by Brian K. Asbury
“They’re in there, all right,” said Edward Stacker, lowering his field glasses. “I just caught a glimpse of Seeger at that window. A shame it wasn’t Moran himself,” he added, producing an oversized and deadly looking handgun from his trenchcoat pocket. “We could have ended this problem in one fell swoop.”
Firestorm stared at him in alarm. “Hey! Do what you like with Moran, Mr. Licensed-to-kill, but not till after I’ve got my powers back, huh?”
Stacker snorted. “Don’t worry, Firestorm. I was only vocalizing an inner wish. I’ve no desire to deprive the world of those powers, believe me.”
“Well, that’s a relief–” Firestorm started to say. He checked himself. Wait a sec — that was an odd way to phrase it, wasn’t it? Especially in the light of his earlier remarks about transferring powers to the right people. He stared at Stacker with suspicion in his eyes. He would need to watch this guy very carefully; after all, though they could probably reverse the psi-phon to remove his powers from Moran and return them to Firestorm, they could just as easily be put into somebody else. And he didn’t trust Stacker an inch.
“So…” Firebrand said. “Do I go up and take them out, or do you want to wait for Faraday’s people to move in first?”
“The latter,” said Stacker. “In fact, it would be best if I were to go down and help coordinate the move in person.”
“Why wait?” said Firestorm. “From what I’ve seen of Firebrand, here, with her powers she could easily overcome Moran, especially with the element of surprise on her side.”
“Yeah. Now, at any rate. My powers aren’t as easy to control as you seem to think, pal. But the longer you leave this, the longer Moran has to get the hang of ’em. Do you wanna risk that?”
Firebrand cast Stacker a quizzical look, obviously seeing the logic in this. However, he shook his head. “No. A concerted attack by CIA and MI7 forces will divert Moran’s attention. He won’t be prepared for an attack by Becca on a second front, and she’ll have a far better chance to beat him.”
“Enough. I’m not going to argue with you. Firebrand, will you convey me to street level? I’d rather not attract attention by using the Planet’s elevators.”
“No, you’d rather do it by having me create a loud bang and lots of light and flames,” Firebrand said sarcastically. “What am I, anyway? A flying taxi service?”
“Just do it, please,” said Stacker. “And on the opposite side from the Conway Building, please. We don’t want all that light and flames you mentioned being spotted from Moran’s windows.”
Firebrand scowled but approached him anyway, taking his hands. They vanished into her energy fireball, which streaked away across the roof and down the other side.
Alone again, naturally! thought Firestorm. So what do you do now, Ronnie? No time to get away and into the building to find Jimmy Olsen, and anyway, you never did find a way in. And…
His thoughts were interrupted by Firebrand returning. Her energy flashed up to him, expanded, and coalesced back into her lovely form. She was holding Stacker’s binoculars. “Anything happened while I was away?”
“You’re kidding,” said Firestorm. “You were only gone a few seconds.”
“I was being facetious, hotshot,” she said, returning to the edge and peering through the glasses at the penthouse of the opposite building. “Look, cheer up. We’ll soon have your powers restored to you.”
“Yeah — if Stacker hasn’t got some other plans for them.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, it was just something he said when–”
“Shush!” hissed Firebrand. “Something’s happening up there.”
“I don’t know. There’s some sort of light show happening, and–” There was a loud sound of breaking glass as several windows shattered in the penthouse.
“Oh, my God!” she cried. “That settles it, hotshot. No way am I waiting for Stacker and Faraday. I’m going in right now!”
As Firebrand braced herself to transform, Firestorm grabbed her arm. “Wait! Take me with you!”
“Get your hands off me!” she snapped, shrugging him away. Her features softened in a look of apology. “Look, I’m sorry, hotshot, but you’d just be a hindrance. I don’t know what’s going on up there, but it looks dangerous. Better leave this to me!” She stepped back and exploded in light and sound, streaking into the air in her energy-form.
In less than a microsecond, she had cleared the gap between the two buildings and was flashing through one of the broken windows into a scene of madness.
“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Monty Moran was screaming. His men cowered for cover as he lashed out with the stolen powers of the nuclear man, randomly transforming bits of electronic gadgetry into wildly nightmarish shapes. Firebrand was taken aback momentarily; then she remembered herself and resumed her human form in the midst of the chaos.
“You!” she heard a voice cry, which she recognized as Peterson.
“It’s Amy. But what’s happened to her?” someone else said.
“I don’t have time for you,” she muttered. Summoning up her powers, she raised her palm and whirled about, sending repeated blasts of kinetic energy into each of Moran’s men and slamming each one into the nearest wall with stunning force. Moran himself was hurled through a door with a crash of splintering wood, putting an end to the light-show and random transformations.
“Well,” she said to herself. “That was a lot easier than I expected.” She followed through the shattered door to where Moran lay on his back, looking dazed but still conscious.
She raised her hand. “Time for lights out, Monty. It’s over.”
“I… hardly think so…” croaked Moran.
Firebrand’s nose wrinkled. What? That smell was familiar, but where… Oh, my God, she thought. Chloroform?
She tried to move back, but the vapor was all around her. It was impossible to escape breathing it in, and she collapsed.
“Lights out for who, my dear?” muttered Moran as he regained his feet. “So… that explains a great deal. We had a mole in our midst, eh? And a super-mole, at that. Well, my traitorous girl, you’ll learn the folly of betraying me — but only after I’ve added those powers of yours to those of Firestorm!”
“No. You’ll never do that!”
Moran clutched his head. “You again! What do you want from me?”
“Justice. Retribution,” said the voice. “The powers you possess don’t belong to you. Give them up.”
“Give them up, or I’ll torment you forever! Try as you might, you can never silence me. I’ll be here day and night, wherever you are and wherever you go. There’s no way you can ever get away from the sound of my voice, as long as you live — unless you relinquish those powers.”
“No! No! Nooo!” Moran dropped to his knees, screaming. “Leave me alone!”
“Leave me alone! Get out of my head! Get out of my head!”
And then it happened.
There was a blaze of light, and a sickening, wrenching sensation, and then Moran was falling back, and there was someone else in the room, who had not been there before — a middle-aged, bespectacled man in a lab coat, lying opposite him and breathing heavily.
“Who the hell are you?!” exclaimed Moran incredulously.
“Justice. I hope,” said the stranger. “Ronnie — to me, now! Wherever you are!”
Light blazed again, causing Moran to shrink back involuntarily. And when his eyesight cleared, the stranger was no longer there. In his place was an all-too-familiar figure in a red, gold, and white costume, whose hair was literally flaming.
“At last!” Firestorm breathed. “Hi, Moran. I’m baaa-aaack!”
“Nooo!” yelled Moran, raising his hand to let fly at Firestorm with a deadly nuclear blast.
“Tsk, tsk, Moran,” Firestorm said, grinning. “Lost something? Like your powers?”
“It can’t be!”
“But it is. Are you OK, Professor?” said Firestorm.
“I’m fine, Ronald,” the voice of Professor Martin Stein said. “But I suggest that you refrain from speaking to me out loud. Moran is confused enough as it is.”
Yeah, OK, Ronnie thought at his invisible friend. He looked around at the chaotic mess that the room had become — including Moran’s unconscious confederates. Did Firebrand do this, or what?
“The young lady overpowered Moran’s men,” the professor said. “However, I confess to being technically responsible for everything else — although it was Moran who actually did the deed. I had a somewhat unsettling effect upon him — which was, of course, my intention.”
I don’t understand. Where were you?
“Inside Moran. It seemed that the psi-phon did more than simply extract your powers — it extracted me, as well — and transferred me, with the powers, into Moran. It was quite a traumatic experience, and it took me a little while to recover my senses, and then a while longer to make myself heard by Moran. I gambled that he wouldn’t understand what was happening or where my voice was coming from. My intent was to push him hard enough to make him inadvertently separate us. I was hoping that, if that happened, I could call us back together again — us being you and I, Ronald, rather than Moran and I. I’m not entirely sure why it worked, but it did, I’m glad to say.”
Amen to that! said Ronnie silently. He looked back to Moran and sighed. “Give it up, Moran. Your powers are gone. I’ve got them back, see?” He gestured, and manacles materialized around Moran’s wrists, transformed from the air.
“I don’t understand,” blurted Moran. “What the hell happened?”
“You lost,” said Firestorm calmly. He bent down to examine Firebrand. “Just unconscious — and a good thing for you.” He transformed the air around her into pure oxygen to speed her return to consciousness, then straightened. “OK, Moran, it’s the end of the road.” He took a step toward the Getaway Mastermind.
“Not so fast!” said Moran, lurching back. Despite the weight of the irons, he somehow managed to twist a large ring on the middle finger of his right hand. “Nobody’s sending me back to jail, you fire-headed freak!”
“Uh-oh, look out, Ronald,” the voice of Professor Stein said. “It looks as though he still has a few tricks up his sleeve.”
“What have you done?” said Firestorm, advancing on Moran.
“I’ve activated a bomb,” Moran said, breathing heavily. “Remove these chains and let me go, and I’ll turn it off when I’m safely away. Otherwise — boom!”
“No I’m not. In my pocket is a remote-control device. To deactivate the bomb, you need to tap in an override code.”
Firestorm grabbed Moran by the collar and rifled through his pockets. Sure enough, there it was — a small device resembling a TV remote control, complete with numeric pad. “What’s the code?” he demanded.
“Oh, come on! You don’t seriously think I’m going to answer that!” Moran said. “Only I know the code, and I’m a man of my word, Firestorm — let me go, and I’ll input it and deactivate the bomb. Now — do we have a deal?”
“I don’t think he’s bluffing, Ronald,” said Professor Stein. “I couldn’t actually read his thoughts while I was in his head, of course, but he made several references to a certain box to his men. The references were somewhat oblique, but they did suggest there were explosives in it.”
This box — where is it?
“In one of the bedrooms.”
OK. Firestorm roughly pushed Moran toward the room indicated by the professor. “Is this it?” he asked, indicating a large metal case in one corner.
“Is this what?” said Moran.
“I think so,” said Professor Stein. “His men were instructed to handle it with great care.”
“That’s all I need to know.” Firestorm gestured, and the metal of the box turned to helium, revealing inside a football mounted on a wooden plaque. “That’s it?” he said. “You hid a bomb inside a football trophy, Moran? God, what kind of wacko hides a bomb in a football?”
“This kind,” said Moran grumpily. “I don’t know how you know, mister hero, but I’ll warn you that it contains a very sensitive rocker mechanism. Try to move it, and it goes off! So — do we have a deal? Make your confounded mind up, because there isn’t much time!”
“Oh, geez,” Firestorm said.
“Ronald? What’s the matter?”
Can’t you see, Professor? Ronnie thought. He pointed to the football. That’s a real pigskin! Leather! Animal protein! The one thing we decided my powers are useless against!