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⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #7

Mandy Shapiro on the Phone

Mandy Hartley Shapiro, just prior to the Apocalypse Agenda.

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Forebears

The orange fire formed patterns along the clouds and in the sky — fractals twisting and playing and growing, a sound like a ball bearing rolling down a copper tube echoing in the street. I wondered how many of Holland’s neighbors were looking out their windows at the sound… looking up at the burning mandala of mathematics in the sky, and watching it flare a brighter orange…

With a crack, one corner of the fractal seemed to shatter, opening a hole to grey glowing nothing. A craft the size and shape of a tour bus fell through that hole, frost and ice cracking along its surface as it fell. It was at least a hundred meters up and falling, until six underbody turbofan vanes like the flyer’s snapped out and kicked hard to cushion the landing. Above it, the orange fire faded to nothing, even as the medical float leveled off and twisted down towards the ground.


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 was also a former parahuman hero who was forced out by injuries – now, her own powers threatened to kill her almost all the time. She had just gotten her most recent client, Daniel Holland, released and the charges dropped after the East Meridian Police attempted to deny Holland his right to a lawyer. In response, a number of rogue police officers, including the grieving Detective Corporal Ellis West and trained PATER officer Moroz, attacked Mandy, Holland, and his younger brother Jake – a teenaged Olympic prospect in Archery. In the process, Alec Holland was blown literally open by Moroz, Jake fired a target arrow up the barrel of another officer’s weapon, maiming his hand, and Mandy brought the cops down in a surge of power that made her whole once more for one brief moment… only to have her collapse in neuroleptic shock, her medical monitor watch flashing even as she succumbed to darkness and almost certain death.

Forebears

Book One: Mandy

Part Seven

Somewhere

It was a dark room. Shadowy. Five people all back to back in a pentagon pattern. To Mandy’s left, there was a Hindi woman in green. So commanding. So mature. To that woman’s left, a blonde, well tanned Western European woman in blue. Then, a seven foot tall powerhouse warrior woman with yellow hair literally made out of crystal and a slightly ruddy complexion, wearing a yellow leotard. Then, an Asian man in pale scarlet. Warmth and compassion clung to him. And to his left, a woman of Eastern European descent, black haired in a black jumpsuit, who was tiny compared to the others, and much paler.

In other words? Mandy herself. Her head was slumped forward, so she could see the white exclamation point on the front of her black suit. She wondered if this was who she really was — the real her, under everything else. It certainly seemed likely.

“Well you gave better than you got,” the crystal amazon in yellow said, cheerfully. “That’s not so bad.”

“Honestly, what else could you do?” the man in pink said. So kind. Always so kind.

“Where’s Evan?” Mandy murmured. “Or Danni or Evvie?”

There was an uncomfortable pause.

“Well… you made a choice, didn’t you?” the woman in green said. “At the very end, you chose us. Of course they’re not here.”

“Where’s Colin, then?” Mandy murmured. Things were darker now. It was harder to see.

“He’s dead, remember?” Blue said, voice echoing. “You’re only mostly dead.”

“Oh God, no Princess Bride,” Yellow said. “She doesn’t want to hear that, now of all times!”

“You mean you don’t want to hear it,” Pink said. “Be fair.”

“Shh,” Green said. “It’s happening.”

And Mandy knew it was. Things were darker now. She could barely make the other four out. “Why are you here, then?” she asked, her voice barely a whisper.

“Because we’d never abandon you,” blue said.

“I abandoned you,” Mandy whispered. Or maybe just thought.

“Not really,” pink said. So dark now. So hard to see or hear. “You did what you had to do.”

“We always understood.” green said.

“We always loved you,” blue said.

“But you could have called now and then,” yellow said, giggling.

no i couldn’t, Mandy said, or meant to say, anyway. i couldn’t. i couldn’t even save my client.

“We can’t save everyone,” grn sd, just a scratch in the dark.

“She did,” bl sd.

And then nothing. Nothing but the dark.

“Quitter!”

Mandy felt a chill. What — she knew that voice. She knew that damned voice.

“I knew it!” Beguile hissed in the dark. “I knew you’d never be able to resist. To hold back forever! So sure the world can’t survive without you! You stupid. Weak. Loser! That means I win! THAT MEANS I WIN, ANTONYM!

Mandy sat bolt upright, breath sucking air into her lungs even as tubes and respirators flew off her, entry points sealing where needed. She wheezed, sitting stock upright, her body suddenly very real and hurting all over. It hurt worse than the day she lost everything!

“Oh my God!” Field Agent Theriault shouted. “Ms. Shapiro! Mandy! Mandy it’s all right! It’s all right! Look at me! It’s Marla Theriault! Agent Theriault! Remember? Do you remember!?”

Mandy looked around, wide-eyed. Room. Hospital room. Hospital bed. Hospital gown. ICU. Advanced. Theriault in full DETAILS agent gear holding her.

“Can you hear me? Mandy, can you—”

“How’s Jake?!” Mandy croaked, her voice ragged, her mouth and lips dry.

“Jake is fine. Jake is fine. We’ve got him.”

Mandy worked her lips.

A nurse — no, a med-tech in the light grey jumpsuit of DETAILS medical — ran in. She plugged a hand unit into a port on the bed, checking readings. “Ms. Shapiro — please relax. I need you to relax. You’re come out of fourth stage neuroleptic shock. I need you to lie back and—”

“How’s Danny?” Mandy hissed.

“I need you to lie down, or I’ll have to sedate you! Do you—”

Danny!” Mandy croaked again.

“Mandy!” Theriault said. “Mandy… we… we’re not giving up — I mean, he’s in transit to Central so they can try… they’re not sure if maybe his parahuman body might — he might be in stasis. They’re not…”

Mandy shivered, closing her eyes.

“Ms. Shapiro, please,” the med-tech said. “Lie back. You’re still neurologically traumatized and your readings are all over the place. I’m not sure what’s happening…”

“What happened?” Mandy managed to say.

“Ms. Shapiro—”

“I’ll tell you,” Theriault said. “I’ll tell you everything, but you have to lie down, first. Okay?”

Mandy stared, then lay back. “Thirsty,” she muttered.

“You were intubated,” the medtech said. “I’m not sure why you’re not still—”

“It… popped out when she sat up. Same with the IVs and…”

“Wh— oh God, how’d I miss that?” The med-tech set water near Mandy, then bent a straw so she could sip into her ragged throat. Once Mandy was drinking, she set to re-setting the IV.

Mandy took a long drink, then shifted, looking at Theriault. “Talk,” she rasped.

Theriault paused, then nodded. “Sure.”


DETAILS Station House, Meridian City, Rhode Island

It’s a given in law enforcement, investigation, intelligence, military work, and whatever else DETAILS is in a given week — if you do anything at all, you fill out paperwork. That’s what I was doing. My duty watch had technically ended, but even though the 717B didn’t need to be pursued there was still reports and admin, and my choices were stay late or start it in the morning. I hate doing paperwork first thing.

Okay, it’s all done on active display, not ‘paper.’ But still. It’s the principle that counts.

“Hey, Marl,” Levy said, sticking her head in the office. “Why’re you still here? Coombs and I’ve got this.” Levy had just come on shift, and Coombs was covering a shift so he was working a double.

“Yeah, well — we had a seven-seventeen B called in, which led to a protection order and deal setup and I’ve got to pass it up the chain soonest. God knows I don’t want to have to do this in the morning.”

“A seven— was this the thing in East Meridian? Coombs said something about… I dunno. Sweating a supervillain? How’d that even get called in?”

“Lawyer. Actually, it was kinda crazy. I took the phone call, right? And the cop she was talking to said he’d need verification, so I started the verification trail while Coombs sent the report up the line. I figured we’d officially submit, contact the P.D., then go out in the morning or something. Instead, Dispatch came down to investigate immediately, code grey two. I asked why, and hit a meteor level clearance block.”

“Meteor? Why? And wait — there really is a meteor level clearance? That’s not just a dumb catchphrase?”

“It surprised me too. Anyway. Something about that lawyer. Apparently she’s got pull, which is honestly kind of weird. She doesn’t seem the type. But… Dispatch made it absolutely clear I didn’t need to know why and that was that.”

“Wow. Sounds exciting.” Levy half-smiled sardonically.

“Heh. Yeah. A real banner day for DETAILS Rhode Island, isn’t it?”

There was a three tone klaxon, repeated three times. “Deployment order crash priority,” echoed through the station. “Deployment order crash priority. Launch in two minutes. Launch in two minutes.”

I knocked over the chair on my way out the door, but I ignored it. The reports on my display automatically saved and the screens automatically locked when I left my desk, so I could just get down the hall. Crash priority means just that. We almost never get those, and they’re always drills. I mean, this is Meridian City, not Grantham or Empire or Crown City.

That was Levy’s take, though she was running in step behind me. “A drill, tonight?

“I bet it’s no drill today!” Coombs shouted back, having half-stumbled out of his own office. I didn’t take the bet. The way today had been going? No way.

A false wall retracted at the end of the hall we were running down, revealing a circular room beyond. There were three ladders there — one for each of the core crew slots in a DETAILS Dragonfly class flyer: command pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. Flight certification requires training in all three positions, and in a pinch fight engineer and co-pilot can be combined. That’s what would have happened if I went home on time — Levy’d sit as command pilot, Coombs as co-pilot. But, since I was still in the building and I had seniority on both of them, I was automatically command pilot and agent-in-charge. So, as we scaled up into the belly of the flyer I squeezed around into the command pilot’s seat, buckling the lap but not securing the full five point just yet. Levy slid into the co-pilot’s chair, Coombs into the aft flight engineer’s seat. Displays were already popping up into life as we got in, the engines priming. Above us, the roof access opened onto the overcast night sky.

“Dispatch, this is Flyer Romeo India One Eight Oscar online,” I said, running through the basic checklist quickly. “We are in launch position.” I looked around — the front of the cabin kind of angles inward, and they put some controls on the struts for easy reach, with the whole canopy made of armored reactive display glass. Everything‘s designed around speed and usability. I guess the Cavalier designed all of it before he died, and he outdid himself.

“Roger, Flyer Romeo India One Eight Oscar. Setting designation Dragonfly Orange Nine. Repeating – Orange Nine. Oh-9. Lock up for repulsion launch in ten from… mark.”

I was a little startled. A repulsion launch — well, if you remember the Cavalier? You know how he used to work out of Excelsior Court in Empire, and there were multiple launching points near the top of the skyscraper that let him launch fighters and unmanned drones right in the heart of Midtown? That was possible because of a multiple emitter electromagnetic catapult, designed to hurl craft clear of the launch bay and give their VTOL systems a chance to kick in. This was essentially the same system – it was a railgun and we were the ammo. We only usually do them in training — if we need to launch a Flyer we’ll usually let the launch platform rise out of the roof access, giving clearance to deploy the four VTOL vanes under the flyer. A repulsion launch meant they were willing to hit us with four Gs of acceleration to cut our launch time as much as possible.

I doubt I have to say it, but even startled we connected up our five-point belts. That’s why we have so many drills.

“Locked and ready,” I said.

“Confirmed. Five… four… three…”

The 3C — for ‘Church Cavalry Catapult’ — powered up audibly, before we were hit with the sledgehammer. Zero to 40 meters a second straight up is a Hell of a takeoff, I can tell you. About four seconds later, our current altitude was just shy of a hundred meters. The four airfoil vanes deployed and spread below us, the turbines on each coming up to speed even as the aft propulsion kicked in. Our initial vector had been loaded by Dispatch, and the flyer banked slightly as it turned to meet it and then started to speed up. The flyers were called ‘Dragonfly’ because of its the black and maroon frame and the armored smoked glass panels, tapered and angled so it looked a little bit like an advanced attack helicopter, only with four props under and spread out, and two booster jets behind us. Spread like that it does look pretty bug-like.


Mandy closed her eyes and turned her head to the side, taking a deep breath.

“Mandy?” Theriault asked.

“You don’t have to explain the catapults to me,” Mandy murmured. “Or Colin Church. Just tell me what happened.”

“…oh. Okay. Sorry.”

Mandy snorted. “Don’t be. Just talk.”


Right. Well. Where were – oh, right. We’d just accelerated.

“Course is laid in. Coordinates locked.” Coombs was checking the map. “We’re… going to Meridian Heights?”

Why?” Levy asked. “Is there an attack on a liquor store or pretentious coffeehouse?”

“O-9, you are set for search and rescue,” Dispatch said over the radio. “Target is a white female, five foot, pale skin with brown eyes, brunette hair with slender build. Name is ‘Shapiro, Mandelora.’ Prep for intercession as needed and med-evac top priority. Hypersonic is not authorized at this time.” A display opened on the canopy glass betweeb Levy and me. It showed a file photo of ‘Shapiro, Mandelora,’ from when you were younger, I assume. You didn’t have glasses and you had a short bob cut dyed much darker black.

And obviously, I can’t say I was surprised — the moment I’d heard the klaxons I was pretty sure you’d be involved. ‘Shapiro, Mandelora.’ “Sitrep?” I asked Dispatch.

“Shapiro wears an emergency medical beacon which has broadcast a warning. Her neuroleptic balance has gone skewed, against a potential life-threatening neuroleptic shock. Trigger events for her condition tend to be hostile encounters. All reasonable force in securing Shapiro is authorized. The beacon’s signal is being tied in now.”

“Signal locked,” Coombs said.

“Four minutes arrival time,” Levy said. “Staying subsonic.”

Right then, I wished I’d been able to finish filing my reports. “Dispatch,” I said, “Shapiro is a lawyer whose most recent client was a designated villain with ties to the Calhoun Syndicate. She called in a 717B and secured her client’s release, but her relationship with local law enforcement was strained. The situation may be complicated by circumstance.”

“Understood. De-escalate situation as needed to ensure Shapiro’s safety. Force is authorized as necessary – minimal force by preference, but Shapiro’s safe recovery is top priority.”

“Understood.” The flyer streamlined, the vanes pulling in, with sharply angled wings deploying aft as we accelerated.

An alarm went off, screens going red. “Neuroleptic shock detected!” Dispatch reported. “Weapons hot! I repeat, weapons hot! All speed is go, O-9!”

“Weapons priming!” Levy shouted.

“All speed,” I answered, hitting the burners. Our ETA had been four minutes, but that had assumed a polite deceleration and descent and not putting the pedal down on the way. Now, all that was out the window — it was about getting there and trusting we wouldn’t get pulped by a sudden stop. We were going around eight and a half kilometers, so we didn’t quite reach the sound barrier before the wings snapped back in, the vanes snapped back out and angled against our flight, and the turbofans kicked in hard to stop us. It let us drop from the sky then, cushioning us at twenty meters while our floodlights kicked in to illuminate the scene below us.

Our underbelly eyes took readings and threw them up on the forward display — it looked like a bunch of heavy equipment for construction on a neighborhood street that was cordoned off to traffic, with four to six PATER units, mostly on the ground, along with at least two other bodies and multiple patrol cars’ worth of uniformed officers and a civilian on the scene, using a building — looked like a bank — as a backdrop. Most of them were looking up at that point, and I couldn’t blame them for that.

I clicked the loudspeaker. “This is DETAILS! Please clear a space and step away from the casualties!” I brought the flyer down, even as Levy and Coombs unbelted. Before we hit pavement I popped the lower hatch, so the two of them were in motion, grabbing medical kits and the flat black carbine style ‘service weapon’ we use in these situations.

Coombs and Levy were out first, of course. Coombs ran for one of the bodies — specifically you. Obviously you, really — between your height, build, and that black pantsuit you’re easy to pick out, without even counting your wristwatch flashing like a fireworks display. Levy was moving to cover the others, covering with her service weapon as she went — I was glad to see she didn’t make assumptions, covering both the police and the civilian at the same time. “Back up!” she shouted, brandishing her service weapon. “Everyone back away and stay calm!”

“This is a police matter!” one of the PATER officers who’d managed to stand shouted back. He looked like he’d taken a few shots. His gear was damaged. But that wasn’t the bad part. Right from the moment I hit dirt I’d seen the duct tape covering the officer’s ID and the word PATER on his chest gear, with others having the tape over their logos on their backs and helmets as well.

I’m sure you already know what a massive red flag that duct tape raised. Parahuman Advanced Tactical Enforcement and Response equipped units are required by law to identify as such on any deployment, along with easily parsable officer identification by name and number, parsable at a distance of ten meters by a person with 20/20 vision. If this were the local police? Things were a thousand times worse than the 717B.

“This is now a DETAILS crime scene,” I shouted back. “Levy, call in the sitch. Coombs, status of Shapiro?” As I shouted, I took in the rest of the info. Analyzers were up and feeding tactical information — I had slipped my eyepiece head-up display on, which also served as an ear comm, so I could get tactical information as soon as my gear, Coombs and Levy’s gear, and the flyer registered it. It looked like the PATERs’ multi-chamber weapons were all fried, and they had taken more than a few hits. At least one had a bad injury to his hand, and three were unconscious. Beyond them and Shapiro, there was that other body — with a sudden shock I realized it was Daniel Holland, but it looked like his chest had burst open revealing slagged aluminum or steel inside. Dead? Seemed almost certain. With a sinking feeling, I confirmed the other civilian as Jacob Holland. Still alive, thank God.

“She’s in shock,” Coombs shouted back, answering my question. “Her breathing is very shallow! Rapid heartbeat and significant fever — generalized malignant hyperthermia… Analyzer’s showing… I don’t even know how to read this! I’m sending her condition up the line!”

One uniformed officer strode forward. Theriault recognized her — Lieutenant Berganza — the officer in charge, most likely. “We have this situation under control—” she started.

“These guys killed my brother!” the kid from the station — the one Coombs had been watching — shouted. He was being restrained by two uniformed officers. “They killed my brother and they killed Mandy!”

“We defended ourselves from parahuman attack,” one of the PATER officers snapped. I realized I’d seen him earlier. Moroz. One of the guys who hesitated when told to release Holland. He had his ID and insignia taped over as well, which was a sickening confirmation of the worst, as near as I could tell.

“You jumped us!” Jacob Holland was more than upset — he was almost insane with grief. “We were going home for coffee! Why would we—”

“We tried to de-escalate,” one of the other PATER officers said—

I blinked. He was the other one who was standing, and he had his helmet off. And I knew him. I’d deposed him three hours before. “Wait… West? Detective Corporal West? You’ve had PATER training? It’s not in your file jacket. I thought you were—”

Berganza turned to stare at West. “Wait a second—”

There was a double tone in my ear-comm. I touched it. “Go.”

“Medical trauma team incoming, cleared for spatial refold. Prep for landing.”

I caught my breath, my eyes going wide. I’ve never seen a spatial refold in the field — it was one of those higher technologies DETAILS didn’t like to show off. I’d only ever seen file footage and simulated refolds in training.

“Theriault? Do you copy? Prep for landing of medical trauma team after spatial refold.”

“Roger that,” I managed, then let go of the clip. “Everyone! We have medical incoming! There’s going to be a light show above us! Levy — paint a target north of the flyer for incoming!” I drew my own service weapon to continue covering everyone not dead or dying, while Levy turned to prep a landing field.


“I know what you said about Colin Church, but you’re probably not familiar with the term spatial refold,” Theriault said. “But, apparently you’re cleared for—”

“Hyperlensed dimensional apportation through reallocation of spatial coordinates,” Mandy muttered, her voice almost lacking emotion. “Adapted from Vril-ya tech after heavy examination of Vortex’s powers and their effects. Doc Astonishing built it. I was there.”

Theriault paused. “You were… there?

“Leave it. It doesn’t matter. Go on.”

Theriault was staring. “Who are you?”

Mandy’s eyes flicked up to look at Theriault’s. “Nobody,” she muttered. “I’m nobody at all. Go on.”


Okay, I admit it. I felt overwhelmed. Meanwhile, another two police cruisers had arrived. Off to the side, Coombs had been spraying you with a gel from the med-kit, trying to get your fever down. Levy had finished painting a landing zone then gone back to stay close to Jacob Holland, who was alternating between grief and rage. The PATER team was recovering, not counting the injured guy on the ground. The one with the maimed hand. They had an ambulance coming, of course.

Of the others on the ground – some were unconscious PATER officers. The uniformed police was helping them, even as they’d been helping that other guy. Normally, we’d be rendering medical aid there too, but with Coombs entirely on-task with your medical care, it took both Levy and me to cover the police and protect Holland. I hadn’t even had a chance to check Daniel Holland — the gear said he wasn’t just still warm, his core temperature was still above 200° C. That didn’t mean he was still alive — just that he retained heat. And with that burst chest, I didn’t see how he could still be alive, even if he didn’t bleed or have guts on his insides.

The uniformed officers were on edge. More than one had reached for their own weapon, only to be warned off by Levy or by me. Those tensions were ratcheted up by Lieutenant Berganza grilling West. She was keeping her voice down so I couldn’t make out her exact words but clearly she’d had enough. We’d had time to talk during the 717B investigation. I knew how tired she was. How far everyone had been pushed by the last several weeks. West was clearly upset — but just as clearly didn’t want to say anything in front of me, Coombs or Levy. Moroz and at least one other PATER unit who’d managed to get to his feet seemed to think they could hold a united front and push their story through. That was patently ridiculous — between the injuries, the idea that Daniel Holland had attacked a random PATER unit a block from his own house, the attempts to conceal their police affiliation… there was more than enough to justify a full DETAILS investigation, and it was just as clear the PATER officers wouldn’t be able to hold a story together.

That’s what made all this so dangerous. The best case scenario looked like the PATERs engaging legally but getting out of hand – though ‘legal engagement’ would be hard to prove with their IDs obscured. And the worst case scenario? That would be straight up homicide, and it looked a lot easier to prove.

But honestly, that wasn’t my biggest worry. You and Jacob Holland were.  I felt sick when I realized the twisted mass of metal across Daniel Holland’s chest were his insides. Having read all the after-actions from Vortex’s fight with Holland, I knew that his sensitivity to cold wasn’t enough to shatter him. Vortex had used a makeshift water cannon by opening a wormhole with the aperture located miles out to sea and straight down, well below the thermocline. That intensely cold, high pressure had shocked him and brought him down so they could contain him, but it didn’t crack him.

To not just crack but burst like that? No, that took intention or desperation, and either way…

I didn’t have time to think about that. I touched my ear-comm. “We’re go here.”

“Roger that,” Dispatch answered. “Initiating spatial fold.”

“Everyone brace for a bright light and loud noise!” I shouted, stepping back and making sure no one ran out into the landing zone.

High above, the clouds had been rolling in and night had mostly fallen. That meant that the sudden orange fire playing along their underside were all the more obvious. I heard the surprised reactions of the officers but ignored them. I was too busy staring at the universe’s space/time rules being abrogated.

The orange fire formed patterns along the clouds and in the sky — fractals twisting and playing and growing, a sound like a ball bearing rolling down a copper tube echoing in the street. I wondered how many of Holland’s neighbors were looking out their windows at the sound… looking up at the burning mandala of mathematics in the sky, and watching it flare a brighter orange…

With a crack, one corner of the fractal seemed to shatter, opening a hole to grey glowing nothing. A craft the size and shape of a tour bus fell through that hole, frost and ice cracking along its surface as it fell. It was at least a hundred meters up and falling, until six underbody turbofan vanes like the flyer’s snapped out and kicked hard to cushion the landing. Above it, the orange fire faded to nothing, even as the medical float leveled off and twisted down towards the ground.

“What in the Hell was that?” the PATER agent with the injured hand asked, quietly. He sounded young. Young, and scared, and in way over his head.

The float wasn’t quite down when the side hatch opened and six DETAILS agents — all wearing the light grey med-tech jumpsuits instead of the maroon field suit like mine. I recognized the lead med-tech: Doctor Conover — it was hard to miss her. She’s as short as you are, but heavier and curvier, kind of built like a tank, and she’d worn a pink streak in her light blond hair for years — the kind of thing you only got to do in an organization like DETAILS if you were one of the most renowned parahuman medical specialists in the world, which of course she was. She hit the ground at a dead run, pulling out a far more sophisticated looking medical analyzer than what we had in our field kits, and she ran as fast as she could… straight past you, brushing past me and shoving past the police, getting to Daniel Holland and almost sliding down to one knee. By the time I’d registered any of that, she was already attaching different leads from her analyzer to Holland’s body.

“The objective’s Shapiro,” I said, a little uncertainly. Conover ignored me completely. I would have pushed, but I realized two of the other med-techs were joining Coombs in checking and treating you, while the sixth moved to attend to the injured PATER units — naturally starting with the guy with the hand injury. To my slight relief, I saw two maroon-clad field agents drop down and head to support both Levy and me. I admit the numbers had been worrying me.

“You… you don’t have to do that,” Jacob said, softly, as he watched Conover scan Holland. “I know he’s—”

“We don’t know anything yet,” Conover snapped, not looking up. “If there’s even a chance his parahuman physique can let him recover from this we need to make that happen. I’m getting synaptic rhythms but it’s electrical instead of neural — may be residual autonomic nervous functions…”

One of the med-techs by Shapiro looked at Theriault. “Are you senior in charge?”

I looked at the two new field agents — they were both full field agents, so technically they’d be in charge, but they were taking direction from Levy — meaning they were working support. “Yeah,” I said. “I guess I am. What’ve you got?”

“Massive neuroleptic disruption, which fits the profile. She’s in stage four neuroleptic seizure and comatose. Significant hyperthermia — your agent spraying her with cool-gel was smart. Breathing is shallow. Blood-spec shows heavy glutamate and calcium in her blood and signs of massive dopamine receptor inhibition. Autonomic nervous system’s all over the map and not stabilizing. We’re going to need to get her to Grantham Medical’s parahuman facility as fast as possible.”

“What can you do for now?”

“Well, we’re starting her on dantrolene and cetomallin — hopefully that’ll get her temperature under control. Then bromocriptine as a dopamine receptor agonist and a series of neural regulators followed up by diazepam.” He shook his head. “It’s like treating her for a reaction to antipsychotic meds only her own body’s producing them, and all of that’s treating symptoms instead of the actual core issue. When we get to Grantham Medical—”

“Theriault!” Berganza pushed through to me. “What the Hell is going on here? You have buses falling out of the sky and your agents are treating the PATER officers but making them disarm while they do it—”

“That’s a precaution,” I said, smoothly. I hadn’t seen that, I have to admit, but I wasn’t unhappy to learn it. “So no one gets hurt—”

“It makes them sound like they’re being taken into custody, and we’re nowhere near figuring that out, yet! That pink haired woman—”

“That ‘pink haired woman’ is the kind of doctor they name whole hospitals after, Berganza. Show some respect.”

“Whatever. She’s talking about moving Holland’s body and bringing the brother to Grantham, but Mack says the brother caused his hand injury in an unprovoked aggravated assault! We’re not about to let that kid leave the state.

“Jesus Christ, Lila,” I said, as quietly as she could. “You’re not buying their story, are you? Why would Holland have attacked them?”

“I’m trying to keep my mind open until I know more,” Berganza said, as quietly. “Something horrible happened here, but until we know more, we have to do this right and you know it.”

I opened my mouth… but paused as I realized I heard another ringing sound — metallic, like before. Like a ball bearing down a copper tube, yet again… another spatial refold?

I looked up. Yes indeed, there was another fractal of orange fire in the sky — a bit darker, but still the same sort of thing. I hit my ear-comm. “Dispatch, who’s coming through?” I hissed, but no one answered. Maybe they were just as surprised.

With a skyward crack, another hole opened. This time, a human figure fell through, without the benefit of an aircraft around it. It dropped straight down, not attempting to slow down, and slamming into the ground hard enough to shatter the ice that had formed during the spatial refold transition, landing in the one knee, fist down, ’superhuman landing’ stance. It was a female figure, but looked almost like an android or statue of bronze with silver hair. She stood fluidly, and she didn’t look happy.

“Holy crap,” one of the uniformed officers half-whispered. “It’s—”

“Senior-Special-Agent-in-Charge Lynette Hardesty, Department of Extranormal Tabulation, Analysis, Investigation, Lockdown and Supervision!” she shouted. “Anyone in a PATER suit who isn’t under medical care get your helmets off and lie down on the ground, face down, hands on your head, right now! Conover — get Shapiro and Holland onto the transport and go. Bring Holland’s brother with you. Theriault — you’re with them. If Shapiro wakes up, I want you in the room — let her see someone she recognizes as a good guy! She may be delusional, so be ready for that!”

“I just finished telling Agent Theriault we weren’t about to let Jacob Holland cross state lines!” Berganza snapped. “Not until we know—”

“Shapiro caught the whole thing on video, Lieutenant. I’ve reviewed that video. I’m going to give you ten seconds to retain some small shred of departmental honor, or else I’m making this arrest for you!”

“Reviewed— that’s a lie!” Moroz snapped. “Even if there was film, you had no chance to review it!”

Hardesty’s eyes flicked to take Moroz in, looking down her nose like he was a bug. “Mad respect, Holland,” she said, coldly.

Moroz’s eyes grew wider. “I—”

Hardesty extended an arm forward towards the wall, her palm irising open and a lens appearing. She really was some kind of machine. It had happened years before, I knew, but it was weird to see in person nonetheless. The lens projected a high definition video replay against the brick wall of the bank. I don’t know how she accessed your video, but she clearly did. It showed the attack on Daniel Holland by the officers, also catching your warning. It played through until an officer gunned you down – chilling in the first person, but I guess I don’t need to tell you that. It then went dark and the projector retracted back into Hardesty’s arm. She turned to the police Lieutenant. “Three seconds, Berganza.”

Berganza stared, then looked at the PATER officers. “Get on the ground,” she snapped, curtly. “Ovitz, take them into custody. Read them their rights and cooperate with the DETAILS agents.”

“Lieutenant,” West said. “Lieutenant, you can’t—”

“He was going to help us, Ellis,” Berganza said, coldly. “He’d already been released, but he’d agreed to help us. And now he’s dead, and you’re going to jail for it, and the only person who wins is Calhoun. Don’t you talk to me.”

West looked stunned.

“What do you mean… help us?” the guy with the bad hand asked. He looked young, like I said before.

”Wait – he… he what?“ Jake Holland asked, eyes wide.

Hardesty looked at Holland. Her expression softened, and she seemed to ‘ripple’ into her more human looking appearance. ”Shapiro arranged it with Agent Theriault and Lieutenant Berganza,” she said softly. “He just had to make sure you’d be safe and provided for, first.”

“That’s… no, that’s not possible,” West whispered. He looked horrified.

“You’re supposed to be on our side!” Moroz shouted to Hardesty, rage finally breaking his composure. “You’re an Excelsior! Justice Wing! You’re not supposed to be avenging villains and the slime who help them!”

Hardesty froze in place, before turning to face Morox. I don’t really know her, but when I’ve seen her at a distance or on video she’s usually calm — almost playful in her style. Not now. No, this was ice cold rage. “Officer? You’re going to be prosecuted for this. I promise you that. But if Mandalora Hartley Shapiro dies because of what you did here today, as God is my witness I will see you sepulchered for it, and I’ll be far from alone.” She turned to me. “Get Shapiro and the Hollands on that transport. I’ll take it from here.”

“…it sounds like you should go with her,” I said. “You know her better.” Because she clearly did.

“Yeah, but I’m pretty sure she doesn’t hate you. Get going.”

And I did. We flew you here, and then Conover brought the Hollands with her while the local team got your neuroleptic shock under control. It was… a near thing, I guess, but you made it. And… well. You know the rest.

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