At Vandemeer University, Dr. Emily Rice's press conference is interrupted by a ghost from the past. Following battle with the Zuggernaut, Firestorm releases Ronnie and Mikhail only to find himself somehow warped into the time-stream void with the ghost from Vandemeer: Professor Rikkard Rynders. Richard Dare informs Ronnie of Stalnoivolk's mission. Rynders, trapped in an endless existence as the Flying Dutchman of Time, schemes to use Firestorm to release himself. In Moscow, KGB Special Prosecutor Soliony threatens Mikhail and Nina Arkadin.
“SDI – the Strategic Defense Initiative. A planned series of military satellites designed to ensure the safety and freedom of this country,” Dr. Emily Rice announces from the podium of a press conference. “We here at Vandemeer University are proud to have been selected one of the schools to begin experiments connected with the SDI Initiative. I am Professor Emily Rice, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Let me introduce to you members of the press the other distinguished name at the dais today.”
“Bree Daniels, star reporter,” thinks Bree, adjusting her camera equipment. “Hope I’ve got this idiot camera loaded right.” She looks out the window at a small group of students. “If there were more protestors than the handful outside, the real story might be out there. Or is the real story that there aren’t more protestors?”
“SDI is a lie!” yells a student outside through a megaphone. “It won’t make us safer! It’ll only make the world more dangerous!”
“Look at that. Fifteen or twenty years ago, you’d have had most of the student body out there. Look at it today,” a reporter tells a colleague as they both look out at the protestors.
“Ahh, someone should tell those brats the sixties are over!” his colleague answers.
Suddenly, the lights go out and the room plunges into darkness. “Hey!” a voice calls out in surprise.
“Where’s the lights?” asks another.
“Okay, whose hand is that?” someone asks.
“Omigawd,” gasps Dr. Rice. A man pushes his way on stage and grabs one of the model satellites above the podium. KRUNK! He crushes it in his hand. “Rikkard!” Dr. Rice whispers, trying to shield the podium’s microphone with her hand.
FASH! Bree’s flashbulb blinks brightly as she captures a picture of Rikkard.
The lights abruptly come back on. “Who turned the lights back on?” someone asks.
“Who turned them out?” another asks.
A police officer walks on stage and approaches Dr. Rice. “Do you have any idea who or what that was?” he asks her.
“…No..,” Dr. Rice answers.
“Probably connected with those demonstrators outside!” a reporter suggests.
Bree watches Dr. Rice carefully. “I saw your expression, Dean Rice, and you’re lying. Let’s see. What would Clark Kent do in a case like this?” Bree thinks.
Doreen Day stands watching the news at her dorm. “…while a spokesman for the demonstrators said they had no part in smashing the model, they were in sympathy with those who did. Ron?” an on-site reporter explains from the Vandemeer campus.
“Thanks, Marlene,” replies the studio anchor as the screen cuts to show him. “There have been no leads regarding the disappearance of Pittsburgh Police Chief Bernard Ferguson. Officials fear that Ferguson, who has been missing for more than a week now, may be dead.”
“Oh no…Noooo!” Doreen thinks. “That was just after I told him about Ronnie being Firestorm! Could that have anything to do with his disappearance? That’s silly! Ronnie wouldn’t hurt anyone! But who knows what happened out in the desert?! I don’t even know if Ronnie is Firestorm anymore! What if he did kill Ferguson?! What…What if he comes after me next?!”
We jump back a few hours now…to the end of the battle between Firestorm and the Zuggernaut, as seen last issue. Patience, there’s a method to our madness.
“Our foe…departs. Should we…pursue?” Firestorm asks himself. He pushes himself up from the ground that is covered in rubble from the collapsed building. Behind him, the Zuggernaut runs away.
“Nyet! Please! I must be allowed to return to my cell before they discover I am gone!” warns the subconscious voice of Mikhail Arkadin.
“As you…wish..,” Firestorm answers.
FASSHHH! The two halves that make up the physical being of Firestorm depart, yet a question remains: What of the mind of this new Firestorm? Where does it go? Where does it slumber while waiting to be called again? Were we to follow it, we might learn. This time, however, it goes awry!
“What…is this place?” Firestorm asks. He stands on a cloud-like void with windy waves of blue streaking around him.
“Do you not truly know, Firestorm? Do you not know me?” a voice calls out from behind him. Firestorm turns to see Rikkard approaching through the winds. “I am the Flying Dutchman of Time and you have stumbled into the time stream!” Rikkard explains.
New York. “There. That seems to have stopped the bleeding. Fortunately, it was not very deep,” Felicity Raymond explains. She and Ronnie sit on the couch as she finishes bandaging the wound caused by the Zuggernaut on Ronnie’s right side. “Did you get into a knife fight with one of the busboys, Ron, or is this a result of Firestorm?” she asks.
“It was the flame-topped bozo, Mom,” Ronnie sighs. “I think I can kiss that dishwasher job goodbye, too. Mikhail formed us this time and I dropped about a million dollars worth of dishes.”
Ronnie thinks of the vicious fight between Firestorm and the Zuggernaut. “Flame-Top wound up in Moscow, sparring with an alien-looking creature called the Zuggernaut,” he explains. “I think that’s what it was called. We made it run away but not before the creep tagged us pretty good with a bone spur. I guess Mikhail and I inherit whatever lumps Fireclown accumulates. Actually, it’s Mikhail I’m really worried about. He’s in Dutch with the KGB. There’s this one guy – prosecutor named Soliony - - who’s real suspicious of Mikhail and is making his life real miserable. He’s real scared, Mom. How do I help him? He’s half the world away from me!”
Felicity gently rests her hand on Ronnie shoulder. “We’ll talk with your father when he gets home. Maybe he’ll have an idea,” she says reassuringly.
Knock-knock! Someone bangs on the apartment door. “Now who’s that?” Felicity asks. She walks over and opens the door. Richard Dare quickly walks in.
“Grandpa Dare?” Ronnie asks in surprise.
“Thank God, you’re all right!” Dare exclaims as he rushes over to Ronnie. “Ron, put your shirt on and gather your things! We have to leave immediately! Where’s my son?”
“It’s a workday, Mr. Dare,” Felicity explains, scowling at him. “Where do you think he would be? He’s at the newspaper…”
“Call him, tell him to meet us at the address I’ll give you. He and I don’t…speak much,” Dare answers.
“Why should he?” Felicity asks. “The first time in his life he met you was a few hours before he and I got married! You were trying to kill him at the time, blaming him for the death of his mother!”
“We resolved that misunderstanding, as you’ll recall,” Dare replies. “None of you may like me but you had all better listen to me. There is a man I met briefly during the War, a Russian super-hero named Stalnoivolk, which translates into Steel Wolf. He’s coming for Ronald. Stalnoivolk is immensely strong, utterly ruthless, and he has killed a great many people. What he and his Russian masters want with Ron, I don’t know, but the boy is in terrible danger and I intend to get you all to a place of safety while I can!”
“Are they aware that you and the Russian are Firestorm?” Felicity whispers to Ronnie.
“Mikhail says they suspect him but have no idea about me! He’s been trying to protect me,” Ronnie whispers back.
“Stalnoivolk used to pop the heads of Germans in their helmets just for fun!” Dare continues. “Unless you care to sample one of his neck rubs, I’d suggest you move your butts!”
“I’ll phone Ed!” Felicity replies as she walks towards the telephone.
“I’ll pack!” Ronnie says, pulling on his shirt.
In the street outside the Raymond’s apartment building, Major Zastrow and Josef Gort stand together. “This is the address. Surveillance has indicated the boy now lives with his parents,” Zastrow explains. “The apartment is the third one from the left, three floors down from the top. I will take the lead in questioning, Comrade Gort. If the boy needs some convincing to tell us whatever his connection is with this Firestorm, you will provide the encouragement. Is this plain?”
“It is too complicated. We will use my method,” Gort answers as he pushes past Zastrow.
“What?!” Zastrow blurts. “Gort! No! We do not want to create an incident!” Gort leaps into the air, quickly rising hish above Zastrow. “GORT!!!” Zastrow yells anxiously.
“Ed, I know what you think of your father but the danger he’s talking about may be real..!” Felicity explains over the phone.
THADOOM! Suddenly, the apartment wall explodes inward! From a huge hole in the wall, a giant man walks in. Felicity drops the phone. “I am Stalnoivolk,” the man announces. “You will be surrendering to me the creature Firestorm.”
“Felicity, what’s going on?! Felicity?!?” Ed’s voice crackles over the phone.
Vandemeer University. Dr. Rice pours herself a drink in her apartment. Knock-knock! Someone bangs on her door. “Damn!” she thinks. “Who is it?” she asks.
“Bree Daniels, Dean Rice. I’m with the student newspaper,” Bree answers. Dr. Rice walks over and opens her door.
“I didn’t know your middle name was Littela,” Bree says.
“I was named for an aunt,” Dr. Rice explains. “Ms. Daniels, I’ve had a hard day and I am in no mood…”
“I just wanted to ask you a few questions about Professor Rikkard Rynders, Dean Rice,” Bree continues. “Dean Rice?”
“Please…Come in, won’t you, Ms. Daniels?” Dr. Rice answers.
“Thank you! I will,” Bree replies as she walks inside.
“What do you want to know about Professor Rynders, Ms. Daniels? And why?” Dr. Rice asks.
“I was at the press conference today, y’know?” Bree explains. “Even got a picture of what appeared to be a ghost.” She hands Dr. Rice a copy of the photo she took at the press conference. “This picture. The image rang a bell,” she continues. “See, I just joined the paper recently, Dean Rice. And I was doing research for a series of articles on how we were in the old days - - twenty years ago.”
Bree pulls an old copy of the Vandermeer University Express newspaper out of her folder and holds it up. “Professor Rynders Dead!” announces the huge headline. “I remembered this edition about a radical professor who was opposed to any military presence on campus and how he died in some freak accident,” Bree explains. “I don’t believe in ghosts, Dean, but I do believe in special effects. You were the Professor’s graduate assistant back then, Dean, and I think you rigged what happened today, covertly championing your mentor’s cause.”
“Hahahaha!” laughs Dr. Rice. “Ohh, if it only were that simple! I’ll tell you nothing for attribution, Ms. Daniels. However, if you’d like to hear the whole story of me and my demon Professor, off the record, I’d be willing to satisfy your curiosity.”
“Sure,” Bree nods.
In the time-stream… “Truly, then, you do not know me?” Rikkard asks Firestorm. “For you, this is the first time we have met?”
“In…my other life…perhaps we have met,” Firestorm answers.
“I think not. I think, instead, this is what we call an anomaly,” Rikkard explains. “Our other meetings that I have experienced in my time line still lie in the future for you. We have been enemies, you and I, and also sometimes friends, for I have changed many times during my captivity here.”
“I do not…understand,” Firestorm replies.
“I am adrift here, you see, passing from one end of time to the other with no escape. So I call myself the Flying Dutchman, as in the legend. How this came to be, I will show you. Focus your mental energy with mine, please,” Rikkard continues.
An image of Vandemeer’s campus appears in the swirling mists of time. Rikkard and Firestorm walk towards it. “This, I think, is the time. We will walk through it, you and I,” Rikkard directs. “No one will see us. We shall be as shadows upon the age. All that you see shall be quite real but we - - unfortunately - - will not.”
Firestorm and Rikkard walk near a group of students gathered to protest the Vietnam War on the campus courtyard. The Professor Rynders of that time speaks to the group. “There has never been a generation like you!” Rynders tells the group. “They fear you, those who make policy, and they are right to fear you! Your numbers make you strong and your convictions make you powerful! Never never never surrender the moral principles you have discovered! Love must be stronger than war!!”
Rikkard and Firestorm stand watching. “As you see, so I was - - a fool among fools in the ‘60’s,” Rikkard explains to Firestorm.
Dr. Rice looks over the old newspaper article. “Rikkard was born in Holland but came as a boy to Pittsburgh during World War Two. He was on tenure here at Vandemeer and became radicalized by the ‘Revolution’,” Dr. Rice explains to Bree. “I wasn’t just his graduate assistant - - I was his lover. All the men I’ve ever loved have been brilliant if erratic. My God, you should’ve seen me back in those days! Young, naïve, and so very sure of myself, with no real idea of how young and naïve I was. Much like you, my dear.”
Rikkard and Firestorm walk to Professor Rynders’ laboratory. Professor Rynders and Emily Rice work inside. “I had come to the conclusion that time-travel was a matter not of physics but of the consciousness. Via the astral self, utilizing psychedelic drugs, I had made several trips through time,” Rikkard explains to Firestorm. “It irritated me that none of my colleagues believed my successes without demonstrable, verifiable proof. Those machines were to record my neural impulses so that what I experienced, others could see. Thus, the fashion of folly.”
“Rik, are you sure this is really safe?” Emily asks Rynders.
“Of course not. That is why first I test it, eh?” Rynders answers.
“Gods! What an arrogant, patronizing fool I was!” Rikkard exclaims to Firestorm as they watch.
“God, sometimes he was such an arrogant, patronizing fool!” Dr. Rice tells Bree. “I sometimes wonder today why I ever put up with him. I was in love with him, of course. He was fascinating…virile. He was Vandemeer’s answer to Timothy Leary.”
“Who?” Bree asks.
“Never mind. Something went wrong with the experiment,” Dr. Rice continues.
“I’ve watched this thousands of times, I’ve tried to stop myself, to no avail,” Rikkard tells Firestorm. They watch as Professor Rynders sits in a large chair covered with wires and electrodes. Emily works nearby, adjusting controls on the device.
“I went voyaging to the beginning of time,” Rikkard tells Firestorm. “All the wonders that I passed were nothing to me. I lingered over no single marvel, so determined was I to reach the primal big bang that began our universe and see if anything, perhaps, lay beyond that.”
Images of Professor Rynders moving through time in a purple aura are seen on Emily’s monitor screen. He passes by dogfighting World War One fighters. Moving further and further back in time, an image of a large hand reaching out from a blue and black surface appears. The purple aura of Professor Ryndersd moves towards the hand.
“But it is true, what they say. Some things are not meant for us to know,” Rikkard tells Firestorm. “The universe has ways of concealing its secrets.”
“AAAAAGGGHHH!” Professor Rynders cries out in the time-travel chair.
“It’s shorting out! My God!!!” Emily shrieks. “Rikkard!” WHOMP! The control monitor explodes, knocking Emily to the floor. Fire bursts out and envelops Professor Rynders! “No! Nooo! AAAIIIEEE!” Emily yells in horror as she runs for her life.
“I do not blame Emily for fleeing. She thought me dead,” Rikkard tells Firestorm. “My body’s ceasing to be cast me adrift in the time-stream! But you might save me!”
“How?” Firestorm asks.
“As I cannot change my own past, I am blocked from entering my own body now! But you are not!” Rikkard explains. He reaches an arm around Firestorm’s shoulder. “You can enter my body and set it free with your powers.”
“I am…incomplete. I derive my powers from others not in this time frame,” Firestorm replies.
“You must try!!!!” Rikkard cries out. He shoves Firestorm into Professor Rynders, seated on the time-travel chair. Incredibly, Rynders’ body absorbs Firestorm!
“Dutchman! What have you done?!” the voice of Firestorm asks from Rynder’s mouth.
“You will save me from my doom or share it, Firestorm,” Rikkard replies.
“DUTCHMAAAAN!!!” Firestorm yells. FWOOOSH!
Moscow. Serafina Arkadin and several companions walk towards Lubyanka Square. “No, Serafina Arkadin. It’s too dangerous,” her friend Mashenka warns her.
“It was dangerous the first time we acted as Soyuz and rescued Ilya, Mashenka Medvienko!” Serafina explains. “Now it is not your boyfriend who is endangered but my Uncle and his family! They are as important to me as Ilya is to you!”
“I will help, Serafina!” her friend Feodor tells her.
“Thank you, Feodor Piotrovich. What of the rest of you? Igor?”
“My sister’s right. We were lucky last time. This time we’d probably be not so lucky. It’s the State we’re up against, anyway,” Mashenka’s boyfriend tells them.
Igor pulls Mashenka to him. “Mashenkuska, I…I’m sorry, my love. I have to help Serafina, don’t you see?’ he asks her. “She did not turn her back on me when I need help, did she?”
“Ah, well. The world will probably blow itself to pieces in a few years anyway, eh? So why live cautiously?” asks Igor. “Mashenka and I are with you, Serafina.”
“Thank you, my friends, one and all. This is where he’s being held,” Serafina answers. She points to a building just ahead.
“Serafina, that’s KGB Headquarters,” Igor replies.
Inside. Soliony interrogates Mikhail Arkadin as several agents observe. “This wound you have, Comrade Arkadin. It’s in the same place the Firestorm creature was wounded. How did you get it, Comrade?” Soliony asks.
“Shaving,” Mikhail explains.
“Haha! You still have your sense of humor, Comrade! A good Russian trait!” Soliony answers. “Let’s see how far it extends, shall we? Guard! Bring in Mrs. Arkadin!”
A door opens and an agent wrestles Nina Arkadin into the room. She struggles against his tight grip. “Mikhail!!!” she cries out when she sees her husband.
“Nina!” blurts Mikhail. “Are you all right? How are the children?”
“Bring the woman over here,” Soliony directs the guard as he opens a window. Soliony quickly grabs Nina and shoves her head out the window! “The next joke is on you, Comrade!” Soliony snarls. “I will push your wife out the window. If you do not become Firestorm, she will die. Why are you not laughing?”
“MIKHAIL!!!” Nina shrieks.
“DON’T!!!” Mikhail yells, leaping up from his chair. Agents quickly grab Mikhail and restrain him tightly. “Where is he? The one time I need Firestorm, where is he?” Mikhail thinks anxiously.
“Perhaps you do not believe I would do this, eh, Comrade? You’re wrong,” Soliony tells him. He leans against Nina and suddenly, she falls! “Oops! She fell!” Soliony blurts in shock.
“AAAAAAAA!” Nina screams as she falls.
“NINA!!!” Mikhail yells in horror.
Flames surround Professor Rynders. “Dutchman! I’m burning!!!!!” Firestorm yells in agony!