The Sidekick

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Chapter 9 - Breaking Curfew

As his Math teacher droned on about the quadratic formula, Jet stared into space in the classroom. He was still feeling angry and raw about the night when he was benched. It was two nights ago, and Jet still couldn’t think about anything else. Everything he was supposed to have learned that day went in one ear and out the other. There was only a static interference in his brain that stemmed from his frustration with Paladin, making it hard to concentrate on anything.

He was still angry about things had happened. The way Jet saw it, he still hadn’t done anything wrong. Yes, he had fallen for a Brigan trap. But he genuinely thought someone was in immediate danger. Shouldn’t that have taken priority? Wasn’t being a superhero about helping as many people as he could? That was what Alpha had used to say, and Jet wanted to live his life by that mantra for as long as he could remember.

So he had spent the last two long days at school. While Jet actually really enjoyed the school part of school, going to classes and learning new things, he could admittedly do without the homework. What was making it so excruciating, however, was that he still felt like a social pariah. Jet had no idea spending five years in a bunker would make him out of touch with his peers.

He had even been placed in a few group projects, but he felt like his suggestions and input went unwanted. Comparatively to other students, they would at least acknowledge Jet existed at least. Jet had a hard time looking forward to the day knowing he didn’t have patrol in the evenings and he was going to feel ostracized during the day.

He hadn’t noticed Alan glancing over at him occasionally, looking confused. Jet was normally so vocal in the classroom, asking questions, but in this case Jet hadn’t said a word. In the absence of sound it was like there was a blackhole where Jet sat.

There was a sudden break in the fog around Jet’s mind as a booming voice came in over the school’s intercom. Jet nearly fell out of his chair in surprise as everyone in the room popped into motion.

“LOCK DOWN LOCK DOWN LOCK DOWN!” the voice called out. Jet watched around the room as students got out of their chairs and moved towards a wall. There was a profound sense of resignation that overcame the room. Unsure of what to do, Jet hesitantly stood up, following after Alan.

“Lock down?” Jet asked quietly.

Alan nodded, and motioned for Jet to follow, as the teacher began walking to the door of the room.

“Yeah, they’re pretty common, I’m surprised one hasn’t happened yet since you got here,” Alan commented.

“Why is it happening?” Jet asked.

“Usually the convenience store down the road is being robbed or shook down by Brigand. Sometimes it’s-”

Alan’s sentence was cut off by a rattling sound of gunfire from just outside the window. The entire mood of the room shifted to panic and fear, as everyone who had been meandering to the wall suddenly broke into a sprint. Students hit the floor, sitting in crouched positions, some holding one another.

The teacher broke into a dash towards the door, quickly scanning the hall before slamming it shut. Alan quickly looked to the window and then he instinctively tugged on Jet’s arm towards the wall.

“Sometimes it’s a lot worse,” Alan muttered.

Jet sat with his back to the wall, looking out at the window as he heard screeching tires, gunfire and sirens erupt from outside. His mind was spinning with the cacophony of noise and motion, unsure of what to think. The teacher quickly joined the students along the wall, and Jet couldn’t help but look around at his classmates. There was so much fear on everyone’s face, but it was mixed with something else. Almost a familiarity with what was happening, like it wasn’t the first time.

“Has this happened before?” Jet asked.

“A couple of times...this school year,” Alan sighed quietly. Alan bent his knees close into his chest and rested his arms on them.

Jet looked from the window of the classroom to Alan.

“Has anyone ever been hurt?”

Alan’s head slumped downwards.

“My first year here...yeah. A stray bullet went through a window,” Alan responded.

“Did they…?”

“No...no they lived,” Alan said. “But they’re in a wheelchair for life.”

Alan sniffed and looked away from Jet.

“Some other schools haven’t been so lucky.”

Those words hit Jet hard, but he could tell Alan no longer wanted to talk. He didn’t know. How could he know? He had spent five years in a bunker. All that time, things in Vinton had gotten so bad, that students were afraid to be in school?

Jet felt a tug to go out there and do something about the crime that was no doubt taking place just outside the school. He knew he couldn’t, if he did, there would be questions from the authorities, or the Brigand might seek retribution from a very public action. He wasn’t sure how he would do anything about it.

But as he looked at the faces of everyone in the room again, how could he not do something? How could someone with his power not do anything about this?

Jet lay in bed, staring at the ceiling. It was dark, Jet hadn’t bothered to turn any lights on. He had told Quinn he was going to bed, but truthfully he just wanted to be left alone. So he lay fully clothed on top of his sheets, his hands behind his head, and his right leg crossed over his left which was bent at the knee.

On a Friday night, most teens would be out with their friends, seeing a movie, or getting into trouble. But as Jet was realizing, he wasn’t a normal teen, despite the lack of super heroing the last few days. Instead Jet just thought about earlier in the day. Back to the chaos and fear the lockdown created.

He hated that there was nothing he could do about what had happened. That he couldn’t have stepped outside to stop the crime. That he couldn’t do anything to make those students feel safe. It ate at him, that his classmates were in peril. And he had the power to do something.

But he was benched. He wasn’t allowed to go out and fight crime. Paladin was his mentor, his leader, and even if he was mad at Paladin, he wasn’t about to defy him in open day light. The more Jet lingered on that thought, however, the more he wondered why he couldn’t. Paladin couldn’t give him a good reason not to go out and save people.

Everything Paladin said was about stopping Xanor, but would stopping Xanor really do anything about the gangs? They seemed to be the ones causing the most harm to daily people. As Jet debated for the moment going out and trying to make a difference, the thought occurred to him that other than going out and trying to stop crime when it happened, he had no way to know when it was going to happen. He would only be curing the symptoms, not the disease.

Jet sighed and scratched his nose. He just didn’t know what to do. Listen to Paladin, who may know better, or try to make a difference. He felt stuck. It was like he had left one bunker just to be in a metaphorical one.

Just as he thought that his phone buzzed. Jet wasn’t used to the sensation of receiving a text, so it stunned him. Regaining his senses, Jet reached into his pocket and pulled out his phone. Unlocking it, Jet looked at his phone screen to see he had received a text from Hunter.

“Hey. Got the scoop on a Brigand shakedown happening tonight. I texted others. Meet at the jewelry store from last time in 30? Let me know.”

Jet stared at the text for a long time. The idea excited him, but he was benched. And he wasn’t supposed to go out on patrol without Paladin.

But Paladin also didn’t have to know, Jet figured. It was a thought that sent guilt down his spine, but Jet also hadn’t spent five years of training to make one mistake and not use it. Jet looked at his floor and saw the costume. Quinn also thought Jet was asleep, so he wouldn’t worry about him.

Jet looked back to his phone. Teens on Friday nights got into trouble with their friends, right?

Jet punched out a Brigand goon and then spun to dodge a baton from slamming him. With a flick of his sword Jet sent the baton flying out of the thug’s hand. Jet then kicked the thug back. The thug stuttered to a stop but was then hefted up by the back of his collar before being slammed into the ground by Siege.

Siege then turned and grabbed a thug who approached him and tossed him back out the window. Behind Siege, one thug tried to sneak up on the tall teen but was promptly bashed in the back of a head by Hunter. Before he collapsed Hunter grabbed him by the neck and used him as cover as a thug tried to swing horizontally with a baton.

The baton slammed into the thug’s torso. Hunter let the body drop and then lunged forward at the thug who attacked him, grabbing his wrist. He forced the baton into the thug’s torso, shocking the thug into unconsciousness. Hunter then tossed the baton up into the air, and it suddenly flew towards Sting. Sting ducked and let it fly past at a thug who raced towards her. It hit the thug square in the forehead and he collapsed mid-run.

Sting then fired her energy blasts at the roof, dropping some rubble on thugs who had taken cover behind some desks and were readying guns. They let out guttural groans of pain. Sting then turned as one more thug ran towards her, but Jet ran in and swung his sword with the blunt side of his blade. Jet baseball bat the thug into the far wall of the room.

The group caught their breath, all of the Brigand soldiers who were stealing computer equipment from a local start-up out cold. Jet looked to Sting and then to the other two. The adrenaline was still coursing through him, and he scratched the back of his head.

“Are there any other sites being hit up tonight we can go stop?” Jet asked.

Hunter chuckled and exchanged looks with the group. Siege and Sting both nodded with a shrug of their shoulders. Hunter took off his hat for a moment and rustled his curly hair.

“Yeah, I might know one.”

The group proceeded to stop two more raids that night, the next one another Brigand one and the final one being a Wintu one. The gangs didn’t stand a chance against the combined might of the four teen heroes. There were no gang members with special powers or technology that enhanced them to prove a real challenge. The lack of didn’t make it any less fun for Jet, as by the end of the night he felt more fulfilled than he had any other night that week.

Just after midnight, the group except Hunter sat on the edge of a rooftop, looking over downtown.

“That was awesome!” Jet exclaimed. Sting sat on his left and Siege on his right. Neither responded right away, and Jet looked between the two of them.

“Was it awesome or am I just that lame?”

Sting laughed a little at that and looked at him.

“It was a little awesome,” Sting replied.

Siege grunted a little in response and folded his arms.

“We don’t do this because it’s awesome, we do it because it’s right,” Siege said.

Sting looked at Siege and then moved her head around as if she were inspecting him.

“Hey, Siege is it cold?” Sting asked.

Siege didn’t respond right away, but after a moment he furrowed his brow. He seemed confused at the question and then looked back to Sting.

“What?”

“I’m wondering if it’s cold up their one your high horse,” Sting followed up.

“Ha! Burn!” Jet laughed.

Siege for a second seemed to be even more disgruntled, but the smallest inkling of a smile popped on his face. Sting then looked to Jet, and even though her whole face was obscured, Jet could feel the incredulity coming off her.

“Burn? Who says that anymore?”

Jet shrugged his shoulders in response, his cheeks turning slightly red.

“I dunno, I’ve watched a lot of That 70’s Show DVDs while I was in the bunker,” Jet replied.

Before anyone else could say anything, Hunter approached the group from the back.

“Wow, you sass literally everyone don’t you?” Hunter asked.

The group turned to see Hunter with two bottles of pop in each hand. He walked over to sit next to the group.

“No one is safe from the wrath of Sting,” Sting replied cheekily.

Hunter sat down and passed out glass bottles of soda.

“What are these for?” Jet asked as he eyed his bottle.

“I figured we could celebrate all our victories tonight,” Hunter said. “Thanks to us the gangs are going to have a harder day tomorrow.”

Hunter looked out at the glow of Vinton with pride.

“We keep it up, each day for them will get harder until they don’t have a tomorrow,” Hunter said.

There was a quiet pause as everyone contemplated that optimistic thought.

“That was kind of a dark way to say that,” Jet commented. “You made it sound like we’re going to kill them.”

Hunter nodded his head with a chuckle, realizing his mistake.

“Yeah next thing you know Hunter will be the next mob boss of Vinton,” Sting chipped in, drawing laughs from Hunter and Jet. Siege was mid drink, and the comment made him choke. This made the others laugh at Siege harder. When he finally stopped coughing, he acknowledged the group with an indignant smile.

“Shut up, shut up, shut up,” Siege instructed.

They stayed there for just over half an hour, chatting about their night adventures. Jet wasn’t sure he had ever laughed like he did that night talking with the four. Between Sting’s snark, Hunter’s non-sequitur comments, Siege’s grumpiness, and Jet’s own ignorance, the conversation flowed into many laugh out loud moments.

Jet didn’t get home until after one in the morning, sneaking quietly into bed. He planned to sleep in as late as he could. He knew he’d need to get as much rest as he could because they had made plans to do it all again the next night.

Saturday during the day Jet worked on homework and watched television. Saturday night Jet and his new friends stopped a Brigand attack on a Wintu safehouse, raided a Wintu warehouse for information, and handily defeated a Brigand force who were trying to rob a bank.

Sunday during the day Jet watched more television and went shopping with his Uncle Quinn. Sunday night Jet and his new friends fought against a Brigand platoon that was in a shootout with the police and stopped an assassination attempt by the Wintu on a politician.

Then before Jet could really think, he was back in school. His foot tapped incessantly all throughout the day, knowing that evening he was going back out again. One of his classmates who sat beside Jet in Math leaned over to him.

“Hey, would you mind stopping that?” he asked as he pointed at Jet’s foot.

Jet realized what he was doing, and stopped.

“Sorry,” Jet whispered.

Then a few moments later, it picked up again. The student audibly groaned, and for a moment Jet felt that weight in his chest again. But he was able to push past it more easily than before as he thought about his weekend and his plans for that night.

School continued like normal for the rest of the day, Jet was excited about class but looked down upon by his peers. Jet decided to just throw himself entirely into his classwork and the lectures. He knew the next day he had to deliver a presentation for Macbeth. While it was an assignment to do in partners, Jet opted to do it alone. As the class all worked away on the assignment, chatting in their pairs, Jet sat alone, writing his presentation.

That night after eating dinner, Jet stood up from the table. He quickly hurried to the sink to scrape his dish and then started cleaning up dinner. Quinn watched Jet with a raised eyebrow, confused as to what was happening.

“Gotta work on my presentation for tomorrow, I’ll be up in my room, then I’ll be in bed! Night!” Jet said as he hurried out of the kitchen and up the stairs.

Quinn watched his nephew depart and then shook his head.

“Teenagers,” Quinn said to himself with a small smile.

“Alright for real its a school night so I can’t be out as late,” Jet said to the group.

“You still go to school?” Siege asked.

“You don’t?”

Siege shook his head.

“The order advanced me through. I earned my high school diploma last year,” Siege commented.

“Nice,” Hunter chipped in, who was overseeing a building with binoculars. “I’m doing my online, I’m still about a year or two out.”

Sting walked over to Jet and pat him on the back, a little roughly.

“I’m in the same boat as Blade Boy over here,” Sting chipped in. “Though I’m usually up late anyway.”

Hunter quickly let out a low whistle, interrupting the conversation. The other three walked over to the edge of the building and saw two big black armored trucks pull up.

“How about we go to school them? Eh? Eh?” Jet asked the group.

The three of them all groaned. But then in the next fifteen minutes, the Brigand raiding force was capably dispatched.

“So, while I’m still not at the end of the play, we can see early on that Macduff is an important character in the play because he is the one to stand opposed to Macbeth. Already from where we are, his role is more and more prominent, especially as Macbeth has started to target him,” Jet said, reading off his notes.

The class stared at him with vacant eyes, uninterested in what he had to say. This made Jet tremble slightly, feeling extremely self-conscious. However, one quick look at his teacher revealed he didn’t need to be, as he watched with a finger to his chin inquisitively. Jet swallowed and kept going.

“See, to quote our teacher, we’re watching as Macbeth’s star falls but Macduff’s is rising to replace his. That, at least, is my theory for the ending of Macbeth,” Jet finished.

The teacher nodded and walked forward, causing a few of the students in the room to snap to attention.

“Excellently done, you supported your argument with some good points,” the teacher said. “I just have one question for you, if Macbeth is our main character, what do you think will happen with Macduff finally confronts him?”

Jet pondered for a moment, and then shrugged his shoulders.

“They all go for ice cream? Or gelato? Gelato is big in Europe, right?”

That comment made the teacher laugh, and despite most of the students rolling their eyes, a couple also chuckled.

Jet proceeded to receive back a Math exam he had aced on the Friday of the week before, passed the fitness test in gym with unsurprising flying colours, even though he had to hold back from breaking the equipment, and received a high grade on the lab he did in Chemistry.

The next day at lunch, Jet sat alone while he ate. He had just gotten used to the idea of eating alone, but he was currently flying high on his success in school and his night time crime-fighting to let the loneliness get to him.

However, as he took a bite, someone suddenly sat down next to him by his locker. Jet looked over to see Alan joining him for lunch. Alan passed Jet a chocolate bar from his lunch kit, to which Jet looked at in confusion. Alan sighed for a moment and then gestured for Jet to take it.

“For saving me, those few weeks ago,” Alan said.

“I mean Alan, I didn’t do it to be-” Jet began to say.

“Just take the stupid chocolate bar,” Alan instructed with a small smile.

Jet smiled back and took it from Alan. The two then proceeded to eat lunch together, Alan asking Jet about what it was like to be a costumed crime-fighter.

That was how the rest of the week proceeded. By night Jet was the costumed crime-fighter Blade Boy, battling crime in the city of Vinton. By day, Jet was a slightly eccentric high school student. Jet wasn’t sure which identity he preferred, but for the first time in his life, Jet was thrilled with the direction his life was going in.

On Wednesday night, the four teens rested after stopping another drug trade near the Rat’s nest. As per tradition, they were drinking from glass bottles filled with soda Hunter had picked out for them, Jet, Hunter, Sting, and Siege sat on a nearby rooftop from the convenience store.

“So, is this what you expected?” Hunter asked.

“What do you mean?” Jet questioned.

“Being a superhero. Going out on patrols. Fighting bad guys. All those years in the bunker to think about it, is this how you imagined it?”

Jet sat and contemplated. He was flying high on how well everything was going lately, but he couldn’t deny there was still a bit of knot in his stomach at the question. His mind went to conversations he had with Paladin, to the conversation he had with his Uncle Quinn, the school lockdown, and then to the countless gang members, they had battled that past week.

“I dunno, I guess? I didn’t expect so much...bad.”

“Bad?” Hunter asked with a tilt of his head.

“Like, there’s us, we’re the good guys and we’re trying to help people. But here in Vinton, we’re pretty outnumbered and there are a lot more people trying to take advantage of everyone else. Bad people,” Jet remarked. It made Jet think about Macbeth in a lot of ways. There were so many villainous characters and only a handful of good characters. Something that he had once said was unrealistic was becoming a reality for him.

“I guess I just didn’t think there would be so many bad. I thought there was more good.”

Siege snorted at this and shook his head.

“You’re figuring out how the world works.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Jet asked with a raised eyebrow.

“These bad people, as you call them, they see us as the bad people and themselves as the good ones,” Siege said, still staring out at the city. He took a small drink from his soda as Jet looked at him. Sting looked from Siege to Jet and seeing he was visibly confused, bumped Siege in the shoulder with a hand.

“Dude…” Sting muttered to him.

“But, but they’re doing the bad things. The things we all know are bad,” Jet said, somehow entirely missing that interaction between Sting and Siege. “I spent years in a bunker and I know it’s not socially acceptable to try and blow up the city.”

Jet continued to stare wide-eyed at Siege. Siege looked from Jet to Sting and rolled his eyes. After letting out a little sigh Siege turned to Jet and elaborated. For the first time since meeting Siege, Jet noticed he was trying to keep his patience in check, as these resigned revelations came from Siege.

“Look, you watched a lot of movies, right? That’s what you said?” Siege asked. Jet nodded so Siege continued, “Everyone’s life is like their own movie. They all have their own narrative, where they’re the star. Sometimes bad things happen to them that put them where they are to do bad things, or sometimes they’re born that way. But they’re still the star of their story. People or ideas that get in the way or disagree with them are the villains in their stories. That’s just the way it is,” Siege said.

“That’s kind of a cynical way to look at it,” Jet replied.

“Why? Are you not the star of your story? “ Siege replied “I’m the star of mine, Hunter is the star of his, Sting, hers. Its human nature. Here in Vinton right now we’ve just reached a boiling pot where these stories are clashing to create these conflicts that need people like us.”

Jet considered Sieges’ words for a few moments. Sting sighed and looked to Hunter, who shrugged his shoulders.

“Well guys, maybe it’s time-” Sting tried to interject, but Jet interrupted her, addressing Siege’s last comment.

“I mean you’re not totally wrong, I guess I do see myself that way, but I think there’s more to it,” Jet responded. “Maybe these people who I call bad guys are just people who get in my way or disagree with me and they’re not bad guys...I just think they’ve reached a point where they’re so desperate that force is the only way to stop them from hurting others.”

“That doesn’t sound much better,” Hunter chipped in.

Jet conceded with a nod and then said, “Maybe there is a better way, but I think to assume that’s how people operate is to sell them short of what they are capable of. Maybe people just need to learn how to listen again, to have empathy for other people’s stories. Remember that we aren’t so different.”

There was a long silence that followed this. Hunter glanced back to Sting, seeing her whole form almost decompress. Hunter narrowed his eyebrows in confusion, but then he turned to see Jet place his bottle beside himself and fold his hands together.

“It’s probably harder than just beating the bad guys up, but if we can turn bad guys into good guys isn’t that worth it?” Jet asked.

Hunter laughed and then stood up and cracked his back.

“Well that’s the problem right there Jet, it’s this us vs them mentality you two both have,” Hunter remarked.

Jet and Siege both turned to regard Hunter.

“Take it from a black guy who has been dealing with racism his whole life. Dividing people into different categories, white or black, good or bad, it creates this duality that breeds conflict,” Hunter explained. “As long as you treat people differently because they fit into a different category than you’re unintentionally creating the conflict.”

Sting turned to look up at Hunter for a moment. She let the armor peel away from herself, revealing her brown skin and just examined her own hand for a moment.

“Sure, that’s probably an oversimplification because I can’t speak for everyone, and everyone’s story is different like you said Siege. But viewing people who are different from you as exclusively that, being different from you, that will always get you off on the wrong foot. There’s common ground everywhere,” Hunter continued.

Hunter sat back down, draping one leg over the side of the building while tucking one knee in closer to his chest.

“Just treat people like they’re people,” Hunter commented.

Jet and Siege looked over the side of the building for a few more moments. Sting let the armor reform around her hand, but she remained silent.

“It makes it harder to do what you have to when everyone is a person,” Siege said, a hint of sadness in his voice.

Jet let out a little smile at this and shook his head.

“No, I think if anything that makes it easier,” Jet argued.

“How do you figure?”

“Because it makes defending the people who can’t defend themselves easier because they’re people too. Whether or not the people we have to fight are people, sometimes whatever their story is, however they got there, they’re in a position to do harm to others, and they need to be stopped somehow. We have to do what we can in that situation to save the people who can’t save themselves,” Jet said. “Sometimes if that means just providing some empathy to the guys threatening to do something bad then that’s what we do.”

“You going to listen to the bad guys into submission?” Sting asked.

“If there’s a risk of someone innocent being hurt, I won’t hesitate to crack a jaw or too. And I’ll admit I find it fun,” Jet said with a sheepish smile. “I enjoy fighting. But if by example I can help people to learn to empathize with someone different I’ll also try my hardest.”

“Isn’t that why we dress up as superheroes? Aside from the whole secret identity thing. To try and be better? To help encourage and inspire people to be better than what they are?” Jet concluded

“I’m wondering if it’s maybe people who aren’t superheroes who need to step up,” Siege responded. “Maybe its ordinary people who need to be setting this example better.”

Those last words sat with Jet as the four looked over the city they called home. Nothing was said for several minutes, as the three considered the moral quandaries they were discussing. For a moment, the three just enjoyed being in each other’s company, teens of a similar spirit who were struggling to find their place in a city intent on tearing them apart.

“Man I have watched Breakfast Club and Fast Times before but I never knew how good it felt to actually have a deep meaningful conversation at three in the morning with buddies,” Jet commented, completely ruining the moment.

Hunter laughed out loud as Siege groaned. The two got up and began to walk away, Siege muttering under his breath about the immaturity of Jet and working with amateurs and about how they weren’t friends, while Hunter continued to laugh. Sting waited for a moment, her eyes locked on the city. With a sigh, she stood up and followed after the others.

Jet shrugged his shoulders and looked up into the night sky.

“Well, I thought it was meaningful. And it is three in the morning so whatever,” Jet commented to himself. He then stood up and followed after the two others, leaving the Vinton nightline to glow ominously.

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