by Martin Maenza
My name is Wally West, but everyone knows me as the Flash. I’m the fastest man alive on Earth. OK, maybe Superman could give me a really good run for the money. We’ve never raced before. But he’s a Kryptonian, so I guess he doesn’t quite count.
In any case, it’s in situations like this that time seems to be practically standing still. Normally, I’m used to that and can take advantage of it. This time, however, I cannot. I’m stuck.
Dressed in a red, skintight costume with yellow boots and yellow lightning bolt trim, the Flash sat behind a large table in the Central City Convention Center. One man in his early thirties sat next to the hero, smiling as he looked at the line of people snaking around the booth. The man leaned in close and said softly, “We really appreciate your appearance. The attendance records are the highest to date.”
The Flash nodded as he accepted an autograph book and signed it at super-speed. “Anything for charity,” he said. Then he looked back at the little boy as a mother took a quick snapshot of her child meeting the city’s hero. With his red-gloved hand, he gently mussed the child’s hair. “There you go, sport!”
The scarlet speedster had actually been contacted by the event organizers a few months back. They had come to the Flash Museum and asked its curator, Dexter Miles, to pass the invitation along to the hero. Seeing that a portion of the attendance proceeds would go to the charity of his choice, Wally felt it was the least he could do. He would be the special guest at this year’s Central City ComicCon, now in its seventh year.
The next person up was a young girl with dark hair in pigtails. She appeared to be about eleven or twelve. “Hi,” the Flash said with a smile. He glanced at her badge. “What can I do for you, Regina?”
The girl smiled back as she plopped a thick binder full of paper on the table. “Hi, Flash,” she said. “This is some fan fiction I’ve been writing. It’s about me and my sister who find this chunk of rock that gives us amazing super-powers! In the stories, we fight evil like you do, and we even joined the Justice League, though our mom doesn’t think that’s wise. I thought maybe you could read it and tell me what you think!”
“Oh,” the Flash said with a curious look. He picked up the binder and began to thumb through the pages. They were handwritten stories, done in pencil on regular notebook paper. He nodded, quickly read through the entire weighty tome at super-speed, then handed it carefully back to the girl. “Not bad, honey,” he said as politely as possible. “You need to keep working on it, especially the spelling and grammar and stuff. And keep dreaming, too.”
Regina beamed as she took the binder and ran back to her family.
Nice kid, the Flash thought, but she needs to get a bit of a life. He continued the meet-and-greet with the guests for his allotted time, then made a nice exit so he could change clothes.
Dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved, yellow buttoned shirt, the red-haired Wally West crossed the busy hall. “Thanks so much for this,” he said as he gave a kiss on the cheek to a tall, blonde woman dressed in a white sweater and a gray skirt.
“Why not, blue eyes?” Frances Kane said. “I can’t think of a better way to spend a gorgeous Saturday afternoon than inside with row upon row of boxes of musty magazines.”
“Oh, c’mon now, honey,” Wally said as he took her arm. “Think of it as an adventure. A journey into the unknown searching for treasure. I can’t tell you how often I’d spend hours over at my Uncle Barry’s, helping him catalog his collection. He had all the classics from the golden age. Kept ’em in great shape, too. He used to get so excited when he’d locate an issue he was missing to fill in the holes in his collection.”
“Well,” Frances said, “that’s nice and all. But I think your uncle was probably the exception to the rule.” She wrinkled her nose as a couple of big guys, probably in their late thirties, wearing faded T-shirts two sizes too small walked past. “I’m betting some of these guys are too obsessed with their hobby to remember to shower.”
“Oh, you’re wicked!” Wally said, trying not to laugh. He glanced ahead of them, where the row upon row of dealers ended and a bunch of tables without boxes were set up.
“Speaking of Uncle Barry,” Wally said, “there’s someone I promised to stop in and see. C’mon.” The two ventured down to the section designated as Artists’ Alley, the place that artists could sell their returned artwork or could do sketches for a price.
As they worked their way down the tables, slowly due to the crowds, a couple of paintings displayed behind one of the tables caught Frances’ eye. “Wally!” she said, tapping him on the shoulder to get his attention. “Check those out!”
The red-haired young man turned to see three-feet-by-five-feet oil paintings done of folks very familiar to him. One was of a brunette’s back, her head turned over her right shoulder with a seductive look. She wore only fishnet stockings, a bow tie and a magician’s hat cocked to one side. She covered her bare upper torso with her arms. The other painting was of a dark-skinned woman in a similar pose, but this brunette only wore a pair of blue panties with white stars.
“Wow,” Wally said softly, his eyes wide. “Boy, Zatanna and Nubia would so not like that.” Still, he couldn’t take his eyes off the beautiful artwork.
Frances grabbed him by the arm and tugged him along. “That’s enough of that!” she said. “I’m so glad I’ve decided to stay out of the business! Who needs to be the object of a male adolescent fantasy?”
Wally put his arm around her, giving the woman a reassuring hug. “Oh, so I guess I shouldn’t share with you my fantasies about you and I, right?”
“That’s different.” Frances shrugged his arm off of her shoulder. “Let’s just find your friend and say hello before you get in any more hot water, mister.”
They approached table 15A and waited for the young man to finish collecting his payment for a sketch. After the customer left, the couple approached the young man with brown hair and brown eyes.
“Barney?” Wally asked. “Is that you all grown up?”
The just-turned eighteen-year-old turned around and recognized the man who approached him. “Hey, Wally!” he said. “How are you? God, I haven’t seen you in years.”
“I know,” West replied as he shook Barney’s offered hand. “I think the last time I saw you was before the Allens moved from their old neighborhood.”
The young man smiled. “Yeah, I miss them,” Barney said. “I didn’t know you were into comics that much.”
Wally nodded. “Yeah, I kind of have Uncle Barry to thank for that.” He then heard an ahem sound to his side. “Oh, sorry. Frances Kane, meet Barney Sands. (*) Barney, this is my girlfriend.”
[(*) Editor’s note: Barney Sands was last seen in “Heat Wave’s Blaze of Glory,” The Flash #267 (November, 1978).]
“Nice to meet you,” Frances said, shaking the youth’s hands.
“Same here,” Barney replied.
Wally looked through a couple of the sketch books on the table. “Wow, Barney, your stuff is looking really good,” he said.
“Thanks,” Barney said. “Though a couple of these aren’t mine. They belong to a pen-pal of mine, Nick Stevens. He lives all the way up in Fairfax, Maine. I’ve known him for a while now via an artists APA we both belong to.”
“A what-a?” Frances asked.
“An APA,” Barney explained. “An amateur press association. Basically, every couple months, writers and artists from all over the country submit photocopies of stuff to one member who acts as a central mailer. He or she collates the submissions, binds them, and redistributes the final stuff back to all the members. Its a good way to share ideas and such with friends all over. That’s how I know Nick.”
“Well, you’re both pretty good,” Wally said again. “You thinking of going pro?”
“I’m hoping to,” Barney said. “I graduate from high school next month, and it would be really cool to go to work for one of the big comic companies. That’s why I came to the Con — to network a bit, get my portfolio seen, and possibly get a foot in the door. That, and sell some stuff to get a little extra cash.”
One particular picture caught Wally’s eye. It was a full color sketch done of the first Flash, his uncle. “Say, I like this one a lot,” he said. “How’s about thirty for it?”
The price was easily more than the boy would have asked. “Sold,” Barney said with a smile.
After visiting a while longer, Wally and Frances were ready to depart Artists’ Alley. “OK, Wally,” the young woman said, “you’ve had a chance to buy something today, so now it’s my turn. Broome’s is having a big shoe sale. If we hurry, I can still get my hands on some sling-backs.”
“Shoes,” Wally said in a less than enthusiastic way. “Oh, boy.”
The couple started to walk when they noticed a few people pass by in costumes. One was dressed in a familiar green costume and would have been a dead ringer for his foe, the Weather Wizard, if not for a rather huge gut under the tightly stretched green shirt. The other was a young red-haired woman dressed in a homemade version of the Golden Glider’s skating outfit. “Maybe you’re right about heading out, Frances,” Wally agreed. “Looks like some folks are breaking out the costumes.”
As they rounded the end of the row, they were startled to see a powerful-looking figure striding down the aisle. “Check that one out,” Frances said.
It was a man with white hair in a rather elaborate cyborg costume. Even the weapons attached to the bandolier and the large gun he had in one hand looked authentic. The man stopped, turned his head, and flashed an electronic eye about the room.
“Wow,” Wally said. “That one looks like it took a lot of effort.” The young man started to approach the cyborg to pay a compliment. “Hey, fella, nice costu–“
“Back, savage!” The cyborg took a swing at Wally with his metallic left fist. Wally’s reflexes were just fast enough to avoid being hit by the blow, but he could tell that there was incredible power behind the swing.
“Whoa!” Wally said as he tumbled backward. “Someone’s touchy.”
“The timeline is severely damaged,” the cyborg muttered to himself. The man-machine raised his weapon to the air, let out a loud battle cry, and began to open fire. A plasma beam shot straight up, getting the attention of everyone in the room. The cyborg howled once more, causing a panic in the crowd.
“Wally?” Frances was about to say when she realized that the tube with his purchased artwork was suddenly in her hand. She glanced around quickly, but her boyfriend was nowhere in sight. She knew what would happen next. She hurried back toward Artists’ Alley to be safe.
Moving as super-speed, Wally had ducked under a table covered with a draping cloth. Out of the view of others, he was able to change quickly into the scarlet costume he kept compressed in his special ring. “That cyborg’s the real McCoy,” he said to himself as he rolled out from under the table as the Flash. “So, I guess it’s time for a little super-speed takedown before things get out of hand!”
The Flash zigzagged between the aisles and the people, working his way toward the metallic man. “Hey, one-eye!” the Flash called. “How’s about we take this outside?”
The speedster hurried past a couple of teenage boys. “Say, Rob, isn’t that–?” one started to ask.
“Yeah,” replied the dirty blonde in Levi’s 501 jeans, “that cyborg guy’s one of mi–!”
The cyborg aimed his weapon at the speedster and fired a plasma blast. The crimson discharge of energy seared through the air, heading straight for the hero.
I could dodge that easily enough, the scarlet speedster thought, but anyone caught in the path of that thing would get burned up bad! The Flash instead began to whirl his arms in front of him in a circular motion. Not to mention how fast this place would go up in flames if the fire hit all these comic-books!
The plasma blast hit the funnel of air that the hero had created, and its course started to alter. The faster the Flash whirled his arms, the sharper the angle became. The column of air redirected the plasma burst high up toward the ceiling and through the skylight above. Good thing that was intense heat, the Flash thought. When the burst hit the glass and broke it, it also fused the shards into harmless droplets.
“Now to take care of the walking arsenal!” The Flash charged toward his opponent.
The cyborg discarded his plasma blaster and reached for another weapon on his bandolier. “Back off, evil mutant!” Before he could take aim, the weapon was knocked away.
“No, no, Mr. Roboto!” the Flash said in a scolding tone. “We can’t have you playing cyber-cowboy around here! No, how’s about you just give up?”
The cyborg, whose head looked small compared to the rest of his body, scowled at the hero and dived toward him. “I’ll tear you apart with my bare hands!” His metallic fists punched at the Flash.
“I’d get your vision checked, partner!” the hero joked as he dodged one punch after another. “When you’ve only got one good eye, your depth perception’s shot. Makes it hard to see where things really are.” The Flash knew he had the troublemaker focused on him, so now it was time to finish the job. “Here, let me show you how it’s done!”
Moving in a blur, the Flash began to circle the cyborg at great speed. His fists moved at super-speed, too, allowing him to nail the man-machine with hundreds of punches in a single second. While each one alone was not enough to do considerable damage, together they added up to a non-stop barrage of attacks, kind of like a jackhammer would tear up a piece of concrete. After a few moments, the cyborg collapsed on the ground.
The Flash stopped moving and stood with his hands on his hips. “Lesson over,” he said. “You can take a recess nap now.”
Suddenly, the cyborg’s whole body was showered over in a sparkling display of light. As the twinkling started to subside, the man was gone.
“Whoa!” said the Flash. “Must’ve had some kind of fail-safe escape plan in case of defeat!”
Then, suddenly, the Flash felt a punch to his jaw. His head rolled to the side, only to be hit from the other direction by another unseen attack.
“What the–?!” the Flash exclaimed, just before another unseen punch hit him.
Instinctively, the hero started to move. “Did that cyborg go invisible on me or what?” he wondered. The Flash turned his head back and was surprised by what he saw. “What’s that?”
Moving at a speed matched by the hero, a pink blur of a figure rocketed past the hero and attacked as it passed. The super-speed attack caught the hero off-guard, causing him to stumble forward. The Flash dived into a roll to avoid an uncontrolled crash and then sprang to his feet moving once more.
“Whoa! Who else moves that fast but me?” the Flash asked himself. “Professor Zoom, perhaps, but he’s never had a beef with me.”
The hero made a quick circuit back around, using his eyes to search for his elusive attacker. Everyone else in the convention center seemed to be practically standing still. This was just one of the side-effects the Flash experienced while moving at super-speed. The rest of the world appeared totally out of sync with him. Everyone, of course, except the other speedster.
The pink blur was caught in the corner of his eye. “Gotcha now!” The Flash darted after him.
The race was on as the two figures wound their way in and out of the crowded convention floor. They cut sharp angles left, then right, then doubled back around themselves. Each one tried to stay one step ahead of the other while at the same time boxing the other in.
It was a super-speed game of cat and mouse, though the Flash truly hoped he’d end up the former. Whoever this guy is, he’s good! he thought as he ran. But not good enough!
Suddenly, the Flash altered his course, cutting back to the left quickly. His scarlet form cut across the other’s path and nailed the figure with a fast right hook. The pink blur skidded across the way and slammed into a wall behind one of the displays. The Flash quickly ran after him.
“Didn’t take too long to realize this guy was sticking to a pattern,” the hero said. “Once I figured that out, it gave me the edge to snag him.” The Flash stepped to behind the display, finding there an unconscious red-haired young man. The surprising part was, the guy was naked. “What the–? Some kind of super-streaker or something?”
The Flash started to reach for the young speedster but was too late. A similar light effect danced over his opponent. “Hey, get back here!” The Flash’s hand passed right through the fading form of a man. “Nuts! He’s gone, too!”