You know it's almost funny how life works. A year ago, you could probably be walking around these streets wondering what gift to get for that special someone. But now it seems an average day in the life includes seeing two freaks fight on top of a truck moving 50 mph in the early morning.
Hello dear reader, my name is Phil Thomas Tippie, and I'm an ordinary man trying to live in a world gone mad though that goal may not be possible for much longer. Over these past two weeks, Philly has been center stage in a conflict that has been dubbed the Vacuum in which all the major crime families in Philadelphia are fighting for control. With so many battles happening left and right, we have been spread too thin and pushed too far.
Hell, if we are talking about me alone, I have stopped a shootout, defeated a group of muggers, and I'm now trying to stop a truck filled with firearms from reaching its target destination all before sunrise. Unfortunately, that meant I had to deal with a helix that came equipped with claws for hands, which brings me to right now.
Cold December wind whipped through my body as I'm knocked back near the edge of the truck. Taking the opportunity, my opponent lunges at me with murderous bloodlust! But at the last second, I managed to use my legs to kick him off and pull out my knives to meet his challenges. With the streets blurring past, we engaged in a series of spark filled slashes. I managed to lay out a bunch of deep cuts, but I was down a knife. I was seconds away from knocking him out, but right as we turned, the rays of the morning sun stopped me in my tracks. All I could see was a silhouette kick that I tried to block, but that almost proved fatal as his feet also transformed into the same claws as before and cut into me!
Blood, broken kevlar and a knife splattered onto the streets as I'm knocked off the truck! But before I could start my intimate relationship with the ground, I decided to test out Chelseas's prototype. Over the past couple of months, Chelsea has been developing some grapple tech that would help me maneuver better. And thankfully, the device worked as intended as with all my stamina I hang on for dear life! But I couldn't even enjoy that for too long as my clawed Helix tried to end my literal lifeline. But at the last possible second, I jumped to the passenger's side of the truck. Once I'm secured, I use my gun to pistol whip the window open and aim it at the driver.
"Stop the car now, or I stop you!"
With pure indifference, he continued driving, in frustration, I tried to shoot at his arm, but the bullet crumpled from the impact. I didn't even bother wondering what happened and simply stated.
"Are you fucking kidding me right now?"
With no other options left, I fired the grapple gun towards the wheel and diverted us off course. Too bad, it was right in the way of a lampost that sends us all flying! But before I was burdened once more by the gravity and the ground, a trail of fire swoops me up and gently sends me tumbling into an alleyway. Unfortunately, with so many fast changes in momentum and my adrenaline still pulsing, the confusion became too much, and I puked into the dumpster. When I finally stopped coughing and sputtering, I hold my searing wound and greet my savior, Derek.
"Well, that was a little rougher than your usual landings," I say, masking my pain with a light joke.
"Well, I've been running since 2 am, I'd say be lucky I caught you in the first place."
"Don't worry, I am."
The next minute was us trying to catch our breath beneath the rising sun and the sound of police sirens. The only thing keeping me awake was the sound of my heart and my burning wounds. In one fell swoop, our chaotic silence got interrupted by Prophecy's com-link.
"There is a burning building Smith about 5 miles from your location if you're fast enough you can save a couple of lives. Good luck, " she said before clicking off.
"Welp, let's get moving then, " I said, getting up with a wince.
"Your talking like you coming with me."
"I thought I was."
"No, your not, your bleeding, your armor is comprised, and you've been at it for half the night now. You've done enough."
"It feels worse than it is, besides my grapple is still functioning so I won't slow you down," I said, holding my grapple prototype that was sparking uncontrollably."
"Okay it may not be completely perfect but-"
"I'm not losing another father, Derek said with quaking rage. I'm not going to let you fulfill some deathwish while your family needs you! Go home, get your treatment before I make you."
And as the young man rocketed off to deal with the crisis of the minute, I clenched my fist in explosive frustration. After the death of Nick Bendis, I wanted to try and make a new me in this new world of ours. I and the ex had finally worked out who would take care of the kids, I finally started remembering the names of the guys at work and have been experimenting with a hobby or 2. And just when I wanted a little time for myself, of course, Philadelphia had to backflip off the metaphorical building. Worse yet, while my friends sacrifice themselves to save people, they don't even know I would be selfishly standing by while this city burns. But even in my heart of hearts, I knew that he was right; I was no good to anyone, not my family or my team, and that was before I was hurt. So with a schism responsibility hanging over me, I relented from champion to father.
With the seriousness of the wound and a surprising (donation from Chelsea), I was able to get my wounds checked and treated. They were better than what was advertised as it was expected to heal within a couple of weeks, with a couple of scars. By the late afternoon, I had gotten out, but before heading home, I went to the Trophy Case. And as I went into the familiar place, all I saw was an exhausted Chelsea still in her pajamas, with messed up hair listening to music on her headphones half asleep while humming. Rows of empty drinks and half-eaten foods. As she finally noticed my presence, all she gave was a weak response.
"Hey, Phil, what brings you here?"
"Just decided to bring some drinks and snacks for the guys. But I guess I missed them?"
"Yeah, just missed them, they're heading out to take care of some big battles and bases, but I'll let them though when they get back. I'm sure they'll appreciate it, but I'm sure they would appreciate you getting some rest a lot more."
"Don't worry; I will. It would probably be better for you, anyway."
I started to move away, but Chelsea stated.
"Phil, if you think that, then you haven't been here for the past couple of months. I may have come up with the champions, but you were to one to make that idea real. You were the first one willing to take the burden powers or not. And there isn't a single one of us that don't know that for a fact, least of all Derek and me. But take it from one with no way out, you got to enjoy the life you have. It's a chance a lot will never get."
And as I saw her solemn face, I realized that I was indeed far luckier than I give myself credit for and that maybe I had created something that was beyond just me. So with my job is done, Armory faded away, and Phil Thomas Tippie came back.
Honestly, on days like these, I truly am glad that I have a sister. Despite Sofia's reluctance for this life, she still has been nothing but helpful. She has helped cover for me from both Dad and college while maintaining her own life. But then again she's always been good at solving hard problems. This is why even now while facing dozens of men aiming for the kill, I still can't understand how someone so smart didn't think she could handle her power. And hopefully, after this Vacuum nonsense is all over, we could finally discuss this in more detail.
Out of the 3 locations, we chose the R2L restaurant where the Bloody tubs sent a guy who could store anything is stomach upchucked over two dozen guys to assassinate the heir to the Philly crime family. It was a long and exhausting fight, but with David, by my side, we were able to win the day. We are deciding that we had deserved a hard-earned break David and I enjoyed two filet minions that had survived unscathed. As we enjoyed the blissful chaos down below, David spoke.
"Since I was always the breadwinner out of the 2 of us, it was usually up to me when it came to who paid the bill on dates. Bruce being a manly man, decided that whenever he had the money, he would take me to the biggest most expensive restaurant in Turin. It usually took a while, but he always managed to do it. And it's moments like these make me miss him all the more."
"I can't even imagine how hard it must be, having your entire life upheaved, especially with Genesis. I don't know what is coming next if you could get cured to normal or live a normal life someday. But in the meantime, if it makes you feel better, at least your not going through all this alone, right?"
"Yeah, I guess that's."
I never got to hear a proper response as, without warning, David had his head covered in a blue slimeball. I quickly backed away from my trashing ally, and on instinct, I aimed my energy at the slime that backed away at the last second, unfortunately causing Gargoyle to spasm and faint. I tried a barrage of blasts across the restaurant, but all of them failed to land as my energy started wavering. The slimeball then wrapped around my throat! Strength quickly sapped away from me as my opponent revealed himself to be the same slimy man as before. But even with the shocking dismay, my determination was far stronger! Using the storm inside to grab the tendril and have my power course through it. The man yelped in pain and let go of his grip. He even started to take on more human features but at the last second, managed to recollect himself. I was about to recover myself, but before I could the same tendrils as before grasped at my body and threw me to the opposing wall! You landed on the table with a sickening crash that leaves soon has me seeing nothing but black.
If there has been one thing that I've experienced over these past few months, it has been changing. When I decided to go to America, I was both scared and excited. I never had the chance to visit any place when I was younger, much less an entirely new country. Nevertheless, I was enjoying the life of Americana, the lights the sounds the Philly cheesesteaks, the sights that Derek and Phil would show me every week. But not every change was necessarily significant, especially in times like these. With the menace of the vacuum enveloping this city like a plague, I was forced to lie to my family to keep myself here. And even with a new suit and my prior experiences, I knew that this choice was not the right one.
Over the past week, I learned that this old warehouse had a store of military-grade weapons from the previous leader of the K and A Gang. A couple of them were even trying to get in on the score, but I beat him to the punch. And after a very violent fight, I crouched down on the floor with the shivering bodies of a literal batman, a guy who can kick through steel and many other helixes. With the threats neutralized and Prophecy busy, I attempted to search for the weapons myself, but it was sorely interrupted by a very wild warbling sound. This sound kept getting louder and louder until I turned around to see a ball of gray-colored energy sprinting towards me!
I tried running to the end of the corridor, but my path was interrupted by a giant blue barrier. With my path blocked, I was left with no response to the challenge. I quickly unleashed walls of ice, but they were destroyed as soon as they were formed. As my hands started to sting from cold, I decided to change tactics and make myself a mini ramp beneath the ball to launch it only inches above me and send it crashing into the barrier behind me!
Like a mad man, I dashed away as fast I could to not only keep my body warm but my mind sharp. Like how even though there were such limited spaces, I had not seen the barrier helix anywhere. And as I, unfortunately, trip on my own feet with the summoning of another at my feet. As soon as I got my bearings, I also realized that my right hand had been suspended only a couple of millimeters from the air. But even with the perilous change the change of perspective, I saw my answer: the cameras above. Since I was down both and arm and leg, all I could do was feel a painful chill through my left arm as I create a smokescreen to obscure my Trapster and make more walls to break out of my bindings. And I barely get out of said bindings as from above my ball of death drops with a resounding, sharing thud that sends me backward several feet.
I tried forming a snowy landing, but I was already starting to slow down, so instead, I'm greeted to a barely slowed fall. My numb body didn't feel much pain. My brain grew fuzzy, and my body heavy upon impact, my endurance from previous fights reaching their peak. Soon enough, I saw my opponent turn from ball to man as he walked almost unbearably slow to me. With his confident smile and blurred out words, I could tell that he thought I was unconscious, and with that, I take the chance. Once again, I summon the seemingly endless storm once again from my body and let the energy build up in my right hand. And once he had got within range, I completely encased my opponent in an icy prison sprung from below! With my opponent defeated, I opted for a retreat, with my right hand alarmingly immobile. But before I could even get moving, I suddenly am boxed in by an onslaught of blue shields.
I then saw a redheaded woman approach me in a more severe manner, but before I could analyze the situation, I further modified the barriers to immobilize me completely. I tried with all my might to struggle out, but my efforts returned with nothing but failure. And as my opponent struck from behind with another hard barrier, all I could do was sleep knowing that even with so much change, I was still the same. I was still so powerless.
Back when I was still in high school, I always felt like there was never enough time for anything. I was always running from one class to another, from one grade to another. And ironically, I find that feeling has gotten worse than ever with my speed. Now it wasn't that I never had enough time for everything, but I have so much time to do everything. And with Phildephpa on the brink of collapse, I knew I couldn't slow down, couldn't let up... couldn't let their sacrifice mean anything.
I honestly couldn't tell you how long I had been running or how little I slept; it was all one big blur. All I did know was that I had to keep running, and I had to greet an old purple-clad friend. A block or two ahead of me, I saw Rebound now decorated in a silver jumpsuit with glowing purple bracers wreaking havoc in the middle of Rittenhouse Square. By the time I get there, he had already lifted a car and threw it into the side of the building that I had been running up on! With only seconds to spare, I leaped off of the building and let my momentum take control of the car as I stick a perfect landing with the car on top. As I gently set it down, I looked to Rebound with a look of dominance.
"Considering I'm feeling nostalgic, how about you throw your ass back to the Department of Prisons and call it a night?"
"This isn't going to be the same as last time Cabrón. I'm faster, stronger, and I'm ready for payback!"
"That's fine talk for a soon to be punching bag, let's see if you can back it up!"
With no more words between us, we once again like so many months before we engaged in our dance. Wasting no time, I engage in full throttle, grabbing his face to cave it to the icy pavement! The entire street tore from my speed, but I kept the pressure only to have Rebound turn the hold back on me and throw me up the side of a building! I managed to stick another landing as we blurred across it. Sensing an opening, I took in stride and tackled him on the way to the ground! But my opponent still didn't let up his defenses as he planted his feet into the wall, slowing me down just enough to reverse the hold and slam me down on the sidewalk! But it was better than being buried in it as I avoid a quaking punch! I tried to get some breathing room, but a surge of purple lighting nearly made me go blind as I. Suddenly captured me in a tackle that sends me across block after block until I find myself plummeting to a construction site but using my speed and heat shield I managed to push kick-off of rebound and let him hit the ground with a thundering quake!
When I thought that I had a handle on the situation, I realized then that I wasn't alone. From out of the shadows, I saw a lot of familiar faces, Marauder, Ursa, and a new girl dressed in a light blue space suit with white lines and black outlines. As Rebound got back up from his crater, I felt something that I hadn't felt in ages: fear. My brain became a swarm of questions, doubts, and curses, but I swallow them all down. If I was going to survive, I knew that there was no time for that. All I did was keep up a steely poker face as Rebound once again spoke.
"I told you it wasn't going to be like last time."
"Then how about you stop talking and start doing already. I don't have all night."
"If you insist," he proudly says as his purple lighting started to spark up once again.
And with no words left to be said, I got to work. I head straight for the most dangerous one their: the girl. Too bad, my potential blitz is instantly interrupted by a timely kick by Rebound that made my bones rattle. As I crash onto the ground, Maradute descended from the ground with a golden fist that upon impact to where I once was lifted me upwards! But before I could even hit the ground, a mysterious blue aura that leaves me suspended in midair! With terrifying realization, I realized the gravity helix was probably the one that the others had fought a couple of months ago. But once again, I knew I had to play detective later as I struggled in vain, but unfortunately, I had to be reminded of a simple science lesson. I could have all the speed in the world, but with no traction, I was useless. All I could do grimace in fear as Ursa threw Rebound right in my direction, delivering a punch so forceful that even with my block, I still felt and heard the breaking of bone! Searing pain took me over as I hit the ground.
As I laid there in near-crippling shock, the mysterious aura from before tried to take hold of me, but with desperation and survival instinct taking hold, I managed to get a grip and run with enough force to break through the aura and escape! Next thing I know, I'm crouched away at another cold alleyway licking my wounds. Besides the usual bruises and scrapes, my right arm was completely broken. I tried calling Chelsea, but she was silent. My frustration finally reached its fevered pitch. Bitterly freezing tears streamed from my face like a river as I screamed every curse word I could ever think of amid the police sirens and chaos. Yet, in one fell swoop, my rage transformed as quickly as it started, from a raging explosion to a cold fire. And in my mind, I grabbed hold of that fire and unleashed it on my enemies.
I wrapped up my broken arm in a sling, and with a blaze in my eyes, I rocketed towards the construction site breaking through every barrier, every limit I ever put on myself since this whole thing started, including that of sound. With a massive boom in my wake, I instantly launched into a twister that creates a vast smokescreen over the area. Using Threat assessment, I threw a volley of rocks at Ursa and kicked Scale away. Rebound from the smoke launched into a barrage of blows; I avoid with ease. He didn't bother keeping his defenses up this time as with a vicious edge, I quickly blind him with sand and kick him in the crotch! With Rebound finally showing signs of pain, take the full opportunity, and slam his face into a steel beam! I repeat the process over and over until Ursa comes in ready to strike. Using my new human shield, I blocked the hit and tumbled several weeks. I thought I was starting to gain the advantage, but I'm still hit with a couple of energy beams that make me hiss, but I was still able to avoid the worst of it and advance toward Marauder, who had secured a position from above.
But he must have predicted my advance as upon my arrival, he already propelled himself off the beam but also blasted me off if it. Once again, I was defenseless in the air as Uras knocks me into a cement truck. As I try to swim out of it, a familiar blue aura took over the concrete inside and trapped me in there. Once again, I struggle with all my might to break out moving faster and faster and faster with the only promise being one thing: I wasn't going to die this day, not without a bang at least! And in one violent motion, my speed and heat collected inside burst forth in one final explosion, and like any good flame, I guess, I went out.
I will admit I was fence about being part of these Crusaders, I thought that I would simply bide my time and leave without a moment's notice, but it seems Algorithm knew his stuff. With his close monitoring on the Vacuum, all we've done so far is hit just the right spots and enjoy the chaos. With both the Champions and the gangs being forced both out in the open, taking them down was fish in the metaphorical barrel with the only casualties following being Gyro and Scale who pushed herself too hard our fight with Wildfire. Hell, by the time this was over, we would have safely secured well over half of all crime in Philly and gain many soldiers in the process. But even with all of that I had, there was still one question left to answer about our happy captors.
"Why are we keeping them alive and masked? Seems like extra work to me," I ask the boss as he tapped away at his touch screen.
"Despite our different beliefs Mr. Lee the Champions are not our enemies; they are simply misguided vigilantes at the end of the day. I hold no ill will towards them and, as such, will not wastefully kill them nor immoral threaten their family members. Though this does not mean that they cannot aid in our cause."
"What do you mean by that?"
" What I mean Mr.Lee is that the Champions, despite their flaws, have a trait that we lack. And that is popularity. These past few months, they have been symbols in a world in need of them. They have spawned much debate and a subtle increase in helix acceptance with their simple existence. But what if these so-called heroes were to be revealed to be ordinary people like them and wrongfully prosecuted for all the lives they have saved how do you think the people would react to such a blow? And would happen if we were to replace such lofty figures?"
And just like that, it all clicks into place. And with the scale of such a plan finally revealed, all I could say was this.
"Damn. You're one manipulative bastard."
"I prefer the term, capitalist Mr.Lee, and a good one at that. From the spoils of our enemies, the Crusaders will have over a thousand strong, both in and outside of the law. Our power combined will be unlike anything that this world as seen and our goal that much closer to fruition. And soon enough, we will rule all that we survey. So prepare yourself, Mr. Lee, this only a taste of what we have in store."
With the awe of such a powerful speech hanging overhead, all I could do was simply stare and think about the world that was now ripe for the taking.