Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Four: Crossfire Safehouse

The safehouse is a small white building set right up against a public storage facility next to a run-down industrial park. It’s so nondescript and boring that it’s easy to overlook—the eye drifts naturally from the shiny storage units to the large concrete warehouses in the industrial park, skipping it over entirely.

Special Agent Lijuan Hu files that away for later as she stands in front of the heavy wood door with “MAIN OFFICE” stenciled on the front in cracked, fading letters. It’s not the location of this building that matters—Crossfire will abandon it immediately after this op—but the psychology that went into choosing the location. They’re allies at present, solid ones as far as Hu can tell… but she’s pretty sure they’ll wind up on opposite sides of something eventually.

That assumes, of course, that she still has a job when this over. It’s not guaranteed: what they’ve been doing strays pretty far outside the rules, and what they’re about to do will probably get them thrown in jail if things go even a little bit south.

Maybe Crossfire will be hiring. She smiles in spite of herself.

The door buzzes and the lock releases, causing it to open just a crack. Hu slips inside, making sure to pull the door firmly behind her until she hears it click firmly in place.

The door opens into the garage. The portal to the Nautilus is gone, but in its place is Jenny Forrest—Zero—waiting for her.

The young woman isn’t wearing the black tactical armor she had when they all portaled over. What she’s wearing now looks much fancier, steel polymer with extra tech embedded in the chestplate. It looks quite a bit heavier than her old armor, but the difference doesn’t appear to affect her any.

“New gear?” Hu asks.

Zero nods, grinning unabashedly. “A gift from Robert. Red Shift told me to tell you there’s something for you as well.”

“Oh?” Hu frowns. “That probably violates at least seven DOJ policies and guidelines, not to mention a few laws, but since we’re about to attack the lair of an evil wizard I think I can deal with the fallout later. What’s he got?”

Jenny shrugs. “Red Shift wouldn’t say. You’re supposed to meet him in the armory.”

“Where is that?” Hu asks.

“Comm room, trapdoor leading down.”

“OK,” Hu says. “Thanks. Hey, Zero—what are you doing after we win?”

Zero looks at her blankly.

“You know,” Hu says. “We fight the bad guys, we kick their asses, the virus is deep-sixed and the world goes on. What do you do next?”

“Uh…” Zero shrugs, her cheeks coloring slightly. “I guess I’ve just been super focused on this thing.”

“Sure,” Hu says. “Understandable. Well, look, you’re Liberty’s great-granddaughter and all that, so I’m pretty sure you’ll have your pick of opportunities… but you should consider Division M.”

Zero blinks. “Uh… you mean, like you and Agent Grant?”

“Like me, yes. Like Grant, hopefully not so much.”

Zero laughs nervously, not sure how to reply.

“Just think it over,” Hu says. “You’d make a hell of an agent.”

Without waiting for an answer, Hu steps up to the raised platform and ducks through the door into the living area. When she reaches the comm room she runs into her second surprise.

“Travers!”

Pete Travers ducks his head by way of greeting, smiling that eternally polite smile. “Agent Hu.”

“What are you doing here?”

Travers shrugs. “Helping. I’m not much good on the Nautilus, unfortunately. I can’t help them find a cure. But I think it might be useful to have someone back here while you all tilt your windmill. Especially someone who is familiar with government response protocols.”

Hu nods in agreement.

“Besides,” Travers says, “David thinks someone should be on hand to keep an eye on Senator Morgan while you’re out. We could hardly spare any of you.”

“Grant could do it,” Hu says.

“That’s one less of him in the field,” Travers points out.

“True.” Hu spies the trap door at the far end of the room. “Well, I gotta go and see what Doctor Thorpe whipped up for me.”

“You’ll probably like it,” Travers says.

“You know what it is?” Hu asks.

Travers shakes his head. “Not a clue. But I know him.”

“Guess I’ll find out,” Hu says.

She climbs down the ladder to find Red Shift and Scrapper Jack standing over a large black duffel bag dangling from Jack’s right hand. Jack looks like he’s been through the wringer: his shirt is torn, the right leg of his jeans has been ripped off below the knee, and one of his boots is split down the back, while the other is missing a heel.

“Jesus, Jack,” Hu says, “what happened? Get hit by a car?”

Jack looks up from his bag and flashes her a lopsided grin. “Funny you should ask…”

She files that away as something to follow up on later.

“Red Shift, Zero says you wanted to see me?”

“Sure did,” Red Shift says amiably. “Just finishing up. Doctor Thorpe would like Jack to add a few things to his ensemble.”

“It’s to keep me from winding up naked every time something violent happens,” Jack says.

Hu smirks. “I disapprove.”

Jack laughs at that, then stares back down into the duffel bag. “Thing is, I’m not too keen on wearing spandex.”

“It’s not spandex,” Red Shift says.

“You know what I mean. The closest I ever got to a costume was when I was still running with Artie, and most of that was just practical.”

“This is practical too,” Red Shift says. “You wear it under your clothes. If your clothes are destroyed, you’re not flashing the world. And he thought you’d like the boots.”

Jack rummages through the bag. “Yeah, OK, I do like the boots. What the hell, I’ll give it a shot.”

Jack hoists the duffel bag over his shoulder, then brushes past Hu to get to the ladder.

“Is that… engine oil?” Hu asks.

“I literally got hit by a car,” Jack says. “Then I used it to hit another car.”

Definitely following up on that later. Hu watches Jack climb up the ladder, then turns back to Red Shift.

The speedster points to a black duffel bag sitting in front of one of the armory lockers. “Doctor Thorpe would like to offer you an alternative to your ‘bathing suit.’”

Hu stares at the bag for a second, then grins fiercely. “Hell yes!”

“That’s refreshing,” Red Shift says. “Usually people have questions first.”

Hu scoops up the duffel and peers inside. “Oh, I have questions, but I’m pretty sure the smartest man in the world made me a fireproof outfit.”

“Well,” Red Shift says, “technically nothing is really fireproof—”

“Fire,” Hu says absently. “Fire is fireproof.” She pulls out a bundle from the bag and unwraps it.

“I kind of want to argue the point,” Red Shift says, “but I’ll defer to the expert.”

Hu lets the duffel bag fall to the floor as she holds up the outfit. “Looks like a wetsuit.”

Red Shift nods. “It’s kind of the opposite, though. Doctor Thorpe says the suit isn’t so much fireproof as it is ‘fire-compatible.’ It has a much higher heat tolerance than the asbestos atrocity you use now.”

“How much tolerance?” Hu asks.

“Doctor Thorpe claims it will survive what you did when you blew up the tip of his island.”

“Nice,” Hu says. “Division M probably won’t let me keep it, but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.”

“They might, actually.” Red Shift points down to the duffel bag. “In one of the side pockets he included the specs on the suit, so your people could study it and duplicate it themselves.”

Hu looks back down at the duffel bag and picks it up. “Thanks. Good luck today.”

“You too,” Red Shift says. He turns back to a workbench sitting on the far wall, leaning over a small black box half-attached to a combat harness.

“What’s that?” Hu asks.

“My present,” Red Shift says. “It needs a little prep before I can use it.”

He doesn’t explain further, and Hu doesn’t press him for more. She puts her new suit in the bag, slings the bag over he shoulder, and climbs up the ladder to look for a place to change.

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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