Firestorm stands, back arched, atomic energy exploding outwards from him! “No! It isn’t…it can’t be!” he yells. The body of Firestorm fades into a transparent outline against a black backdrop filled with swirling energy. “Nooooooo!” he cries as the forms of Martin Stein and Ronnie Raymond are projected away from him!
Void. It’s a word he’s heard in school, but it never meant anything to him before. Now, it does. He is in a place without space, emptiness beyond description…and he’s terrified. Ronnie floats in the blackness, twirling slowly in the blank space. Martin Stein walks out of the void toward him. “Ronald…there you are. I was beginning to think I wouldn’t find you,” Stein says. Ronnie, glad to see him, calls his name and reaches for him - - and his hand passes right through Stein’s body! “Try not to be afraid, Ronald. Think…do you have any memory of how we came here?” Stein asks. He gestures around, asking Ronnie if the place seems familiar or if he knows where they are. “You’ve got the brains, Professor, I was hoping you’d tell me,” Ronnie replies, “One thing’s sure - - we’re not in Manhattan.” He wonders if Multiplex had something to do with this, since they were fighting him just a little while ago. Stein asks Ronnie what he is able to recall and if he can remember what happened this morning. Ronnie stares, trying to force the memories to come, but everything is just blank. “Wait a minute,” he says as a mental image starts to form, “this morning, we were Firestorm, and we were flying out over the East River…”
The memory is of several hours ago and Firestorm is in flight in a dark sky above New York. Stein asks if their trip is really necessary. Ronnie says it is, reminding him that last night they turned Multiplex and his island full of thugs over to the NYPD. But, he warns, Multiplex knows the secret that Ronnie and Stein are Firestorm. Ronnie expected that secret would have spilled out all over the morning news today, and wonders why that hasn’t happened. Multiplex used to be Stein’s lab assistant, back before they were all caught in the same nuclear accident. “And from the way he’s acted since, I’d say he hates your guts,” Ronnie tells Stein, adding “why should he protect us - - that’s what I want to know.”
A helicopter appears suddenly near Firestorm, bathing him in the bright glow of its searchlight. “Hey! Watch it!” Firestorm says as he looks back at it. It is a TV news helicopter, and inside, GBS-TV reporter Roland Hedley holds a microphone. A cameraman poised in the seat behind him beams the action to their audience. Hedley asks “We understand you were responsible for uncovering this illegal weapons lab. Would you mind telling us what led you to the lab?” Firestorm pauses in the sky, arms crossed, trying to look calm and nonchalant as if everyone gives interviews in mid-air to a helicopter crew flying over Manhattan. “Oh…uh…hard detective work,” he says, “and…ah…a bit of luck.” Stein reminds Ronnie that it was Multiplex that captured them. Ronnie asks the news crew if they know where the cops are holding the guy who ran this set-up, Multiplex. Hedley reveals that as far as they know, Multiplex escaped before the police arrived. “Now, about that flaming hair of yours…” he continues, “Wait, where are you going?”
Firestorm zooms off, yelling back that the interview’s over and thanking Hedley for the tip. Stein notes that Multiplex escaping is not good news. Firestorm lands in a park near Bradley High School. Under the cover of trees and brush, he transforms into Ronnie Raymond and Professor Martin Stein. “I should have known we beat him too easily,” Ronnie decides, “he left his duploids behind to fight us while he took off.” Stein is surprised by the separation transformation, asking Ronnie what he is doing. With a yawn, Ronnie says it’s almost 9 o’clock, and it is time for him to go to school. Stein is concerned that Multiplex is still on the loose. Ronnie says all he is focused on is being late for class. “Multi will have to wait,” he says as he waves to Stein. Ronnie runs towards school, telling Stein that his Dad will have his head if he gets another disciplinary note.
In the void, Ronnie tells the Professor that it’s coming back to him. He’d had a bad night and was so tired he couldn’t think straight. He didn’t want to be late for class, so naturally, he was. Walking in just as the 9 o’clock bell rings, Ronnie can see Doreen, Jefferson, that creep Cliff Carmichael…everyone in their seats, except him! He contemplates crawling in while no one is looking when a hand touches his shoulder and a voice calls his name. Ronnie spins around to see Principal Hapgood. Ronnie stammers and stutters, trying to make up an excuse about the bus blowing up, then has to admit he is caught. Hapgood dismisses that, saying he’ll write him a pass. “Actually, I was looking for you,” the Principal says, “Let’s go to my office.”
Ronnie has always liked Principal Hapgood, and thinks him and Stein are a lot alike. Ronnie sits down in front of Hapgood’s desk. “You transferred to Bradley High from out of state, didn’t you, Ronald?” Hapgood asks. From Oregon, Ronnie replies. His father worked in Eugene for a newspaper. They moved here when his Dad took a job with the Daily Express in New York. Hapgood asks if Ronnie lived on the West Coast all his life. Ronnie wonders what the conversation is leading to, remembering that Hapgood and his Dad are old friends. That friendship led to Ronnie being registered at Bradley High. Hapgood explains that he and Ed Raymond have known each other for years, but admits they are unfortunately not as close as they once were. Hapgood explains that he has an interest in Ronnie, and offers that his door is always open if Ronnie ever needs to talk. Ronnie thanks him, but thinks that the situation feels a little weird. It felt like Hapgood was going to say something…and then he clammed up. Hapgood escorts him out of the office as Ronnie wonders what is going on.
Ronnie stood there in the receptionist’s office while Hapgood wrote out a hall pass. He could hear voices, and found they were coming from a television on the school secretary’s desk. The voice says “Senator Reilly, you keep ducking questions. The people have a right to know why you voted for Senate Bill 343, the so-called Hewitt Corporation bill.” Ronnie recognizes Senator Reilly, Lorraine Reilly’s dad. He hasn’t thought about her in a long time.
Senator Reilly continues the interview with GBS-TV political reporter Roxanne Sharpe, explaining that nuclear power is potentially too dangerous to be developed competitively by many corporations. That is why Senate Bill 343 was written, he explains, to grant one expert company a limited monopoly in nuclear research for the benefit of all. Sharpe retorts “Senator, you can’t believe that. Does your vote have anything to do with the rumored disappearance of your daughter, Lorraine Reilly?” The Senator deflects the question, claiming that his daughter is merely away on vacation. Sharpe, skeptical, says “Oh, really? Where is she on vacation, Senator?” Reilly, clearly becoming angered and irritated, steps away from the cameras. He will not say where Lorraine is, as he is concerned that the media will invade her privacy as they constantly invade his. He growls, “Vultures, that’s what you reporters are - - vultures!”
Ronnie is alarmed. Lorraine Reilly has disappeared? He runs from the Principal’s office down the hallway. He has met the Senator before, and thinks it would take a lot to make Reilly vote against his principals. “A lot - - like Lorraine in trouble?” he wonders. Running into a bathroom, Ronnie feels somehow that he is responsible. Lorraine and Firestorm could have been an item, he thinks. He really liked her, and even though she’s a few years older, he knows she liked him. He’s been avoiding Lorraine since he and Doreen got back together. He worries that if something bad has happened to Lorraine, something he could’ve prevented if he’d been around…
FZAAAAAM! In a blast of nuclear transformation, Firestorm appears! Stein, caught off-guard, shakes off his slumber. “Ronald! This is the second time this morning you’ve awakened me from a sound sleep! I thought you were going to school!” Stein exclaims. Ronnie says things don’t always work out the way you planned as they fly over the Manhattan skyline.
In the void, Ronnie recalls telling Stein about this, but that Stein wasn’t impressed. “Make sense, Ronald! If Lorraine had been kidnapped, it’s a matter for the FBI - - not us!” Stein tells him in the memory. Ronnie says he doesn’t trust the FBI. Stein wonders why not, and for that matter, where will they begin? Banking to the southwest, Ronnie announces “Washington, Professor. Capitol Hill.”
In the blackness, Ronnie recalls that he felt angry and helpless when Stein asked about the FBI, but for some reason he can’t explain why. Stein encourages him to keep trying to remember. They flew right down the Eastern Seaboard, then inland to Washington. Ronnie remembers his heart was beating fast the whole way down. “Have you ever been afraid without knowing why, Professor? That’s how I felt by the time we reached the Capitol Dome,” Ronnie explains. Firestorm lowers his atomic density and phases through the wall of the Capitol Rotunda, startling a group of tourists and their guide. Turning down a hallway, he asks a surprised staffer for directions to Senator Reilly’s office. The staffer flings his papers in the air in shock, advising second floor, third suite on the left.
Firestorm appears out of nowhere, passing through the hallway wall right into Senator Reilly’s office. “Firestorm! Get away from me!” Reilly yells in surprise. Pulling to a stop in front of the Senator’s desk, Firestorm asks, “Is it my breath, or what? Okay, answer one question and I’m gone: Where’s Lorraine?” Reilly tells him that his daughter’s whereabouts are none of his business. “I’m making it my business, Senator,” Firestorm announces, “Lorraine’s a good kid, and if she’s in danger, I want to help.” Reilly is dismissive, saying Firestorm can only get Lorraine killed!
Ronnie recalls that the Marines started pounding on the outside office door, but he had sealed it shut with a nuclear burst. Besides, he remembers…he wasn’t listening to them anyway. “Killed? Senator, you’d better start explaining,” Firestorm says. Reilly reveals that “they” watch him constantly. Firestorm asks the Senator who watches, and the room starts to fill with a strange light and a bizarre humming sound. A cylindrical tube image materializes out of thin air next to Firestorm! “See for yourself,” Reilly says, “they’re here.”
Stein looks and recognizes a teleportation bubble, but far more sophisticated than that used by the JLA! “It just sprang into existence - - someone is forming inside it!” Stein exclaims. HMMMMMM! A form is now recognizable inside the tube. Firestorm, shocked, looks upon…Multiplex!
“I almost feel sorry for you, Stein,” Multiplex snarls, “Don’t you realize yet - - you’re playing out of your league?” Multiplex fissions two duploids of himself and they attack! In the void, Ronnie remembers: Talk about overload, his brain was ready to explode. Of all the people in the world, the one he didn’t expect to see right then was Multiplex. “While I stood there with my tongue hanging out, he used his fission power to split into two - - and staggered me with a double punch. Tell the truth, he could’ve knocked me flat with a feather - - instead, he used a strong left fist.” While the duploids occupied Firestorm, Multiplex grabbed Senator Reilly and began pulling him to the teleportation bubble!
Ronnie remembers getting a look at Reilly’s face before Multiplex pulled him into the bubble. All of the Senator’s bluster was gone, and it looked like his eyes were pleading at Firestorm for help. Firestorm lies on the ground looking at the Senator and Multiplex, pummeled from the duploid’s assault. The teleportation bubble hums loudly and glows with pink energy. The bubble vanishes just as a cadre of Marines breaks through the office door!
“Move it and you’ll lose it, freak!” a Marine barks at Firestorm, aiming his rifle at the Nuclear Man. Looking around, the Marine yells “Hey! Where’s the Senator?” Getting to his feet, Ronnie asks if they’d believe that Reilly went pop like a bubble. He points at the Marines, and FZAM! An atomic restructuring burst turns their rifles into harmless gooey gray glop. While they react to the mess, Firestorm shoots skyward, lowering his molecular density to pass through the Capitol Dome.
“Clever, Ronald. Now we’ll have the entire U.S. military after us,” Stein remarks. Ronnie apologizes, and figures there has to be some connection between Multiplex and the Senate bill Reilly voted to pass. He wonders if his newspaper reporter Dad might have knowledge about the Hewitt Corporation. Stein agrees it is worth a try.
In the void, Ronnie says it is getting harder to remember. Stein urges him to keep at it, asking what happened next. Ronnie’s memories slowly recall that Firestorm then arrived at the office of the Daily Express. They split into their separate personas in an empty elevator, and Ronnie went up to the City Room where he found his Dad’s editor. Smoky cigar and coffee cup in hand, the editor tells Ronnie that his father left about 20 minutes ago and looked sick. He asks Ronnie to remind his Dad about copy deadlines. Ronnie wonders, what did you mean by sick? The editor explains that Ed Raymond is a workaholic. “Could be it’s getting to him,” the editor says, “or maybe it was that call…” The editor describes that just before Ed departed, he was working on an industrial safety piece for the Sunday View section. The editor heard Ed’s phone ring just when he passed his desk, and then overheard an odd conversation.
Answering the phone, Ed identified himself. Looking stressed, he says “What did you say? Who the hell is this? You’re damned right it matters! You leave my kid out of this - - he doesn’t know anything about - - Hello? Hello?!!” Ed slammed down the phone. His editor recalls that Ed Raymond isn’t the kind of guy you get close to, but something about the way he looked prompted the editor to offer an ear to bend to Ed. “They’re back,” Ed tells him, “fifteen years, they’ve been out of my life, and now they’re back!” Visibly upset, Ed stands and gestures with arms waving above his head as he speaks. The scene attracts attention from around the City Room. The editor asks who are “they?” Ed tells him forget it, and hastily puts on his suit jacket. Turning to leave, he announces “I’m fed up, understand? I’m finished with the whole damn thing!” He storms off. The editor asks where he is going, and Ed says home - - if he still has one.
Sipping his coffee, the editor finishes the story to Ronnie by suggesting Ed is on the raw edge and something about that call put him in a panic. Ronnie thanks him and goes out to the office hallway, where Martin Stein has been observing through the window. Stein can see that Ronnie looks terrified. “Something’s wrong, Professor,” Ronnie tells him, “Dad’s gone berserk.” Stein urges him to calm down, but Ronnie explains that it is his father they are talking about. Even though he gets on his case and sometimes they can’t stand each other, he still is his Dad. Stein asks if Ronnie has ever really tried talking with his Dad. Ronnie says almost, after the blow-up with Plastique, but somehow they just couldn’t connect. Stein mentions he is worried about Ronnie with all the pressures he is facing: Lorraine, Multiplex, and now his father. They transform into Firestorm and phase through a wall, flying off into the Manhattan skyline. Ronnie says “Don’t worry about me. I can handle myself. Right now, I’m more worried about Dad.”
Back in the void, Ronnie’s eyes look tired. He tells Stein that that is all he can remember. Everything else is just blank. They stand in the blackness, their forms the only recognizable shapes. Stein tries to help prod Ronnie’s memory, reminding him that he did remember transforming and leaving the newspaper building. He asks where they were going. Ronnie holds his hands to his head, still unable to recall and having difficulty thinking clearly. Stein suggests Ronnie picture them as Firestorm, just leaving the Daily Express, flying over Manhattan. Ronnie says he’s reaching for the memory, but it’s just not there.
Slowly, a memory of Firestorm flying low over single-family houses enters Ronnie’s mind. It startles him, and he covers his eyes. “Wow,” he says, “I had a flash just then. I could feel the wind in our face. I could see the houses whipping by below.” He tells Stein they were heading north, toward Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Stein asks why. The two face each other in the void. Ronnie says he was flying home. Stein encourages him to recall more, “Feel it, Ronald. Remember the wind. Remember the sounds of the traffic, the smells of the street.” Ronnie recalls that his heart was pounding and he was afraid.
“Why was I afraid, Professor? Even thinking about it makes my mouth go dry,” Ronnie says. Stein replies that it is his father Ronnie is worried about and asks Ronnie to tell him what he remembers. Flying into the neighborhood, Ronnie can see his house up ahead. There is someone on the front steps. Ronnie stops, not wanting to remember further. “Professor, I’m scared,” he says, “I don’t want to remember.” Stein can tell Ronnie is anticipating some terrible memory and asks why he is so frightened. The memory slowly forms in Ronnie’s mind. He’s there at home. He sees someone at his front door. “Dad?” he calls softly. The memory becomes overwhelming. “Please, I don’t want to see this - - I don’t want this to happen, Professor!” Ronnie fearfully says. He can’t reach his father. He can’t stop him. The vivid memory continues to play out in Ronnie’s mind as he calls out “Dad, please, please…”
Ed Raymond opens the front door. A massive explosion detonates in the house as the door swings open. He disappears in the fiery explosion! Ronnie, wide-eyed in the void, yells out “DAD!”
The forms of Stein and Ronnie become transparent in the void. As they shimmer in light, the void is cracking, breaking apart. Stein says “Forgive me, Ronald…but you had to remember. It was the only we could escape from this trap…this trap, inside your mind. Painful as it is, you must not deny the reality. You must accept it, Ronald. It happened as you remembered…only seconds ago…the explosion, your reaction, only seconds ago…”
The two transparent forms of Stein and Ronnie merge as the void breaks. As it breaks, they meld into their composite form, Firestorm. Ronnie’s face is agonized, overwhelmed by what he has just witnessed. He kneels in his front yard. His home is engulfed in flames from the devastating explosion. The body of his father lies near him on the ground. Trembling, crying, he calls out softly, “Dad, Dad…Who did it? Why did they do it? It’s real…it’s real…it’s real…”