Mandy Shapiro on the Phone
Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #4

This entry is part 4 of 14 in the series Forebears

“Yeah, well — that’s the world we live in. You pick and choose where you take your stand, and you pick and choose where you compromise. Someone or something terrible’s going to be the backstory of every food, every good, every service — you name it. If you boycott it all, eventually you either starve to death or end up a hermit out in the woods living off the land. But sometimes, you really do have to shake your head and say ‘I’m not gonna buy that guy’s chicken.’”


Society has acclimated to the presence of super heroes and villains. New heroic organizations spring up seemingly daily, to the delight of an adoring public, even as tension between the unenhanced prosahumans and the enhanced parahumans are growing, and the world’s military and law enforcement grow increasingly frustrated with the situation. Still, the sun is bright and shining down on a world that feels protected. These are Justice Wing’s Halcyon Days.
Mandy Shapiro is a lawyer who specializes in ‘parahuman criminal defense,’ which most people assume means ‘supervillains.’ She has travelled to East Meridian City, Rhode Island to offer her services to Daniel Holland, a young, alleged villain who had been arrested after a destructive battle in East Meridian against local hero and reserve member Vortex. Having encountered resistance to being allowed to see or offer her services to Holland, Mandy has contacted the local DETAILS observation post and called in a ‘717B,’ or ‘civil rights violation by law enforcement against a parahuman citizen.’ While this didn’t make anyone happy — especially Detective Corporal Ellis West, who had attempted to deflect Mandy away from the precinct — it broke through the log jam and let Mandy meet with Daniel Holland, who agreed to retain her services. Mandy told Holland she could get the charges dismissed because of Detective Ellis’s mistakes, but encouraged him to help the police anyway – he was a former super hero who fell on hard financial times, and Mandy believed he could be pulled back.
Complicating matters were Mandy’s two daughters, Danni and Evvie. Evvie was on the other side of the country, competing in the Gymnastics America Under-10 division under the guidance of her coach, Iosaf Albescu. But Albescu’s become increasingly unstable over time, and won’t take Mandy’s husband Evan’s calls any more. The pair are preparing to fire Albescu, but know he may have a potentially violent response. That would be distracting enough, but then Mandy’s older daughter, Loredana ‘Danni’ Shapiro, was dealing with her own unexpected — and unwanted — primary parahuman expression at the same time.
With DETAILS now on the scene to investigate the 717B, Mandy makes herself scarce so that the local prosecutors can’t dismiss the charges before DETAILS has a chance to learn what’s going on. However, Daniel Holland tells Mandy that someone needs to pick his fifteen year old younger brother Jake up from archery practice – he’s an Olympic prospect. While not loving the reminder of Evvie’s problems, Mandy heads out to pick the archer up and bring him out to dinner.

Forebears

Book One: Mandy

Part Four

East Meridian, Rhode Island

Jake Holland was a good looking kid. Mid teens — skin a warmer brown than his brother’s, but you could see the resemblance. Close cut hair, shaved on the sides, wearing jeans and a windbreaker, carrying a gym bag with a larger bag slung over his shoulder. Archery equipment, Mandy supposed. She held up the envelope she was carrying — she’d written his name in Sharpie on it. Always better to let a kid approach instead of walking up and making claims. She’d made sure there were other people around too.

“That mine?” he asked, looking dubious.

“Yup. My name’s Mandy Shapiro. And just so you know, I’m recording and videotaping. You’re not in any trouble.”

“Yeah, I saw the camera in your pocket. Nice. Small.” He set down his bags and took the envelope. “This is about Danny, right?”

Mandy took a deep breath. “Yup.”

“You his lawyer?”

“Yup.”

“Yeah.” He opened the envelope and pulled the letter out. Mandy gave him a few moments.

Jake crumpled the letter in his hand, looking away and taking two steps away, before looking down.

“I’m sorry,” Mandy said.

“Yeah, well — you’re not the one who did it, are you?” He snorted. “You work for those guys?”

“I work for your brother, Jake. As far as this case is concerned, he’s the only person I work for.”

“You a public defender?”

“No. I specialize in parahuman criminal defense.”

Jake was shifting from foot to foot, still looking off in the distance. “Crooks. Villains. You represent bad guys.”

“Sometimes. Sometimes I represent good guys who’re getting a bad deal. And sometimes I represent border cases. Like today.”

“He’s no border case. You know that, right? He’s going to prison, probably forever.”

“Actually, probably not. You hungry? I ask because I’m starved so I’m dragging you to Denny’s whether you like it or not.”

Jake snorted. “I could eat.” He picked up his bags. “I can get my own dinner, you know. It’s not like I’ve never gone home by myself or cooked my own food.”

“I believe you,” Mandy said, walking over to her car.

“Real cooking. Not microwaved crap. Tilapia. Salmon. Lasagna. I simmered a sauce last summer for three days. Canned most of it.”

“That sounds delicious and impressive. You can tell me all about it while you’re eating your Lumberjack slam.” Mandy opened the hatchback on her car.

“What kind of lawyer wears a Rolex and drives a Civic?”

“The kind of lawyer who cares more about the time than impressing someone with her car. Why, what do you drive?”

“I won’t get a learner’s permit ’till next month, so right now I’m big on bus seats.”

“Well then. My car beats yours, doesn’t it?” Mandy slid into the car, unlocking the doors.

Jake slid next to her, buckling up. “So Danny’s in a lot of trouble, isn’t he?”

“I actually can’t talk a lot about it. It’s this whole ‘being a lawyer thing.’ But he’s not in as much trouble as he could be. I’m trying to get him out of it.” Mandy pulled out of her spot.

Jake nodded. “So that’s why we’re going to dinner, right? Because you’re trying to get him out of trouble, and that means his new friends might take it out on me.?”

Mandy paused. “You’re pretty smart, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.”

“And a potential Olympic archer.”

“If you knew anything about the Olympics, you wouldn’t be that impressed.”

“My daughter’s at the gymnastics nationals even as we speak.”

Jake snorted.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Doesn’t gymnastics count?”

“Gymnastics is a TV sport. Gets prime time. Wheaties boxes. Endorsements and reality TV. Archery’s not like that. Most Olympic sports aren’t like that. You have to be a selfish jerk to even try, and then it’s nothing but cash down the drain even if you win.”

“That daughter’s nine years old. She’s not swimming in endorsement money.”

“Yeah? Name one American Archery medal winner. Just one.”

“Is that why you’re doing it? Fame and fortune? I can tell you Evvie doesn’t care about that. Her coach does, but she just wants to—”

“Be the best?”

“Whatever that means before you’re even ten years old.”

Jake scoffed. “Yeah, well. My Mom got me into it. Got me some coaching. They said they’d never seen anyone like me before. Talked a lot of talk. Sounded good at the time.”

“But not now?”

“You’re kidding, right?” He thumbed back to the back of the car. “That bow? Eighteen hundred bucks, and if I’m actually going to have a real shot at the team I need to replace it. You know what I do with my days? I practice. You know what that means? That means taking two hundred and fifty shots a day. Six days a week! And those arrows aren’t free and I promise you they break, and that’s not even counting the range time. They don’t just give that away, you know. You want to tell me what good being the best does me? Or does for Danny?

Mandy didn’t say anything for a few moments. She pulled off into a strip mall parking lot. The Dennys was on one end. “You’re blaming yourself,” she said, finally.

“Yeah, well—”

“I’m serious. You’re blaming yourself for your brother crossing the aisle.”

“Crossing the… what?”

“Going bad. Going villain. You think it’s your fault.”

Jake didn’t say anything.

“Jesus. Like I wanted one of these conversations again.” She parked. “Let’s go eat.”

“That’s all? That’s all you have to say? ‘Let’s go eat?’”

“I’m sorry. Were you expecting a pep talk? Maybe a good old fashioned ‘you don’t make your brother’s choices’ speech? Oh, I know. I can do a whole Cain and Abel thing if you like. Or, and this is a novel idea, I can bring you into that restaurant and we can eat. I say let’s do plan B.” Mandy opened her car door and slid out.

Jake followed. “Look, it’s simple. When Mom died, I should have figured out that I couldn’t afford to continue archery.”

“Yeah, probably.” Mandy walked to the restaurant.

“My brother was a hero!

Mandy stopped, whirling to face Jake, who stopped short to keep from running into her. “Your brother blew up half of downtown trying to kill Vortex because he was either too weak to tell you to give up archery or too stupid to figure out he had that option. Either way? Not that heroic. Sorry.”

“Don’t you say that!” Jake’s face twisted in anger. “Danny just wanted to help people!”

“And you selfishly decided you had to beat Great Britain in the games so he had no choice? That’s what you’re saying? God, how pathetic is that guy?”

“I swear to God—” Jake looked away. “I won’t hit a girl—”

“You’re right, you won’t. I’d drop you like a sack of flour before you had a chance. But if you’re so offended by the idea that your brother’s a weak willed idiot with no spine or brains, then give him a tiny bit of credit. Me? I assumed that your brother chose to break the law. That he knew the consequences and he made a choice and he’s going to live with it come what may. But you? You clearly think he’s just a stooge who can’t even look a fifteen year old kid in the eye and tell him to find some other way to spend his afternoons and you know him way better than I do. So yeah, I assume you’re right. I assume I was wrong, your brother was a nobody punk and it’s all your fault that he’s in holding down at the East Meridian Police even as we speak. You win, Jake. Happy?”

Jake balled up his fist, looking to either side, jaw clenched. “You don’t understand,” he hissed.

“Don’t I? Either your brother’s every bit the man you thought he was and he made a bad choice all on his own, or your brother’s a worthless idiot who kowtows to your every whim. You can’t have it both ways, so you tell me which it is. Understand, I’ll still do my best to help him, because I’m a pro, but it’ll help to know what I’m in for in the process.”

Jake breathed hard for a couple of moments. “He didn’t have to do this,” he muttered. “I could have given it up.”

“Did you tell him that?”

“Yeah.”

“What did he tell you?”

“That I couldn’t tell him what to do, and that I could quit if I wanted to but it wouldn’t be because we didn’t have the cash for it.”

Mandy nodded. “So he made a choice. And even if you quit he was going to see it through.”

“But he didn’t have to do that.

“I know he didn’t, Jake. That’s why it’s called a choice. But did you make it? Or did he make it?”

Jake kept looking away.

“Did you make it or did he make it, Jake? We’re not moving until you answer me, and I’m pretty damn hungry so… you know. Chop chop.”

“He did it for me,” Jake said, softly.

“He did it for his own reasons,” Mandy answered. “Maybe he told himself it was for you. Maybe not. But you didn’t make his choices for him. And believe it or not, you working hard at mastering a damn hard sport because you have a shot at being the best in the world at it doesn’t make you responsible for what he chose to do.” She looked at him for a long moment. “He doesn’t have a lot he’s proud of right now, but he’s proud of you. Let him stay that way at least until you guys get home tonight. Then feel free to lambaste him, but on your own time. C’mon. Pancakes.”

“You kinda suck at the whole comfort thing,” Jake said, falling in behind her.

“Yeah, my older kid’s told me that before. Turns out I’m a lawyer, not a babysitter. Even if there are days it’s hard to tell the difference.”

“Why Great Britain?”

“What?” Mandy held the door for Jake.

Jake stepped in. “Why Great Britain? You said I wanted to beat them in the Olympics. Why them?

Mandy blinked. “Well. You know. Archery.”

“…okay, I’m not following. I mean, they’ve gotten a couple bronzes but I think the last time they won gold or silver was like 1908. Why them?”

“I…” Mandy shrugged. “The longbow? Battle of Hastings?”

Jake stared at her.

“Like I know! I still barely know gymnastics, and I pay an abusive Romanian to yell at my daughter over them!”

“You know we don’t shoot longbows, right? I mean, seriously?”

“The only guy I ever knew who did archery used one of the wheeled-things.”

“A compound bow. Also, the Battle of Hastings? Was in 1066. Not really relevant to modern archery.”

“Yeah.”

“And they didn’t even use that many archers. English longbow dominance was like three hundred years later. The Hundred Years’ War.”

“All right. I believe you.”

“You’re thinking of Agincourt. Even then, you should be thinking of the Battle of Crécy. The French had way bigger numbers, but they were mostly infantry and cavalry going uphill in the mud, while the English longbowmen shot down the hill and slaughtered them. But Agincourt was a massive victory and got into plays and the longbowmen got a lot of credit whether or not it was their arrows that actually won the day…”

“Why do you even know that?” Mandy half-smiled to the hostess who walked over. “Two please. Booth if you’ve got it.”

“Why do I know that? I literally shot two hundred and fifty arrows at a target today.”

“And I spent the morning doing jury selection crap in Connecticut but that doesn’t mean I know the history of trial by jury.”

Jake nodded, following as they were led to their booth. “Yeah, but when did they first have trial by jury.”

Mandy wrinkled her nose as they sat. “Athens, at least in Western Civ.”

“Well, okay then.” Jake picked up the menu and started leafing through it. “Wild caught Alaskan salmon,” he said. “Could that possibly be true?”

“Well, sure,” Mandy said. “Wild caught just means a fishing boat caught it. You actually have some commercial fisheries who release young salmon they bred in a hatchery into the ocean instead of a stream or river, then let them go off and live their fish lives. When it’s time to spawn, they return to where they think they were hatched, and the fishermen are waiting for them. It’s still wild caught. And if there’s actually a salmon breed called an ‘Alaskan salmon’ it’s news to me — any salmon caught in Alaskan waters would count. And… honestly, the restaurant has to take the suppliers’ word for it, and maybe that’s being audited and maybe it isn’t.”

“…seriously? That’s horrifying.”

“What? The ocean ranching?”

“All of it, but sure.”

Mandy shrugged. “You ever actually look into the life of a meat chicken, free range or not? Ocean ranched salmon have it way better than that.”

“I feel weird about ordering it. I’m ordering it, but I feel weird.” Jake looked down at his hands. He looked a lot like his brother, right then.

“Yeah, well — that’s the world we live in. You pick and choose where you take your stand, and you pick and choose where you compromise. Someone or something terrible’s going to be the backstory of every food, every good, every service — you name it. If you boycott it all, eventually you either starve to death or end up a hermit out in the woods living off the land. But sometimes, you really do have to shake your head and say ‘I’m not gonna buy that guy’s chicken.’”

“Tell me something… what was your name again?”

“Mandy Shapiro. Just go with Mandy.”

“Okay, Mandy. Tell me something. When I was blaming myself for Danny’s screwup, you got mad because you thought it was disrespectful.”

“And stupid. I also thought it was stupid.”

“Yeah, but you… I dunno. You don’t… you’re not judging Danny?”

Mandy snorted. “I judge everybody, kid. There’s a difference.”

“Yeah, but… why do you think it’s better… I mean… why’s it better if it was his choice? Either way, he’s a bad guy.”

Mandy considered, then smiled as the waitress approached. “Hey there. Grand slam slugger for me — scramble the eggs. And coffee and a coke.”

“You got it. And for you?”

“Alaskan salmon, with steamed vegetables.”

“You get two sides.”

“Can I get a side salad for the other?”

“Sure thing. Dressing? We have—”

“No dressing. And water to drink. Thanks.”

“No… problem!” she said, grinning as she finished writing it in her pad. “I’ll be back with your coffee and soda and water for you both.”

“Thanks,” Mandy said. She arched both her eyebrows, looking at Jake. “You couldn’t even get… I don’t know. An english muffin? Or home fries?”

“I’m in training. At least until I learn I’m not. Besides, respect your body and it’ll respect you.”

“My body and I can barely stand to be in the same room with each other.” Mandy pursed her lips. “Your brother isn’t a bad guy. He’s actually a pretty good guy, as guys go. At least, near as I can tell.”

“He rampaged across the city.”

“Yeah. He’s absolutely a crook. A villain. But he’s not a bad person.

“How does that work?”

Mandy snorted again. “I’ve been around the block a lot of times, kid. I’ve known some heroes who were monumental jerks. And some of the kindest, most noble people I’ve ever met were villains. I mean, let’s be clear — a lot of full on heroes break the law all the time. As vigilantes, if nothing else. And because people love heroes, they let them get away with it… at least for now. That’s not what makes you a hero or a villain. And you know what you call an asshole hero and a noble villain?”

Jake looked up at her. “What?”

“A hero and a villain. One of the biggest assholes I ever knew was a hero. You’d recognize the name if I said it. And I have plenty of reason to be pissed at him even years later, and I will never, ever pretend that he was anything less than a total jerk. But when people were threatened, he suited up and went out. Hell — you’re an archer. Who’s the biggest heroic archer out there?”

“Broadhead.” Jake didn’t sound like a fan.

“That’s right. And he’s an asshole. But he’s no fake. He’s sacrificed a ton to help other people, even if they end up not liking him very much because he can’t keep his dumbass misogynistic mouth shut. On the other side of things, look at the Cipher. The man would give half his last bagel to a stranger and that’s the truth. He speaks respectfully to everyone around him. But he’s absolutely a villain and any time he goes up against Nightstick and Cudgel I’m rooting for the guys with the clubs.” Mandy leaned forward. “I think your brother’s a pretty good guy. I really do. But if he sticks with villainy? He’s going to hurt a lot of people.”

“So why defend him?”

“Because everyone’s entitled to a zealous defense. I get paid to defend people. Sometimes guilty people. And sometimes I can encourage people to make better choices. I’m not giving up on your brother just yet, and neither should you.”

“And if he goes out and stays a crook, and Vortex fights him again — you’ll root for Vortex?”

“Absolutely. And then I’ll show up at the jailhouse and defend him the best I can.”

“Seriously?”

“Kid? Six years ago when the Cipher was caught in Empire City? I was his lawyer. Pled him down three counts and kept him from being Sepulchered. It doesn’t mean I don’t root for Nightstick. But — this is what I do. This is what I can do.” She shrugged. “And maybe if I do it well enough Danny will make different choices moving forward, and everybody gets to win.”

Jake looked at her, then shook his head. “I’m so mad at him,” he said, quietly. “I mean… rage level mad. I believed in him, you know? I was so proud. He’d helped so many people—”

“And now retroactively none of them were helped?”

“It’s different, now.”

“Yeah, it is. But unless you really do want him to be a villain moving forward, don’t forget about the people he helped. And don’t let him forget it.”

“Don’t worry. I won’t. I don’t promise to be nice about it.”

“Like I’d ask you to promise me that.”

“Hey — what did you mean, ‘for now?’”

Mandy paused. “When?”

Jake looked intent, eyes probing Mandy’s. “You were saying that people loved heroes, so they let them get away with being vigilantes, for now.

“Well… yeah.”

“You think people will stop loving heroes?”

Mandy sighed, looking towards the kitchen. “I am so hungry. I hope they hurry.”

“Are you avoiding the question?”

“No. I really am hungry.” Mandy looked back at Jake. “You’re too young to remember a world before Paragon. You and a lot of people. And it’s amazingly lucky for parahumans all over the world that the first public parahuman was the most powerful and most decent parahuman on the planet. He really is as good as he seems to be. Look at the first eight public heroes. Paragon. Freya. The Centurion. The Beacon. Nightstick. The Ancient Mariner. The Lieutenant. Lynette Hardesty.” Mandy shook her head. “The first four were Paragon, Freya, the Centurion and the Beacon. The best of any hero, the literal goddess from mythology, the tech wunderkind who shared his wonders, and the scrappy leader who turned into light. And with them opening the door… people got excited to let the Mariner, Nightstick, the Lieutenant, and Hardesty walk through it. It was an age of wonder and excitement, and when terrible things happened, amazing people stepped up to stop them.” Mandy smiled, just a bit. “But imagine if it were reversed. What if the Ancient Mariner had been the first public hero, followed by Hardesty, the Lieutenant, and then Nightstick. The horror story, a super powered government agent, a cop, and a vigilante. Would people have been as ready to clap and cheer, or would they have been scared? And then watched a literal goddess, a woman who moved at lightspeed, a guy with alien technology, and the most powerful thing on Earth join them?”

“But that didn’t happen.”

“No, it didn’t. But even back in the day, Justice Wing knew that they were watching a ticking clock. That’s why the Justice Wing Institute exists. It’s why the Excelsiors and the Protectors exist — and why they’re not Justice Wing. Because more and more people are born every day — people who don’t remember a world where people needed an airplane to fly and goddesses were pictures in storybooks. And yeah — you believe in them because you were raised thinking they were awesome. But your kids might not feel that way. They might feel like Justice Wing’s obligated to be heroes. Or are dangerous. Or lots of other thing. Parahuman gang activity been reported in seven major cities — including Paragon’s own Crown City. Not villain gangs. Gangs with parahuman members who don’t identify as heroes or villains. You think that’s an accident?” Mandy half-smiled. “And people like Beguile, Anchor, Leo Lucas, Lady Velvet… they have fan clubs too, you know. Some people out there? They think they’re right.”

“Yeah, well — some people are crazy. Some people think Hitler was right.”

“Yeah. They do.” Mandy looked at Jake, cocking her head slightly.

“No, I mean — they’re nuts. That doesn’t mean—”

“Anchor wants to destroy the human race, and some people think he’s got the right idea. And a ton of people don’t care what Beguile or Lady Velvet’s philosophies are — they’re too busy staring at their cleavage. And sooner or later? Paragon, Beacon, Nightstick, Freya — they’ll be gone, and someone else will have taken their place. Maybe Broadhead. And the thing about a hero being an asshole? Sooner or later, people stop paying attention to the ‘heroic’ part and start wanting that raging egomaniac reined in before he gets us all killed.” Mandy snorted. “But if I do my job right, maybe there’ll be a few legal precedents in place before that happens, and parahumans won’t end up being rounded up for the common good.” Mandy snorted again. “But I wouldn’t put bank on it.”

“Wow. You are… a ray of sunshine, aren’t you?”

“My secret’s out. Drinks incoming.”

Jake turned to the waitress as she brought their drinks. Mandy slipped off her glasses and rubbed her eyes. The kid was smart. And clearly he had skill and talent — but no parahuman abilities. At least, he hadn’t gone through primary parahuman expression as yet. There was no formal way to test for parahumanity, but Mandy’s own thing meant she could tell, more often than not.

She wondered if Danny understood how badly hurt Jake felt. If so, he probably figured his brother’s respect was a small price to pay for Jake’s Olympic ambitions and financial security. That was one way really good guys ended up villains. Mandy had seen it before.

Of course, what she hadn’t told Jake was the other side of that. The longer a really good guy walked the villain side of the aisle, the more he felt compromised. One line got crossed, then another, then another. She’d seen that too.

And when good guys turned bad to help family or friends… all too often those family or friends ended up broken or dead. So ironic. Such a cautionary tale.

Mandy hated cautionary tales. She had no intention of being a part of one if she could help it.

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4 thoughts on “⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #4”

  1. “The only guy I ever knew who did archery used one of the wheeled-things.”

    Having read 4P, that line is amazingly hilarious now.

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