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Into the Ashes

D. Heikes

          The day had been quite normal for most of the world, Lisa Snyder thought back over the last few hours.  The sun had shone overhead, warming the temperatures in the northeast into the eighties.  The streets of Paragon City had been packed with the usual daily traffic of men and women, going about their daily routines in the half-awakened state in which most drifted, almost on auto-pilot, drudging through the mundane.

            She had been studying with Katsuhito-sensei, the ancient Japanese descendant of a Samurai legacy, listening to him talk about blending with one’s internal, spiritual energy.  Ki, he called it.

            Only sixteen years old, home schooled she had graduated early from high school, giving her mother further reason to call her special.  She was special, she realized as she grew old enough to fully understand the abilities that she had begun to develop.  Her mother was special too, though she wasn’t sure about how.  All she was ever told was, “In time, when you are ready, you will learn everything about your family.  Then all will be clear.”

            Her mother always spoke like that, with a weird archaic lilt.  Sure she was a little weird, but raising a child alone couldn’t have been easy.  Lisa had never met any of her family, she only knew they had somehow set her mother up very well financially, allowing her to not work while she raised her daughter.

            When Lisa had asked about her father, her mother only said, “He was a night in passing, unimportant.  What matters is that it brought you to me.”  About her family she had said, “They do not live upon this Earth anymore, though what they have left still holds great power and influence.  Someday you will inherit that power.”

            Weirdo, Lisa had thought.

            As she had aged, her ability to manifest and project fire had grown.  She had been introduced to someone from a newly formed Government agency that studied human mutation, and told that her DNA carried a strange genetic code.  In order to learn about and further control her abilities, the agency and her mother had agreed that she would study under Katsuhito, also opening the door for her as a Hero Corp recruit.

            “In your lifetime, you will make a difference,” Katsuhito had said early in the evening.

            Then all Hell broke loose.  All over the world the skies had boiled with massive distortions, clouds boiling around storms flashing multi-colored lightning.  The atmosphere rebelling against the huge portals that had opened around the flying disks as the alien invaders arrived.

            Lisa had just gotten home when it happened.  An emergency broadcast was going out over every television channel.  All civilian flights had been grounded.  All National Guard and military Reservists was immediately recalled to active duty.  Every Police Officer was required to report to their headquarters.

            Her mother stood in the kitchen, a strange look about her.  The air about her seemed to almost shimmer, as though something within was barely contained.  She hugged her daughter fiercely, kissing her forehead.

            “Tonight thou shalt take the first steps upon the true path of thine destiny,” she said.

            Lisa shook her head trying to decipher what she had just heard.  “Mom, what the hell are you talking about?  And why are you talking like that?”

            Her mother smiled.  “’Tis the true nature of my tongue, child.  Very soon I will reveal all to thee.  But now thou hast a grave duty.  Thy world is in peril, and my pact doth forbid me from intervening.  So thou must be amongst those who would lead it from darkness.  Go to them with all haste, and know that I love thee, and my heart doth fill with pride.”

            Lisa was about to ask more when the energy that had seemed barely contained burst around her mother into a dazzling white aura.  Gone was the woman in casual jeans and cotton shirt, replaced by a stunning blonde woman in golden armor, a powerful bow slung across her back.

            “Guard thyself well, daughter.  I shall see thee soon.”

            The glow around her mother flashed, leaving Lisa alone, her mouth hanging slightly open.  On the counter was an address where Hero Corp recruits were requested.

            The auditorium at the high school was filled with thirty or so young men and women, all nosily questioning the days events.  Lisa sat next to a tall young man named Vince, whose dark hair and eyes seemed to captivate her, distracting her thoughts even from the disappearance of her mother.

            “We should be out there in the fight,” Vince said.  “Damn it, I’m ready.  Why the hell do they have us just milling around in here.”

            “I think I can answer that,” a man said as he passed them, walking to the head of the auditorium.  He took the stage and raised his hands to get everyone’s attention.

            “Ladies and Gentlemen, quiet down!  Quiet down!”  When the din had stopped the man continued.  “My name is Dr. Patrick Ward.  I work with G.I.F.T., whom you are all familiar with.  Yes, everyone here is a Mutant, so you are all ok to speak freely about yourselves.  As you know the world is at war with an alien race.  We don’t know much about them other than they call themselves ‘Rikti’. 

            “I know many of you want to get out and join the fight with the rest of the Hero Corp.  I understand that.  However, even though most of you won’t want to hear this, you simply aren’t ready.  You’d add to the number of dead that is rising faster than anyone can count.  I know that hurts to hear, but it is the truth and you need to accept it.

            “However, you can still help.  You all have a mission to accomplish.  You will be assigned to recovery and surgical units that will search for survivors behind the battle lines.  Because we don’t know where or when the portals these invaders come through will open, this is not simply a babysitting assignment.  If your team is attacked, each of you will be counted upon to cover the retreat of the doctors in your unit.  I personally will be out there, so I would appreciate it if you would take this assignment seriously.”

            The recruits were formed into pairs, assignments handed out.  Dr. Ward had chosen Lisa and Vince to serve with his team.  Everyone was loaded into busses and driven through back roads, well out of the way, towards the Air Force Base outside of town, what Dr. Ward had called a ‘Primary Target’.  During the drive the streets were packed with people panicking, tyring to flee the city and surrounding suburbs.  Fighter jets screamed overhead, rocketing towards the smoke and flames that filled the horizon.  Heavy weapons fire could be heard like distant thunder, smaller weapons sounding like pop-corn.

            The Base had been all but obliterated by one of the Rikti warships.  What had been houses, hangars, and stores was now just rubble.  Torn and twisted metal and wood scattered around the streets strewn with burning cars.  A terrible stench filled the air, like ozone and burnt meat.

            The night turned to day, still the fighting in the distance continued.  The teams were slowly making their way through what had been the on-base housing, pulling body after body from the debris.  Nothing seemed to have survived.  The corpses were twisted and broken, their empty eyes full of their final moments fear.  The rubber gloves and fatigues Lisa had been given were covered in the blood of victims.

            While keeping their eyes open for any sign of the alien invaders, Lisa moved aside the devastated bits of the roof of what had been a small home.  The tears that had finally stopped running down her face began to flow again as she uncovered the broken body of a small girl, maybe eight years old.  As she had done too many times before, she carried the small girl to a clearing by the road and laid her down gently.

            Heat still rose from the wreckage of the house as Lisa dug deeper.  The girl’s parents lay beneath the wreckage that filled the ruined stairwell to the house’s basement, their bodies torn and twisted at impossible angles.  Across the street, Lisa saw Vince doing the same thing as she, a heartbreaking look on his face.

            Digging further into the wreckage, Lisa found a hand protruding from the piles of broken glass and wood, shattered bits of dishes and cooking utensils all around.  Unidentifiable bits of building material, maybe not even from this house, lay on top of what had been a kitchen.  The hand connected to an arm, that Lisa slowly dug out, finding the young man, maybe a couple of years her junior underneath.  He was covered in his own blood, nails and glass having opened up deep lacerations all over his body.  As she lifted a heavy piece of roof from the boy’s chest, his eyes opened briefly, he took in a deep gasp of air.

            “This one’s alive!” Lisa shouted, almost amazed to hear herself utter the words.  How could anyone have survived this wreckage?  They hadn’t found any others, yet here he was, his brown eyes staring upwards, flickering against the sun.  Looking into them, Lisa saw something she couldn’t put a finger on, an odd discoloration, something…glowing?

            “Just relax,” Lisa said, her hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. 

            Dr. Ward was at her side within seconds, a small healing device pressed to the young man’s forehead.  A green glow filled the air as the device activated, stimulating the boy’s bodies natural regenerative properties.

            “Sleep now, boy,” Dr. Ward told him.  “You’re going to be ok.”


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