Multiplex begins recruiting a team of villains, starting with picking up a drunken Slipknot at a seedy bar in Washington, D.C. Professor Stein goes on a date with Dr. Emily Rice, Dean of Vandemeer University. Ronnie talks with Felicity Smoak about her lawsuit against Firestorm. Doreen day receives distressing news about her sister, Summer. Bolt makes an unexpected appearance.
A poster on a brick wall reads, ‘To-day – The Firestorm Case: Legal Milestone or Travesty of Justice?’ It is faintly illuminated by the light in the alleyway. Suddenly, the quiet is shattered. KKRASH! “And stay out, ya wino bum!” yells an irritated voice from inside a nearby bar. A disheveled man sails through the door. It splinters as he hits it and falls to the ground in the dim alley. A burly man walks to the doorway. His shirt announces ‘Drink at Matt’s Bar,’ and he puffs on his cigarette as he looks down at the man he has just tossed out of the premises. “I don’t know what’s worse…they way you smell, the way you drink…or the filthy lies you tell,” he says, glaring angrily at the man.
Two shadowy figures watch nearby, hidden in the darkness. The man sits up, rubbing his unshaved face. “If you’re a big-time Mob enforcer, I’m me own Aunt Betty,” the barkeeper grumbles. The man reaches up pleadingly. “But it’sh true. I was the best…the best,” he mumbles, “Everybody knew Slipknot. Till he butted in.” The man gestures at the poster, aiming his finger at the super-hero pictured in the center. “Him…Firestorm. I’d be on top money like Croesüs…if it weren’t for him,” the man sputters. The barkeeper is not convinced, and he thumbs toward the man, gesturing him away. “Dream on. You’re nothin’ but a two-bit sot,” he answers, “Take your lies somewhere else.”
The two figures emerge from the shadows. “That he will, barkeeper, but first…” one says. “That he will, barkeeper, but first…” the second echoes. “…You owe my friend an apology,” the first one continues. “…You owe my friend an apology,” the second figure echoes. Stepping into the light are Multiplex and one of his duploids! They step between the intoxicated Slipknot and the irritated barkeeper. “Patty Hearn apologize to a drunk? Those clown suits must be too tight ‘round your heads, me boyos,” barkeeper Hearn chortles, “You two are dreamin’ wilder’n him.”
Multiplex steps to one side of Hearn and his duploid steps to his other. They quickly grab Hearn and pull him off his feet, holding him by the arms and legs. Hearn squirms in surprise. “I have to insist. Apologize,” Multiplex orders. “I have to insist. Apologize,” his duploid orders. “H-Hey! Sweet M-Mary and J-Joseph…I’m sorry!” Hearn blurts, growing nervous. “There…don’t you feel better?” Multiplex asks. “There…don’t you feel better?” his duploid asks. They fling him into the alley. KLANG! Hearn lands loudly inside a packed trash dumpster in the alley. “I know I do,” Multiplex says.
He turns to the drunken Slipknot lying haphazardly under the Firestorm poster. “Slipknot, my name - - as you may have guessed - - is Multiplex. I overheard what you said about Firestorm, and I believe every word.” Slipknot surveys his new benefactor carefully. “Y-You do…? Gee, that’s…H-How did you do that?” he asks. Multiplex helps Slipknot to his feet. They begin walking out of the alley toward the street. “I’ll be happy to explain later,” Multiplex answers, “For now, suffice to say...we have an enemy in common. Together, you and I and a few others will destroy him.” Slipknot thrusts his fist happily in the air. “Destroy Firestorm? G-Great! I’ll drink to that!” he cheers. Multiplex glares at his staggering companion, warning, “Not if you work with me, you won’t.”
Vandemeer University, Pittsburgh. Coach Percy runs his players through agility drills. “C’mon, c’mon! You’re the Vandermeer Vikings, not the Vandemeer Pussycats!” he yells between tweets of his whistle. “Give it some feeling. We’ve got our first game next Sunday, and the alumni want a win,” he calls out to the players.
Ronnie steps up to the tire course laid out on the ground and starts running through them. “Raymond! I’m talking to you, Mister! Move those feet,” Coach Percy barks, “Get your bottom in gear before…” Ronnie trips and stumbles. “Ya-whoops!” Ronnie blurts as he falls. He lands hard on the ground, smacking his chin into the soft dirt. “Gnnnnngh!” he groans as he hits. He lifts himself up, rubbing his chin. “Gee, gosh. I’m sorry, Coach,” Ronnie says, slightly embarrassed as a hand reaches to help him, “Guess I’m used to an indoor court, like when I played basketball for Bradley High. But I’ll get it yet, you’ll see…”
“Doubts never crossed my mind, Ronnie,” Ed Raymond says with a grin as he helps his son up. “Dad?” Ronnie says happily with surprise. He turns to see his Dad, Felicity Smoak, and Doreen standing next to him. “Whoa, Dad!” he yells, reaching to embrace him. Coach Percy walks up with his clipboard full of player notes. “You’re Raymond’s old man?” the Coach says, explaining, “Your boy’ll make a good receiver…once he starts paying more attention to his feet. Back on the field, Raymond. Practice isn’t over for another ten minutes.”
Ronnie nods and jogs back to his teammates. Ed watches his son running pass patterns. “I played a mean game of ball myself in college, you know,” he reminisces. Felicity smiles at him. “Ed Raymond, a man of many talents. That’s what I love about you,” she says. “Ronnie told me you two are going to get married,” Doreen tells the couple, “I think that’s great.” Felicity’s feminine intuition has piqued her curiosity. “Thanks, Doreen. Between us girls…What’s the story with you and Ron?” she asks, “Anything romantic…or are you just friends?”
Doreen looks surprised. “Whew! You get right to it, don’t you?” she answers. Felicity nods as they watch Ronnie throw a pass downfield. “One lesson I picked up when I ran my own business - - never waste time, yours or anyone else’s,” Felicity explains, “If I’m out of line, say the word…” Doreen shakes her head. “No, really, it’s okay. You’re going to be, like, Ronnie’s stepmother. The thing is, I don’t know what to tell you. I think Ronnie wants us to be more than friends…but it’s like he’s holding back a part of himself. I love him, I just don’t understand him!” Felicity wraps her arm around Doreen’s shoulder. Ronnie runs past, catching a long pass in tight coverage. “Men. They can make you crazy,” Felicity explains, “I’ve got only one piece of advice, Doreen. Stay with it, but don’t lose yourself. Your life’s important. If the man you love doesn’t see that, if he treats your feelings as less important than his…then cut loose. Better to take some pain in the short run than hurt for a lifetime.”
Elsewhere on campus… “Martin…Got a minute for your Dean?” calls out Dr. Emily Rice. Stein turns to greet her. “Please. Anything to take my mind off undergraduate exams,” he answers, “I’ve spent so much time grading tests, I’m starting to dream in multiple choice.” She joins him and they continue walking together.
“I’ve got a problem, and I was hoping you could help,” Dr. Rice reveals. “I owe you my position here, Emily,” Stein replies, “I’ll help you any way I can…short of teaching another course in Physics 101.” She shakes her head. “Actually, this isn’t a University problem,” she continues, “It’s more in the nature of a personal favor. I’ve got tickets to a fundraising seminar at the Symphony tonight…and no one to act as my escort. If you’re free…?” Stein smiles with relief. “My goodness…Of course! What time should I pick you up?” he asks. “The program starts at 8:00…say, 7:30?” she replies. “I’ll be there,” Stein answers.
Dr. Rice gives him a friendly wave. Stein walks up the steps into the Physics Department. “What a surprise,” he thinks as he heads to his office, “Emily Rice asking me to be her escort. To the Symphony, no less. I’ll have to get my suit pressed and…” He suddenly smacks his forehead in frustration. “Oh, no - - I told Emily I’d pick her up, but I don’t even have a car!” he cries out. Stu and Wendy look back from their work as he walks in. “You can borrow mine, Martin,” Wendy offers, asking, “But what’s this about a date with Dr. Rice…?”
Stein sets down his Physics books. “Nothing, it’s nothing…she needs an escort,” he explains. “Oh…really? Watch yourself with that lady, Martin. She’s a barracuda,” Wendy warns. Stu thinks for a moment, asking, “Emily Rice? The Dean?” Wendy nods. “Cool and nice on the outside. Hot and fierce on the inside. She will chew you up and spit you out. She’s done it before,” Wendy answers, asking Stein, “Still want to borrow my old Caddy?” Stein nods nervously, a bit of sweat beading around his forehead. “Why, ah, yes…Emily just wants…as…and escort,” he stutters. “Good Lord, for the first time since the accident, I almost wish Ronnie would join us as Firestorm tonight. I’ve never been so confused in all my life!” Stein frets in anticipation.
Pleasant Hollow, New York… The delivery van from the Kleen Launder Service pulls up at the service entrance of the Pleasant Hollow Convalescent Home. The van’s driver leans impatiently against the hood. “C’mon. I wanna quit early. There’s a game on the tube and you guys are my last pickup,” he calls to two orderlies wheeling out a large bin of dirty laundry. “You oughta be nice to us, Mort. We get enough trouble from the patients all day,” an orderly answers. They wheel the cart to the back of the van and start unloading. “You’re breakin’ my heart. This place is a country club,” Mort snorts back, “I used to work in the State nuthouse up at Arkham. Talk about weirdos. Talk about trouble.”
In the shadows, a man clad in a form-fitting black outfit watches them closely. He begins spinning a bolo. “Spend a week playin’ nursemaid to those jokers. Then you’ll have something to beef about, let me tell you,” Mort continues. The figure in the dark launches the swiftly spinning bolo into the air. Mort goes on, blathering, “A private looney bin like this ain’t - - Cripes!”
SWOOT! SWOOT! He is suddenly wrapped by the bolo, falling to the driveway with his arms pinned to his side. The two orderlies look on in shock. Mort lands hard, striking the side of his head on the ground. The orderlies reach to help. “Mort, what the heck?” one asks. “Is he sick?” the other wonders with concern.
From the shadows, Multiplex and two of his duploids stealthily grab one of the orderlies while the other is distracted helping Mort. “No…He’s all tangled up by some kind of rope!” the orderly says. Multiplex shoves his hand over the mouth of the other orderly, who mumbles in fear as he is dragged back. “And it’s sticky, too,” the orderly says as he tends to Mort, “Give me a hand…Hey?”
In a blink, a rope lasso forms from above and drops around him. “Would you settle for a noose?” laughs Slipknot. He stands on top of the laundry van and yanks the orderly up off his feet. Multiplex and his duploids step next to the van. “Slipknot! We’re not here to play games!” cautions Multiplex, ordering, “Get rid of him and follow me.” Slipknot looks at the duplicated forms of his new partner. “You’re the boss, Multiplex. Or bosses,” Slipknot thinks, “For a while anyway, but life’s funny.” He opens his hand and lets the rope slip. KTHUMP! The orderly drops like a rock to the ground. Slipknot leaps into the air and somersaults to the ground. “Things change. And loyalty never was my strong suit,” he thinks as he follows Multiplex inside.
“According to the FBI records I stole a few days ago, we’ll find the person we’re looking for on the second floor,” Multiplex explains, “in a Maximum Security Unit, Room 213. Astonishing what medical insurance will cover these days, isn’t it?” He and Slipknot find the stairway and climb up to the second floor. “Yeah, but think of the premiums,” Slipknot answers as they walk into the corridor.
A nurse sees them emerge. “Hold it. This is a restricted ward,” she says, pointing at them, “You - - those costumes…” Slipknot quickly flings a rope around her ankles. “Help! Orderly, help!” she yells in terror. KWUMP! Slipknot yanks the rope tight and the nurse falls to the floor. Two orderlies run up behind Slipknot. “Hit the buzzer! We’ve got a patient breakout!” one yells. The other looks over Slipknot, observing as he breaks out a blackjack, “Hey, he ain’t one’ a ours!”
Slipknot turns and whips a rope at the two stunned orderlies. “And I’m not from the State Commission on Psychiatric Services either,” he snarls at them, “But if I were…you boys would be in a lot of trouble. Using saps on your patients. That’s a no-no.” He snaps the rope tight, pulling the feet out from under the two orderlies. “Unnnggh! Whuff!” they grunt as they fall hard to the floor.
Multiplex moves swiftly down the hallway. “Room 213. This is it…and there she is,” he thinks, looking inside the darkened, padded room. He walks slowly to the patient inside, reaching a hand to touch a furry shoulder. “Hyena, at last we meet,” he greets her. The Hyena turns her head, fangs bared. Her wrists are shackled tightly to the wall by heavy chains. “I have a small proposition for you,” Multiplex tells her, “concerning a mutual friend named Firestorm.”
Evening at the ‘Toulous Café…’ Ronnie and Doreen sit at a sidewalk table with Ed and Felicity. “You’re serious about this lawsuit against Firestorm? You’re really going through with it?” Ronnie asks. Felicity nods, answering, “Why shouldn’t I? Firestorm’s a menace. He destroyed my computer software business, and almost drove me into bankruptcy.” Their server arrives and begins handing down plates from his tray. “Yeah, but…wasn’t he trying to save a boatload of tourists or something?” Ronnie asks.
Felicity takes a sip of her wine. “That was the first time we had a run-in. A freight train carrying a shipment of magnetic computer disks derailed off a bridge over the East River,” she explains, “Firestorm used his nuclear powers to create a king-sized electromagnet, pulling the train back onto the rails before it could hit a cruise boat.” Ronnie suggests, “Sounds like the guy was a hero.” Ed nods, adding, “Absolutely. But in the process of saving lives, Firestorm magnetized Felicity’s shipment of computer disks. Insurance company wouldn’t pay for the loss - - who gets coverage against super-heroics?” Felicity stretches out a finger to make her point. “I would have survived one disaster like that…After all, we kept backups of our software at our Central Office in New York,” she continues, “The second disaster, though - - that’s the one that finished me.”
Felicity mentally remembers working in her computer lab. “We were trying our newest program, and elegant spreadsheet and word processor package using icons and an advanced vocal interface…when, suddenly…every machine in our office crashed,” she explains, “Computer systems crash all the time, but this was different. Not only did we lose everything in current memory…we lost everything on disk, everything on tape, and everything in the room. Every computer in our company was wiped clean…and it was his fault. All his fault! He’d had some kind of battle with two idiots who called themselves villains…and to defeat them, he magnetized the roof!”
She pauses for a moment, trying to keep from getting too upset. She rubs the back of her hair with her hand. “Not only did we lose all our software and programming - - months of work - - but every computer in our office was useless, broken beyond repair. Thinking about it still makes me crazy!” she fumes. “But didn’t he stop those villains from tearing up Manhattan?” Ronnie asks. She glares at him in frustration. “Where did he get the right?” she snarls, “We have the police to protect us…it’s their job. They’re trained, they have authority, and if they foul up, they have an entire city behind them to take responsibility and make restitution. Firestorm’s nothing but an irresponsible vigilante…and when the trial starts, I’m gonna nail his hide to the courtroom wall.” Ronnie looks at her with surprise. “Whoa,” he answers.
The waiter arrives and hands Doreen a small note. She glances at it. “Oh, my God…” she exclaims as she reads it. She quickly stands. “Ronnie…Miss Smoak, Mr. Raymond…I-I’ve gotta go,” she says anxiously. “What’s wrong?” Ronnie asks. Doreen fold up the note and tucks it in her purse. “Cliff took a phone call for me at the dorm,” she explains, “I-It’s my sister. She broke out of the hospital. My folks…I’ve got to get back to the dorm…call them!” She turns and starts to run towards campus. “Doreen, wait - - I’m coming with you,” Ronnie yells, getting up to run and join her.
Felicity looks on in confusion as Ronnie and Doreen disappear around a corner. “Her sister…hospital…what’s going on, Ed?” she asks. Ed tucks some money on the table to cover their meal. “We better follow the kids. I’ll explain about Summer on the way back to campus,” Ed replies.
Soon… “A few years back, Doreen’s sister, Summer, was working with the Peace Corps in Africa,” Ed explains as they drive back to the University, “One night she heard a cry out in the bush…and when she went to help, she was attacked by something inhuman. Natives in the area called the creature a were-hyena…half man, half animal…When she returned to New York, Summer learned all the legends were true. Whoever was marked by the were-hyena’s bite…would share its curse forever.” Ed and Felicity arrive back at the campus and walk towards the dorm. “You believe that?” Felicity asks. “I’m a journalist, Felicity. I believe what I see,” Ed answers, “And I’ve seen Summer Day. For the last few months, her parents have had her in a hospital upstate…Pleasant Hollow.”
They walk up the outer stairs and meet Cliff Carmichael coming down. “Hey, Mr. Raymond…you know where Ronnie is?” Cliff asks. The walk together back into the dormitory where Doreen is busy talking on the wall-mounted pay phone. “Isn’t he here with you and Doreen?” Ed asks with concern. “He was till a minute ago…then he cut out,” Cliff explains, “It surprised me, you know? Doreen being his girl and all. Kind of cruel.”
Doreen hangs up the phone, She covers her mouth with her hand, visibly upset and crying. “The poor kid…” Felicity says, rushing to Doreen’s side. “I don’t understand it…Why would Ronnie leave Doreen now, when she needs him?” Ed asks. Cliff seizes an opportunity for his usual brand of helpfulness. “I hate to tell you, sir, you being his father…but the kid’s been acting weird ever since he got on campus,” Cliff says feigning concern, “I’ve heard rumors. Just talk, you understand. Not that I believe it. Ronnie would never do drugs…Would he, Mr. Raymond, sir?” Ed’s eyes bolt wide-open in shock as he listens to Cliff.
Elsewhere, only a few hundred yards away… “If Summer’s loose from that convalescent home, she’s got to be caught…and that’s got to be my job,” Ronnie thinks as he walks alongside the swimming pool. “Now, before she can get too far away,” he decides. He walks to the edge of the pool, looking at his reflection floating on the calm water’s surface. He focuses determinedly, clenching both fists tightly. “Wherever you are, I hope you’re not settled down for the evening, Professor Stein,” Ronnie thinks, “’cause you and I have business as a certain Nuclear Man!”
Dr. Emily Rice and Professor Stein sit in a box overlooking the symphony at the theater. Stein suddenly feels a familiar sense of transformation beginning. “Emily...Dr. Rice…please forgive me,” he says softly as he quickly gets up, “I just remembered an urgent…ah…letter I have to write.” She looks at him with surprise. “Letter? What…? You’re not leaving?” she whispers. He quickly fumbles for his wallet and hands her a few bills. “I mean…ah…a test paper. That’s right,” he fibs, “I have to write a test for tomorrow. Here’s cab fare.” She takes the money, looking irritated. “Martin, have you been drinking?” she whispers, “I know all about your alcoholism…Martin!” Stein turns and abruptly slips between the box’s curtains. FZAAAM! Atomic rings encircle him and he disappears. Dr. Rice pulls the curtains apart. “Martin! Martin, don’t you dare leave me!” she whispers loudly down the hall to the surprise of an usher, “Martin!”
FZAAAM! At poolside, Ronnie is swept into the bizarre nuclear fusion. FZAAMM! An instant later, Firestorm appears! He lowers his density and quickly flies up and out of the athletic building. “For once, Ronald, I’m almost grateful you interrupted my evening when you did,” Stein sighs, “Emily Rice may be an efficient University administrator…and a fascinating woman…but she is also, as a friend of mine warned me, a romantic barracuda.” Stein continues to unload his thoughts as they fly along. “Can you imagine - - during a Bach Concerto, she asked me to spend the weekend with her at her cabin in the country,” he continues, “I was trying to think of a polite way to demur when you took the matter out of my hands…for which I will be eternally grateful. Ahem! By the way…where are we going?” Ronnie quickly guides them towards eastward. “Pleasant Hollow, New York, Professor,” Ronnie answers, “Hang on tight to your psyche, and I’ll fill you in on the way.”
Meanwhile, a few hundred miles southeast, in Washington, D.C., Multiplex stands in the shadows outside the Zig-Zag Bar. He watches as a man and woman tussle near the entrance. “Leave me alone, Drew. I told you, just because we work in an office together doesn’t mean I’m available for you to hit on,” the flustered woman says. She struggles to pull her hands away from her overzealous suitor. “Yeah, Mandy? Then why’re you hanging around a singles bar?” Drew asks, pulling her close and trying to kiss her, “Lucky I ran into you…some’a the creeps you meet in places like that…are real low-lifes! Why don’t you and me get friendly?” She pushes away from him but he wraps his arms tighter around her. “No…” she says. Suddenly, she flings her arms fiercely, knocking Drew away. “I said no!” she yells as he falls to the sidewalk. “Ow-wwww!” Drew groans.
Amazingly, Mandy’s body starts to be enveloped in…fire! She stands behind the crumpled form of Drew, who clings a hand to the edge of the gutter. “You’re a snake, Drew. For months, you’ve been on my case,” she snarls, “You wouldn’t leave me alone. You had to slither after me, follow me, ruin my life…But now, I’ve had enough. I’m through hiding. Like I said, Drew…You’re a snake…say hello to your brothers!” She waves her flaming hand, and suddenly Drew is wrapped by a half-dozen swarming large snakes. “Aaaaihhhh!” he yells in horror.
“Very nice, Mindboggler. Very, very nice,” Multiplex calls out to her. Drew writhes on the ground, surrounded by snakes that only he can see. “You mastery of mental manipulation is everything the FBI records said it was. My congratulations,” Multiplex tells her. She looks him over warily. “Who are you? How did you find me? I haven’t used my powers since I helped smash the 2000 Committee, months ago!” she exclaims.
Multiplex executes a polite, chivalrous bow to her. “My name is Multiplex,” he explains, “While a duploid of mine is occupied in upstate New York, I took the opportunity to trace you here in Washington.” She asks, “You’re with the FBI?” He smiles at her. “Believe it or not, dear lady, the Bureau has had you under observation for weeks,” he tells her, “An amusing misapprehension. No, my dear Mistress of Illusion…my allegiance is to myself, my methods are anything but law-abiding, and my motives are both avaricious and vengeful.”
He reaches a hand to her and they begin to walk away. She steps right over the limp body of Drew, lying helplessly in the street. “I love the way you talk,” Mindbogger smiles, “Tell me more.” Multiplex wraps an arm around her shoulder as they move down the block. “First let me ask you…How would you like to be rich beyond your wildest imagining?” She is intrigued. “It beats hanging out at singles’ bars. Keep talking,” she answers.
They begin to disappear into the darkness. Behind them, a strange light appears. It begins at Drew’s shoes, glowing brighter and brighter. Suddenly, a man in a tight hooded blue costume springs up from the street in a burst of the light. He stands poised, watching Multiplex and Mindboggler fade into the distance.
“Ya’ll heard the little lady, partner. Keep talkin’, and if’n you don’t mind, I’ll jes’ mosey along real quiet-like behind ya, and give a good listen,” he whispers, “Ah reckon muh business with Blue Devil can wait a spell, seein’ as how I scent the fine sweet smell of money to be made with these folks back east.” A sly smile curls across his lips. “An’ if’n there’s one thing ol’ Bolt likes better’n a fight with that blue-skinned horny toad, it’s the chance to earn some hard-edged cash,” Bolt savors, “Yessir-ree-bob, old boy Bolt, this is gonna be fun!”
To be continued!