will be your coordinator, I think you better give him that headset.”

“Right,” CB says. “Curveball out.”

He walks over to Brother Judgment and hands him the headset. “It gives you direct access to management.”

Brother Judgment smirks, takes the headset, and puts it on. “We doing this now?”

CB nods. “Link us up.”

CB feels a brief sensation of vertigo, then his mind is filled with thousands of thoughts that he knows aren’t his own. There’s a brief moment of panic, as his brain grapples with how to reconcile all these conflicting thoughts and preserve his own sense of self, but he fights it back and waits patiently for Brother Judgment to finish.

It’s strange, waiting for someone else to reach into his brain and deliberately control parts of it, but it’s not his first time dealing with a telepath. It’s still uncomfortable: he can feel Brother Judgment at work, almost as if he were reaching in and flipping switches on and off to filter out some thoughts and let others in. When he’s finished, the unending babble is gone. All the remains is an ever-present awareness of every other linked mind—an awareness that includes the exact location of every mind at every moment—and the understanding that if he “speaks,” they will “hear.”

“Testing, one-two, one-two…” He’s only thinking, forming words in his mind, but he perceives it as speech. “This thing on?”

“Loud and clear.” Jack sounds like he’s standing right next to him, though he’s actually halfway up the building trying to rip out one of its cables.

“This is weird,” Jenny mutters. “Uh… sorry, I didn’t mean to say that out loud. Or think it out loud, I guess, OK no offense Brother Judgment I know this is really useful but I really, really don’t like this at all.”

Brother Judgment chuckles. “Yeah, that’s a common reaction. And I get it.”

“Let’s get to the important part,” CB says. “Blink, can you use this to port to any one of us?”

“Sure,” Blink says, sounding unconcerned. “We do it all the time. I sort of lose the connection for a second when I’m porting, but it comes right back.”

“All right, then let’s get this started. Doctor Enigma, start the show.”

It’s interesting watching David at that moment, seeing his outward stoicism and contrasting it with the immense sigh that comes through the link. He notices CB, gives him a thumbs up, then rises into the air.

The golem doesn’t react at first. David is small, he’s not attacking, and it is currently under assault from Red Shift, the strength metas, and a small army of heavily armed and armored police. It isn’t until David surrounds himself with that sphere of purple-white light that the golem responds, but when it does it abandons everything else it’s doing and focuses entirely on David.

Thirteen tentacles launch themselves at the floating man. All are repelled by his shield, though CB can clearly feel the impact of each strike as it was his shield instead of David’s. David grunts from the effort of resisting, but the shields hold.

“Think it noticed me,” he says.

“Think you’re right,” CB agrees. “Jack, we need a door.”

“On it.” Jack abandons the cable he was wrestling with and begins climbing higher up the building. “Just tell me when to stop.”

“Keep going,” Brother Judgment says.

Jack climbs using the same method as before, punching holes in the wall and making his own ladder.

“Right there,” Brother Judgment says. “Target is actually probably a little higher, but if you get much closer I think he’ll notice.”

“He?” CB asks.

“Feels like a dude to me,” Brother Judgment says. “Sort of. There’s something else there, too. Not human. Anyway, Scrapper, right there.”

“Got it,” Jack says. He reaches in through the hole he made with his free hand and casually starts tearing out chunks of concrete. CB notices he aims the chunks carefully, avoiding any spots on the ground with people. His aim is pretty good; each chunk lands harmlessly, usually among the broken remains of the Foster-McLaughlin Center.

Jack pulls himself up, disappearing from sight. CB can still feel his presence, and has a vague impression of the space he’s in. It was, at one time, an office, but the shape of the room is broken up with many, many other shapes.

“I’m in,” Jack says.

“On my way,” LaFleur replies. His battleform gleams as the sky brightens, the morning sun rising but unable to filter through the buildings that are still standing. He disappears, and CB feels his mind shift locations, appearing next to Jack.

Agent Grant says nothing, and while he doesn’t appear to move at all, suddenly CB is aware of him in two places simultaneously… and when he concentrates he can dimly perceive him in a third location, much farther away. He immediately draws his own mind back from that, instinctively recognizing that if he tried to focus on it too closely the world would stop making sense.

“I’m here,” Grant says. “And Jesus, this place has really gone downhill. The reorg has not gone well.”

“That leaves just me and Zero,” CB says. “Blink?”

Blink ports over to Jenny, placing a hand on her armored shoulder. “You might want to open your faceplate,” he says. “Not everyone takes this well.”

“What—?” Jenny starts to ask, then she disappears. CB feels a mild rush of panic and discomfort when she joins the others. A surge of concentration pushes it back.

“Oh,” she finishes, voice weak. “Yeah, neat trick. I hate it almost as much as the brain link.”

Blink laughs, reappears next to Street Ronin, and moments later he’s gone as well. Finally Bink appears next to CB, grabs his arm, and this time it’s CB’s turn to try to avoid puking.

A moment later, Blink disappears, returning to the ground, waiting for the next part.

“Well,” Agent Grant says, “here we all are. Anyone need to send a fax? I think I see one in the corner.”

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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