At two in the morning, most of the people Ryan Simmons' age would have been in bed… well, no, they'd be out partying, probably drinking. The wimps would be sleeping. Fortunately, Ryan was no wimp, but for tonight he wasn't trying to score beer or score at table hockey or… well, just iscore./i Instead, he was hidden behind a small, scraggly bush just across the street from the same convenience store he'd been poised behind for the past six days.

To anybody else, it would have been a colossal waste of time, but not to Ryan. He had plans.

He was going to be a superhero. He even had a name picked out; Flameburst.

Ever since the First Age and the golden heroes of old, Ryan had been enamored with the stories of the old heroes. The Sentinels, the Fabulous Five, the Foreguard... dozens of men and women who took to the streets to fight crime and protect the innocent. More importantly, these men and women had all but been celebrities; television shows, comic books, god knew how many tabloid stories. While it was never said out loud whether money came out of these deals… well… how couldn't it?

But those heroes were gone now, driven out by the government… and why not? Those heroes weren't bad, sure, but what could they do? Most of them had to rely on punching the bad guys because the best power they could scrounge up was maybe shocking someone by touching them. Suppression Prime was a freaking iarmy/i of soldiers who were all buffed up on super-steroids, so why would people need those old fogeys anymore?

But Suppression Prime didn't have anything like the powers that Ryan, or others like him, had. The old heroes didn't either. With the city, and the world, going right down the shitter, Ryan could be one of the new forerunners of a second age, a time where heroes would be cheered in the streets again. The government would lift the ban, Suppression Prime would back down… all started by him. Ryan was sure that with just a little bit of work, superheroes would be loved again… and he'd be one of them.

Not bad for a fifteen year old.

Through all these starry-eyed thoughts of fame and possible fortune, it didn't cross his mind that maybe he should have practiced a little more… he figured that the three weeks since his powers had manifested was more than enough time for a quick save or two, and he could gain what little other experience he might need on the go.

Finally, there was movement up ahead. A guy, glancing around nervously, a hand inside his jacket pocket. Ball cap, the bill tugged down to cover as much of his face as possible. He had hurried across the street, seeming to be looking for something, and vanished inside the store. He was definitely in a rush…

The convenience store was old, decrepit, and not in a very nice part of town… of all the places Ryan had thought would get robbed, this place was the first- they didn't even have a icamera,/i for Christ's sake- and so he'd given this spot the most attention.

Straightening his black leather jacket- carefully spray painted with orange highlights- and tugging his orange ski mask into place, Ryan took a deep breath, then scuttled across the street himself.

By the time he reached the glass pane door and pushed his way inside, the robbery was in full swing. Ball-cap-man had a gun leveled at the store clerk, who looked more than happy to trade the till for his life. Both were so distracted by the usual robber-victim routine that they didn't even notice Ryan's entrance, which was more than a little irritating… the orange-masked hero stood there for several seconds before he finally decided to demand attention.

"Hold it right there!" He boomed(ish).

The voice had taken some work; Ryan had initially tried to go with a raspy, hard-ass growl, but he couldn't pull it off for long without coughing. So he was left with this forced-deep bass boom, puffing out his chest to try and make it come out… better?

It seemed to have the intended effect. Well, sort of. The robber looked isurprised,/i anyway, and he even lowered his gun a bit.

Tendrils of flame began to drift between Ryan's palms as he slowly began to twist his hands; when he'd first started practicing, all he could manage was a firestorm that had pretty much torched anything in his path. But after those three iagonizing/i weeks of training, he had managed something with a bit more finesse…

Within a few moments, he had a sphere of softly pulsing fire hovering between his hands. He figured he looked pretty bad-ass right about now.

"So?" Ry- iFlameburst/i asked, trying to keep the fireball and the macho voice going at once. "What's it going to be, pal?"

If it had just been some punk kid going for some free liquor and thrills, chances were good that Ryan would have gotten what he hoped for; reverence. As it was, though, the thug was Richard Argyle, a 37 year old (former) dock worker who'd been the latest victim to the newest string of layoffs. He had no marketable skills beyond lifting heavy stuff, and given there weren't enough jobs to go around as was…

He needed the money. Without it, his kids wouldn't eat. Looking at the frail-looking kid- it had to be a kid, with that fake voice- Richard weighed his chances, decided, and raised the gun again… this time, pointing straight at Ryan.

"This."

For a moment, there was silence on all fronts.

"L-look, man," the self-titled Flameburst stammered, the fireball flickering in his palms; he had been expecting a quick surrender, an easy victory. Not this. "I don't want to hurt you, really, just drop the gun, nobody needs to get stupid."

"Sorry, kid," the man muttered, shaking his head and waving the gun slightly. His calm words aside, his palms were starting to sweat… "Don't work like that. You wanna stop me, you're just gonna have to set me on fire, 'cause I'm not leavin' without that money."

"What?" The macho bass was fading as Flameburst's voice rose higher and higher in panic. "That's crazy! You're… no, you're insane, why-?"

Then it happened. Ryan's surprise and uncertainty caused him to slip. For just a moment, the controlled fireball flared, expanding a few inches and brightening for just a second or two.

But it was enough; startled and thinking he was about to get fried, Richard leapt back and fired wildly.

The gun went off and Flameburst screamed as the round blazed through the top of his shoulder, tearing skin and muscle; the pain and terror flared from his mind and his carefully crafted control tore asunder. A stream of fire poured from his hands, and the robber and store clerk were both engulfed almost instantly; their cries were shrill, but brief. As Flameburst's body twisted away from the bullet, the flames spread across the back of the store, setting it ablaze.

He blacked out, but it couldn't have been for long; when he regained consciousness, his lungs ached from the smoke, his skin blistered from the heat of fire not entirely his own, and his arm hurt like hell. Innumerable smells filled the air, testament to dozens of products being disintegrated by the fire… but the scent of scorched meat seemed to eclipse them all

Stifling a cough, Ryan rolled over, crawling onto his knees, then up to his feet. He could only barely keep his balance, as the room seemed to spin uncontrollably, but after a few seconds he was able to lean in the direction of the exit, where the glass windows and door had long since shattered from the heat. Trying to avoid the burning hot metal rims of the destroyed door, Ryan squeezed out, stumbled a few steps forward… and stopped.

He only had the briefest glimpse of armored trucks, flashing lights over three dozen soldiers… and five canisters that blazed through the air in his direction. Then there was a roar, a sudden pressure, and Ryan fell sideways, encased from neck to feet in thick, fire-proof foam. The foam hardened within seconds and, unable to keep his balance, he squawked and fell to one side, scraping his cheek on the pavement.

Two sets of boots hurried forward, and the next thing Ryan knew he was being rolled- like a goddamn icarpet/i- back across the street, until he was face-to-toe with another set of boots. Struggling, Ryan tried to twist his head enough to look up at their source

"Roll the kid up a bit."

A few seconds later, Ryan was in a more useful position. He looked up at the face of the man towering above him… and recognized him.

General Matthew Tennings. The man was on TV at least once a week, the leader of Suppression Prime… always having interviews, biography specials... the man who saved Central City. But what the hell was he doing ihere?/i

Ryan didn't know that, occasionally, Tennings just liked to come out and take a hands-on approach.

"Ryan Simmons," the man greeted pleasantly, head tilted. "We've been watching you for some time, boy; you don't think that those little 'experiments' you've been carrying out at that old foundry would've gone unnoticed, do you? We've been waiting for you to try something like this for near on two and a half months now, and I must say you didn't disappoint."

There was a loud groan as, out of Ryan's field of vision, the convenience store and apartments above it collapsed downwards, sending spurts of fire flying in all directions.

"But… but I just wanted…"

"Yeah, you and half the 'Me' Generation, son." Straightening, Tennings cleared his throat, his official tone a complete contrast to the obvious enjoyment sparkling in his eyes. "Under Section 5 of the Americana Act, you are charged with violation of the Peaceful Citizen Accord. By the looks of what you've left behind, there's probably a few other charges we could stick on. Vandalism. Arson. Manslaughter. Murder. But if you happen to know of any other wannabe do-gooders planning to make a stupid mistake, we might drop a few've them."

When Ryan remained silent, beyond the occasional sob, Tennings shrugged. "Roll him outta here."

As the crying Flameburst was rolled away, Tennings gestured for the nervous man to approach.

"We'd like to thank you for your cooperation, Mister DiGantio," Tennings drawled. "We do apologize for the damage to your building, you'll of course find no problem getting your insurance to repay you in full."

"Th-thank you, General," the building's owner replied, trying to keep his composure. "But… but if what you said's true, that you were watching that boy for months, then-"

"…why didn't we lock his ass up? Save those two people inside?" Tennings finished, glancing briefly at DiGantio as he lied without hesitation. "Wouldn't hold up in court. It's not illegal to be a meta, DiGantio, and not illegal to test your stuff out, long as you don't damage nothing or nobody that someone lays claim to."

DiGantio seemed satisfied with the answer- grateful for having gotten one at all, more like- and thankfully he seemed to servile and idiotic to point out that they might have moved in just ibefore/i the attempt to abort the robbery. This was good. Less complications.

After all, no need for the media to get their teeth on the real motivation.

Turning to face the smoldering wreckage, the General sighed, popping a cigarette from its silver carrying case and kneeling to light it in a pile of embers.

Do-gooder freaks like that needed to be locked up. And, every so often, the people needed a reminder as to why.

((More an introduction than anything else. The main story shall begin in the next chapter. Feel free to leave feedback, even if it's a 'thattaboy.' Fueling my ego speeds the creative process. _ And I know my writing's shaky, it's been a looong time, but hopefully I will improve! :3 ))