Mandy Shapiro on the Phone
Justice Wing, Serial, Superhero

⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #9 (Double Sized Conclusion of Book One: Mandy!)

This entry is part 9 of 13 in the series Forebears

“Oh my God, Mandy!” came a shout. Topaz. Of course it was Topaz. “Oh my God oh my God Mandy! Are you all right? Who did this to you? I’ll tear them into kibble! What do you need? How can I help—”

“Teeny! Shh! Mandy? Mandy, this is Hearth.” Dorian sounded… like Dorian. Warm. Caring. Concerned. And laser focused. “I haven’t been able to get over there yet, but I’ve gotten reports on your recovery. I think I can help balance out your residual neurological disruption before your abilities significantly reassert themselves—”

“Eighteen seconds!” That shout was Keira — Jetgirl. “I was eighteen seconds behind Hardesty, and she cheated! I scared the Hell out of those punks, I can tell you! They thought Lynette landed hard? They had no idea!

“Aunt Mandy? Aunt Mandy?

Mandy’s throat caught, tears beading unexpectedly in her eyes.


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, but the neuroleptic surge it caused after she saved Jake Holland put her on the threshold of death.
Now, having awakened in Grantham, Massachusetts, Mandy has learned Albescu has crossed the line with Evvie and the Shapiros need to get across the country as fast as possible. Though she had no resources with which to go… Shooting Star, of the Pentad of Guardians and the Excelsiors – and Mandy’s best friend – arrived ready to help… if Mandy could only take that help without getting killed in the process.

Forebears

Book One: Mandy

Part Nine

East Meridian, Rhode Island

“Our problem?” Naggy looked a bit confused. “How is Jake Holland our problem? I mean, I’m sure we’ll help where we can, but you’re the one who used to tell me we couldn’t pick up every stray cat.”

“He’s not a stray cat,“ Mandy said. “He’s why we exist. Well, why you exist. He has to go to the Justice Wing Institute in Grantham. That’s your job.”

“Gra— he’s a parahuman?”

“Nope. Totally prosahuman. But he’s an archer.”

“…and Jet can drive a car, but that doesn’t make her a candidate for F1 motorsports.”

“The way she drives?” Mandy snorted. “Earlier I’d have called him Olympic level, ‘cause he is. Since then, I watched him take an unenhanced Olympic recurve and a sport target arrow — not even carbon fiber, I don’t think — and put it up the barrel of a Church–118 while it was in motion. The guy with the blown up hand? That was Jake’s doing, using the absolute wrong archery equipment for the job. All while he was trying to get six cops who’d taken out his parahuman brother and apparently killed their lawyer to stand down and not showing any fear.” She looked into Naggy’s eyes. “And he’s fifteen years old, Naggy.”

Naggy stared at Mandy. “Really?”

“I don’t think the angle was right so I didn’t get the shot on film, but the audio would have carried through. Hardesty has that. So yeah. Prosa doesn’t matter. He belongs at the Grantham Institute. Which is good, because he has nowhere else to go, and I can’t afford another kid. Especially another Olympian.”

Another Olympian?”

“Yeah. Daughter’s a gymnast. That’s… the thing you walked in on? It’s why I need to get to Evergreen.”

“Loredana’s an Olympic gymnast? That’s amazing, Mandy!”

“No — not Danni.” Mandy paused. “Danni. Danny. I… I didn’t make that connection before now. Huh.”

“…then… who’s the gymnast?”

“Wh— oh. Second kid. Evvie. She’s at the under-ten Nationals right now.”

Naggy stared at Mandy again.

“What?”

“You had another child and didn’t call us?”

Mandy rubbed her eyes. “Can we not do this with every shocking revelation in my life, Naggy? Yeah. We had another kid. No, I didn’t call you. I don’t call you. I thought you understood why, but clearly…” She dropped her hand and looked back at Naggy. At this woman who had been Mandy’s leader. Been one of her closest friends. Been someone closer than family. “When you showed up at the door… okay, I admit it. I was relieved. I was happy to hear your voice, even if I could barely parse it. I wanted you to be at the door. But do you know what my first thought was?”

“What?” Naggy asked, very softly.

“My first thought was ‘wait, Keira’s faster than Naggy. Why isn’t she here instead? Oh my God, is Keira all right? And wait — I must have been down for hours. It took Naggy this long? I pulled her away from an emergency. Oh God, is that why Dorian wasn’t in the medical float that DETAILS folded over? What’s wrong? What do they need? I have to help them!’” Mandy shuddered, closing her eyes and lying back on the bed, wrapping her arms around herself. “Add Conner to that list, or Sonata or Rodent or… Hell, Freya.

“Mandy. Everyone’s fine.”

“Don’t say that! Don’t tell me everyone’s fine, Naggy! I know damn well you’d say they were fine if they were in a pitched battle with Moloch and the Netherspati for all reality, all so I wouldn’t worry! So my brain goes to the worst possible case scenario! You saw it happen when we lived in the same damn apartment! Do you think I’ve gotten any better since I was maimed fighting a concept?” Mandy’s breath was coming faster now. Her heart was pounding again. Which meant the neuroleptic shock was wearing off, but also meant she’d have to be careful, just like Nagini had said, or else she could kill herself just accidentally opposing someone of her power level.

Naggy’s mouth dropped open, and she put her hand up to it. “Oh… Mandy… I didn’t realize…”

Mandy snorted. “Of course you didn’t. Why should you?” She took deep breaths. Calming herself down. “That’s why it’s cold turkey, Naggy. That’s why I don’t call you guys, or write to you guys, or ever see you unless you’re called in a case where I’m defending one of your perps. I can’t stop my brain from running away with all the worst case scenarios, and in every one of those cases my entire nervous system is telling me ‘get over yourself and get out there and do something,’ even though I know I’d die. I’d die. If you guys were in my life, I’d never make it two weeks, Naggy! And maybe that’s how it should be but… but… I have kids, Naggy. I have kids, and Evan, and a mortgage, and too much shit to get done to die! But I’m…” Her voice dropped. “I’m not strong enough.”

“Mandy… you’re the strongest—”

“Don’t. Jesus — I wasn’t even strong enough to stay down today and that was for two guys I just met. Do you think… do you think I could stop myself if it were Keira, or Teeny, or Dorian? Or you?” Mandy closed her eyes. “I’m the advocate, Naggy. I’m the adversary. You’re the leader and the inspiration. Keira’s the brain and the will. Dorian’s the heart and the healer. Teeny’s the strong arm and the smile. And I’m the one who stands up and puts them down, and I’m not there and I know it.” She was crying again, but she tried to ignore that. “It was supposed to be the five of us, and I’m not there, and the fact that I can’t be doesn’t change that.

Naggy leaned down, scooping Mandy up into a hug. Mandy let her, crying onto her shoulder and still speaking. “…Colin died and I was on the other side of the planet, Naggy! And it’s all going over a cliff and… and I should be stopping it but I can’t and I know it. I can’t even save my client from a bunch of idiot renegade cops acting out of anger and grief and…” She took another breath. “So I have to stay away. I can’t have ties to you. I can’t talk to you. I can’t let anyone ask questions. I can’t let any part of that life into my life today, or I won’t be able to stop myself! I’m not strong enough. I’m… I’m just not.”

“But you can manage it if we’re not around?” Naggy asked, quietly.

Mandy gasped for breath, getting a little bit under control. “I… usually. And… and being criminal defense means I can do something. I can be a literal advocate, and that calms it down. And the work I do’s important. Everyone deserves a zealous defense, Naggy. I can do that. And I… I can help… I can help push law enforcement to be what they need to be when the God damn hero bubble bursts. And sometimes… just sometimes…” She shivered. “Or… or I thought I could, anyway.”

“What was different, today?” Naggy asked, still just as quiet. “Why couldn’t you keep it under wraps better?”

Mandy shivered again. “Danni’s having a crisis, and now Evvie’s… oh God she’s all alone across the country and her coach has gone off the deep end and that means my nine year old daughter is alone in Evergreen City and I’m not there and… and…“ Mandy forced herself to calm down, at least a little. “And I couldn’t hold it together. I was too upset. That made me too confrontational. It kept everything keyed up. I got a nosebleed from sparring with a corrupt prosecutor. I should have… I should have gotten the Hell out then but… and then it all just went to Hell and I couldn’t stop them and I couldn’t stop myself, Naggy.”

“Shh. Shh. I know. It’s okay,” Naggy said. “For once, let me be the hero, okay? Even if it drives you nuts.”

Mandy shivered. “Okay,” she murmured.

Naggy squeezed a bit. “So. You have a daughter named Evvie. What ridiculous name does that stand for? Evangeline? Evangelion? Evanescence? I know how your family works, Mandalora.”

“Eve. Her name’s Eve.”

Naggy paused. “Her name’s… just ‘Eve?’”

“I named Danni. Evan got to name Evvie.”

“…so you named your daughter a ridiculously archaic name, and your husband literally named his daughter after himself. God, Mandy. You two never change.” Naggy smiled a little bit.

And despite herself, Mandy did too.

Naggy shifted, putting on her ‘command’ voice. “So there’s an emergency in Evergreen City. What’s happening? And if you tell me to keep out of it as God is my witness I’ll leave, go find a bagel, come back, and throw a bagel at you. Do you hear me?”

Mandy snorted, which turned into a giggle. “God, I’m tired,” she murmured. “Evvie’s the gymnast, like I said. She’s good. Prosa, near as we can tell, but gifted. Like, once in a generation gifted, or so we were told. And… Evvie’s closer to Evan than me. I got Danni, he got Evvie. She’s his kind of dreamer. Danni’s my kind of practical.” Mandy shook her head against Naggy’s shoulder, the smooth, ceramic-like plates and alien leatherish fabric of her uniform rough against Mandy’s face. “For a few years now… she’s had a private coach. Romanian guy — part of their whole gymnastics machine over there. In good with the Lazars — they’re the ones who turned Gymnastics America around, and I can’t imagine you care about that.”

“So she’s been training. Shooting for the Olympics. Got it.”

“Yeah. But… Albescu — he’s the Romanian — he hit his limits. Started getting frustrated with her progress. Got angry with Evan ‘cause Evan wanted her to be a kid instead of an athlete. He began pushing — trying to get more time with Evvie. Eat all her meals with her. Keep her away from us. And we pushed back hard. I mean, even without his psychotic control freaking, this is just ridiculously expensive, Naggy. We’re essentially paying Albescu a salary, plus expenses for the training, plus expenses for tournaments and meets and leotards. Do you have any idea how much a competition leotard costs? For a nine year old? But we had no alternatives. Olympic caliber coaches don’t just show up, and Evan believes in Evvie and…” Mandy swallowed. “And Evan only believes in true things. So I backed them both.”

“Of course you have alternatives,” Naggy said. “Jesus, Mandy. I’d help, or Jet would, or if you can’t handle that coming from us, Connor Church is practically your nephew! He’d sponsor her in a heartbeat and you—”

Mandy stiffened in the hug.

“…I’m sorry. I’m sorry. It’s… it’s hard to remember. Right. You can’t have Connor in your life any more than you can have us in your life. Go on.”

“Yeah. Anyway.” Mandy sniffled. “Things got worse, and now they’re at the Nationals on the other side of the country, and neither Evan nor I could get away — Albescu’s the one who has guardianship on site. But Evvie’s upset and she blew it, and he’s gone over the edge. The implication is some assistant coach stopping him from attacking her. We’d already decided to fire him when they got back, and… we had talked about calling you. Despite everything. Because if he got… if he got violent then…”

“Then for once, it would be less dangerous to have Shooting Star or Topaz backing you up than it would be trying to protect your daughter from an unstable and potentially violent coach, because the opposition might trigger a neuroleptic seizure?”

“Yeah. I mean, I’d beat him. And I’d probably live, but seeing her mother attack the coach she’s spent seven days a week with for over half her life, beat the stuffing out of him, and then collapse while bleeding out her tear ducts… Jesus, they don’t even have names for that kind of trauma, Naggy. And then… that’d be enough, but Evan’s been point on that. I could have kept my cool, But Danni…”

“Danni — so Loredana? Not your client?” Naggy squeezed Mandy a bit. Being there, but also making sure she understood.

“Yeah,” Mandy said, softly. “Yeah. That Danni.”

“What about her?”

“She finished a play’s run on Wednesday, just before the school holiday. They had a cast party out of town at a friend’s farm house. Sixteen year olds doing what they do, and Danni’s a popular kid…”

“Oh God, what happened?”

“She got hit with a spiked drink. I don’t have to connect the dots over what might have happened — but it didn’t happen because Danni had a sudden metabolic surge when the drugs hit her system and she shoved the bastard through the wall into the living room, where the rest of the gang realized what he’d tried to do. By the time we got her home she was perfectly fine — all signs of the crap in her veins flushed out.” Mandy paused. “Primary parahuman expression, Naggy. It saved her. And terrified her as much as what almost happened. She never wanted this. Not like I did when I was her age.”

“…oh my God. Mandy, you have to let us help with this. The Grantham Institute, if nothing else—”

“If that’s what she wants, then yeah. Yeah of course, Naggy. But if she doesn’t want that life, then it makes it more important to keep you — to keep my past out of it.” Mandy spoke intensely, gripping Naggy in a bearhug at that point.

Naggy opened her mouth — to argue, maybe — but she stopped herself. “Why?”

“Because she loves me,” Mandy said, softly. “She’s my kid, Naggy. And she’s sat up making plans for college, to conquer the business world, to maybe hit law school like me but probably not. She doesn’t want the hero life, and we told her being parahuman doesn’t mean she has to have it.”

“And…?”

“And if I told her about my past… if I told her that I wasn’t just a parahuman… but that I used to be Antonym of the Pentad of Guardians? That I didn’t just hero but that I was a founding Excelsior and that the uncle in the expensive suits she barely remembers from when we lived in Empire City was literally Colin Church aka the Cavalier and that we were a thing… and that the only reason I stopped heroing was because I had to stop or it would kill me?”

“She’d be angry you kept this from her?”

“I could live with that. Nags… she’d… she’d decide she had to take my place. That because I wanted this but had it taken away — that it kills me to fail you guys every day I’m not there… she loves me, Nagini. She’d go to the Institute and become a hero and hate every minute of it because it’s not what she wants. So it’s more important than ever that she not know.

“You may not be giving her enough credit,” Naggy said, quietly.

“You’re probably right. And when she’s in her twenties I’ll come clean and we’ll talk it out, but right now? She has to want to go to the Institute. She can’t do it for me. I won’t have her live her life trying to make up for me or my broken dreams. I’m an asshole and probably a terrible mother, but I won’t be that asshole terrible mother. I won’t.

“You’re not a terrible mother, Mandy. You’re an amazing mother. You always have been.”

Mandy murmured a ‘thanks,’ then paused. “Wait. Asshole you’ll cop to?”

“Mandy, you are the bitch-queen of assholes. You own that. I respect you for it.”

Mandy snorted. “Killer. So anyway. That’s… that’s the whole thing. It all sounds so small, doesn’t it? I mean, compare that to SCYLLA attacking the Jersey Shore or Hecate sending a legion of winged things to tear down the Statue of Liberty—”

“You’re a mother, Mandy. A good one, despite your own opinion and every rational conjecture we might have had once upon a time—”

“Wait. Why did I miss you guys again?” Despite her words, Mandy squeezed a little harder in the hug.

“My point is this. There’s no scale. No competition between emergencies. Is this ‘small?’ It had you so agitated you couldn’t rein in your adversation, and that primed you for a neuroleptic seizure. That sounds pretty big to me.” Naggy chuckled. “Me and a lot of people. DETAILS authorized two refolds to save you. Lynette took a direct hand. And you mentioned Jet, and Hearth, and Topaz for that matter? Every one of them was ready to drop everything, Mandy. Jet was in the air heading for you at hypersonic when we got word that you were on the medical float. And Hearth and Topaz? Last I heard they were trying to get Vortex to gate over to Excelsior Court and pick them up. She’s busy, I’m not sure with what, but she’s… oh who cares.” Naggy smiled a little bit. “Mandy? You can cut us out of your life. I can even… sort of… understand why. But as far as anyone in Empire City is concerned you’re still an Excelsior… and as far as we go? We’re five, Mandy. Pentad of Guardians. And one of the daughters of the Pentad’s in trouble. This is our emergency, not yours. You’re not alone with it this time.”

“…I can’t… I can’t tip my hand, Naggy. I can’t.”

“We can be discreet, Mandy. You do know that, right?” Naggy half-smiled. “All right, tissue up. I’m calling it in.” Despite her words, she let Mandy be the one to let go first, then reached over to a nearby table and grabbed a box of tissues for Mandy..

Mandy blew her nose and threw the tissue away. No blood this time. Really, physically she felt pretty good. That had happened the first time she’d gone into a life threatening neuroleptic seizure, too — her adaptation abilities almost always included regenerative healing, and that seemed to carry through. That last surge into consciousness — the one that forced her IVs and tubes out — had probably finished that healing cycle up, too.

It didn’t help the fragility she was feeling… but it had been a bad day, right? Besides, she wasn’t sure where she was with her powers. She knew she wasn’t out of the woods.

Nagini had pulled her mask back up, and was tapping the wrist-comm she wore as a gauntlet. Some people thought her uniform was the source of her powers, but Mandy knew it wasn’t — instead, it used the quintessence she naturally generated to fuel a number of useful systems. Really, when Shooting Star really cut loose, her uniform was the first thing to blow out. “So… what? You’re messaging them?”

Shooting Star paused. “Something like that. Think fast.” She hit another key on her gauntlet, and an audible click turned into the squeal of Star’s suit connecting to the Wingcomm network the Excelsiors piggybacked off of.

“Wh– hey!”

“Channel E,” a baritone voice said. E for Excelsior. Mandy recognized the voice as Alexander ‘Andy’ Pope’s — his role had moved from the Cavalry to the Excelsiors almost seamlessly. Clearly he was still there. “We have you, Star. What’s the word?”

“The word is positive.” Star glanced back at Mandy. Mandy was staring at Star, which made the hero grin. She cleared her throat. “I’m in a hospital room with a Mrs. Mandalora Shapiro. She’s a parahuman criminal defense attorney. Some of you may have met her in court. She is awake and communicative, but needs our help.”

There was a pause.

“Oh my God, Mandy!” came a shout. Topaz. Of course it was Topaz. “Oh my God oh my God Mandy! Are you all right? Who did this to you? I’ll tear them into kibble! What do you need? How can I help—”

“Teeny! Shh! Mandy? Mandy, this is Hearth.” Dorian sounded… like Dorian. Warm. Caring. Concerned. And laser focused. “I haven’t been able to get over there yet, but I’ve gotten reports on your recovery. I think I can help balance out your residual neurological disruption before your abilities significantly reassert themselves—”

“Eighteen seconds!” That shout was Keira — Jetgirl. “I was eighteen seconds behind Hardesty, and she cheated! I scared the Hell out of those punks, I can tell you! They thought Lynette landed hard? They had no idea!

“Aunt Mandy? Aunt Mandy?

Mandy’s throat caught, tears beading unexpectedly in her eyes. The voice — his voice… was so grown up. Not much like Colin’s, but that made sense. Mandy had known Juniper Church. Her son had always taken after her in so many ways. “Hey,” she managed to croak. “Hey Connor. Hey guy. Yeah, it’s me. It’s me, everyone. I…”

“…oh God are you okay? Are you—” the man who went by Phalanx now paused, almost scared to ask from the sound of it. “Are you… coming home?”

Star looked away.

Mandy closed her eyes. “I’d… I’d love to, guy. God, you sound great. But… I can’t. I can’t and… Star can explain it, later. Right now…”

“Right now, Ms. Shapiro needs our help,” Star said. She had that voice of command in her voice.

“What’s the situation?” This was a new voice — one cutting in from a remote feed. Mandy knew this one too. Jason ‘Jayce’ McCallister. AKA the Lieutenant. “And to mention, I’ve patched in Sprite and Freya remotely, and I have the Beacon on standby but not listening — the last in case you need immediate—”

“I don’t need… God, McCallister, can’t you just say ‘hi’ like a normal human being?” Mandy still had her eyes closed, but was smiling.

“Oh yeah,” Topaz said. “That’s Mandy.”

“Ms. Shapiro has two daughters, both in crisis — don’t jump in!” Star had her full ‘taking charge’ voice now. “You can yell at her for not calling us later. God knows I will. The first daughter likely doesn’t need a direct intervention at this time, but is already en route to Evergreen City with her father.”

“Evergreen?” Connor asked. “What’s in Evergreen? Hang on… I’m listening.” Mandy could hear typing – the rat-ta-ta-tat Connor always made the way he hammered on the keys.

“Ms. Shapiro’s second daughter, Connor. She’s nine years old and an elite gymnast and she’s at a meet in Evergreen City. Her coach has turned abusive and Gymnastics America is being unhelpful, though she’s safe for the moment.”

“I’m starting the launch prep checklist,” Jetgirl said. “Just shy of 3,900 klicks. Andy! Get me a weather track — if I can get a straight shot high enough to avoid sonic boom problems, I can kick it to three and three quarters mach and—”

“Not how we’re playing this,” Star said. “It’s very important that we maintain Ms. Shapiro’s cover, while ensuring her daughter’s safety. That might mean a confrontation, but if at all possible everyone involved has to be incognito.“

“Mm,” McCallister said. “Understood. So the Beacon can’t flashburst her out there because then there’d be questions of how she managed it. At the same time we have to make sure she’s safe. What resources do we have in the area?”

“Res– McCallister, this has to be kept quiet! If the Artifact shows up glowing purple with a giant cannon–”

“The Artifact’s out of the game,” Connor said. “But don’t worry. Aunt Mandy, what’s her name? Your kid, I mean. My sister. Sort of. Sorry. Don’t mean to – you know!” He sounded excited.

Mandy opened her mouth, but her head was spinning a little bit. “Evvie,” she managed to say, but was feeling overwhelmed. ‘My sister sort of’ rang in her ears and tore at her heart. Of course Evvie was his sister but she… Mandy couldn’t…

“Evvie?” Jet asked. “You have a daughter named Evvie? What’s it one short for? ‘Eventuality? Eventide?’”

“Eve,” Star said. “Her husband picked it. Obviously.”

That got a laugh from the room on the other side of the radio. Despite herself again, Mandy smiled, and that helped her get back under control.

“Okay,” Connor said. “I’ve got Eve Shapiro’s protection covered. She’s healthy and safe for now — looks like there’s an assistant coach sitting with her and a couple other people keeping a bear-like man on the other side of the room.”

“Cov— what do you mean, guy?” Mandy said. “Connor, it’s really — there can’t be any sign of heroic activity in this. I… I promise I’ll explain it better—”

“Don’t worry about that, Aunt Mandy. I’ve got an associate in the area. She’s in civvies and knows to keep it on the down low — no worries. And I trust her, and so do you.”

“What? Who is it? Connor, I… I trust you but this has to be–”

“It’s a girl I went to high school with. She’s a student out at the University of Washington now. You met her before – her name’s Kathy Keillor. Admittedly she wears glasses now and she’s on the clumsy side, but I think she can manage. And we both know Evvie’s perfectly safe and won’t suspect a thing, because come on. Of course we know that.”

Mandy blinked. Kathy Keillor? Paragirl? Why would she agree to–

“Perfect,” Star said. “Thanks, Connor. So. Eve Shapiro’s almost certainly out of immediate danger now. Good. We can figure out the rest of the logistics. For the record, Evan and Loredana Shapiro–”

“Oh my God!” Teeny shouted. “How is Danni? God I haven’t seen her since she was… what? Two? Four?”

“…she’s fine,” Mandy said, rubbing her eyes. She was feeling a bit overwhelmed again. Were her powers reasserting? If they were, she had to get the Hell off this connection before she accidentally opposed Topaz or even the Beacon – at their power level even conversational opposition might–

“So,” Star said, “now the question’s getting Ms. Shapiro out there along with appropriate if discreet protection. Connor — can we secure commercial transport? Something with a level of deniability. Ms. Shapiro’s husband and older daughter are flying out from New Jersey—”

“Maintaining cover, so no private jet,” Connor said. “That’s fine. I can grab business class stuff. In fact – hm. For you and Aunt Mandy?”

“Please.”

“Route them through Empire City,” the Lieutenant cut in. “So they can pick up Hearth and Jetgirl. Sorry, Topaz — I don’t think we can sneak you through.”

“Oh, I can sneak through,” Topaz said. “You just watch me sneak through. Still, that’s like… a seven hour flight. If Mandy’s still on the critical list…”

“I can help with that,” Hearth said. “Especially if I get updated vitals from Star.” He was a little firm on that last. Mandy could practically hear his chin go up.

“And right,” Connor said. “I’ve arranged for a flight that’s both incognito and should give you guys some privacy, since… I…” He paused. “Since I’m not going. Am I?”

“…Connor,” Mandy half-whispered.

“It’s okay, Aunt Mandy. It’s fine. You know it’s fine. Whatever you need. I…”

“I know, guy. I love you too.” Mandy felt more tears coming.

Connor didn’t say anything for a moment, then cleared his throat. ”Anyway. I’ve got flight details set up. You guys won’t be disturbed even though no one would ever think something weird was going on. Oh, and I’m sending along a lawyer.”

“…what lawyer.”

“Don’t worry, Aunt Mandy. She’s already in Grantham and you know her too. Cosy Wight? You remember her. She was another of my classmates at the Institute. The redheaded translator? Anyway, she’s your cover. I retained her on behalf of a subsidiary on the West Coast. She’s in the music business these days — she has a built in cover story. But she only works with parahuman musicians and there may be some legal issues with one of her unspecified acts, so I’m starting a retainer with Jackson, Thompson, Shapiro and Smith for backup consultation and you’re going that way anyway, so…”

Mandy chuckled. “Slick. And clever. And… yeah. Okay.” Mandy sniffed. “I know I’m pulling you all from more important things. I’m… I’m sorry. For so much I’m—”

“There is nothing more important, Mandalora Hartley Shapiro.”

Mandy froze. The voice almost echoed, even over the radio. Powerful, yes, but in a whole different way.

Freya.

“…you’re… kind to say so, Wingtiara,” Mandy began to say…

“Dear me, you never do change, do you? Still so arrogant.” Freya sounded amused. “There is nothing more important. I remember once… I was feeling the weight and cares of a world beyond measure on my shoulders. And right when I thought I couldn’t possibly feel any worse, a terrible little snot of a girl mocked me for it! Me, if you can believe that. When I took justifiable offense, she looked me in the eye and she said that I was worrying about the wrong things. None of us could carry the world, she said, but there were things we could do, that day.” Freya chuckled. “I never forgot that, Mandalora Hartley Shapiro. Helping you? Is something we can do. Today. And there is nothing more important.” She paused. “Or were you lying back then? Mind you, I can entirely believe that. You lie like carpet.”

Mandy burst into laughter, caught by the snarky remark. The laughter turned into sobs. “Oh God I love you all so much,” she managed to choke out…

“Mandy. No matter what’s changed, nothing’s changed,” Jetgirl said, insistently. “You’re Pentad. You’re Pentad and you always will be.” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “We stand together, Ant.”

Mandy shivered. “…don’t call me Ant,” she whispered back, then spoke up, having gotten her tears back under control. “Guys, I’m… I’m honestly thrilled to be talking to all of you. I’ve missed you more than I could ever tell you. But… I can’t be Antonym. She has to be dead, Jet. She has to stay dead. Even between us. Or else… or else my kids grow up without their mother, and I can’t let that happen.”

Jetgirl paused. “Oh God,” she murmured. “You got it, Mandy. But my statement stands.”

“And… my head hurts,” Mandy said, which got another chuckle from the other side of the line. “But thank you, Jet. Thank you everyone. But… I’m a little overwhelmed and after the seizure…”

“Right. We’re clearing the channel,” the Lieutenant said. “Mandy? Ever higher.”

Mandy closed her eyes. “Ever higher,” she murmured.

“Shooting Star clear,” Star said, clicking off the transceiver. “All right. Hang on.” She lifted that gauntlet up, and a series of green lasers trailed over Mandy. “Right. I’ve got your sizes. Connor will have a change of clothes sent up distressingly quickly.”

“Yeah. That was exhausting,” Mandy said. She opened her eyes, setting her jaw. “And terrifying. Don’t you ever spring that on me again, Nags. If I’d—”

“I surprised and overstimulated you so you wouldn’t have one or two people to oppose. The extra chaos meant that with your powers weakened you couldn’t adapt and that meant you wouldn’t accidentally overstrain. I remember how it works, Mandy.” Star pulled her mask back off, while her uniform morphed into a green pantsuit. It looked frighteningly good on her, but then Nagini Sanyal was the CEO of a clothing manufacturer with everything from upscale to budget lines, including more than one line designed by Naggy herself. She always looked good. “And they were scared, Mandy. They needed to hear your voice. It’s not always about you, you know.”

Mandy scoffed for a moment, but then nodded. “Yeah,” she said. “Yeah, I know.” She picked up her phone from where it was lying on the hospital bed. “The Artifact’s out of the game?” she asked.

“Huh? Oh, yeah. About a year ago.”

“Well, that sucks.” She looked Naggy up and down. “My God, you could at least try to look middle aged, woman.”

“Mm. Seen a mirror since you woke up?”

Mandy paused, then slid out of bed. The IV had re-detatched itself, she noticed. Last bits of the regen cycle, probably. She walked over to the bathroom — no pain in her limbs, no stiffness.

Her face looked back out of the mirror… but it wasn’t the face she’d seen brushing her teeth that morning. Oh, it was still her — the same scars here and there, the same bumps on a nose that had been broken several times. But her crow’s feet had tightened. The blotchiness of her skin had cleared and it had lightened a shade paler. Even her hair was a third of an inch longer, and the roots looked dark brunette, not grey.

“Oh, you have to be God damned kidding me,” Mandy muttered.

“Parahumans tend to retain a vestige of youth significantly longer than prosahumans,” Naggy said. “I guess your body finally remembered that. How are your eyes?”

“Fine. Which means it doesn’t matter than my glasses broke, because apparently I don’t need glasses any more. Until this wears off, anyway.”

“It won’t. You’ll probably stop regenerating pretty quickly, but your rejuvenated cells should retain their second wind. I… don’t suppose that means your neurology…”

Mandy rolled her eyes. “More likely I’m even more sensitive now. The first time I argue a speeding ticket with a cop, I’ll probably go into neuroleptic shock.” She looked at Naggy. “I… thanks, Nags.”

“Of course.” Naggy smiled, softly.

Mandy nodded, then cocked her head at Naggy. “So. Honest truth time. It’s not just me, right? We’re cresting the hero bubble and any second it’ll pop. I’m not being paranoid, am I?”

Naggy looked at Mandy, then nodded. “It’s not just you. Tensions are growing. Law enforcement. Military. Intelligence. Heroes and villains. Prosahumans and parahumans. The same public that loves Justice Wing or the rest of us is getting less comfortable with the parahumans in their own communities. Countercultures and movements are forming. And Europe… you’ve heard about the Revivalist Coalition?”

“Those neo-pagans? The ones latching onto Freya, Hecate, and the other gods running around here and there?”

“Yes, but the pagan community doesn’t like that association. They’re getting traction. Talking up the old gods and new religions. And they’re building political power.”

“Great. Freya must love that. So, do I get the wheelchair ride out?”

Naggy was just looking at Mandy. Waiting.

“…Naggy?”

“Freya… has been… critical of some of the legislation coming out of Europe. She hasn’t exactly endorsed the Revivalist Coalition, but…”

Mandy stared at her friend.

“Understand, Mandy. The Justice Wing Institute’s… significantly underperforming. There’s been… some things which came to light after a training accident. Freya… the Institute meant the world to her. As it is… anyway. There’s good news too. The Excelsiors are a huge success, even now. The Protectors are, too, and the Pantheon down in Texas. The Freedom Fraught and a new team of Transposition Troopers are both signing on board… they’re keeping heroism local and building community pride. We’ve come a long way, Mandy. But Freya…”

“…yeah. Yeah, I’ll bet.” Mandy sat back down on her hospital bed. “Okay. Let me check in with Evan.” She fished out her phone, flipping it open and hitting star–1.

Voicemail. She cut it and hit star–2.

The phone rang three times before being answered. “Hello?” Danni. Sounding nervous. On the whole, Mandy preferred sullen.

“Hey, kiddo,” Mandy said, quietly. “Sorry to drop off the face of the—”

“Mom, what happened?!

Mandy paused. “I told your Dad I’d tell him all about it later—”

“Mom, it’s on the news.

Mandy felt a clutch on her heart. “…what is?”

“Reports of a pack of renegade PATER troops attacking a villain after he’d gotten off on a technicality and facing off with the feds! Fighting the Excelsiors and — Mom, they said they killed the guy’s lawyer! What happened?

Mandy took a long, deep breath. “I’m not dead, kiddo.” She took another one. “But my client is. DETAILS and the Excelsiors didn’t end up fighting those— there wasn’t a clash.

“…oh my God, Mom.”

“It’s… I’m all right, kiddo. I’m all right. DETAILS saved me. DETAILS…” she glanced at Naggy. “…and the Excelsiors. They couldn’t help my client, but my client’s little brother’s gonna be okay. It was bad but I’m all right. I’m going to be flying out from here and meeting you and your Dad in Evergreen so we can go get Evvie, all right?”

“…no it’s not all right! Mom… why would… why are the police trying to kill you?”

Mandy snorted. “Have you met me, kiddo? Sooner or later, everyone wants to kill me.”

“That’s not funny.

“Yeah. I’m not laughing either. I… kiddo, I’m going to tell your Dad everything. I promised him that. But…”

“But… but what?”

“But we need to make a deal, you and me.” Mandy caught Naggy’s eye again. Her old friend and former leader just held Mandy’s gaze, listening without directing. “I’ll tell you what happened, I promise — but not until you graduate from college.”

“What? Why?”

“Because I love you.”

“That doesn’t make any sense, Mom!”

“I know, kiddo.” Mandy took a deep breath. “I know. No one likes secrets, and I have a bunch, and I’ve got to keep them from you until you’re out of college.”

“Mom… are… you a criminal?”

Mandy blinked. “…I…”

The phone got pulled out of Mandy’s hand. Naggy moved it up to her ear. “Excuse me. Loredana Shapiro?”

Mandy heard a squawk. She was staring at Naggy.

“My name is Shooting Star. I’m an Excelsior and…” she looked at Mandy. “And the leader of the Pentad of Guardians. I’ve had the misfortune of having some of my foes represented by your mother in court. She’s very good at what she does. I was part of the team that rescued her. I’m afraid that for now the circumstances surrounding tonight have to remain classified, but I overheard you ask your mother if she were a criminal. She isn’t. I promise you that. Your mother is stubborn, annoying, and right entirely too often, but she’s no criminal. You should be very, very proud of her.”

Mandy kept staring at Naggy, who was listening to the phone while holding Mandy’s gaze. “Yes, I’m sure,” she said. “And I’m afraid I must be going, so I’ll give you back to your mother. It was— yes. Yes. Well, it was nice to meet you, too.” She chuckled. “Thank you, too. And b-bye.” She offered Mandy the phone back.

Mandy stared at Naggy some more, then reached out and took the phone. She moved it to her ear. “Kiddo?”

“Hey. Was… that really Shooting Star?”

“Yeah. Yeah, it really was.”

“The news only said Jetgirl — I didn’t—”

“Yeah, don’t trust the news when it comes to this stuff. Kiddo, I gotta get going. I’ll see you in Evergreen, okay?”

“You’re sure you’re okay to travel?”

“No. But I’m going anyway. Love you, kiddo.”

“…I love you, Mom.”

Mandy closed her phone, eyes still on Naggy.

Naggy arched an eyebrow. “Yes?”

“What part of ’this can’t be part of my life’ includes you telling my daughter who you are?!

“The part where you daughter already knows that a tragedy happened, and that both DETAILS and the Excelsiors were involved.” She shrugged. “I’m sorry to eavesdrop. I still hear transmissions. You remember.”

“No, you’re not sorry. Damn it, Naggy. This is — this is why I can’t have you in my life!”

“I know that. But if your daughter or anyone else calls you a criminal? I’m going to correct them. That’s non-negotiable.”

“I get called a criminal all the time! Calhoun and the villain-owned legal service do their damndest to—”

“I stand by my statement, and Calhoun won’t be spreading lies about you any more. I swear it.”

“Jesus Christ, how many different ways do I have to say this – you can’t be in—”

“I don’t have to be in your life to stop a crimelord from slandering an honest lawyer. That’s literally part of my job. Mandy, I will leave you alone. I will stay away and keep the others away. I will spend my life pretending one of the four people I’m closest to in the world doesn’t exist. But no one gets to slander you. No one. I fell down on that job, clearly, but I won’t fail you again. And if you think for one moment I’m the only one? You’re nowhere near as smart as I always thought.”

”Nags–”

Naggy shrugged. “Your daughter knew your case had gone off the rails. She’d heard the worst case scenario on the news. So Shooting Star set her straight. She has no reason to think we’ve ever met before now. And since DETAILS called the Excelsiors in over this situation, I have every reason in the world to ‘discover’ what Calhoun’s been saying about you and your firm and do something about it. I hardly need your presence.” She paused. “Or permission. You can go right on pretending you don’t know any of us.”

Mandy looked at Naggy, then looked down. “That’s a pretty crappy thing to do to you,” she said.

“It is, Mandy. It’s crappy to me, to Dorian, to Keira and Teeny. It’s crappy to Sonata and Mierra and Jason and Freya and God only knows Connor. You didn’t exist in a vacuum, you know. You were part of our lives. Part of our hearts. And you wouldn’t even let us help find a solution. You wouldn’t let us help, period.

Mandy paused for a long moment. “That’s right,” she said, finally. “Evan and I made our choice. We have to have some contact with Lil obviously, and Evan’s brother’s still boinking Matty so the Protectors—”

“I won’t pretend that doesn’t hurt a little, too,” Naggy said. “Getting major news third hand through the Protectors? For some value of ‘major’ that doesn’t include your second birth announcement, so you can see how well this system works.”

“Yeah. But I can talk to them, because I don’t care about them, Naggy. I barely care about Garrison. So… it’s not a risk. But you? Keira? Teeny? Dorian? Or Jayce, Mierra, Connor, Sunny… Nags… it’s…” Her shoulders slumped forward, head dropping down. “When Danni’s old enough, I’ll tell her. Same with Evvie. Old enough meaning finding their own paths in life. I’m not going to be a God Damned origin story, Naggy! Not to make you and the gang feel warm fuzzies at Christmas!”

“We do see you in court, sometimes,” Naggy said, softly. “In fact, I’m still kind of pissed you pled down the Cipher’s case that much.”

“Then feed the right chain of evidence so prosecution can make their case. Jesus, you’re lucky he wasn’t that interested in countersuits. Crazy son of a bitch.” Mandy was still looking down at her lap.

“They say everyone’s crazy in Greystone, and it’s just getting weirder. You been following any of th—”

“My practice doesn’t usually go out there,” Mandy said, her voice getting dull again. “The time I defended the Cipher he’d been arrested in Empire. I did go once. Defended the Debutante. Got her reduced to three counts, pled guilty-but-mentally-ill on those. Eighteen years, if I remember. Held in psychiatric care until deemed mentally sound, then balance in prison.”

“A Greystone crook pleading insanity? There’s a shocker.”

Mandy’s eyes flicked up. “You don’t know,” she said, softly. “You didn’t spend time with the Debutante. Or the Cipher. Or most of those guys. They’re not pretending. They’re crazy. Soft, goofy crazy, maybe, but crazy.

Naggy snorted. “No shock. I’ll let Foolhardy know. Maybe he’ll head over there for a few weeks. Give Nightstick and Cudgel a few pointers on how to identify criminals and sort out the loons from the threats.”

Mandy looked at Naggy, then looked away. “Yup,” she said. “That’s that.”

“…what?”

“The bubble.” She looked back. “We’re already over the cliff. We just think we can fly.” She paused. “The Pentad of Guardians, huh?”

“What?”

“You told Danni you were the leader of the Pentad of Guardians.”

“I know,” Naggy said, smiling a bit.

“What happened to ‘you need five people to form a pentad?’”

“You do.”

Mandy opened her mouth, but didn’t know what to say.

There was a knock on the door, followed by some handle jiggling and pulling. “Can’t… seem to… Ms. Shapiro? I have some clothes for you and a set of discharge — no, I’m trying my key…”

Mandy looked at Naggy. Naggy smiled slightly, then walked over, touching her fingers to the spot weld she’d created before. A flare broke the seal and she opened the door. “Sorry,” she said. “Ms. Shapiro’s ready.”

The clothes fit perfectly. Connor wasn’t the asshole his father had been, but he had inherited his father’s dislike of leaving things to chance. It wasn’t the joke his father would have played, either — Colin would have done something inappropriate, just to keep his hand in.

Connor? Clearly just wanted to impress ‘Aunt Mandy.’ The coat was a contrast-trim cropped jacket, meant to be be buttoned, black with white trim on the lines, with white almost T-shirt underneath it, but with metal studs down the front to suggest a false line. The pants were that slightly elastic black and white fabric — polyester of some sort, but designed to look like stretch wool.

A few hundred bucks. Nothing to Connor. He just clearly wanted to go black and white and didn’t want his ‘aunt’ to hate it. Sweet kid, God love him.

“Well, that looks nice,” Naggy said as Mandy stepped back into the room.

“I hate it,” Mandy said. “Let’s get out of here.”

They were leaving a hospital, which meant Mandy did indeed get the wheelchair ride. She sat, being pushed by the DETAILS med-tech who’d worked on her. Mandy realized she never got the woman’s name. She tried to figure out if she cared. No one gave the young businesswoman in green walking alongside a second glance — not even Agent Theriault on the other side. It was like they were just there. Just set dressing for Mandy’s trip.

But then, that was more the kind of thing Evan would say, wasn’t it?

Mandy glanced in rooms as they wheeled past. She didn’t try to look past closed curtains, but the televisions were on the walls. Some had scenes from the Meridian or East Meridian police departments. She saw file footage of Vortex on another. Waiting for the elevator, she saw the news channel on the big screen at the nurse’s station showing footage of the Congressional Hearings into the Coast Guard.

Even being pushed through the lobby, Mandy could see the signs. News magazines, writing about the Revivalist Coalition in Europe, or the DETAILS appropriations bill, or a lad’s mag with Thunder Lass on the cover…

“Mandy?” Naggy asked, quietly.

“We’re already over the cliff,” she murmured. “We just think we can fly.”

“What? We’re here.”

“Yeah.” Mandy pushed up out of the chair, and stepped out to where the black cab waited for them. Limo service, but executive instead of ‘billionaire’ or ‘prom.’ She buckled up on her side. Naggy didn’t bother on her own. The partition was closed, so they were cut off from the driver, who pulled out with ‘Airport’ on his destination screen.

Mandy felt small. It was strange — a dozen familiar aches and pains were gone now, along with about twenty years of wear and tear, and yet she felt smaller and weaker than she had in a long time. She watched the concrete ramps and traffic circles that made up the insane road maps surrounding Grantham and Dearborn International.

Naggy took Mandy’s hand, but didn’t say anything. She just turned and clicked the radio on.

“—support for USBC–1 News on G.U.R.—Public Radio at Grantham University is paid in part by BankOne. One place for savings, one place for loans, one place for security. BankOne.”

Mandy closed her eyes as the news at the top of the hour began. “From the United States Public Broadcasting Service in the Capital District, this is USBC–1 News. I’m Eli McCrae. The deadly clash between allegedly renegade East Meridian Police PATER units and alleged villain Daniel Holland has drawn harsh condemnation from the Rhode Island Governor’s Office, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, multiple parahuman advocacy groups, and more. Rhode Island Associate Attorney General Avery Segal issued a formal statement.”

Mandy opened her eyes back up, even as Calhoun’s pet prosecutor’s voice filled the car. “The situation is tragic, but also cut and dried. Whatever Mister Holland did or did not do, the East Meridian police department failed to present a compelling case for indictment. Frustrated by their own shortcomings, these persons allegedly checked PATER gear out of supposedly secure lockers, went to Holland’s home, and killed him. This kind of disregard for human life and the rule of law cannot be permitted, especially among those people sworn to uphold those same laws!”

“Who’s going to get my car?” Mandy asked, quietly.

“What?” Naggy asked.

“My car. It’s parked in East Meridian Heights.”

“Oh. I’ll have someone pick it up.”

“Okay.”

“—of the Excelsiors had harsh words,” McCrae was saying.

The broadcast cut to Lieutenant Jayce McCallister’s voice. “There are good men and women in the Meridian and East Meridian Police Department, and they’re frustrated. Heroes are frustrated. Parahuman advocates are frustrated. God knows I know how that feels. But our frustration cannot ever excuse a failure in our duty. Our frustration cannot ever excuse taking police resources and turning them to vigilante pursuits. And our frustration never, ever gives us the right to take a life outside of the line of duty. The Excelsiors have been in communication with DETAILS, with the Rhode Island Department of Safety, the Rhode Island Attorney General’s office, the Meridian and East Meridian Police Departments, and Doctor Vortex Ortega—”

Mandy let the voice drift away. Her eyes were half-open now, watching cars and streetlights and feeling the bump-bump-bump of the concrete slabs under the asphalt they were driving along. In the distance she saw the Grantham skyline, with orange light from the city reflecting off a low, overcast night sky. She remembered the day her powers appeared — the day she and the others became the Pentad. She remembered the day Jayce and Freya showed up at what was then Churchyard Court to make their case for a collaboration — to study Empire City and its heroes, and use what they learned to create curriculums and benchmarks to bring parahumanity and prosahumanity together before tensions snapped. She was cynical, but it was hard not to believe — to think that maybe… just maybe…

The car hit a sharper bump in the road, causing Mandy’s eyes to snap open. Naggy gripped her hand more tightly. “Jesus,” Mandy muttered. “Let’s not get killed before we get there, okay?”

Naggy snickered. Mandy remembered that feeling, too — the feeling that no matter how tall the odds, they could always be beaten. And why shouldn’t Mandy know that feeling? Equalling the odds was her specialty, once upon a time.

Mandy knew better, now. The house always got its percentage. Eventually, every hot streak ended. And sometimes, the only thing you could do today was watch the train go off the rails.


End of Book 1: Mandy

Written by Eric and Wednesday Burns-White based upon the original draft
Series Navigation« ⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #8
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6 thoughts on “⎇001JW Justice Wing: Forebears #9 (Double Sized Conclusion of Book One: Mandy!)”

  1. Forebears: Mandy, when it was in rough draft, was actually the first time anyone on the Patreon (or anywhere else) learned that Mandy Shapiro had once been Mandy Hartley… and that Leather’s mother was Antonym. It’s one of two stories that jointly end the Halcyon Days era, which means we’re right on the threshold of the Apocalypse Agenda when this book ends.

    Book 2, Forebears: Evan, will pick up the story in Forebears #10. And it is one of two stories that jointly constitute the end of the Apocalypse Agenda and the start of the In Nadir era. It’s kind of required reading if you’re into Interviewing Trey, for what that’s worth.

  2. …I have to wonder if she’s right about Danni. Would she have gone “Oh I gotta go to the Institute and be a Hero, now!” or would she have gone “Oh, shoot, you gotta get Conner on the phone so I can get an internship at Church Industries! That’ll look amazing on my college application letter! Plus, he might foot the bill for Harvard, right?”

    1. I don’t generally Word of God — it doesn’t feel right to me.

      Loredana would be on the next bus to Grantham. Mandy isn’t always right about things, but she knows her eldest. And Mandy knows she can’t possibly talk about this stuff with Danni and not out how painful the whole thing is for Mandy.

      Does that mean it’s the right call?

      You know, that’s an interesting question.

      1. Given what we know about the Apocalypse Agenda and that we know Danni is still alive as of the “Now” in the In Nadir period (more or less. She was fine a couple years back anyway.) I can’t help but think that being at Grantham right now would have just put a bigger target on her back.

        So, as far as “Danni being alive and well” goes, the call Mandy made certainly worked.

        Whether it was the “right” call…well, depends on your definition really.

  3. Actually, thinking about it, I’m honestly not sure why Nightstick, who has been dealing with loony villains since the beginning, needs help from Foolhardy, the one everyone suspects is maybe a serial killer, to figure out which ones are dangerously crazy.

    Well, unless she’s sending him as an *example* of “dangerous crazy…”

    1. Okay, A? I freaking love this comment.

      B? It’s weird to say when we’re literally talking about vigilantes even among superheroes? But it’s not unlike a New Yorker in our world trashing Chicago-style pizza (though of course she was talking Greystone, not Crown). Empirical pride, plus a sense of “we have real problems. Why’s Nightstick dealing with crazy Sudoku obsessed crooks or literal debutantes who never age while Foolhardy deals with three different criminal syndicates the police can’t touch?”

      About a year before this, from context clues? Broadhead dismissed some of Vermilion’s warnings about the criminals who want to burn the world down because she included the Jack O’Knaves in that list, and seriously? A birthday party magician?

      Like Mandy said… hearing that just confirms that it’s already far too late. All they can do is plummet and hope they can fly.

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