The Burning
Chapter Three
By Teddy B

Tay crouched atop a rigging of cables and I-beams. He leaned forward with the toes of his new boots digging into the partially melted metal beam of steel. Below him in the flickering luminance of trash can fires was a large gathering, a palaver, of Freakshow thugs. Listening with his attuned hearing, he picked out the leader’s voice above the din of soft mutterings.

To Tay, the thugs were faceless. Obstacles set in his path. Ones he would normally wade into unhindered were they in smaller, more manageable numbers. As it was, they would make short work of the fledgling hero. He only needed to rest a hand over his stomach to remind himself of that.

It took all his will to keep himself from grumbling aloud at the memory of the sickle blade slicing into his body.

Tay’s interest lay in the man that had sliced him open. That man also happened to be the horde’s headman. He had electric blue hair, spiked up even more wild than Tay’s unruly hair. The freak was skinny enough to be considered a walking skeleton. The exposed skin of his right arm was a deep tan, showing the years of being under the sun. His body was covered in years-dirty cloths, torn in several places to accommodate the cybernetic enhancements. The cybernetics were what kept drawing Tay’s attention.

Attached to the man’s left arm was a large, outward curved sickle. It didn’t look like Tay remembered, however. It looked as if the man Tay had mistaken as a thug had several enhancements done on the weapon. When the man was running away, Tay clearly saw that the cybernetic implant was only attached at the elbow. Now the weapon was attached to a thick cybernetic arm with joints at precise locations along its aperture. The shoulder piece seemed to reach upwards along the neck and left side of the man’s face, giving him the grotesque look of a science experiment gone destructively wrong.

And Tay was the poster child for miscalculated science experiments. After he had left the Tribunal’s lab on his home planet, his life had never been the same.

His keen sense of hearing picked up the sound of an approaching airliner. Not wanting to go deaf, he decided that it would be best to tune down his hearing despite that he might lose important information the leader of the Freakshow gang was spouting on and on about.

Though the plane passed far over head, the sound was deafening. He bowed his head and gritted his teeth, wanting the skull-splitting sound to stop. When the sound finally abated, Tay returned his gaze to the assemblage of cybernetic punks only to find that their gazes were on him.

“Crap,” he muttered.

Several punks grinned widely, all knowing that the lone hero stood no chance against their hoard. The leader of the pack stood behind them all, his thumb flicking across the pointed tip of the sickle. A glint of recognition veiled his eyes for a mere moment. He raised his arms above his head. The cybernetic joints and edges of his right arm gleamed at Tay across the distance of the junk field.

“This is the Hero! He’s the one that released me from those Crey dogs! Show the Hero our thanks!” The man cackled loudly to the army of cybernetics.

All at once, the Freakshow moved forward, like a wave threatening the shore. Tay took a step back on the I-Beam. His fists opened and closed as he considered his options.

He could run, but that would require getting off the skeletal remains of the abandoned warehouse he stood on. He could fight. But without back-up, he would no doubt only get stabbed. Again. At that thought, his abdomen throbbed weakly.

The mob continued approaching, though now several were drawing out guns from various holsters on their bodies. Tay jumped quickly backwards, arching his body to back flip. His hands stretched outwards as he fell, finding purchase on a horizontal rebar. Using his momentum, Tay flipped up and over the bar. The airway was empty of obstacles for his decent, as erratic as it was. He twisted his body and continued to fall.

Behind him, the men began shooting their guns. Bullets ricocheted off the steel girders left after the warehouse’s destruction, but many made it through the structure. Those that did clear the hulking metal whizzed by Tay, threatening to disrupt his concentration.

Every gunshot was like a kick to the head. His hearing seemed to be working overtime, and that was dizzying to the point of almost missing his mark. He hit the lamppost full force, knocking the wind out of himself. Wrapping his sleeved arms around the metal pole, he slid down to the ground.

Three cars swerved into the street behind Tay. Two went in the opposite direction of the first, spouting off gunfire of their own. They were headed towards the advancing party of Freakshow. The single car that had turned in his direction gunned straight for him. All unnoticed by Tay who was nearly deaf from all the gunfire. The passenger door of the car opened, and at the last moment he took notice.

He jumped up, only knowing a car was barreling towards him from behind. He didn’t know the car door was open. Well, not until it slammed into his lower back and legs.

The door dented in and slammed shut as Tay was sandwiched between it at the lamppost. As he dropped to the ground, he curled into a ball, holding his chest and sides protectively. The door opened again and a huge arm grabbed Tay by the collar of his jacket. Tay reacted immediately, turning up the heat around his body to the point where a blast furnace would be envious.

The thick arm twitched. That was the only outward sign of pain. Another fist arced from the cab of the car and connected fully onto the back of Tay’s head. Stars danced in front of the hero’s eyes as the large, suited man shoved Tay into the concrete.

As he got out of the car his bald head gleamed in the lamplight. He stood well over 7 feet tall, as his muscles bulged, straining the tailored suit to its capacity. His arms were slightly longer than his legs, giving him the look of a muscle-bound gorilla. He cracked his knuckles as Tay struggled to his feet.

The heat Tay was radiating numbered into the 300s, but the large man paid no notice. His arm cocked back, readying another concrete shattering punch.

Tay ducked to the side in time, but the move cost him. He fell to a knee, still unable to gain his equilibrium. Something was keeping him from concentrating. He couldn’t blame the punch, or even the loud gunshots that were dying down.

His head swam, dropping him to both knees as he tried to look past the behemoth into the car. He knew the man behind the steering wheel. The many bruises identified him as most likely the surviving member of the Crey group that tried to run him down and kidnap the Freakshow.

The woman in the back, however, Tay couldn’t place. She was small, almost child-like petite. Her hair was long and straight, as black as the gorilla’s suit. She was looking straight at him with the intensity of an animal ready to pounce. As he stared into her ferocious gaze, his will was sapped from his body. He crumpled to the ground, leaving a mass of dead weight for the gorilla to heft up like a piece of paper, and toss into the trunk of the car.

- - - - -

His mind unraveled again. Substance had no meaning where Tay’s consciousness swam. He perceived only the emptiness of everything. To him, he was numb. Mind and body ceased to be. All he knew was that he was alive, and he knew that because he felt no divine certainty of death that had been preached on his planet by all the prophets and clergymen.

To the people of Tay’s planet, when one died they knew it. They felt the coldness of death in the very depths of their Being. But Tay felt coldness all the time. The experience of feeling nothing was, to him, a relief.

In the emptiness, memories unraveled. He felt drawn towards his past; as if a hand was guiding him to the images it wanted him to remember; his mother and father’s face as he won his first event in the World Games, Sayli-May’s competitive smirk during their first opposing event, his journey to earth through the stars, as well as many others. He struggled for control, but it eluded him. He was lost in the turbulent stream of events that led him to Paragon City. It was that thread that brought some modicum of control.

Paragon City had been Tay’s savior. He had been able to return to what he did best: Stand up for those who needed the help.

The swirling seas of memories began to ebb as Tay gripped the line of hope. Those icy blue eyes. Surprisingly enough to Tay it wasn’t the eyes of Sayli-May that he “saw”. His anchor was none other than the face of Star Storm. The woman was strong, having the mental powers his people only whispered about

“Andrea…” he whispered hoarsely. He pushed the memory-filled emptiness away, seeking the saving light of Star Storm’s eyes.

“He’s waking up.”

It was a woman’s voice; one he hadn’t heard before. Before he could place its direction from his body, he was thrust back into the depths of his mind. It was like a never-ending well, one in which he screamed with thunderous silence all the way. His anchor was gone. All that was left was Sayli-May, and the image of her walking naked from her steam-filled observation room with the unmoving body of a woman in her arms. The look on Kath-li’s face would be etched in his mind forever. Horror at what had happened. Sadness at what he knew would come.

Both she and Cayo-Tay would be kept under close guard and their new “talents” would be honed. They would be assassins. If they proved “difficult”, they would be eliminated. Kath-li knew this, and the look on his face, as Tay thought in retrospect, showed that he regretted everything.

Tay continued to fall. He saw mission after mission Sayli-May and Cayo-Tay were sent on. Each ambassador to the outposts on his planet’s satellites that they had to bully into decisions, he relived.

He dwelled on every day since that experiment, all the way to his last day on the planet. In the twirling mist before his eyes, he beheld Sayli-May stumbling to him, her hand holding a large hole in her chest. Blood seeped between her lips and fingers. Behind her stood two men, both disappearing into the blackness of the allyway.

Sayli-May had fallen before him, dragging a bloodied hand down his chest. A discordant whisper fell from her lips just as she fell to the ground, “Run, lover. They… fear… Run… while you can.”

And there she had died, wrapped in the arms of her wailing lover, Tay. He still felt her frozen skin against his lips as he kissed her forehead for the last time. However, he had heeded her.

He knew that no matter where he went, he would be found. So he had fled to the nearest secured Tribunal facility. There, he boarded a secret space craft and fled the world. He had left everything behind. His parents, who had been disappointed at Tay never returning to the Games; his fans, who had all but tore the world asunder wondering where the athletic icon had gone; and overall his life. A life that he wished he could rewind to before he entered the contest that changed his existence.

However, he had put his life into the hands of the Tribunal again. He had sought to land on one of the satellite moons and to dwell at the furthest outposts. Instead, he found himself rocketed away from his planet and into the expanse of the galaxy.

To him, the travel had only been days, but in reality it had been over a million years. A day after this ship passed from his solar system, the on-board scanner picked up an anomaly. It classified the problem as inescapable. Tay only had a rudimentary knowledge of the spacecraft, but he knew that was a bad thing.

The anomaly caught Tay’s craft in a gravity well and sucked it in. The gravitational sheer threw Tay around inside the cockpit, bouncing him from side to side awkwardly. His head cracked hard on the console, and Tay was out cold. By the time he came to, he was clear of the gravity well and on a course that took him directly to a planet that looked very much like his own, only more primitive.

As Tay entered the atmosphere, he saw several other much larger spacecrafts hovering over several cities within range. Tay turned his ship towards the outskirts of one of the bigger cities. He had marveled at its size, thinking it best that if the Tribunal would follow him he had better stay hidden. What better place than a largely populated city?

That thought died as Tay’s eyes strayed across the chronometer on the console beside him. It showed that over a million years had passed. Tay could scarcely believe it, and did his best to assuage his fears that it was probably just a bug in the mechanics of the experimental craft.

The large craft hovering over the city blasted his ship suddenly, sending it in a spiral down into the smoldering ruins of a large section of the city. Unbeknownst to Tay, that particular section of Paragon City was called Baumton.

- - - - -

“And how is the subject?”

“The subject is alive. The psychic is keeping him within his mind so we can continue to study him.” The female voice was cold, each word a calculated utterance.

“It’s been two weeks since we acquired this specimen. The Contessa is beginning to believe this much analysis is beginning to become a disadvantageous to her business.” The man stood at the door, his lab coat hanging like a cloak around his body as he stared unblinkingly at the head of the Pyro project.

“Well you can tell Ms Crey that these things take time. You can’t expect us to learn everything in one day and get things rolling the next. We need the proper amount of –“

“The Countess has given you plenty of time. You either show results or we discontinue Pyro. It’s that simple, Doctor Vasques. And if you want my suggestion –“

“I don’t,” she interjected coolly.

“Well, in that case, I suggest you get on with your research. The Countess is giving you one day to prove this isn’t a wasted effort.” With that, the man turned and left Dr Vasques’ small office.

She slammed her fist on the table, and then stood up. She pushed her small glasses up her nose while she looked through the one-way glass into the lab. Heat Flux lay on the table, his lower body covered by the barest of material. His eyes rolled back and forth beneath his eyelids while his muscles twitched rapidly.

Vasques turned as a skinny man knocked on her door. “Report.” She always held calm in front of her underlings. In her mind, it was never good to show one’s hand, especially in a business like Crey Industries.

“Word is Star and Lightning Storm found the Freakshow gang that saw our people take the specimen. If they were able to –“

“You don’t have to tell me what would happen if they were able to make the Freaks talk.” Vasques turned again to the lab and crossed her arms over her chest. “Have we gotten in the serum?”

“Yes. I had a chance to look it over. It’s the exact same as we found in the subject’s blood stream with the exception of one element. We had to replace it with Element 9.”

“Fluorine,” she said mostly to herself.

“Correct. We expect the reaction to be less severe than it would be if we were to try this on –“

“A regular person. Right. Have them set up for the procedure. I want that chemical in his body in two hours.”

“Yes, ma’am.” As the man turned to leave, he cast one last glance towards his superior. As he left the office he cast a saddened looks to his feet. She had dismissed him just as she always had, never really seeing his devotion to her.

Vasques, on the other hand, picked up the phone on her desk at hit “9”. It rang only once before a perky, bubbly voice answered, “Yes, Doctor?”

“I want research room 8 emptied in five minutes. I have important work that needs to be done.”

“Yes, doctor.” The line went dead quickly. Vasques pulled on her lab coat, then picked up a petri dish from her desk and tucked it securely in her pocket. As she swept out of the room, the paper that the dish had been sitting on fell from her desktop and floated carelessly to the ground. It simply read “DNA”.

- - - - -

Six hours later, a storm began to gather over the Crey Laboratory in King’s Row. Thunder rumbled menacingly as small droplets of rain fell from the sky. Within minutes, there was a pure torrential downpour. From within the cloud emerged two heroes. Both wore masks of rage as they blasted into the lab.

The guards hadn’t even stood a chance. They fell to the ground, grabbing their heads as the woman hero glared daggers at them. Two gargantuan men ran from the lobby at the two heroes, but the man, who was making a charge of his own, stopped their stampede short.

The man, who they recognized as Lightning Storm, threw all his weight forward through his arms. His thunderous clap sent both Crey flunkies flying head over heels into a wall. “Find Heat Flux! I’ll deal with the goons!”

“Right!” Star Storm flew through the corridors, mesmerizing everyone who happened within her line of sight. Her long tresses chased her down the hallway, billowing tendrils of smoke as a twisting hurricane of a fog began to form around the woman.

Her face screwed tight as frustration filled her. There were too many doors for her to even think about searching alone.

Just then, a small man rounded a corner and saw her. He froze in his tracks, and she realized that the best way to get what she wanted was to force them to give it to her. She locked eyes with the scientist and forced her mind into his, completely dominating his will. “Tell me what I want to know.”

And he did. He blurted everything, forgetting his adoration for Dr Vasques. The man told her which room Heat Flux was in, what was happening to him, and who was in charge.

A blue bolt shot past her as Lightning Storm flew at top speed towards the scientist. He had heard everything, and he was pissed. He threw a tremendous punch at the mousy scientist. The small man flipped in the air effortlessly from the momentum of the blow. He was unconscious before he even hit the ground.

Only five minutes had passed since their abrupt storm of the lab and the alarms finally began to blare. Both heroes didn’t even have to look at each other. They knew what had to be done. Both took flight, heading directly towards the door marked “Project: Pyre”.

Lightning Storm busted the door to splinters with a single kick just before they rushed into the room. The psychic didn’t stand a chance against Star Storm. Both stared at each other, gauging their adversary’s power while Lightning Storm discarded the three scientists that had remained to observe Flux’s reaction.

The psychic woman was the first to react. She lashed out, attempted to mentally confuse Star Storm into thinking Lightning Storm was her enemy. This attack she shrugged off effortlessly and attacked with her own will. Star asserted her will and forced the psychic’s mind into a blinding terror.

The woman wailed, the sound a shrill bloodcurdling wail of panic and fear. She ran headlong into the door, forgetting the fact that there was an extremely muscular man in the room. Lightning storm, however, hadn’t forgotten about her. He simply clothes lined her. The woman’s momentum carried her feet upwards while her upper body was stopped abruptly. She fell, her head bouncing sickly off the floor.

Star approached the table carefully, peeking into Flux’s mind only enough to wake him.

And wake he did. His body burst into flames as he sat up screaming. For a moment, he thought he was going to burn to death before he realized that the flamed didn’t burn. He looked down at the many tubes that had begun to melt. The needles, still inside his skin, stayed intact, but the tubes attached melted like butter over a bonfire.

He quickly pulled the needles out and threw them across the room. He looked up at the two heroes who had taken a step back from him. He nodded, knowing their apprehension and closed his eyes. All the control of his powers he had learned over the years he put into use and the flames began to recede slowly into his body.

Gunfire belched in the hallway as several guards began closing in on the room. Each shot was a warning to scientists to get out of the way, but Star and Lightning new that soon those bullets would be aimed at them and not the ceiling.

“Can you walk?” Star Storm asked hurriedly. Lightning Storm threw Flux a lab coat, the only thing that was currently unoccupied. Heat Flux put the jacket on as quickly as he could, and then pushed himself off the table. His feet hit the cold floor, but he wasn’t strong enough to hold his own weight up. Before he could crumple to the floor, Star grabbed him around the waist and held him steady.

“I’m sorry, I can’t.” His voice was horse, discordant from the weeks of unuse.

The woman smiled into Tay’s eyes, soothing him the slightest bit, “It’s okay, Tay. We’re taking you home.” She turned to her brother who stood by the door, waiting for the first guard to get the guts enough to rush in. “You have to take him, Lightning Storm.”

“What?! Are you insane? They have guns! Your suit,” he gestured uselessly towards her lycra costume, “isn’t exactly made of Kevlar, Star!”

She glared at him, “Maybe not, but I’m not Mister-Bowflex-set-at-1000-pounds either!”

Heat Flux cleared his throat and looked up at Lightning Storm. “We should probably get out of here. All of us.”

“Mom’s driving down the street now and she’ll be here any minute. Just get him out there, Rick. I’ll hold the riff-raff off.” She pushed Heat Flux at her brother, not giving him the chance to refuse again.

He looked worriedly at his sister, and then nodded. “I’ll be back for you, Andrea.”

When she smiled, it was the sweetest Tay had ever seen, and it touched him like nothing on this planet ever had. “I know. Now go!”

Lightning Storm wrapped an arm around Heat Flux’s waist and picked him off the ground. He nodded to Star Storm, and then lunged backwards out the door.

Gunfire erupted and Lightning Storm grunted as he felt each bullet bounce off his skin. He rushed down the hallway, using his body to shield Heat Flux. He bowled over any man or woman that tried to stand in his way. His feet never touched the ground as he got closer and closer to the door. He could see the car coming to a screeching halt through the glass doors.

The bullets had stopped hitting him, but he could still hear them firing. Star had taken their attention. He poured on the speed until he burst through the doors, shattering the glass and metal frames. The glass managed to cut Flux in several places, but the damage was minimal, and to Lightning Storm’s surprise each cut was healed by the time they closed the distance from the door to the car.

Barbara threw the passenger door open and Lightning Storm pushed Flux into the seat. “I’m going back for Andrea. Get him out of here!”

The older woman threw the car into drive and hit the gas. The door closed on it’s own from the force of the acceleration. Lightning Storm didn’t even wait for the car to pull away before rushing back into the lab. That was the last either Tay or Barbara would see the two heroes alive.
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