Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Halcyon Days: Motivation #2

This entry is part 2 of 6 in the series Motivation

“Jesus Christ, Art. The oven? Pallid Jan cooked her?”

Emily felt a lurch down in her stomach. “Hey!” she snapped. “That’s my sister you’re talking about. I’d appreciate it—”

“Yeah, well – she’d have appreciated more than three calls a year and your snide-ass judgment from high school straight through until the day before she got – what, par-broiled? Was the oven set to bake or what? But we don’t always get what we want, do we?”


For several years, Earth had been dealing with the public emergence of parahumanity – especially parahumans who acted as heroes or villains. After years of victory and inspiration, super heroes are extremely popular with the general public, and the world continues to adapt to support them – sometimes at the expense of less super institutions and services. These are Justice Wing’s Halcyon Days.
In Evergreen City, a software engineer named Julia Kelly was murdered by the villain Pallid Jan. Julia had been closely linked to a hero named Artifact, and Pallid Jan used her gruesome death to try and gain a tactical advantage over him. Julia’s sister Emily Smith traveled to Evergreen City for Julia’s funeral, discovering that both Justice Wing and their close companions were both present. Learning Julie’s fiance Landon was the Artifact, Emily is on hand when several heroes call him, trying to convince him not to quit. Landon, in the meantime, is increasingly disheartened to see all mention of Julia in the media doesn’t cover her life or who she was — it just focuses on the Artifact and what Julia’s death means to his motivation.

Motivation

Part Two

Evergreen City, Washington

“So why are you calling this time?” Bryce still sounded amused.

Em rolled her eyes. The phone – the Artifact – was heavier than it looked. Not too heavy, but heavier. The sound quality of the call was significantly better than the hotel phone’s had been. Even the normal hiss their own house line usually added was gone. “I’m in another man’s hotel room on the other side of the country and we’re boozing it up. Do I really have to justify telling you?”

“Of course you do,” Bryce said. “If you don’t, we miss out on all our chances to have comic misunderstandings and heartwarming speeches at the twenty-two minute mark. Haven’t you ever seen one of these?”

“Call me uncultured, I guess.”

“Uncultured. Seriously – you’re with Landon. He’s not ‘another man.’ He’s family. And… honestly, I’m glad you’re there with him. For both of you.”

“Yeah. Yeah, okay. I love you, Bryce.”

“Love you too, Emily. Talk to you soon.”

“Yeah. B-bye.” Emily pulled the Artifact away from her ear. She looked at the front, finding the talk button, and pushed it, terminating the call. “I hate these things. I’m so glad Bryce doesn’t have one.”

“I’m the only person on this planet who has one of those things, but I get it,” Landon said.

Emily looked at the heavy chunk of metal in her hand. “Right now, I’d say I’m the only one who has one of these things.”

Landon snorted. “If you can use it, you can keep it.”

Emily arched both her eyebrows then pointed it at the window. After nothing happened, she looked at Landon. “Can you give me a hint?”

“Sure. First punch in the number you want to call, then press ‘talk.’”

Emily rolled her eyes. “Smartass.”

The Artifact twisted in her hand then, startling Em. She shrieked, letting go, and it rose with a purple glow and hum, sliding through the air and wrapping back around Landon’s left wrist, where it twisted and morphed into the watch she saw before. Landon shrugged. “Sorry, time’s up.”

“How… how do you do that?”

Landon snorted, looking at the Artifact. “It’s bonded to me. Telepathically, neurologically… you saw me light that cigarette earlier. That was some of the energy it’s invested into me.”

“…invested… into you?” Em stared at Landon. “How does that work?”

Landon lifted his right hand. Purplish energy crackled from his pinky to his thumb then jumped to his index finger. “Surprisingly well.”

Em started at the burning spark, then back at Landon. “You know, an explanation would help a lot more than sarcastic comments.”

“That wasn’t sarcasm. Sardonic humor maybe.”

“Donny, I swear to God—”

“It’s alien technology,” Landon said, letting the spark die out and walking over to the window. “It’s powered by a transdimensional power source. Most alien cultures figure out the trick when they start to reach out into the galaxy. Do you know much about alien cultures?”

“I know… those… blue shimmery guys? The ones who hang around with Centurion? The… Planters?”

“The Pa’lita. From the Pa’lita Ascendency. Those guys, as you put it, are generally members of the Pa’lita Guard. Their gear uses the same sort of energy, only filtered and shaped differently using different technology. They call it nus’tiol. The Artifact is Moristaph technology and is powered by what they call jalstuina. The generally agreed-upon English word for it is quintessence.”

“So the Pal…”

“Pa’lita.”

“Right. The Pa’lita Guard… they can do the same sort of thing you can do?”

“No. Not really.” Landon folded his arms, thinking. “Quintessence… don’t think of it as a single power source. Think of it… like the electromagnetic spectrum. Sure, there’s straight up electricity – but you know that voltage and amperage and any number of other factors can vary what electricity can do – from transmitting signals to running a television to everything in between. And that doesn’t even count things like visible light, or X-rays, or gamma radiation, or infra-red.”

“Right. Electromagnetism. Got it.”

“Quintessence is like that – it’s a continuum of possibility, shaped and filtered and adapted by thousands or millions of years of technological development by cultures all across the galaxy. The Artifact uses a specific frequency and manifestation of quintessence – one that takes a while to recharge when you expend it. It stores a lot of energy in other dimensional spaces – the same places its extra mass goes when it’s a watch instead of a suit of armor or a giant engine or something.” Landon turned back to Emily. “When it bonded to me, it invested me with some of that quintessence. That anchored the Consanguineous Assay and unlocked its full capabilities. And, in return, that quintessence supports me – it regenerates damage to my cells, keeps me fed and oxygenated even out in space, and lets me control the Artifact whether I’m touching it or not. And while the Consanguineous Assay remains bound to me, no one else can control it. Not really – not unless I specifically unlock it for them, and even then I can always override it.”

“How does something like that happen?” Em asked, walking up to the window next to Landon. “How do you become bound to some… alien thing?

Landon snorted. “Well, it was consensual, if that’s what you’re asking.”

“Is it? I don’t even know.”

Landon turned to look back out the window. “I mentioned an alien race – the Moristaphik. They made the Consanguineous Assay. It was one of thousands. Maybe millions. I don’t know how many.”

“Why?”

“To explore.” He nodded towards the night sky, out through the hotel window. “They’re from about twenty-one thousand light years deeper into the galaxy – just a few thousand light years from its center. It’s harder for life as we know it to evolve there – the conditions are harsh. Massive radiation. Gravitational fluctuations. Supernovae – there are more stars and they’re closer together, and so they blow up more often and when they do that can sterilize everything for hundreds of light years, depending on things. But they managed it. They evolved. And they wanted to know more about the galaxy they lived in.”

Landon lifted his left arm, and the Artifact unhooked itself and formed into a ball with a crystal interior inside a silver metal frame, the whole thing glowing in that almost lavender shade. “They had an advantage over us – they knew there was intelligent life in the galaxy. They were able to intercept signals and detect quintessence use. But they’re not ones to leave their planet. So, they created an artifact that could do the exploring for them. It was designed to seek out a typical example of a planet’s dominant sentient species. It would make contact, and offer to bond to them – giving them the power and almost limitless versatility the Artifact had to offer. In return, the Consanguineous Assay would record the user’s actions and the events that followed. That way, the Moristaphik would learn about our culture, our ethics, our morals…”

“They’re watching us right now?” Em frowned.

“We’re being monitored and recorded. ‘Watching us’ may be overstating. But even if they were, understand… the Moristaph people are a kind of multicellular gelatinous race.” The Artifact sank lower, then projected a purple field above it, creating a hologram of what looked like metallic slime with bits of metal and plastic floating on its surface. “They’re so unlike us… their only possible interest in us as a species is anthropological. Our culture, our art, our politics – those interest them. Not—”

“Right. Got it. They’re not voyeurs.” Em stared at the hologram for a moment, then turned to Landon. “Donny… you’re saying you got the Artifact because you were average?

“Essentially. The Artifact spent months scanning our genome, learning to recognize anomalies or abnormalities. It didn’t want to find a genius or moron, or someone with mental or physical disabilities or issues, much less someone with parahuman enhancements. Those would skew the results. They wanted someone who absolutely fit the norm across the board. In this case, that was me.”

“…still, they can’t possibly think that watching you react to the Artifact would tell them everything they need to know about humanity! That’s… that’s bad science!”

“Meaning the methodology lacks rigor. That’s right. And they don’t. I’m not the first human being to bond with a Consanguineous Assay. I won’t be the last person, either. I’m just the first to accept the bond after parahumanity emerged from the shadows, so I didn’t hide the Artifact. Instead I used it to…” Landon trailed off.

“To become a super hero,” Em said.

“Yeah.” Landon lifted his left arm. The globe-Artifact stopped projecting the hologram and slid back over Landon’s wrist, remorphing into its watch form. “And that’s why I’m getting all these phone calls now.”

“From Justice Wing, you mean?”

Landon nodded. “See… the thing is. I chose to accept the bond. I chose to accept the Artifact’s offer. And I can choose to stop – to let it go. To sever the bond and let the Consanguineous Assay move on its way to the next average schmuck. That’s what Justice Wing is trying to prevent.”

Emily frowned. “Why?”

Landon snorted. “Why? Because the next average schmuck may not be as civic minded as I am. See, the Moristaphik don’t scan for people of great ethical or moral character. They find people in the middle of the bell curve and let them use the Artifact any way they want. The only reason any bonded wielder is stripped of the Consanguineous Assay is learning that they had some hidden abnormality that skewed the data. That lets out pure megalomaniacs or sociopaths, since they would flag as having mental health abnormalities. But some would-be dictators aren’t mentally ill. Sometimes they’re just evil. Or selfish. Or don’t think of long term consequences. And if I give up the Artifact, one of those people might be selected as my replacement.”

“So… what? You don’t get to retire?”

Landon chuckled. There was still no joy in that chuckle. “I get to do anything I want, Em. That’s what scares Justice Wing.”

“Huh. Doesn’t seem very heroic.”

“No, they’re heroes. They’re worried about me on a personal level – I won’t deny that. But they’re also worried about the public good. That’s why they’re calling. To encourage me to keep going. To buck up. To take this horrible, horrible thing and use it. They want me to come out of my grief motivated to do even better. That’s why—” He paused, turning, a sudden sob in his throat.

Em blinked. “Donny?”

“That’s why they all ask the same question,” he said softly. “That’s why they all ask me what Julie would want me to do.”

Em blinked again, and shivered. Her own grief caught her then, remembering her sister. The weird one. The smart one. The goofy one. With her computers and her fantasy books and her kendo lessons. Em used to have to distance herself at school, so Julie’s weird didn’t rub off on her, and now school was years in the past and Julie was dead and—

There was a burst of light out over the Evergreen City skyline.

Em jumped, looking out. Landon didn’t jump, but he did turn.

A second burst of light followed. Then a third. And then a much larger burst, that then rippled into what looked like dozens of flares, forming a shape… like an arrow head pointing down.

“…what the Hell is that?” Em whispered.

Landon scoffed. “My next phone call. I have to go. Do you want to come with me?”

“What? Go with…”

“You want to know more about the Artifact – about me being Artifact. Well, Artifact has to go to the top of the Evergreen Spire and have an argument. Want to come along?”

Emily considered, then slowly nodded. “Yeah.”

“All right then.” Landon stepped back from the window, raising his left arm. The Artifact detatched itself, forming into a large hoop – almost hula hoop sized – with purple energies pulsing like a circuit around it. It slid over Landon’s head, and then moved to the floor, seeming to pinch space itself into a fold as it went, sucking Landon in and back out, but leaving Landon in a lightly armored dark red bodysuit with a heavy purple cloak cloak and blue metal half-mask over the top of his face but leaving his chin bare – apparently it had shaven him too, since the five o’clock shadow he’d been sporting was also gone.. The hoop broke into four and then recombined as a bracer along Landon’s right arm.

The eyeslits on the mask then began to glow purple, and the Artifact turned to look at Emily. “You’re sure,” he asked, in that lower register. Emily was surprised how different his bearing was, even now.

Em was staring, but nodded again. “Absolutely.”

“Then let’s go, before he starts setting off more fireworks.”

“Who is he? A hero?”

“Yes. A hero. Which doesn’t make him any less of an asshole. Be warned.”

Em opened her mouth, then closed it and nodded. “Consider me warned.”


Flight wasn’t like anything Emily could have ever expected.

She’d thought about it, of course. Had the flying dreams everyone seemed to have. Pretended to be able to fly with a towel wrapped around her neck – at least until Julie was old enough to make that game annoying. But the reality wasn’t like anything she expected.

She’d assumed, when they left the hotel by way of the roof, that the Artifact would carry her. That’s what you did, right? When Captain Prestige brought Estella Summers somewhere in the old comics, he carried her. Paragon carried Barbara Babcock the same way, in any number of photos published in the Crown City Chronicle over the years. So it surprised her when the Artifact raised his right arm – the one with the long vambrace made out of the artifact itself – surrounded himself with the hazy red-blue-purple quintessance, and rose into the air without Emily. Before she could ask, several of the modules on the vambrace separated, spinning and changing and reconfiguring before strapping themselves around Emily’s waist like a belt and then—

And then she was in the air. She was flying. She could see the same red and blue and purple out of the corner of her eye, but wherever she was looking things were just clear. There was dampness and a little rain in the air – Evergreen City, right? Rain was a given – but she only felt the occasional drop. And flying… flying was like she’d been doing it all her life. She went where she wanted to go – she thought about it and then she was going that way!

“How is this possible?” she shouted over to the Artifact, who had given her a couple of minutes to get her air legs before he turned in the air and started flying towards the Evergreen Spire.

“No need to shout,” the Artifact said, and it was like he was two feet from her, his voice clear, with no sound of the air rushing past to distract it. “The Artifact evolves over time. As I get better using it, I can expand its uses. It’s easy to segment off bits and pieces. You won’t be able to fly more than a couple hundred yards away from me, but within that bubble you’ll be fine.”

“What if I crash?” Em asked, still a bit loud.

“You won’t.”

And she didn’t. Instead, she darted and dove and flew. “This is amazing,” she murmured, sweeping down closer to the tops of the brownstones and the treetops in the part near the Evergreen Spire.

“It is,” the Artifact answered. “You never stop feeling that way.

“Julie must have loved this!”

“She did.” His voice was softer now. Still firm – still that slightly deeper and ever-so-authoritative ‘Artifact’ voice – but with a bit more emotion, maybe. “It was the only part of any of this she did like. Come on. We’re here.”

And they were.

The Evergreen Spire was one of the city’s most recognizable landmarks. Built as part of a World’s Fair in the sixties, it was a topped with a ‘flying saucer’ disk in white and gold – home to a revolving restaurant that Julie had taken Em to once. The top of that ‘saucer’ was maybe a hundred or a hundred and fifty feet in diameter, and that seemed to be where the Artifact was landing.

A man was standing there, standing back-to both of them as Em landed next to the Artifact. She’d expected the Artifact to reclaim her flying belt, but he didn’t bother. He just walked over towards the man.

Em recognized him. He was in yellow and black leather or pleather or something, with a quiver of arrows along his back. His arms were mostly bare and were huge, like a He-Man action figure come to life.

“Broadhead,” the Artifact said, coolly.

“Hey Art. This city sucks. Did I ever tell you that?”

“Constantly. Why are you here?”

“Why else? Beacon sent out the word you weren’t taking phone calls. So, fine. I don’t need a phone, right? I’m glad you showed up after you saw the signal – my next trick was going to be shooting an arrow through your window with a tin can and string tied to it.” He turned, glancing at Emily and looking her up and down. “Wow. That’s some fast rebound.”

“Don’t, Rod. Just don’t. This is Emily Smith. Julia Kelly’s sister.”

“Yeah, I figured that out. Man. Bagging the sister the night of her funeral? Points for style but even I think that’s crass.”

“Jesus, it’s true,” Emily said. “You really are an asshole.”

Broadhead half-smiled, looking sidelong at Em. “See? And here Julie always said you were the stupid sister. I always figured she was blowing smoke. Condolences, by the way. Julie was better than most, which isn’t a high bar to clear but still.”

“Rod—”

“The fuck do you mean you’re not taking phone calls,” Broadhead said, turning to face the Artifact. “Huh? Who the fuck do you think you are?”

“I don’t have to justify myself to you. Not tonight.”

“See, your problem is you think you do have to justify yourself most nights. Maybe this is a good sign. So. Who all called? I know you talked to Pinky and the Stiff at the funeral. Beacon said she spoke to you. Who else?”

“The Mariner, Temple, and Nightstick.”

“Jesus, Nightstick? They must really be shitting their pants. So you gonna quit or what? Can I call dibs if you do?”

“Do you consider yourself completely average in every way?” Artifact asked, walking to the edge of the sloped roof and looking out over the city.

“Fuck no.”

“Then you aren’t qualified, are you? I don’t appreciate this, Rod.”

“Of course you don’t. You don’t wanna see me. We both know that. You don’t wanna see me because I’m the only guy you know who won’t bullshit you. Hey, no word from Paragon? Really? Big Blue had better places to be?”

“Barbara gave me his regrets. Off planet.”

“Man, I gotta start using that excuse.” He walked over next to where Artifact was standing. “Jesus Christ, Art. The oven? Pallid Jan cooked her?”

Emily felt a lurch down in her stomach. “Hey!” she snapped. “That’s my sister you’re talking about. I’d appreciate it—”

“Yeah, well – she’d have appreciated more than three calls a year and your snide-ass judgment from high school straight through until the day before she got – what, par-broiled? Was the oven set to bake or what? But we don’t always get what we want, do we?”

Emily’s mouth dropped open. “What… what are you—”

“Rod,” Artifact snapped. “Not tonight.”

“Yes, tonight. Yes, fucking tonight, Art. You think you’re the only one in pain? Julie was worth five of you. If I could I’ve have seduced her away from you years ago, but for some dumbass reason she actually liked you.”

“I wish you’d succeeded. Maybe she’d be alive.”

“Right. Because I’ve got such a great track record there.”

“…you actually knew Julie?”

Broadhead paused at that, turning to look at Emily. She’d walked closer – upset and angry and curious all at the same time. “Of course I fucking knew Julie,” he said. “Why’s that a surprise?”

“You’re the first person out of everyone who’s called who knew her,” the Artifact said. “The first one to actually talk about her instead of—”

“Instead of what? You and that fucking space army knife you call a super power? Let me guess. They’re all so fucking sorry they could just puke, but by the way you’re still going to be in the super heroes intermural basketball league, right? Otherwise, Julie died for nothing? What would Julie want you to do? Huh?” He shook his head. “How close am I?”

“Spot on.”

“Yeah. So tell me something, Artifact. What would Julie want you to do? What did she ever want you to do?”

The Artifact didn’t answer.

“Yeah. That’s what I thought.”

“So… could one of you either give me some Cliff’s Notes over whatever you’re talking about or at least pretend like I’m actually here?” Emily snapped.

“Broadhead will,” the Artifact snapped. “I need some air.” And he dropped off the side. Em’s heart lurched again, but then she saw him coast up into the sky.

“Hey you forgot me!” she shouted after him.

“No he didn’t,” Broadhead said, a little quieter than before. “You’re wearin’ the belt. And he’s pissed at me, but he also doesn’t want to throw me out because I’m the first fucking cape to show up and give two shits about your sister in all this. Besides, we got history.” He looked at Emily. “She fucking worshiped you, you know. All these years later, and she felt like you were the one who got everything right and she was the fuckup. The lady was halfway to being part of a fucking Nobel Prize and she was jealous of you. Frankly, I don’t see it.”

Emily stared at the archer for a long moment. Swarthy complexion. Chaotic black hair. Batwing mask and a sneer and muttonchops into a mustache. “And what do you see?” she asked, finally. “Huh?”

“Honestly? Another fucking New England office manager with a cat, a condo, and a husband in middle management at some other company. You figure you’re deep because you watch police procedurals after the sitcoms are over and you think you’re progressive because you watch In Living Color. If you’d have been cut up into chum and stewed, it’d be horrifying but tomorrow, nothing would change for the planet.” Broadhead looked back out over the site. “Julie being dead? Probably delays Anodyne ten years or more. Tens of thousands of people those smart drugs can help, but they gotta put it off because Pallid Jan’s a sick fuck and Art out there just had to wear tights.”

“So you don’t want him to keep the Artifact? Why are you so pissed at him? And at me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself. I kinda like you, so I’m taking it easy on you. And pissed at Art? I’m not pissed at Art. Art’s pissed at Art. And he has good reason.” Broadhead turned to look at Emily. “And for the record? If it were purely up to me I’d want Art to keep that stupid triple-changer forever. He’s good. He’s good at being a hero. And he doesn’t want to set the world on fire just to see it burn. But it’s not up to me, and everyone’s happier that way, trust me.”

Emily stared at Broadhead. “How did you know Julie again? Through Do– the Artifact?”

“Another thing Julie did better than you? Not half-out a superhero’s secret identity on day one.” Broadhead scoffed. “We had interests in common back in college. She knew my brother better.”

“You have a brother?”

“Had.”

Em opened her mouth. “Oh.”

“Yeah.” He shook his head. “We used to spend a reasonable amount of time appreciating history and the outdoors while getting some All American healthy exercise and bruises.”

“Out—” Em closed her eyes. “Jesus. You’re one of those LARP nerds.”

“Oh please. I have standards. I was an SCA nerd.” He scoffed again. “We did SCA, the CFWR, Renn fests… lots of rehashed Monty Python routines in the car, driving before dawn trying to get to an event. Me? I was a stick jock.”

“A what?”

“Never mind. Doesn’t matter. My brother, Julie, a couple others? They were into the lore and the costumes and all the rest. I liked building shit and beating shit up, along with a mutual female friend of ours. Julie met that Landon fellow I’ve heard so much about but clearly never spent time with because he was in the history department and knew something about how to build a ballista. That was before he won the Space Lottery and became Penknife the Mighty.”

“Yeah. And then…”

“Yeah. And then.” Broadhead rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Julie’s dead. My brother’s dead. That mutual friend’s a third tier down in the Bay Area now – goes by Vermilion. Me, a’course. And the Artifact. And every year the world gets harsher and meaner and the crooks get stronger and there are always more of them and less of us. Fuck no, I don’t want him to quit being the Artifact. But that’s not a good enough reason for him to stay, either. He’s got to decide that, and the Care Bear Bunch having the gall to guilt him over Julie’s death pisses me off as much as it pisses him off, because if they knew her they’d never ask what she’d want him to do.”

Emily looked at Broadhead in the evening gloom. The saucer was reflective enough to keep things illuminated, especially since some low clouds had rolled in along with the rain. His eyes were red. He looked ragged. “So why weren’t you at the funeral?” she asked.

“I was.”

“I think I’d remember you.”

“Yeah, because I suck at this super hero thing that badly. That’s why I’m a norm dick with some pointy sticks and I still managed to join Justice Wing. Jesus Christ, mundanes give me a headache.”

“You sound pretty bitter. Why are you a hero, anyway? You don’t exactly scream ‘altruism’.”

“But I’m so full of love and charm, right?” He snorted. “Why am I a hero? I mentioned my brother. He’s dead.”

“I gathered.”

“Before he died, he was called Arrowhead. I’d ask if you’d heard of him but you haven’t. He’s dead, I’m not, so now I’m Broadhead and I’m the best and that’s how this works. Trust me, I understand the ‘what would your loved one want you to do’ game all too fucking well.”

“Would you have killed Pallid Jan?”

Broadhead paused. “Are you asking if I’m capable of killing her?”

Emily shrugged.

“I’m more than capable. But I wouldn’t kill her in Julie’s name. Julie wouldn’t want that. ‘Sides, it won’t matter. She won’t live to trial.”

Emily blinked. “Why do you say that?”

“Because she fucking killed a DNPC, that’s why!” Broadhead sounded ragged.

“Wait… a what?”

“Never fucking mind. You think Barbara Babcock and Teddy Porter have survived all these years because they have pluck? Or Storm or Delgato or Bierce or any of them? There are lines villains don’t cross because crossing those lines ends badly for them.” Broadhead shook his head. “Sure, they threaten them. Or throw them off things. Or their henches try to kill them. All that’s fine. Even if one of the DNPCs dies, that’s fine. But to show up, hack one to pieces, and throw her in an oven just to freak Artifact before a fight? Even the fucking Jack O’Knaves wouldn’t do that to a dependent, because it escalates things in ways they don’t want. If that became common, then the heroes would stop playing by Marquis of Queensbury rules, and the bad guys don’t want that. They get to keep coming back again and again as long as the heroes still think this is a fucking cartoon. The minute it sinks in that it isn’t? All Hell breaks loose for both sides!”

Broadhead rubbed his eyes. “Right now, the crooks have one shot to pacify us heroes, and that’s for Pallid Jan to be made into an example. She won’t live to trial, and her death won’t be pretty. Calhoun or Fletcher Joan or Anchor or Lucas or fucking Beguile will make sure of that. Or maybe all of them. I don’t know.” He snorted again. “They’re a pack of bastards and murderers who don’t give a shit about the little guy, but they understand the rules. A school full of disabled kids? Sure, blow that up. That’ll make the news. But don’t you fucking dare put a bullet through Babcock’s throat, or else the game’s over and they lose.

“You’re always so cynical.”

Emily looked up. The Artifact was floating there in a corona of quintessence.

“Yeah, because I’m fucking right and I’m not stupid. Get down here. You’re giving me a neckache.”

“You’re extra sweary tonight, too.” The Artifact drifted down, landing behind the pair, who turned to face him. “What happened to ‘we leave the four letter words behind when we put the mask on?’”

“What happened to it? Julie’s dead, that’s what happened to it.” Broadhead rubbed his forehead. “You see Lian at the funeral?”

“Lian?” Emily asked. “I don’t remember a—”

“It’s short for Vermilion. She’s a regional hero who knew Julie. And yes, I saw her. We spoke for a few minutes.”

“Yeah. She’s on the edge again.”

“I know she is. She defined her entire life around vengeance, and Julie used to be her best friend before they fell out.”

“Is that what you did, too?” Emily asked.

The heroes turned to look at Emily. “Which one—” the Artifact said—

“Broadhead.” She nodded towards the archer. “You said you were doing this because your brother was dead. Is this all about vengeance?”

Broadhead snorted. “Fuck, no. Vengeance is stupid. What, you think I saw my brother die and so I sat in a big dark room begging for a sign and then someone shot an arrow through my window?”

Emily blinked. “Excuse me?”

“It’s an old comic book reference. He makes those.” Artifact looked at Broadhead. “So what is it about, then?”

“You know what it’s about. It’s about fulfilling his dream. Honoring his legacy. Shit like that. He wanted this so badly, so now I do it because he can’t.”

“Seriously?” Emily asked. “How long can you let survivor’s guilt drive you into suicidal fights with demigods?”

“In my case, about a month.” Broadhead rubbed the back of his neck, looking down. “It took a while before I got into it, but when I did I found my own reasons to keep going. Lian? She keeps going because she can’t ever fill the void left behind when her unspecified-because-secret-identity loved one died. And now she’s dug a whole new subvoid for Julie. She’s gonna get herself killed.” He looked at Artifact. “Fortunately, she has an old friend who can make it down to the Bay Area in like ten minutes if she needs someone to pull her back. Unless, y’know, she doesn’t have that friend past today.”

“That can’t be why I keep the Consanguineous Assay,” Artifact said.

“Yeah? What about vengeance?” Broadhead wasn’t looking up.

“Pallid Jan’s already in prison.”

“Yeah, but vengeance against all crime. You and Lian can be blood oath buddies.”

“Vengeance hasn’t exactly made Lian’s life any easier. Or Nightstick’s, now that I think about it.”

“Nightstick – Nightstick does this for revenge?” Emily asked.

“It’s how he got started,” the Artifact said. “It’s… surprisingly common.”

“Yup. Gets a lot of newb heroes killed or arrested or worse.” Broadhead scoffed. “Eternal wars on crime are fucking idiotic. Vigilantes even further outside the law then me and Corkscrew over here are fucking idiotic.” He shook his head. “So. We covered peer pressure and we covered vengeance. That brings us back around to me and Arrowhead. Honoring the legacy and all that fucking shit. Is that your reason to keep going? Because it sure sounds like Beacon and the Wingers want it to be.”

“Julie wasn’t your brother.”

“No, she wasn’t.” Broadhead finally lifted his head, looking at Artifact. “So what would Julie want, Art?”

The Artifact didn’t answer.

“Yeah. Exactly. Okay you two. I’ve said my piece. Got to catch a wave-port back home. Christ only knows what my sidekick’s done to the place while I’ve been away. Probably had a huge kegger in the Bowyery and all kinds of hijinks.”

“Crosspointe dumped you years ago, Rod.”

“Well, sure. So that kegger’s probably epic, right?” Broadhead slid out a hand unit, snapping it forward and deploying vanes as it unfolded into a surprisingly high tech bow. He drew an arrow out of his back quiver and leaned down, hooking it to the edge of the saucer. When he lifted it back up, a line extended out from its fletchings, connected to the hook.

“Hey, Rod?”

“Yo?” Broadhead looked back over his shoulder even as he nocked the arrow.

“Thanks for coming out. And… thanks for not…”

“Bullshitting you? I only do that when you’re in a good mood, right? I got your back, pal.” He paused. “No matter what you do.”

“I know.”

Broadhead nodded, then turned and fired – the arrow sailing off and the line trailing behind it. He then dropped off the edge of the saucer, hooking the outside of his bow onto the line in one fluid move and riding it down like a zip line.

The Artifact watched the archer slide down into Evergreen Center Park.

“You’re right,” Emily said. “He is a monumental asshole.”

“He really is.”

“Was Arrowhead like that?”

The Artifact snorted. “No. Arrowhead was everything you’d hope a super hero would be. Dedicated, idealistic, compassionate… Broadhead was the engineer. Arrowhead was the trick-shot specialist and true believer.”

“What happened to him?”

“His third night out he had his first firefight with actual crooks. Gangster types. He panicked. They didn’t. By the time Broadhead reached him he was already dead.” The Artifact’s voice was flat, the way Landon’s voice had been earlier that night.

“…oh God.”

“That’s the thing. Arrowhead was wonderful. He was everything you’d want a hero to be. But he wasn’t a hero. He didn’t… he couldn’t make the transition from dreamer to doer. The moment you realize it isn’t a game and they are in fact trying to kill you… a lot of rookies learn the hard way that they’re not cut out for this.”

“And Broadhead?”

“Is absolutely the last person you’d want to be a hero. He’s not putting on an act. He’s legitimately that unpleasant. But a year and a half ago, when I was helping Justice Wing fight Uranus the Titan? Freya, Paragon, and the Centurion had all been put down hard. I was on defense and losing badly. And Broadhead… this complete prosahuman with the attitude and the smartass jokes and the unerring ability to find your sore spot and jab it? Taunted the ancient Titan into going after him instead of finishing off the rest of us, and then put two fire extinguisher arrows right into Uranus’s eyes. Let him scream and fumble around and clear his vision and gave the rest of us a chance to regroup and recover.” The Artifact looked at Emily. “He’s an asshole. He always was. He once gave me a black eye over a bad grade, long before all of this. And he’s maybe the man I most want at my back when things get hard.”

“And he’s the one who actually showed up to talk to you,” Emily said.

“Some of the others showed up. Remember meeting Jayce at the funeral? But… it’s different.”

“Because he knew Julie.” Emily nodded. “He really does want you to keep the Artifact.”

“I know he does. He wouldn’t have needled me about Vermilion if he didn’t.”

“But the way he talked to you… it sounded like he didn’t. Like he—”

“He wants me to keep the Artifact. To keep the job. But more than that, he wants to back my play, whatever it is. And he’s as offended as I am when people ask me what Julia would want.” The Artifact thought for a second. “Also, he’s an asshole and that was the best way to annoy me.”

“Yeah. So… what would Julia want? What did she want?”

The Artifact looked at Emily. “She wanted me to quit. Come on. We should fly to Dick’s for a burger or something.”

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1 thought on “⎇001JW Halcyon Days: Motivation #2”

  1. Broadhead is a hugely monumental asshole. But I have to wonder if at least part of that is defensive, a way to keep from letting anyone get close enough to hurt him again.

    I mean, I think he’s probably an asshole regardless, but that degree of shit takes some active working at it.

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