Equal And Opposite 21-01 (Summus Proelium)

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The next few days were even busier than I had thought they would be. As much as we all wanted to focus on digging out that tunnel, the gang war was only getting worse. There was something going on between Oscuro and the Ninety-Niners. I wasn’t sure what, but it seemed like their alliance was fracturing. I’d heard something about Grandstand going off on some of the Ninety-Niner people for some reason. 

Whatever it was, it didn’t make the war any easier. If anything, it was getting worse. Amber and Pack had a few remarks back and forth about it, eventually leading to the latter pointing out that she had zero control over what Blackjack did anyway. She was essentially at the bottom of the pile as far as La Casa Touched went. Even if she wanted to tell him to call it off, which she didn’t because she and everyone else in that gang wanted to really stick it to the people who had put Blackjack’s daughter’s life in danger, she couldn’t. The man himself wanted Oscuro and Ninety-Niner blood for the shit they had pulled, and he was so well-liked by his people that they were right there with him. Pack had no say in telling them to ease off. 

In the end, Amber knew that, of course. But she did get Pack to at least agree to point out to Blackjack that the war escalating too much would drive people out of the city, which would be bad for business. I had a pretty good feeling that my parents had already made that clear to him as well, given how much they relied on the city being under control to be profitable. Still, it clearly made Amber feel a little better. Not to mention the realization after a particularly loud argument between them that Pack did feel at least somewhat guilty about the level of violence the war had escalated to. 

The problem, I had realized, was that none of the gangs involved could back off without the others pouncing on them for weakness. Blackjack had his righteous (and earned) anger about the threat to his daughter, but even beyond that, he couldn’t withdraw La Casa from the confrontations even if he wanted to, because to pull back would make Oscuro and the Ninety-Niners sense blood in the water and push even harder. The fact that it was about the threat to his daughter’s life made that whole situation even worse, because being seen as too weak to keep the war going when he was fighting for her would be catastrophic. 

And then there was the fact that the Easy Eights were fighting alongside La Casa. If Blackjack withdrew his people, it could piss off Deicide and her lieutenants and make them turn on their former allies. Rather than stopping the war, La Casa withdrawing on their own without an agreement from the other three sides involved could actually make the whole thing worse. 

It was all so complicated. And what it amounted to was that there was a lot of violence in the city right now. A situation that was only getting worse. We worked in the tunnel as much as we possibly could over those few days, but that didn’t amount to nearly as much as I had hoped it would. Amber and Izzy were kept pretty busy on extra patrols, Pack had her own La Casa business to help with, and Alloy and I didn’t want to just completely ignore the actual helping people part of being Star-Touched. Besides, if we disappeared from the streets for days at a time leading up to when the Ministry’s secret base was broken into, I was pretty sure they could put one and one together and end up somewhere close to two. 

So, we had to be visible out there. We had to keep helping people not only because it was the right thing to do, but because my family would be suspicious otherwise. Which severely limited the time we could work on the tunnel at all, to say nothing of when we could all work on it together. Still, we did the best we could. Murphy and Roald actually tried to work on it a bit while we weren’t there, but they didn’t make that much progress by themselves. Plus, Wren needed them at the shop to help her work on the stuff she had in mind for when we actually finished the tunnel. 

And, of course, we had school and family things to work with. All of which meant that, in those few days, we had finished digging out what we were calling the entryway of the tunnel. It was a twelve foot wide circular area about ten feet down from the floor of that motel room. Which wasn’t quite as low as we wanted to be by the time we got all the way to the mall, but we would slope the tunnel downward a bit as we went. We had a metal ladder for climbing in and out of the hole, which we had secured against the dirt wall by using a purple-paint strength boost to hammer u-shaped metal things against the legs of it in several places, keeping it from moving.

As for the tunnel itself, it was six feet high, a few feet wide, and extended about twenty feet. We were pretty sure that now that we had the main entry finished, the ladder set up, and a decent system for digging and removing the dirt and rocks, the work would go a bit faster. At least, as fast as we could make it go with all the other stuff we had to keep up with. 

Now, it was late Friday evening. Or Saturday morning, depending on how you really looked at it. Most of the others had left to either get some sleep or work on other things they had to do. The only ones left here, sitting in the motel room above the tunnel together for a few minutes before we would leave too, were Alloy, Murphy, Roald, and myself. We had already covered up the hole with the pallet full of cement mix over the rug, and were sitting there on folding chairs that Pack had brought. It had been a minute or so since any of us spoke, just sitting together in the near-darkness (we had a flashlight sitting nearby, but it was turned down low so we could barely make each other out), thinking about how much more work we had to do. At least, that’s what I was thinking about. 

“I guess,” Roald spoke up to finally break the silence, “if it was easy to break into this place, people would be doing it all the time.” 

Snorting despite myself, I gave a short nod. “Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of work before we get in there. But it’ll be worth it. I hope.” With a sigh, I added, “Still wish we could bribe Undermine to do some of the work for us. Do you think we’d still be considered superheroes if we abduct him and tell him we’ll let him go after he digs a tunnel for us?”

“Don’t tempt me,” Alloy muttered before pushing herself to her feet. Her voice was quieter as she stepped over to look out the nearby glassless window. “You guys heard about that reporter lady?” 

Wincing, I stood up with a short nod. “Jolene Iverson. They killed her even though she used one of those appearance changer things. That-A-Way was talking about how messed up Whamline is about it. He had to take some days off. They don’t know when he’ll be ready to go back.” 

“Did… did he see it happen?” That was Murphy, looking over at me. 

I knew why she was asking that. Jolene Iverson had been shot, like Tyson. She wanted to know if Whamline had seen the woman die the way she had witnessed her brother’s murder. I wanted to say something that might be helpful, but all that came out was a slightly belated, “No. Well, sort of. There was some concussive flashbomb or something. They think one of the Scion thugs managed to attach it to the side of the van where the rear left window was and set it off. Linesight was driving and the force flipped the vehicle. By the time Whamline woke up, all he saw was some figure standing over Jolene with a gun. He… couldn’t move fast enough to stop them.” 

“He must feel like shit.” Murphy’s voice was hoarse, the pain very evident in it as she put her hands against the windowsill and stared intently out into the darkness. “He was right there and couldn’t stop it. Couldn’t even catch up with the guy before he got away. Couldn’t save Jolene Iverson, couldn’t catch the guy who killed her. Couldn’t do anything. Fucking useless.”

Yeah, I didn’t exactly need a map to tell me the name of the track this particular train of thought was on. Wincing to myself, I glanced at the other two before stepping that way. “They’ll find that guy, just like we’ll find ours. You–” 

“His funeral’s tomorrow,” Murphy interrupted. Which was fine, because I had no idea where I was going with that. “Tyson’s funeral. Roald’s sister did all the work. I couldn’t even help with that. Didn’t know who to talk to, what to say. I’m just a stupid kid anyway, they wouldn’t listen.” 

My eyes closed briefly as I fought for words. Fuck. What was I supposed to say? I knew it had to be me, I just… I had nothing. No idea how to make it better. Or at least make it hurt less right at this moment. Finally, the only thing I could manage was a weak, “I wanted to come to the funeral. We both did.” I gestured toward Alloy. “But…” 

“But if you came as yourselves, we’d have no idea who you are and people would wonder what you were doing there,” Murphy finished for me. “And if you came in costume, you’d be drawing attention to us. People might wonder why a couple superheroes were hanging out at the funeral for a nobody, and then they’d look at his nobody sister and–” 

“Stop that,” I interrupted. “You’re not a nobody, Murphy. Neither of you are. But yeah. We can’t really–I mean I can’t…” Yeah, I had really struggled with this. “I’m sorry. Not just for the funeral thing. For all of it. I’m sorry about what happened.” 

“It’s not your fault,” she replied, turning away from the window finally to face me. “Just keep doing what you’re doing. Help dig this tunnel so we can find that piece of shit and put him where he belongs.” 

Meeting her gaze, I gave a short nod. “You got it. Whatever it takes, we’ll bring him in. For now,” I reached out to put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing it. “You say goodbye to Tyson, okay? Don’t–” My throat closed up briefly and I had to swallow hard. “Don’t worry about anything else. Whether it’s at the funeral, the memorial, in the shower, at breakfast, or standing all by yourself out in the yard, just… say goodbye to him. We’ll be there when you’re ready.”

She gave a murmur of agreement, then started out the door. Roald glanced back at the rest of us before following after, the two of them disappearing into the darkness together. 

Which left Alloy and me sitting there alone in the room. Not exactly looking at each other. Both of us were silently gazing at the door the other two had disappeared through. I was pretty sure she was wishing just as much as I was that we could do something to really help Murphy. Finally, I pushed myself. “I guess we should head out too. A lot going on tomorrow.” 

“What, uhh, time are we supposed to be there?” Peyton asked while picking herself up as well. 

“Hallowed said the party thing was at eight pm,” I replied. “He also said the food would be worth sitting through all the boring speeches.” Including one from my father, apparently. Which would be an interesting thing to sit through, to say the least. I was just glad I had a mask and helmet to hide my reactions. 

Peyton stopped by the door as I passed through it to the construction lot beyond. “So I show up at nine-thirty if I want to eat without all the speeches?” When I looked at her, she snickered and held up both hands. “I’m kidding. I’ll be there, I promise. We’re still meeting at Wren’s, right?”  

“Yup,” I confirmed while giving her a thumbs up. “I figure if we meet up around seven, that gives us plenty of time to talk before we head over there. I really don’t want to show up early. There’s only so much of that I can take.”

Peyton shrugged. “I don’t know, it shouldn’t be that bad, right? I mean, sure, there’s definitely gonna be some Ministry people there and all. But still, not all of them. And seriously, how often do you get to go to one of these big fancy parties?”

I had a feeling the truth wasn’t the right answer to give right then. So, I simply coughed. “Right, yeah. At least we get to see some interesting people and all that. Good food and interesting people. Some of whom would kill us if they knew what we know.”

Clearly grimacing, the other girl retorted, “You really know how to be a party pooper, don’t you?”

Holding up both hands before crossing my heart, I promised, “I’m not gonna be like that at the party. Just getting it out of my system. We’ll go and have a good time. Just keep your eyes open and don’t let your guard down too much while you’re having it. We watch each other’s backs, yeah?” 

She gave a quick nod. “That’s what sidekicks-slash-partners are for. Well, that and some other things, I’m sure.” Sobering then, the girl added, “I know it’s a pretty big deal to go to something like this. But don’t worry, I’ll be right there with you. Just don’t forget to have fun there, too, huh?”  

“If I do, remind me,” I replied. “That’s another thing partners are for.” Pivoting, I gestured. “And speaking of remembering to have fun, you ready for another race so I can kick your butt again?”

Making an affronted noise, Peyton retorted, “Oh, you wish! I’m gonna beat you so fast, it’ll rip a hole in space-time and we’ll end up right back here like it never happened.” She gave a sudden, exaggerated spasm. “Whoa, what–hey, what’d I tell you? Kicked your butt, hole in space-time, right back here.” 

Snickering despite myself, I shook my head. “You know, somehow I don’t think I believe you. You’ll just have to show me again. I think I’ll go ahead and risk the damage to the timeline.” 

And with that, the two of us took off together. Peyton using her board and grapple things, while I had my paint. She was getting even better at it than she had been to start out, but I had my own tricks too. Even if I had promised not to use yellow paint on her, which she considered cheating for some reason. 

Unfortunately, we didn’t get a chance to find out which one of us would have won that particular race. As I was right on the edge of a roof with a hair’s-width lead and about to extend it with a blue-assisted leap, a shout from below caught my attention. Instinctively, I dropped into a crouch and pivoted that way. In the distance, almost out of sight, a homeless guy was being accosted by three guys who looked like they were part of the Easy Eights. Why they felt the need to push him around when they had a whole war going on, I had no idea. But I definitely didn’t like it. Not one bit.

Thankfully, Peyton immediately realized something was up when I stopped and turned like that. So she was quiet as she came in for a landing next to me. Her voice was low. “What is it?” 

Gesturing, I whispered, “Those guys think it’s a good idea to pick on the homeless. I think we should teach them a lesson.” Realizing belatedly that I shouldn’t volunteer her for things, I added, “If you’re up for it?” 

“Oh, I am definitely up for it,” she confirmed. “How about you get their attention with the leadoff, and I’ll bat cleanup.”  

“Uhhh, insert appropriate baseball response here.” Giving her a quick nod, I took a few steps back for momentum, then raced forward and shot blue ahead to launch myself into the air. Before, I had been pretty ready to get home and fall into bed. But now? Now I was angry. These people weren’t making the city bad enough as it was, they had to start shit with some homeless person? Hell no. I wasn’t going to let that stand. 

Using red paint against the roof of a building further on to carry me over the two guys, I could see their weapons. One was holding a wooden bat with a few nails through the end, while the second only had a knife. The third guy, however, was holding a revolver, which he kept pointing at the homeless man while laughing. That was the more dangerous one. If I tried to mess with him or his gun the wrong way and it went off, I could create the very tragedy I was trying to stop. 

So, of course, my first move, as I released the red paint power and let myself drop to the ground, was to send a shot of orange paint straight at the homeless guy. It hit him in the side, making the man and the three guys harassing him all curse in surprise. 

By that point, I had landed in a crouch, using a bit of orange of my own on my shoes to cushion it. “Now, come on guys,” I called out. “I know he’s smarter, cooler, and all-around better looking than all of you combined, but why don’t you back up and give the poor guy some room to breathe? I’m sure he’ll give you all the autographs and life advice you want.” 

Apparently knife-guy thought his weapon was pretty inadequate too, because he immediately took off running in the opposite direction. Unfortunately for him, he only managed to take a few steps before one of Alloy’s marbles flew in front of his face and transformed into a pair of thick manacles with an attached chain, which wrapped itself around the nearby lamp post while the manacle parts clamped onto his wrists. 

Gun-guy, meanwhile, decided to point his revolver at me. But even as he was turning my way, I hit the weapon with one shot of red paint and the inside of a nearby open dumpster with another. Before he could pull the trigger, the gun was yanked from his grasp and went flying that way. The force of the paint pulling the weapon from him made him turn slightly, and by the time he recovered, I had already activated green lightning bolts along my legs and up over my sides, along with a purple lion face across my chest. I was right there, catching him by his outstretched arm before giving a hard yank to pull him off-balance toward me. The enhanced strength gave me enough of a boost to throw myself into an backwards flip up and over his head as he stumbled past me, before I landed hard on his shoulders and back to knock him to the ground. 

“It’s okay,” I assured him while perched on his back, using my temporarily boosted strength to hold him down. “I know you tired yourself out with the whole trying to beat up one helpless guy with two of your friends. So why don’t you take a nap?” With that, I shoved both of his hands into the pink spots on the concrete that I had just created, before releasing the power to trap them there. “I’ll even tuck you in!”

Meanwhile, the guy with the nail bat was swinging it wildly at a second bat that had been made by one of the other marbles and was basically fencing with him. At least, that’s how it went until the marble-bat managed to trick the guy into turning far enough that Alloy was able to fly down from above on her board, jumping off it at the last second before the board itself slammed into his back. He was knocked to the ground and the board wrapped around him to pin his arms to his sides while he struggled. 

“Huh,” I noted, “I guess she was board of you.” 

“Ew,” Alloy remarked, straightening up beside me. “I think I took psychic damage from that.” To the man on the ground, she advised, “Do yourself a favor and uhh, stay down. Or he’ll make an even worse pun. Don’t test him.” 

Together, we turned to look at the man these guys had been attacking. “Are you okay?” I asked. “What did these jerks even want from you?” 

He, in turn, hesitated before giving a short nod. “I–y-yes. Thanks. You–they thought I was a spy for Oscuro in their territory. Because I’m Puerto Rican.” 

Heaving a sigh, I shook my head. “They’re morons. I–here.” Reaching into my pocket, I produced a few twenty dollar bills and pressed them into the man’s hand. “Find a motel for the night, get off the streets. There should be enough there for a night, some food, and a change of clothes if you go to the secondhand shop.” 

He hurriedly thanked me and rushed off, before Alloy spoke up. “Man, that must’ve been like…. three weeks allowance. Wait, do you have a job delivering papers or something?” Belatedly, she realized. “Right, probably shouldn’t ask that right here.” 

“Yeah, probably not,” I agreed before turning my attention (and changing the subject) to the three gang guys. “Let’s send a message to the cops to come pick up these assholes. 

“After all, it’s late and I have to be ready for my paper route in the morning.” 

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11 comments

  1. Start of a new arc! Wasn’t uhh, actually supposed to happen yet because our lovely, lovely donators actually tied the vote so there should have been another interlude, but I went and forgot! Whoops. There will be that interlude soon enough though, don’t any of you worry. For now, if you enjoyed THIS chapter and would like to boost this story on Top Web Fiction, you can do that right here! Thanks, and in any case, your tags are: After The Entire Discussion About Whamline I Think My Narrative Irony Privileges Have Been Revoked, Alloy, Cassidy Evans, Eleanor Murphy, Just When You Thought These Guys Picking On The Homeless Already Made Them Fair Enough Targets‚ Turns Out They’re Racist Too, Paintball, Roald Nilsen

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Thanks for the chapter. This is exam week for the final semester of my nursing program, so I can’t concentrate on anything besides studying long enough to finish reading the chapter… but it’s still nice. Your schedule is clockwork. I can’t describe how refreshing that is

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Uhhh, insert appropriate baseball response here.”

    Come on Paintball, she gave you an easy layup for a homerun pun of “I’ll come out of left field.” with maybe an added “bases” joke but you struck out. Shame man, shame.

    I bet when the truth about Whamline comes out everyone involved is going to be a bit mad considering. We’ll have to wait and see there.

    Anyways, thanks for the chapter Cerulean.

    Liked by 1 person

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