Chapter 2: To Be A Hero
When Aldrich was a child, he always dreamed about being a hero. It was a thoroughly uninspired dream considering basically every single kid ever thought about being a hero at some point. Largely unsurprising considering that it was practically impossible to escape hearing about heroes in this day and age of hero wors.h.i.+p.
Aldrich heard about a thousand different bedtime tales about how the great hero Vanguard vanquished villainy with his invincible fists, saving countless lives as he ended the Age of Villainy.
When he grew older, he constantly saw heroes on the telescreen with their colorful costumes and capes and big muscles and big smiles. He saw as the heroes carried people out of burning buildings and when scary Variants showed up, how they swooped in to beat the monsters down and save the day.
Heroes popped up in holographic or talk shows or social media or streaming sites - anywhere they could get exposure, they got it.
But most importantly, Aldrich wanted to be a hero because of his parents.
They were both heroes, though not particularly famous ones. His dad could shoot flames from his hands, and though he could light up a car or melt through a wall, he wasn't anything like the bigshot heroes like Blue-Blaze who could melt building sized Variants into ash in seconds.
Aldrich's mother was the exact opposite of his father, being able to control water, though again, just like his dad, not to any super notable degree.
His parents might have just been average heroes to the general public, but because they were his parents, they were the biggest heroes ever to Aldrich.
They seemed so much larger than life, standing tall and strong and raising him to respect justice. They told him about how justice was what heroes believed in, that at the end of the day, though it might take some time, it was a force that made things right and people smile.
Raised on a healthy diet of justice and heroism and capes and costumes, Aldrich wanted desperately to be a hero.
Unfortunately, though, Aldrich soon came to the crus.h.i.+ng realization that he had no powers.
90% of humanity were either born with the Alter Organ - the mysterious little ma.s.s that was responsible for superpowers - or developed them by the age of ten. Anyone that reached the age of ten without showing any signs of hosting an Organ was categorized as a 'Dud', so called because they were defective - a human being that failed to work properly in this day and age where powers were instrumental to surviving against Variants.
Aldrich was a complete freak of nature - in the rare 5% of the world population in all the wrong ways.
In a society that valued superpowers and their ability to contribute to humanity's survival Variants, Aldrich was considered dead weight. A relic of the past that should have been exterminated. His genes were tainted and unevolved.
n.o.body would ever marry him. n.o.body would ever a.s.sociate him.
Aldrich was literally a subhuman in this new world where Alterhumans were the new stage of human evolution. Forget being a hero, n.o.body would even hire him considering that every single job out there had someone whose Alter power made them better suited for it.
Needless to say, throughout most of Aldrich's youth, he was relentlessly bullied for his lack of powers, often coming back from school with cuts and bruises and tears and a hurting heart, but through it all, his parents supported him as well as they could.
They tried to raise him with good and upstanding and 'heroic' values, telling him to keep his chin up, to try and see the good in things, to never let go of his dreams, but even this came to a premature end.
On Aldrich's 13th birthday, he spent the night alone in his house, waiting for his parents to come back from a mission hunting down Variants let loose by a powerful criminal organization on the rise known as the Trident.
Then came the one memory that defined Aldrich's being down to the very core.
At midnight, telescreen in Aldrich's living room buzzed on by itself and a foreign feed broadcasted on it. He saw both his parents strapped down to iron chairs in a dirty, grimy, b.l.o.o.d.y cell.
They were beaten, bruised, and scarred, their once colorful red and blue costumes torn and broken apart. He could only watch numbly as a red-masked man addressed Aldrich, telling him that this was the price for his parents acting against the Trident.
Aldrich watched as multiple men began to break his parents down piece by piece. Fingernails torn off, then the fingers ripped off. Skin cut and burnt and ripped apart and then flayed. Electric shocks, acid, poison that made pain worse, then poison that hurt -
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For what seemed like an eternity, Aldrich saw his parents dismantled like meat at a butcher's shop, their screams of pain interlacing and giving voice to their suffering.
It was basically a welfare program for people with no powers like Aldrich wherein they could apply to hero academies to train in mechanical powersuits called Frames so that when the time came, even the worthless 5% of powerless humanity could get drafted to fight Variants.
Among those in the Frame Initiative, outstanding individuals could even become licensed heroes.
His parents had written him nothing but encouragement in that letter, praise that he had made it so far, and support.
It hurt to hold that letter, to read it while hearing their voices in his head, but he took the pain to heart and let it fuel him.
The Frame Initiative would be rigorous in its selection. It chose those with both the best physical fitness and mental apt.i.tude to take orders and make heroic decisions.
Aldrich trained his body for three years, honing it to a sharp knife's edge, mastering martial arts and sculpting his muscles to their max, but his mental evaluations made things difficult for him. He was far too willing to kill, far too willing to put down sc.u.m, and far too willing to disobey orders when he thought that the sacrifices of the few for the good of the many had to be made.
One time, when an evaluating Alter tried to reach into Aldrich's mind to figure out his mental profile, Aldrich had made her suffer a mild seizure from, presumably, how 'irregular' or 'broken' his head was.
Needless to say, none of the top tier or even mid-tier academies would ever consider Aldrich despite him scoring in the highest percentile on every physical fitness metric.
Still, Aldrich managed to get into an academy willing to take him in.
A no-name, smalltime academy called Blackwater. The academy had little information surrounding it, making it immediately suspicious, but it was willing to see past Aldrich's poor mental evaluation.
Thus, at the age of sixteen, Aldrich entered into a hero academy just as he had always dreamed of doing when he was little, though where before he had wanted a license to save, he now wanted a license to hunt.
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