Free bonus chapter! This is a chapter set within Justice Wing: Plan, Prototype, Produce, Perfect that didn’t end up in the book proper but is both canonical and, more to the point, free for people to read! Set within the Emergence Era, we see our heroes Broadhead and Quiver – aka Dale Dodson and City Thatcher – coming in after an average night’s crimefighting….
Author’s Note – One of the narrative elements of the novel involves the appropriateness vs. inappropriateness of the banter between Broadhead and Quiver as well as its long term effects. Some elements of this banter may disturb some readers.
Emergence Era: Year 7
The Dodson Estate
Gateway City, MO
The Van slid in through the hidden garage door, popping open only after it parked and rotated on its platform for easy movement out.
Broadhead stormed out of the driver’s side, slamming the door. “I’m sorry, what part of do not under any circumstances follow me again didn’t you understand, Quiver?”
Quiver popped out of the passenger’s side, grinning. She was in the yellow and red tunic uniform he’d made her – armored black tights with a tunic that could double as a skater dress on top in paneled yellow and red. He’d balked at the red bits – too close to Arrowhead for his tastes – but she’d insisted. But then, he’d only made her the damn thing after the first night she snuck out. That time she’d been in grey workout gear. Broadhead had been mad, but not “let her sneak out in something less than bulletproof” mad. “Aw, come on! I totally saved your butt, Rod. You know it!”
“You know it, Rod. That ambush? Don’t you tell me you saw it coming. One net, and no thugs!”
“One net. Two line arrows. A flashbulb. A net-taser. And a tear gas arrow,” he snapped. “Too expensive, Flat-chest. Too expensive.” He stormed into the actual workshop area of the workshop, and began unloading gear into the intake box.
“Too expensive, the man says. I thought you were loaded – and you make all this shit–”
“Whatever!” She pulled her domino-lensed mask off and dropped it into her own intake box. “You make this stuff yourself, in this room! I know for a fact it doesn’t cost that much!”
“It costs a ton. Don’t you know how research and development works, Fartmuncher? Have I been that terrible a boss?”
“You want me to answer that? Because I will totally answer that.” She shook her head. “And for the record, I know a lot about how research and development works. Especially when I know that you did all the research and development.”
“Hey, sometimes I buy something off of Temple Electronics. And I got one thing from Colin Church. I promise you he charged me.” He shook his head. “Okay. Get everything into intake, including the quiver in the slot for weight, get changed and meet me out back.”
“What, you’re not going to scream at me some more over saving your life?”
“I’m totally going to scream at you for breaking the rule and following me, Itty Bitty City. But right now it’s more important you learn the economics of what we’re doing and why it doesn’t matter whether I do it all myself.”
“But I did save your life!”
“You saved me from something. I admit this. Whether I’d be dead or not we’ll never know. And guess what? That’s no excuse for breaking the rule. If I get killed doing this, the universe won’t care one bit. If you get killed following me the universe will collapse in on itself until all life everywhere is destroyed. Is that clear?”
Broadhead rolled his eyes, slapping the blue button. A privacy screen popped between them. “White tights!” he shouted.
“I know the drill! Why do we even–”
“They make it easier to check for weird temperature changes or topological shifts. That way I can more easily figure out if you have internal bleeding or where the bruises you won’t admit to are lurking.”
“You could just look at me.”
“Yeah, because you know what’s smart? A rich guy having his fourteen year old prepubescent employee strip naked in front of him. If you want all my money, just say so. We’ll work out a payment plan.”
“I’m not prepubescent, sleaze.”
“Hey, take it up with Freya. She’s a fertility goddess, right? She probably has a decent rack sitting out back in the warehouse.”
“You know, the Amazons used to remove a breast to facilitate archery. Why would I even want bigger breasts? Besides you being a sleaze, I mean.”
“That particular bit of the myth wasn’t part of the original. Greek art always depicted Amazons fully chested, though sometimes they covered one because they didn’t want it to get hit with a bowstring. It was a Roman who decided that meant they lopped off their starboard tit.”
“Dissy says that all the myths are true, even when they’re wrong.”
“Yeah, well, she’s a statue and she’s okay with being nicknamed Dizzy, so– hey, what’s your nickname, anyway?”
“Nonyah? What kind of– oh, gotcha.”
“Nonyah business,” the pair said in unison. “Right,” City added, “I’m in the tube sock.”
“Cool.” He stepped out. He was wearing a black version of the same. It was an elastomer mesh fabric with a sensor thread as part of the weave. “Go do the locker room two step at the medico and come back so I can teach you a few things about the economics of billionaire superheroing.”
“You know I’m never gonna be a billionaire, right?”
“Hey, start planning the lawsuit now, Fartmuncher. You can get me on everything from endangerment to hostile workplace. Even if we settle you can get out of this with ten figures.” He looked her over. “Out. Come back in a sweatshirt and pants but leave the thing on under it.”
“I’ll have gotten a reading.”
“And in an hour we’ll get another one, because sometimes it takes time. I’m not sure why you think you can break the rule and follow me and then forget we don’t take chances when we get back.”
City rolled her eyes but stormed out. Dale shook his head and walked over to his computer. He booted it up, then opened up his spreadsheets. He turned on the secondary monitor, and got it doing inventory on his quiver and gear in the intake. City’s didn’t have it itemized yet – because she wasn’t supposed to be doing this, but the gear-lock kept a weight so he could estimate and double check her numbers in case she forgot something.
About four minutes later, City walked back in. She dropped a bottle of water and a bottle of sport drink next to Dale, who nodded with a slight smile. Hydration was crucial as part of the post-game. “Okay. So. Here we have a spreadsheet.”
“Ooo… congratulations. You are officially the last human being on Earth to still use Lotus 1-2-3.”
“Hey! Lotus 1-2-3 will never die. Don’t distract me. Here we have a breakdown of all our different arrows. You will notice two columns next to that breakdown. One is for you, and one is for me. And next to them, a column of zeros.”
“I do, in fact, notice that.”
“Now. Glancing at my inventory, I can see that I shot three garden-varieties.” The garden varieties were standard broadhead arrows – tri-blade, carbon fiber. “Putting the number three in my column next to garden-variety we get…” he waited for her to answer.
“One hundred and seventy one dollars? You pay fifty-seven dollars apiece for standard broadhead arrows? You shouldn’t be giving me the economics lesson. I should be giving one to you.”
“First off, the stuff we use we don’t buy at bulk at Cabala’s. Second, shut up. Let’s see. I used six line arrows all told – the line arrows are what kills us, ‘cause they’re among the most expensive to stamp out in the pantograph and the design keeps needing revision.” He punched in a 6, and the total came up.
“Don’t forget I used–” she blinked. “Eighty one hundred bucks?”
“It’s the ascenders. We went way beyond using basic Hyneman ascenders a long time ago – they’re too bulky for the head, and when we scale them down they don’t have enough battery or torque to lift us up.”
“And it costs us that much to replace them?”
“What do you mean retail – you do the work yourself. You’re buying them from yourself.”
“Wrong. I do the work myself. I’m not buying them from myself. Shall I go on?”
City frowned. “Okay,” she said, sounding dubious.
“Heavy broadheads! I used two of those. Took down a motorcycle and a van.” He punched in the number. “Three-ten for those.”
“That can’t be–”
“City? For the love of all that is Holy? Please stop interrupting me to tell me how much the arrows I make and pay for can’t possibly cost what I’m saying they cost? Your objection is noted. Let’s move on.”
“It’s okay, Fartmuncher. Right. Let’s see. Three strike-boffers for $615. I freely admit it’s better to just use stunners most of the time but I gotta admit, it’s fun to punch a dude from sixty yards back.”
“No argument here.” She still looked like she had sticker shock. Well, Broadhead figured she probably did.
“One net-contain – that’s just the net and constriction, no zappy zap. That’s six-thirty-five. Four net-tasers which gives me three thousand and twenty. Now, that sounds pretty pricy, I admit, but given the net-taser knocks out at the same time it holds? That’s worth an extra hundred and twenty per shot.”
“…I used to be so psyched when I could afford Dinty Moore stew…” City murmured.
Dale paused. “Believe it or not, that’s actually the point, Fartmuncher.”
“Moving on. Nine, count-em, nine stunners. They’re my go to. I use them too much, honestly, but I really like one shot and they’re out for a while. That’s four thousand and fifty.I didn’t use any flash bangs but you did so we’ll cover that in a bit. No concussions or boomers. No fire extinguishers or tear gas – oo! I did shoot a sleepytime. I don’t think you were there yet. It was sweet. Got it through the open window of their van. Filled the thing up. Ba-boom. Had to make sure the doors were open just so I knew they’d have fresh air to breathe after. That’s four hundred fifty. Three sky-eyes, which comes to eleven-twenty-five. Always worth the money. Intel’s invaluable. I need to do a revision pass on those pretty soon even if that jacks the cost back up.”
“Anyway! That’s my total. Eighteen thousand, four hundred and seventy-six bucks. Not counting incidentals, wear and tear on the bow, stuff like that.”
“…you can’t tell me the materials cost anywhere near that much,” City said. “I just don’t believe it.”
“They don’t.” Dale paused again. “And this doesn’t actually factor in cost of materials. Those numbers get plugged into a different spreadsheet.”
“…okay, now I’m really confused.”
“That’s why we learn, Fartmuncher. Okay! Now, it’s time for our friend Quiver! First off! Before anything else? I have to pay a fine.”
“Yup! Child endangerment.” He entered a 1 in the row that was marked QSOF. In other words? Quiver-Snuck-Out-Fine.
City blinked. “Fifty thousand dollars?!”
“Fifty thousand dollars,” Dale said. “I want you to think about that. Every time – every time – you break the rule and follow me out, I’m paying fifty grand for that privilege. Imagine if you were cute.”
“Shut up. Dale… who would you even pay this to–”
“But! Let’s get back to the count. Two line arrows, bringing our line arrow cost for the night to a cool ten thousand, eight hundred dollars! One flashbang! That’s two hundred and fifty-five bucks. A net-taser which brings those to three thousand, seven hundred and seventy-five. And you know? Whatever you saved with that thing? You saved me, and I will gladly pay seven hundred and fifty five extra bucks for that.” His voice dropped. “I do appreciate it, City. I do. But I’m pissed because you shouldn’t be out there. When you’re eighteen, we’ll start – start – doing ridealongs. And I know you and the Junior Justice Wingers get into stuff, but I can’t stop that. I can stop this.”
“You need me.”
“I need you alive.” He shook his head. “Back to numbers. Tear gas arrow! Always a favorite, and by favorite I mean it’s just shy of being torture so next time shoot a sleepytime unless we need a block of people awake and incapacitated. This isn’t Greystone and I’m not Nightstick. That’s two hundred and ninety five bucks total, and that means that on the evening, before the Quiver-Sneaks-Out-Fine, we’re looking at twenty-two thousand four hundred and eighty one bucks in arrows tonight. After the fine, that jumps to – drum roll please – seventy-two thousand, four hundred and eighty-one dollars! Think of how much we’d have to pay if we hit drive thru on the way home.”
“…I don’t… Dale, I know you’re being infuriating, but you gotta tell me. Who do you pay this too? Especially if it doesn’t count the cost of materials? You make the arrows.”
“That’s what I’ve been building up to, Itty Bitty City. See, if you strip away all the masks and theater, what we’re–” he paused. “Wait a sec.”
He turned, looking at the side monitor. “Your quiver weight’s off. Did I miss something? You’re at least one, maybe two arrows shy in your count? A couple strike boffers?”
City looked down, then to the side. “I… I don’t think so. I mean….”
Dale stared at City. “City, what did you shoot?”
“…look, our job’s to beat the bad guys, right? That’s… that’s the real–”
Dale pushed up out of his chair and stormed over towards the intake boxes.
“–Dale? Dale, remember, I did save your life. I didn’t–”
Dale reached her quiver and began going through the arrows. “…nope… still there… still there… still–” He paused. And stared.
“City?” Dale asked, very quietly. “Did you shoot an EMP arrow tonight?”
“…well, see, there was that other van – and I stopped it. You saw me stop it, and… you know… it’s just so cool, I mean all the fuses blow and the wiring fries and they just… kind of coast to… a–”
Dale turned, staring.
“…Dale, look. I didn’t even know you paid anyone for these, and I know you said that was an emergency-only arrow but they were getting away and–”
“Of the three vans, I put one down with a four-hundred-fifty dollar sleepytime, and one down by putting a heavy broadhead – unit cost one hundred and fifty five dollars – into its tire. And you took down the third with an EMP?”
Dale stared at City, then slowly walked over to the computer. He sat back down in the chair.
“Come here, City,” he said. “Come on. We’re still teaching you economics.”
City walked over, shrinking in on herself.
“You saw I didn’t change anything when I sat down just now, right? You saw that I’m not doing anything weird to teach you a lesson, right?”
Dale reached over, and put a 1 in Quiver’s column in the EMP arrow row. The numbers incremented up.
City’s eyes widened.
Dale didn’t say anything.
“Eighty seven thousand dollars?” City squeaked. She literally squeaked.
“Eighty seven thousand, five hundred dollars,” Dale said, quietly. “With the Quiver-Snuck-Out fine? We are officially looking at a hundred and fifty nine thousand, nine hundred and eighty one dollars on the evening.”
“You know how prescription drugs cost like pennies to manufacture?” Dale asked. “But for the first several years they cost hundreds of dollars at the pharmacy?”
“I won’t pretend greed and price gouging don’t exist, because obviously they do. But City… what that’s supposed to pay for is the research that went into that. I’ve spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an EMP arrow. Honestly, it’s still not done. So it’s going to be a long time before those pay for themselves at retail.”
“I… I… who are you paying?” she asked, tears in her voice.
Dale snorted. “You said it yourself. Remember how you said getting the cash for tinned stew was a banner day?”
City didn’t say anything.
“Answer me!” Dale snapped.
“I remember! I… I remember.”
“Good.” He clicked over to a different spreadsheet. “You see this sheet?”
City did. She blinked.
Charities. All local. Soup kitchens. Crisis centers. Education initiatives in the worst parts of town. Each with a number next to them.
“What… what is that?” City whispered.
“The retailers,” Dale said. “City, I have more money than any one human has any right to have. And what do I do with it? I spend massive amounts on developing idiotic arrowheads that I shoot at criminals. And way too many of those criminals? Are poor. Or minorities. Or people just trying to get by. There is absolutely nothing heroic about that. It is the most selfish, most asinine way I could waste cash imaginable. It’s literally hunting the lower class for sport, no matter how we justify it.”
He shook his head. “Some of the most disgusting people on Earth love to fly to Africa and kill lions. Not as some grand hunt. Not like the Maasai did it for generations, armed with a spear and the need to prove they were truly worthy to be an adult. No, they do it because they want a fucking head on their wall and to claim they’re better than an apex predator whose whole life is spent sitting on a rock protecting their pride. And the governments that allow it? They allow it. Because those fucking rich Europeans and Americans pay through the nose for a license, and those fees go to wildlife preserves that keep endangered species alive!” He snorted. “Assuming they’re not lying, but that’s the principle. Hey, sure. A few lions die, but that means the Cheetah doesn’t go extinct.”
He looked at the spreadsheet. “So I keep count. Every time I fire an arrow. Every time. I make a note. And once a month I figure out my bill and I pay it. Money to the people who need it, to the groups actually doing something about it. All anonymous. Not one penny of it claimed on taxes whether I could or not, because then I’m just robbing someone else to fund my fucking blood sport. You gawked at the fifty-seven bucks for a garden variety arrow? In bulk I get those for ten, but I’m paying to feed kids.”
He shook his head. “When I develop a new arrowhead, I keep track of the cost, and I amortize it just like any other company paying for its research and development and making a profit over time, but I don’t pay me. I pay them.” He snorted again. “We all talk such a big game about how we fight crime and make the streets safe, but no arrow I could ever shoot will take down the cause of the crime, because the cause is poverty and lack of opportunity. It’s crumbling schools and gangs patrolling the streets because they’re the only ones actually trying to keep order for the people who live there. So I pay for the privilege of being a fucking privileged rich white guy playing fucking Captain Prestige all day!”
City swallowed. “I… I’ll–”
“Don’t,” Dale snapped. “I know the next words out of your mouth. You say them a lot. Don’t you fucking dare tell me you’ll pay me back. Because you never will, City. I will never accept one red cent for any arrow you shoot. Those are my costs. Just like you breaking the rules and sneaking out is a fucking fine I pay. Because none of this bullshit’s going to make real change – sure, maybe Sutter will go down. Maybe we’ll take down Fletcher Joan and someone will live. Fine. Great. But none of that will keep some other thirteen year old living off ramen by herself for five years from dying of malnutrition because she wasn’t lucky enough to impress some fucking rich parasite with liberal guilt.” He stabbed his finger at the spreadsheet. “This might. So this is the price I pay. This is the deal, City. I get to put that suit on and ride around on my electric bike and shoot arrows I spent more money than ten average teachers’ yearly salaries developing at people who have twelve dollars to their name because I pay my fucking hunting license. It won’t keep me out of Hell, but maybe it’ll keep the next City Thatcher out of jail, or prostitution, or a fucking pine box.”
City was trembling, staring at him.
“I told my brother. I told Doug. This isn’t a game. This isn’t a fantasy. This isn’t cops and robbers. This is real life, and the people we fight? They have families and rent and health care costs like everyone else. And I have no right to play with them like a fucking cat with a mouse. But I do it anyway. And I’m going to go on doing it. And I’m going to pretend like I’m being some great fucking hero. And the deal is? I pay for that. Each and every time.”
“…so why the fine? That’s… that’s not–”
“Why the fine? Why do I tack on fifty thousand dollars every time you sneak out after me?” Dale’s eyes narrowed. “Because if I were doing my job right, you wouldn’t be sneaking out, City. You’re not my sidekick. And I don’t retain child soldiers for some mythical war on crime. I pay fifty grand each time because I failed, and honestly? It’s not nearly enough. And the day you get killed because I failed at that? No fine on the planet will bring you back.”
“I’m the one who chooses to do it,” she whispered.
“You are fourteen years old, City. You don’t have the right to make that choice. And I’m not your father. I’m your mentor and your boss. But in the eyes of the law I’m your legal guardian and I have the legal obligation to stop you from doing it!” He lifted his arms helplessly. “But I can’t call anyone! No one from Child Protective Services is gonna come. They didn’t find you when you were alone. I promise you none of them’s going to try and fuck with the richest man in Gateway City even though they should. And I’m clearly too much of a coward or a dick to quit this gig, so what else can I do? What else can I do? I pay a fine and pretend like it makes my failure to protect you okay.”
City was trembling more now. “…so what… what now?”
“Now?” Dale stared at her. “What’s next on the checklist, Quiver?”
City swallowed. “Check our medical reports, then maintain our gear.”
“Right. That’s what’s next.”
“…aren’t… what’s… what’s…”
“What? Are you waiting for your punishment?”
City trembled more, and nodded.
Dale looked at her.
“I’m not your father,” he said, softly. “And you’re not my daughter, and I’m not going to punish you like a child. Will we adjust training? Yes. Will you not like it? I doubt you will. But you want some kind of penance to pay? All right. Here it is. This weekend, you and the sidekicks. You’re doing that camporee?”
“They’re calling it an outward bound.”
“I bet they are. Better let them know you don’t have time, City. Because you and me? We’re going to be on Mercer and Twenty-Fourth. The soup kitchen. Six am to eleven pm Saturday and Sunday. I’m going to be in disguise. You are not. We’re going to be there with ladles and smiles and feed as many people as we possibly can. I’m paying retail to them, but that weekend we volunteer to help. For two days, you get to be an honest to God hero instead of whatever the fuck I’m teaching you to be. You should be happy.”
“…they… that’s my old neighborhood. I might be recognized.”
City closed her eyes, then nodded. “Okay.”
Dale turned back to the system, closing the spreadsheet and bringing up another system.
“Why you? Why not just me?”
“Because this is my responsibility, City. And I know you have no reason to even like me, and I have no argument with that, but that means I need to be right there next to you. And I’ll be in disguise not because I get to be anonymous, but because I don’t want anyone recognizing me and saying ‘gosh, what a great guy Dale Dodson is. All that money and he works a soup kitchen.’”
City closed her eyes.
Dale turned, looking at the medical report. “…City? Abnormalities in your hip, shoulder blade, and left leg. Did you fall or did someone get close enough to hit you?”
“…it was no big deal. Tangled up before I reached you. It–”
“Okay. I’m putting down a new line item. Not this time. But next time. If you ever fail to disclose any point where you took an impact of any sort, physical, mental or other, and I find out? My fine is a cool two point five million dollars. And you know what? I can’t actually afford to do that very often. I don’t keep that much liquidity and disrupting my investments disrupts the money we need to keep doing this at all. Clear?”
“Clear,” she whispered. “So how do I pay you back?”
“For any of this? You don’t, City. You can’t. Ever. I know you and your obsession with that kind of debt. Welp. This one you literally can’t ever pay back. So I guess it’s a sin on your soul instead. But that’s okay. My failure’s way worse than that. Okay. Back to the locker room. We’ll take a second read and see if there’s any sign of blood spotting on the white. I’ll take a scan of myself. If there’s a sign of shift we’ll track a third in half an hour, and if it shifts again in any direction other than normal it’s the Jump-jet to the Volary and a medical consult. While we wait, we’ll maintain our gear and I’ll correct your English homework.”
“Okay.” She closed her eyes. “Okay.”
“You absolutely saved me from a beatdown with that net-taser no matter what. That flashbulb was the perfect choice when you used it. And the tear gas was the wrong choice but if that had been a sleepytime the placement was perfect for max effect. You did good work, and it would be wrong not to tell you that. You will be better than I am. That’s true.” He looked at her. “And it pisses me off that I can’t be enthusiastic about any of that.”
“And you’ve never once believed me when I complimented you. But I’m amazingly pissed at you right now. No. Now, I’m angry at you. And I’m still saying it. So fucking believe me when I say it. You’re good, and you will be great. Unless you get yourself killed, and if you do that will destroy my life. We clear?”
Her eyes opened. “…we’re clear.” She swallowed.
“Good. Medico. Let’s go.”
Want to see more Broadhead or Crosspointe? Want to see where this partnership goes? Want to see how they got there in the first place? Justice Wing: Plan, Prototype, Produce, Perfect is currently available on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.