Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Five: Haruspex Analytics

Mara Ioannou sits patiently outside the Chairman’s office, both aware of and indifferent to the passage of time.

She meditates on a decision that will be made in the next few hours. She doesn’t know who will make it, and she doesn’t know what course of action will be chosen. She knows only that someone will be faced with a choice, and they will choose. She’s been trying to understand the decision by hypothetically assigning it to different people and following the lines of consequence that branch out from it. It’s an old gift; one of her oldest. It rarely provides a clear answer, but she almost always finds it useful.

The phone on the receptionist’s desk buzzes, a harsh, low sound that hurts her ears. The nondescript man behind the desk picks up the phone, listens intently for a moment, then returns the receiver to its cradle.

“The Chairman will see you now.” The nondescript man behind the desk doesn’t bother looking up from his work. The wall next to the couch clicks, sinks inward, then slides to the right, revealing a warmly-lit room with dark, bare walls.

“Thank you.” Mara stands, and all the creases in her white dress fall away. She walks into the Chairman’s office, face serene. He stands next to his desk, waiting.

“Mara.” He wears no shroud over his face—that has never been necessary between them—and his smile is genuine. “I’m surprised to see you at this hour. Not displeased, of course.”

Mara’s smile is just as genuine. She extends her hand, and he takes it, bowing slightly, and kisses it once. It is a ceremony that pleases her. It’s not a ceremony from the age in which she came into her power—it’s far more modern than that—but it acknowledges the need to place walls between beings of power, and to regulate the ways in which those walls are willingly broken. A modern echo of a much older exchange. The Chairman is a young creature, but he understands such things.

“I would not have come,” Mara says, “but I’ve been made aware of a problem that requires your immediate attention.”

The Chairman nods, his expression growing grave. He half-turns, gesturing toward the glass-and-steel framed desk—the only furniture of note in the room—and retreats to the large leather executive chair behind it. He sits as Mara chooses one of the two leather chairs set before it.

Both are just as comfortable as the Chairman’s, Mara suspects. The only indication of a difference in status, in this room, are the positions of the chairs themselves. One behind the desk, two before.

He is not a man who revels in the trappings of his office, Mara thinks. Then, suppressing the brief desire to smile in wry awareness, adds he is, of course, not entirely a man.

It is a point they have discussed before, at length. A point the Chairman acknowledges as true, but dismisses as irrelevant; Mara is beginning to understand and appreciate his view of things.

“The artificers involved in absolution of Senator Morgan have run into an unusual problem,” Mara says.

The Chairman gazes at her from across the desk, one eyebrow raising in surprise. “They ought to have finished by now.”

“They should have,” she says. “I have examined every aspect of the ritual and judged all observances were followed correctly. Something… someone… appears to be blocking them.”

The Chairman leans forward slightly. His eyes narrow. “Indeed.”

Mara nods. “I was able to follow the trail of power, but I wasn’t able to determine the physical location of its target. I ran into a barrier. I do not understand this barrier.”

The Chairman eases back into his chair again, head tilted back, eyes closed. “Please continue.”

“It is, at its base, power similar to our own,” she says. “There are parts of it that feel the same. But it mingles with something…” her voice trails off, and she tsks in annoyance. “I don’t have words for it. It is a power, but I can’t determine what it is. It suffuses the power I know with an energy I do not. Whatever it is, it’s strong enough to prevent the ritual from reaching its target.”

“I see.” The Chairman’s eyes are still closed. “Permanently?”

“No,” Mara says. “The barrier does not renew itself. The ritual does. I instructed the artificers to continue with the absolution. The barrier will be overcome in a matter of hours.”

“Good,” the Chairman says. “The issue, then, is not that the ritual will fail. The issue is that someone outside this group has power to counter it, even for a time.”

“Yes,” Mara agrees. “But I caution you not to underestimate this. The power required to block absolution at all is immense. I might be able to do it, with the necessary preparation. It would require a temple dedicated to my cause, and the offering of much blood. There is no temple in this city other than our own, and there was no blood in the barrier I detected.”

The Chairman opens his eyes, focusing on Mara. “But you did say there was a portion of the power you could not understand.”

“If it used blood,” Mara replies, “I would understand it.”

The Chairman considers her words, then nods in agreement. “So. There is a new power.”

“It seems there is. Something that incorporates the old powers, but also something that has evolved.”

“Do you think this is one of the other elder powers, making a play?”

“Absolutely not.” Mara speaks with absolute conviction. “The only powers that might have the flexibility to adapt to what I felt—and, more importantly, didn’t feel—are the ones who stood before you and accepted our parley. They are as bound to the terms of our mutual pact as you are, and will be until their ties to the powers that came before can be severed completely. If there were ties to the powers that came before I’d feel them, just as I’d feel the power of blood.”

“No ties at all?” The Chairman asks. “No signs of affiliation?”

“None.”

“Hm.” The Chairman stands, walks around his desk, and crosses the room, stopping before a lone picture set against an otherwise empty wall. It is the picture of his battlefield, Mara knows. He speaks of it from time to time. It is one of the great events that shaped him, even before he came to be. “You might have mentioned that sooner.”

Mara thought back on her words so far. “It is hard to describe a thing I don’t understand,” she admits. “It wasn’t until you asked about ‘signs of affiliation’ that I realized I’d felt none.”

“Yes, of course,” the Chairman says. “I apologize, Mara, that was me being petty.”

Mara smiles slightly, gets up from her chair, and stands to his right.

The Chairman laughs suddenly. A startling laugh—easy, delighted—it is reflected in his face, and in his eyes. He seems… pleased.

“It’s finally happening,” he says.

Mara looks at him questioningly, but says nothing.

“I had, of course, hoped that it would happen from within our own group,” he continues. “I had—and still have—high hopes for Nuzzio in particular. But it was inevitable that after I came to be, in apparent violation of all that we understand of our power, and the ties it has to the True Realm, that other deviations would appear.”

He turns to her, eyes alight. “It means I am not a single aberration, in danger of being swallowed up and forgotten over time. I was the first, but more are coming. Change is happening.”

Mara feels herself smiling in return. She doesn’t bother to hide it. They share the moment, and then when it passes they return to the matter of hand.

“Of course,” the Chairman adds, “it is unfortunate that this change is manifested among our enemies. It complicates things greatly.”

“Do you think it is one of the heroes?” Mara asks.

The Chairman shrugs. “One of them, or a newly acquired ally of theirs. Curveball and Scrapper Jack kidnapped the Senator, with the aid of at least one other. And now someone has, at least for a time, prevented his death.”

Mara nods thoughtfully. “It seems unusual that they’d deal with this power directly.”

“Very,” the Chairman agrees. “For the moment, let us assume there is a method they have devised that we don’t understand. Perhaps one of their technologists has found a way to manipulate the power mechanically. We don’t need to focus on it. I believe we will get a clearer picture soon.”

“They will come here?” Mara asks skeptically. “That seems tactically unwise.”

“Have you read the profiles Mr. Kline has assembled on that group?” Amusement runs deep through the Chairman’s voice. “They all have histories of making ‘tactically unwise’ work.”

Mara concedes the point. That is, after all, one of the reasons she wants to kill them.

“I think this may work to our advantage,” the Chairman says. “Project Recall has advanced to the point, I think, where we no longer require this infrastructure.”

Mara looks around the Chairman’s office uncertainly, feeling a sudden pang of loss. The Chairman places a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“Not a pleasant thought,” he agrees. “But it was never intended to exist beyond a certain point.”

“I know,” Mara says. “Who do we save?”

“Doyle, of course,” the Chairman says. “He will be needed until the end. And Richter—he will continue to be invaluable. The inner circle, and I think we will add Mr. Klein to that number. We may still need someone with the insight he provides.”

“His team?” Mara asks.

“Ah yes,” the Chairman says. “His team.”

He turns his gaze back to the picture of the soldier’s graveyard.

“An analyst,” the Chairman says, “works from a distance. They make decisions and recommendations that other people must carry out. That other people, in the end, must pay for. Don’t misunderstand me, I quite appreciate the necessity for that kind of separation, but Mr. Klein is transitioning away from that work. He is becoming a leader. But unlike you or I, who have been forced to bear the consequence of every decision we have made, he has been insulated as a result of his work.”

“True,” Mara says. “Is this to be a test, then?”

“It is,” the Chairman says. “Make him aware of everything that will happen, and give him every opportunity to fail. If he takes up the mantle we offer, he must do so with the knowledge that those he loves will die.”

The question Mara had been pondering earlier—the decision that she knew would have to be made, but did not know who would be called upon to make it—suddenly grows still. One more mystery revealed, she thinks. She sees all of the potential futures branch out from that decision.

“There is peril in this,” Mara says. “Peril for our enemies, perhaps, or peril for us. But overall I think this is right. Klein has potential, but he needs testing. If he cannot do this, he is useless to us.”

“We have never shied away from peril,” the Chairman says. “So let us dance with it again.”

“I will tell him,” Mara says. “If you tell him, his innate awe of you may override the very things we wish him to struggle against.”

The Chairman sighs. “Agreed. We will deal with that unfortunate quality at a later date. While you deal with Mr. Klein, I will begin organizing our egress. Meet me back here in… let’s say an hour?”

“An hour,” Mara agrees. She turns to leave.

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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