“Our daughter Loredana is a parahuman, Evan. She chose to bluesuit. That’s fine. She gets to do that… for now, anyway. But the things we’re hammering out in those meetings… Evan, it’s not about Justice Wing or super heroes or even what happened in Europe or all the dead people. It’s about terrified prosahumans and what they might do out of fear, and every bit of it is pointed square at Danni. So no, Evan. There is no realistic alternative. I will die ten times in agony before I allow my daughter to spend the rest of her life hiding from her government and neighbors.” She took a slightly ragged breath. “So. Are there any questions, or have I made myself clear?”
“…okay, that’s dark. Dad… are you sure you’ve recovered enough to travel?” “I wasn’t physically injured, Tip.” “Yeah, well, Albescu didn’t take a swing for me for almost six years and didn’t connect when he did but I still have nightmares. You’re the one who told me PTSD was a thing, remember?”
“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.
“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.”
The orange fire formed patterns along the clouds and in the sky — fractals twisting and playing and growing, a sound like a ball bearing rolling down a copper tube echoing in the street. I wondered how many of Holland’s neighbors were looking out their windows at the sound… looking up at the burning mandala of mathematics in the sky, and watching it flare a brighter orange…
With a crack, one corner of the fractal seemed to shatter, opening a hole to grey glowing nothing. A craft the size and shape of a tour bus fell through that hole, frost and ice cracking along its surface as it fell. It was at least a hundred meters up and falling, until six underbody turbofan vanes like the flyer’s snapped out and kicked hard to cushion the landing. Above it, the orange fire faded to nothing, even as the medical float leveled off and twisted down towards the ground.
Mandy felt an itch, just at the base of her neck. Her headache seemed to pulse a bit more. She narrowed her eyes — what…?
Mandy felt a spike of pain. She ignored it, spinning and grabbing Jake’s arm. “Jake, run!”
Mandy snorted. “West? Do you know why they pull cops with a personal stake off cases? It’s because they have a personal stake. That throws them off. You know that. You must know that. You know better than to—”
“Than to what, Shapiro? Than to bend or break the rules in the name of justice? What the Hell do you think Vortex was doing out there? Huh? What the Hell do you think Nightstick or Foolhardy or even the Beacon do in their cities? So tell me why I have to just live with my son in a cemetery and play by rules that don’t apply to Holland or anyone like him! Huh? When’s it my turn to get to take the short cut?”
Mandy looked at West. “Never,” she said, simply. “It’s never your turn.“
“Yeah, well — that’s the world we live in. You pick and choose where you take your stand, and you pick and choose where you compromise. Someone or something terrible’s going to be the backstory of every food, every good, every service — you name it. If you boycott it all, eventually you either starve to death or end up a hermit out in the woods living off the land. But sometimes, you really do have to shake your head and say ‘I’m not gonna buy that guy’s chicken.’”
"You know what, counselor? A lot of the public sees criminals or villains get off scot free after wanton destruction, and they don’t think ‘gosh, I’m glad they got a zealous defense.’ They think ‘Wow. Everyone’s corrupt and the system’s broken and our only hope are vigilante superheroes because the police and the courts and the prisons are all useless.’ How’s that helping your client?”
“Tell me if I’m crazy, but are you rebutting my request that you do your job better by telling me to stop doing my job so well? Because that’s what it sounds like, and gotta say? Not really in my nature to suck on purpose."
“…they told me there’d be a lawyer sent over. I’m not sure I should discuss this with you.”
“Right. Because you want to be loyal to the syndicate. I get it.” Mandy paused, for effect. “You realize that lawyer isn’t coming, right?”
“You people defend super villains. Criminals. World conquerors. Mass murderers. And you expect me to just let you walk in here—”
“We ‘people?’ Interesting phrasing, Detective Corporal. I’ll assume you mean ‘lawyers.’ And yes, my firm specializes in parahuman criminal defense, because some police officers and district attorneys forget that parahumans get the same rights every other criminal gets. Like — just to throw out an example? The right to a zealous defense. Not all police officers, of course. Not even most. Just some.”