“Of course I can,” Mandy said, quietly. “If it weren’t an inherent conflict of interest, I’d represent them pro bono. I hate them. I hate them, Theriault.” Mandy managed to focus on the woman. “But do I sympathize? Of course I do.”
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 disguised as a PATER response team killed Daniel Holland, attempted to kill Mandy, and were going to kill Holland’s younger brother Jake, when Mandy’s full power kicked in, giving her a few seconds where her original superheroic identity, Antonym, was fully back and evening the odds.
She rapidly and casually brought down all the PATER guards, but the surge of adaptation had triggered a massive neuroleptic surge through Mandy’s body — just like they’d always been worried it would. She fell to the ground, blood pouring from her, even as DETAILS came in. Later, DETAILS agent Marla Theriault filled in the gaps — how DETAILS had gotten an alert off Mandy’s watch sensor, how they had launched and reached her in time to do basic first aid while the rest of the team covered the renegades and they called it in. DETAILS sent a full medical float through a form of fractalized spatial warp that let both Daniel Holland and Mandy go under professional care.
The legendary Senior Special Agent In Charge Lynette Hardesty dropped through her own dimensional rift, having remotely reviewed the footage of the attack, demanding Mandy and the Hollands be thrown to the Parahuman Treatment Center in Grantham and letting Lieutenant Berganza arrest her formal teammates. She also sent Theriault along with the medical transport 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.
When in that seeming certain death, Mandy found herself in a dark, pentagonal room with a gentle golden crystal giant, a genius in a blue flight suit, a scarf, and love, a man in grey and pink who spoke with only kindness and healing, and a woman in green alien armor and power who would not leave her alone — not now. Mandy, as the darkness faded and death came, realized she herself was in a black bodystocking with a exclamation point… until she heard the voice of the one the worst villains to ever walk the Earth laugh that she had won – Mandy had lost, and she had won–
And Mandy, sat bolt upright in the ICU, among DETAILS, which is when she could hear Theriault’s story. A story that ended with Senior Special Agent in Charge Lynette Hardesty swearing that if Mandy died, those responsible would pay dearly, but when Theriault asked if she should be the one to go along, she demurred. Better, Lynette said, that someone Mandy didn’t hate go with her…
Book One: Mandy
East Meridian, Rhode Island
Mandy stared forward. Her head ached. Her throat ached. Her muscles ached. And she felt…
…she wasn’t sure she felt anything at all.
“…hate her?” the medtech asked. It wasn’t Conover. Mandy had met that doctor before, years back. Nice girl. Good pinochle player. Took no crap from anyone. No, this was probably DETAILS medtech staff assigned to Grantham Medical. What was more, she was DETAILS medtech staff that had probably never heard, even second hand, that anyone could hate the cheerful witch-girl spy leading DETAILS.
“Ancient history,” Mandy answered the medtech, softly. “Doesn’t matter. That was in another lifetime, and alas, the dick is dead. Conover thought Danny could be saved?”
“Not here, apparently,” the medtech said. “She took him to Central. But I saw his readings… I wouldn’t… I don’t think…”
“Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.” Mandy closed her eyes. “So they’re going to jail, East Meridian’s down another six officers plus there’ll be a massive scandal, Calhoun’s drug operation continues unscathed, Danny’s probably dead, Jake’s alone, and I’m in Grantham, Massachusetts instead of Bay City, New Jersey. Does that cover it?”
Theriault paused. “Yeah,” she said after a moment. “Yeah, that covers it. But I know that Hardesty’s escalating all this up the chain—”
“DETAILS has a very specific mandate and remit,” Mandy said, dully. “It’s not the FBI. You can’t just decide to take down a criminal syndicate in a specific area. If I were representing a defendant arrested under these terms? I’d have a field day.” She opened her eyes. “It’s the same issue the police are running into with vigilante heroes. Either DETAILS doesn’t have to follow their own rules and local legal procedure while the cops do, or DETAILS and the cops are bound up the same way.”
“I know,” Theriault said. “You know that I know. Hardesty’s not escalating this at DETAILS, she’s—”
“Escalating it with the Excelsiors,” Mandy finished. Her voice was just as empty. “Which means something may actually get done, because super heroes are doing it instead of cops. Especially since Hardesty’s not the only Excelsior who’ll be pissed off tonight. So on the one hand, that means that Calhoun’s operation will get set back or even taken down. On the other, all the factors that led to Danny Holland’s death just get worse, only now the cops are having their noses rubbed in it.”
“You can’t be sympathizing with those murderous—” Theriault began.
“Of course I can,” Mandy said, quietly. “If it weren’t an inherent conflict of interest, I’d represent them pro bono. I hate them. I hate them, Theriault.” Mandy managed to focus on the woman. “But do I sympathize? Of course I do.”
Theriault stared at me. “You’re a better person than I am,” she said, finally.
“No,” Mandy said. “No, I’m not. Don’t believe me? Ask one of my daught—”
She froze. Evvie! The thought stabbed its way through her dissociation like a knife. “Theriault! Do you have my phone?!”
She tried to stand, but the medtech put a hand to keep her down, and she didn’t even feel the reflexive opposition she normally would. “My phone!” she demanded.
“Ms. Shapiro, please!” the medtech said, struggling.
“Okay okay!” Theriault said, lifting her hands and standing upright. “Calm down. I think… I have the stuff from the scene. Hang on.” She ran back to her chair and lifted up a plastic storage bin, which she opened and rummaged through. “Your glasses broke, I’m afraid. I— here!”
She brought the phone to Mandy, powering it on as she went. Mandy realize one of the agents must have shut it off during transport. That was lucky, because Mandy’s nearest charging cable was in her car, and she doubted they shoved her car in the back of the med-evac ship.
Mandy took a deep breath before hitting star-1. There was a moment of dial tone, just enough so she heard the ‘dah dah dah dah’ sound before it dialed. Voicemail waiting.
The phone rang once before clicking. “Where have you been?” Evan sounded intense.
“…what happened?” she asked. The raspiness in her voice was almost gone now. A lot of her aches and pains were, too. That happened the last time her powers almost killed her, for that matter. When she managed to wake up, her body healed itself the way it did back in the old days. She still felt like Hell, of course, but—
“Evvie dropped to 94th by the end,” Evan said. “Albescu lost it. Three coaches separated him from Evvie, but they’re saying he’s the only person with the legal authority to look after her, so she’s in a room with a couple chaperones and Albescu on the other side—”
“That’s bullshit,” Mandy hissed. Voice was still a little shaky, damn it. “They’re still trying to shield him! We can get a waiver faxed—”
“They say we have to fly out here to get her.”
“Fly? With what money!?”
“I called O’Donnell. He called Emily and authorized a payroll advance. I’ve got enough for two round trip tickets out. Gymnastics America is covering her ticket back, of course, but—”
“Don’t say ‘of course.’ They should be covering our tickets!”
“Argue it with them later, Mandy. When can you get back? I need to finalize the flights.”
Mandy opened her mouth, then froze. She swallowed. “…get back. Uh…”
“Are you still in Meridian?” Evan sounded distracted, which was nigh impossible for him.
“…I’m in Grantham,” Mandy said, softly.
Evan paused. “Mandy, what happened? Are you all right?”
Mandy didn’t say anything.
Mandy took a deep breath. “Don’t wait on me. Take that second ticket and fly out with Danni. She shouldn’t be alone right now. I’ll get a flight out from here. Make sure you leave me a message with your arrival details, since you probably won’t reach me. I’ll do the same when I know them.”
“Mandy, are you all right?”
Mandy took a couple of slow breaths. “No,” she said. “No, I’m nowhere near all right, Evan. But right now you’ve got two daughters who are both having personal crises. I promise you I’ll tell you everything. I promise you I’m not in any… current… danger. And I promise you I’ll find a flight out and join you there. But right now, the emergency is Evvie, and we can’t lose sight of that.”
Evan paused for a long, long moment. “Okay,” he said, finally. “You’re right.”
“I know I’m right.”
“You promise you’ll tell me what happened? And you promise you’re… you promise you’re going to survive?” Evan’s voice sounded tight.
“I promise I’ll tell you what happened. And… I promise there isn’t anything that we think will kill me between now and seeing you, barring psychotic taxi drivers or something. I promise, Evan.”
“Because if it were going to kill you you’d already be dead?” Evan asked, intensely.
“Just believe me, Evan. Please.”
Evan paused. “All right,” he said, quietly. “I believe you’ll tell me what happened. And I believe you’ll live at least long enough to do that. And I only believe things that are true, Mandy. I only believe things that are true. Right?”
“Right.” Mandy said, her voice tightening.
“I’ll call you with details. I have to roust Danni and get her packing. She thought she’d have the place to herself.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet she did. Go. I love you.”
“I love you too, Mandy. Be safe.”
The phone clicked. Mandy slowly dropped her head forward, slumping. A last-second ticket from Grantham to Evergreen? She knew what their savings currently didn’t look like. Six or eight months before they’d have been able to absorb things like this, but with one thing and another…
“Mandy?” Theriault asked. “Mandy, what is it?”
“I need to get to Evergreen City,” Mandy said, softly. “My daughter needs me. It’s an emergency.” Call Heather Thompson or Frank Jackson? Maybe. They were usually hard to reach on Friday evenings. The airlines would sometimes authorize emergency situations. Call and yell at Gymnastics America? Any other day she’d do that, but right now she didn’t have it in her to argue. Literally, really. Lillian Tartikoff, over at the Grantham institute? She was essentially family, so— no. No, wait. Evan said Tartikoff was in Europe for some kind of major thing. Damn it….
“Alright,” Theriault said. “Let me call dispatch. It may need to go up a few levels, but given Hardesty’s involvement I’m sure we can authorize a transfer—”
“No!” Mandy snapped, head snapping back up. “No, Marla! I can’t… nothing from DETAILS. Nothing that’ll raise questions! Nothing that—”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” the medtech said. “Calm down, Ms. Shapiro. It’s all right. I’m not even sure you’ll be cleared to travel! I have to talk to the doctors, but for now just calm. Down.”
“It’s important. It can’t… I can’t… I…”
“Okay, I don’t understand what’s going on here,” the medtech said. “You’re obviously a VIP and a parahuman, but they sealed your record and classified your admittance to this center at the codeword level. I had to come in on my day off because no one else immediately available had a high enough security clearance to so much as change your IV. You’re… clearly agitated, and you clearly almost died, and looking at your chart I’d swear you had a monumental adverse reaction to chlorpromazine or some other antipsychotic, but your blood shows no sign of that, and you don’t seem to be schizophrenic. You’re desperate to get to the Pacific Northwest, but you absolutely refuse to let DETAILS send you there. Ms. Shapiro, we can’t help you without understanding the actual problems you’re facing.”
“You’re right,” Theriault said. “Her record is sealed, all the way to meteor level. This isn’t an appropriate line of questioning.”
“I’m not debriefing and I’m not questioning her, Agent. I’m her caregiver and I’m treating her, and I don’t care if—”
“My powers are neurological and adaptive,” Mandy said, softly. “Based on a divine-type secondary parahuman expression some years back. That’s why… that’s why this seizure presented like neuroleptic malignant syndrome. Ever since… ever since I lost it, the paraneurological energy and associated neurotransmitters that both enable my adaptation and then empower that response run the risk of dopaminergic nerve dysfunction, which in turn causes my powers to feed back inappropriate adaptations.”
The medtech and Theriault were both staring at Mandy. “What do you mean… ‘adaptive?’” the medtech asked, finally.
Mandy closed her eyes. “I mean my powers… my abilities… even my skills change based on the situation I’m in, but only when I’m confronting or opposing someone. I… become the perfect balance. The perfect yin to their yang. The perfect opponent. Only, the nervous system’s stupid, so the same neurological factors that make me super strong and invulnerable one moment, super-fast the next, and super-smart in the third look a lot like the ones that lead to schizophrenia or hallucinations or psychosis of different kinds. Since they use dopamine receptors as their mechanism of action, and dopamine’s the body’s positive reinforcement mechanism… I’m naturally inclined to use them. Worse, there’s a level to which I have no control over that, any more than you can prevent your own body from releasing dopamine when you, I dunno. Hit the hundo ring in skee-ball.”
“So… you somehow… assess an opponent… and then your powers adapt you to… what, exploit their weaknesses?” The medtech sounded amazed.
“I’ve heard of that kind of powerset,” Theriault said. “They’re rare. They’re generally called nemesis powers or the nemesis effect.” She sounded… not impressed. In awe.
“No,” Mandy said. “Not those. Nemesis powers let you adapt to beat an opponent. That’s not me. I become their perfect adversary. I don’t get better powers or powers that instantly counter or kill them. I… even the odds. Level the playing field. From haggling over a cab fare to trading punches with Paragon. I’m Edward Woodward, more or less, only writ large. Or at least I was.”
“God, American culture’s dead,” Mandy said. She snorted, hearing a voice in her head. A voice from the past, that sounded so alien to her now…
“Champion of the Living Divine Themis from a World that Never Was! Black Point of the Pentad of Guardians! Founding Excelsior and exemplar of chaos! I am the Advocate and the Adversary! I! Am! An–”
Mandy snapped her head to one side, refusing to even acknowledge the memory.
“Then… how’d you beat all six of those cops?” The medtech was shaking her head, working out the implications.
“Four. Two were already down. And… I don’t have to limit my opposition to a single guy. When I adapt to equal four guys, any one of those guys will be outclassed. I have to be careful ‘cause dropping one of them means my powers lower at the same time, and…” she shrugged. “And they’ll kill me. I’m lucky. I got good at shaping the adaptation on the fly. There’s always an initial surge that’s stronger, so I was able to push it to blow their Church-118s. Otherwise, I’d have to adapt something to counter their range and different modes and… and that extra power’d probably have killed me in a few seconds. Blowing that dropped the power level to something I could handle.” She snorted. “Briefly.”
“So, you… you bat .500?” Theriault asked.
Mandy snorted again. God, she hated talking about this. “No, I win most of the time, because I know what’s going on and they usually don’t, and even if they do… when we’re absolutely evenly matched, it comes down to tactics, will, determination… turns out being a raging asshole helps with all of that. And none of this matters any more, because doing any of this beyond verbal banter will probably kill me now. I can’t… I can’t be around this. Around you. I can’t… it’s so hard to stop. To not automatically confront, to not… and if people start asking questions like ‘why did DETAILS fly you to Washington state…’ I can’t do that. I can’t. I… I have to find another…”
“My God,” Theriault murmured. “But then, why expose yourself to parahuman criminals?”
“I’m not opposing them. I’m representing them. I oppose prosecutors. And that lets me do something positive for the world — forcing law enforcement and the law itself to catch up before this all goes over a cliff and takes society with it. And… I can’t… I have to do something.”
“That something doesn’t entitle you to a helping hand from DETAILS?” the medtech asked.
“It’s not about what I’m entitled to,” Mandy said. “I have to stay alive. I have kids, and they need me, and…”
“How are you getting to Evergreen City?” Theriault asked quietly. “Since you don’t have the cash, and from what I gather you don’t even have the low-level version of your powers right now? What’s your option, Mandy?”
“Her option’s simple,” a new voice said. “She can ask for help. Even though she hates doing that so much it isn’t even funny.”
Theriault glanced at the door, then did a double-take. Seeing her reaction, the medtech turned—
Mandy didn’t need to look up. She knew who was there. She knew how stunned the two DETAILS people would be. Seeing that heavy green uniform with the comet symbol. The mask. Her brown hair, the sheer strength and ineffable command she brought into a room just by walking in. She could almost hear her shouting back in the old days, too:
“Alien Paladin from a World that Never Was! Green Point of the Pentad of Guardians! Founding Excelsior and exemplar of primacy! I am the Leader and the Inspiration! I! Am! Shooting Star! And we are the Pentad of Guardians!“
Oh, yeah. This would be a shocking moment for these two. But for Mandy?
Mandy was just surprised it had taken this long.
“Oh my God,” Theriault said. “You’re… you’re Shooting Star! The— the Excelsiors! The Pentad of Guardians! The… oh my God.”
“We just go by ‘Excelsiors’ now,” Shooting Star said, calmly. “You need five members to be a Pentad. Please excuse me. I need to speak privately with Ms. Shapiro.”
Mandy shivered. Damn it, Star.
The medtech looked like she would argue, but Theriault took her by the arm and marched her out of the room, shutting the door behind her.
Shooting Star watched them go. Then, she walked over and did a fast spot-weld on the door to ensure no one could open it. Star walked over to the box that Theriault left in her chair, leaned down, pulled Mandy’s watch out of it, then turned around and walked over to Mandy’s bed.
The hero knelt, reaching up, and slid off the open cowl that covered her face but let the top of her hair out down to her chin, baring her face. She was sitting at a level with Mandy, looking at her.
Mandy slowly looked up. The same brown eyes. The same slightly roundish face, radiant and deep to Mandy’s slightly blotchy pale. They were both on the far side of fifty now, but the last time Mandy had seen herself in a mirror, she’d looked it. The Desi American woman could easily pass for mid-thirties, and wasn’t going to age any time soon.
“Hey, Mandalora,” the woman said, very quietly.
“Hey, Nagini,” Mandy said, just as quietly. “You look amazing.”
“And you look like absolute Hell.” She offered Mandy her watch. “Thank God you still wear this thing.”
“That was the deal, Naggy,” Mandy said, softly. “I even run my A/V through it.”
“That was the deal,” Naggy agreed. “But that never meant it was your plan. You drop these ‘deals’ like bricks when you get tired of them.”
“I know.” Mandy took the watch and slowly put it back on. “But Colin knew what he was doing when he gave it to me. God damn bastard knew I’d hate it the moment I saw it. It’s so him, so not me. He knew I’d never look at it without feeling a little bit annoyed, and immediately think of him.”
“But you took it,” Naggy said, softly.
“Of course I took it. I was hurt. I was scared. I was… everything had gone to Hell. I’d lost everything, Naggy. And everyone was being so kind, so warm, so loving and there for me, and I wanted to scream. Then Colin saunters in, with a snide insult for Evan and the implication that clearly I should have married him in the first place and he handed me this watch he knew I’d hate and said, ‘Here. Because I’m such a great guy, here’s a chance to go out and get bagels without a medical team shadowing you. Sorry, I tried to get a Casio calculator watch for you, but my card was rejected.’” A tear trailed down Mandy’s face. “He treated me exactly the same way he’d treated me the day before. Not like I was made out of glass. Not like I needed hugs. He was an asshole, and he was an asshole to me. I swear to God, there was never a single day of our engagement that I loved him more than as I did getting pissed off at the smug look on his face.” She shook her head. “Colin and Evan. The only two who still treated me like Mandy the day after everything went to Hell.”
“Well, yeah,” Naggy said. “Colin was an asshole, and Evan’s the most self-centered, self-obsessed prick I’ve ever met. Say what you want, Mandy. You’ve got a type.”
“Yeah.” Mandy almost smiled. “Yeah.” She looked at the Rolex on her wrist. “I never saw Colin again. You know that? No phone calls, no mail, no courtroom shenanigans.”
“Of course I know that. He was an asshole, but he had his pride. He wasn’t going to come begging, even if he’d ignore your wishes any other time.” She paused. “It’s the rest of us who only stay away because you made us promise.”
Mandy closed her eyes. “Yup.”
“It’s been over eleven years, Mandy. Eleven years. How long? How long does it take before you can forgive us?”
“Fo— forgive you for what?” Mandy’s words were halting… they lacked conviction. She was too used to using what was left of her abilities in casual conversation.
“For surviving. For not getting maimed. For still being who we were.”
Mandy opened her eyes. “What? Are— are you kidding me? This isn’t about you!”
Despite herself, Naggy chuckled. “Of course it isn’t. I forgot who I was talking to.”
“I mean it. I mean it. Naggy, you did— none of you did anything wrong! Resent you? Hate you? Need to forgive you? Jesus. You all think that, don’t you. Every God damn Excelsior must just think I’m the most petty bitch in the tri-state area.” Despite herself, tears had started down Mandy’s cheeks. Tears she completely refused to acknowledge.
Naggy rubbed her temple. “Because you think we’re all just that petty. God damn, it, Ant — this isn’t—”
“DON’T YOU FUCKING CALL ME ANT!” Mandy’s rage tore through her residual dissociation, smashing Naggy with a vitriolic tsunami. “Antonym is dead! Antonym has to be dead!”
“Jesus, Mandy, calm down! And don’t argue with me or oppose me! If you try to adapt to me—”
“Then I’ll be dead, right? Like you have to remind me that everything I am — everything I am is trying to kill me every minute of every God damned day!” Mandy hugged herself. “You think I ever forget? You think I ever forget?! It’s like the whole damn universe reinforces and demands and pushes and punches and stabs me all the time, just waiting to get a rise out of me! I have all these tricks and mantras and stubborn little—”
“But you still use it,” Naggy said. “We see those logs, Mandy. We know you’re doing little adaptations all the time.” Naggy’s voice had lowered. She was being reasonable. Because of course she was. She was the reasonable one. That’s why she was in charge of the Pentad of Guardians. That’s why she was senior in the Excelsiors.
“What part of any of this makes you think I have a choice?” Mandy was shivering now. “It’s my damn nervous system, Naggy! It doesn’t come with an off switch! I can’t choose to turn my color vision off because I think sepia would be cool, and I can’t choose to stop opposing because I know it’ll kill me!” She was breathing hard. “I’ve made it eleven years like this, and you think it’s because I thought ‘hey, sure. It might kill me but what the Hell?’”
“No,” Naggy said. “I don’t think that. I never did. The problem is, you think that. You believe it. You hate yourself for being too weak or too clumsy to avoid it.”
“I hate myself for a lot of reasons, Naggy. I don’t need a special one.”
Naggy looked out the hospital window, into the gloom of the night. She pressed the tips of her fingers firmly together beneath her chin, the left digits pushing the right ones back and forth. An undulating current. A nervous gesture. “Then let us help you,” she said. “Please, Mandy. Please. Nothing’s changed. We love you. I love you. Whether or not ‘Antonym’ is dead, you aren’t. And we miss you.”
“I know,” Mandy said, her voice dropping to a whisper. “I know you do. Naggy, I miss you so much. I miss you all so much. Every day — every day, I miss you.”
“Then come home. Let us help. Let us help, or the next time something like this happens… Mandy, you’re so lucky I can’t even believe it. That one should have killed you.”
“That’s why I can’t ever go back,” Mandy said. “That’s why I can’t see you, or talk to you, or anything. Why I can’t hang out back at base or… Naggy, I… I blew it today. I blew it all. I was upset, and I should have stayed home, but there was stuff, and… and it got harder and harder but I couldn’t just walk away, and then… and then they came for us.
“They came for us, and I had to force myself to go down and stay down because I knew I’d die… and then I couldn’t even do that, Naggy! They killed my client, Naggy! They killed him, right in front of me! And I had to just watch! And while I lay there I had to beg myself over and over again to do nothing… and then they threatened Jake and… I kept thinking of my kids and I held it back but they killed my client and this teenager’s chin went up and he refused to be scared and that was it!”
Naggy just let Mandy talk, but Mandy hardly needed permission. The words were spilling out, now. “And for… fifteen seconds? Ten? Five? I was alive, Naggy! I was me! I was…” she shuddered. “I was Antonym, and it was exactly like I remembered it, and if I’d done that same thing fifteen seconds before Danny would be alive right now but instead I let him die and I still couldn’t stop myself from—”
“Hey!” Naggy cut in. “No, Mandy. No. Stop. If you’d reacted earlier… God. Mandy, you are unimaginably lucky you’re not dead, and that was after two of them had been taken down and the rest had taken damage. If you’d opposed all six, all still fresh? The initial surge would have put you into a much worse neuroleptic event. You’d probably have died before you hit the ground. Even if you hadn’t, DETAILS would’ve still been in their base, not halfway to picking you up.” She let her words sink in for a second. “Either way, Daniel Holland would still be dead. Jake Holland probably would be, too.”
“You don’t know that,” Mandy said, softly.
“Mandy? I saw the telemetry from your watch. I do know that.”
“No, you don’t. You’re right. I’d be dead. But you don’t know Danny’d be dead. You don’t know I’d be dead in the first surge. If you were telling me all this this morning, you’d probably have said the initial surge that took out their hand cannons would have put me into a seizure, but it didn’t. I might have survived a good five or ten seconds, even at that higher power level. If I had? Danny’d be alive right now.”
“But you’d be dead.” Naggy was firm.
“Yeah.” Mandy looked down again. “He was my client, Nagini. I have no business surviving if he didn’t.”
“That’s bullshit, Mandy. You know that’s bullshit. You trading your life for his—”
“He was my client. He was my responsibility.”
“He was a super villain, Mandy. Maybe he was trying to change. Maybe it was just a mistake. But you wouldn’t have been here at all, except he tried to provide cover for Calhoun’s trafficking. You got him out of jail. That doesn’t make his death your responsibility.”
“He was killed by the cops that I humiliated getting him out of jail, Naggy.” Mandy’s eyes flicked back up. “That makes this whole thing my responsibility.” She took a breath. “I went too far. Got in too deep. I was already agitated when I got here and things got worse on more than one front, and so by the time we got to their neighborhood it was all my responsibility.” She shivered. “Jake’s my responsibility, too. But at least that one I handle.”
“Jake — the brother? How can you ‘handle’ that?”
“Simple,” she whispered. “You’re here. I can make him your problem.”