Rise of the PhoenixHawk
By D. Heikes

The sun burned brightly, occasional clouds passed overhead, mixing their shadows with those of the enormous skyscrapers of Paragon City. From a distance this part of the city could have looked like a nice place to live or work. On closer inspection, the horrors of post-Rikti War life could be seen. Windows spun broken spider webs in cracked frames, graffiti adorned walls and alleys. The light wind carried old newspapers and food wrappers into gutters, to pile up in the dark corners of back alleyways.
The citizens who lived or worked here moved cautiously, never letting down their vigilance, always glancing over their shoulders. The work crews from the city labored endlessly to rebuild the broken buildings, but often they fought against diminishing returns. The gangs that roved the streets at nights, the more daring during the days, tended to destroy nearly as much as the city could rebuild Life in the outskirts of Brickstown was often difficult, and those who could leave did. For those who couldn't, the struggle was constant, and often oppressive
This day, as the gentle sun caressed the streets, the citizens scrambled to find cover from the conflict that raged. Unconscious bodies lay scattered on the sidewalks and street. Most bore the standard trappings of the Freakshow; leather and torn jeans, combat boots, the more outlandish the better. Among them lay two Juicer Chiefs, the tesla-coils strapped to their backs that gave them their augmented power, still sparking and popping, trying to bring their masters back into the fray. Gunfire boomed out as a Gunner let loose with a shotgun blast, immediately followed by a blast of blue energy that slammed him back into the brick wall behind him.
Above the street, hovering ten feet up, PhoenixHawk lashed out with bolts of blue energy, blasting back the gang members as fast as he could. The light breeze blew his green and black cape behind him, the black armor on his chest showed burns, and the green highlights were chipped from his battles. His eyes blazed the same green with internal fire, its power coalescing around him in small, frequent arcs.
The Freaks had been collecting Rikti technology and storing it. They had also kidnapped several scientists, most likely to adapt that technology to them.
PhoenixHawk knew if they were successful, or any humans were, they could grow in power to rival the Rikti, and the Hell that had destroyed his family and so many others during the War could grow again. His contact had sent him to a known Freakshow warehouse that had been cleaned out several times. Each time the gang, mostly junior members, moved back in after a few weeks. He had been begun there, and had been questioning Freaks for the last two days since, searching for the warehouse where they stored their goods, but to no avail.
His breathing was labored now, nearing the end of the fight. Eleven of the gang members had been taken down, and the police sweeper team would be along soon to take the unconscious Freaks away. A Chopper, the last of the group, rushed him. He threw a ring of fire around gangbanger, stopping the man in place. He dropped to the street in front of the man.
"Where is that warehouse? Where are you hiding the Rikti weapons you stole?" He asked the Freak over the crackle of the flames.
The Chopper grinned. "You'll never find out, cape. You can take all of us in, and we'll never talk."
The fire in PhoenixHawk's eyes flared brighter. Exhaustion, tempered by his own precariously balanced sanity, wore his tolerance for the criminals down to nothing. Angrily, he lashed out at the Freak with his right hand, a sword-like bolt of fire slammed in an arc around the Choppers body. The Choppers unconscious form fell to the street to join the rest.
PhoenixHawk drew in a deep breath, and let it out quickly, his shoulders hunched in frustration.
"That's about enough of that," an electronic voice said behind him
Lumbering out of an alley came steel-encased monster. Its right arm ended in a savage blade, a machine gun in its left. A grenade launcher mounted on its back, the launch tube showed over the Freakshow Boss's head. The machine gun came up, a hail of slugs ripped across PhoenixHawk's chest. Armor chips flew away in a cloud. Where the bullets hit skin, they glanced away, but took small bits of flesh with them.
PhoenixHawk gathered his power in himself and unleashed it in a shove, blasting the Boss backwards but it failed to take him off his feet. The ground shook as the heavy machine that was part man charged at him. He threw the fire ring around the Boss, but the Freak shrugged it off as if it were nothing. The blade in the Freak's arm lashed out, spinning him around and knocking him to his feet. He scrambled back up and lashed out with a powerful blast at the Boss, but it took the last of his endurance to do so.
The blast staggered the Boss, but it wasn't enough. The thing lowered its head and launched a grenade. PhoenixHawk watched as the small sphere came at him almost in slow motion, and detonated against his chest armor. The blast was enormous. It sent him flying backwards through the brick wall of the building across the street, the flash blinding him, the sound nearly exploding his eardrums
When his vision came back to him, he could see dust settling in the rays of the sun through the ragged hole in the side of the building. His head was pounding, and he couldn't hear, but he could feel the ground shake below him as the Boss advanced upon its fallen prey. Watching the dust play through beams of sunlight triggered something in his head, brought memories flooding back him Weakly, fighting against the unconsciousness that was flooding over him, he punched the button on his transponder, the device all Heroes in Paragon had. As the light from the transporter circuitry swirled around him, his last thoughts were of his beginnings...

Saturday was a hot day, the sweat soaking him under the pads and helmet, but it didn’t slow Aaron Christensen down a bit. He cut left, and hooked right, and the ball ripped right into the numbers on his chest. He caught it and spun to his right, but only got a few steps before the defenders hit him like a freight train
They all helped one another up, and Aaron looked at his field position. Not bad, he thought. Not much of a carry, but we got the first down. He smacked the helmet of Tommy Woods, saying “good hit” as he headed for his team huddle
As they grouped together, all eyes on the field turned at a loud, grinding rumble. From the other side of the Air Force base sped a squadron of six F-22 raptors, screaming for the sky, their engines filling the air. They could probably be heard all the way into Paragon City.
“There goes my dad,” one of the boys said.
“Mine, too,” Aaron replied.
The freshman football team finished their scrimmage, the coach giving praise to their strengths and showing ways to work on their weaknesses. When they had finished, most of them walked home in a large group, a pack of wise-cracking, but fun-loving, thirteen year old boys.
Aaron’s mom was helping his younger sister Jessica with some project for school, but stopped to ask about practice, as she always did about everything when either of her children came home.
“There’s a couple of sandwiches on the counter if you want one,” She told Aaron.
“Thanks, Mom,” Aaron said.
It was just after sunset when his father got home. Jessica ran to him and was lifted up and greeted in a huge hug.
“Did you shoot down the bad guys?” Jessica asked.
“I got them before they got me, this time,” Dad replied.
“Good,” Jess said. “I hate it when you get shot down.”
Dad laughed. “So do I.”
“Hey, Dad,” Aaron said.
“How are the Hawks doing?” Dad asked.
“Pretty good,” Aaron replied. “Jimmy is a good quarterback, and we’ve got a couple of pretty big kids for the offensive line.”
“Is it different playing for high school than in the leagues before?”
“A little,” Aaron said.
Dad smiled. Aaron knew his father was proud of both of his children. Being a military man, he could be strict at times, but he was always understanding and never out of control, like some of the other kids’ fathers.
“You got all your homework done for the weekend?”
“Most of it. I still have about a page of math stuff to do tomorrow.”
“Good,” Dad said. “Why don’t we go over it, then hit the gym for a bit?”
Aaron said ok, and went to get his schoolwork.
At the gym, his Dad took Aaron through some basic martial arts routines. He had been teaching both his kids since they could walk, but was never formal about it. They worked on some kicking, and hand-to-hand self defense techniques, then did a little lifting.
They got home just after seven, and Mom had dinner ready. They were just sitting down to eat when Dad’s cell phone rang.
“Yeah?” Dad asked into it. “What? That’s the craziest thing I ever heard.” He listened for a short time, and shook his head “You’ve got to be kidding me. Damn. Ok.”
“What’s going on,” Mom asked.
Dad’s reply was cut off by an incredibly loud wailing siren from outside. The roar of jet engines filled the air as fighters scrambled, but another, odd sound began to drown them out. It started out as a loud hum, but grew to an earth shattering bass. Dishes on the table began to rattle, a glass dropped to the floor and shattered, but the sound was muted by the cacophony filling the air.
Aaron ran outside to see what was going on, Dad right behind him. In the night sky, purple clouds boiled, with yellow and green lightning flickering around them. Through those clouds came what looked, in the darkness, like a giant disk. The lightning licked about the steel disk.
Dad grabbed Aaron and threw him back inside the house and slammed the door.
“Get the kids and get into the basement!” Dad shouted at Mom. His voice could barely be heard, but Aaron could see he was shouting at the top of his lungs
Mom grabbed Aaron, but they didn’t get two steps before a blinding light filled the air. Waves of searing heat poured over him, and a huge crashing weight slammed into him. He heard himself scream as he blacked out.

Pain Darkness. He tried to open his eyes, but they wouldn’t move. His body was grasping desperately for air, but it only came in ragged shallow gasps. Something sat on his chest that felt like an elephant. The darkness took him again.

Pain It was still dark. Aaron had come and gone several times, but his mind was nearly shut down. He was existing on primal urges, trying to breath, unable to move. Choking on something, feeling something wet and sticky, getting cold on his face He couldn’t move his hands or legs. The elephant still sat on him.

Light exploded in his eyes. The elephant stood up.

“This one’s alive,” Someone shouted.
Aaron eyes burned in the daylight. He could barely open them, and his body convulsed in agony. Someone lay their hand on his shoulder, and told him softly to relax A greenish glow filled the air, and some of the pain eased.
“Sleep now, boy,” the voice said. “You’re going to be ok.”
The darkness took him, yet again.

“He’s coming out of it, Doctor,” Someone said.
Exhausted, barely able to think, Aaron opened his eyes. Everything was blurry, it was hard to focus.
“Just relax,” a man told him. “It’ll take a while for the anesthesia to wear off.”
“Where?” Aaron asked.
“You’re in Paragon general, in Atlas Park.”
“What happened?”
“The world just turned upside down,” the Doctor said.
“Where are my Mom and Dad?”
“Don’t worry about that right now.”
Through the fog and haze that filled his head, Aaron could hear something not right when the Doctor had answered him.
“Where are they?” he demanded.
“Now is not the best time to talk about that,” the Doctor.
Aaron tried to sat up, but pain lanced through his body.
“Please don’t struggle. You’ve had some serious injuries. We had to set several bones, and you’ve got about three-hundred stitches in you.”
“What?” Aaron asked. “What happened to me?”
Again, the Doctor evaded his question. Aaron started to get angry, and emotions flared up in him. His eyes began to burn more intensely. He squeezed them shut, and felt tears run down his cheeks.
“What’s wrong with my eyes?”
“You’re starting to change,” The Doctor said.
The Doctor sighed. “Ok, I’m going to have to tell you some things, and they are going to be very tough to hear. I’m sorry for all of this, but you will soon find out that the world as we know it came to an end nearly a week ago.”
“What are you talking about?”
“What’s the last thing you remember?”
Aaron searched his memory. Something bad during the night, Dad and Mom yelling, a loud noise.
“That noise, was a Rikti warship. An alien race invaded our planet six days ago. During the initial attack, they hit several military installations, including the base you lived on. There has been a lot of fighting around there, and some extraordinary individuals have helped us push them back so that we could search for survivors. There weren’t many. You were among them. Two others were found, young kids about your age. A girl and and a boy.”
“What about my family?”
“I’m sorry, son, but they didn’t make it.”
Grief exploded through Aaron. The tears from his burning eyes welled out as pain and anguish ran through him.
“How did I live?” he asked.
“Because you are different.”
His body wracked with sorrow, Aaron couldn’t understand what was being said to him.
“You are different,” the Doctor said. “My name is Doctor Patrick Ward. I am a surgeon and research scientist. I work for SERAPH, a division of the government that deals with scientific alteration and study, specifically with respect to those that some call ‘Superheroes’.
“I was working with some of the recovery teams. I go into the field and serve in mobile surgical sights, trying to save those we find. We found you in what was left of your house, it was in cinders and rubble. Nothing should have survived where you did, so I did some tests. Your DNA is not the same as most humans. At SERAPH we have started to chart and record these types of mutations in DNA. We don’t know what causes them, but you have them. You will change, but we don’t know how. Perhaps it was accelerated by some kind of radiation in the attack, or maybe this is just the time it was going to manifest, but your eyes are changing. They are starting to glow.”
Aaron took in what the Doctor was saying, but he couldn’t believe it. His whole family gone? Mom? Dad? Jessica? It couldn’t be true. He couldn’t be alone. Why should he live while they didn’t? He didn’t want to hear any more.
The Doctor put his hands on Aaron’s shoulders, holding him to the bed. “Please stop thrashing, you’ll open your wounds again.”
“Let go of me!” Aaron yelled, struggling, wincing at the screaming pain searing through him.
The Doctor took out a small device and pressed it to Aaron’s head. The green glow he had seen before filled the room, and some of the pain again eased. It also made him feel very sleepy. He fought against it, tears streaming down his face.
“Why?” he asked, over and over. “Why are they gone? Why did someone do this to us?”
His body finally gave out, too tired to fight any more, and he broke down in sobs. He barely felt the pinprick, but the nurse told him he would sleep for a while again

PhoenixHawk opened his eyes, the hospital lights glaring in his face.
“What did you get into out there?” someone asked.
Next to the bed stood the legendary I Doctor. His face was wrapped in a shroud, hiding the hideous burns left when his mobile surgical base had been blasted by the Rikti A single-lensed eyepiece covered his eyes, giving the Doctor his sight back after the blast had blinded him.
“Freakshow,” PhoenixHawk said. “I was tracking down a warehouse used to store stole Rikti technology, when I got ambushed.”
“They know you’re looking for them,” I Doctor said.
“Yeah, but that isn’t going to stop me.”
“Maybe you should wait for the rest of the group next time, Aaron,” I Doctor said.
Collapsing back on the bed, it finally dawned on him that his costume had been removed.
“How bad off am I?” he asked.
“Not as bad as it could have been,” the Doctor replied. “I’ve seen you worse off.”
Aaron almost smiled. He closed his glowing eyes and tried to relax, feeling about himself, judging his injuries.
“Yes, Dr. Ward, you have.”
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