Scientists are alarmed at strange activity emanating from the Sun. Firestorm, Shango, and Dr. Ngai return to Eden. Dr. La Grieve and Dr. Rice tour the newly relocated Institute for Metahuman Studies at a location provided by Sunderland Corporation. An old nemesis resurfaces in an experiment with the Thinker's Helmet at the Institute. Maser prepares for a reconnaissance trip to the Sun. Dr. La Grieve meets with Lorraine and Professor Stein to plan the Institute's next strategy with Sunderland.
This is not a healthy star. Unfortunately, it’s ours. For the past week, it has suffered occasional convulsions, sending out tendrils of super-heated plasma as if trying to strike the third planet in orbit from it. Our planet.
If it does, of course, the planet will be turned into a cinder and everything on it will die. It’s all Firestorm’s fault, though he doesn’t know it yet. He will soon. Events of this magnitude do not go unremarked.
“It’s as though the Sun was reaching out for the Earth, Hiram,” a scientist tells his colleague. He and two fellow scientists stand inside a stellar monitoring station reviewing the unusual solar activity.
“And there’s some sort of anomaly at the Sun’s core,” Hiram replies. “We haven’t been able to determine just what, though.”
“We’re going to have to find out what,” the other scientist adds. “According to the data, Earth has, at the max, only a few weeks to live.”
Eden. SPAKOW! In a flash of lightning, Shango, Obatala, and Firestorm appear. “Where we met, brother, we shall now part,” Shango says as he rests his hand on Firestorm’s shoulder. “I will go with Obatala - - that is, Doctor Ngai - - and learn what has happened to these mortal lands since the Black Gods walked them.”
“Shango, did you create this desolation?” Dr. Ngai asks, looking around at the scorched and withered land.
“This is not Shango’s doing, Doctor Ngai, but my own!” Firestorm replies. “Trying to ease the hunger in this land, I used my powers to terraform it. But instead of making Eden a paradise, I twisted it until the only thing left to do was cleanse it with fire and leave it as you see it now - - barren.”
“Barren, you say? Then what is this?!” Dr. Ngai exclaims. He kneels down next to a solitary, tiny green plant stretching up into the sun from the ground.
“A miracle!” Firestorm gasps as he looks at the little sign of renewed life.
“The heart of Obatala, which abides in you, Doctor Ngai, was ever great for healing,” Shango says with a smile. “I have no doubt it is at work here.”
“I think maybe it is that the land has the power to heal itself,” Dr. Ngai says, rubbing his chin in thought. “But if I do have such a power, I need to take it back to my practice and heal my patients!”
“I am ready to accompany you,” Shango replies. “The hour is nigh when a god shall be reunited with his people! Great will be the rejoicing.”
“Oh, no!” Dr. Ngai blurts, pointing sharply at Shango. “Before you start acting like a god, I intend to make sure you learn what it is to be human! You will eat our food and do work with us and put away that damned axe and head-dress!”
“No, I will not!” Shango counters. “I am a god! Why should I want to pretend I am human?!”
“Because I will not have you embarrassing me! That’s why!” Dr. Ngai replies. SPAKOW! In a flash of lightning, the two disappear.
Firestorm sits cross-legges and gazes at the tiny plant. A tear streams down his face. “Oh, Maya!” he says softly. “You have forgiven me!”
The Institute for Metahuman Studies - - about a week later… “Honestly, Simon!” Dr. Emily Rice says as she and Dr. La Grieve walk together in the offices. “The doctors say you shouldn’t be up again so soon! You very nearly died!”
“Hrumpf!” Dr. La Grieve scoffs. “I am very aware of that, Dean Rice, I assure you. I’ve already promised my wife that I won’t unduly push things. I can do at least a few hours’ work every day and I intend to do that. I accept the fact that the Institute was moved while I was incapacitated, and although I may not be happy with the proximity of Sunderland Corporation, I realize it is a fait accompli.”
“However,” Dr. La Grieve continues, “I find that several experiments and lines of research that I find questionable were also approved in my absence. Those I intend to monitor closely, and if necessary, halt. Assuming I am still in charge here.”
“You are,” Dr. Rice replies. “That was my insistence. Despite what you seem to think sometimes, I do have my own moral guidelines, Doctor La Grieve. Having you here insures they won’t get broken.”
“I sincerely hope you mean that, Dean Rice, because I assure you, I fully intend to test it,” Dr. La Grieve replies. He walks to a large door where a light flashes above a ‘No Admittance’ sign. The door slides open and he steps inside. “Ahem!” he grunts in a loud voice.
“You mis-erable little toad!” Dr. Pangloss snorts, pointing angrily at Dr. Caius. “Thet was my New England Journal of Metahuman Studies which yew purloined!”
“Moi?” gasps Dr. Caius incredulously. They stand next to a man wearing a large helmet that covers his eyes. The man sists in the classic thinker’s pose, head resting on his hands.
“Oh, are you here again?” Dr. Pangloss says as he looks over at Dr. La Grieve.
“Yes,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “Who told you that you could use the Thinker’s Helmet?”
“Why, the Institute Administrator, Mr. Byron Adams,” Dr. Caius replies.
“The Helmet was entrusted to my personal care by Amanda Waller and was not Institute property,” Dr. La Grieve says as he reviews a document on a clipboard. “I gave no permission to use it as part of an experiment - - particularly using a patient…just released from a psychiatric institution!”
“I shouldn’t take that tone, Dr. La Grieve!” Dr. Caius snorts. “The Helmet was found in inventory when IMHS was moved!”
“After all, there were no written prohibitions on using it…now, were there, hmm?” Dr. Pangloss asks. “I wanted to see the effect the Helmet might have on fractured personalities.” The man wearing the helmet clenches his teeth. Sweat runs down his face.
“Piffle. I wanted to see the effect of a fractured personality upon the helmet!” Dr. Caius adds.
“The Helmet was clearly in my personal locker, which had to indicate even to you two that it was not meant for general use,” Dr. La Grieve fumes. “In addition, the Helmet was used in the past by a criminal personality! Did it ever occur to you that the Helmet itself might be inherently corruptive? What happens if you create a new - - potentially dangerous - - metahuman criminal here in the lab?”
“That’s why I’m here,” a voice announces.
“Eh? Who are you?!” Dr. La Grieve says, quickly turning toward the unexpected voice.
“They call me Catalyst, the human pharmacopeia,” replies Catalyst, He stands in red and white armor with strange breathing tubes extending from his back to his face. “Good day, Doctor La Grieve.”
“He’s one of the new members of the Captains of Industry, Simon, on loan from Cornelius / Krieg - - the giant European pharmaceutical conglomerate,” explains Dr. Rice as she enters the room. “You read about him in the briefing.”
“Hm. Yes,” replies Dr. La Grieve. “You can generate the effect of any drug in any person you wish by merely touching them, I believe.”
“Yes,” Catalyst nods. “You’ll forgive me if I do not shake hands. I can, at any given time, sedate the subject. Or take whatever steps that may be necessary.” He reaches out towards the man wearing the Thinker’s Helmet.
“All right, there is some control,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “Still, I’m not certain about someone who had so recently been in a mental institution as the test subject. Who is he, by the way? Why did he volunteer?”
“The lad’s been a perfect help,” Dr. Caius explains. “Never had such a cooperative subject in all my years.”
“Did you speak with his therapist?” Dr. La Grieve asks.
“Oh, the Institute where he resided had already released him,” Dr Caius replies. “Surely they would not have done that if the lad was any risk to himself or to society…now would they, hmmmm?”
“You did talk directly with his therapist,” Dr. La Grieve says.
“We felt it would be redundant..,” Dr. Caius replies.
“You didn’t speak with his therapist,” Dr. La Grieve says with a scowl. “Caius, I’m appalled!”
“Hrumpf!” Dr. Pangloss grunts. “What could a mere therapist have told us about the lad that we could not learn for ourselves?” The man slowly removes the Thinker’s Helmet.
“Come meet him, Dr. La Grieve,” Dr. Caius says. “He won’t bite, I promise. Dr. La Grieve, may I introduce you to our test subject, Cliff Carmichael.”
Cliff sets down the Thinker’s Helmet and replaces his glasses on his face. He smiles up at Dr. La Grieve as sweat continues to drip down his forehead. “Hello, Dr. La Grieve,” he says. “I understand how you must feel about all this; Doctor Pangloss and Caius really shouldn’t have proceeded without your authority. But I hope you will actually review the data assembled. I feel certain that, after you’ve done so, you’ll allow the experiment to continue.”
Dr. La Grieve looks down at Cliff. He reaches out and the two shake hands. “Doctor Pangloss and Caius really shouldn’t have proceeded without my authority,” he tells Cliff. “But I’ll review the data assembled. I feel certain that, after I’ve done so, I’ll allow the experiment to continue.”
“I thought you might..,” Cliff replies.
“Dean Rice, I believe it’s time we visited the next item on our list,” Dr. La Grieve says.
“Nice meeting you, Doctor,” Cliff says with a sly grin. “Please come back again soon.”
“Simon, are you all right?” Dr. Rice asks. She reaches a hand to Dr. La Grieve’s shoulder. “You look a little peculiar. Perhaps we should call it a day.”
Dr. La Grieve rubs his hand across his forehead. “Not yet,” he replies. “I want to meet this Business Administrator who has been making my decisions for me.”
In a nearby office, Maser stands near the desk as Byron Abrams gazes out the window. “C’mon, Mr. Abrams!” Maser says. “There’s a clear and pressing need!”
“Forget it,” Abrams says, taking a puff from his cigarette. “Risk’s substantial. Sunderland’s got too much money invested in you to let you go on some wild goose chase into the Sun!”
“Maybe that is my decision to make,” Dr. La Grieve announces as he walks into the office.
“Yeah? Who the hell are you, Mister?” Adams blurts as he turns towards the door.
“Allow me, Simon,” Dr. Rice begins. “The young man in the costume is Larry Jordan, code-named Maser. He’s heading up the Captains of Industry for us. The other gentleman is also on loan from Sunderland. He’s the Institute’s Business Administrator, Byron Adams. Gentlemen, this is Doctor Simon La Grieve, and he is the Head of IMHS.”
“It’s like this, sir,” Maser explains. “The U.S. government has come to us with a top priority request: They want me to fly to the Sun and check something out for them…and return. I’ll admit, I don’t understand why…but it’s got to be important! I mean…they wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t important, right?”
“Wouldn’t they?” Adams adds. “This stretches the kid’s theoretical parameters. He might not make it back. Sunderland’s not prepared to risk it.”
“Maybe the formal request goes into some detail?” asks Dr. La Grieve. “May I see it, please?”
“Here. Won’t change anything,” Adams says. He hands Dr. La Grieve a file.
“Hmmmm,” Dr. La Grieve says as he reads. “You’re going, Maser. Contact the Federal Government and coordinate this A.S.A.P. This has top priority.”
“YAHOOO!” cheers Maser happily.
“Hold it one damn second!” snorts Adams, growing agitated.
“No, you hold it, Mister Abrams!” Dr. La Grieve counters. “By the agreement with Sunderland, IMHS takes priority in determining the use of the Captains of Industry, and I am running IMHS. For that matter, you’re supposed to be paid by us - - not Sunderland! Your first loyalty will be here or you will not be!”
“You want to push this?” Adams snarls. “Sunderland could pull their support and order IMHS out on their academic behinds.”
“No, I don’t think so,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “While I was laid up, I actually read the agreement by which IMHS leases this facility from Sunderland. Evicting us could and would be disputed in court. In the meantime, it would generate a great deal of bad press for Sunderland. Let Sunderland toss us out if they can. I was never easy in my mind about taking it, and if IMHS closes down - - so be it! We won’t be co-opted by Sunderland or anyone else while I am running this Institute!”
“Young man, I believe you have a task to do,” Dr. La Grieve continues with a nod at Maser. “As for you, Mr. Abrams - - I suggest you go to your own office! This one is decidedly mine!”
“Yes, sir!” Maser replies. He turns and walks to the door.
“Well, that was an impressive exhibition of how to play hardball!” Dr. Rice says.
“I had a good teacher,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “Next to Amanda Waller, corporate hatchetmen like Abrams are made of straw. The longer I do this job, the better I come to understand Amanda - - why she was as she was and did as she did. And what did it get her? A prison cell of her own in Belle Reve. You’re right, I daresay.”
“C’mon, Simon,” Dr. Rice says. “It’s time we got you home. That’s enough for the first day back.”
“Keep me posted on the condition of Killer Frost, hm?” Dr. La Grieve asks. “Dr. Acharaya may have a breakthrough with an anti-viral medication that could cure her, but I fear her condition is worsening. I fear that if we can’t cure her soon, Dr. Louise Lincoln will die.”
Days pass. Back in Eden… “You’re dying! I know it!” thinks Firestorm. He looks helplessly down at the little plant. “There’s been no rain! The drought will kill any bit of hope this land has! The drought will kill everything!”
Firestorm stares pleadingly up at the sky. “Shango! I don’t know if you can hear my call, but if you can - - help me!” he cries out. “Help save what little hope this land has! Shango! Brother! They need water! Will you provide?”
RRUMBLE! Suddenly, a flash of lightning streaks down from the sky and a steady rain begins to fall. “Thank you, brother!” Firestorm yells out, reaching his hands up into the rain.
“I have faced my wrongs here in Africa,” Firestorm thinks. “I have been forgiven. Hope blooms again. I have other wrongs to face. It’s time I did.” He stretches and leaps into the air. “It’s time I again faced Firehawk!” he thinks. “Goodbye for now, little hope! Grow great and strong!”
RRUMBLE! Thunder echoes as Firestorm flies off. As he disappears, a large, ominous shadow appears. It moves close to the tiny little plant. “Goodbye, hope. Shadowstorm says’s it’s time you perished!” Shadowstorm says, angrily looking down at the small plant. “HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!” he laughs. FZAMM! He fires a burst of energy into the plant, and it falls apart. RRUMBLLE! “HA-HA-HA-HA-HA!”
The other side of the world. Pittsburgh. Specifically, Lorraine Reilly’s apartment. “He’s late, Martin,” Lorraine says.
“Do you think he’ll come?” Martin asks.
Knock! Knock! Lorraine turns for the door and opens it. “Dr. La Grieve!” she says.
“Sorry I’m late,” replies Dr. La Grieve. “I’m afraid I’m still feeling the effects of having been shot by Morrison.”
“I shouldn’t wonder!” Lorraine exclaims. “What I do wonder is if this is such a good idea…your being out at night. Couldn’t we have met more easily in your office?”
“More easily; less safely,” Dr. La Grieve replies. He steps in and reaches out his hand to Martin. “Ahhh, Professor Stein - - Martin!” he says as the two shake hands. “From all accounts, it is you I have to thank for my being alive. If you hadn’t gotten me to the hospital as quickly as you did, Morrison might have succeded in his plan.”
“Please, Doctor La Grieve,” Martin answers. “I’d like to think almost anyone else would’ve done as much.”
“You risked your life to uncover who shot me, Martin,” Dr. La Grieve explains. “I won’t forget that. And my friends call me ‘Simon’. I should like to think the man who saved my life is a friend. In fact, I’d like to think we’re all friends here. Let’s not waste time pretending we don’t know what we know about each other. Our secrets are safe here. Which is why we cannot meet like this at IMHS at the moment. Bluntly, I fear that - - in accepting the generous ‘gift’ of Sunderland Corp - - the Institute may have hopelessly compromised itself. That is why I need your help - - and that of one other.”
“For my part, I’d be happy to help…Simon,” Martin replies.
“What do you want from us?” Lorraine asks.
“I need people on the inside who I can trust,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “I need an ear within the Captains of Industry group and I’m hoping that Firehawk will oblige. To give you cover for being on the scene, Lorraine, I can arrange to hire you as my secretary - - at least part-time. As for you, Martin - - I’d like you to continue as my personal troubleshooter. If you’re willing, your first assignment is the experiment that Caius and Pangloss are running with the Thinker’s Helmet and a test subject by the name of Cliff Carmichael.”
“All right,” Martin nods. “Who is the one other helper that you mentioned?”
“That is a bit more difficult to answer,” Dr. La Grieve continues. “The reason we’re meeting outside the IMHS is that I suspect that all the computers, telephones, and other equipment are being tapped by Sunderland, despite what they say to the contrary. I’ve gotten a device that will jam bugging devices in my own office…but I need help in determining the state of the IMHS computers. Does this laptop computer you’ve gotten me have the modem and speakerphone I requested?”
“All set up, on, and waiting,” Lorraine replies. The three sit at the kitchen table, where the laptop rests.
“Good. I’m expecting a contact,” Dr. La Grieve says. Breep! The modem chirps and lights up. “This should be it now.”
“Oracle here, are you there, Doctor La Grieve?” crackles a voice over the speakerphone.
“I am indeed,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “I thank you for responding, Oracle. John Economos thought you had perhaps stopped your service since the death of Flo Crowley.”
“I am considering that, Doctor,” Oracle answers. “Other developments in my life have taken also taken away my available time. However, Flo always spoke highly of you and in her memory, I’m willing to help you as much as I can.”
“Oracle, if I gave you the keywords to access the IMHS computers, could you get in and tell me if there are other hidden trapdoors that others may be using?” Dr. La Grieve asks.
“Possibly,” Oracle answers. “If I find them, do you want me to close them for you?”
“By no means,” Dr. La Grieve replies. “Sunderland would just then find new means. No, I have something better in mind.”
Meanwhile, just outside Pittsburgh… “Hungerrrrr….I hungerrrr..,” groans Parasite. He sits in a dark cell. Several men stand outside.
“Parasite! Can you hear me?” a man calls to him. “Are you listening?”
“Yeeesss…I hearrrr..!” Parasite replies.
“Repeat your instructions,” the man continues. “What are you to do when we release you?”
“I fiiiind…I find Killer Frost,” Parasite explains. “Draaain her…meta-energy. Drain…her mortal ennnnnergy. Kill Killer Frost. Eat her ennnnergy! Eaaaaat!”
“He’s got it,” the man smiles. “Load up the truck, boys.”
“If he’s that hungry, how do we keep him from eating our truck crew?” asks a worker as a forklift carts Parasite’s holding cell into the back of a semi-truck trailer.
“He’s drugged,” replies the first man. “We drop him off, let the drugs wear off, and then conditioning will take over. And we’ll have covered our traces.”
“That’ll keep Sunderland from accessing - - and replicating - - the virus,” the worker adds.
“Agreed,” nods the first. “They didn’t put any money into its development, after all; why should they get anything out of it? And if Parasite’s powers work as we suspect, he’ll replicate the virus in himself which will, in turn, kill him, Sooner rather than later, given his hypermetabolism.”
“Neat. So our traces get covered there, as well,” replies the worker.
“Of course, Parasite may kill a few other people while he’s at it,” the first man adds. VRUMM! The truck shifts into gear and rumbles off.
“Well, hell,” the worker replies. “You can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, now can you?”