Curveball Issue 36: The Titan’s Shadow

Part Eight: New York City, Downtown

The graveyard shifts are always the worst.

Danny leans against the counter, rubs his eyes, and looks longingly at the cigarettes arranged on the rack behind him. Just a quick smoke out back, and he’ll be able to make through till sunrise. He glances balefully at the security camera, always watching, and suppresses a curse.

It knows. It always knows, and he can’t afford to get written up again.

It’s like they pay people to watch the cameras just to make sure I don’t duck out the back. Jesus, imagine if your job was just to watch store cams all day.

He rubs his eyes again and considers getting another cup of coffee. His stomach gurgles in protest, and he sets the notion aside. He’s not that desperate. Not yet.

The door jingles. Danny looks up to see a man with spiky, dark hair standing the doorway, back turned to him. A worn trenchcoat, ripped in multiple places, hangs over his lanky frame.

“It’ll just be a second,” the man says, waving to someone outside. Then he turns, and Danny tries not to stare. Then he gives up, and just stares.

The man looks young, but hard young, like a guy who spends most of his time sleeping in a ditch. His face is mottled with black and purple bruising, and he limps slightly as he moves into the store, eyes locking on the cigarette display.

The eyes shift to Danny, just for a second, taking in his expression.

“You should see the other guy.” The man’s voice is clear, at least—clear and steady, so probably not drunk or high. Probably.

“Yeah?” Danny keeps gaping. The bruising appears to go down the man’s neck, but his t-shirt and trenchcoat cover everything else. He limps, though, very slightly, as he makes his way to the counter. “What does the other guy look like.”

“Not a scratch on him.” The man delivers the line absolutely deadpan, with startling frankness. He turns slightly, examining the coffee machine. “Yeah, I got my ass kicked. Two packs of Reds. Hard packs. And a large coffee. And a QuickWin ticket.”

The man stumps off to the coffee maker and reaches for a large styrofoam cup.

“Just one?” Danny suppresses a surge of longing as he grabs the cigarettes from the top shelf and puts on the counter next to the cash register. “People usually buy at least five.”

“Just one,” the man says. He begins filling the cup with coffee. “This stuff smells terrible.”

“It tastes worse,” Danny says. “You’d do better just eating the cup.”

The man laughs at that. He brings the cup back, now full of piping hot sludge, and sets it down next to the cigarettes. Danny suppresses a grimace as his stomach gurgles in response to the smell.

“Maybe you should just call it a morning,” Danny suggests, staring at the coffee with distaste. “I can’t think of anything worth staying up for if I had to drink that.”

“No rest for the wicked,” the man says, flashing a quick grin. “I gotta see a guy about a thing.”

Danny snorts. He places a single QuickWin ticket on top of the cigarettes and starts ringing him up. “From the look of you, I figured you’d already done that.”

“That… was a different thing.”

Danny glances up at him quizzically. To his annoyance, he sees the man has already started rubbing off the silver ink from the QuickWin ticket with a quarter. He turns his attention back to the cash register and finishes ringing everything up. By the time he finishes, the man is holding up the ticket with a satisfied smirk.

“Take it out of this,” he says.

Danny squints at the ticket. “Twenty-five bucks. Nice.”

The man holds out the ticket.

“I’m not really supposed to do it that way,” Danny says. He glances up at the security camera. “Screw it.”

He takes the ticket and starts making change.

The man waits patiently as Danny counts everything out, shoves his cigarettes into a trenchcoat pocket, then toasts Danny with his coffee.

“Hope your morning gets better,” Danny says.

The laugh that comes out of the strange bruised man is tinged with bitterness. “I doubt that very much.”

With that, he toasts again, takes a sip of coffee, and gags.

“Maybe I will eat the cup,” he mutters, then limps out of the store.

* * *

David Bernard stands outside with Special Agent Alan Grant, watching CB interact with the store clerk through the big storefront windows.

“He stopped for cigarettes?” Grant asks. He jams his fists into his trenchcoat—it’s a much nicer one than CB’s, black and made of heavier material.

“And coffee,” David observes. He shivers slightly. It’s not summer any more, and he’s no longer on a tropical island. He’s definitely not dressed for the season. Somewhere in the back of his head, Allard murmurs a spell that might work against the cold.

“And a lottery ticket,” Grant adds. He’s less annoyed, more amused at this point. “Jesus, it looks like he actually won something. What’s his power again?”

“Beats me,” David says. “He was a little before my time.”

“Mine too, but we all had to read the PRODIGY case files. The best we have on him is ‘makes weird shit happen.’”

The door jingles and CB stomps out. He hands the coffee over to Grant. “Hold this for a second.”

Grant stares at the coffee, nonplussed. He sniffs at it, makes a terrible face, and holds it a little further away from his body. “What’d you do, scrape the bottom of the pot for flavor?”

“The guy tried to convince me not to buy it,” CB says. He pulls an unopened pack of cigarettes from his pocket and starts fumbling with the plastic wrapping. “Come on, let’s get going.”

He sets off on foot, not really paying attention to where he’s going. David notes, however, that he is headed in the right direction.

“Why are we walking?” David asks. “We have faster ways of getting there.”

“So they won’t notice us,” CB says.

Grant frowns. “I think we gotta assume if Haruspex is everything we think it is, it’ll be child’s play for them to link into all the surveillance cams the police have set up around the city.”

“We should definitely assume that,” CB says. The plastic wrapping falls to the parking lot, gets picked up by the wind, and blows away. He pulls out a cigarette, sticks it in his mouth, and fishes around in a pocket for his lighter.

“So I don’t think we can assume we’ll evade notice,” Grant continues. “Going on foot would make more sense in the middle of the day, but at night we kinda stick out.”

CB stops walking for a second, pulls out his lighter, and lights up. He takes a draw on his cigarette. The cherry glows bright red. He closes his eyes, and for a moment David feels as if the world is whirling around him. A moment later, he feels it stop spinning, as if were snapping into place.

“It’ll be fine,” CB says, and starts walking again.

Grant shoots David a look, shrugs, and hurries to catch up with CB, handing off the coffee and wiping his hand on his coat. David falls in behind them.

“So where’s this other guy, Grant?” CB asks.

Grant points. “We’re about two blocks that way.”

We. David has only seen Grant do his multiples act a few times, and he gets prickly—well, more prickly than usual—when asked questions about it. He feels Allard stir uneasily as his gaze shifts between Grant and CB.

Two of them, Allard murmurs.

They’re metahumans, David replies silently.Just like everyone else.

No, Allard replies. They are not.

David waits for Allard to explain, but it offers nothing more.

Well, at least you aren’t screaming for me to murder them. It’s progress.

Allard’s laughter rolls through his mind, but it’s nervous laughter.

“You still with us, Doc?”

David looks up to see CB and Grant staring at him, CB with caution, Grant with an expression of amused impatience.

“Sorry,” David says. “Private conversation.”

CB’s gaze flickers to David’s left shoulder—the place where, earlier in the evening, the large shadowy form of a predator bird was perched. David gives him a small, confirming nod.

“Well,” CB says, “let’s try talking and walking. I want to meet the new guy.”

“There’s a whole crew,” Grant offers. “But at the moment it’s just him and his sister.”

“Sister?” CB asks.

“She’s pretty awesome,” Grant says enthusiastically. “She doesn’t like me much.”

“You’re an acquired taste, Grant.” CB smirks as he pulls on his cigarette again.

Grant laughs. “I get that a lot. People, they get intimidated by my overpowering charisma.”

Two blocks down they find a bus stop sitting in front of an old playground. It’s an older playground, still obviously used but falling into disrepair. The bus stop bench is covered in graffiti. Standing in front of the bench are three figures, one white, two Black. The white man is Alan Grant. The realization makes Allard stir uneasily for a moment, but the feeling subsides quickly as David takes in the other two.

The Black man is very tall and very thin, dressed in a well-tailored suit with a white starched shirt, gray silk tie, and a black trenchcoat that looks almost exactly like the kind Grant favors. Long, thin Locs are pulled back into a medium-length ponytail. Everything about the man radiates tension—he stands completely straight and still, his face a mask of rigidly enforced neutrality and control. The lamplight gleams against his dark skin, skin pulled so tight against his face that he looks almost cadaverous in the darkness.

The Black woman is only slightly shorter than the man, making her at least an inch or two taller than David. Wearing black tactical pants, combat boots, and a white sports top, she looks much more like someone preparing to go to a fight. She also, David notes, sports a trenchcoat, but a decidedly more ragged one—closer to CB’s than to Grant’s.

“Gentlemen,” Grant says—their Grant, not the one at the far end of of the bench—may I introduce to you Brother Judgment and Sister Sentinel. The leaders of the Bastions.

“Curtis,” David says, nodding in greeting. “Lisa.”

Curtis’ eyes widen, startled. Lisa breaks out into a grin.

“Holy shit,” she says. “It’s motherfucking Sky Commando, First Edition!”

Ignoring CB and Alan—both of them—she walks over to David and gives him a friendly tap on the shoulder. It hurts, as always, and he staggers back a step.

“You know them?” Grant asks, incredulous.

“Of course I know them,” David says. “I was Sky Commando for four years.”

He says it without bitterness, now. It seems only yesterday he thought that would be impossible.

“Might have been nice to know you had a pre-existing relationship with them,” Grant says. “I could’ve saved all my charm for something else.”

Curtis’ mouth presses into a thin, straight line.

“I didn’t know you were gonna be on this,” she says. “The other Sky Commando, sure—she’s all right, by the way, Curtis likes her but won’t admit it—but not the original!”

David grins sheepishly. “Not the original any more. I, ah, go by Doctor Enigma now.”

Lisa stares at him blankly, then breaks out into uproarious laughter.

“Why?”

“Because it’s better than ‘Doctor Weird, Warlock Supreme.’”

“Hey!” Alan Grant shakes his head in mock outrage. “Doctor Weird is a fantastic name, and some day you will regret not taking it.”

“Does that mean you’re going in with us?” Curtis turns to CB, frowning. “Look, I know I’m not calling the shots, but I like this guy, and I don’t want to see him get killed. He was hot shit in his armor, but out of it he’s just a normal. No offense David.”

“None taken,” David says.

“He’s not normal any more,” CB says. “He’s the magic guy.”

Both Curtis and Lisa study David more closely.

“He telling the truth?” Curtis asks.

David nods. “Long story. Magic island.”

Curtis and Lisa exchange glances.

“Well,” Lisa says, “you’ve already seen some weird shit, right?”

Curtis nods. “Yeah. He seems normal, though.”

He turns to face CB, and sticks out his hand. “You’re Curveball?”

CB juggles his coffee into his left hand, and shakes Curtis’ hand. “That’s me.”

Curtis smiles slightly. “Read about you when I was a kid.”

“Ouch,” CB says.

Curtis snorts. “The Fed here filled us in, and I’ve got my team ready to go, but how exactly are we getting in to start the show? We kind of stick out.”

“I figured we’d go in through the front,” CB says. “Glad to have you on board.” With that, CB continues walking down the street.

Curtis stares after him, then turns to David. “He for real?”

David shrugs. “I haven’t really seen him in action. Heard some interesting stories, though.”

Curtis nods, and as if on cue they all start following CB. Lisa and Curtis fall into step beside David, Lisa to his right and Curtis to his left, making him feel uncharacteristically small.

David looks from Curtis, to Lisa, to Grant, then to CB. He sighs.

“Guess I need to start wearing trenchcoats.”

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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