Firestorm gets a surprising reaction from Firehawk after they battle with Brimstone. Firestorm struggles with understanding the purpose of his existence. Ron and Mikhail seek a way for the three of them to leave productive lives both separately and together. Felicity Smoak-Raymond interviews for a position with Starrware. Ed Raymond accepts an assignment to travel to Africa to report on the famine occurring there. Ron thinks Africa would be a perfect opportunity to use Firestorm's powers for making positive change. Ed and Ron travel to Ogaden in Africa. At a refugee camp, they meet Jama and hear his story of survival. Deeply moved by Jama's story, Ron summons Firestorm to Africa.
Firestorm and Firehawk are locked in a tight embrace and kiss passionately after defeating Brimstone. “Hey-hey-hey!” Ron compliments Firestorm. “Way to go, Flamehead!”
“No! Wait! This is wrong! I…we…I am a married man!” blurts Mikhail.
Suddenly, Firehawk pushes Firestorm away. “Uhn!” she cries out as she shoves him. WHAM! She whips a right hand punch across his face!
“No!!!” Firestorm yells. “Why did you do that?”
“Where I come from, buster, you ask first, then kiss!” Firehawk explains. She leaps into the air and flies down to the base of the Hoover Dam. Firestorm flies closely behind.
“But…I thought…you and I…we are two of a kind…so should we not..?” Firestorm asks confusedly.
“You assumed a lot and you didn’t think at all! Leave me alone!” Firehawk tells him as she flies off. Firestorm lands and stares up at her as she goes.
“Smooth, Flamehead, real smooth!” Ron chides.
“A woman’s regard must be earned not seized!” Mikhail adds. “Of what were you thinking?”
“What else can you expect?!” Firestorm says in frustration. “What experience of life have I? Dribs and drabs are all that I’m given and those are mostly filled with battle! I have all these powers and use them only for violence!” Lava geysers erupt in several spots near his feet. He looks up into the sky, stretching his arms wide over his head. “Where are my friends!?” he asks. “Where is my love?! WHERE - - IS - - MY - - LIFE?!?”
“Stolen from our lives,” Ron explains. “We can exist without you. You cannot exist without us.”
“We need to consider his words,” Mikhail suggests. “After all, we are like a collective. We need to ask, ‘What benefits the greatest number?’”
“Bullhockey!” Ron argues. “I’ve got a right to my own life! And I don’t feel like asking yours or anyone else’s permission on how I choose to live it!”
“Please!” Firestorm interjects. “All I ask is a semblance of life that is not struggle, where I can do something positive with our powers.”
“Well…I guess that’s not unreasonable,” Ron thinks.
“It is the very least we could do,” Mikhail adds.
“Then I’ll release you both and hopefully one of you will find something we can all agree is worth doing,” Firestorm tells them. FZAAM! Instantly, two fireballs appear streaking up into the sky.
FZAAP! Ron appears in an elevator at S.T.A.R. Labs. The alarm dings as the elevator arrives on the first floor. “Hrumphphph! ‘Bout time!” complains a lab tech. He walks in, joining Ron, and punches the button for the fifth floor.
“Excuse me, is this elevator going up or down?” Ron asks.
“Didn’t you bother to look before you got on?” the man asks.
“That was awhile ago,” Ron explains. The elevator arrives at the fifth floor. “Oh, wow. I want to go down,” Ron says, smacking his head with his hand.
The man steps off the elevator and eyes Ron suspiciously. “Why do they let lab specimens wander the halls?” he thinks.
SPAKOW! Mikhail’s fireball races above the Pacific. FZAAM! He reappears in his Moscow apartment. Nina leaps from her chair to hug him. “Nina! How are the girls?” Mikhail asks. “I disappeared in front of them..!”
“What do you think happened? They became hysterical!” Nina replies.
“By the saints! I couldn’t control this one - - !” Mikhail explains. He sits on a chair and Nina sits on his lap.
“Hush, my love. Hush, my dove,” she answers. “I explained to them that their father was like the Firebird about which he had been reading to them, and warned them they must tell no one. They sleep now…”
“Thank you, my love,” Mikhail says as he takes her hand in his. “I couldn’t bear it if they feared me. We must plan, Nina. I have promised the Firestorm creature some semblance of his own life.”
“You also need a semblance of a life,” Nina tells him. “Alexander called. He thinks he may have found you a teaching position.”
Mikhail closes his eyes. “Ahh, Nina…Will our lives ever be truly our own again?” he asks.
Ron heads back to the hotel room after leaving S.T.A.R. Labs. He arrives there and tells his father and step-mother of recent developments. “…so, basically, we’ve promised to help get a life for Flamehead,” Ron explains. “I suppose the question is, what do we find for him to do that’s positive?”
“I may have an idea,” Ed suggests. “I’ve got an assignment if I want it: To go to East Africa and do a report on the new drought and famine there. Maybe your alter-ego could make use of his transmuting powers and do something to actually help correct it.”
“Yeahhhh…That’s the ticket!” Ron replies happily. “It’s exactly what we were talking about! But can you rig it, Dad?”
“I think so,” Ed answers. “My editors owe me. I’ll get ‘em to make you my research assistant, set up your passport and visa, pay you a stipend.”
“I’ve got a job interview tomorrow and if I get it, and I think I will, I wouldn’t be able to go anyway,” Felicity tells them.
“You’re going back to work?” Ron asks her.
“Ron, I’m not June Cleaver,” Felicity replies. “I’m not doing milk and cookies for you and your Dad all my life. I had a thriving business in computer software once, remember?”
“Ummm…Yeah. So where’s this job?” Ron asks.
“With Starrware. Tomorrow morning, I’m meeting with its President, Karen Starr,” Felicity explains.
The next day, Felicity sits in Karen Starr’s office. “Ms. Smoak-Raymond, I think you may be exactly what we’re looking for,” Karen says. “Starrware has just fought off a hostile takeover effort and frankly, I’ve found I’ve been spreading myself too thin.”
“I understand. It’s one of the problems of modern women - - trying to do everything at the same time,” Felicity replies. “The temptation to fall into the superwoman syndrome.”
“Ye-es,” Karen agrees. “I’ve sometimes run into that very problem. I can’t run the company and develop the software at the same time. That is why I need a business manager.” She stands up at her desk and reviews Felicity’s resume. “I note that you had your own software company until it was…accidentally ruined by Firestorm,” she notes. “You subsequently sued him, didn’t you? Tell me…Do you hold any animosity towards metahumans? I’m just curious. It would be understandable if you did.”
“No, no. I made my peace with Firestorm awhile ago,” Felicity replies. “In fact, I think they serve a valuable function in society. I daresay most of us cannot begin to conceive of the private problems they face as a result of their powers.”
Karen walks around in front of her desk and sits on it. “I daresay. Well, the only question I have left for you is - - how soon can you start?” she asks.
“By the end of the week, I think. Would that do?” Felicity replies with a smile.
“Admirably. Let me introduce you around while you’re here today,” Karen says. She leads Felicity out of her office.
“I’d like that,” Felicity explains. She looks over her attractive new boss. “I wonder if you’re too old for Ron?” she thinks.
Ron and Lorraine sit together at her apartment. “…Dad’s paper is pulling strings and getting me set up with all the passport and visa stuff that we’ll need. We head out by the end of the week,” Ron explains.
“That’s wonderful, Ron! It’s a great opportunity!” Lorraine replies. “And by the time you get back, everything should be set up at Vandermeer.”
“Yeah,” Ron says. “Look, the real reason I came over here was to thank you for coming to my…our help with Brimstone. And to apologize for Flamehead. He’s not real hip on the social graces yet. Part of the purpose of this trip is to help smooth out his rough edges.”
“It’s okay, Ron. It just took me by surprise,” Lorraine answers. “And - - I’m not sure I’m as attracted to him as I once was. He’s kinda geeky looking. In any case, it wasn’t your fault.”
“Welll…I’m not so sure of that,” Ron counters. “I think, deep down, Flamehead was doing what I wanted to.”
“Then maybe you should,” Lorraine says.
Ron leans over and kisses her. “Wow! Oh, wow!” Ron says with a smile. “Lorraine? Uhhh….I would really like to stay, but I promised Dad I’d…”
“That’s okay. Come over when you get back,” Lorraine answers. Ron gets up and Lorraine follows him to the door.
“Lorraine? You’re okay, right? I mean, you look like you’ve been sick or something..,” Ron asks, noticing faint dark circles under her eyes.
“Just overextended myself with Brimstone,” she explains. “I’ll be okay. See you when you get back.” Ron turns and heads for the elevator. Lorraine closes the door and leans against it. “I hope that’s all I did!” she thinks with concern.
Three days, a hurried-up passport and visa, and a series of shots later, Ron and his Dad are on their way. Their Boeing 707 cruises high above the Atlantic on its transcontinental flight. Ed pulls out a map of their destination. “The place we’re going to, Ogaden, lies here, just south of Ethiopia. Was a part of it at one time,” he explains. “Even after independence, the majority of fertile land was owned by a few families, especially the Renamos - - who also ran the country. In ’68, they were tossed out by Lieutenant Colonel Haile Frelimo, who declared a socialist state. This triggered off the civil war they’ve been fighting for the past twenty years.”
“So what’s causing the famine?” Ron asks.
“In part, East Africa’s also been hit by a series of droughts. The topsoil is literally blowing away. The water table is drying up,” Ed answers.
“That’s where Flamehead may come in!” Ron replies. “I’ve alerted Mikhail. He agrees - - this is something we should do! Maybe restore a physical balance to the land! Then all they have to worry about is the political balance.”
The jet lands at Harar International Airport in eastern Ethiopia. Soon, Ed and Ron find themselves riding in a convoy of American Red Cross relief trucks heading for Ogaden.
This is Jama’s child. She is not a year old. She will not live to a year. And Jama thinks how much better to have been like his ancestors - - to have lived and died as a warrior, as a lion, than to be as he is. Jama thinks he would cry for his child who will die - - the last of his children. He would cry if he had tears, if this angry land permitted him tears. He sits cradling his frail little girl in his arms.
BEEP! BEEP! BROAAARR! The loud sound of the convoy of relief trucks approaches. Sister Agnes stands in her nun’s habit directing the relief workers as the trucks pull to a stop. “Bien. Unload the foodstuffs over there,” she instructs. “Mustafa, when the trucks are unload, you take back, oui? Bien. One only leave for us. You have another camp to which you must go tomorrow.”
Ron and his Dad exit their truck and walk toward Sister Agnes. She stands with a large gathering of people. “Good God!” Ed gasps as he sees them. Standing in a line that extends as far as he can see is a line of emaciated, downcast, and desperate people waiting for help.
“That God is good, I do not doubt,” Sister Agnes says. “Of some of his handiwork, I am less sure.” She walks over to greet Ed and Ron and the others. “You know, all through here, through Tanzania and Kenya to the south, they find the oldest human bones,” she explains. “They call this area the cradle of man. You have come to see, oui? And tell your people what you have seen? Tell them what has become of Eden.”
First, there is work to the done: Unloading the trucks. Ed and Ron do more than just observe. The ration, when the system is working, is 22 pounds of grain, 2.2 pounds of cooking oil and 2.2 pounds of beans per person per month - - less than the required caloric intake. Refugees often eat their half-monthly allotment in the first five days. Certain diseases have traditionally accompanied famine - - among them typhus, cholera, and the plague - - and with famine’s prolongation, the incidences of these diseases will rise. As food is restored, the adult can recover quickly, with no lasting aftereffects. The young are not so resilient and can be mentally impaired and stunted in the height and weight they will ultimately attain, as well as being more vulnerable to childhood diseases.
“We have the food, as you saw back in Harar,” Sister Agnes tells Ron and Ed. “The problem is getting it into the camps.” She walks them through a refugee camp. Several huts stand nearby, and people cook their meals over open fires.
“Do both the government and the rebels always make it as difficult to get to these camps, as they did this trip?” Ed asks.
“This trip? Eh, this was nothing, M’sieu,” Sister Agnes explains. “At least we could get through. We have most often had to use the airlift, but this is costly to maintain, and recently, the rebels threatened to shoot our planes out of the sky. Yet it is important we establish a steady pipeline of food. When the people come in, we need to be able to make the full allocation. Otherwise, they will wait outside the distribution camps instead of going home and coming back.”
She guides them away from the huts. Just ahead, many small mounds of dirt are seen, each with a small twig sticking out of them. “They must walk days over roadless, terrible terrain, M’sieu,” Sister Agnes continues. “Many die on the road. Some even die after reaching camps such as these.” She points at the mounds. “And these are all they have to mark their graves.”
The child eats and tonight will sleep well. Jama welcomes the white woman and the two with her. She has asked him to tell his story to these white men and Jama agrees. He sits with his daughter on his lap. Sister Agnes, Ed, and Ron sit down on the ground around Jama’s fire.
Jama says how the rebels took his village and burned it. The population that survived were taken into captivity and forced to transport the food the rebels were stealing from them. Two of his children died in the attack. No one was fed on the way. A journey of several days, and another of his children died en route. He and his wife escaped, although - - in order to leave - - they had to leave their final child behind. His wife wanted a baby and died, giving birth to this one. Jama has not named the baby yet, for he is not certain it is going to live.
Ron listens to Jama’s story and finds himself deeply moved. Tears stream down his cheeks. Jama leans near him and reaches out his hand. He touches Ron’s cheek, lifting tears onto his finger. Jama takes Ron’s tear and streaks it onto his own face below his eye. “Jama thanks you for your tear,” Sister Agnes explains. “He had none left, you see, with which to grieve.”
Ron leaps to his feet and runs off into the darkness. “Ron!” yells his Dad. He stands up and starts to go after his son. “I’d better go see how he is,” he says.
“Non. Leave him alone,” Sister Agnes replies. “I know how he is. He is as I was when first I come to this country, twenty years ago. He is as I am some nights when I am by myself, alone. Twenty years, not much to show for it, eh, M’sieu?”
Ron runs across the plains in the moonlit night. “MIKHAIL!” he yells.
In Moscow, Mikhail awakens suddenly and sits up in bed. “Here!” he thinks. “Ron, my brother! What is it?”
“This…place! The suffering these people have endured! Do endure! If you could see what I’ve seen..!” Ron answers.
“I feel it, my brother, from you! Come, it is night here, too! I have until sunrise! Let us do what we can!” Mikhail replies.
Atomic rings sparkle in each of their eyes. SPAKOW! An instant later, a fireball streaks down from the Ethiopian sky. FZAAM! Firestorm appears in a burst of light!
Ron opens his mind, and in a moment his experiences are shared. “Is there anything we can do?” he asks.
Firestorm bends down and examines the soil at his feet. “There are many things. Perhaps it would be most fundamental to attack the problem at its root - - the earth itself,” he explains.
“Our powers don’t work on things organic,” Ron replies.
“This cannot be totally true, for we control our own destiny!” Mikhail adds.
“Most likely it is a psychological barrier rather than a physical one - - especially in regards to other sentient beings,” Firestorm suggests.
“Does any of us know enough about the structure of healthy soil to be able to transmute this stuff to it?” Ron asks.
“I don’t think it’s necessary. I see in different ways than you, over a wider spectrum,” Firestorm explains. “By focusing, I can see ultraviolet, infrared, or even energy patterns. I know, by energy patterns, what fertile soil should look like.”
“And we can add energy to this soil until it matches,” Ron realizes. “Charge!”
He works slowly at first, adjusting the energy patterns until he can tell as much by instinct as by sight that the soil is now correct - - replenished. FZAMMMM! FZAMMM! Then he reaches out, increasing the area covered, until he finds optimum parameters. All the seeds, all the withered trees, all the latent life in the tired soil, drink in hungrily of his energy. And then he begins to walk. All night he walks back and forth, terraforming. Watched by a single pair of wondering eyes.
Ed awakens and walks out into the camp. “Good morning, Sister Agnes,” he says as he meets her.
“Good morning, M’sieu Raymond,” Sister Agnes replies. “You slept well? And did your son find his way back?”
“Ron isn’t quite up yet..,” Ed answers.
The sound of loud voices and commotion begins to be heard from the refugee camp nearby. “Eh? What are they yelling in the camp?” Sister Agnes asks.
A nun runs up to them. “Sister Agnes! Come quickly! It is a miracle of God!” she says excitedly. She leads Ed, Sister Agnes, and a large group of refugees out of the camp.
Just ahead, the formerly barren plains suddenly appear - - lush with vibrant, green plant life as far as the eye can see! In the center of a clearing stands Firestorm. He waves his arms out at the miraculous oasis. “Welcome to Eden,” he announces.