The Sidekick

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Chapter 9 - Legions of Xanor

Jet paced around the living room of his house, murmuring lines from Macbeth to himself while holding the book a few inches from his nose. He was trying to wrap his head around the language, but without the assistance of the notes on the sides of the page that helped translate it.

“Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty? What does that even mean?” Jet commented to himself.

He was interrupted mid-stride, as he crashed into an unmovable force. He shoved the book into his nose by accident, and then took a step back. The book was lifted from his hands by Quinn, who then turned it over in his hands.

“Oh, sorry,” Jet said sheepishly. “I guess I should watch where I’m going.”

Quinn didn’t respond right away, he simply started reading the passage Jet had just read out loud.

“It’s Porter talking to himself, he’s speculating if whoever is knocking is a farmer who killed himself, thinking that he was going to get more profit from his harvest that year,” Quinn explained.

“Oh, that’s dark,” Jet replied.

Quinn passed Jet the book and walked into the kitchen. Jet watched Quinn and then saw there was a chicken burger waiting for him on the table. Jet tossed the book onto the couch and followed after his uncle.

“A lot of Shakespeare is,” Quinn commented. “Except for his comedic plays, but even those have dark elements.”

Jet scratched the back of his head and sat down at the kitchen table, not really sure what to think. All he knew was that there was a chicken burger, with lettuce, onions, and ketchup for toppings, and it had his name on it. Jet snatched it up in both hands and took a big bite.

“You know, there’s something to be said about expectations,” Quinn commented. “How have the first few nights of super heroing been?

Jet paused mid-chew, a piece of onion falling out of his mouth. He stared wide-eyed at his uncle, trying to gather his thoughts. With a hard swallow, Jet stared off to the side and considered his answer.

“It’s been good, really good. I’ve been getting into some pretty sweet superhero brawls and stuff. Met some other teens last night who were cool and had neat powers and stuff,” Jet responded.

There was a quiet pause, and Jet continued to chew his burger. Quinn smiled a little and then started to eat his burger. A few bites in, he paused again.

“Has it been what you expected?”

Jet slowly stopped eating. He placed his burger on the plate in front of himself and crossed his arms. With a sigh, he looked at his uncle.

“No, it hasn’t been,” Jet replied.

“Is that a bad thing?”

“I don’t think so. Meeting those other kids last night was fun, and I do enjoy the fighting part of it, but I guess...I don’t feel like I’ve saved anyone yet, you know? Like I’m just fighting other people’s battles,” Jet answered. “I guess being a superhero would involve actually saving people.”

Quinn nodded. He put his burger down and looked at his nephew.

“Yeah, that makes sense to me,” Quinn answered. “But this city... it’s all wheels within wheels. There’s some much going on below the surface all the time, that it’s hard to make an impact that has a surface level impact.”

Jet and Quinn looked at each other in the eyes, and Jet could see that fear in Quinn’s eyes again. However, Jet understood it better, having seen more of the city. He could empathize with it, but it still upset him.

“It shouldn’t be that hard though,” Jet remarked. “People should be able to see what’s right and want to do the same. That’s why people become superheroes right? To set that example.”

“Everyone has their truth Jet,” Quinn said.

Quinn’s words rang in Jet’s ears as he perched on another nearby rooftop. It seemed to be what Jet and Paladin mainly did at the start of nights was pose on rooftops heroically. While Jet could admit it did feel very cool, it also bled into his thoughts on the matter. Why did they spend so much time doing this? There was so much more he felt like he could be doing.

That night there were in what was referred to as the Rat’s Nest, an incredible run-down part of downtown.

“Jet!” Paladin practically shouted.

Jet shook himself from his trance and looked at Paladin. Paladin was staring at him, and even though the helmet was on, Jet could feel the intensity.

“Did you hear a single word I said?” Paladin asked, his tone curt.

Jet looked back with wide eyes, and then his facial expression quickly turned to one of shame.

“No, I’m sorry Paladin. I’ve been distracted,” Jet replied.

“I’ve noticed,” Paladin replied. “I’m starting to worry about your focus, if I can’t trust you to be focused out here, then I’m not sure if we-”

“No, no I’m good I promise,” Jet responded, cutting off Paladin. “It’s just been a lot with...school and stuff. Lots of new stuff to take in.”

Paladin eyed Jet for a few moments, but then let it go.

“Alright… well, what I was saying is I finally have a lead on Xanor’s base of operations. But we need to act fast or he will move it,” Paladin explained. “It’s five blocks from here, and when we near it we have to act fast to destroy his Chaos Energy containers. This could be our one chance to destroy them and his energy for good.”

“Oh wow,” Jet commented. “No wonder you were ticked I was zoned, this could be huge.”

“Exactly,” Paladin responded.

He began to walk towards the edge of the building and pointed.

“We’re going to head in that direction, it’s an old water treatment site,” Paladin said. “We’ll need to move fast and silent. As soon as he knows we’re on the way, he’ll store up his energy and leave again.”

Paladin then turned to Jet.

“This might be the most important thing we do, if we can stop Xanor’s power source, then that’ll get the Constructs off of you, and let us finally start tackling some of the other issues the city has been having,” Paladin explained.

“Like the gangs?” Jet asked.

Paladin paused, and then took his time answering.

“Maybe, we’ll see,” Paladin answered.

He said nothing more than and before Jet could ask Paladin leaped from his perch.

“Come on!” Paladin shouted.

Jet shook himself and hurried to keep after Paladin. The two leaped from rooftop to rooftop, speeding along the night sky like a set of blurs. Jet could just see the water treatment plant in question, it was a block away when a scream caught Jet’s attention. Jet screeched to a stop and turned to the direction he heard it coming from, just behind him.

He heard the scream again, and Jet hesitated for a moment. Paladin was already almost at the water treatment site, and Jet wouldn’t be able to get his attention without a lot of noise. The scream he heard was one of terror, and Jet couldn’t just ignore it. Whoever it was could be hurt, or be threatened to hurt.

Paladin could handle Xanor, Jet figured. He would save whoever was screaming. Jet dashed back toward the source of the sound.

The scream had faded, and Jet couldn’t quite pinpoint anymore where it came from as Jet descended onto a lower rooftop. He focused on his hearing and could hear a burst of small laughter coming from a nearby alleyway. It sounded mischievous in nature, and Jet had a feeling in his gut that was where to go. Jet hurried to the alley, and then looked down to see one woman on the ground, and three men who were approaching her.

Jet didn’t hesitate for a second. There would be no time for banter, no time for a pre-fight quip. He didn’t know if the woman was already hurt, but he knew he wasn’t taking the chance she would be hurt more. Jet descended from the roof, vaulting off a fire escape to slow his descent, and then kicked down hard, toppling one of the thugs.

The other two quickly turned to see Jet, but Jet quickly sent one sprawling with a left hook, and then he kicked the other in the torso. That thug went flying backward and landed in a pile of trash. Jet then quickly assessed the situation. He looked at the three thugs and could see they were dressed like more Brigand gang members, albeit without some of the tech Jet was used to seeing.

He then turned to the woman, who had long blonde hair and was wearing, peculiarly, a red dress. Maybe she was going for a night out? Jet thought to himself. Jet walked over to her and extended a hand as he crouched down.

“It’s okay, you’re safe now,” Jet said to her.

Her long blonde hair covered her face, but she turned slightly towards Jet. She very lithely reached for his hand, hers covered with a long red glove that reached to just below her elbow. Jet helped her to her feet, but still couldn’t quite see her face.

“Are you okay?” Jet asked.

She nodded just slightly enough for Jet to see, and then Jet turned back to the goons. The one he had descended was writhing on the ground, feeling for his head. Jet grimaced slightly and then walked towards him.

“Sorry, that’s probably a concussion. I mean, that’s probably not as bad as what you were about to do to this lady,” Jet commented. “So I’m not really that sorry. I should work on my entrances, though, I could have caused a lot more damage if I wasn’t careful.”

Jet looked up at the alley and saw a homeless person across the street who was staring at him. Then that nagging thought about the woman’s dress returned. Why was she dressed like she was going to the opera if she was in the Rat’s Nest? Something didn’t add up.

As Jet realized this, he suddenly felt a tight line wrap around his neck. Jet instinctively reached for it, and suddenly a surge of energy surged through Jet, causing his muscles to seize and contract. He involuntarily fell to his knees and strained.

“You know, when the idea was pitched to us to try baiting one of you young heroes out, I didn’t think it would actually work,” the woman said.

Jet sputtered and strained. His mind commanded his arms to let go of the line and grab his sword to cut the line. But he couldn’t. His hands were gripped on the line and they were closed so tight, he could feel his nails trying to tear through his gloves to get at his skin.

“But here we are, one junior hero later,” the woman continued. “I guess I win the prize for staking out the Rat’s Nest.”

The line tightened more, and Jet was forcefully tugged onto his back. He started being dragged back to the woman, his legs kicking out in a futile attempt to stop himself.

“You young optimists always want to try to fix all the bad things in the world, all these things you see as a problem,” the woman said.

Jet could then see her from his upside-down position. She was holding a red line in her two hands, and her face was finally revealed to Jet. Her chin was angular and her eyes bright. She was wearing makeup that brightened her features, and Jet could tell even in his extremely pained state that she was classically beautiful.

“The thing is, little hero, I like those problems,” she said. “They’re good for me and good for business.”

She then reached under her dress, pulling out a long red dagger. Jet coughed, trying to let out a cry for help. But Paladin wasn’t anywhere near, Jet figured. Paladin was probably half-way to stopping Xanor. Again, like in the bunker, he was on his own. Jet had to find a solution. Jet could think of only one, and he wasn’t sure if he could do it.

It took all of his willpower, but Jet shut his eyes and forced himself to let go of the line. The energy still seized through him, causing his body to spasm. But, Jet did his best possum impression. It took a few seconds, and then the energy stopped flowing through the line.

“Really? You’re not even going to let me enjoy it?”

The line slacked a bit, and that was all Jet needed. Jet spun on the ground and kicked up to his feet. The woman was dragged forward, but before she could activate the energy again, Jet grabbed his sword and cut the line. Jet gasped for air and reached for his neck. The woman’s expression went from surprise to one of amusement.

“Oh well then, you do have some fight in you,” the woman stated.

“Oh, I got enough to take you down,” Jet commented through gritted teeth.

“Really?” she asked with a raised eyebrow.

Jet could then hear behind himself a clicking sound followed by the whir of energy. He checked over his shoulder. The three goons he had knocked out were back on their feet, and in their hands were large energy rifles, trained on Jet. He turned back to the woman in red.

“Whatcha want us to do, Cassandra?” one of the thugs asked.

Cassandra, the woman in red, smiled.

“Well, I suppose I can’t have all the fun. Just don’t miss and hit me,” Cassandra instructed.

One of the goons fired at Jet’s feet. Jet jumped out of the way, the discharge of the rifle causing a loud boom, followed by a second explosion as it hit the ground. Jet planted his feet against the wall and then launched himself towards the first one who fired. With a slash of his sword Jet cut the rifle in half, and then he jabbed forward at the thug with his hand. He hit the thug in the neck, causing him to gasp for air.

Jet then spun out of the way of another rifle blast, and he charged forward at that one. The thug’s rifle was primed and Jet shot forward with a hand. Jet lifted the barrel of the rifle up, and the blast fired into the night sky. Jet then kicked the thug in the knee and then brought the pommel of his sword across the thug’s face.

Just as that thug went down, Jet heard a rifle discharge. He didn’t have time to move again, and he brought his sword up to cover his body. The blast hit his sword and sent Jet flying back into the wall of the alley. He hit it with a hard crash, denting off stone and brick. Jet then fell to the ground.

Between the line of energy that had attacked his body and that blast, he didn’t have much strength in his body. Jet strained to stand but found that he couldn’t. Cassandra walked over to him and lifted up his head ever so slightly so he could look her in the eyes.

“Well, you did have more fight then I thought,” she commented. “But it wasn’t enough to, quote, take me down.”

She reached back for her dagger when a sudden crashing sound caught her and Jet’s attention. They both turned to see the third thug, who Jet had been hit by, suspended in the air by the collar, in Paladin’s grip.

“Step. Away,” Paladin instructed.

Cassandra smiled smugly and took a step back.

“Well, this junior hero has a senior one looking out for him. Adorable,” she said as she backed away from Jet.

She sheathed her knife back under her dress and took a few more steps back.

“I’ll keep that in mind moving forward that this one has some red tape,” she said.

“But, you know what will happen if he causes too much trouble, don’t you?” Cassandra asked.

There was a long pause from Paladin.

“I do.”

With that, Cassandra turned and walked out of the alleyway. Paladin watched her for a few moments, before kneeling down and helping Jet to his feet. Jet’s whole body ached, his muscles felt like they were on fire after that energy coursing through his system. The blast hadn’t hurt that bad, but more the point it had knocked him over, which had proved to be the more difficult part to get over.

“Thanks, Paladin-” Jet began to say, but Paladin held up one finger and cut Paladin off.

Paladin’s whole body heaved with angry huffs. Jet eyed around nervously, not sure what was about to happen.

“Not here. Roof. Now,” Paladin instructed.

A moment later, Paladin stood with his arms crossed and his back to Jet as he looked at the water treatment plant. Jet looked around apprehensively, not sure why they weren’t back on their way to Xanor’s lair.

“Shouldn’t we be going?” Jet asked.

“He’s long gone Jet,” Paladin said quietly.

His voice was low, but it was trembling with anger Jet hadn’t heard before. Jet was more confused than scared at the moment.

“Did he know we were coming?” Jet asked.

Paladin’s arms went down to his side, and he looked over his shoulder.

“He did,” Paladin said, and then paused. He turned as he finished saying, “He did, the moment there was a plasma blast, that fired off in a nearby alley!”

Paladin practically roared at Jet. His anger, his disappointment, it was like nothing Jet had ever seen before. Jet for a moment felt himself cowering, but then he thought back to what made him make that decision, and he stood back up tall.

“Look, I screwed up the plan, and I’m sorry, but I thought someone was in danger,” Jet said. “Isn’t that why we do this?”

“We do this because we try to save the most people we can,” Paladin said back through gritted teeth. “And tonight, the way to do that was to stop Xanor from summoning an army of Constructs. Now we’ve lost that chance.”

“Then,” Jet tried to say, patting his hands against his sides. “Then we stop the army when they come. We can do that, we have the other teens, and we’re awesome, we can do it when it happens!”

“You don’t get it!” Paladin shouted. “Those were Brigand goons. I was okay with you going up against them last night because you got to meet some new people, but we need to pick our battles with them. Now not only do we have Xanor to worry about, but the Brigand also has a target painted on our back as well!”

Jet considered Paladin’s words for a few moments. At a fundamental level, he could understand what Paladin meant. That would make life harder for them, and more dangerous. But, something didn’t sit right.

“So?” Jet asked.

Paladin reeled backward in shock.

“What if that had been an actual mugging tonight?” Jet asked. “What if someone’s life had been in danger? Would you still be telling me I did the wrong thing?”

Paladin stared at Jet for several moments. He took off his helmet, and Jet could see how red Paladin’s face was. His eyes burned with a fury Jet had never seen. Jet felt a tug in his chest.

“Aren’t we supposed to be superheroes?”

Paladin’s fury lightened slightly, and he stopped glaring so hard at Jet.

“Jet, when I said in the bunker you don’t understand this city...this is what I meant,” Paladin explained. “Sometimes stopping crime is the wrong thing to do. It can have repercussions that you can’t begin to understand.”

“Stopping crime is the wrong thing?!” Jet shouted. “Then make me understand these repercussions, Paladin, because if I’m not out here to be a superhero then what the hell are we doing?”

Paladin raised a hand, and Jet felt like his voice was lost in his throat.

“Enough Jet, enough,” Paladin said. “We’re not going to get anywhere else tonight.”

Paladin turned and looked back towards the water treatment facility.

“You’re benched,” Paladin said.

“What?!” Jet cried out.

“I should have done it earlier tonight, you’re not focused. You haven’t been focused since the first night we were out. You’re not ready,” Paladin continued.

“I-but,” Jet tried to argue.

“This isn’t forever,” Paladin said. “We were just too early. I should have let you adjust to school life first before dragging you out to this. Give it a week, and we’ll try again.”

Jet wanted to argue and fight with Paladin, but he felt so small. He felt like Paladin, like the city, was crushing him. Like he didn’t even have a voice to fight back with.

“Go home,” Paladin said finally. “You know the way. I’ll speak to you in a few days.”

Jet gripped his fists in anger. But he turned away from Paladin and left. He couldn’t hear Paladin’s sad sigh as he did.

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