Chapter Four: Unintended Consequences
Two days later, Taylor Hebert walked into the Winslow cafeteria, head held high. She walked right up to the table where Sophia, Madison, Emma and their friends sat.
"I'm sorry," this was said just slightly louder than it needed to be, "To you especially, Madison. I've thought the worst of you all for so long, then you go and save my life from some wannabe banger. And even after I said all those nasty things about you," she looked directly at the smallest of the trio, "I just wanted you to know that both my dad and I are in your debt."
"What are you doing?" Emma hissed with a glare.
"Winning the game," Taylor whispered right back.
Before the redhead could ask what that even meant, the skinny girl had turned to face the rest of the cafeteria. She raised her voice to be heard over the din of nearly two hundred people moving, talking and eating.
"You hear that you wannabe banger trash?!" Every head in the room turned to face her, "As long as Emma, Madison and Sophia are here, we've got nothing to fear from you! They stopped you once, and you can be damn sure they'll stop you again! So, go pretend to be in your club somewhere else!"
She then walked out of the room, and every person in the room- students, lunch ladies, security guards, a couple of teachers- looked at the trio.
"Oh shit," Sophia breathed, clutching the table.
"What?" Madison asked.
"She just put a target on us," Emma said, "Everyone here, even half affiliated with a gang, is going to want a piece of us." She took a deep breath and then another. The ABB. Her fake shiv had been in ABB colors. They would retaliate first. They'd come after her again! They'd cut off her hair, scar her face, they'd-!
"Emma!" Sophia barked at her. The redhead realized she had been on the verge of hyperventilating. She forced herself to calm down.
"I'm cool," she said, giving the other girl a half smile that in no way reached her eyes.
"We have to be on alert," the black girl said, "They aren't going to come at us at first. Not the smart ones. A couple of newbies, trying to prove themselves, but the smart ones are gonna wait. We'll be tired, weak, and then they are gonna hit hard and fast. So, no matter what, you stay alert. It'll be a bitch, but it's this, or death, or worse." They all knew the stories of girls taken by the ABB and forced into prostitution.
The other girls nodded, while Sophia looked over the cliques known to be affiliated with one of Brockton Bay's main gangs. Too many. Too many hostile gazes were on them.
Across the room, several members of the junior E-Eighty Eights were glaring at Sophia's table. Well, most of them were, the last was just calmly eating his school lunch. One of the bigger teens started to rise when the calm one spoke up.
"Yeah," a fat teen seated at a table nearby said, then quickly corrected himself, "I mean, yes, sir!" He had a bandage over his nose. This was the wannabe that Hess had assaulted a few days ago. His nose had been broken in a single punch and he'd cried like a bitch while she told him she'd do very not nice things to his male anatomy if he ever crossed her again. The swastika on his neck had been washed off, and reapplied in magic marker. Unfortunately for him, the mirror had confused him on the angle, so it came out looking like an 'E' but with a spine coming out and down from the back of the middle line.
"I want you to scalp the Hess Bitch. You do that, you're in," the young man kept his tone calm, never even looked up from his meal.
"Uh, who?" Roy asked.
"Come on you dumb fuck!" Another teen at the table growled, "The nigger that humiliated you! You don't even know her fuckin' name?" Roy tried to answer but the other teen, Adam stopped him, "Doesn't matter. You scalp that bitch like a fuckin' Apache. If you don't know what that is, look it the fuck up!" The fat teen just stood there for a moment, "Well?"
"Oh, uh," he gave a half salute and waddled off, "Yes, sir!"
"Alright, so," Adam began, looking to their leader, Ellis, "What will we be doing?"
"Adam," he began, finally looking up from his food, "A white girl almost got stabbed by the ABB."
"Yeah, so?" the other teen shrugged and the others at the table looked similarly confused, "Everyone knows Hebert's an untouchable. Hess and Barnes have some kind of vendetta, right? We haven't interfered before, so why now?"
"Because," Ellis said, "Before it was just the popular girls versus a loner, and the faculty let it happen. I don't care why. It wasn't really actionable. Now, we have one of the Asian Bitch Boys trying to stab a white girl in our territory. I think it's time we showed them why the Empire is the biggest, most powerful gang in the city."
Smiles, grins, smirks, all passed over the group at the table.
Ellis stood up and handed his tray to a passing member and they nodded their head and went to take care of it for him, "Spread the word. We're going to gut those fuckers."
"What about the Merchants?" one of the other junior racists asked.
"Those cockroaches will smell the danger and hide, like they always do. We'll take them down a week after the ABB is in pieces." The rest nodded.
The students who were part of the ABB were in their own corner, having another discussion.
"What do we do, man?" one of them asked, "Somebody fucking framed us! Ain't none of us tried to shank Hebert! A war is coming 'cause of this shit," this teens name was Daniel Nguyen, his parents, and his parent's parents, and so on for six generations, had been Americans, but that didn't stop them from being conscripted when Lung came to town. To him, if you were any form of Asian, you were ABB, or you were fodder. Sometimes both. Not that Dan minded. He liked being part of something.
"You are sure that it was not one of our more… enthusiastic recruits, trying to earn his place?"
"No, it wasn't one of ours," a third teen said, "Maybe some idiot trying to get our attention. More likely, it was a fuckin' set up. We need to be ready for an attack." The girl that said this was keeping an eye on the Junior Empire table across the room. She narrowed her eyes at the fat boy with the failed swastika on his neck as he hurried out of the cafeteria. He was up to something. "We should keep an eye out for that one. Just a couple of us. He could be a distraction from the main attack."
"Agreed," the leader at this table, Jim, said. He pointed at two of their fellows and gestured the way the fat teen had gone, "See to it. He does anything suspicious in our territory, you either put him down, or you warn us immediately." They nodded and made their way out of the room casually, locked arm in arm. No one paid them any attention.
As Taylor got on the bus home, a few hours later, she was completely unaware of the ripples created by her actions. Just as the bus left the Winslow stop, a white boy, with ironically tribal tattoos on his shaved head, shoulder checked an asian teen.
The Chinese boy growled and turned around to face the skinhead, only to meet a fist to his face.
"Watch where you're going, Chink!"
"Fuck you, Gaijin!" A japanese boy yelled, smashing the teen with a monstrous right cross.
Half a dozen teens from either gang started in on one another for ten minutes. No one had brought any weapons, just their fists and feet. But this was the opening salvo. It didn't matter who won, it was just the beginning. The First Battle.
When Taylor came to school the next day, the entire school seemed to be charged with energy, like static shock was waiting around every corner. Sophia, Emma and Madison made only a few passing attempts at attacking her in non-physical ways, but their attention seemed elsewhere. She had to pinch her leg through her pocket to keep herself from grinning.
She spent the rest of that day in the most peaceful series of classes she'd had since just before the locker.
During Lunch that day she spent it in the library. Not hiding from her tormentors, just studying more martial arts. She'd gotten through Wing Chun in roughly three and a half hours. The martial styles in the anime she watched didn't really have names, but they were still interesting to learn. The next named style she chose, mostly at random, was Muay Thai. It was interesting, but she wasn't able to binge it all at once, like she had with Wing Chun.
Going home that day, Taylor noticed that none of the Junior gang members got on any of the busses. She had to wonder what that meant.
Over the course of the next month, things continued in such a way. Occasionally, Taylor would remind the school that Emma, Sophia and Madison had stood up to the gangs. That image was helped when some dumb ass with more crack in his fat ass than brains in his undersized skull tried to attack Sophia.
"Heeeee!" He tried to let out a battlecry, but his simultaneous nervousness and fear turned it into a squeal. He was thudding forward with all the speed he could muster, a machete in hand. He swung at Hess, just as the first bell was ringing.
Sophia Hess, even if she hadn't been forced into the Wards, was a goddamn hero! She trained herself, almost nonstop. Hand to hand, endurance, strength training. Flexibility, agility, marksmanship.
One fat boy with a machete, that he barely knew how to swing, was nothing to her.
She ducked the swing, struck his wrist causing him to drop the weapon, then kicked at his right knee. The overburdened joint made a horrible crunching sound as she shattered the kneecap and it bent in the wrong direction.
The racist went down with an inglorious scream. Hess then broke his wrist, then jaw. Mercifully, the last hit knocked him clean out.
"See!" Taylor appeared there, almost by magic, pointing at Sophia and Roy, "That's what you pathetic losers get! I told you, they won't stand for your bullshit!" She started clapping for Sophia.
Her bright yellow Pikachu hoodie made her stand out even more as she did this. It was a mystery how she had been going around unnoticed until that moment.
A few of the other students started to clap with her. Those that had been bullied and assaulted by the junior gang members. Sophia started receiving more praise than she'd ever had before, from a bunch of people who thought she was honestly fighting the pubescent sycophants. It left a warm tingle in her gut that she had no idea how to deal with.
"Hebert!" she turned to bark at the girl, but she was gone again. How the hell did she do that? She noticed the glaring of the other gang affiliated students, even as the school nurse and security guard came running up.
The girl began to prepare to try and justify her vicious take down of the fat racist, when almost at once, ten students came forward to speak on her behalf.
Taylor watched the whole thing from the entrance to the school with a raised eyebrow.
"Holy shit. She might actually turn into a school hero," she contemplated this, the supposed justice of it… "Eh, fuck it." As long as they were too busy to mess with her, she didn't care.
And Sophia remained busy the next day when she was called to the office to deal with the fallout of her little altercation. The equally fat and racist mother of Roy was kicking up a fuss about her poor innocent baby being so manhandled by Hess.
Honestly, had it been any other student, save maybe Emma with her high priced lawyer father, she might have been seven shades of fucked. As it was, she was a Ward, and Blackwell had been more than willing to sacrifice a quiet, unobtrusive student to keep Sophia happy. Throwing Roy Fletcher to the wolves didn't even require second thought.
It turned into a driving force, though. Everyone knew that Roy had been trying to get into the E-Eighty Eight. They knew he fully drank the cool-aid of that racist cult.
And if Sophia Hess could take him down without even a slap on her wrist, why couldn't stern action be taken against the rest of the psychos?
The Monday following, Taylor walked into school and had to take note of three things.
One, very few Asian students were present that day. Those that were, were acting real twitchy. If someone cut a fart too loud, they practically jumped three feet and dove for cover.
Two, nearly half the known membership of the Junior Nazis were also absent. Those that weren't were walking around in bandages and casts and acting like they owned the whole school.
Three, by the time P.E. rolled around, the pool had been marked as off limits for that day. Apparently the waters had been contaminated by 'an outside source.' It took exactly two seconds for the truth, and many different versions of it, to spread around. Half the gym had been covered in blood and an Asian teen by the name of Eric Cho had been found dead, nearly gutted, in the pool.
The police investigation was even shorter than when they looked into the Locker Incident. The lackadaisical way they gathered evidence, the clear lack of interest in finding the culprits. They just didn't care. They had better things to do with their time.
"What a freaking cesspool," Taylor groaned to herself, not just about the school, "I don't see how this city can get any worse."
In an office on the top floor of the Medhall building, Kaiser, the leader of the Neo Nazi sect of Brockton Bay, was holding a meeting with his inner circle.
"It has come to my attention that some of our recruits in Winslow High School have made a magnificent stride in conquering their lessers," he held his hands behind his back, making his chest puff out, "They have all but completely destroyed the presence of the ABB in the school, and are only taking a brief time to recover, before going after the junior chapter of the Merchants. I must say, I am disappointed."
"Uh, what?" Hookwolf asked, confused.
"I am disappointed," the man repeated, "Not in them, of course," he turned to face the window that had a wonderful view of Brockton Bay, "I am disappointed in us. We are the most powerful gang in this city, are we not? So, tell me, why is it that we can not achieve what a few, unpowered, teens have?" He twirled back around with a flourish and continued, "Ladies and Gentleman, we are gods among men. We bow to no one. Not to the backwards government, full of race traitors. Not to the Protectorate, with their pointlessly liberal views. And by all the gods above, not to the ABB or the Merchants!"
"Lung is one man!" Kaiser roared, "He is powerful, formidable, but not unstoppable! This city," he threw one arm out dramatically to the side, "is ours for the taking! We need only grasp it! It is time we stopped playing this pathetic game of Cops and Robbers, and lived up to our potential! I will not be the man who could not match the effort of children!" There were roars of approval among his subordinates. Yup. He still had the goods.