Mikhail returns home to find his apartment in ruins. Lorraine continues to suffer after-effects from battling Brimstone. Mikhail locates his family at an emergency field hospital. Stalnoivolk attacks Firebird. Firestorm battles Stalnoivolk. Firebird senses a change in Firestorm as he questions his purpose. A massive explosion rocks Moscow.
*** This story is part of the Invasion storyline ***
The war - - the invasion - - has abated and the warrior is weary, body and soul. There wasn’t much choice on anyone’s part. A phone call drafted Ron by threatening to reveal Ron and Mikhail’s alter-ego…as Firestorm. So a strike force was made and the first battle was fought on a Pacific atoll. It led to a second battle in Australia. Which was followed by the latest one, out in space. And, with the help of unexpected allies, the invasion space fleet has been decimated and has, at last, surrendered. Earth has won, but, as always, there are casualties and prices to be paid. They are not always physical. Sometimes it is the price on the soul.
Firestorm hovers in space, reflecting on the invasion. “I am weary of war and yet - - what else am I good for?” he asks. “For what reason do I exist, if not for battle?”
“C’mon, Flamhead! What happened in Africa showed our potential!” Ron says.
“The debacle in Africa showed our limitations. That’s all,” Firestorm replies.
“Look at the stars! And I had never thought to see for myself the Earth as cosmonauts have!” Mikhail observes. “Is it not wonderful?”
“I see only shattered ships made into tombs,” Firestorm answers. He sits on a section of debris from an alien ship. “I wonder how many have died - - up here and below. How does your family fare, Mikhail Denisovitch Arkadin?” Firestorm asks.
“You’re right! While I dawdle selfishly, they may be hurt - - or dead!” Mikhail replies. “Please! We must go there now!”
“Easy, Mikhail! Our partner has a flame up his butt and he’s jerking your chain!” Ron says. “Let’s fission. That’ll get you back to your family fastest! I’ll stand ready to re-form the moment you call.”
Firestorm concentrates, and…FZAAM! Two fireballs break away as he disappears. Seconds later…FZAAP! Mikhail appears in his apartment.
“Nina! Irena! Sofia!” he calls. He looks around. His apartment is wrecked. “No!” he thinks fearfully. He looks and sees a huge hole in the apartment wall leading to the sky outside. “NO!” he thinks. He leans near the hole and looks outside. Buildings nearby show heavy damage, some partially collapsed.
“By all that’s holy..!” Mikhail gasps. “The force of the blast - - a bomb? Did this?” He looks and sees fragments of glass driven like daggers into the apartment wall. “Where was my family when this happened? Had they already left or - - ?”
Mikhail looks around at the upended and overturned furniture. He kneels near a bookshelf where there is a red stain on the floor. He dips his finger into the stain. “Blood!” he thinks nervously. He reaches for the phone and picks up the receiver. “The line is dead!” he worries. “Think! No bodies are here! If they are hurt, where would they be?” he asks himself. He opens the door and heads out into the hallway.
A fireball streaks over New York City. Seconds later…FZAAM! Ron appears in a burst of light. “Mom? Dad? I’m home!” he calls out.
He sees a note on a table in the living room. “Ron - - your father is off covering the invasion for his paper,” wrote Felicity. “If I’m not home, it means I’m putting in some extra time down at Starrware. Our boss has taken a couple of days leave of absence. There’s some cold chicken in the fridge if you’re hungry. Call me! - - Love, Mom.”
Ron crumples the note and tosses it over his shoulder. Wap! It bounces off the wall and falls to the floor. “Swell. You get home from saving the world and no one’s there,” he thinks. “I feel like the world’s first latch-key super-hero!”
Buzzzzzzt! The door buzzer sounds off and Ron walks to the door. “I thought the security guy downstairs - - whathisname? Garfield? - - was supposed to let us know when somebody was coming upstairs,” he thinks. “Oh well. Let’s see who it is.”
He opens the door. “R-Ron?” Lorraine says softly. Tears stream down her face and she looks very upset.
“Lorraine!” Ron blurts as she runs into his arms.
“I saw your energy trail over the city…figured you’d be coming here..!” she cries, snuggling her head against his chest. “Oh, Ron!”
“Lorraine! What is it? What’s happened?!” Ron asks in surprise.
“R-Remember…when I came out…to help you with Brimstone?” Lorraine explains. “I…I had to get out there fast, so I…I flew up high enough…take advantage of Earth’s spin. I got exposed to some radiation..! I think…I think I’ve got radiation poisoning, Ron! I think it’s killing me!”
“Oh God, Lorraine..!” Ron gasps.
Gorky Park. Emergency Field Hospital 407. “In here, Comrade Arkadin. Down the third row, beds 221 and 222,” Dr. Podgorny says as Mikhail pokes his head in the medical tent. “You will tell your brother Alexander how helpful I have been won’t you? Remember, my name is Podgorny. P-O-…”
Mikhail quickly walks inside. “Nina?! Nina?!” he cries out as he sees his family. “Nina! Thank the saints I have found you! Are you all right? Are the girls - - ?”
Irena and Sofia lie on the hospital bed. Nina leans over the bed. All three have visible bandages and wounds. “No,” Nina explains softly. “No, Mikhail, we are not. A bomb or something went off across the street from our apartment. Blew out all our windows. I was in the bedroom. Sofia was right by the windows when they exploded. The doctors fear she may lose both eyes.” Tears begin to run down here cheeks. “Mikhail - - where were you?”
“Nina, I’m so - - !” Mikhail starts to say.
“No!” Nina interrupts. “Please. Just tell me where you were.”
“I was part of - - you know..!” Mikhail answers.
“That is what I mean. Where was - - you know,” Nina replies.
“In the South Pacific. We were drafted into a sort of task force with other heroes..!” Mikhail explains.
“You should have been here, Mikhail,” Nina says, looking down at Sofia’s bandaged eyes and forehead.
“My love, we had no choice…We were fighting for the freedom of the Earth..!” Mikhail continues.
“Your country is here, your family is here, and both needed you!” Nina says angrily. “Shall I tell you Mikhail, how your daughter did not stop screaming until they filled her up with morphine? How she woke up screaming when the morphine wore off until I could find a doctor to give her some more?!?”
“Nina - - please - - stop! You are killing me!” Mikhail sobs.
“Go away, Mikhail,” Nina tells him.
“What?! But - - Nina with the children, you need me…!” Mikhail blurts through tears.
“I needed you, Mikhail. And you weren’t there,” Nina says, pushing him away. “Maybe, later…I don’t know…but for now…please go!”
Sadly, Mikhail stands and turns to walk away. He passes quietly among the many other injured people in the crowded tent. Then, a voice calls to him.
“Mr. Arkadin? Excuse me, Mr. Arkadin?” the voice asks softly.
“Yes?” Mikhail replies.
“It is I - - Feodor Petrovich Sorin. You know - - Vikhor? Soyuz!” Feodor says, shielding his mouth with his hand. “We…We need some help, sir. We were involved in the fighting and we got separated and now Serafina is missing.”
“What?! Are you all mad?! What were you thinking of?” Mikhail asks in shock.
“We - - We were just trying to help our country, sir..,” Feodor explains.
Mikhail eyes him closely for a moment. “Lead the way, little comrade,” he says.
Quickly, Feodor guides him out of the tent and into the rubble-strewn streets. “Tell me how you lost my niece…Feodor?” Mikhail asks.
“Yes. Except when I have my mask on. Then you must call me Vikhor,” Feodor replies. “Serafina says it is most important we keep our real identities secret. The KGB are everywhere.”
“I will try to keep that in mind. How did you lose my niece, Feodor?” Mikhail asks again.
“We began our attack over in the Marxa Prospect, near the Pushkin Museum,” Feodor explains. “It seemed so glorious at first, as we had seen in the heroic films.” Feodor remembers the five members of Soyuz bravely moving into battle. “But - - oh Comrade! They do not show you the blood! And they do not show you, in the movies, that it is not only soldiers who die. I saw old men and children no older than I, and babies and pregnant women, and puppies and cats - - all dead! They never told me they made war on babies!”
Feodor recalls discussions between the Soyuz members after a battle. “Serafina…Firebird…I am sorry!” Mashenka tells them. “I cannot deal with all the violence!”
“Shh, it’s okay,” Serafina reassures her. “You’re right. None of us are trained for war. We can’t do what the Rocket Reds or the Americans do. But there is something we can do. There are those - - the innocent - - trapped in the rubble. We can free them, get them to medical attention. That we can do, yes?”
“That is what we did,” Feodor explains to Mikhail. “Serafina helped us find those trapped. Rusalka put out the fires and Perun took care of the power lines. I cleared away rubble and Morosko helped the people or worked with Rusalka. She is really rather wonderful - - your niece. She brought us together in the first place and helped us bond together in the face of war so we could help others. And she is so beautiful..!”
“Does she know you are in love with her?” Mikhail asks.
“Ohhh…I’m too young for her to think of me like that,” Feodor sighs. “You won’t tell her, will you?”
“You can tell her yourself…after we find her,” Mikhail suggests. “Where was it you last saw her?”
“Around here,” Feodor says, pointing ahead. “We had gotten separated. Serafina was keeping us in contact with one another mentally, and then we heard - - felt - - her scream! By the time we got back, Serafina was gone. All we saw was one of the alien invaders - - dead. His head had been smashed. It was really gross.”
Feodor leads Mikhail into a debris-covered street. “When the aliens surrendered, we thought Serafina would show up, but she hasn’t!” Feodor continues. “We split up to check emergency medical centers, to see if we could find her. That’s when I saw you. We don’t know what else to do…”
Mikhail leans down and rests his hand on Feodor’s shoulder. “Find the other members of Soyuz. See if they have learned anything,” Mikhail instructs. “Rendezvous in costume near Red Square so I know where to find you if I need you.”
“What will you do?” Feodor asks.
“Firestorm sees in other spectrums besides light. He may be able to pick up something,” Mikhail explains. “Find the others. Do not fail me, Comrade!”
“Trust me! I will not! Good hunting!” Feodor says. He turns and runs off.
Elsewhere…the Wolf pauses as he hunts. He sees red fabric and clears away some debris. Firebird lies motionless at his feet.
What is it he hunts? It is hard to remember; his mind feels so clouded. Enemies. He hunts his enemies. The enemies of his land. They came to his bed. He remembers now. They came to him for help.
The Steelwolf remembers lying in a hospital bed. “Comrade Zastrow - - I must protest!” a doctor argues. “This man has only emerged from coma this morning! He is far from well!”
Zastrow sits next to the Steelwolf, clad in his fedora and smoking his ever-present cigarette. “He awoke because he felt his country’s need for him. And that need is paramount!” Zastrow replies.
The Steelwolf tries to look at Zastrow, but he sees the image of Stalin looking back at him. “Do you hear, Gort?” Stalin asks. “The wolves are at the gate and I need my Steelwolf. Will you fail me?”
“…Never Master! I will never fail you!” the Steelwolf replies.
So they unleashed their hound of war to fight the alien invader. To fight the Hun. He is his country’s hero. It doesn’t matter the enemy or the time - - they are all the same to Gort. He is Stalnoivolk - - the first and last of his breed. And she - - this child is his enemy? It is so difficult to think, but - - yes, Gort thinks she must be. Some small whispering voice tells him she is. What matter if she is a child? He has killed children before.
Gort reaches down and wraps his massive hands around Serafina’s neck. Then…SCHRAK! A fireball lands next to Gort and a voice calls to him from the flame. “Put the child down, Stalnoivolk,” Firestorm orders. “This is not a request.” Firestorm emerges from the flames, glaring fiercely at Stalnoivolk. A small fireball and mushroom cloud forms on Firestorm’s palm.
Him! Gort may not remember the name but he knows - - this is his true enemy! And Stalnoivolk’s enemies die!
Stalnoivolk’s eyes widen and he lunges at Firestorm! The two combatants collide and fly through the air. Firestorm turns immaterial and grapples Stalnoivolk, forcing him down. WHOMP! Stalnoivolk smashes hard onto the street as Firestorm passes below the surface. “Last time we did that we nearly killed him,” Mikhail says quickly. “I had thought we were agreed not to do that.”
“The speed and the height were far less this time. I’m only seeking to disable him,” Firestorm explains as he resurfaces. Nearby, Stalnoivolk gets back to his feet.
“Uhhhh…guys? I don’t think that did the trick,” Ron observes.
“GRRRRRAAHHR!” Stalnoivolk snarls. He lunges into the air at Firestorm, passing right over and landing hard on the street again.
“So what’s the plan? We stay intangible and try to wear him down?” Mikhail asks.
“Why not?” Ron asks.
“He is a warrior. So am I. So we must do what warriors do in war. One must kill the other,” Firestorm says.
“No. His mind is clouded and confused. He doesn’t know past from present. He sees only enemies,” Serafina calls to Firestorm. She stands near Stalnoivolk. “He saved me from an alien he doesn’t even remember,” she continues. “All he knows is pain. He doesn’t deserve to die.”
“He will kill you now!” Firestorm warns her.
“No. I have his mind,” she says, standing calmly next to Stalnoivolk. “The war is over, Stalnoivolk,” she tells him. “You have triumphed. Take the rest you have earned. Rest, faithful one. My Steelwolf. Sleep.”
Gort sees only the image of Stalin speaking to him. “UHHHN!” he groans. WHUMP! He falls unconscious to the street.
“He sleeps now,” Serafina explains to Firestorm. “His injuries have taken a terrible toll. His mind a terrible place of cold chaos. I’m not sure when, if ever, he will really recover.”
She walks over to Firestorm and reaches her hand to his face. “You are also suffering,” she tells him. “You are changed, Firestorm, since we last met, and I don’t think for the better.”
“The world has changed me,” Firestorm replies, turning away from her.
“Because you could not change the world,” Serafina continues, reaching a hand to his shoulder. “You have such immense powers, but there are limits to them, and that bothers you. You define yourself only by your powers. Even Stalnoivolk does not do that.”
“All I am is my powers. They define my entire life - - my very existence!” Firestorm explains through tears. “He, you, my component parts - - you all have lives outside of your powers. I exist only to use my powers.”
“I think you’re wrong,” Serafina replies. “I sense something within you that is more than just my uncle and the two Americans. There is something else there - - at the core of your being.”
“What? What is it?” Firestorm asks quickly, turning to her.
“I don’t know. I can’t get a fix on it. But there is something there,” Serafina replies.
Firestorm picks up the limp form of Stalnoivolk in one arm and wraps his other arm around Serafina. He lifts them both into the air. “Come. We’ll take Gort to medical aid and then you to see your friends,” he explains.
A few minutes later, Gort lies on a stretcher being taken into a medical tent. “Take good care of that man, Comrade Doctor. That is…”
“I know what he is - - the Butcher of Georgia!” the doctor blurts nervously.
“That may be true - - but today he is also a war hero. Treat him as such,” Firestorm continues.
Shortly after, Serafina and Firestorm reunite with the other members of Soyuz. “Vikhor was right. You are truly something special, little Firebird,” Firestorm says. “You have given me much to think on.”
Suddenly, something high overhead catches Firestorm’s eye. He and the others look up. “That flash! What is that - - ?” Firestorm asks. Instantly, the sky explodes!