Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Seven: Haruspex Analytics, Jason Klein's Suite

Jason Kline stares at the text on his laptop screen and tries for the fourth time to actually read it. He fails, for the fourth time in a row, and sits back in his chair, sighing in frustration. He can feel Phyllis watching him, and he knows why. He lied to her, she knows he lied to her, and he doesn’t know how to fix it.

He leans forward again, unwilling to look around the room, or risk accidentally making eye contact with the rest of his team. He doesn’t work with idiots. They wouldn’t be on his team if they weren’t all brilliant. If Phyllis knows he lied, then the rest of them probably do as well. Things were already on thin ice after Billy died, with the team wondering but not quite willing to suspect that Jason knows more about that than he’s let on, and this is just more strain.

He’s got to find a way to make it right. He just can’t find the words.

He almost laughs out loud at that. He literally can’t find the words. He’s not authorized to discuss the Incursion Protocols in any form with his team—he’s requested to twice, and been denied both times—and he literally can’t disobey. Any attempt to talk about them immediately renders him unable to speak. The only option he had earlier was to lie to Phyllis.

He wonders if it would be possible to lie obviously, in a pattern that Phyllis would detect. He could, perhaps, use one of the old cyphers they’d all worked on in the past. He opens a blank notepad and starts trying to work out if he can, in fact, communicate the information obscurely.

After a few minutes he closes the notepad and sighs again in frustration. There does appear to be a little more room to maneuver, but not enough. He can allude to things, but not speak to them directly.

Part of him finds the entire situation maddening. Part of him wonders if it would be possible to extend whatever built-in compulsion this part of the world uses to protect itself to other, more mundane uses.

A persistent, self-enforcing security system embedded in the information being transmitted… it’s ingenious.

The office door opens. Everyone looks up as Mara Ioannou steps into the room, looking stylish and elegant in a white business suit and skirt that cuts off just below the knees. Her smile, genuine and warm, takes in the entire room before she fixes her eyes on Jason.

“Jason,” she says, her voice friendly but businesslike, “we need to speak in private. Your office?”

Jason gets to his feet. “Uh, sure. Yes. This way please.” He gestures to the open door at the far end of the room, and almost trips over himself as he follows her into the room.

Jason’s office is large by his standards—it has not just the traditional desk and three chairs, but a couch and two other tables. The tables are covered in boxes—the team has been using it to store everything they haven’t unpacked yet—and the sofa has blanket and a pillow, used by whichever team member needs a quick nap before resuming their work.

Mara looks around the room, amused. “Do you not like your office? Is it too small?”

Jason flushes as he fumbles with the lightswitch. “We all work better together, and the reception area is larger.”

“Your team does have an interesting dynamic,” Mara admits. She walks past him, smiles at the others who are staring at them openly at this point, then firmly shuts the door. “That has served you very well up to this point. Unfortunately, it may soon begin to work against you.”

Jason frowns. “It will? Are we underperforming?”

“Not at all,” Mara says. She moves to the couch, throws aside the blanket, and sits down in the middle, legs crossed. She gestures to Jason’s desk and waits.

Jason, confused and concerned, moves two boxes off his desk, a third box off his chair, and sits.

“Your team is performing exceptionally well,” Mara says. “That performance is what first attracted our notice. Mine, first, and then the Chairman’s. And you lead them well. You understand them, and work with them, and bring out the best in each of them. It is one of the most effective analyst teams Haruspex has. And that is no small complement.”

“No, ma’am,” Jason agrees.

Mara smiles. “I’ve asked you to call me Mara before. Now that we are peers, I must insist.”

“Sorry… Mara,” Jason says, and takes a steadying breath. “Old habits tend to resurface when I’m off balance. And you certainly meant to put me off balance just now.”

“I did,” Mara admits. “I’m pleased you noticed. And even more pleased that you drew it into the open in order to urge me to get to the point. You have a very unique skillset, Jason, that goes beyond traditional analysis work. You are certainly skilled in that area, but let’s be frank. Most of the others on your team are better.”

“Absolutely,” Jason says. “Simon is leagues above me in infosec, and I can’t hold a candle to Michelle when it comes to ciphers and codes. Phyllis is just all-around brilliant, and… well, when she and Billy—”

“But their gap,” Mara says, interrupting before Jason can go too far down that road, “the area where you shine, has to do with human interaction. You read people, interpret their intent, and when you cannot determine intent, you position them and yourself in ways to create the best advantage for yourself when intent can be understood.”

Privately Jason thinks that Phyllis is probably at least as good at reading people as he is, though she’s not as good at using what she finds.

“Do you remember your first meeting in the board room?” Mara asks.

Jason nods. “It was excruciating, at first.”

“Until you understood the trick,” Mara says. “I watched you closely during that meeting. The room is designed to make people uncomfortable. You detected how relatively quickly, and as soon as you understood, it lost its power to influence you. These are qualities we want in our leaders.”

“Thank you,” Jason says.

“However, we are choosing you to lead,” Mara continues. “Not your entire team. Only you. And that means you will be in possession of knowledge they will not have. It will separate you, whether you want it to or not. You are very likely already noticing this, to a certain extent.”

“I… am,” Jason admits. “Phyllis keeps asking about the Incursion protocols.”

“And you are unable to tell her anything,” Mara says. “Even when you try. Which you very likely have, if you are anything like the man I believe you to be.”

He feels it’s best not to react to her comment.

Mara laughs. “It is not a mark against you, by any means. You want your team to know about the Incursion Protocols because it may affect them, and after what happened to Billy, you want to protect the rest of them that much more. It’s admirable. That is why the Silence exists—because the knowledge it protects is terrible, and no single person can bear it.”

Jason relaxes slightly.

“That said,” Mara says, “the division does exist. It exists today. It will continue to exist, grow, and become harder to manage over time. And instead of trying to repair that division—which is what you will want to do—we need you to accept it.”

He starts to protest, but Mara waves him off. “You are newly come to this world, so you are still viewing it through the lens of the world you know. In time, as you grow, as you learn more, that will change. You will eventually view this world through the lens of the new world you have been brought into. That will change the way you understand things, fundamentally. It will change the way you understand people… fundamentally. And your team will not be able to take this journey with you. If they could, we would already be taking the steps to bring them in. Only you were chosen. And there are consequences to that you must accept.”

Jason looks away. He knows what she’s trying to tell him. “This… isn’t an easy thing.”

“The worthwhile things never are,” Mara says. “And it’s about to get even harder.”

He looks up at her questioningly. Her expression is grave.

“We expect this building to be attacked,” Mara says. “At least some of the metahumans survived the attack on Thorpe’s island. They have captured one of our assets and have, at least for the moment, managed to counter one of our attempts to silence him. A small group of us are evacuating. We will relocate to the location the Chairman has chosen to start the final phase of Project Recall.”

“Evacuate?” Jason’s eyes go wide.

“Yes,” Mara says. “You have been chosen to be part of that group. Only you. Do you understand?”

He does. He understands only too well. He glances at the door, where his team sits on the other side. He nods silently.

“Good,” Mara says. “We will meet in the Chairman’s office in half an hour. Tell your team it’s a last minute business trip if you like. Say nothing else.”

“I understand,” Jason says, voice hoarse.

“Good,” Mara says. She stands, smooths out her dress, then smiles. “The first steps into this world are terrifying, and they scar. But we’ve all had to take these steps. We understand the cost you will have to pay. You are not alone.”

“Thanks,” Jason says. Then, feeling the answer was inadequate, he adds “thank you. Very much.”

“I’ll see you soon,” Mara says, then walks out of the room. She shuts the office door firmly behind her as she leaves.

Jason sits behind his desk, staring numbly at the clutter in the room. The building is about to be attacked. That means Phyllis, Michelle, and Simon will get front-row seats when the Incursion Protocols are activated. He leans forward, elbows on his desk, and cradles his head in his hands.

They want me to sell out my team.

That isn’t quite right.

More. They want me to sell out my team more.

He wouldn’t be the first to abandon a good team in favor of a promising promotion—to become “a suit,” as Billy would say. He didn’t think he would ever become That Guy, but then again… he didn’t think he would ever be given this job.

The things he has learned, even in this short time…

But he can’t, can he? It’s one thing to screw over your team by taking all the credit for yourself and leaving them to toil in obscurity. It’s another to leave them to die, which is absolutely what he will be doing, if he does this.

Phyllis, Simon, Michelle… they don’t deserve this.

Billy didn’t deserve this. The Chairman actually said as much. That’s the thing—the Chairman had told him, before it happened, that terrible sacrifices would be necessary. Jason hadn’t thought much of it at the time. “Terrible sacrifice” is something you put on an analysis sheet in order to bring projected losses into perspective. But the Chairman, Mara… even Andrew Estovich, especially Estovich… they’d understood what terrible sacrifices were.

And he, it seemed, would understand as well. In time.

His go-bag sits in the bottom right drawer of his desk. It’s a heavy leather briefcase, a bit larger than the standard executive model but not so large as to attract undue attention. He opens it, reviews the contents, and closes it with an authoritative click as it locks shut. He goes over to the executive washroom and splashes some water on his face, dries himself carefully, then grabs the briefcase, opens the office door, and steps into the reception area.

Phyllis, Michelle, and Simon all look up.

“Ms. Ioannou—Mara—just told me I’m going on my first business trip as the newest board member for Haruspex Analytics,” Jason says. “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m leaving in thirty minutes. I don’t know when I’ll be back. Phyllis, you’re lead until I get back.”

“You were in there some time, just for that,” Phyllis says, unconvinced.

“Yeah.” Jason sighs. “The rest of it was, uh, let’s call it ‘Executive Orientation.’ They’re concerned I’m not fully embracing my new role.”

“Because you still work in the bullpen?” Simon asks.

“That’s part of it,” Jason says. “Look, uh, I know things have been awkward lately, and it’s all on me. I haven’t been in a situation where I’m not allowed to tell you things. Usually it’s some other guy making the decision to withhold information from all of us. Now it’s me being that guy. It sucks, and I want to find a way to make it right. I’ll work on it when I get back from this thing. Whatever it is.”

Nobody says anything at first. Then Michelle mumbles “’s cool,” and Simon wishes him a safe trip. Phyllis just nods, and returns to her work.

“Right,” Jason says. “Well. I can’t imagine this lasts more than a few days. So… see you then.”

He hurries out the door. It shuts behind him with a rattling thud.

“That little piece of shit,” Phyllis says. “He just lied to me again.”

45 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”?

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