by Hitman 44077
A mid-September morning unfolded in Central City. Wally West had been awake for at least an hour watching the morning news. He walked toward his coffee-maker and poured a cup of coffee into a Picture News mug. Looks like things are going well overall, Wally thought as he stirred milk into his coffee until had a light-brown complexion. He took a sip from the mug as he walked back to his couch and sat down. It’s been interesting over the past few months. We — as in the other heroes of Earth and allies from beyond our world — managed to stop forces seeking to conquer not only our world, but much, much more. (*)
Wally’s eyes caught hold of a picture frame holding a photo of Barry Allen. It’s been two years now, Barry — over two years since you sacrificed your life for us. The invasion had a number of deaths on our side. I’m sorry to say I didn’t know them as well as you might’ve, but they were true heroes through and through. The Atomic Knight, the B’wana Beast, and the Vigilante, among others, gave their lives just as you did. They will not be forgotten, just as your sacrifice has not been forgotten.
He took another sip from his coffee mug, still reflecting. I didn’t expect to hear from Dick last night, or about the decision he made. But I support him and Kory, who also had a tough decision to make. It’s going to take some getting used to, though. Wally finished what was left of his coffee. Dick also told me about Jason Hart joining the team and the circumstances that brought the Protector out of retirement. I’m going to have to give Mom and Dad a call — let them know about what happened to Ted Hart. They became friends with his parents during the time they lived in Blue Valley. I know they’d want to help the Harts out any way they can.
Suddenly, before Wally could place his coffee mug in the kitchen, a commercial caught his eye. The bizarre feature brought a puzzled, yet amused smile on his face. “Huh?” he said aloud as he watched an animated feature begin.
In between bright flashes of light emanating from the television screen, the commercial continued, showing a streamlined robot hero flying and shooting asteroids. “New — from Wiggins Toys! A hero for our time!” the commercial announcer spoke.
In a deep voice, another voice actor continued as a logo appeared on the television screen. “Robot Ranger!” the voice bellowed deeply.
By this time, Wally had noticed a pattern concerning the commercial. “Wait a second,” he said as he spotted something flash across the screen in a split-second. “There it is.”
The commercial continued, but it was the least of Wally’s concerns. “Every time there’s a bright flash across the screen, a message appears briefly. I spotted them, probably because of my super-speed powers, and I’m doubting that others will be as fortunate as me. Beware the Enemy, Overcome the System, Accept Anarchy.”
The commercial finished, but Wally was just beginning. He walked over to his Flash ring and placed it on his finger. “Not the type of promotion someone needs to sell toys. More like it’s something to induce panic and criminal behavior,” Wally said in a serious tone. “But what else could one expect from the creator of Captain Boomerang, right?”
With but a thought, the newer Flash ring he received only a few months before opened up, and springing forth was Wally’s Flash costume, which he received at the same time. Using his super-speed, Wally put his newer metallic costume on. “Looks like I’m ready to go,” Flash said with a slight smile before turning back to the situation at hand. “Now, then, time to pay Willard W. Wiggins a visit.” Making sure his doors were locked, Flash sped forth, making his way into the main streets of Central City and toward the Wiggins Toy Corporation.
At the Wiggins Toy Corporation, Willard W. Wiggins sat at his desk taking multiple calls, even as others still remained on hold. It was one thing for him to deal with business matters, but there were other matters at hand. “Look, I’m sure there’s a better way to deal with the current situation,” he said over the phone nervously. “All I’m asking is for more time. No, you need to understand our strategy. I’m more than willing to meet with you on the matter. Yes, I’ll call you later.” As his conversation ended, Wiggins hung up the phone. But before he decided to speak to the next caller, he placed his hands over his face as the stress began to consume him.
“Willard W. Wiggins?” a voice called out in front of him.
Wiggins placed his hands down and saw in front of him the man who called him by name. It was the Flash. “Ah… to what do I owe the pleasure?” Wiggins said, trying to cover for his stress.
“I wish I could say I was here for a tour, but I saw something that your company seems to be promoting. Something called a Robot Ranger,” Flash said, his voice serious.
“Huh?” Wiggins said, puzzled.
“You should know,” Flash responded as he continued. “I saw an interesting commercial this morning for your new product. I’d say it’s like anything else toy companies use to promote their products, but there was something else attached to the commercial. Brief flashes with interesting subliminal slogans such as Beware the Enemy, Overcome the System, among others.”
“What do you mean?” Wiggins said in irritation. “I would never do that to children!” With those words, Wiggins placed his hands back over his face, this news being the latest problem to plague his conscience. Flash noticed just how stressed Wiggins was and started to put things in perspective.
“You’re not manufacturing a toy called Robot Ranger, then?” he asked Wiggins calmly.
Wiggins slowly uncovered his face and looked Flash squarely in the face. “No,” he managed to say. “And I doubt I ever will again.”
The last remark surprised Flash. “What do you mean?” he asked aloud.
Wiggins took a deep breath. “Wiggins Toy Corporation is on its last legs, I’m afraid. The years have been kind, for the most part, but lately there’s been more problems than I know how to deal with,” Wiggins admitted sadly. “Did you know I, and this company, have been named in a lawsuit filed by various companies plundered by ‘Digger’ Harkness?”
“I knew you helped create him or, rather, Captain Boomerang, but I find it a bit of a stretch to blame you and your company for his actions, especially after a sufficient amount of time’s passed,” Flash said.
“Well, I wish others felt as you, but unfortunately, it’s just not the case. There’s also the matter that our products aren’t selling as well as they had before. Parents don’t want their children to touch anything that they see as corrupted. And because Wiggins Toy Corporation was, in a way, responsible for the creation of two criminals like Captain Boomerang and Colonel Computron, the reputation of my company is tarnished,” Wiggins responded.
“And now, it’s possible someone put commercials out there to further damage your reputation,” Flash said, realizing the facts. “By attaching the Wiggins name to their little product, whatever damages caused as a result would almost be the final nail on the coffin. Do you have any suspicions as to who could be behind this?”
“No,” Wiggins said reluctantly. “The biggest rival I’ve had over the past few years is Kashbro. They’re the makers of the Fightin’ G.I.s, but they’re not even based in Central City. I don’t think they have anything to do with this.”
“Any former employees?” Flash asked. “Anyone who might hold some kind of anger for you?”
“Now that I think of it, only one. His name’s Basil Nurblin. He no longer works for my company. I do believe he still lives in Central City,” Wiggins said.
“I’m going to check things out with him, try to get to the bottom of things. It might be a good idea for you to state the facts as they are to the public, so that you and your company’s reputations aren’t damaged any further,” Flash advised.
“I’ll do–” Wiggins said as someone suddenly knocked on his door. “Come on in.”
A clean-shaven, well-dressed, brown-haired man walked inside the office where Wiggins was speaking to Flash. “Sir, some of the — oh!” the man said, shocked to see the speedster in front of him.
“Thank you, Bart. I’m nearly finished here, anyway,” Wiggins said aloud.
The brown-haired man walked toward the Flash and extended his hand. “Nice to meet you. My name’s Bart Davis — right-hand man to Mr. Wiggins, here.”
Flash shook the man’s hand and said, “Good to meet you, Bart.”
“I’m glad you stopped by, Flash. I feel reassured with you on the job,” Wiggins said with a sense of relief.
“That’s why I’m here. I’ll stop by when I have more news,” Flash said.
With what little he learned, Flash knew he had to start his search immediately. Taking off with his super-speed, he ventured out onto the streets of Central City and toward the home of one Basil Nurblin.
Elsewhere, at a bus terminal in Central City, a travel bus came to a stop. Its occupants stepped off the vehicle one by one, but for a certain blonde-haired woman, there was a sense of a long-overdue homecoming. Dressed in a long-sleeved, buttoned-down pink shirt and a pair of worn jeans, the woman made her way toward the exit of the bus carrying a suitcase in hand. She stepped off the vehicle and looked about, remembering the city she’d left only a few months before.
Central City, Frances Kane thought with a nervous smile. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to return, not after what happened between Wally and I. The young woman made her way to the bus station and, from there, exited the building.
I suppose I should have left my car here, but that wouldn’t have been too smart. Someone could have stolen it. Good thing I had it towed back to my apartment here in the city upon my arrival to San Francisco, Fran thought as she spotted a taxi heading toward her. Knowing that now was as good a time as any, Fran began to wave her arm and shouted, “Taxi!”
The taxi driver saw this and slowed down, finally making a stop where Fran stood. She opened the taxi’s back door and entered the vehicle. “Thanks,” she said with gratitude to the taxi driver.
“No problem,” the balding taxi driver said in a gravelly voice. “Where can I take you?”
Fran thought for a few seconds, reflecting on what would be the best option she could take, but she quickly decided. “Kingsley Apartments,” Fran answered.
“I can do that,” the taxi driver answered confidently. Making sure there was no traffic moving his way, the taxi driver pulled onto the road and took Fran to Kingsley Apartments, an apartment complex where she didn’t live, but rather her former boyfriend.
There, Fran paid the taxi driver and, with her suitcase in hand, made her way into the building. She walked inside and shook nervously, then took a few breaths of air in and gathered her strength. I’m not sure how to handle this, she thought, looking about. Every thought about Wally is so complicated. I thought my time in San Fran would’ve helped me place things in perspective, but I still feel unsure about us. And seeing him in July, after what happened before I left, not bothering to tell him about what was going on with me, I’m not sure how you move past something when other things remain unresolved. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Wally and Frances were briefly reunited in The Brave and the Bold: The Flash and Superwoman: The Communications Race.]
Fran took one more deep breath and moved her hair away from her face. She picked up her suitcase and slowly walked toward the apartment door of one Wally West. I know this has to be done for both of our sakes, Fran thought with a sense of strength. And I do plan on speaking my mind.
Arriving at Wally’s apartment door, Fran placed her suitcase on the ground and knocked on the door softly. A minute passed, and there was no answer. “Hmm,” Fran said, reaching into her pocket and pulling out a small keychain. “I don’t think he’s home. I’ll check it out just the same.”
Finding her key to Wally’s apartment on her keychain, Fran opened the door and stepped inside. She looked around the apartment, but there was no sign of Wally.
I think I’m relieved, Fran thought, though the look on her face showed an expression of sadness. I know I can’t just wait around for him to return. Fran looked around for a piece of paper and found it. Then, using her magnetic powers, she brought a metal pen to her fingertips. She wrote a note to Wally and placed it on top of his coffee table. The note read:
Wally, I stopped by. We need to talk. Give me a call sometime.
She was about to leave when Fran decided on one more thing to do. Pulling her keychain back out, she removed Wally’s apartment key and placed it on top of the letter. I’m not going to spend every waking minute wondering what you’re up to, Wally. I just hope we’ll have that opportunity to talk soon, Fran thought, trying to take a tough love approach to this. But still, the ache in her heart only grew.
Picking up her suitcase, she walked back out of Wally’s apartment and paused a few seconds, fighting against tears that threatened to drop. No matter what happens, I have to believe this is for the best. I have to live my life the best way I can. I need to find my own happiness, Fran thought, managing to regain her sense of calmness. She then began walking again, outside the apartment building and onto the street.
In another area of Central City, a large truck with a multicolored trailer pulled up to the parking lot of a toy store. The passersby, both parents and children, noticed with curious interest. “Huh? What’s that, Mom?” one boy asked his mother.
“I don’t know, Franklin,” the boy’s mother answered.
The vehicle came to a stop, and stepping forth was a man wearing a costume that looked like a cross between army fatigues and bionic parts. Some of the children recognized this character, for they had already watched commercials featuring this individual. “Hey, kids!” the figure shouted heroically.
“Hey!” another child shouted, pointing at the figure. “It’s the Robot Ranger!”
“Yay!” several other children shouted, also understanding who this character was.
“I was tellin’ you about him, Mom. That’s why we came here, to get an action figure o’ him,” Franklin said.
“But we searched through the store, Franklin. The toy store didn’t have any,” Franklin’s mother said with sympathy.
“That’s why I’m here, citizen!” the Robot Ranger bellowed. He then raised one of his arms up and pressed a button on his wrist. Suddenly, the tractor trailer opened up, revealing several hundred Robot Ranger action figures. The children’s faces all lit up as if it were Christmas morning, and even the parents had an expression of surprise on their faces.
“These are for all of you!” The Ranger bellowed again, flashing a bright smile.
“Yeah! All right! Radical!” the children shouted with enthusiasm.
“Mom! Can I have one?” Franklin asked in a tone that bordered on pleading.
“I don’t know how much those cost, dear,” the mother answered.
“They are free, ma’am! A hero’s way of saying thanks!” the Ranger bellowed.
“Well, thank you, Mr. Ranger,” the mother answered pleasantly. Turning back to her son, she spoke. “Go ahead and grab one, dear.”
“Yay!” Franklin yelled as he made his way toward the toy truck.
With the parents and children busy pulling action figures from the toy truck, no one noticed a small evil grin starting to form on the Robot Ranger’s face.