by Brian K. Asbury
“You murdering scum! You won’t get away with this!”
Monty Moran whirled about in alarm. “Who said that?” There was no reply. “I said, who’s in here?” He summoned up his powers and transmuted the furniture in the room to dust. None of it seemed to be hiding anyone.
“What the hell is going on here?” he yelled, storming out of the bedroom. His eyes fell on his men, clustered around the door to the storeroom.
“We can’t get in,” Peterson said sheepishly.
Growling, Moran changed the door to oxygen, revealing a prone Grey lying just inside the room and a gaping hole in the opposite wall. “I repeat — what the hell is going on? How did Firestorm get his powers back? And how did he capture Amy?”
“She wanted to try and interrogate him,” said Kowalski.
“And you let her? You confounded idiot, what were you thinking of? And what is that moron doing lying there?” He created a cascade of water over Grey’s head, and the big man stirred.
Peterson knelt down and eased him up. “What happened, Sean?” he said.
Grey moaned. “Dunno. We just stepped in here, an’ the lights went out. Don’t remember…”
“Idiots! Cretins!” screamed Moran. “I leave you for just a few minutes, and this happens! It’s just fortunate that I spotted Firestorm escaping. However, I had to kill him and Miss April both in order to stop them. Someone is going to have to pay for that!”
“But not as much as you are.”
“What? Who said that?”
His men looked at one another. “Nobody spoke, boss,” said Burt Luthor.
“Somebody did! I heard him!” They all shook their heads.
Moran growled and let fly with a nuclear blast, shattering a window down the hall. “I don’t know what’s going on here, but somebody is going to pay the price of trying to make a fool of me! Kowalski, have my men arrived at the new location in Metropolis yet?”
“Yes, boss. We got a call from them just a minute ago. We’ll be ready to make the transfer in just a couple of–”
“Then let’s do it,” said Moran, striding back toward the lab. “The sooner we’re out of here, the better. This place is likely to be swarming with police any minute now.”
And a voice said, “You can escape from the police, but you can’t escape from me. I’ll see that justice is done, wherever you run to!”
And Moran screamed again.
“Yeee-eee-ow! … Er…” Firestorm suddenly felt very foolish. “I’m on the ground? How…?” He looked around as he felt his rescuer release him. He seemed to be in some kind of derelict commercial premises. There were long-empty shelves and counters, most showing signs of fire damage. The floor was filthy and strewn with garbage and soot. “Where…?”
“Not the most elegant of surroundings, I admit. However, it’ll do for now. Are you OK? I didn’t scare you too much, did I?”
“No…” Firestorm stared in amazement at the young Englishwoman. She was no longer clad in the blue and yellow minidress that she had worn as Amy April, but wore a red and white jumpsuit with black boots and long black gloves. Her hair was also no longer blonde but fiery red.
Firestorm did a double-take. “Nice outfit,” he said. “But have I missed something? Last I remember, we were falling through the air, and you were a blonde, and you were wearing…”
“I can transform to energy, remember?” she said. “It’s easy enough to reconstitute myself with a few modifications — such as more appropriate clothing. I’m sure you don’t look like that in your civilian identity.”
“Uh… you can say that again. OK, so there’s more to your powers than just blasting holes in walls. But why didn’t you tell me you could teleport? You scared the spit out of me back there!”
“I can’t teleport any more than I can fly.”
She sighed. “I can carry a passenger when I transform completely.” Firestorm stared at her blankly. “I changed us both into pure energy, flared over here, and then changed us back into matter,” she elaborated.
“So you can fly — in energy form, anyway.”
“So why didn’t you do so straight away?” He was starting to get angry now. “You let me think we were falling to our deaths when you could have saved us at any time. Geez, d’you get some sort of perverted kick out of scaring people?”
“No!” Firebrand’s eyes also reflected anger. “Is that what you think of me? You don’t know me, hotshot, so don’t push your luck.”
“I delayed flaring us away because as we started to fall, I caught sight of Moran leaning out of one of the other windows. I knew he wouldn’t be able to resist attacking us, so it was too good an opportunity to miss. He blasted us with your powers just a split-second before I transformed us. With any luck, he should think he killed us.”
“Oh. OK, sorry. I didn’t know. Er… so why have you brought us here?”
“To meet someone. This operation is completely screwed now. We need to re-think the agenda.” She called out, “Stacker? Are you here?”
A match flared in a darkened corner. “No need to shout, old girl. I’m right here.” A trenchcoated man stepped out of the shadows. “Now,” he said in a silk-smooth Oxbridge English accent. “What do you mean, ‘this operation is completely screwed’? Becca, my dear, what have you done?” the newcomer continued. “Why have you brought… ah, this is Firestorm, isn’t it? Despite the hair, I mean? Why have you brought him here?”
“Firstly, Stacker, it’s Firebrand in public, remember? Secondly, I am not your old girl, and thirdly, yes, this is Firestorm — sans his powers!”
“The whole thing’s gone pear-shaped, Stacker. Moran moved the schedule forward while I was away. And what’s more, he not only siphoned Firestorm’s powers away, he found a way to reverse the machine and transfer them into himself.”
She turned to Firestorm. “Firestorm, allow me to introduce Edward Stacker, a leading light in British Intelligence and, for my sins, my control on this mission. And take my word for it, his vocabulary does consist of more than the word what!”
Firestorm raised his hands. “OK, that’s it. I’ve had enough. This James Bond stuff is starting to freak me out. I want to know just what’s really going on here. Who are you people, and what does all this have to do with British Intelligence?”
Stacker, meanwhile, had recovered his composure. He stepped up to Firestorm and held out his hand. “I’m sorry we’ve got you involved in all this, old chap. Terribly sorry.” Firestorm reluctantly shook hands with him. “But Becca — Firebrand — is right. This development changes everything.”
“From what? You haven’t answered my question.”
“Allow me,” said Firebrand. “About a month ago, Moran raided the lab in the West Indies where the psi-phon was being developed, and they stole the project in its entirety, including all the research notes…”
“Whoa! Backtrack a bit,” said Firestorm. “Moran didn’t create the thing himself? So who did? What’s this about a lab in the West Indies?”
Stacker stepped in. “I’m not sure we can divulge any more. This is all highly classified…”
“As if that matters anymore!” interrupted Firebrand. “Firestorm not only knows about the psi-phon, he’s living proof that the bloody thing works. He might as well know the background.”
She ignored Stacker’s protest. “The psi-phon,” she told Firestorm, “was the idea of a British scientist named Bremmer. It was being developed as a joint Anglo-American project to find a solution to the super-villain problem.”
“The super-villain problem?”
She nodded. “The fact is that most super-powered villains do not rehabilitate in prison. Most, when released, go back to their evil ways, and people like you find yourselves having to catch them again and again. Now Amanda Waller’s project goes some way into helping out by finding a positive use for them, but…”
“Becca, he’s not supposed to know about that, either!”
“What’s all this Becca stuff?” said Firestorm. “I thought your name was Amy!”
“That was just an alias,” said an irritated Firebrand, glaring daggers at Stacker. “My name is Rebecca, OK? Becca to my friends — who do not, incidentally, include Mr. Stacker here, who is supposed to address me as Firebrand.”
Stacker merely shrugged.
“Anyway, to cut a long story short,” she continued, “Bremmer’s idea was to create a machine which could literally siphon the powers out of super-villains and render them harmless. He was very close to completing the project when Moran stole it. Moran finished it and, unknown to anyone, made some changes. And now we have to stop him before he can use it on anyone else. If he gains the powers of Superman to add to those he took from you, he’ll be literally unstoppable!”
“So why didn’t you just stop Moran before he could use the goddamn psi-phon and put me in this mess?” Firestorm said angrily. “Why bother just infiltrating his gang?”
“Because we needed to know who he was working for,” said Stacker smoothly. “Our initial inquiries suggested that Moran had not taken the psi-phon for himself, but that he was under contract to steal it and make it work for someone else.”
“Who?” said Firestorm.
“Good question,” Firebrand said. “Bloody good question. And we’ll probably never know now that he’s decided to use it himself.”
“As soon as Moran stole the project,” said Stacker, “Our department and the CIA joined forces to track him down. However, once we knew he was working for someone else, it seemed expedient not to pounce, as it were, but to use him to lead us to the real brains behind the operation. To that end, we infiltrated Firebrand into his gang as Amy April. We calculated that, should there be any danger of Moran actually getting the psi-phon to work, she could generate an electromagnetic pulse and render it inoperable.”
“Unfortunately,” Firebrand said, “Moran sent me on an errand to secure a second hideout for him in Metropolis. Our people there took so long to get me the information I needed that I was delayed getting back.”
“Yeah. And this is the result!” Firestorm spat. “God, I don’t believe you people! None of this need ever have happened. You could’ve arrested Moran and his gang, I’d still have my powers, and the professor…” He tailed off. In all the excitement, he had almost forgotten Professor Stein and the fact that he could no longer hear his voice. He hoped his friend was all right, wherever he was.
“Professor? Professor who?” Stacker said.
“Skip it,” Firestorm said hurriedly. “The point is, what are you going to do about it?”
“Well, the fact that the machine can be reversed means we can probably restore your powers,” Firebrand said. “Of course, we have to deal with Moran first, but…”
Stacker touched her shoulder. “It has tremendous additional potential besides that,” he said. “Think! Not only could we drain the powers from super-villains, we could recycle those powers by giving them to people who could use them for more constructive purposes.”
“What kind of people?”
“The… right people,” said Stacker enigmatically, a smile playing about his lips.
“I don’t like the sound of that at all,” said Firestorm.
“I think we’re in agreement there, hotshot,” Firebrand said, giving Stacker a hostile look. “This conversation isn’t over, Stacker. I don’t like the idea of giving super-powers to people chosen by government agents. But first things first.” She started to move back. “I’m going back there to deal with Moran.”
“Not without me, you’re not!” Firestorm said, moving toward her.
She gestured. Flames flickered around her hand, and a gust of pure kinetic energy made Firestorm stagger back. “Wrong, hotshot. Without your powers, you’d just be a liability. I’ll do this on my own.”
Her arms described a graceful arc, and there was a loud boom! as she disappeared in a ball of light and flames. This then coalesced into a small, flickering sphere of radiance. “See you in a few minutes,” said an echoing semblance of her voice issuing from the energy sphere.
And as Firestorm and Stacker watched, it streaked out of a window and was gone.