Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Thirty Two: Haruspex Analytics Golem

The half of the room looks normal, the other half looks insane.

The part of the room closest to the door is in almost pristine condition: there are two cubicles set face to face, and a stand in the far corner that does in truth have one of those fax/copier combinations resting on it. Nothing looks out of place, except for the lack of any kind of window and the gaping hole Jack tore in the side. The building stopped having windows shortly after the first air force attack, and even the gaping hole is being repaired before their eyes.

The rest of the room isn’t so much a “room” as it’s an ever-shifting series of shapes passing through, traveling from one part of the building to another. It reminds CB of conveyor belts, or maybe trains pulling very strange cars behind them.

“What now?” Jenny stares at the large conveyor contraption, then turns to the rest of the group. “I’d suggest just following that, to see where it goes, but for some reason I half expect it to start passing through a series of hammers and anvils and cleavers.”

“You want us to start the distraction now?” Jack asks.

CB nods. “Might as well.”

“OK then.” Agent Grant turns to Jack and LaFleur. “You two are pretty much immune to munitions, right? I don’t have to worry about friendly fire?”

“I’ll be fine,” Jack says.

“As will I.” Even LaFleur’s voice sounds metallic in that form. “Depending on what part of the Crossfire munitions stash you’re stealing from.”

“Hey, it’s not stealing,” Agent Grant protested, gesturing to Street Ronin. “He’s the one who showed me where it was.”

“As long as you’re there,” Street Ronin says, giving his equipment a once-over, “I could use an ammo refresh.”

“Sure,” Agent Grant says. His outline blurs as he hands over a cloth pouch. “Two more left.”

Street Ronin nods his thanks, hooking the pouch onto his utility belt. “I don’t think there’s anything there that’ll hurt you, Overmind. Which means, Agent Grant, you should feel free to be as distracting as you can possibly manage.”

Agent Grant actually grins at that. “You have no idea how many forms I’d have to sign at work to do what I’m about to do right now.”

CB pulls on his cigarette. The world is right there, waiting. He pushes, watching the way it starts to tumble. He moves to the outer wall, Jenny and Street Ronin following. “Make some noise, gentlemen.”

Jack grins, then charges through the conveyor belt, pushing deeper into the building’s center.

Jack Barrow is, as far as CB knows, one of the world’s strongest metahumans. His only rival in that department is Regiment, which means that the amount of damage Jack can do, if he really sets his mind to it, is hard to quantify. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that this building is held together by magic, which is why Jack couldn’t just tear off each of those cables he wrestled with earlier.

Still, attacking from the inside is different. Even magical extra-dimensional beings from a different reality tend to focus more on defending against enemies from the outside trying to force their way in—things are different once the enemy find themselves already inside. Jack tears off a cube of concrete from one of the “conveyor belts” and throws it into a column, shattering both. Almost immediately the building responds, dropping swarms of cables from the ceiling, all reaching out to grasp Jack, but even as they wrap themselves around his limbs, he tears them off their moorings.

LaFleur enters the fray, metal form disappearing and reappearing to Jack’s right, bladed arms sweeping, cutting through concrete and cable alike. Even more cables drop from the ceiling, seeking to tangle LaFleur as well, but any time he’s unable to cut through enough of them to remain free he simply teleports to one side and continues his fight.

“My turn!” Agent Grant shouts gleefully, as he rolls two cylinders along the floor, each coming to a rest near LaFleur and Jack. They flash red twice, then explode, causing cable and bits of concrete to go flying. Neither LaFleur nor Jack appear to be affected by the blast in the least, though Jack’s outer clothing is in tatters.

“Bad news, Hu,” Grant says. “Looks like Dr. Thorpe gave Scrapper Jack some kind invulnerable bodysuit.”

Even though she’s not with the group, her sigh is clearly audible through Brother Judgment’s mental link.

CB takes a moment to tune in on the events outside. The building is still focusing most of its energy on Bernard, who is still managing to keep his shield up. Red Shift has stopped punching through it, taking some time to recover spent calories instead. Thorpe gave him a new device that more efficiently replenishes his energy when he runs, but when he pushes for too long his body still burns faster than it gets. He’s been pushing through the whole fight. Derecho is back in action, having found a place that gives her a good view of the building while keeping mostly out of sight, but she has to be more selective about what she does now that there are more forces on the ground.

In short: they’re holding their ground. There’s still time to pull this off.

CB turns to Jenny and Street Ronin. “OK. We split up. Shout out when you find the brain.”

Jenny and Street Ronin nod. CB takes another drag of his cigarette, watches the last of it burn away, and flicks it into the corner. “Let’s do this.”

* * *

Other than sparring with her great-grandfather, Jenny never did any formal training in much of anything. She exercised regularly and learned to fight hand-to-hand from one of the greatest melee combatants of all time. As impressive as that might be, looking at the constantly moving shapes she has to navigate through she kind of wishes she’d taken some parkour classes when she’d had the opportunity.

Due to all the disruption Jack, LaFleur, and Grant are causing—Grant has now appeared with a freaking flamethrower on his back and is cheerfully demonstrating that the inside of this monstrosity is not up to fire code standards—she’s starting to see gaps between the moving rock and writhing cables that are wide enough to pass through. The problem is that she has no idea if they actually go anywhere. She sees Street Ronin choose one at random, grab some cables that are busy attacking Jack, and swing himself up and through, disappearing from sight. CB takes his time, choosing to light another cigarette first, then simply walks past the fight, disappearing behind a curtain of cables like he was going into the back room of a tattoo parlor.

Jenny follows Street Ronin’s lead, grabbing a mesh of cables and climbing onto what looks like a catwalk stretching across the fight below. It’s not really a catwalk; it’s another conveyor, though Jenny can’t tell what exactly it’s conveying because there’s nothing traveling across it. She crouches, letting the conveyor pull her along its path, ready to leap aside if there really are any random anvils or hammers or chopping sawblades appearing out of the ceiling.

There are no anvils, no hammers, no chopping sawblades. It seems the building is focusing its attention on the three madmen who are trying to wreck it from the inside out. She glances down at the melee as she passes overhead—Jack is nearly sinking through the floor as he creates an ever-widening and deepening crater as he punches, kicks, and smashes everything in sight. LaFleur isn’t damaging infrastructure, but anything sent his way is sliced to pieces. His blades must be incredibly sharp to do that to stone. And Agent Grant cuts the most bizarre figure of the bunch: at first glance he appears to be choosing targets at random, letting loose with the flamethrower at anything moving, but any time something tries to hit him he always winds up teleporting to one of the spots he’d cleared away just moments before, giving him a moment before the building heals itself where he can select a new area to burn clean.

She returns her attention to where she’s going and tries to keep her movements as limited as possible. The catwalk/conveyor continues on for a minute, moving so slowly she’s tempted to start crawling on her own to make up lost time. But then she notices that the “catwalk” turns sharply downward, and if she stays on it she’ll wind up being dumped down what might be a very deep hole.

Down is the wrong direction. Brother Judgment placed them below the target. She needs to go up. She starts scanning above her for anything that might give her a way up. It’s then that she finally recognizes where she is: a brief flash of a metal door and some torn carpet through a mass of stone and cable and she realizes she’s near the stairwell.

She waits as long as she can, then rolls off the catwalk, slipping through a tangled mesh of cable as she falls. For a horrifying instant she’s convinced the cable will immediately constrict around her, but it actually slithers away as it feels her brush past. She lands on her feet, in a crouch, and makes her way forward.

This part of the building has fewer conveyor systems, but it is positively teeming with cables. Most of them appear to be Ethernet cables, which she finds interesting. The external cables look more industrial, like the kind you’d use to pull elevators around, but the internal cables look almost exclusively like the heavy duty Ethernet cables you’d find on a data center floor. They drop from the ceiling, writhing like snakes, but they never drop farther than halfway to the floor. And they’re all moving, some traveling farther down the floor’s main hallway, others traveling back the other way.

Jenny crouches low, practically crawling down the hall to keep as much distance between herself and the cables as she can. She doesn’t know what will happen if she touches one—they seemed to regard her as something to be avoided or routed around when she fell through them—but she doesn’t want to risk being wrong. She crawls down the hall until she reaches the metal door, then pushes against the crash bar. The door opens into the stairwell; once she crawls through she lets it close shut behind her.

There are no cables here. There’s not really anything: other than the lack of light it appears exactly the same as it had when they were descending it earlier. She activates the nightvision function in her helmet and begins jogging up the stairs at a brisk pace, keeping an eye out for anything out of place.

“Hey.” Calling out through her mind still feels weird, but she’s starting to get used to it. “If you can reach the stairwell, it doesn’t look like it’s used for anything.”

Through their link, she can sense the position of both Street Ronin and CB. Street Ronin is actually pretty close to her position—he’s in one of the offices just a little way down the main hall, if she remembers the layout correctly. CB is a level above them, on the other side of the building. She has no idea how he got there.

“I thought I recognized this room,” Street Ronin mutters. “OK, heading your way.”

“I’m gonna… stay here,” CB says. “I don’t think I can go back the way I came. But the cables aren’t moving around like claymation snakes any more, so that’s something.”

“What are they doing?” Jenny asks.

“They’re… just being cables. Like, have you ever sliced open a telephone cable?”

“Sure,” Jenny says. “But Dad doesn’t know, so don’t tell him. He thinks it was ‘hooligans.’”

“Well, it’s like that. They’re all flowing the same direction. I’m gonna see where it leads.”

The fire door opens, and Street Ronin crawls into the stairwell. When the door closes behind him he stands, stretches, and sighs in relief. He nods to Jenny.

“Why isn’t there anything in the stairwell?” he asks.

Jenny shrugs. “I really have no idea. Honestly, it looks like the building has been shifting its insides around for repairs and things like that. I don’t know why it would need a stairwell. If I were in control of a big skyscraper monster that could shift its insides around, I wouldn’t keep it.”

“Part of the spell…” David Bernard’s voice sounds a little shaky, and very tired. The cables haven’t managed to get through his shield yet, but he’s had to decrease its size to conserve energy. “Most golems are human shaped—or animal shaped. Shaped like a thing intended to move. So it’s easy to get it to move, because it has a consistent form. This building was never intended to move. I don’t even know what gave them the idea to do this. But in order for it to work, there has to be some kind of constant that runs through the entire length of the structure. Stairwells and elevator shafts are pretty obvious choices for that.”

“That makes as much sense as I guess anything about magic ever will,” Street Ronin says. “What I want to know is, why isn’t it guarded?”

There’s a brief silence. Jenny can almost feel David shrug.

“Hubris?” David suggests. “That’s all I got.”

“I’ll take hubris,” Jenny says.

“Maybe.” Street Ronin doesn’t look convince. She suspects a healthy amount of paranoia is useful in his position.

“Let’s climb up,” Jenny says. “It’s either hubris, which means we get easy access to the bad guy, or it’s a deathtrap and we’ll wind up starting another distraction so Curveball can save the day.”

That provokes a sharp bark of laughter from Curveball. Street Ronin stares at her for a moment, then shrugs. “Nothing better to do right now…”

They trudge up the stairs single file, Jenny first, Street Ronin trailing behind. At the next landing Jenny stops dead in her tracks, staring at the door in mute astonishment.

Street Ronin steps up beside her. “What…?”

“Yeah.”

Cable twists around the doorframe, starting from the floor and traveling around the length of it, forming an arch of its own.

“Sorta feels like there might be something interesting behind that door,” Jenny says.

Street Ronin doesn’t reply, but he gives his rifle a quick once-over.

Jenny turns the handle. The door clicks and easily swings open.

Whatever this is, it’s not the kind of room you find in an office building.

A brightly polished marble floor stretches before them, gleaming in the soft light of lanterns hanging from a high ceiling. Rows of glass display tables are organized along the walls of the room, with more set up in a grid across the floor. A simple white card is set on each display.

“Be careful,” Street Ronin says. “This could be a—”

Jenny steps into the room.

“…nevermind,” Street Ronin finishes. He doesn’t follow.

The marble echoes softly as Jenny walks to the closest glass table. It’s not very wide—about the width of a small drafting table—but the only thing in it is a small clump of what Jenny finally realizes is hair. Thick, blonde hair. She looks at the card. It’s someones name—she doesn’t recognize it.

“Anyone know someone named Marvin Ellis?”

“There’s a governor named Marvin Ellis,” Agent Grant says. “Nebraska, I think? Or maybe Kansas. One of the ones in the middle.”

As Jenny takes in the names of some of the other displays, her throat starts to tighten. “Hey… uh… remember when my uncle said these guys were keeping samples of powerful people so they could threaten to kill them with magic? I think we just found their stash.”

She doesn’t recognize the name on every card, but every name she does recognize is a congressman, or a Senator, or a governor, General, or someone highly placed in the bureaucracy.

“Jesus,” she says. “Is that the Attorney General of New York?”

Street Ronin is now in the room, moving quickly from display to display, taking note of each name.

He’s probably recording them, Jenny thinks. Wish I’d thought of that.

“What’s it doing here?” Street Ronin asks. “It wasn’t here on the way down. We would have noticed this.”

“It wasn’t here before,” Jenny says. “The building probably moved it here when it… you know… changed. After we escaped.”

There’s a blur of an outline, then Agent Grant is standing next to them. Jenny has to block out the sensation of Agent Grant’s presence. He was already in three places; four is just too weird.

Agent Grant looks around. “I think this was probably close to the place where they were casting that spell. If we’d had a chance to nose around a little we probably would have found it.”

“What should we do now?” Jenny asks.

“I still have the flamethrower,” Agent Grant suggests.

Jenny thinks it over. It might not make a difference at this point, but this does represent a hold Haruspex has over people. It’s not the kind of thing that should just be left hanging around.

She looks at Street Ronin. “You get pictures of everything?”

Street Ronin nods.

“OK.” She takes a deep breath. “Curveball, looks like we’re about to create a third distraction.”

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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