Justice Wing: Legacies of the Past

The Lieutenant Comic Panel So, every so often things don’t work out quite as you expected them to.

That’s not too surprising at this point. When you’re a writer, sometimes the stories take unexpected turns. Which is what happened to me this time. You see, I finished the Prosperina myth, and figured I was going back into normal production. Prosperina was long for a story, so I had a certain amount of ‘flex’ before I had to get into the regular schedule, but I was pretty sure I’d write a Justice Wing story, then write or post something for Storytelling, then do a myth for the following week.

For whatever reason, I didn’t want to do the next part of Vilify 5 next. I wanted to write something self contained. I thought about writing the very old school story of the time Lady Velvet used Paragon as a weapon against Nightstick and Cudgel, but that story wasn’t quite ready.

And then I thought “hey — why don’t I tell an origin story! That’s nicely comic bookish!” And for whatever reason, the Lieutenant was the character that sprung to mind. I even came up with a good framing device for it — a book Barbara Babcock (Lois Lane to Paragon’s Superman) would write about what Champions would call the Dependent Non Player Characters in a superhero’s life.

In other words, a book about Lois, Jimmy Olson, Perry White, Alfred Pennyworth, Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy, Steve Trevor, and all the rest of the happy people who were turned into monkeys or killed and stuffed into refrigerators. That would do it!

Yeah.

Over twelve thousand words later, here we are. I thought about breaking it up into parts, but I don’t think this story would support it. So here’s a whole chapter of Barbara’s book for you. And this is why I didn’t get anything else done since then.

One thing I like is neither Barbara nor her interviewee sound like Todd Chapman, from “Interviewing Leather.” At least, within the bounds of me actually writing everyone involved.

The picture isn’t fan art, per se. That’s actually mine. Sort of. See, I started with a posted City of Heroes character based on the Lieutenant, and then I did the photoshop shuffle. The result was meant to look like a comic book panel from 1938 or so, and damn if it didn’t come out right (right down to suspect registration errors and slightly heavy blacks on the lines).

I hope you like “Legacies of the Past.”

(Excerpted from Supporting Cast, by Barbara Babcock-Ellerbee, published by Crown City Chronicle Publishers, Crown City, Illinois., 2004. Used by permission.)

Legacies of the Past

It surprises some people just how friendly the Supporting Casts can get with each other.

A lot of them hate that tag, of course. There are days I’m one of them. I know I’m ‘Paragon’s Girlfriend,’ even two marriages later, but there are days it can drive me insane. I don’t define my life by the Diamond Hard Man, as hard as it is for some Parafans to believe it. These days, I live in Los Bendiciones where we never get snow and though I’ve seen the Centurion a few times, I go out of my way not to talk to her.

But deep down, I know the truth. Teddy Jonson, Ronald Porter, Cindy Calloway — all of us. We’re just a part of his story, at least in the eyes of the world. Supporting Cast works as well as any, at least from the public’s perspective.

It’s natural that we get to know the others like us, I suppose. If nothing else, we get a chance to meet when we’re all captured by some consortium of enemies — or when our respective heroes meet up. And there are ways we understand each other better than anyone else could. We’re not really normal. We’re like celebrities, only most of us don’t have any good reason to be celebrities. We’re halfway between the heroes and the bystanders. Sometimes, it’s nice to just talk with people who understand why it’s better to be tied up with hemp than nylon cord.

I guess it’s natural I went to Victoria Delgato first. In a way, she’s my closest peer; as defined by the Lieutenant as I am by Paragon. At the same time, the Lieutenant is more public than almost any other first tier hero. Everyone knows he’s Jason McCallister. So in a way, Victoria Delgato’s story can be told more completely than most of ours.

On the other hand, there’s no one quite like her.

Victoria Delgato is a striking figure. Slender — almost elfin, with angular features and black hair. She moves carefully and deliberately, like she is studying the world around herself. She wore a pale blue dress with only simple accents, but somehow its simplicity becomes elegant on her body. She seems… fragile, almost. Though it’s a false impression. As of this writing, she’s forty-one years old, but she looks the same as she did at thirty. At twenty-five, even. While I think I’ve aged what a man would call ‘gracefully,’ she hasn’t aged so much as matured. Like a fine wine, maybe. Maybe she’s as timeless as the hero she’s so closely associated with.

Her Monument City home is open and airy — a condominium high up in a building of them, near to Harborplace towards Little Italy. And despite her surname, Victoria is more Italian than not. Her father, the infamous Boss Delgato, was half Spanish, half Italian. Her mother was a Rossi. And her apartment has an Italian feel, down to tan stucco and light accents. It is restrained, but elegant. Expensive. Victoria Delgato has always had money, and she wears it like a cloak.

But as much as her condo reflects her heritage, it’s hardly staid. The artwork is new and fresh — on one wall, a white canvas sits, black Japanese calligraphy hand brushed into place. On another a woven tapestry — a pattern instead of anything representational. The effect is organic, but everything feels intentional. The room almost energizes you just being in it. In a place like this, you understand Feng Shui, even if you don’t believe in it.

“Here you go,” she said to me, that enigmatic smile on her face. I had often seen that smile, even in grave danger, but I’d never heard her laugh until this interview. It’s an airy thing, as musical as one of her compositions. She handed me a china cup of coffee, cream already in. I’d watched her make it herself, grinding the beans in an expensive burr grinder, then pouring the ground coffee into a gold cone she proceeded to pour nearly boiling water over out of an expensive kettle. She then ground more beans, extra fine, and made herself a tiny cup of espresso, pulling it with a manual lever machine. This is what Victoria does. She makes things, and she does it by hand.

“Thanks,” I said, sipping. The flavor was rich but not overwhelming. I watched her sip her espresso — straight, no cream, water or sugar for her. I got the feeling she’d never had a Starbucks latte in her life.

She slid into a black wrought iron wire chair, in front of a black, white and red tiled table. It would have been at home in any upscale cafe. I sat opposite her, wondering if the iron wires would leave impressions in my back. “So, you’re here to talk about the Lieutenant?” she asked.

“Sort of,” I said. “Really, I wanted to talk about you. About us.

“Ah. Of course. Our sorority. Well, sorority plus the occasional man. Do you remember — oh, you must. That time Doctor Nebula captured the two of us and Major Storm?” She smiled softly, shaking her head. “Poor, poor Kyle. He never did quite acclimate to being one of the damsels in distress. And he hated when I called him one.”

“I can’t say I like it much either.”

“Really?” Victoria raised both her eyebrows. “Whatever do you object to? The damsel, or the distress?”

“I think we brought more than chronic endangerment to the table.”

Victoria looked amused. “Some of us had pluck, dear. You certainly did. Some had other qualities.” She looked off in the distance. “As for me, I rather think I was a good damsel in distress. I wasn’t given to tears or shrieking. Really, it was embarrassing when some of our compatriots were. Do you remember… what was her name? Mm. The bottle redhead. Spent time with Arrowhead for about six months.”

“Gail Donaldson,” I said.

“Yes. Yes of course. I remember there was a gathering.” She furrowed her brow, considering. “What was it now… a recital, perhaps? One of my…” She shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. The Lieutenant and Arrowhead matched gauntlet and bow with Colonel Darque and Fletcher Joan. I couldn’t tell you any of the particulars.” She shook her head, rolling her eyes as she remembered it. “They didn’t really threaten us. I think Fletcher Joan might have pointed an arrow at us, but if so it was at the whole crowd, not Gail or I. But that woman shrieked like she had been thrown into a volcano. No poise. No bearing. No staying power.”

“Well, not everyone faces danger stoically,” I said.

Victoria shrugged a tiny shrug. “Then she shouldn’t have dated a super hero. If you had been there, you’d have fought to turn the tables on our captors.” She smiled a bit. “That was always your style. You were more like Major Storm than someone might think. You both wanted to win the day before Freya or Paragon even crashed through the wall. And though I was never so… active….” she pursed her lips as she said it, almost distastefully. “…well, I still knew the value of watching for opportunity. And the value of minimizing the value of my capture. Knowing I was in danger inspired Jason’s best efforts, but it’s a thin line between inspiring a hero and distracting him from his work. Not Gail. Gail had to be the center of attention. Save her, no matter who else was in peril.” She fluttered her hand dismissively. “Unworthy, really. I’m glad they didn’t last as a couple.”

“Is that really how you see your role?” I asked. “You’re passive? A victim? Someone to be captured and threatened, but to sink into the background and not interfere?”

Victoria laughed that airy laugh again. “How horrified you sound. Always the feminist, aren’t you? How dare a woman in the twenty-first century embrace a passive role? A victim’s role. As if you were the one saving lives, instead of Paragon.”

“It’s better than waiting for him to rescue me.”

“Is it?” She smiled a bit more. “You sound like Jason.”

That surprised me. It must have shown, because she was even more amused. “Oh yes,” she said. “The Lieutenant believes that every man, woman or child can seize their own destiny. He’s yelled at me before — tried to get me trained in self-defense, or carry pepper spray, or…” she shrugged. “He’s tried to make me someone I’m not.”

“Sooner or later, that attitude will get you killed, Victoria.”

“Oh, certainly. I just hope my death is a beautiful one.”

“Beautiful?”

She finished her espresso, then darted her tongue out to catch the last drops from the bottom of the tiny cup. She smiled impishly, as if I’d caught her being naughty. “I work in art and music and composition, Barbara. Beauty and meaning intertwine. If my death has impact, then it will be a beautiful death. I dread dying alone in some rest home.”

“So you’re passive? That–”

“No… I’m just not an active hostage. Really, I think I’m just as curious as you are. It’s what led to all this happening in the first place, really.”

“Your curiosity?”

“And my propensity for distress.”

“I don’t think I’ve heard this story.”

She smiled a bit more. “Then it’s high time you do.”

And so she started talking, and I recorded it on my minidisc recorder, and with only light editing for clarity I pass her story on to you:

#

Victoria Delgato: This all began, in one sense, in 1982 on July the first. That has become somewhat famous as the last official encounter between Salvatore Delgato, called Boss Delgato, and Detective Lieutenant Jason McCallister, called Jayce by his friends. But in another sense, it began decades before that. You see, July the first was three days before Jason’s birthday. His sixty-fifth birthday. Which means that my dear Lieutenant was both born on the Fourth of July and precisely three days from retirement the day this happened. A double cliché.

You seem surprised. Many people are, even if they intellectually know Jason McCallister’s advanced age. Yes, in 1982 Jason was sixty-four years old — primed to become sixty five. He had been born in 1917, during the first World War. By the time he volunteered for the United States Army, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, he had already graduated from college and the police academy. Indeed, he had been an officer for… hm. I want to say three years. At sixty-four, he was still in good shape, but time had taken its toll on his muscle tone and his waistline. His hair was more white than brown. He had been a police officer for more than forty years.

And during that time, he had been my father’s most implacable foe. My father was about twelve years older than Jason McCallister. When Officer McCallister had first walked a Monument City beat, my father had already been an enforcer for the Kowalski Syndicate for some time. Father had gotten into the game during the twenties and Prohibition, and was really coming into his own. I know my father told me that Officer McCallister was the only man to ever arrest him, and that was before he had taken the syndicate over.

Which sets the stage. While Jason fought in World War II in the South Pacific — ironically reaching the rank of First Lieutenant — my father had been rated 4F by the draft board. I never asked him about it, but I know he told one curious person he’d had a perforated eardrum, and another he’d had fallen arches, so I suspect the medical reason for his disqualification involved an engorged bank account and a malignant case of examiner’s corruption. I know a lot of Kowalski’s men did go overseas, which meant my father was in a position to take the syndicate away from him. By the time Lieutenant McCallister came home and returned to Officer McCallister, the Kowalski Syndicate had become the Delgato Syndicate, and my father was simply known as ‘Boss.’

Monument City was as corrupt a city as you’ll ever see. If it wasn’t as dangerous as, say, Greystone City, that’s purely because Boss Delgato wanted the city to be safe. The syndicate and the local political machine were essentially one large organization. My father’s interests included the street pavers and the trash collectors. Our schools were nice because my father wanted them nice. It appealed to his sense of pride. The city council was made up of his cronies. The mayor was little more than his puppet. And the chief of police and the police commissioner weren’t about to interfere. Not when Delgato money ran richer than civic money.

I make my father out to be quite the civil servant, but that’s not true at all, of course. The Delgato Syndicate ran gambling and prostitution — from the numbers racket and streetwalkers up through floating craps and underground casinos staffed by the highest quality call girls. They ran drugs and branched into new ones whenever they became popular. Remember, my father ‘inherited’ the old Kowalski machine, and that had been built during Prohibition. Puritanical laws become profitable crimes. And of course, there was good old fashioned protection — every shopkeeper and craftsman in Monument City paid Delgato’s men when they came around on the first Tuesday. Those who didn’t didn’t last long, and of course the police did nothing to help them.

In all of this, there was Officer Jason McCallister — an honest policeman.

He was popular with the press — and why wouldn’t he be? Handsome, tireless, scrupulous and clean. And for forty long years, he was the most implacable enemy my father had. It was safe to say the only reason my father’s control over Monument City wasn’t absolute was because of Jason McCallister.

They tried to buy him but he wouldn’t be bought. They tried to break him but he wouldn’t be broken. They tried to smear him and ruin him but he beat it every time. So they had to settle for holding him back. Forty years of exemplary service should have led to a Captaincy, if not higher. But McCallister’s superiors held him back as much as they possibly could.

How that man kept straight and clean, I’ll never know. But he did. He believed, you see. He believed in the law and he believed in justice. And if he could never find the evidence to convict my father, he certainly tore down any number of my father’s operations. Slowly, he put together his own team of honest police officers — men and later women who were inspired by his example and strove for the dream of a clean Monument City. And despite the best efforts of my father and all the dirty men he controlled, when July of 1982 rolled around Jason McCallister had risen to Detective Lieutenant.

But Detective Lieutenant McCallister knew he was running out of time. Retirement loomed. Retirement was mandatory, and there was no chance the corrupt men over McCallister would make an exception for him. So he was doing his damndest to take my father down before it was too late.

My father, in the meantime, had never been content to rest on his laurels. He didn’t just take over Kowalski’s territory. He improved it. He innovated. In his own way, my father was a visionary, and his organization reflected that vision. He kept abreast of new technologies and techniques, and he studied and adapted to them all. Unlike most crime bosses, he maintained a staff of scientists and engineers, always working to refine the technology of crime. He had seen old Boss Kowalski eschew innovation and had vowed never to make that mistake. By the time the eighties had come around and superhumans were known to exist, my father had delved into those sciences and even into the occult.

By 1982, my father’s research goals had changed, but neither Lieutenant McCallister nor I knew it.

On July 1, McCallister had his team — the honest one — staking out an old industrial building where a lot of anomalous chemicals and equipment had been going. The police suspected this was a major drug manufacturing laboratory, which was against type for my father. Father owned and ran plenty of processing facilities like that, of course, but he typically ran them far outside of town, where deniability was easier. He had never been arrested since he took over the Syndicate — and before then only once, by Jason McCallister — because he was cautious.

As it turns out, this was one of many labs my father had commissioned since 1980, and drug manufacture was the least of his interests.

As it also turns out, both my father and I were in the building when an explosion went off. My father was inspecting the work, and I? I was curious. I didn’t know what he was up to, and I wanted to know.

I am sometimes referred to as a Crime Princess, but honestly that was never true. My father was thrilled when I was born, and resolved early that I would have nothing to do with his criminal affairs. He had me educated in private schools, had my talents encouraged, gave me affection but also taught me the value of doing for myself, not letting others do for me. Today I’ll admit to a cleaning staff but they only come in once a week. I cook my own meals, wash my own clothes and drive my own automobile on those rare occasions I wish to drive. I was home from Julliard when father left to go on his inspection, and I had my curiosity piqued by some of the things he had said to Paul, his lieutenant. Paul was like a son to him — I think my father intended Paul to be his heir in crime. I overheard him speak of white cell counts and concerns, and that he wanted to be on hand for the ‘test.’

I was curious, and I was concerned. I wasn’t a fool back then. I could tell something was wrong. So I managed to conceal myself and go along with them, and I managed to follow them. I’m quite good at not being seen, when I need to be.

They went into an inner room, where there were vats and machines, and men in white coats and eyes best described as insane were combining chemicals and electricity in ways I couldn’t easily describe. A tesla coil or jacob’s ladder wouldn’t have been out of place.

“Ah, Mister Delgato,” the leader said. He was a small man, with a head charitably described as lumpy and thick glasses. His name, I learned later, was Doctor Abraham Giles — later to be known as the rather infamous Doctor Guile, father to Beatrice Guile — the malevolent Beguile. But at the time, he worked for my father. “We believe the compounds are ready to be synthesized. You shall find that their regenerative and restorative properties are…. remarkable, to say the least.”

“You’ve been telling me that for two years, Giles,” my father snapped. “I’m running out of time and out of patience. Perniciti tells me the Osiris Effect will be ready by the weekend — what makes you think I need you?”

“Perniciti. Madness. A charlatan soothsayer no better than that Allen Chemical you sent to me. Playing on superstitions and card tricks. You will find cold science far more effective than any chunk of rock, you mark my words.”

“Besides, Boss,” Paul said. “If this works, we can reproduce it. We can sell it. Perniciti’s a good plan B but it’ll only save you.”

My father snorted. “Only, Paul?”

Paul shrugged. “That’s job one, but next week there’s gotta be job two, too.”

My father smiled, and clapped Paul on the back. “I like how you think. Especially since it means I’ll be around for it. Okay, Giles. You got something to show us?”

“Of course. I would not have summoned you unless I were completely prepared.” The little man turned, walking to the vat in the middle. He reached controls and began to work levers. Electricity began to crackle through the room. White hot heavy metals began to pour down chutes into a crucible. “Behold!” he cried out. “Behold the Panacea Elixir’s genesis!”

I could tell at this point that my father had something seriously wrong with him. Some illness — and I could suspect what one. Perhaps that drives a man to desperation. Still, I wish to this day he had confided in me before then — told me his of illness. If nothing else, I could have warned him to never employ a scientist who shouts ‘behold’ before an experiment.

The chemicals and metals combined. Later, I learned that this was meant to create a new curative. No, more that than — a cure all. And I suppose there was some method to this madness, as the infamous Doctor Guile is known to be nigh immortal, his body’s cells impregnated with a substance that reconstitutes him after any injury. Well, I can say that I saw it happen, because something in the vat failed — perhaps it was too hot, or the crucible was malformed. But it exploded, and seemed to consume the madman in white magma and fire.

The force of the explosion warped the catwalks and structures and threw molten metal in all directions. It was sheer luck that only Doctor Guile was consumed in the explosion. My father, Paul and several other scientists were far luckier. And not being fools they fled. The building, as it turns out, was largely flammable — while there were some metal supports and brickwork here and there, it had been made early in the century, meant as a mill, and had never been meant for such heat. The explosion had the entire building ablaze frighteningly quickly.

I ran, but not knowing the building, I made wrong turns. By the time I had figured out where I was and ran to escape, the way was cut off by burning timbers and thick smoke. Choking, I went another way — finding a room with a window which I threw a chair through. Too high up to jump but I could scream down. “Father!” I shouted.

They were down below, along with most of the plant workers. The fire department hadn’t gotten there yet — we were far out, remember — but because the police had been staking out the building, they were on hand. And because it was Detective Lieutenant McCallister’s crew, they had moved in to rescue as many people as they possibly could. I could see them down below, the sound of fire engine sirens in the distance. My father had a blanket on — he might have taken some fire. He was having an angry conversation with the Detective Lieutenant himself.

The two men whirled. They saw me up above. Even from several stories up, I believe my eyes locked with Jason McCallister’s.

And then I saw no more. A burning timber collapsed over me, striking me a nasty blow. If I move the dress off my shoulder and you look you can see — there, on my shoulderblade? That is a burn scar. Minor, compared with what might have happened. But it means I don’t have a conscious memory of what happened next. The next thing I remember is waking up with paramedics working on my burn, and my father crying next to me, holding my hand.

So I did not see Jason McCallister run. Run into a burning building, with just three days to his retirement. I did not hear him coughing as he took smoke and sought some means up to my floor. Did not see him run in with fire behind him, scooping me into what they call a fireman’s carry. Did not feel him jostle me as he desperately tried to escape the building.

I am told that as he ran through the inferno of the lobby, he heard the supports cracking. Cracking like the gunshots he once heard on Pacific atolls as he fought the Japanese in a war that had ended decades before my birth. Exhausted, his body failing, he got close when he heard a horrible wrenching sound.

They told me he threw me. Threw me with all his might and momentum, getting me clear of the building. I remember being scraped up when I came to — abraded from my roll on the macadam.

And they told me that the effort made McCallister fall. And then the building collapsed over him.

It is a miracle he didn’t die instantly, of course. He should have been crushed. Failing that, he should have been burned to death. But though he survived, it was not for lack of trying. Most of his bones were broken. His lung was punctured. Most of his body was hideously burned. I have seen pictures and there are nights they still haunt me. It took them hours to dig him out, and then of course he was bundled off to the hospital.

Not that he stayed there.

Father’s most advanced facility was out in Chesapeake Bay, past Whetstone Point, on an island far enough out that it was debatable if it was in international waters or not. He got us out there as soon as he could arrange it — there were inquiries into the explosion, of course, and questions being raised, but with the most prominent honest policeman on death’s door, no one was going to push. He wanted us out there in case one of his rivals — say, Carter from up North, or Giordano — decided to take advantage of the explosion to make a move.

“You’re sick,” I said quietly, after we got inside the island compound.

“Yeah,” he said.

“You’re dying.” I remember my voice feeling so hollow as I said it.

“Not if I can help it,” he told me. He then looked at me. “What were you doing there? If… I never wanted you to get hurt, baby.”

“I overheard you talking to Paul,” I said. “You should have told me.”

He looked at me a long moment, then looked down and nodded. “Yeah.” He looked back up. “I’m sending you down to the doctors — let them take a look at that shoulder. I don’t trust those meat wagon drivers they got driving ambulances.”

“All right,” I said. I followed one of his enforcers down into the building. I wasn’t surprised to discover a state of the art medical facility down there.

I was, however, surprised to see they had a patient. One wrapped in bandages, and on heavy life support. He had no chart — I’m sure they weren’t going to allow a paper trail — but despite not being able to clearly see him I knew who it had to be.

“That’s Lieutenant McCallister,” I said to the doctor as he worked on my back, across the room from the dying man.

“You didn’t hear that from me,” the Doctor said, working a salve over the burn on my shoulder.

“What… how did he get here?”

“That was me,” said one of Father’s other lieutenants — Morton, not Paul. “The Boss told me to pick him up from Franklin Square Hospital.” He laughed. “I’ll tell you — it was a bitch getting him over here without him dyin’. I was tempted to let him, too.”

“He saved my life,” I said softly. “He ran into an inferno to save me.”

There was an awkward pause. “Yeah, well, anyways. The Boss wanted him here.”

“Thank you,” I said, and turned to look at what was left of Detective Lieutenant Jason McCallister.

The compound was comfortable enough, but there really wasn’t much to do. Not if you weren’t a fan of television, anyhow. So I spent most of my time sitting near to Detective Lieutenant McCallister. Sometimes I would read to him, from the paper or from one of the books I managed to find. I felt it was important that someone be nice to him, even if he were unconscious. It was safe to say none of my father’s men were so inclined, even if my father insisted he be kept alive.

For as long as possible, anyhow.

I sat by him on the fourth of July. I softly sang happy birthday to him and everything. And it was on the fourth that my father first came down to see him.

“There’s been no change,” I said as father came in. He was wearing a bathrobe. Clearly, he had been undergoing various treatments for his cancer out here. Possibly for some time.

“That’s good,” he said. “The way he is? The only change’ll be bad.”

“Why is he here, Father?”

My father didn’t answer, looking at the man who had bedeviled him for four decades. The helpless man. It wouldn’t have taken much. Just unhook a tube or unplug a machine, and wait for him to stop breathing.

“Father?”

“Y’know, I never understood why you call me that.” He looked at me. “I called my father Poppa. I always tried to get you to call me Daddy. Must have been your mother, baby. She must have gotten in your head. Made you all formal.” He smiled, a little sadly.

“Do you want me to change?”

“Nah.” He looked down at McCallister. “You know what?”

“What?”

“He just retired. He’s not a police officer any more. As of today, he’s off the force.”

I didn’t say anything.

“For forty years, I’ve been trying to force him out. I did everything I could think of. And today? Today a man in an office hit his file with a rubber stamp and it’s done. McCallister ain’t a cop. He’s got no badge. He’s got no authority. He’s just another schmuck.”

“Are they looking for him?”

Father snorted. “Oh yeah,” he said. “But they won’t find him. Not out here.”

I nodded.

“Did he wake up? Ever?”

“I don’t think so.”

Father looked at him. “Yeah,” he said. “Let me know if he does, okay?”

“How are you feeling?”

Father smiled at me. “You know me. I could kill an ox.”

“Does that skill come up often?” I smiled back at him, though it wasn’t the happiest of smiles.

“More than you’d think.” He straightened up, and adjusted his robe. “I’ve got to go get stuck with needles, and talk with Paul and Perniciti. You meet Perniciti yet?”

I shook my head.

“Good.” He shuffled out of the room, and I went back to reading.

As it worked out, it was another eight days — the twelfth of July — before much changed. I remember I was sitting with McCallister, who was still unconscious, when I saw my father and Paul come in. They were at the far end of the room, but I have good hearing.

“It has to be today,” Paul was saying. “There’s no reason to wait any longer.”

“It might not work,” Father said. “It might be lethal.”

“You won’t be any more dead than if you do nothing. It’s not like this is plan B any more. Perniciti says–”

“I know what he says.”

Paul took my father’s arm. “Boss… we need you. We need your strength. Giordano’s making a push. We have to push back. The rumor is you’re dead — that could lead to chaos in the streets. It has to be today.

Father looked at Paul, and patted his hand. He looked so old, right then. He was seventy seven years old, born in December of 1904. He’d had me late in life, but he loved me. As he’d loved my mother before she died. “Okay. Let’s talk to the Doctor. If it has to be today, we need to see about McCallister.”

Paul didn’t argue. They walked over to where I was sitting. Paul waved the doctor over.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked.

“Old and cancerous,” Father said. “How’s the cop?”

The doctor shrugged. “He’s getting worse.”

“Can you wake him up?”

The doctor sighed, looking down at the police officer. I had to wonder about a doctor who’d sell his soul to a crime boss. Even if that crime boss was my father. “I wouldn’t recommend it.”

“I don’t remember asking you to recommend anything. Can you wake him?”

The doctor took a long moment to think about it, then nodded. “Yeah. But when he goes back under, he’s never coming out of it.”

“Is he gonna die anyway?” Paul asked.

“Yes.”

“Then today’s as good as any other day, right?”

“I’ll get the–”

“Wait,” Father said. “Move him upstairs. We don’t want to do this here.”

“He’s… pretty fragile.”

“Move him carefully.

“Upstairs?” I asked.

Father nodded. “He and I — we have business.”

I nodded. “I’m coming too.”

Father frowned. “This isn’t anything you need to hear,” he said softly.

“Father, this man saved my life. You’re my father.” I took a deep breath. “And I know who you are. I’m coming with you both.”

Father smiled, just a little bit. He wasn’t happy, but he could respect that. “Let’s get him up there.”

They managed to get him up the lift, into a sunny room. This was one of Father’s R&D facilities. There were prototypes of new guns and tazers along one wall. There was a lightweight suit of bulletproof armor hanging from the ceiling, and a pair of prototype ‘enforcer gauntlets’ on a nearby table.

And across from where they positioned McCallister and all his life support equipment, there was a bronze sarcophagus. It looked vaguely Egyptian. A reed thin man in a black cloak, pale skinned with a shock of black hair stood next to it, watching.

“Do it,” my father said to the doctor.

The doctor injected chemicals into McCallister’s IV. After a few moments, he shifted, and his eye fluttered.

“Lieutenant?” my father said, louder than he’d spoken since we got there. “You there, Lieutenant?”

McCallister grunted.

“How you feeling, huh?”

McCallister’s eye opened the rest of the way. The other one was bandaged over. “Hurt,” he said, very softly. His voice was full of gravel, with oxygen still flowing into his nose through a clip of some sort. “Throat feels scratchy.”

“Yeah, well, you had a tube down it. Do you know where you are?”

McCallister didn’t answer.

“Lieutenant?”

“In trouble,” he said.

Father smiled. “Damn right. It’s just us here, Lieutenant. No one else. Oh, and for the record? It’s July twelve. You slept through your own retirement party. I’m sure someone picked your watch up for you, though.”

McCallister stared at my father.

“No speech? Well, okay. I guess that makes sense. Do you know why you’re here?”

McCallister didn’t answer.

“Lieutenant? Still with us? Do you know why you’re here?”

McCallister’s voice was rough, but a little stronger. “I’m pretty sure it’s because you dropped a building on me.”

My father grinned. “You see? This is why I like this guy. He’s badly injured, trapped and surrounded by his enemies, and he’s still making jokes.” He leaned over McCallister. “You’re dying, Lieutenant. You won’t live through the day. Do you hear me?”

McCallister took as deep a breath as he could. “I’ve… proven you wrong before, you know.”

Father rubbed the bridge of his nose. “And that right there? That’s why I hate you, McCallister. You never know when to just quit.” He stood back up. “But it doesn’t matter. You’re dying. You’re dying because you saved my daughter’s life. And that means we have business before you kick off.”

“I don’t… take deals from you, Delgato.”

“This isn’t a deal. Don’t you get it? I’d won. You were going to retire. Without you, your little friends would dry up and blow away. And you knew it.”

McCallister didn’t answer this one.

“And then? Three days before your retirement… three days before I was going to beat you once and for all… you had a chance to destroy me. To get your revenge. You could have broken me, McCallister. You could have taken away my legacy. My future. My daughter–” his voice broke, and I realized how emotional about this he really was. “My daughter was going to die, and all you had to do was turn away. I’m an old man — I couldn’t have saved her. I’d probably have died trying.”

“That’s not how I do things,” McCallister said, in that ruined voice. He was having trouble breathing, but I could see him fighting to stay awake — to stay in the room.

“Why not? Why not tear me apart the one way you know you could? Why not take the only really beautiful thing I ever had a hand in making?”

McCallister closed his uncovered eye. For a moment, I thought he might be going back to sleep — to his final sleep — but he opened it back up. “She didn’t do anything wrong. ‘S… my job to save people, not let them die… for petty… for rev…” he swallowed.

“So because she was innocent. you were honor bound to save her.” Delgato shook his head. “What if it had been me?”

“Wh… what do you–”

“What if it was me up there? What if you saw me in that window? Saw the timber hit me. Saw me go down?”

“If… if it was you?”

“That’s right, tough guy. What if it was me?

McCallister’s eye closed again Even under the bandages, he looked… ashamed, almost. “If… if was you?”

“Yeah?”

“…the same.”

There was a long pause in the room.

“Oh, Jesus, why are we even doing this?” Morton asked. “Of course he’s gonna say that, Boss! He doesn’t want you to kill him! He’d–”

“I believe him,” my father said, softly.

“Oh come–”

“I said I believe him!” Father was annoyed now. “I’ve known this guy forty-four years, Morty. Forty four years. You think he hasn’t had a chance to put a bullet in me before? You think he hasn’t been tempted to arrange an accident? Don’t you get it?” He looked at McCallister. “It kills him to even admit it, but he believes. He believes in the law and justice and trials by jury and all the rest of it. He always has. He’d save my life and let the law arrest me all at once. And without a conviction — without evidence, he wouldn’t do anything to punish me.”

McCallister swallowed. “Th-throat… dry…”

There was ice water to hand. I think one of the medical staff brought it, flexible straw and all, so I shifted to put the straw in his mouth. I saw him looking at me with that one eye as he drank.

“Hurry, baby,” Father said. “We don’t have a lot of time to talk.”

Silently I stepped back.

“You… you screwed up this time,” he said softly. “You kidnapped me. They’re… they’re looking and my testimony….”

Morton chuckled. “Testimony, the man says.”

Father shrugged. “Lieutenant, you’re not going to live out the day, the way things stand. You’re sure as Hell not testifying against me like this.” He looked away. “Don’t you get it? Even now I’ve won. Except… except I haven’t. Because now we have business.”

McCallister looked at him. Today I wonder how he held on that long. He was in tremendous pain, even with painkillers, and he was so fragile. I suppose that famous will saw him through, though only barely, perhaps.

“You know — I haven’t shown you around the room yet,” Father said. “This is a lab, Lieutenant. This is where the next generation of criminal will be born. Look — see here.” He walked over to the hanging armor. “This is a light, flexible body armor. Bullets that go through fifteen layers of kevlar bounce off this suit, but it breathes like cotton. Age of miracles, my friend.”

McCallister didn’t answer.

“Oh, and look — I love these things.” He picked up one of the gauntlets. “It’s a prototype — these are all prototypes. But this glove? It can give an electric charge. Or trigger it and–” the side tubes snapped up into the suddenly clenched fist, for the small combat stick. “Instant billy club. You can even snap the two clubs together into like a fighting staff, and that can give an electric charge too. Think about it. Enforcers walkin’ the streets — not needing guns to shake people down. I always hated that, y’know. Guns are for enemies, not everyday schmucks. In the old days we did shakedowns with baseball bats. They’re scarier, you know.”

McCallister worked his lips.

“I didn’t even show you. See these plates?” Father turned the gauntlet, triggering it, so it fanned out into half the riot shield. “Bulletproof, even more than the suit. You put the gauntlets together, and you can stand up to machine gun fire. Huh? Huh? Pretty neat, huh?”

“You must be proud.” McCallister’s voice was weaker.

“Proud.” Father snorted. “I was.” He tossed the gauntlet onto the table. “Over there, we have better guns than the military. High tech stuff. Communications stuff. I remember Kowalski, Lieutenant. He refused to adapt to the times. Well, we live in a world where cops fly and shoot lightning out their eyes. Guys like me either become chum for the super criminals who fight them — or we become super criminals ourselves. And I’m not Kowalski, you hear me? Do you hear–” Father broke down, coughing, bending at the middle. Paul moved to support him.

Father stood, wiping something dark off his lips. “Want to hear something funny, Lieutenant? I’m dying too.”

McCallister didn’t react. He just watched.

“Cancer. All those years of cigarettes and cigars. Heh — do you remember when I was on that game show with my new wife? ‘Two for the Money?’ The one with Herb Shriner?”

“I remember.” A raspy voice. The voice of the grave.

“We won — Jesus, must have been three hundred bucks. Nothing more than that. Though that was a lot of money then, you know. You remember.” He shook his head. “They gave us each a carton of Old Gold cigarettes when we sat down at the table. Old Gold cigarettes, Lieutenant. Twenty five years later, I’m dyin’ a’cancer. I’m tempted to sue Mark Goodson and Bill Todman.”

“You smoked them,” McCallister whispered.

“Yeah, I did. And I was ready to die. I really was.” He leaned closer to McCallister. “And then miracles started to happen.”

He stood back up, gesturing. “Suddenly, Paragon was flying through the air, beams of light coming out of his eyes. Suddenly the goddess Freya was real, and all her power and magic with her. Miracles were happening. And I had the machine to make miracles of my own, Copper! I had the people, I had the money, and I didn’t have to hold back for anything!”

He looked McCallister right in the eye. “So why not get myself a miracle? Why not get myself out of this? Why does super have to mean flying men and punching and ray beams? Why can’t it mean Salvatore Delgato doesn’t die from cancer?”

McCallister sort of hissed. “Everyone dies,” he said softly.

“So far,” my father said, standing back up. “And we found it. In the Valley of the Pharaohs in Egypt, we found the Osiris Stone. The legend was it could heal the sick.” He shook his head. “And it works. I saw it clear up colds. I saw it heal cuts and scrapes in seconds. We brought in scientists and magicians to study it. It really works, McCallister.”

McCallister’s lips worked. I offered him more water, and he accepted.

“The thing is… it’s too slow. It might slow down the spread — keep me alive a little longer, but it won’t stop something like this. There’s too much damage. Too much disease. I needed something more.” He smiled. “But I’m rich and willing to take chances. I found alchemists and occultists and scientists, Lieutenant. Mister Perniciti over here figured it out.”

“Figured… what… figured what out?” He sounded weaker. I realized he was dying.

Father looked at the sarcophagus. “How to harness the Osiris Stone into the Osiris Effect. Turn the chamber on, and it’ll release all the Stone’s power — everything — into one concentrated burst. It’ll flood my body with whatever it does. It’ll do more than cure my cancer, it’ll remake me from the cells up. Do you understand, Lieutenant? That chamber is gonna make me a young man again — put me back at the start. The peak of health.” His smile turned nasty. “I’ll probably live another seventy seven years.”

McCallister worked his mouth. I could tell he didn’t want to show weakness, even when he was as weak as any human could be. But I knew that struck home.

Father’s smile slowly slipped. “It was a good plan. Come out, one way or another, and be young again, just in time for you to retire. I’d have told the boys that you were to be left alone — Hell, we’d put you on the V.I.P. list. Let you get older and older, perfectly safe, perfectly healthy for an old man… watch my organization grow and flourish.” He shook his head. “And then you saved Victoria. My legacy to the world. Maybe… maybe the only good thing I ever was a part of. And you sacrificed your own future — whatever you had left — to do it.” He looked away, and slammed his hand down on the brass. “I pay my debts, Lieutenant, and you’ve racked up a doozy.”

“What…” he shivered. “…what do you have in mind?”

“I don’t know. That’s why we had to talk. How do I repay someone’s legacy? How do I live up to a debt like that, especially to a dead man? Especially when the man is you? How do I use my new life to replay something like that?” He leaned over the Detective Lieutenant. “What will it take, Jason McCallister?”

“…you… m…” He shivered again. “…must be joking.”

“I pay my debts. I always have. I always will. This is your one chance.”

McCallister closed his eye. “…turn yourself in… go st…state’s evidence.”

Father turned away, snorting in disgust. “I’m not gonna spend my new life serving a double-life sentence. I don’t care what I owe you.” He shook his head. “What. Do I switch sides? Move out west? Build a new organization to clean up the streets?”

McCallister didn’t answer.

“God damn it–”

There was a noise at the end of the room. One of Father’s flunkies. Paul went over to find out what he wanted. Father glanced over, but then turned back. “Look. You need to be reasonable, McCallister. For once in your damn life — for the last time you do anything in this life — you have to meet me halfway. Give me something. A project. A rule. Something.

McCallister opened his eyes. His voice was still soft, but steadier than a moment before. “I don’t make deals, Delgato. You want to honor me? Turn yourself in. Otherwise… better let me get on with dying.”

Father stared at him. “Jesus Christ. You never know when to quit. Fine. I wash–”

Boss.” Paul had come back over at a run. “Giordano’s got three boatloads coming straight for here!”

“What? How did he know– doesn’t matter. Have the checkpoints stop them!”

“The checkpoints let them through, Boss. They joined them.”

Father’s jaw set. “The helicopter?”

“It’s gone. And so are the boats.”

I felt my heart hammering. “What… what does this mean?”

McCallister croaked. It almost sounded like a laugh. “…means he got sold out, miss. Ins… inside job.”

“What?”

“He’s right,” Father said. “Someone here cut a deal with Giordano.” He turned to face Morton. “Didn’t he?”

Morton looked around. Paul took out a pistol, as did a couple of the others. “Hey — you… you can’t think–”

“You were in charge of this place,” Father said. “For months. You staffed it. You set up the checkpoints. Of course it was you, Mort. Why’d you do it? Huh? Are you one’a those who thought I was insane? That this whole project to cure me was a waste? Huh?”

Morton’s fear shifted. His face set, and looked hard. “Insane? I wish you were insane, ‘Boss.'” He stood up, and straightened his coat. “I know you’re not crazy. I’ve seen what that rock can do. Jesus, it cured my damn eczema.”

“Then why–”

“What did you expect, old man?! Huh? You expect us to be happy for you? I have served you loyally for twenty years. And you know what? I knew I wouldn’t be in charge after you kicked off. I knew Paul was your favorite. And I was okay with that, because I’d still move up. We’d all move up, Delgato! Only that wasn’t good enough for you!” He stabbed a finger in Father’s direction. “You had to cheat! You had to decide to do it over again! And when it looked like you were gonna come up with some science thing — fine! You could have shared. But that box is only good for one trip! So what? I’m gonna stand here and watch you become a twenty year old? And then what — spend the back nine of my life toadying for you and Paul? No way, Boss! No way!

Father stared at him. “You… you could have come to me, Morty. You could have talked this over with me.”

“And said what?” He shook his head. “I’ve always been loyal, Boss. But this? This is just business. Look. They get here. You make this easy. You make this smooth. Surrender, agree to retire. Spend your last few weeks in luxury. Spend them with your daughter. We’ll tear this thing apart and you can settle your affairs in peace.”

“Just business, huh?”

“Yeah. Like you and Kowalski, all those years ago. Nothing personal. I got to think about my future, is all.”

Father looked at Morton… and pulled a small pistol out of his robe pocket, shooting Morton once in the stomach, and once in the head. “Yeah? How’s that future look now, Morty?”

I stared. I stared at the gun in Father’s hand. I stared at the quivering mess on the floor that had been a living human being. The only death I’d ever seen before had been Mother, some years before. I’d never seen violent death. I’d never seen my father kill.

Father stared… until he heard McCallister cough. “You got something to say, Lieutenant?” he asked, quietly.

“You… y’r… you’re under arrest,” McCallister said, his voice soft. “…for the murder of Jack Morton.”

Father didn’t laugh. He just handed Paul the pistol, turning. “You’re not a cop any more,” he said, quietly.

“…doesn’t matter,” McCallister said. “…you talk and you talk about what you’re gonna do… talk while I’m dying here and you talk about honoring my life…” he shivered, clearly in pain. “…and not five minutes later you murder a man.”

Father stared at him, and then turned to look at Morton’s body.

“Boss,” Paul said. “We’re out of time. Get in the chamber. I’ll get the men — the ones I can trust. We’ll set a barricade. We’ll keep them out while you get this done. Then you and Victoria can–”

“I killed him,” Father said, softly. “I talked about honoring McCallister. I talked about Victoria — my one good, pure child, and then I killed him right in front of them both.”

Boss. We have less than fifteen minutes! We have to–”

“I never wanted you part of this,” Father said, turning to me. “I never wanted you to see this side of me, baby.”

“Father,” I whispered. “I love you. And I know who you are.”

His chin rose with that. “You know who I am,” he said, softly. “I never wanted that.”

Boss.

“Paul — is my suit laid out?”

“Yeah, but–”

“Go and set the barricade. Take the prototype weapons — they might turn the tide. I’m gonna go change and I’ll join you. Maybe they’ll listen to me. If not, maybe I can help hold them off.”

“Boss, get into the chamber!

Father turned to Paul. “Go!”

Paul looked at him for a long moment.

“It’s all right, Paul. I’ll be with you.”

Paul choked, and ran. The others went with him.

“Father…”

“Victoria…” he turned to look at me. “Detective Lieutenant McCallister saved your life.” He reached out, and touched my face in his hand. I remembered him touching my face, just like that, any number of times as he tucked me into bed. “And you are my legacy. My real one. I don’t want you part of this life. Not ever. Make your music. Give something beautiful to the world.”

“Father…” I choked back my own tears, and hugged him.

After too short a time, he let me go. “Mister Perniciti? You and my daughter have to move the Detective Lieutenant into the chamber. Hurry. The moment you take him off support he’ll start to die. And moving him won’t help, for that matter. But don’t worry about being gentle. If he lives long enough for this damn thing to be turned on, it won’t matter any more. He’ll be reborn.”

“Mister Delgato,” Perniciti said, his voice thick with an accent I didn’t recognize. “You do understand this chamber will only work once. It is designed to consume the Osiris Stone completely. There will not be anything left to cure you.”

Father looked at him. And then he turned to look at McCallister. “I can’t adapt enough,” he said. “Just like Kowalski couldn’t. And I pay my debts, Mister Perniciti.” He leaned close to his old enemy. “You win after all,” he said softly.

“…Delgato… there must… must be another…”

Father stood. He looked at me. I whispered that I loved him, and he said a few things to me I don’t think you need to know for your book. And then he left, leaving only me, Perniciti, and Detective Lieutenant Jason McCallister.

“Come,” Perniciti said. “We have little time.” He moved to the right side of the bed. I moved to the left. And we started pulling tubes out.

“…insane…” McCallister rasped. “…you can’t really thAHHHHHGH!” The pain hit as we started to move him, broken bones and burned skin under his clothing being compressed and shifted. We heard him begin to gurgle, his lungs and chest not strong enough to breath without the clips.

“You must hold on to life,” I whispered. “You must want to live, Lieutenant. Or this will be for nothing.”

He made some kind of wet, coughing noise — perhaps he was trying to answer me. We got him into the sarcophagus. Perniciti tore some of the clothes and bandages off, and pulled the lid down.

In the distance, we heard cracks. Shots. It was beginning.

Perniciti murmured words in some language I didn’t understand, and he threw a large brass switch. The chamber hummed, and then began to glow, energy flowing through it like blood through a heart.

“What — how long will–”

“Not long,” he said, looking at me. “When the noise stops, you must release the locks on the side. They lift and unlatch, Miss Delgato. Then lift up.”

“But — you–”

“My part in this is done. All has happened as has been foretold.” He nodded to me. “Until our next meeting.” And he strode for the door.

I sat back, listening to the sound of the chamber — a roar of life, and the scream of a man being reborn. I stared at the dead man on the floor, and I listened to gunfire from down below.

And then, when the machine was quiet, I unlocked the chamber and lifted the lid.

Jason McCallister blinked his eyes open. His hair was dark, his eyes blue-grey. His body was nude, and looked sculpted, as if he had modeled for some classical statue of the gods. He was not simply younger. He was at the peak of human condition.

“We do not have much time, Lieutenant,” I said, softly.

“Miss Delgato,” he said, before stopping, surprised at his own voice. So strong — so young. He lifted his hand, seeing the muscles play along his arm. “…I… I don’t believe it….”

“We must be amazed later,” I said. “My father has left behind the body suit and the gauntlets. They may not be much against Giordano’s weapons, but if we are to have any chance to survive–”

He took my hand, sitting up. “Miss,” he said softly. “I’m… I’m sorry.”

I looked in his eyes, and though I knew that my father would die — either down below, right at that moment, or soon enough from the cancer, I smiled, just slightly. “My father has chosen me as his legacy, and given you back your own. Let us be worthy of those gifts now, Lieutenant.”

I helped him put the suit on. He didn’t have much time to figure out the gauntlets. When he heard them in the stairwell, he went out to meet them, moving with such speed, such strength. And of course he beat them. He had his army training, plus he had studied some martial arts. Judo and Jiu Jitsu in the fifties, I later found out. And then some Karate. After all this, he studied more, of course.

In the end, we nearly died, but two heroes — the armored Centurion and the goddess Freya — arrived to clean up the mess, having gotten reports from the Coast Guard of automatic weapons fire on that little island. I still remember Freya demanding to know who he was, even as Giordano’s remaining men cowered from the Centurion’s energy weapons.

“Detective Lieutenant Jason McCallister,” he shouted back up to her. “Monument City Police Department!”

“Of course, Lieutenant,” she called back, and flew down to help her comrade.

And so he was the Lieutenant.

#

Back in Victoria Delgato’s dining room, I was a little amazed. “I knew that Jason McCallister became the Lieutenant in your father’s compound. But — I had no idea–”

“You didn’t realize my father sacrificed his own miracle for Jason’s.” She smiled that spooky little smile. “And his life with it. I found him in the foyer of our building. He had been shot many times.”

I bit my lip. I know it had been twenty-two years, but what do you say to someone when they talk about finding their father’s bullet ridden corpse.

She stood. “We’ve passed beyond noon. I have some light fare I can offer, and I think perhaps we should open a bottle of wine, don’t you?”

“I… sure. Of course. Can I give you a hand?”

“If you would like.” She considered the Japanese lithograph for a moment. “His was a beautiful death.”

“Sounds pretty gruesome to me.”

“Not at all. Jason McCallister had sacrificed his life to save mine. Father sacrificed his own to give McCallister his life back.”

“Do you think it redeemed him?”

“Hm? Of course not. My father was a monster. It wasn’t about redemption.”

That stopped me short. “It wasn’t?”

“Of course not.” She looked at me. “If Father were to seek absolution, he would have had to turn himself in, just as the Lieutenant said. It would have been miserable and long, a full life spent in prison, or worse. He couldn’t do that. In death, he repaid his debt to Jason McCallister, but avoided his debt to society.”

“Then what made his death so… beautiful?”

She smiled a bit more as she walked into the kitchen. “He was true to himself. His death had meaning, but it was a meaning that validated his life and views, rather than repudiated them.”

“So what happened then?”

“You know most of that story. McCallister became the Lieutenant — and eventually he was empowered as a law enforcement officer… hm. Almost everywhere, it seems. I know that in 1992 state legislatures passed bills giving him police powers in their states, as if he were an officer of their State Police, and the–”

“I know all that. I mean what happened with the two of you. Last I knew you two weren’t… um….”

“We have never been in any kind of relationship. Nor will we ever. We are friends, after our fashion. He travels with me sometimes. I travel with him sometimes. In a way, he’s like a brother to me. Which is odd, considering he will be eighty seven years old this July.” She looked distant, even as she got cheese out of her refrigerator. “He doesn’t look any older than thirty. The last twenty-two years have barely touched him. Perhaps the Osiris Effect has given him everlasting youth.”

I hehed. Having been associated with Paragon — who stopped aging around thirty, for all intents and purposes — I knew that feeling all too well.

“But I suppose the tenor of our relationship started early. It was saving my life that led, ultimately, to his rebirth. And as we’ve established, I have something of a knack at becoming endangered.”

“And not doing anything to get out of it?”

She laughed that airy laugh. “I should think you would understand that now. But we were speaking of my relationship with the Lieutenant.” She considered. “Really, that was settled between us about a week after my father’s death and Jason McCallister’s rebirth.”

#

I knocked on the door of his apartment. It was a second floor walkup, which meant I had some difficulty with the cases, but I managed. I have always been quite good at managing when I need to.

He opened the door, and was surprised to see me. “Miss Delgato,” he said.

“Please, call me Victoria. May I come in?”

He stepped back. “Sure. Please. Come on in.” He was wearing blue jeans that looked a bit stiff. New. And he wore a dark sweat shirt, with the sleeves pushed up.

His apartment was clearly usually well kept, but he had packages and parcels in his living room, with clothing — about half of it folded — strewn about. “You’ve been shopping,” I said, smiling a bit.

“Yeah, well — as it turns out, I don’t fit in any of my old clothes now. Not even stuff from twenty years ago.” He shrugged, almost embarrassed. “I have more muscle mass than I used to.”

“Indeed.” I looked at him. “We have some loose ends to tie up, Lieutenant.”

He nodded. “I imagined we would. Want a cup of coffee?”

“Please.” As a side note, I do not recommend Jason McCallister’s coffee. But I did not know that at the time. “Lieutenant, I thought you should know–”

“Jayce.”

“Excuse me?”

“Call me Jayce.”

“I think not.”

He laughed. “Suit yourself. So you were saying?”

“I’ve liquidated my father’s assets.”

He looked at me. “Meaning?”

“Meaning I’ve sold the legitimate holdings. The businesses and the properties.”

He frowned. “What about the illegitimate ones?”

“There was a bidding process. Some of those businesses went to Mister Carter. For the most part, Mister Giordano has taken them over.”

He stared at me. “You let Giordano take over?”

I shrugged. “Largely. There was some money involved though mostly I got firm understandings that I would not be involved in these businesses in any way.”

“He killed your father!”

“I’m well aware of that, Lieutenant. There is hardly a need to shout.”

He was still staring at me. “I don’t think you are aware of it. You’ve rewarded the man who had your father killed with the lion’s share of his criminal empire! I don’t…” he turned away, stunned. “Why didn’t you do something?”

“Like what?”

“You were in a position to shut all this down — to dismantle the syndicate and the machine. And you gave it all up to Giordano?

“That’s correct.”

He turned back to me, still incredulous. “For God’s sake — why?

“Because my father wanted me to stay out of that life, Lieutenant.”

He stared, and shook his head. “You had a responsibility–”

“No, I really didn’t.” I smiled a bit more. He’s learned to be infuriated at my smile. “I will not be involved with his businesses, either legal or illegal in nature. If I attempted to dismantle his organization, it would define my life as much as if I took up the mantle of leadership in it. I do not choose to define my life by my father’s, Lieutenant.” I cocked my head, still looking at him. “Or didn’t you mean what you told him, back on the twelfth?”

“What do you mean?”

“You said I was an innocent. That I didn’t do anything wrong. That’s why you couldn’t let me die even though I was the daughter of your worst enemy. Did you mean that? Or do you think the sins of my father do stain me?”

He opened his mouth, somewhat slack jawed. It would not be the last time I caused that reaction in him. “Well, no, but–”

“Well. So I have chosen to rid myself of his sins. Are you saying I had the responsibility to bear them, instead? Are you saying that is fair?”

“No. No of course not, but… Giordano?

“Had Paul survived, I would have given him all of it. But he died with my father. And Giordano was in the right position to guarantee I would not be involved ever again. It was the best choice.”

“Miss Delgato–”

“Please. Call me Victoria.”

“But you won’t call me Jayce?”

“Correct.”

He shook his head. “Fine. Victoria… how can you… he was your father.”

“Yes he was. And I will respect his wishes. In at least two ways.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean… I will stay out of it, and be the legacy he wanted.” I stepped back to the door, opening it and lifting the portfolio off the top of the cases. Turning back, I walked over to hand it to him. “And I will help you to achieve the legacy you want. The one my father gave back to you.”

He accepted the portfolio, opening it. “What is–”

“Records, Lieutenant. All the transfers and businesses I’ve sold, and to whom. Including manifests and–”

He stared. “You’re… Victoria, they’ll kill you.”

I shrugged, still smiling. “Hopefully not. Besides, they won’t know it’s me, and until they have proof they won’t hurt me. They made an arrangement to leave me out of it.”

“These aren’t honorable men, Victoria.”

“No, they’re not. But you are.”

He looked at me. “Victoria… I’ll call my old friends… but… I’m retired.”

“Really?”

He laughed, uncomfortably. “I didn’t want to be. But no matter how young I feel, or how long I’ll live, the regulation says that retirement is mandatory at sixty-five. And even though your father is gone, his machine’s in place. They’re not about to give me a badge or any kind of authority.”

“Mm. I’m hardly surprised.”

“Then what do you expect me to do about it?”

“Come here and give me a hand, and I’ll show you.”

He helped me get the cases inside. The ones with the prototype armor and the gauntlets. He was surprised again. “Didn’t you sell these?”

“I didn’t sell any of my father’s advanced weapons or gear. I oversaw the destruction of the prototypes and their schematics. I can’t imagine I got all of it, but a lot is gone now. All but these. The plans to them are in the bottom of the case as well — if you can find a good engineer–”

“Wait… these are yours?”

“No, Lieutenant. These are yours.” I took his hand in both of mine, cupping it. “My father said we live in an era of miracles. A miracle has healed your injuries and given you back your youth, in time to be a part of this new age. This will help you do it.”

“What would your father think?”

“This isn’t his decision. This is mine. Call it my thank you for saving my life, not once but twice.”

He looked at the gauntlets in the case. “You know, I have no authority to go out and fight crime. I have no badge and no–”

I laughed, which surprised him. “I’m serious,” he said.

“I know you are. You’re always serious, Lieutenant. But that’s what made me laugh.” I touched his face, and then started to walk back to the door. “My father was right about one thing — this new world needs to be adapted to. In the end, he couldn’t adapt to it.” I paused in the open doorway. “You have the tools, and you have the cause. Can you adapt yourself to use them, Jason McCallister?”

I left before he could answer. But with the perspective of time, it’s clear he was up to that challenge.

#

“So how often do you see him,” I asked. We were both approaching tipsy off of a Shiraz/Cab Sav blend — I wouldn’t have thought it would pair well with cheese, but then my knowledge of wine comes from old Odd Couple reruns, and I should have known Felix was blowing smoke.

“Mmm. It goes in waves. I haven’t seen him for six weeks now. But then we’ll see each other every day for a month. When I’m between projects, I might follow him around and do whatever domestic chores he needs done, or he might follow me as part of my entourage. It really depends.”

“All that and you don’t love him?” I laughed. “I don’t believe it.”

“Why do you say that?”

“You follow him around and clean up after him, and you say you don’t–”

“No. Why do you say I do not love him.”

I blinked. The wine made me a little foggy, but I felt sure I wasn’t remembering wrong. “You said you weren’t in a romantic relationship, and that–”

“We’re not. We never will be. But of course I love him.”

I blinked again. “I’m confused.”

“My mother was from Italy. She taught me many things about love. One of them is that love is not one thing or another. It is infinite and varied. I love Jason McCallister deeply, but I would never kiss him, much less marry him. I would gladly die for him–”

“But not fight for him?”

“I do not fight for anyone — even myself. Don’t you see? I do not promote crime and I do not fight crime. I stay out of it.”

“Until they capture you.”

“Just because they capture me does not mean I have to participate.”

“Wait — is this about your father and what he…” I shook my head, trying to clear it. “So you love the Lieutenant but… okay, I admit it. I don’t understand you at all.”

Victoria smiled. “That’s all right. I understand you, Barbara.”

And maybe she does.

In the twenty two years since Boss Delgato died and Jason McCallister was reborn, a lot has changed in Monument City. The Giordano and Carter mobs have both collapsed. The corrupt political machine’s been broken wide open and a moderately honest civic government’s gone into place. There’s still crime in Monument City, but on the whole it’s a safe place to live.

In the twenty two years since the crucible exploded and the Osiris Effect gave its one beneficiary a new life, Doctor Abraham Giles — or Doctor Guile — has plagued the heroic community and the mysterious Mister Perniciti — also called Enigma — has sometimes worked with the heroes and sometimes opposed them.

In the twenty two years since Victoria Delgato was saved by Jason McCallister for the first time, she has composed two symphonies, three requiems, thirty-eight concertos, nineteen sonatas and two operas. She is considered one of America’s top working composers and pianists.

And, whether or not I understand Victoria Delgato, I’m jealous of her. Whatever Paragon and I have been to each other, if I had never met him he would still have pulled on tights and fought for honesty, decency and integrity. He would still be a hero. He would still be Paragon. But without Victoria Delgato, Jason McCallister would have retired in 1982, then probably gone on to watch Boss Delgato reincarnated into a new, young body. At eighty-seven, he might still be alive but the smart money wouldn’t have been on it.

Which means Victoria Delgato — whether in distress or not — is integral to the Lieutenant’s creation. That’s something almost none of the rest of us Supporting Cast can claim.

A bit too tipsy to drive, I got a cab back to my hotel. I figured I could get the rental out of the garage later. She saw me off, as gracious and pleasant as always. “Good luck with the book,” she said as I left, that same damnable smile on her face.

“Thank you for all your help,” I answered, and we did that weird double air kiss thing I do when I have to, but I’ve never understood.

“Barbara?” she called from her condominium door, as I was getting onto the elevator.

“Yes?”

“If you’re not his damsel in distress… what are you?”

I looked at her for a long moment. Then, the doors closed, sparing me from having to answer her.

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15 comments ↓

#1 MasonK on 12.19.07 at 12:36 pm

Nicely intense.

As of this writing, she’s forty-one years old, but she looks the same as she did at thirty. At twenty-five, even. While I think I’ve aged what a man would call ‘gracefully,’ she hasn’t aged so much as matured. Like a fine wine, maybe. Maybe she’s as timeless as the hero she’s so closely associated with.

One has to wonder if this timelessness has anything to do with the smoke she breathed in…

#2 Kneefers on 12.19.07 at 1:04 pm

Awesome. I was hoping when you came back with something new that it’d be more Justice Wing. I needed my superhero fix, and this does nicely.

On a story note, I agree more with Barbara’s views on being the damsel in distress than with Victoria’s. The way that she just gives the entire organization over to Giordano without a fight kinda pissed me off. She’s right that it wasn’t fair for her to be in that position and her father never wanted her to be a part of that world, but it wasn’t her decision to make. She had the power to do something about it, but instead ran away and basically dumped all the responsibility for dealing with the mess onto the Lieutenant. Barbara’s instincts are right: if you have the power to do something good, then doing nothing is the same as helping the bad guys. Whether you have super-powers or not (i.e. whether you have the inclination to fight back, like Barbara, or not to, like Victoria) doesn’t matter. Just my two cents.

#3 David Johnston on 04.01.11 at 9:20 am

Ms Delgato was right. She could hardly take over her father’s illegal interests, even temporarily. She lacked the requisite ruthlessness and reputation. And she’s a woman in the Italian mob. Barring a sudden acquisition of super-powers, the best she could manage would be to marry someone and make him the heir-presumptive, granting him slightly more support in a war for control with Giordano.

#4 Eric A. Burns on 12.19.07 at 1:08 pm

A few hopefully brief notes on the above.

When working in pastiche, one wants to echo the source material without out and out plagiarizing it. As with most of the top heroes, the Lieutenant’s source material is obvious — Captain America. However, the execution is pretty different, and I tried hard to keep it that way.

One of the areas I went for thematic similarity instead of out and out copying was his defining characteristic. With Captain America, the defining characteristic is patriotism. True patriotism, not jingoism, mind. Captain America is the best of what it means to be American. What America itself means.

For the Lieutenant, the defining characteristic is Law Enforcement. The Lieutenant, at his core, is the Good Cop. Honest was belabored up above — he is as incorruptible as Elliot Ness. But hand in hand with that is a belief in all the highest ideals of law enforcement — justice, innocent until proven guilty, to serve and protect, et cetera. The Lieutenant is everything we want all our police to be. The Lieutenant is everything our police sometimes are.

Just as core to Captain America, however, is his age. Cap, in the modern era, spent a few decades in suspended animation. He literally went to sleep in World War II, and woke up in the Cold War. His perspective comes from another time and place.

I toyed with making the Lieutenant time-displaced the same way that Cap was, but I decided against it. It would tread too close. So instead, I made him slog through all those years manually, and then gave him a rebirth — the analogue to the Super Soldier Formula — that brought him back to the peak of health and the pinnacle of human potential.

Throw in a few weapons he would become known for, and we’re all set.

Hand in hand with this had to come an epic struggle. Captain America fought many enemies, but the Red Skull was his true opposite number. Well, I didn’t want to parallel that exactly, but it was important that the legend spring from that same opposition. For the ultimate policeman, that meant the ultimate crime boss — thus, Boss Delgato.

Victoria, on the other hand, has no correspondence to anyone in the comics. Look, if I were going to write Captain America fanfiction, I’d write Captain America fanfiction. She is, however, a counterpoint to the very Loisesque Barbara Babcock-Ellerbee.

(As a side note, Barbara’s second husband’s surname is Ellerbee. We know from the Prologue that Barbara didn’t marry Paragon, at least the second time around. However, the name is a callback to Lois Lane Ellerbee, from the true comic book classic “Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow” by Alan Moore and Curt Swan.)

We have added to our list of fictional cities replacing real ones, with this story. Monument City (for the Monumental City) has slipped into Baltimore’s place, and Los Bendiciones (The Blessings) has taken over for Los Angeles. Why do we do this? Because it’s comic bookish and because then I can claim that the city was hopelessly corrupt for fifty years without libeling anyone. Especially since I don’t know the first thing about Baltimore politics or crime.

#5 Eric A. Burns on 12.19.07 at 1:10 pm

On a story note, I agree more with Barbara’s views on being the damsel in distress than with Victoria’s.

On a personal note, so do I. ;) If I knew Victoria in real life, I doubt I’d ever stop being pissed off at her. She kind of invites it.

#6 Eric A. Burns on 12.19.07 at 1:13 pm

And this reinforces that we need to do at least one more chapter of Barbara’s book, because on the opposite side of the scale we’ve got Kyle Storm. But that, as you can guess, is another story. Especially if it’s a story that lets us tell the end of (that incarnation of) Freya’s heroic career, instead of the beginning.

#7 Fade Manley on 12.19.07 at 2:59 pm

Brilliant and beautiful, as usual. And sadder in some ways than I expected; you have a real knack for taking a premise that a lot of people would play for laughs, and doing something honest and serious from it.

Though “If nothing else, I could have warned him to never employ a scientist who shouts ‘behold’ before an experiment.” did make me giggle madly.

#8 Kneefers on 12.19.07 at 5:39 pm

“Especially if it’s a story that lets us tell the end of (that incarnation of) Freya’s heroic career, instead of the beginning.”

Heck, yeah. You have to do something more in-depth on what happens to Freya eventually, too.

#9 Cypriss on 12.19.07 at 6:08 pm

Another amazing story Mr. Burns. Seriously, I never thought I would finish but it was over before it began in my own mindscape. It was awesome.

#10 Will "scifantasy" Frank on 12.19.07 at 6:50 pm

As with most of the top heroes, the Lieutenant’s source material is obvious — Captain America.

*facepalm*

Not to me, but then I’m a moron. I spent this whole time trying to figure out who the Lieutenant was an analogue to.

Admittedly, I did try it by working backwards from Victoria. So that was my problem. That, and I’m not much of a comics fan.

I like the story, Eric. Nice job!

#11 Eric A. Burns on 12.20.07 at 1:21 am

Oh, fast references:

The Centurion and Freya showed up in part out of homage to Iron Man and Thor being part of the rescue team that saved Captain America in the Avengers (at this time, I have no Giant Man or Wasp figure in Justice Wing).

All pronoun stuff with the Centurion was intentional.

Giordano is named for the excellent inker and former (excellent) executive editor of DC Comics Dick Giordano. Not for any reason, mind, other than I like Dick Giordano.

#12 Mr Sitouh on 12.22.07 at 1:06 am

Bravo! I was really starting to jones for some good superhero fiction to get my brain juices running again. Thanks for feeding my fix.

#13 LurkerWithout on 12.22.07 at 8:28 pm

Welcome back and glad to see it was writing this that delayed updates. And not you being buried under 18 bazillion tons of ice and snow…

#14 akilika on 12.25.07 at 1:21 am

I tend to be with Victoria on this one, honestly.

First off, True Neutral as an active alignment, rather than an indecisive one, has always fascinated me. Usually it’s skewed toward balance as an overarching goal, but I find this story to be a very good reading of it as well. The fight between law and chaos, good and evil–it just doesn’t concern her. She’s not indecisive, and she doesn’t feel that the balance must be preserved–she just places herself outside of that schism entirely. It seems like a remarkably powerful place to operate from.

The second is–well, honestly, man does choose his own destiny. Victoria decided that she wanted nothing to do with her father’s operations, and she felt that this was the best way to serve his wishes. So she did it. No second-guessing, no cheating. No sentimentalism, no emotion.

It must be extremely frustrating to love her, if the Lieutenant loves her back. (I figure he probably does, as the relationship described hardly seems one-sided.) But I figure the Lieutenant is frustrating to love, as well.

I dunno. I like her.

#15 Dilletante on 09.14.15 at 6:09 am

Sometimes, it’s nice to just talk with people who understand why it’s better to be tied up with hemp than nylon cord.

First off: Kinky.

Second: I’m not sure whether or not to call bullshit. It’s only true when you consider rope pre-treated and maintained for the purpose. Rope that hasn’t been pre-treated to make it softer, smoother, and more pliable chafes like hell, and can leave a nasty burns. Ropes that aren’t well maintained may stiffen or pick up off odors depending on what you use to oil the rope and how you store it. From a villain’s perspective, untreated rope is cheaper, stronger, and most important, far less time-consuming in the short and long run to use. treated rope’s only benefit is comfort, something I don’t see a villain being too concerned about.

Third: While we’re on the subject of things a villain may or may not care too much about, amateur rope bondage can cause health complications. I’m not talking rope burn here. Cut-off of circulation aside, something oft overlooked is nerve compression, which can lead to short and long term mobility issues. Worst case scenario sees you with one or more dead or dying limbs that need to be lopped off due to gangrene, sepsis, or embolism; then dying from sepsis or embolism. If you need to keep a hostage though, a special kind of stupidity or callousness is required for that, like ignoring the pleas of the lass or lad who cries, “I can’t feel my legs!”

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