“Public? What possible good would it do me to go public? The public knows you’re scum, but you’re Vice-President anyway. They don’t care. So what would I do? Go to the Police? Or the FBI? Or my old friends at the CIA? Why? What could – what would any of them do? No no. I wouldn’t go public.”
Several years after Emergence, super heroes have become an accepted and even beloved part of life and society. Heroes and villains contend with each other in the skies, to the delight of the populace. However, the heroes of Justice Wing know that this goodwill can’t last. Tensions are rising between heroes and law enforcement. So-called ‘normal’ prosahumans cheer for heroes while their distrust of the non-heroic parahumans in their communities grows. And with unrest building in Europe and beyond, Justice Wing moves to found the Justice Wing Institute for Parahuman Research: a place where parahumans can learn and be trained to be the next generation of heroes… or to live a private life where they can use their abilities to their fullest. To that end they partner with community or regional hero teams to learn all they can about how prosahumans and parahumans interact in the real world, leading to the founding of the Excelsiors, the Protectors, the Pantheon and others. These are Justice Wing’s Halcyon Days.
Justice Wing Vignettes
ResignationIt had been three weeks since he’d taken his Oath of Office, and Vice President Richard Taft was feeling pretty fine. There’d been some kerfuffle, but there was enough scandal attached to former Vice President Harvey that no one was about to go too hard against Taft now. Besides, he was from a storied political family – who admittedly had disowned his grandfather and father before Taft had ever been born, but the everyday shmoes wouldn’t care about that and the main branch of the family wouldn’t trash talk Taft while he was in office. After all, right now they had a lot more to lose than he did.
Still, things were beginning to settle down. DETAILS had lost its mind as Taft knew it would — they’d all thought he was jockeying for the new ‘Senior Special Agent in Charge’ position, which was more than useful to his real ambitions. He could make all his preparations and set up all his surprises and everyone just assumed he was playing the same games as the other four Senior Special Agents of DETAILS — Tartikoff, Kim, Roth, and Verdenikova. By the time they’d figured out Taft’s real goal Harvey was already gone and Taft was three quarters of the way through Senate confirmation. That meant none of them had time to spoil Taft’s fun — if they tried anything, he was more than prepared to release enough incriminating evidence against any one or all four to practically warrantthem, and they knew it.
He was riding in the limo. Motorcades were fun, he decided. He looked forward to many more years of them. As he rode, he thumbed through his digital notebook. It was a custom build with two panes — effectively making two tablets running off a single instance. It was based on some of the Temple designs and running a special government version of Glass O/S, with a few surprises thrown in for anyone who figured they could snoop into the data hoard of the most successful intelligence agent the United States had ever produced. Alpha Psi Omega had been re-established — this time in Grantham, Massachusetts just a few blocks away from where Justice Wing was going to launch their new Institute. Soon enough that Institute would be the number one landing spot for every significant American parahuman with any interest in heroing — they’d have to wait for the bulk of the Junior Justice Wingers to graduate, but when they did… the United States would be ready to start recruiting for a whole new era of parahuman assets and their strategic deployment.
Of course, Tartikoff was attached to the Institute. She’d made a good grab for the Special Agent in Charge brass ring but had missed hard and exposed herself in about seven different ways. She was out of the running and by the time the Institute opened being their government liaison would be her only government job. Tartikoff’s sister, Senior Special Agent Alya Vedernikova, had thrown her resources at shadows and when it became clear she couldn’t recover her position she’d gone scorched Earth. She’d already had her clearances canceled and the DETAILS equipment she’d been assigned had all been collected (with admittedly a few exceptions like her digital notebook or her communicator), but little naive Alya herself had simply disappeared, and good riddance to her. Without a support structure she was essentially useless. Thomas Kim was still active, but after a few attempts at consolidation he’d abandoned the hunt and gone in hard to secure his ‘DETAILS Action Team.’ Taft was happy enough to let ‘Wolfman’ play fake military — the DETAILS Action Team was the United States Government’s primary response to the paramilitary terrorist group known as SCYLLA. Kim had always been Special Forces at heart. He’d do it for Taft just as readily as he did it for any other President.
Vice-President. Vice-President, of course.
Finally, there was Senior Special Agent Menelaus Roth. Well, almost finally, but Lynette Hardesty of all people getting a promotion to Senior Special Agent just before she was detached to be the DETAILS liaison to the new ‘Excelsiors’ project Justice Wing and a pack of Empire City’s heroes was putting together didn’t exactly constitute a threat. If anything, it meant Tartikoff’s little protégé wouldn’t be in any position to cause trouble.
So. Of all the Senior Special Agents, Menelaus Roth was the only loose end Taft worried about. He’d come out of the FBI’s ‘Unexplained Phenomena’ division — meaning before Emergence he’d been in charge of their parahuman investigations unit. He’d parlayed that experience and a good number of his associates into the core of the DETAILS Midnight Office, with a strong emphasis on arcane and alien matters — Roth liked weird. As a result, he’d been the one to sound the alarm before the Cauldron Born incident. He’d been the one to uncover the Ogralin Beachhead. And he’d been the one to bring down the Disquilibrium.
Taft had to remember to thank him for the last. The Disquilibrium represented an utterly alien intelligence that turned out to be exactly what Alpha Psi Omega needed. Alpha Psi Omega had been around for decades, quietly existing under the radar, a secret even inside the secret government. A black op for the black ops division. They’d been there before any hero, and they’d saved the world without needing a cape to do it. Now they were poised to begin creating or enhancing parahumans under controlled conditions — years ahead of the French, the Soviets, the Chinese, the Mauritanians, or the South Koreans. Give them a few years, and the United States would be ready to sweep the board.
And Richard Taft knew that the next fifteen years belonged to him. This wasn’t theory. Not any more. Taft’s play would change the entire planet and spread a new American Hegemony across the planet.
Still. Roth’s position was still strong and his undisclosed assets were considerable. Taft had plenty he could use to bring Roth down, but Roth had more than enough to sink Taft right alongside. Thanks to his own DETAILS assets, however, Taft knew Roth wasn’t in a position for an alpha strike. That meant that Taft could promote one of his own loyalists to Senior Special Agent and then appoint him Special Agent in Charge soon enough. After that happened, Roth would either come clean or go down once and for all, and Taft wouldn’t be anywhere close enough to be fingered for it.
“We’re here, Mister Vice-President.”
Taft looked up. “We certainly are. Thanks as always, Drake.”
Taft got out of the car. Secret Service bracketed him as the press pushed forward, shouting questions. Number One Observatory Circle had officially been the Vice-President’s residence since before Emergence. Sometimes Taft wondered how the Navy felt having a building on the grounds of the Naval Observatory turned into the massive security problem the Vice-President’s Residence represented. That said, he didn’t wonder enough to actually ask anyone.
“Mister Vice-President!” Babcock. He’d know her shrill shriek anywhere. She was almost worse than Helen Thomas. “Mister Vice-President! Do you have any comment on the Congressional Inquiry into overreaches by DETAILS agents under your personal command?!”
“Hello, Barbara!” Taft shouted back, smiling for the cameras. “Of course I have comments! Lots of them! They just all sound more or less the same — I don’t have any agents under my personal command, thank you very much! I’m no longer a part of DETAILS in any capacity! I thought a reporter of your reputation would have already known that!”
That raised a cacophony, but Teddy Porter — Babcock’s crony from the Crown City Chronicle — followed up from the other side. They loved to do that kind of thing. “Is it true that for ten years three different cadres of DETAILS agents operated under your direction without oversight?”
“No it is not true. DETAILS never organized into cadres. Offices, divisions, projects – sure, there’s plenty of that. But no cadres. That said, if they had been cadres, there would have been at least four, all under my authority and classified under codeword clearance. However, I take exception to the idea that we operated without oversight — the Director and Deputy Director of DETAILS were always kept in the loop as was the President of the United States. You may be confusing a perfectly normal non-military chain of command with some kind of fiefdom. Last I knew the United States Government hadn’t signed the Magna Carta so I wouldn’t worry too much about it. We’re not going to interfere with your sacred fishing weirs.” He grinned. “I’m tired, boys. Harangue me tomorrow, would you?” The Director of DETAILS was a stooge. It was a political appointee, generally only good for taking the blame when things blew up. He’d gone down with Vice-President Harvey. In practical terms the Deputy Director — a career civil servant who didn’t necessarily change when Presidents changed — ran the place, but his massive heart attack had kept him hospitalized for almost a year. In the meantime the Deputy Directorship was being phased out in lieu of the new Special Agent in Charge position.
There were still more shouted questions but Taft ignored them, heading up the walk and going into the beautiful 19th Century Queen Anne style building. He nodded to the staff, made a few cheerful noises, and headed upstairs. A shower and bed called to him. God he was glad he wasn’t married. He’d have to change that in the next couple of years — some willing stooge ready to be the First Lady when the time came and otherwise ready to leave Taft alone.
Finally, he headed into the bedroom, a robe on over pajamas he felt silly wearing, but there was always the possibility he’d be rousted out of bed and into the public eye. Boxer shorts lacked gravitas, or so he’d been told. He was whistling cheerfully as he walked in—
There was a two-pane digital notebook sitting on the pillow of his four poster bed. A post-it note gleamed yellow on the top.
Taft stepped closer. He looked just as relaxed as he had before, which in one sense was true — it had been an act then, too. Taft never relaxed. He leaned, looking at the note.
“Speak normally. V.”
Taft paused. “Hello, Agent Vedernikova,” he said. “I’m surprised to hear from you. There are a few treasury agents looking for you, not to mention the F.B.I. Are you sure you want to be here?”
“I’m sure I don’t want to be here,” an alto voice replied. It was all around Taft, with no way to tell what direction led to the actual woman, assuming she wasn’t broadcasting from a remote location. If that was the case, then the speakers were exceptional, because it certainly sounded like she was in the room. Somewhere. “Unfortunately, this is where you are, so you see my dilemma.”
“Oh sure, sure,” Taft said, lightly. “Still, your last few moves looked a whole lot like you were flipping desks and kicking over anthills as part of either a resignation or a suicide attempt. I’m not sure where harassing the Vice-President fits into that scenario but if you need someone to shoot you dead I’m always happy to help.”
“Oh, this fits. I promise you that, Richard. Go on. Have a look at the notebook. Though when you open it up it’s going to play once, then flash-fry its memory, so pay attention the first time. Oh, this also constitutes my returning the digital notebook, just for the record.”
“Duly noted. Honestly, I kind of hoped you’d stolen the thing. Seems like we owed you that much and it’s not like we’d much care. But then, you always were the nice girl, weren’t you? Honestly, I don’t know how you were so successful at the CIA before Emergence.”
“That comes as no surprise at all. Go ahead.”
Taft picked up the digital notebook. The outside case looked like aluminum. It was actually an alloy that very few people even knew existed, of course. He opened it up, ready to drop it if it turned out to be a trojan horse—
In one sense, it sort of did, but Taft didn’t drop it. Instead, he watched as a fast presentation played out on both screens. Honestly, it was really well put together. Vedernikova always had a sense of style. It showed lots and lots of things. Alpha Psi Omega, of course, but more than that there was Taft with Doctor Guile, with the Disquilibrium, with Leo Lucas and Beguile. There was Taft at the Barnburner Project. There he was at Project Ransack. There he was in Chile. In Chad. In the Congo. In Uzbekistan.
Taft knew how intelligence worked. He knew the resources that his associates in DETAILS had at their disposal. He knew Vedernikova’s capabilities.
Absolutely none of that explained the absolute encyclopedia of Taft’s greatest hits being teased in front of him. And then, just when he wondered it if would ever end, it did, and with a cracking sound and a bad smell from both tablet panes the digital notebook went dark for the last time. The heat of the charge was enough to distort the left hand pane slightly. The metal backs of the panes didn’t even get slightly warm, however.
Taft stood there for about fifteen seconds. “Well,” he said, finally.
“I’m curious why you haven’t actually shouted any of this from the mountaintops. Lack of proof?”
“Of course there’s a lack of proof. Whatever else we can say about you, you’re an absolute master of destroying evidence and confusing trails.”
“Then what do you hope to accomplish with this? Or is this a job application? I should warn you, I’m not sure we have room for a cheerleader.”
“You always did get a big kick out of idealism, didn’t you, Richard? Mine or anyone else’s. You don’t believe in it. You think it’s at best childish and at worst stupid. Well. Congratulations. You finally convinced me. This is the result.” She chuckled. “Good job.”
Taft half-smiled. “Thanks. I admit — I underestimated you. Your sister I could see managing this. But you?”
“Lillian’s a good agent and means well, but she believes in the rules. She always has. And no matter how idealistic I may have been… I never believed in rules I didn’t set myself. So. Now that I’ve heard your sermon and converted the First Church of Cynical? I see no reason why I should follow any rules.”
“…see, if you’d had this epiphany eighteen months ago, I’d have invited you to be the next First Lady of the United States by now. Oh, sorry. I mean Second Lady. Obviously.”
“Obviously. And don’t make me throw up, Richard.”
“But it’s so much fun. Now, the million dollar question. What do you think this changes?” He chuckled. “You have no proof by your own admission. If you go public with this the best you can hope for is a charge of treason. It won’t do a damn thing to me either way.”
“Public? What possible good would it do me to go public. The public knows you’re scum, but you’re Vice-President anyway. They don’t care. So what would I do? Go to the Police? Or the FBI? Or my old friends at the CIA? Why? What could – what would any of them do? No no. I wouldn’t go public.” There was a three beat pause. “I’d go to the Soviets. To the Swiss. To the British. I’d go to Theodora Holt and Colin Church. I’d go to Nightstick — he’d love to see what I have on Ransack. I wouldn’t waste any of this on official channels or the press. I’d just get it in the hands of everyone you’ve ever wronged and see what happened next. Given how much your power relies on hidden deals and webs of intrigue, what would happen if suddenly everyone who had a reason to hate you learned what those reasons were?” She chuckled. “How does that change the road to the White House? Especially when we remember the DETAILS probe that can’t hurt you right now is still in session, and plenty of the people on that list would put pressure on Congress to check some of this out? Or worse — for you, anyway — not bother going to Congress when they could handle it themselves? Do I have your attention yet?”
“Alya, you always had my attention. Sure, sometimes that took the form of staring at your ass, but in my defense you clearly rock leg day. So. You haven’t done any of that, and you’re not here to put me on notice that you’re about to, so what’s the next step?”
“The next step’s simple. Make Roth Director of Intelligence… and make Lynette Hardesty Special Agent in Charge of DETAILS.”
Taft paused for a long moment. “Why?!” he demanded, finally. “What’s in it for you?”
“Nothing, Richard. Nothing at all. This is just tying up loose ends before I enter the private sector. I honestly don’t care if you’re Vice-President or not. I don’t care if you end up President. I don’t care if you end up God-King of America. I told you. You convinced me. Go Team Cynical all the way.” Her voice grew softer. “But the idea of any of your lot taking over DETAILS offends me. Making Roth Director of Intelligence helps you, not me. It also takes out the last significant candidate for the job. I’m sure you’re ready to put Bankert, Olson, or Pongress in the top seat. My price for not destroying you and DETAILS alike is your dropping that plan.”
Taft snorted. “Do you honestly think Hardesty can stop me?”
“Unless you give her a reason, I don’t think she’s even going to try. She’ll be too busy remaking DETAILS into something as free of your stench as possible. That’s more than enough for me.”
“And what assurances do I have that you won’t show up in six weeks with entirely new demands?”
“You don’t have any assurances. But if you do these things… why would I care enough to try?”
“Well, there’s your sister—”
“My sister ruined a good man because stopping you was more important than honesty, integrity, honor, or any of those ideals you and Lillian hold in such contempt. Trust me, Richard. From this point forward she’s on her own. Kim won’t give you any trouble so long as you leave the DETAILS Action Team out of your games. Roth may despise you but he’ll do his job as Director of Intelligence. And Hardesty will make DETAILS what we should have made it, but that and the Excelsiors will keep her too busy to cause you any grief. Don’t you see? This isn’t just something you’re going to do to protect your worthless hide. You’re going to do this because it secures your own position. Sure, it means dropping DETAILS out of your personal portfolio, but come on. You essentially did that when you faked us out and jumped into the Vice-Presidency.”
Taft paused, then chuckled, grinning. “Damn, now I’m tempted to offer you the Second Lady position anyway.”
“Hard pass. Even assuming our marriage would be in name only, I’m pretty sure I’d have an allergic reaction to life the moment I signed the license.”
“Heh. Maybe. You know, I can’t make Roth Director of Intelligence. I’m just the Vice-President, remember?”
“Please. Don’t hand me straight lines. Are we through, here?”
Taft paused. “Yup. Deal. So what’s next for you?”
“Oh, you know. I’ve got a lot of contacts and friends after all these years at DETAILS and the CIA. What do any of us do when we retire from the spy game? I’m going into business for myself.”
Taft arched an eyebrow. “Am I going to have to worry about you taking commissions against me? Or on the other side of the same question, am I going to want to hire you for anything?”
“No and no, respectively. There’s no money in government work, Richard. And I’m out of the altruism game. Oh. Fair warning. If you do decide to fuck around with me after tonight?”
“Yeah?” Taft asked.
Taft was one of the best. He knew it, and he knew it wasn’t ego that let him believe that. Despite that, he was still surprised when the cool of the gun barrel pressed against the back of his neck, pointing up in just the right way. “Then I’ll kill you. And no one will ever suspect me. After all. I was the good one, remember?”
“Until your new gig goes public,” Taft said, just as lightly as before.
“And yet, I’m not worried about that. Go figure.” The barrel withdrew. “Be seeing you, Richard.”
Taft waited a three count before looking around. “Be seeing you?” he asked. “Seriously? Prisoner references?” He waited for a response, but none came. “And for the record, there’s plenty of money in government service. We print the money, remember?”
There was still no response.
“Heh. Right,” Taft said. He dropped the burnt out digital notebook into a wastebasket, then walked over to the door. He pushed the intercom button. “Hey, teen gang. Someone want to make the Vice-President a dry martini? I’m gonna watch a little TV and unwind.”