Mandy Shapiro on the Phone
Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #5

This entry is part 5 of 14 in the series Forebears

Mandy snorted. “West? Do you know why they pull cops with a personal stake off cases? It’s because they have a personal stake. That throws them off. You know that. You must know that. You know better than to—”

“Than to what, Shapiro? Than to bend or break the rules in the name of justice? What the Hell do you think Vortex was doing out there? Huh? What the Hell do you think Nightstick or Foolhardy or even the Beacon do in their cities? So tell me why I have to just live with my son in a cemetery and play by rules that don’t apply to Holland or anyone like him! Huh? When’s it my turn to get to take the short cut?”

Mandy looked at West. “Never,” she said, simply. “It’s never your turn.“


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.
Now, having picked up Danny’s younger brother Jake from his training as a prospective Olympic archer, Mandy has to return to the East Meridian Police Department to meet with the Prosecutors, get Danny’s charges dismissed, and do her best to convince Danny to cooperate with the police and DETAILS after the fact. Of course, everyone in the building hated Mandy and Daniel alike, which would probably make that harder…

Forebears

Book One: Mandy

Part Five

East Meridian, Rhode Island

The police were both polite and cold when Mandy made it back, Jake in toe. They had a place Jake could wait where he’d be left alone — though he wasn’t particularly happy to be there. The cops were angry. Angry at Danny. Angry at Mandy. Angry at Calhoun and the world.

Detective Corporal Ellis West himself let Mandy in through the security door. “How was dinner?” he muttered.

“Very Dennys. I’m a fan of Dennys. Has anyone talked to my client since I left?”

“I can’t speak for DETAILS. For one thing? I’ve been too busy speaking to DETAILS.” The detective’s body was knotted with tension. “But we’ve left him alone.”

“Excellent. Maybe we’ll make it out of this after all.”

“Oh will we? Great. Let me know when Halbrook’s Tap or the Sub Site magically stop being burnt to the ground. Or when your client walking means sick bastards stop flooding the streets with poison.”

Mandy snorted. “West? Do you know why they pull cops with a personal stake off cases? It’s because they have a personal stake. That throws them off. You know that. You must know that. You know better than to—”

“Than to what, Shapiro? Than to bend or break the rules in the name of justice? What the Hell do you think Vortex was doing out there? Huh? What the Hell do you think Nightstick or Foolhardy or even the Beacon do in their cities? So tell me why I have to just live with my son in a cemetery and play by rules that don’t apply to Holland or anyone like him! Huh? When’s it my turn to get to take the short cut?”

Mandy looked at West. “Never,” she said, simply. “It’s never your turn. Sooner or later Nightstick and Foolhardy and the Beacon will have to give it up, and when they do we’re going to need real honest to God Law Enforcement to take over, or else a whole lot of kids will move into your son’s neighborhood. You had no God damned business lying to me, and you know it. And the next time I’m here offering my services to an alleged super villain, you need to make damn sure my only possible option is cutting a deal with the DA. That means no sweating your perp. That means no conveniently forgetting to call his lawyer. And it means giving me no reason in the world to call DETAILS!”

“Jesus, you think this is all some episode of Badge and Bar, don’t you? The world doesn’t work like that any more, Shapiro. Put on a mask and suddenly due process doesn’t matter. You think that’s going away any time soon? You’re nuts.”

“And you’re in no condition for any of this, Detective,” Mandy hissed. “You’re going to get yourself or someone else killed — and in the meantime how many perps will walk because you think you’re in a Joe Don Baker movie? Now either bring me to my client or bring me to the prosecutor so we can deal with today’s mess.”

West stared, then scoffed. “Right this way,” he said, turning. “But you’re way too late, lady. People are already being killed. And Hell, maybe I’m crazy… or who knows? Maybe this is my origin story. Think about that.

“I think it’s adorable you think I haven’t. Feel free to hold onto my business card, detective. I specialize in parahuman clients, but I’ve defended my share of prosahuman villains, too. I’d hate for you to feel like you had nowhere to turn.”

“West!”

West’s body tensed even more. Lieutenant Berganza was leaning out her office door. “Jesus Christ,” she said. “I told you to go home.”

“Got a few loose ends to tie up.”

“Not today, you don’t. The prosecutor’s here, counselor. If you’re not too busy, that is?”

Mandy looked at West sidelong, then walked over. “My calendar just cleared, Lieutenant.”

Mandy felt a tingle, her muscles beginning to feel warmer, the world beginning to slow, even as she got a sense of West’s hand sliding towards his coat’s lapel—

Mandy turned and stared at West. “Don’t,” she said, tightly. “Just don’t.”

West froze in place, his eyes staring into her. “Client’s waiting, Shapiro,” he said, quietly.

Mandy waited.

“Go home, El,” Berganza said, coldly.

West let his hand move away from his coat’s lapel, turned, and walked away.

Mandy watched for a moment, then turned and walked over to Berganza. “He was about to shoot me in the back, Lieutenant,” she said, very quietly. “He’s got to be grounded now or he’s going to ruin his life.”

“I know,” she said. “And thanks for that.”

“Don’t you dare begin to blame me for him,” Mandy hissed. “This didn’t all start today, did it? Did it?”

Berganza was breathing steadily.

“Right.” Mandy stepped around the Lieutenant and walked into the office.

Agent Theriault was there, which surprised Mandy a bit. The prosecutor, on the other hand, didn’t surprise her at all. Dark suit, red tie, slightly too expensive hair. West had been wrong, before. Mandy didn’t think she was in an episode of Badge and Bar, this guy clearly did.

He offered a hand to shake. “Ms. Shapiro, I’m Avery Segal, from the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office.”

“Hello,” Mandy said, shaking his hand. “I’m Mandy Shapiro of Jackson, Thompson, Shapiro and Smith. Please be advised I’m recording and am wearing a body camera though I understand there may be circumstances or matters where recording must be suspended.” She took out a card and accepted one from Segal in return. She felt a tingling in the back of her brain… and the room seemed to come into sharper focus as she concentrated on Segal.

“I don’t think it will come to that,” Segal said with an easy smile. “I’ve been discussing the merits of the DETAILS 717B investigation with Special Agent Theriault—”

“Junior Field Agent,” Theriault corrected.

“Yes yes. Anyway — this is kind of a mess, isn’t it?”

“It really is,” Mandy said. “So what do we do about it?”

“Honestly, I’d like to avoid dragging the E.M.P.D. into a civil rights complaint that I don’t think they’d win, and I think it prohibitively unlikely that a judge would allow the case at arraignment. I think the smart thing to do is dismiss the charges against Mister Holland — though you understand the State is concerned he may still be a safety risk.”

“Oh, I totally understand that. And you understand that the circumstances that led to the 717B report means my client has a concern for his own safety, given the hostility he’s encountered in this department.”

Berganza flushed, pursing her lips. Mandy ignored that. Segal and Mandy were just following the steps to a dance… even if Mandy was just learning those steps in real time. Her head had begun to hurt, just slightly. Nothing of concern.

“I can certainly see why he might feel that way, though the officers and first responders of the East Meridian Police Department are sworn to protect and serve the citizens of this city, and regardless of the high emotions and enthusiasm which may have led to errors on their part in this matter take that oath very seriously.”

“And my client has no intention of causing any trouble moving forward, and is mindful of the second chance he’s been afforded.”

“Good, good. Well. I think we’re done here, then, barring the paperwork. The state has decided not to proceed to arraignment and Mister Holland will be released immediately.”

“Excellent. Though please let me and Lieutenant Berganza handle that. Agent Theriault — would you mind sticking around for that as well?”

“I don’t see why not,” Theriault said.

“Excellent. Very well — I’ll go let the appropriate people know and make it official. Excuse me, please.”

Mandy and the others watched Segal leave. As the door was pushed shut, she made a show of pressing her watch face. “End recording,” she murmured. The watch face flashed and she let go. “So. Am I crazy for thinking that maybe, just maybe, our Mister Segal has prosecuted more than a few of those unlucky Meridian City P.D. cases?”

“Yup,” Berganza said. “I… didn’t expect to see him here. He doesn’t usually cover East Meridian.”

“He covers whatever Robert Farragut wants him to cover,” Mandy said.

Theriault frowned. “Why are you so sure?”

Mandy turned to face the DETAILS agent. “Because I salted the exchange we just had with some Calhoun codewords and phrases, and he answered them correctly.”

The cop and the agent stared at Mandy. “How… do you know those codewords?”

“You know how you keep calling me an ambulance chaser or a villain-enabler?” Mandy asked. “Yeah. That’s because the legal network that Calhoun and a lot of the upper tier villains use spends a lot of time spreading lies and disinformation about us. Over time, we’ve learned a few things in self defense.” Which… wasn’t a lie per se… she wasn’t saying how they learned those things, after all.

“Wouldn’t Segal know that?” Berganza asked.

“Segal knows I gave him recognition signals. His immediate suspicion will be that I’ve infiltrated my firm on Calhoun’s behalf.” Mandy didn’t think it wise to admit she’d plucked some of those signals out of Segal’s thoughts directly. Not telepathy, really. Just a little seventh sense to even the odds. That sort of a thing wasn’t a strain, even these days.

Well, not usually. She still had that little headache — she was too keyed up. Too stressed. She had to calm down.

“So. You wanted me to stay,” Theriault said. “I assume it has something to do with Segal?”

“No, actually.” Mandy leaned back against the desk. She snuffled a bit — irritation in her nose. “I want to negotiate a deal.”

“A… deal?” Theriault asked.

“Yeah. On my client’s behalf.”

Berganza frowned. “Segal’s out there dropping the charges. Your client’s free to go. What kind of deal do you make then?”

“The kind of deal that gives you both some dirt on Calhoun while giving Danny Holland a way out of villainy without getting him or his younger brother killed.”

Berganza and Theriault looked at each other, then back at Mandy. “All right,” Theriault said. “What do you have in mind?”

“And do you need a tissue or something?” Berganza asked.

“For what?” Mandy asked.

Berganza snorted. “Your nose is bleeding.”

Mandy felt a chill. Damn it. She must have been more on edge than she thought. There was no way that simple opposition should have… “Yeah,” she said. “A tissue’d be nice.”

Fifteen minutes later, Mandy, Theriault, and Berganza were back in the private interview room. There were two knocks at the door, and Berganza leaned over to open it up.

The same two PATER officers from before led Danny Holland in. He was shackled in the power-restraints like before.

Mandy rolled her eyes. “Why is he still bound?”

One of the PATER officers looked at the other. The second shrugged. “We haven’t gotten a release order.”

Berganza cleared her throat. The officers glanced her way, then stood a bit straighter. “Gentlemen, release Mister Holland from the restraints.”

The first PATER officer hesitated.

“I don’t know what impresses me more,” Theriault said. “The fact that they’re balking when they know his lawyer’s filming them, or the fact that they’re balking when the DETAILS agent investigating a civil rights complaint is watching them. That’s some serious—”

“That’s enough,” Berganza snapped. “Both Walters and Moroz were part of the team that took Holland in. Moroz is lucky he avoided the hospital. I don’t think it’s a civil rights violation to hesitate when you’re releasing the restraints on a man who hit you with a red hot girder.”

Mandy folded her arms. “Civil rights violation? Nah. But it’s kind of amazing you’re cool with insubordination. I mean, that’s not on me or Theriault, is it.”

“Can we drop it?” Holland said, his voice rumbling slightly. “I got no problem with these two hesitating so long as they actually release me at some point. Jesus, even I know they’ve had a bad day.”

The first officer — Walters — stepped to one side, with Moroz stepping to the other. They began to unlock the restraints.

“Hey Moroz,” Holland said, curtly.

“What?” Moroz asked. He didn’t sound happy.

“Mad respect. Seriously.”

Moroz paused, then continued unlocking the restraints without further comment.

Holland stretched. It sounded like a bundle of steel cable flexing. “Thanks,” he said.

“Right,” Berganza said. “Agent Theriault and I will wait outside. Gentlemen?”

Holland watched as the police and Agent Theriault left the room, shutting Holland in with Mandy. Mandy took a moment to turn off her recorder, then looked at Holland. She wasn’t going to record this conversation — even under attorney/client privilege.

“So you did it,” Holland said. “They’re dropping the charges.”

“There wasn’t any doubt. Not really. And even Farragut knows it — he sent his tame prosecutor down to see to it. I’m pretty sure if this had gone to arraignment some other prosecutor would have handled it.”

“Yeah. So what now? I sign some things and we go? And where’s Jake?”

“Jake’s waiting out front. The other DETAILS agent is out there, too — no one will bother him.” Mandy paused. “He’s a good kid, Danny.”

“I know he’s a good kid.” Holland looked uncomfortable.

“He’s astronomically pissed right now, of course. And a little scared and a lot disappointed.”

“I think I could have guessed that.”

“He’s proud of you. Of Firescale. Flux offends him, Danny. Offends him the way only a fifteen year old can get offended. Trust me. I’ve seen it in my daughter before.”

“Look, why are you telling me this?” Holland snapped. “You think I don’t know what Jake thinks?”

“Did you think about my suggestion?”

“What, helping the cops and DETAILS? Yeah, I thought about it.”

“And?”

“And whether or not I still work for Calhoun, I think it’s crazy to cross him. It’s not just me who’d be in danger. Or am I the only one who’s supposed to be thinking about Jake in all this?”

“Oh, I’m thinking about Jake, too.” Mandy paused. “Dirty pool time. Did you know Jake blames himself for your change of career?”

Holland stared. “What?”

“He blames himself. He thinks he’s being selfish by not giving up archery. He thinks you’d still be a hero if he wasn’t so expensive.”

Holland swore under his breath. “My brother’s one of the best archers in the world. I’m not kidding. He’s… he’s like Broadhead good. Sometimes I wonder if the Olympics people will decide he’s parahuman and disqualify him.”

“Your brother’s not parahuman. But I believe you. I really do. I did my best to convince him you were a big boy who made his own decisions, without being intimidated by his little brother. A hundred year old guy in a white suit? Sure. He intimidates you. But not a fifteen year old with a bow.”

Holland scoffed. “Are you saying Chattergun Calhoun doesn’t intimidate you? Are you that stupid?”

“You ever meet Calhoun?”

“No! And I like it that way.”

“I can’t blame you. I’ve met him. Was I intimidated? I wasn’t at the time. But then, I was in a different line of work back then.”

“No shit. I’m like eighty percent sure you were a hero, mostly because if you were a villain you’d be a lot richer.”

“Well. There’s a compliment. I was a hero, yeah. I’m usually better at hiding it, but I’m upset today. My daughter, the gymnast.”

“The Romanian bastard. Right. So why’d you stop heroing?”

Mandy took a long moment, looking away.

“Huh. So you can be shaken,” Holland said.

“Health issues,” she said, finally. “I had to do something to save lives, but it broke something in me — in my powers. I can’t help but use those powers — they’re a part of my neurology — but if I go too far with them, they’ll kill me. I have good and bad days. Today’s a bad one.” Mandy took a deep breath. “I have two children, a husband, and a mortgage. I don’t have time to kill myself, even for the greater good.”

“So you’re a lawyer. And you defend villains. How’re you different than me?”

Mandy snorted. “I covered this with Jake, actually. Sort of. I explained to him the difference between being a good person and a hero. I told him that assholes could be heroes and decent people could be villains.”

“With yourself as a decent person?”

“With you as a decent person. I’m the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, whether you know it or not. I’m the second biggest asshole I ever met. The point’s this — hero and villain aren’t clear cut. I told you this before; why am I defending villains in court? Because that’s the only way I can still be a hero. Not everyone who needs saving is a plucky reporter or a school bus full of nuns.”

Holland snorted. “So a middle-aged five foot nothing hundred pound broken ex-hero’s going to save me?”

“Well. That’s up to you, isn’t it?” Mandy folded her arms. “Here’s the deal. You’ll go home. Let them contact you. Make it clear you’re a little shaken, but that you kept your mouth shut. And don’t lie — today? Keep your mouth shut about Calhoun and his goons. Tell them you need a day or two to figure things out. They’ll be understanding and ever so chill and the only threats will be implicit.”

“And then?”

“And then DETAILS will quietly pick you and Jake up. They’ll keep Jake in training. He’ll have undercover protection. You’ll work through DETAILS, and they’ll be your liaison to the cops. You’ll tell them what you know. And then?”

“Yeah?”

“And then you go to work. For DETAILS. Firescale-work, not Flux. Danny Holland will fall off the grid. You’ll get a paycheck. Jake will get coaching and range time and arrows and most of all, an education.”

“That I wasn’t worried about. Kid eats and breathes school. S’why he gets up so early to shoot and then spends his afternoons shooting — so he can get his time in and still get to class.” Holland narrowed his eyes. “How does he compete without getting himself killed?”

“I told you. I’ve actually met Calhoun. Is he willing to kill a kid? Yes. But not at something like an archery tournament. And not someone taking a run at the Olympics. He’s okay with killing a teenager on the street, but the Olympics appeals to his patriotism.” Mandy shook her head. “It’s worth mentioning? You might have noticed the increase in local school funding in the last few years. Calhoun’s offended by declining educational standards, so when he buys up a local political machine? He makes them prioritize education and underwrites it.”

Holland stared at Mandy, then closed his eyes. “So he’ll spend his own money to fill a kid’s brain all day and then kill those brains with drugs or blow them out of their head after school. How the Hell does that work?”

“People are complicated. We all pick our battles. Sometimes we compromise, and sometimes we refuse to buy the guy’s chicken.”

Holland blinked. “What?”

“Forget it.”

“Sure. So… what do we tell Jake?”

“Do you trust him?”

Holland nodded.

“Then I’d say tell him the truth.” Mandy paused. “So that’s a yes, then?”

Holland hesitated, then nodded. “Yeah. I… yeah. I’ve had all day to think about how much I hated where I was.”

“Glad to hear it. Some crooks? They’re thrilled to go to jail. Adrenalin junkies and attention whores. It’s creepy as Hell.”

“Yeah, well. Not me. I never wanted this. I just didn’t…”

“Yeah. Heh. Reminds me of something else Jake and I talked about.”

“What?”

Mandy walked over to the door. “The fact that there’s a ticking clock on the hero thing. People love heroes today, but it’s not sustainable. The police are feeling more and more penned in by rules that heroes seem to ignore without penalty. Heroes want to do the right thing, but there’s no real way to make money doing it. Since the day Paragon punched asteroids on national television heroes have been on the rise. Some people think that’s a golden age. A sign of the world becoming a better place.”

“Yeah? What do you think it is?”

Mandy looked back over her shoulder. “A bubble.” She opened the door. “Ladies? We’re ready to talk.”

Around an hour and twenty minutes later, Mandy leaned back against the retaining wall. She was very tired, her head hurt, and she was still in East Meridian instead of someplace where she owned a bed. She held her flip-phone up to her ear and listened to it ring.

“Hullo?”

“Hey,” Mandy said. “You’ve gone from morose to bored. I assume that’s a good sign, Kiddo.”

“I guess. I… tried a couple things.”

“Oh yeah? Like what?” Mandy rubbed her eyes under her glasses.

“Well… I went out back and… I can absolutely do a standing jump onto the roof.” Danni sounded almost sheepish.

“Heh. Well, that’s cool.” She closed her eyes. “Did it feel good?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well… have you ever heard of restless leg syndrome?”

“I… maybe? I think so?”

“Well — restless leg syndrome often means that you get intensely unpleasant feelings in your leg muscles, and only moving your legs can help relieve the weird. There’s also akathisia, which is a driving restlessness that can be painful. People with that sometimes have to just keep moving or walking to avoid the horrible.”

“Okay, well, if you’re trying to scare me—”

“I’m not. I don’t think you have those. In fact, enhanced neurological presenting parahumanism almost never has those specific conditions. But a good number of people with enhanced neurology that’s connected to enhanced strength and speed report a minor euphoria in really working out — pushing past human normal in speed, lifting and throwing things, intense acrobatics — it literally feels good to move. Like a runner’s high, but more immediate.”

“Oh. Um… yeah, I think so. Is… is it addictive?”

“Physiologically? Kind of not. In most cases, neurological enhancement also means nerve regeneration and a bunch of related hormones and neurotransmitters pump out faster and do a better job. You get the rush of super-endorphins or dopamine or whatever it is, but then your body washes it back out. I mean, some people might get a psychological dependence on the rush, but even that’s actually pretty uncommon in primary or secondary parahuman expression.” Mandy chuckled. “Of course, short term induced parahuman expression is a whole different ball game.”

“Induced? Like…”

“Short term induced parahuman expression is the introduction of some kind of… ugh. It’s drugs, okay? It’s superdrugs. Stormy Foster. Underdoggie. Slingshut. Shit like that.”

Mother. Don’t swear.” Despite her mood, Danni giggled.

“Prude. Some of those cause that rush without washing it out afterward. Those are massively, horribly addictive and also people die and don’t do them especially because you are parahuman so who knows what they’ll even do to you.”

“My mother the P.S.A. Mom, are you okay?”

Mandy paused. “What… why do you ask?”

“You sound weird. Like… your voice is… thick? I don’t know how to describe it. It’s… are you okay?”

“I… have had a terrible day, and you’ve got much better hearing now, and this is a cell phone call, and thank you very much for asking, but I’m not the one to worry about today. Your Dad’s on the phone with them again, huh?”

“No, he’s talking to Uncle Gary.”

Mandy’s eyebrows went up. “His brother called?”

“No. He called Uncle Gary.”

Mandy bit her lip. Garrison and Evan Shapiro were twins. Garrison loved talking to Evan. Evan usually hated talking to Garrison. Mandy had asked Lil Tartikoff about it once — she’d grown up with them, and was like a sister to Garrison. “Evan grounds Garrison,” she’d explained. “Kind of like I do, only with more contempt. I don’t know why Evan ever calls Garrison. Maybe he just wants to up his blood pressure periodically — like crossfit for the brain.”

It took a couple of years, but Mandy finally figured it out. Garrison talked to Evan when he needed to get centered and calm down. Evan talked to Garrison when he needed intense, acute catharsis. Garrison used Evan like a meditation technique. Evan used Garrison like primal scream therapy.

“Okay,” she said, finally. She didn’t know what else to say. “Have we heard anything about Evvie? At least how she’s placing in the competition?”

“You heard she dropped down to 74th, right? Falling off the balance beam?” Danni sounded somber — normally she’d at least have a snarky comment if Evvie blew a gymnastics move. That was an older sister’s prerogative. If Mandy needed any more confirmation that this was serious…

“I did.” Mandy said.

“We haven’t heard anything since. ‘Course, we’re on the house line and that’s what they usually call, but Dad’ll call that trainer he’s been talking to after he’s done with Uncle Gary.”

Mandy closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Right. Still. We should clear the line. You going to be okay, kiddo?”

“Me? I’ll be fine. I mean… I don’t love this, but it’s not like I have cancer. I’m just… better than other people.”

Mandy’s eyes snapped open. “No, you’re not.”

“I don’t mean I’m better, but—”

“You have advantages in some areas, kiddo. Don’t ever mistake that for superiority. A parahuman’s no betterthan a prosahuman. Your dad’s a prosahuman. Hell, Nightstick’s a prosahuman. Are you better than him?”

“Okay, don’t bite my head off! And what about Paragon? He’s better than—”

“Paragon’d throw a fit if you called him better than anyone else. Guy has a complex about that sort of thing. It drives you nuts, trust me. But using Paragon as an example’s like calling a supernova an example of an explosion. He’s so off the chart they have to put a chain of post-it notes on the side just to… I don’t know where I’m going with this.”

Danni didn’t say anything.

“Kiddo?”

“Mom… do you… have you met Paragon?”

Mandy felt a twinge in her chest. “Sometimes the guys I defend have Justice Wing to thank for their arrest, remember?”

“That’s… kind of not what I mean.”

Mandy closed her eyes. God save her from perceptive kids. The Hell of it was? Of course she could get around this. She’d just have to intentionally oppose her daughter’s line of questioning. Then she’d know exactly what to say.

But she’d never done that with the girls and today wasn’t the day to start. “Yeah, I’ve met Paragon,” she said, quietly. “It was a long time ago. He’s a nice guy, but I don’t like talking about it.”

“Oh.” Danni paused. “That’s… wild. It’s like… hearing you’d met the President of the United States.”

Mandy opened her eyes to roll them. Best not to have that conversation as well. “I’m gonna have to go, kiddo. This day just doesn’t want to end. But we’ll sit and talk out a bunch of stuff next week, okay? Once we get Evvie back in town and out of that dumbass so-called sport—”

“You can’t pull Evvie out of gymnastics!” Danni shrieked.

Mandy jumped back against the security wall, startled. “What? Of course we’re pulling her out. Kiddo, after everything she’s been through—”

“That’s just it, Mom. You don’t… I’ve picked Evvie up from practice before. I’ve seen Albescu yell at her. I’ve told you that before. But I’ve also seen Evvie. And… we talk, sometimes. Just a little. I mean, I don’t get her at all… but you know she doesn’t make friends easy. And I worry about her but… when she’s up in the air — off the vault or on the unevens or stuff? She’s happy. She’s happy the way she’s happy writing fanfic about Oz or having Dad read to her. And that’s almost the only time. Mom, she needs this.”

Mandy took a deep breath. “Danni. We honestly couldn’t afford Albescu. Finding someone else — I mean, we can enroll her in a club or something but—”

“I’ll get a job!”

Mandy blinked again. She felt almost dizzy, but not for bad reasons. “Oh kiddo, that’s… we’ll figure something out, okay? With everything you’re worrying about and your dad’s worrying about and all the rest, let’s not add to it right now. But you’re a good kid. And a good big sister.”

“Yeah, well…” Danni sounded embarrassed. “I mean, she’s still weird.

“I’m sure she is.” The security door opened, and Mandy stood up. “Gotta go. Love you, kiddo.”

“Love you, Mom.”

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3 thoughts on “⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #5”

  1. “Glad to hear it. Some crooks? They’re thrilled to go to jail. Adrenalin junkies and attention whores. It’s creepy as Hell.”

    Ouch. Just…ouch.

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