Chapter 1 – A New Generation
A light buzzed in and out of existence, illuminating the wall covered in newspaper clippings. The grey metal wall was practically wallpapered with different articles, all were stuck to the wall with scotch tape, some crudely overlapping others in ways that would no doubt be upsetting when it was time to take it down. Many of the clippings were print outs of archival newspapers while some were the original printings. Most were black and white but a few were able to showcase the brightly coloured superheroes that dominated the wall.
Articles ranging from the 1940s to the present day provided a visceral history of the rises and falls of the superhero and villain cultures across the world. While the majority focused on the events in North America, those being well-chronicled, there were a few crises that happened internationally which would receive the front-page treatment.
While scattered and disjointed around the wall, a keen eye could follow key events in the world centered around the superheroes. From what the public considered the golden era of heroes shortly after World War Two ended, to the ethical crisis regarding whether or not superheroes should participate in the Vietnam War. Then there was the rise of edgier superheroes in the fall out from the ’80s to the ’90s to lastly the resurgence of classic ideals and heroes in the early 2000s.
Dead in the center of the collection was one article that was specially framed. A copy of the original newspaper printing from September 19, 1944, the headline read: Rise of The Super Hero. An article documenting Alpha’s first press conference, who was largely considered the first superhero, it had a black and white photo of the first superhero standing in front of a podium wearing his iconic long-sleeved white and red costume, though the color palette was grey in the old photo. In the middle was an emblazoned A, and a large flowing cape bellowed from Alpha’s back. It was clearly a prized possession among all the articles standing out with its fine oak wood frame.
The dark brown frame stood out in such stark contrast to the grey steel wall it was pinned to. The whole room was made from these steel walls with its low roof, and it was the same for the halls and other rooms in the bunker. It at times felt like living in a steel cage. Only a few normalcies of home fixed that.
Around the rest of the small room, there was an uncomfortable-looking cot with an itchy bed sheet across from a small television set. There were DVDs in and out of their cases scattered all over the floor, and a few educational textbooks with a night light on a nightstand by the cot. By the door leaving the room, there was a small sink and mirror.
The room was still, other than the buzzing of electricity whirring through the room. The generator powering the bunker this room was in was old and in need of maintenance. However, neither of the two occupants had much in the way of electrical engineering expertise. Rather, the bunker vibrated in a sudden shock. The hanging light flickered again and swung back and forth. Then once the light calmed from its motion there was a loud yell, and the whole room shook again, the hanging light flailing back into motion. A third boom quickly followed the second, and then the sound of conflict continued consistently, and dust began to tamper down from the roof, coating the room like it did every day.
Teenager Jet Thompson slumped back into the steel wall of a large room, panting heavily. Sweat trickled down his brow, it crystalizing in his brown fluffy hair. He quickly wiped the sweat from his hazel eyes, his freckled face beat red with exhaustion. He was wearing a white tank top and sweat pants, with no socks or shoes on. In one hand he held a large greatsword that was practically as long as he was tall at 5’9”.
Almost silver in colour, the sword extended out far into a fine point at its tip and was just over two feet wide in width. Its handle was rounded with grooves etched in for holding, with a white gem engraved into its pommel. The sword looked too large and obscene for a boy of his size to be wielding it, however, as he stood straight back up from the wall Jet twirled the sword by the handle with ease, nimbly spinning the sword in two rapid circles in the air beside him with one hand.
“Alright, that was a lucky hit,” Jet said with a grin as he walked forward.
He was in a large room, originally meant to be a cafeteria that had transformed into a gym like space. There were weights nestled in one corner, a running track, and cushioned mats on the ground with a sparring circle painted on them.
Standing in the middle of that circle was a tall man also wearing a tank top and track pants, his blonde hair dripping with sweat. He had sharp angular features with striking green eyes. He looked like a Greek legend, his muscles along his arms, torso, and legs so richly defined that he almost didn’t look real. He had a small smile on his face that radiated warmth and kindness even though he had just knocked Jet silly.
“You know as well I do luck had nothing to do with it,” the man replied.
Jet chuckled and pointed his sword at his mentor and responded, “Well maybe, but this time I got you, Paladin.”
Paladin was the man’s code name, and Jet had never been privy to his real one. Even though it had been five years and Jet had seen the man out of costume, he had only ever known Paladin the superhero and not the person. While not wearing his costume, Paladin held his iconic sword in his left hand. Not as large as Jet’s, his sword reached about two and a half feet long and one foot wide and was laced with gold trim. A blue line streaked down between the trim on both sides, and the sword gleamed in any lighting.
“Well come on Jet,” Paladin said between pants. “We’re one for one. One more to decide the victor.”
Jet bit his lower lip and stood back up straight. His chest heaved from a kick he had received from Paladin. He cracked his neck quickly as he looked around the room. While at one time the large room had meant to be a cafeteria, Paladin had converted the space into their gym. Tables were pushed up to the walls, and in their place were exercise machines, weights, gymnastic equipment, and the floor mats Jet and Paladin trained on for combat. A large white circle was painted into the mats, signifying their combat ring. The light was dim from old fluorescent bulbs in the low ceiling, every sound echoed hollowly, and there was the perpetual locker room smell of sweat hanging in the stagnant air. Regardless, it was Jet’s favourite room to be in.
Spitting out a wad of blood from a punch he took, Jet said, “After this can we skip the homeschooling stuff today? I think the beating is punishment enough.”
Jet stepped forward back into the circle, twirling his sword in his hands and bringing it back in a position like he was holding a baseball bat, grasping the handle with both hands.
“No can do Jet, we still have to go over basic algebra,” Paladin responded.
Jet groaned and shook his head, but then he snapped into focus. Paladin swung his sword twice in the air and then stood with his right leg just slightly in front of his lift with the tip of his sword pointed to the ground. While Paladin’s swordplay was a mix of fencing, kendo, and Roman, Jet’s fighting style was a bit more all over the place.
Jet had coined his fighting style “stabby-punch” but Paladin wasn’t on board with that name.
Jet grasped his sword waiting for Paladin to make a move. If there was one thing he knew about his teacher, it was that Paladin preferred for his opponent to attack first. Paladin had won every best two out of three sparring sessions this past week, and Jet wanted to try his best to take on victory.
Jet’s impatience won out and he swung down at Paladin, making Paladin side step backward. The teen quickly flicked his wrist to the side sending his sword out in a small arc. Paladin’s sword knocked Jet’s harmlessly aside, leaving Jet prone. The hero took a step in stabbing at Jet. Jet spun in the opposite direction dodging the attack and swung up with his sword.
Paladin then pivoted backward and slashed upwards. Jet reversed momentum and brought his arms down and pushed. The two swords clashed. Jet forced Paladin’s sword downwards with all his weight, and Paladin grunted and heaved as he fought against Jet.
Thinking quickly Jet punched with his free hand. The hit connected with Paladin’s cheek and he stumbled. Jet thought he had the advantage and brought his sword up over his head and swung in. Paladin blocked the attack with his sword, guiding Jet’s sword down off to the side. With a jump in the air, Paladin kicked out at Jet, connecting him in the jaw.
Jet spun from the hit and shook his head in shock. He turned to receive the butt of Paladin’s sword to the forehead. Jet continued to fumble backward, a hand on his forehead. Then to finish him off, Paladin swept out Jet’s legs from underneath him.
He landed hard on his back. Jet groaned and stared at the roof as his world desperately tried to reorient itself.
“Oww…” Jet muttered.
Paladin took a big breath of air and his labored breathing seemed to return to normal almost instantly. Jet then leaped back up to his feet, standing straight up with his sword at his side. He put a hand first on his jaw and then on his forehead. Already able to feel the bruises, Jet smiled despite himself.
“Giving up?” Paladin asked tongue planted firmly in cheek.
“Come on Paladin, if there’s one thing you taught me, once you start something, never give up,” Jet responded.
Paladin nodded in approval, and the two charged at each other again. In the moments before connecting with each other, Jet’s mind flashed back to their training over the past week. Every battle had started with Jet striking the first blow and then ended with the back of his head connecting to the floor. Maybe if he tried something different, he’d get a different result.
Jet moved his arm back like he was getting ready to swing his sword, but instead, he let go mid-swing, sending the sword hurtling forward in a fast forward spinning circle. Paladin’s eyes went wide and he deflected the incoming large projectile with his sword into the ground in front of him. Once he did he looked up to anticipate Jet’s incoming attack, but Jet had vanished.
Then suddenly Jet came in from up high and punched down on top of Paladin. The blow connected with the top of Paladin’s head and Paladin crumbled to one knee. Once Jet landed, he balled his hands into one fist and slammed upwards into Paladin’s chin. The attack reeled Paladin backward, and Jet spun, picking his sword back up.
Paladin recovered, shaking the daze from his eyes as Jet swung his sword in at him. Still on the defensive, Paladin managed to block the attack but was sent reeling back towards the edge of the circle. Sensing victory, Jet stepped forward and thrust forward with the broadside of his sword. Jet hoped to bash Paladin out of the circle with his brute strength and end the fight quickly.
The two swords clashed and Paladin held Jet at bay with a grimace. Jet grunted and pushed, trying desperately to finally win one. He poured all the strength he could muster into the effort. For a moment it seemed like Paladin would slide out of the back of the circle.
Then Paladin smiled at Jet. Jet’s eyes went wide. Paladin shifted his foot’s position, changing the angle of his knee and rearranging his entire core into a power stance. Then ducking low Paladin shoved into Jet’s sword with his own and lifted using Jet’s strength against him, picking Jet up off his feet. With a quick turn and spin, Paladin flipped Jet up and over top of him sending Jet through the air and out of the circle.
Caught completely by surprise Jet wasn’t able to land on his feet as he went through the air screaming, and crashed into the ground. Paladin took a moment to catch his breath and then began walking over to the crumpled mess that was Jet. Jet moaned and tried to stand, but he was so over top of himself he couldn’t figure out where any of his limbs were. Paladin grabbed him by the arm and helped Jet to lie on his back, who shook his head in confusion upon staring at the ceiling.
“Good try,” Paladin commented. “That was smart, you anticipated my actions and tried to act accordingly, it’s about time you started to think that way.”
Jet rubbed his eyes and didn’t respond.
“While there will always be opponents you’ll need to get a measure of, eventually you’ll be able to size an opponent and anticipate what they’ll be able to do on a glance,” Paladin continued as he walked away. “Although you always need to be careful. In this case, assuming you knew me in and out is what cost you the win. Never stop fighting an opponent even if you think you’ve won. You assumed you had me and that was all the edge I needed. It’s a rookie mistake, and it’s one you’re bound to keep making.”
Then Paladin stopped and looked back at Jet, who had one hand over his eyes as he continued to pant heavily. Paladinglanced to the floor, seemingly about to say something, but caught himself.
“You’re getting better,” Paladin finally commented as he walked over to his towel. “I’m holding back less and less every time.”
Jet forced himself to sit up, and he continued to pant. Although he could accept the praise, Jet stared at his mentor in awe.
“How much are you still holding back?” Jet asked in disbelief.
“A lot,” Paladin answered quickly before wiping the sweat off his face with his towel.
“Man, you can’t just lie a little bit and make me feel better about myself?” Jet questioned with a grin.
Paladin threw the towel off to the side and walked over to his student.
“I’m not letting you get a full head,” Paladin replied. He extended a hand to Jet, and Jet took it and stood up.
“Confidence will get you killed out there,” Paladin remarked as Jet walked over to the sword rack. “I think you could hold your own in a fight out there now, but you’re not ready for the big leagues yet.”
Jet placed his sword on the rack, the one place his sword was allowed to be if not in Jet’s hands. It drove him crazy that he had to follow that rule, but Paladin never wanted Jet to get any ideas of taking it outside. Jet stared at it for a few moments, when suddenly what Paladin had said registered.
“Wait, you think I’m ready for a fight out there?” Jet asked as he turned around with a hopeful smile.
Paladin visibly regretted his words, placing his sword on his rack and then raising two hands to calm Jet down.
“That’s not what I meant,” Paladin said.
“Well, what did you mean?”
“I only meant you’re getting better. I just said you’re not ready for the big leagues. And the moment you take a step out those doors, you’re in them,” Paladin said.
A bit of rage stemmed to the surface, and Jet sighed angrily. He bit back his words however, the argument his next statement would cause had been repeated far too many times. Paladin watched Jet closely, and a tense silence passed between them.
“Jet, it will be soon,” Paladin replied. “I promise. I will tell you when it’s time.”
Paladin’s tone of finality hit Jet in the chest harder than any kick. Five years had been a long time, and Jet had only been to the surface enough time he could count on his two hands. He had been out for Christmas, or out because his cabin fever had begun to drive Paladin crazy.
Jet grabbed his towel silently and began to walk away. Paladin looked to the floor and let out a little sigh, relieved to have avoided another blow out argument, but his chest was still heavy with the anxiety. He looked to the clock in the gym then and his eyes widened.
“Shoot, that training was longer than I thought it would be,” Paladin remarked. “It looks like you’ll get a pass on algebra tonight.” Jet turned and looked at the clock, seeing it was already a quarter to 6 p.m.
“Patrol?” Jet asked.
Paladin nodded and started to gather his things.
“We have leftovers from last night you can reheat. Stay in and review those notes on The Old Man and the Sea. I’ll have questions for you tomorrow. Then you can relax,” Paladin ordered as he picked his sword back up and began to walk in the opposite direction of Jet.
“I’ll be back late. Go to bed at a reasonable hour or you’ll regret it in the morning,” Paladin said as he walked out the door.
Jet sighed and once Paladin was out of earshot he muttered, “Don’t worry, I’ll be here.”