Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Halcyon Days: Motivation #5

This entry is part 5 of 6 in the series Motivation

“Julie taught me to sew,” Daniels said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?” Emily asked, blinking.

“Julie.” The assistant was blushing, now. “She… I tore my coat down in the canteen and she saw, and said that it was just a seam rip, and told me to wait a sec. And she ran up to her office and grabbed a sewing kit she had up there and brought it down. And… I told her it was no big deal but she said that this would be simple, and she showed me how to fix it. She let me keep the sewing kit – she said she had more than one anyway.” Marilee looked like she could cry at any moment. “I… I just thought you should know. I don’t even know why I mentioned it.”


In the years since the first public emergence of parahumans, super heroes are at the peak of popularity. These are Justice Wing’s Halcyon Days.
In Evergreen City, a software engineer named Julia Kelly was murdered as part of a battle between Landon Moore – aka the Artifact – and his villainous nemesis Pallid Jan. Now Landon and Julia’s sister Emily Smith wrestle with the fallout of Julia’s death and the fact that heroes, the media, and the public care more about how Julia’s death affect the Artifact’s motivation than about her life and legacy. Justice Wing – the greatest heroes Earth had ever known – keep contacting Landon in hopes of convincing him to use Julia’s death as a motivation to keep fighting crime. Two of Landon and Julia’s college friends – both heroes – showed up as well. The first, Broadhead, himself had used his brother’s death as his motivation for being a hero, to honor his legacy. The second, Vermilion, used her fiance’s death as fuel for her violent, nihilistic vigilante war against crime. Neither wanted Landon to follow in their footsteps even though though Broadhead wanted him to continue and Vermilion was convinced there was no way to quit. Landon himself had to wrestle with a third factor: from his very first day as the Artifact, Julia had wanted him to quit. Now Em and Landon were on their way to Julia’s former workplace to settle her affairs and remember Julia’s life instead of her death.

Motivation

Part Five

Evergreen City, Washington

The lobby was wide and well lit, like a good high tech company and stock market darling’s lobby should be. There was a security desk with a security guard, and Emily braced herself for the hopefully-bored but possibly suspicious questions and checks before they could go in. Instead, he looked up and then stood up, looking almost stricken. “Doctor Moore,” he said. “I’m so sorry. How’re you holding up?”

“Day by day, Red. Day by day.” Landon sighed, signing in. “This is Emily Smith. She’s Julie’s sister.”

The guard looked like he was about to tear up. “Oh I’m glad to meet you. I’m so sorry, ma’am. Julie… Julie was so special.”

“She was,” Emily said. “She really was. And call me Emily. Or Em.”

“Okay. I’m Red – you need anything at all, you let me know. Here.” He handed out two guest passes with yellow bands on them.

“These are all-access,” Landon said. “Red—”

“You go anywhere you need to go, Doctor Moore. If anyone gives you trouble tell them to come see me. And don’t you worry – I got that instruction from Decker himself.”

Landon smiled, just a bit. Emily could see tears in his eyes, too. “Thanks, Red. We’ll be good.”

“They’re expecting you in Human Resources on three, and I know the Director wants to see you too. And you’re probably going to collect her stuff, right? Mister Young said he’d be on that floor all morning and afternoon, and he’ll help you get into her computer to get her personal files off.”

“Thanks.” Landon shook Red’s hand. “We’ll see you on our way out, right?”

“I’ll be here, Doctor Moore.”

The two got into the elevator, taking it up to three. “Mister Young?” Emily asked, quietly.

“Thayne Young,” Landon said. “He’s the CTO. He was at the funeral.”

“Oh, I met him. He just said he was one of Julie’s coworkers.” Emily shook her head. “I always…”

“You always thought Julie was just sitting in a basement cubicle farm typing code all day?”

Emily flushed. “Yeah.”

The doors opened. “Julie knew that. She got a kick out of it.” Landon stepped out onto the floor, and Emily followed.

A woman in a skirt, coat and blouse was waiting. She was pale, and had almost glassy pink hair, though it was up in a very professional updo. “Doctor Moore? Ms. Kelly?”

“Smith,” Emily said, quietly.

“Right – sorry. Smith. I’m Marilee Daniels. I’m Ms. Giles’s assistant. If you’ll come with me?”

“Of course,” Landon said, following the woman as she turned to lead them through the offices. Emily fell in step, looking around.

It seemed like a lot of people were staring at her, then trying to look natural. There was an air of… shock? That was a good word for it. An air of shock in the open plan area, even though Julie’s death had been a week and a half before, and she hadn’t worked on this floor in the first place.

“Julie taught me to sew,” Daniels said, suddenly.

“Excuse me?” Emily asked, blinking.

“Julie.” The assistant was blushing, now. “She… I tore my coat down in the canteen and she saw, and said that it was just a seam rip, and told me to wait a sec. And she ran up to her office and grabbed a sewing kit she had up there and brought it down. And… I told her it was no big deal but she said that this would be simple, and she showed me how to fix it. She let me keep the sewing kit – she said she had more than one anyway.” Marilee looked like she could cry at any moment. “I… I just thought you should know. I don’t even know why I mentioned it.”

“I… thank… thank you for telling me.” Emily felt herself fall into a memory. “I remember when our father taught us both hand sewing. He loved that stuff. Sewing, patching – he was probably the last man in America to darn socks. I… thank you, Ms. Daniels.”

Daniels brought them into the Human Resources office. There were some people waiting, but she walked past them, so Landon and Emily followed. They walked up to an office door, and Daniels knocked twice, then opened it.

Inside was a conference room, with three people at the end of a conference table. They all stood as Daniels, Emily, and Landon entered. A woman in the center – a bit older, with an olive complexion and an almost golden undertone set off by unnaturally red hair, smiled. “Doctor Moore, it’s good to see you. And you must be Emily. Hello. I’m Jimena Giles, and I’m the Head of Human Resources for the Anodyne Pharmaceuticals home office here on Ordway Island. This is Matthew Johns, our Benefits Manager, and Harrison Robertson from the finance department.”

“Thank you, Ms. Giles,” Emily said. “We… we appreciate all your help.”

“We’re happy to do what we can,” Giles said. “Julie was… Julie was very important to all of us. Not just as a truly gifted programmer, but as a person. And I know how unpleasant it is to work out final accounting and make sure benefits are properly paid and applied.”

“I still can’t believe it,” Robertson said. “I keep… I keep expecting to find out it’s not real. That it was all some kind of… dream, I guess.” He shook his head. “But we all have to wake up, I suppose.”

“We’re thankful for everything,” Landon said.

They were efficient, and had most of the paperwork already sorted, but it still took several hours to go through everything. Emily was startled at how much money her sister made at Anodyne, and how extensive her benefits were, not to mention stock options, insurance… so many details, and this was just financial. Still, it was past noon, when Giles finally nodded, and papers were put in folders, and checks were scheduled to be issued and sent to the right people. At that point, Marilee Daniels showed back up to escort them to the top floor, where the Director was going to meet with them.

Emily would have been just as happy to go and get lunch at that point, but Landon just nodded and followed Daniels, so she went with them. Her head was ringing – in one sense, this all made Julie’s death so much more real, and in another sense it was so unreal. Her little sister. The nerd. The outcast who pretended to be an elf in the basement and spent her Prom night watching horror movies with ‘the gang.’ Emily tried to figure out how her company would react if she were suddenly killed. They’d probably post a note on the break room billboard or something.

Landon looked like he was having trouble holding it together. “Hey,” she murmured. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” he muttered. “We should have had the funeral here.”

“I don’t think they’re zoned for that.”

Landon snorted. “Maybe not.”

Daniels led them through the top floor – it was quieter up here. This was the floor where the executives worked, after all. The top level. But there was still… a chastened feeling, it seemed. Emily wasn’t sure if she was making it up, but it looked like most of the employees up here were just as downbeat as they were on three.

Daniels was met in the Director’s outer office by his assistant. She didn’t identify herself. She just nodded and said “this way, please,” and led Landon and Emily to large wooden double doors, which she knocked on and opened. “Sir? Doctor Moore and Ms. Smith are here.”

“Thank you.” The voice was a baritone – the sort that was accustomed to giving orders and having them carried out. Its owner was a heavyset man in his sixties, staring out the window at an impressive view of Lake Washington. A woman in her fifties, tanned with a cool undertone to her skin and prematurely grey hair and wearing a lab coat over a pantsuit was standing next to him.

The assistant withdrew, shutting the door. The pair turned to face Landon and Emily. “Landon,” the man said. “I’m so glad to see you. Ms. Smith… I’m Kingsley Nicholson. This is Doctor Daisy Whitford, our head of research. We wanted a chance to see you. To… to express how deeply we feel over Julia’s…” He trailed off. Emily was just as glad he didn’t finish that sentence.

“Everyone’s been wonderful,” Landon said. “Mister Nicholson… it means so much to us to know how highly Julie was regarded here.”

“It goes beyond that,” Doctor Whitford said. “So much beyond that.” She shook her head. “I had a idea – a theory… that through common principles between the different terrestrial and xenological technologies that had become available in the last few years, plus the resurgence of arcanic rites that could be studied and replicated and the different tools of the divine…”

“I remember when Daisy showed up on my doorstep, ranting about possibilities and miracles,” Nicholson said. “If she’d been anyone else, I’d have called her mad. And after two years of trying to make good on her theories, I was still leaning that way.”

“That’s when… that’s when Julie joined us,” Dr. Whitford said. “We had been using computer modeling and artificial intelligence as a part of our process, but we couldn’t bring the elements together. Julie found common links – found ways to hook that algorithm into each of the disparate elements we were working with. Her work brought all the work we’d done into balance.”

“It’s astounding,” Nicholson said, thickly. “Astounding. Vaccines that can adapt to viruses as quickly as the viruses mutate. Treatments that can hunt down and follow disease wherever it lurks, or adapt to and destroy cancerous cells while encouraging the growth of healthy ones. We were beginning to see the possibility of… how did you put it, Daisy?”

“It started to look like artificial stem cells could be created, programmed, and transformed into whatever a patient needed. What had started as a hope for new vaccines and antibiotics that would adapt as quickly as antibiotic resistant bacteria was leading to… tissue regeneration. Life extension. Who knows where it will all lead.” Daisy picked up a glass of amber liquid from a side table and took a long drink. “God damn it.”

“The work will continue, of course,” Nicholson said. “It has to.”

There was a commotion in the outer office. Landon glanced back, then nodded. “Of course it will, Mister Nicholson. That’s how Julie would want it. She really… she truly loved it here.”

The doors were pushed open, hard, and Marilee Daniels came storming in.

“What the– what are you doing, Ms. Daniels?!” Nicholson demanded.

“The afternoon paper’s just come in,” Daniels said. She was trembling. She dropped a newspaper on the side table. It was the Evergreen Times, and across the front was a tall headline:

“PALLID JAN SLAIN”

Emily’s mouth dropped open. “VILLAIN DECAPITATED IN CONTAINMENT CELL” was written in the subhead below it. Doctor Whitford and Landon both crowded in closer to read.

“There was no sign of forced entry or disruption of the security system,” Doctor Whitford read out loud. “However, sources in the King County Parahuman Containment Facility say that surveillance failed at the time of the fatal attack, leaving guards unprepared, only finding Olsson when dispatched to prepare her for her daily exercise routine. There was also no sign of a struggle. Police would not confirm or deny if the hero known as the Artifact is a suspect or being sought for questioning.”

Nicholson stared at Whitford, then snorted. “Good,” he said, vehemently. “I hope she burns in Hell!”

“This isn’t justice,” Whitford said. “Good God, Kingy! She was a prisoner!”

“People die in prison all the time, Daisy! I’m not going to shed a single tear for—”

Landon rocked back, almost falling over. He was white as a sheet. Emily and Doctor Whitford both moved to support him. “Donny?” Emily said. “Donny, it’s okay – c’mon, let’s sit down.”

“Oh… oh dear Lord of course. I’m sorry,” Nicholson said. “You two haven’t even had lunch. I’ll – please, sit, take all the time you need. I’ll go and see if we can’t get something up here for you. Take all the time you need, son.” The director beat a hasty retreat.

Emily had knelt next to where Landon was sitting, trembling slightly. “God,” he murmured. “Oh God.”

“It’s all right,” Doctor Whitford said, soothingly. “It’s a shock, I know – and after the trauma you’ve already endured… Kingy’s right. We need to get you some food. Both of you. Ms. Smith, will you two be okay on your own? I’ll go get a full medical team.”

“We’ll be fine,” Emily said. “Go ahead. We’ll stay right here.”

The doctor nodded, and headed out those same doors.

Emily and Landon were alone.

“Donny?” Emily asked, quietly.

“You wanted to know,” Landon said, very quietly. “You wanted to know if I wanted her to die in prison. Well, I guess I should have come up with an answer, shouldn’t I?”

“I guess so.” She looked over at the table where the paper was still sitting. “I… I thought I’d feel something. Catharsis. Or justification. But…”

“Julie wouldn’t want this,” Landon muttered. “Julie would never have wanted this.”

“I don’t think they cared about that. Do… does the Artifact need to go see the police?”

“What? Oh. Oh. I don’t… I don’t know. Probably.” He snorted. “At least we’re not suspects. We were here all morning.” He began to shiver.

Emily looked back at Landon, then closed her eyes. “You know what drives me crazy?”

Landon blinked. “What?”

“I hated her. I hated her, Donny. With all my heart. But… but whoever did this? They didn’t do it for Julie or for the Artifact. They did it to send a statement. To change Justice Wing’s motivation. It’s just like what Pallid Jan did to Julie. She wasn’t a person to them – just a means. And… and hearing Vermilion or Broadhead talk about her being killed before she made it to trial… that was… that was almost unreal, but now…”

“It feels like we’re to blame, right? Even you. Because we knew it was a danger and we didn’t stop it. We couldn’t stop it.” He closed his eyes. “I didn’t even want to think about it. And you know what’s worse?”

“What?”

He opened his eyes. “I don’t… I don’t care. I don’t care that she’s dead. I’m not happy or sad. But I’m so pissed off that they’ll tag that to Julie’s name.”

Emily thought for a long moment. “Yeah,” she said. “I… they can think whatever they like. They don’t know Julie. Why should this be any different?” She laughed, bitterly. “Julie, hacked up in an oven. Pallid Jan, head cut off in a cell. Two murders, and neither one had anything to do with either of them. Not really. It was all about other people.”

“You asked me before. Asked me if I’d killed Pallid Jan. And I told you I wanted to, but that I made a promise to Julie.” He closed his eyes. “It was a hard fight. She’d come loaded for bear. It hurt, and I barely noticed. I was so angry, so full of rage and grief. And I had her down. I had her neck in a claw I’d formed out of the Artifact. One squeeze – just one, and her windpipe would be crushed, and I wanted to do that so badly… to let her suffocate in front of me, suffering. But… but I remembered Julie talking about her work. About how all life – all life was precious. So I spared her. I dropped her and let the police come and take her away. That’s the choice I made in Julie’s name, Em. That’s what Julie would want! That! And they took that choice away!” He trembled. “They wouldn’t even let Julie have that!

Emily looked at Landon, falling apart in the chair. She turned then, squatting on the floor, lying back against the chair’s side, and just felt herself go limp. “So what now?” She asked.

“Now? We box up the stuff in Julie’s office and bring it to the self store I rented. And then… I don’t know, Em. I don’t know what then.”

“I vote for getting drunk.”

Landon snorted. “Yeah,” he said. “That sounds like a good idea.”


“–KIRO-TV has confirmed that not just KIRO’s own news staff but all major Evergreen area news outlets and several national news teams received similar anonymous phone calls at 10:42 Pacific time this morning. Each call was substantially identical. The person or persons behind the phone calls claimed to be carrying out Olsson’s so-called execution at the same moment the call was being made. They claimed that Olsson had made agreements with the person or their organization – agreements that Olsson allegedly violated in the horrifying murder of Julia Kelly. In response, the calls claimed responsibility for Olsson’s death, calling it ‘the price of betrayal.’ Sources in both the King County Sheriff’s office and the King County Parahuman Containment Facility have confirmed that Olsson’s death took place at or around 10:40 am Pacific, lending credence to the claim of responsibility. Tom?”

“Are you sure you wouldn’t like a sedative?” Doctor Whitford asked. “I know this must be an incredible shock.”

“Yeah,” Emily said. They were sitting at a table in the canteen, which was on the first sub-level of the building. They called it a canteen but it was really more of a cafeteria. Hot food was being made, snacks and soda and artisanal water was available for the taking, and because they were still in the Greater Metropolitan Evergreen Area there was espresso. All of it was free, of course. The new economy demanded it.

“That monster deserved no better,” some guy was saying at the table behind them. Emily was trying to ignore the ranting around them, but it was hard. After the medics had had a chance to look them over, they’d suggested they go down and get some food. Nicholson had brought a half-full box of doughnuts he’d scrounged from one of the conference rooms so they’d had a little processed sugar, but real food sounded good.

And, truth be told, Kingley Nicholson clearly wanted them all out of his office, even if he didn’t come right out and say it.

“We’re doctors,” some other guy was saying at the table behind them. “Can you look me in the eye and say anyone deserves death?”

“I’m not a doctor, I’m a chemical engineer, and damn right I can look you in the eye! That monster deserved to die, and I’m glad she did!”

“They knew she was under threat,” someone at a table to their right was saying. “They put her in their strongest, best defended cell and someone still marched right in and murdered her. What does that say?”

“You’re assuming a guard didn’t look the other way while it was happening. Besides, don’t you figure it was the Artifact? They say he can do some trick that makes him invisible to cameras and sensors, right?”

“The Artifact had his chance to kill her when he beat her! Why would he break into prison to kill her now?

“The real question is why didn’t he kill her when he had the chance?

“–statement by Justice Wing regarding the death of Janet Olsson,” the newscaster was saying on the television.

“Hang on,” Landon said. “I want to hear that.” He pointed a TV remote at the television, turning the sound up. It took Emily a half-second to realize he had to have shifted the Artifact into the remote, but no one else seemed to notice.

A file photo of the Lieutenant appeared on the screen, with his name and ‘pre-recorded’ on chyron below it. “Justice Wing was aware of the danger, and we were working with the local authorities to try and protect Pallid Jan while she was in containment. It is a tragic fact that sometimes… sometimes we can’t save everyone. We are assisting local law enforcement with their investigation. We would also like to respond to the rumors of the Artifact’s involvement with this crime. Justice Wing has credible evidence that shows the Artifact was nowhere near the facility when the murder took place, and we have shared that evidence with the local authorities.”

“Of course they’d say that,” the death-lover behind Emily said. “He’s one of them. They’re gonna watch out for him, right? Especially since that monster deserved to die, not matter what you say!”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Doctor Whitford said, quietly. “The Artifact’s no vigilante. Not like that.”

“All super heroes are vigilantes,” Landon murmured.

Doctor Whitford frowned. “So you think he was involved?”

Landon snorted, and shook his head. “If they were lying or covering up the Artifact’s involvement, they wouldn’t send the Lieutenant out. He’s not a great liar. Broadhead, maybe. Or Greyfalcon. Even the Beacon. Not the Lieutenant.”

“Oh like you know,” one of the others to the right said, a bit too loudly. “It’s all public relations! He had the motivation, he had the tools to get away with it, he had allies in Justice Wing to help—”

“Maybe you should get going,” Doctor Whitford said, softly.

“Not right now,” Landon said, just as softly. “We need to pack up Julie’s office. And even if we didn’t… are you telling me half the reporters in North America aren’t beating a path to Anodyne’s door even as we speak? If Emily or I step outside, we’ll be swarmed. And I don’t want to talk to the press about death.”

“I can’t believe what you’re saying!” came from behind. “Think about it! What would Julie want?”

Landon stiffened, then stood up. “I have to go to the restroom,” he said, curtly, then turned and retreated.

Doctor Whitford watched him leave, then dropped her face in her hand. “God,” she muttered.

“Yeah. God indeed,” Emily snapped, a bit curtly. “God save us from loud people who think they know what they’re talking about.”

“Hey!” the guy behind them snapped back. “I heard that!”

“Good for you,” Emily yelled back. “Maybe you can stop talking about my sister!”

“Hey, I worked with Julie every day! How often did you even call her, huh?!”

Shawn!” Doctor Whitford snapped. “Get out of here, right now! I want to see you in Jimena Giles’s office in fifteen minutes!”

The guy – Shawn, apparently – looked angry, then grabbed his tray and stormed off to the tray return window. His tablemates ran the gamut from offended by Shawn to horrified to offended for Shawn.

“Idiot,” Doctor Whitford muttered. “Some people just have to be right, no matter how horrible they end up looking.”

There was a buzzing near Emily’s ear – like a black fly or something. “Yeah, well. What else is new. I’m sure that guy knew Julie way better than either me or Donny, right?”

“They didn’t even work in the same department. But Julie was good at making you feel welcome. He’s hurting too, Emily. Which isn’t an excuse.”

“No, it’s not.” Emily swatted at the fly absently. “It’s no excuse at all. I don’t care if he’s hurting. I don’t—”

“Em.”

Emily jumped, looking around.

“What?” Doctor Whitford asked. “What is it?”

“Em, it’s Landon. No one else can hear me. I sent a remote to speak into your ear directly. Make an excuse and come meet me at the elevators.”

Emily shook her head. “Uh… I dunno. Thought I heard someone. Probably the TV or some other conversation. Look, I’m gonna… I need to take a walk. Lemme bus my tray.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Doctor Whitford said. “Go. It’s all right.”

Emily paused, nodded, and got up, walking briskly for the elevators. Fortunately, that ‘Shawn’ was nowhere in sight.

Landon, however, was. “Come on,” he said, tapping his visitor badge to the elevator reader. “Let’s go get Julie’s stuff and get out of here.” He sounded chastened. He sounded defeated.

“Don’t we need… like, Marilee Daniels to escort us?”

“Red gave us all access cards. Seems like a waste not to use them.” The doors opened, and they stepped inside.

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