Chapter 15 - Sidekick No More
Jet’s vision was hazy. All he could feel was intense pressure all over his body. As his vision corrected he could see all around him was a brownish-grey mass that was trying to crush him. It pushed in constantly, attempting to break his bones and smash him into a paste. The pain was unlike anything he had ever experienced before.
At the end of his vision, he could see his hand, still reaching out. Following his hand’s reach, Jet could just see the hilt of his sword. It was so close. So close to being in his grasp. Maybe, maybe if he could reach out and grab it he could use it to break free.
Jet felt his body extend towards it, reaching desperately for it. It was like trying to move through an extremely viscous liquid while a force crushed the life out of him. Jet gasped and wheezed and struggled. It felt like his arm was going to pop out of its sockets. The sword was so close. He only needed to move a couple of inches. It felt like he was one good movement away from grabbing it and freeing himself.
But his body wouldn’t move. It wouldn’t obey him like he wanted to. The sword remained out of reach. Jet let out a sigh and he felt his body give out, strength leaving. The sword seemed further away than ever before.
He couldn’t do it. At the end of it all, Jet couldn’t finish the job. Despite all his training, all his power, all his ideals, all it took was one attack of a power he couldn’t hope to match to end him. To halt his journey in its tracks. Jet felt tears welling up in his eyes, and he blinked them away.
Maybe this wasn’t the worst way for this to end, Jet thought to himself. The news must have shown the battle he had with Xanor. The rest of the team could rally, Xanor would have been weakened. Something would change after this, it would have to. Jet’s sacrifice would still propel the city forward.
But what was what Jet wanted? He wanted to change, he wanted to make the world a better place. But was this going to be enough, or couldn’t Jet do more? Did this have to be the end of the journey? Couldn’t Jet still do more?
He reached again, but it was an even more futile attempt before. He felt no closer to the sword. It remained out of reach. Jet felt a sob boiling up and he pushed it down. If this was it, this wasn’t how he was going to face it. Not with tears, not with crying. Despite every impulse telling him to cry at the direness of the situation, Jet wouldn’t let himself. It wasn’t what a hero would do.
Instead, Jet shut his eyes. He tried to envision the future of the city after this battle. Tried to envision a better world than the one he was leaving behind. Siege, Hunter, and Sting could save the city without him. They’d defeat Xanor and topple the gangs. They’d restore the city and make it a better one.
Jet let out a quiet contempt sigh as the mass of Chaos Energy pushed in harder than ever before. He thought to all of the students in his classes. All of the other people in the city would be saved because of this. It wasn’t what he wanted but it was enough. He thought about Paladin’s family, his brother, and his sister. It was enough. He felt the darkness pushing in. It was enough.
He thought of his Uncle Quinn.
But if you think that this is what it takes to knock that sense of wonder, that optimism in you, out of you, then you’re selling yourself short.
Jet’s eyes slowly opened. The words came back to him, piercing through the darkness.
You are the strongest… of all of us.In you...in your heart...I see the strength...the love...the hope that you need to save Vinton.
Then Paladin’s words. Paladin’s dying words to Jet, the last things he ever said in the world. JEt felt a swell in his chest.
You might feel lost now, but you need to follow your heart wherever that leads you.
Paladin’s mother Edith, at the funeral. Energy and strength began to flow back into Jet. He pushed back against the mass crushing in.
Be who you’re meant to be. That was what he wanted.
Jet reached for his sword again, it still felt just out of reach. It was going to take one more push to get there. Jet wasn’t sure if he had it in him. But he had to try.
I think that your hope, your resolve, is your greatest strength. And truly, that makes you stronger than any of us.
With a gasp of air, Jet felt his hand clutch around the hilt of his sword. There was a moment where everything seemed still, everything seemed calm.
Then Jet let out a primal roar.
From outside the Chaos Energy Ball, streaks of light burst forth. Xanor stuttered back in surprise as the ball exploded in a blaze of light. Jet remained suspended in the air for a moment, his body outstretched as his sword had just slashed through the energy and dissipated it.
Jet landed to the ground in a crouched position. He and Xanor locked eyes. All of that Chaos Energy was still above Jet, swirling in the dust. It was free and open. Xanor realized the imminent danger he was in. But he had no time to react as he suddenly had to lean back and dodge. Jet threw his sword in a vertical spinning circle right at Xanor.
Xanor dodged out of the way, but he quickly realized he was never the intended target, it never would have hit him. He didn’t have a chance to see it connect however, a she turned back to Jet he received a solid punch in the jaw that knocked him to the ground. Jet continued his run, following his sword as it embedded itself in the Chaos Generator.
Sparks crackled and surged, but it wasn’t enough yet. Jet dashed up to it and extracted his sword. With a spinning leap, Jet jumped and slashed at the Generator tearing through it. It buckled and crumpled underneath itself, short-circuiting. Suddenly in the sky above it, an explosion of Chaos Energy detonated creating a cortex that almost looked like a small galaxy.
Jet landed facing towards Xanor, as the winds suddenly changed direction, flowing into the vortex of Chaos Energy. No longer with a vocal point to control its sheer volume, the energy was set to coalesce and detonate. From the streets below, Constructs began to disintegrate, their dust flying on the wind through the air up towards the vortex. The three teens down below had to brace themselves the sharp enough the debris on the gravel on the ground was being lifted too.
Xanor tried to crawl away, he felt himself being lifted towards the vortex as well, the Chaos Energy in him comprised of the same gathering in the vortex. That would be a death sentence. However, just as he felt himself being lifted off his feet by the forces of the Chaos Energy, he was suddenly snagged. Xanor turned and saw Jet holding him by the collar.
Jet planted his feet firmly, one hand on his sword that was in the ground, the other holding Xanor. The wind heightened and strengthened, forcing Jet to brace himself. But Jet stood tall in the face of it. It seemed like the moment of anarchy would never end.
When suddenly it did. The wind died down, and Jet had just enough time to look at the vortex of Chaos Energy, green and purple, and blue. The energy seemed to form into a strange crystalline shape for just a moment before it exploded in a large green color. The explosion took out the rest of the Generator and a chunk of the building with it. It knocked Jet and Xanor forward, Jet landing on his stomach and Xanor on his back.
Several quiet minutes passed, where only the hum of helicopters, sirens from fire trucks and police cars could be heard. Jet shook his head and slowly stood up. His body felt like it was on fire. But he was alive. And he had done it. Jet shakily stood tall breathing in slowly.
Jet turned to see Xanor lying on his back, finally defeated it. Against all odds, Jet had taken down an opponent far stronger than himself. Even though Jet knew destroying the Generator would have exhausted the majority of Xanor’s power, he still cautiously moved towards the villain. He wasn’t sure how many fights Xanor would have left, if any, and didn’t want to take any chances.
To Jet’s surprise, Xanor’s face had completely changed. Where once Xanor had a hair that flopped over one side of his head in a floppy mohawk, now it covered his full head in a tussled mess with grey sneaking into the edges of it. Wrinkles and crow’s feet marked his skin, and a bushy grey and black beard covered his chin. Once Xanor had looked like someone in his late thirties, now he looked far more middle-aged, at last in his fifties.
Seeing Xanor was still breathing, Jet commented, “So I knew some people did stuff to make them younger, but I didn’t know there was a cream that effective.”
Xanor’s eyes slowly opened in response. He groaned and felt his face, then let his hand flop back down to the ground.
“Damn it,” Xanor said. Even his voice sounded raspier, more tired. The older man turned onto his stomach and lifted himself to his knees.
“Any more fight in you or can I take you in now?” Jet asked.
Xanor heaved, and shook his head for just a moment. Jet crouched down low to get on his level and look at him in confusion.
“Just...just please,” Xanor said. “No one...no one can know this is who I am.”
Jet scowled in response.
“Wow, all that high and mighty talk-” Jet began to say, but Xanor cut him off.
“I have a wife and son in the city,” Xanor continued. “If they knew...if the gangs knew...they’d never be safe.”
Jet looked downwards for a moment.
“I don’t have any more fight in me,” Xanor said. “But, don’t take me in. Take in Xanor.”
The old man grunted and strained, and Jet watched as Chaos Energy came from Xanor’s person. It was a small amount of dust compared to the sheer volume earlier, but it lifted and covered Xanor’s face. It molded to Xanor’s head, and Xanor looked like the villain Jet recognized.
“Just know, Jet Thompson, when I am gone, you’ll have far worse to contend with,” Xanor said, his voice returning to what Jet was used to. “You may call what I’ve done cowardice, hiding behind this mask, but even the other teens know to hide their identities. To face what this city will throw at you with me gone, and to do it in plain sight...I don’t envy you.”
Jet gave a little nod, digesting the words. Then he shrugged his shoulders and stood up. He grabbed Xanor’s arm and lifted the defeated villain to his feet, slinging one arm over his shoulders so he could carry the villain.
“I’m not out for envy,” Jet replied. “I don’t know how bad it’s going to be, but I’ll face it as me. There’s no one else I’d rather be.”
The next day, Jet stood over Paladin’s grave. His sword sheathed over his back. He was wearing his street clothes, but underneath were bandages and braces that held him together. It was all done by patchwork from Hunter on the fly, so Jet knew he’d had to get himself looked at soon. It was too soon to return to Quinn. Even with some precautions in place, Jet knew he was probably being watched like a hawk and had to lay low for a little while.
Jet had let the other teens whose identities weren’t known handoff Xanor to the police. It had been roughly sixteen hours since the battle ended, and Jet was biding his time to wait for his next steps. He had the beginnings of a plan in place, but he’d be lying if he said he thought it out entirely.
“I know this is kind of the opposite of how you would have done it,” Jet commented, looking down at Paladin’s grave. “You would have had a plan all figured out and kept yourself secretive to keep everyone safe. I’m still trying to do the latter. But...I need to be true to who I am.”
Jet breathed in through his nostrils and out through his mouth.
“And I think that to do that...I need to be out in the open a little bit. I need to be a bit of a target. Better me than someone who can’t handle it right?” Jet chuckled a little bit, but then felt a pang of sadness.
He crouched in to be closer to the grave. After the funeral, Jet hadn’t taken the time to properly pay his respects to Paladin’s grave, or at least he felt like he hadn’t. He had been such a mess from everything going on, he felt like there was still one more thing to say to his mentor.
“Thank you Paladin. I wasn’t the best student, the best sidekick. But I’m going to take everything you taught me and use it to make this city a better place,” Jet commented. “This world is a good one. And I’m going to fight for that. And I’ll do so doing everything you taught me. Thank you.”
Jet then stood back up and turned to see Hunter approaching him. He took a quick cursory glance around for the other two and didn’t see Siege or Sting anywhere.
“What? Did I paint too big of a target on my head last night?” Jet asked.
Hunter laughed and shook his head.
“Siege is held up with something he won’t say but Sting is stuck at school. Those two aren’t day people,” Hunter commented. “Speaking of, I guess you’re officially full time now huh?”
Jet nodded in response.
“Yeah, I can’t let a school become a target because I’m ticking off the wrong people. So I guess my education is on hold for now,” Jet responded.
“I uh...I do an online program,” Hunter remarked. “I can get you hooked up.”
Hunter almost seemed embarrassed by it, but Jet smiled in response.
“That would be awesome. I still don’t know why I need to know Physics if I break those rules all the time anyway, but I still want to find out how Macbeth ends!” Jet exclaimed.
Jet then walked past Hunter, leading the other teen to turn and walk with him.
“Did you take a look at the thing?” Jet questioned.
“By thing, I’m assuming you mean paperwork about your uncle. And yeah I did. Paladin must have had friends in high places to pull it off. While Quinn is your legal guardian, you’d only know to find that by looking in the right place,” Hunter explained. “Most searches to your place of residence or Quinn’s is a wild goose chase buried under a mountain of Guardian paperwork. Some officials might look into it, but he should be safe from the gangs for now.”
Jet nodded, feeling relieved.
“So, you got a plan?” Hunter asked.
“Nope! I’m assuming you do?” Jet asked back.
“I have the start of one. We’ll go slower from this point on, but we’ll take down the gangs. As legally as possible,” Hunter explained. “I’ll start the leg work, but for now you and the other focus on stopping crime. We’ll do base raids when the timing is right, not just because it’s fun.”
Jet stopped walking, making Hunter turn to face him.
“That’s it? Just stop normal crime for now?” Jet asked.
“I’ll try and point you in the direction of any Brigand or Wintu operations that could endanger lives that comes on my radar, but like I said we’ll be playing smarter not harder,” Hunter replied.
“What if like, there’s any big supervillains that come out of nowhere?” Jet asked.
Hunter smiled at him.
“I think after last night, that’s more about your department. You’re the superhero after all,” Hunter said.
Hunter then departed, promising to text Jet more info later, including to the link to the online school. Jet stood a little dumbfounded for a moment, but gradually a large grin came to his face.
About half an hour later, Jet was hurriedly cleaning out his locker at school. He had already removed the yellow caution tape that had been plastered over it. He figured he’d be part of a police investigation now and he had to act fast to get his stuff and get out. He had snuck in when he figured it least likely for there to be a large police presence.
There was still quite a large police presence, but at the moment they were interviewing teachers and staff, leaving Jet’s locker unguarded. There were only a few things Jet was looking to get from the locker, but they were important enough to Jet to take the risk. Right as Jet crammed a book in his backpack, a voice to his left startled him and he sent the book flying in the air.
“Hey, Jet,” Alan said upon seeing him.
“Oh, hey man,” Jet responded upon grabbing his book off the floor.
“I saw you all over social media this morning,” Alan said. “You’re trending.”
“For real?” Jet asked, feeling surreal. “Huh. Well more reason for me to hurry and get out of here.”
Alan scratched the back of his head for a moment while Jet continued to feverishly work. Finally Alan seemed to find the words he was looking for.
“Hey listen, I think what you did last night was super cool. I saw some clips from the fight that got posted and I think it was pretty amazing,” Alan continued.
Jet said a quick thanks, not pausing from his task. Seeing he wasn’t going to get Jet to stop, Alan more forcefully continued.
“And while I know you had lots of questions about my superpowers when we first met and I was cagey, the truth is I don’t know how to use them super well,” Alan went on. “And seeing you last night, I feel like you do know how to use yours. So, I was wondering if maybe...you could try and help me figure this out.”
Jet finally stopped what he was doing and turned to Alan.
“What do you mean?” Jet asked.
Alan quickly checked around, and not being able to see anyone in the vicinity, he raised an open palm and a small fireball materialized out of thin air. Jet jumped back a little in shock, and then suddenly the fireball turned in a ball of cold freezing air, and then a small bolt of electricity. Alan then closed his hand.
“My dad was supposed to teach me how to use these, but he ran off years ago. I’ve always wondered what it would be like to use them properly. If I could do more for the people around me. I guess I’ve always wondered if I could be a superhero too,” Alan said wistfully.
Jet looked from Alan’s hand up to Alan, starting to realize what was being asked of him.
“And well..now I know a superhero. So I know this is a huge ask, but I’m guessing I’m asking if you can train me. If I could be...well if I could be your sidekick.”