Firestorm saves the crew of the tugboat Kiev during an incident in New York Harbor. Ronnie and Professor Stein attend the Bon Voyage reception for Ed and Felicity Raymond. Ronnie and Doreen visit Hugo Hammer at Mercy Hospital in Pittsburgh. While there, Ronnie meets Eddie Slick, a wrestling promoter and Martin Stein look-alike. Slick's wrestler, King Crusher, is released from Mercy Hospital. Slick feeds his fighter a strange designer drug to strengthen him, but it has a most unexpected side effect. Professor Stein and Dr. Emily Rice enjoy dinner on the town.
New York Bay, like any busy harbor, has its share of near-disasters. Usually with luck and skill, real disasters are avoided. But, for the men of the tugboat ‘Kiev’, on this cool pre-spring morning, both luck and skill have proven elusive. Only a miracle can save them now.
The ‘Kiev’ steams head-on for a wayward garbage scow and collision is imminent. Deckhands wave wildly at the scow, but its course does not waver. Firestorm, flying high above, sees the danger and flies down to intercept.
“Some days I feel like a magnet, Professor, attracting trouble wherever I go,” Ronnie sighs, asking “If I weren’t here to save the guys on that tug, would they have gotten into this mess in the first place?”
FZZAM! A restructuring burst forms a geyser of water that lifts the tug into the sky and out of the path of the garbage scow. “Sophistry, Ronald? Now I know you’re a college man,” Professor Stein replies, asking, “’If a tree falls in a forest with no one to hear…does it make a sound?’”
The scow passes safely past as the geyser starts to subside. Ronnie flies down underneath the tug. “Huh?” Ronnie asks confusedly. Stein explains, “An old philosophical question, my boy…One we physicists rather enjoy, considering the oddities of quantum mechanics.”
Ronnie aims a restructuring burst at the tug’s smokestack. Instantly, a giant parachute appears above the tug just as it starts to fall back with the geyser. The parachute’s canopy fills with air, and the tug gently floats down.
“Uh, quantum mechanics?” Ronnie asks, “Aren’t we paddling over the deep end of the pool, Professor?” The tug lands back in the water. “Hm? Oh, yes, I suppose so,” Stein answers, “Sorry, you were saying, my boy…?” Ronnie guides them back towards Manhattan. “I forget,” he replies, adding, “Let’s get back to Dad and Felicity’s bon voyage party. This kinda talk gives me a headache.”
Ronnie brings them down on the deck of a cruise ship docked in the Harbor. “Has your father said where he and Felicity are going on their honeymoon, Ronald?” Stein asks. Ronnie explains, “Somewhere in South America, I think. Truth is, the wedding this morning - - and the stuff that happened yesterday - - has left me so dazed I don’t remember what Dad said.”
Ronnie stands next to the deck railing away from the crowds and initiates the transformation. Ronnie and Professor Stein step out of Firestorm, encircled by an atomic ring of light. “Yes, it must have been a shock,” Stein nods. Ronnie rubs his forehead. “First, I find out Felicity knows you and I are Firestorm,” Ronnie reviews, “Then, after some twists and turns I don’t want to think about, Dad’s true father shows up, a regular blast from the past. Add that to Hugo Hammer breaking his neck yesterday during a football game at our school, while he was wearing my helmet…and maybe it’s no wonder I’m suffering from brain burn-out.”
Ronnie looks worn down as he and Stein walk along to the back of the ship. They return to the reception party where people dance and happily talk amongst each other. “All I want to do is get through this party and back to Pittsburgh with Doreen,” Ronnie says.
Felicity waves to Ronnie from across the room. “I think your new stepmother wants a word with you first, Ronald.” Ronnie watches as she approaches them. “Felicity may have married my Dad, Professor, but that doesn’t make her my stepmother,” Ronnie answers, adding, “I’m still not sure how I feel about her and…”
Felicity calls to him, “Ronnie - - can we talk?” She wraps her arm around his. “Uh, sure, Felicity…” Ronnie answers, and she leads him to a spot away from the others. “Thanks for your help as Firestorm yesterday,” she whispers, “I want to answer a question you asked then…” Ronnie asks, “What question..?” Safely away from other ears, Felicity answers. “Did I drop my lawsuit against Firestorm because I guessed your secret?” she asks, “The answer is no.” Ronnie looks a little confused, asking, “Then why - - ?”
She explains, “Your argument in court convinced me I was wrong about you…about Firestorm. In my mind, I’d seen you as a grandstanding buffoon who played super-hero games without regard for consequences. I was partly right, of course - - you don’t think about consequences - - but despite the way you behave, you’re no buffoon. After your speech, it hit me that I was less interested in justice than revenge. You put me out of business by accident, but I wanted to put you out of business on purpose. Morally, I was on shaky ground.”
She reaches a hand to rub his cheek gently. “What else could I do but drop the case?” she asks. “You’re something else,” Ronnie replies. She smiles at him. “Wait till you get to know me,” she answers, “You might even like me.” She turns to go back to the party. Ronnie leans on the deck rail, looking out over the Bay. “All ashore that’s going ashore…all ashore…” the ship’s P.A. announces as departure is imminent.
Shortly after, Ronnie and Doreen stand on the dock along with hundreds of happy friends and relatives. They wave and cheer as the cruise ship slowly pulls away from the dock. “Gotta say, Ronnie, she and your Dad make a great couple,” Doreen tells him, asking, “Did you know she went to college in western Pennsylvania, before she entered Harvard Law?”
She and Ronnie wave, looking for Ed and Felicity among the passengers lining the decks. “I guess there’s a lot I don’t know about Felicity, Doreen,” Ronnie answers. Seagulls float along behind the cruise ship as tugboats nurse it out to sea. “The lady’s just full of surprises…” Ronnie thinks.
Dusk: The end of a long day. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Mercy Hospital. “Ah…Thanks for comin’ round, Ronnie…Doreen,” Hugo Hammer greets his visitors, “The…uh, the doctors say it doesn’t look too good.” Hugo lies in bed, breathing oxygen from a nasal cannula. An IV drips fluid slowly into his arm. “They say I broke my neck…and, ah, cut my spine,” he continues, “But…uh…the way I look at it…it could’a been worse.”
Tears stream from Doreen’s eyes as she listens. Ronnie looks at his injured friend in silence, lost in thought about what might have been. Slowly, he and Doreen walk to the hallway. “It’s so…Doesn’t he understand what’s happened to him, Ronnie?” Doreen asks sadly. “Hugo isn’t as slow as he talks, Doreen,” Ronnie answers, adding, “He knows.”
In the hallway, Coach Percy is speaking to a police officer. The officer takes notes on a notepad. The Coach notices Ronnie and Doreen. “That’s Raymond now,” he tells the officer. Coach Percy waves at them, asking, “Ronnie, could you come here? Tell this Officer what you told me…about your helmet.”
Ronnie steps toward the officer and Coach Percy as Doreen walk over to speak with Hugo’s family. “Sure, Coach. You see, sir, Hugo Hammer’s kind of absentminded,” Ronnie explains, “Yesterday morning, during the game, he took my helmet by mistake…and during a play, when he was tackled pretty hard, the helmet flew off. Without his helmet’s extra protection when he hit the ground, Hugo’s neck snapped like glass. Doctors say he’ll be paralyzed from the waist down…”
The officer nods, taking notes. Several doors down, Cliff Carmichael leans on the wall, watching them. “That’s rotten luck, but near as I can see, it’s an accident…” the officer tells Ronnie. “No, it wasn’t,” Ronnie continues, “After the game, I looked at my helmet…the helmet Hugo wore. The strap had been cut through, leaving only a narrow strip to hold the helmet on. What happened to Hugo was supposed to happen to me.” The officer frowns. “Okay, we’ll want that helmet. I hope nobody touched it but you and the Hammer kid,” he replies. Coach Percy tells him, “Don’t worry. It’s locked in my office at the University.”
A slight motion nearby catches Ronnie’s eye. “Huh? That’s weird,” he says, “I thought I saw Cliff Carmichael standing at the end of the hall…but nobody’s there now.” He watches Doreen and Hugo’s family. “Where is Cliff anyway? Hugo’s his cousin. You’d think - - Oh, my God…Cliff?” Ronnie asks himself nervously. “He’s hated my guts since High School,” Ronnie thinks quickly, “Could he be the one who...?”
Ronnie turns sharply, walking quickly down the hall. “Ronnie, where are you going?” Doreen asks. “Back in a sec, Doreen. There’s something I’ve got to do,” Ronnie answers. “I can’t believe it,” he thinks, “Not even Cliff would try to kill someone. No sign of him…maybe I was seeing things. I wish the Professor wasn’t having a later dinner with Dean Rice downtown. Sure could use his advice right about…”
Ronnie suddenly sees Professor Stein walking into a patient’s room. “Huh? Professor? Professor Stein?” Ronnie blurts, but the man does not respond. Ronnie quickly walks behind him into the room. “Professor, what are you doing he…whoops.” Ronnie starts to say.
Inside the room, a huge man, bald and shirtless, sits on the hospital bed. The man Ronnie followed wraps a blanket over the man’s shoulders. “Hey, kid. No free show,” the Stein look-alike tells him, adding, “You wanna see the King, buy a ticket for tonight’s match like everybody else.” The huge man stands and the Stein look-alike guides him to the door.
“Uh, sorry…” Ronnie replies bewildered, “I thought you were somebody else…” Ronnie walks into the hallway as the two men head down the corridor. “That guy looks enough like Professor Stein to be his twin,” Ronnie thinks, “I better get back to Doreen and the others.”
Outside, a few moments later… “Eddie! I don’t feel so good,” the King says, asking, “Did the docs tell you I should check out?” The two men walk out of the lobby to a waiting taxi. “Aw, whatta doctors know from wrestlers, Crusher? Eddie Slick’s been your manager ten years. Did he ever steer you wrong?” Eddie replies with a smile.
Crusher squeezes his gigantic frame into the back seat. Eddie holds up a pill bottle. “These pills I got for you - - didn’t they make you bigger, stronger, just like I promised?” he asks. “Yeah, Eddie…” the King nods, adding, “But the doctors, they say it’s the pills that’ve been makin’ me feel sick. Steroids, Eddie. The say steroids are bad news.” Eddie sits in the front passenger seat. He opens the pill bottle and drops four pills into the King’s hand. “Hey, then everything’s A-OK, old buddy,” Eddie smiles, “’Cause these ain’t steroids.”
The cab pulls away into the moonlit Manhattan streets. “Had this batch made special by a guy I know who used to do some chemistry for Tony Molina’s Mob,” Eddie explains, “Guy calls it a designer drug. Cute, huh? G’wan, Crusher. Eat up. You’ll feel great. Trust me.” The King opens his mouth and tosses the pills in.”
“Trust me,” Dr. Emily Rice says. Professor Stein takes a bite of his dinner as they sit in a quiet restaurant. “I didn’t support you for an instructorship at Vandemeer University because I wanted a lover, Martin,” she continues, “Give me a little credit for pride. Nonetheless, I can’t deny I find you attractive, and I had hoped…”
Stein interjects. “Emily, may I say something?” he asks, explaining, “Women remain a mystery to me. In my entire life, I’ve known only three women romantically. Two of those relationships, with a woman named Crystal Frost, and with my ex-wife Clarissa, ended in disaster for all concerned. When you made it clear you felt an interest in me…I panicked. I behaved badly, questioning your motives, ducking out of dates…All I can say is, I’m sorry.” Emily smiles at him. “Apology accepted,” she answers, suggesting, “Let’s start from scratch…But promise me one thing. Tonight, no matter how nervous you get…don’t run out on me.”
Across the street from the restaurant, a long line of people queues up outside the sports arena where the marquee announces “Tonite – Wrestling.” Inside in the locker room, Eddie puts a cape on the shoulders of his fighter. “…don’t run out on me,” Eddie tells King Crusher, “Y’hear? I’ve got a lot riding on this match, Crusher. My rep is on the line. Mambo’s boys didn’t think you’d show.”
The King sits with his shoulders slumped. Sweat drips down his head. He runs his hand over his bald head, grimacing with discomfort. “But Eddie, I still don’t feel good…” he groans, “Those pills…” Eddie adjusts Crusher’s championship belt. “Right, y’need more pills. Big guy like you, you need a big dose. Take six - - you’ll feel fine in no time.” Eddie taps out several pills from the bottle into Crusher’s hand. Sweat runs from Crusher’s brow as he looks warily at the pills.
Shortly after, Crusher stands in his corner of the ring. Crowds cheer and clap, eagerly awaiting the match. A wrestler stands in the opposite corner, blue cape waving as he exults to the crowd. “…in the right corner, 340 pounds of solid beef,” the ring announcer says into the overhead microphone, “the current holder of the Global Wresting gold belt, the royal presence of professional sports…King Crusher!” The crowd cheers as Crusher throws off his cape and flexes his muscles, arms raised high over his head.
“And in the left corner, 366 pounds of maniacal muscle, the challenger from Cincinnati, everyone’s favorite snake…Killer Mambo!” cries the ring announcer. Another cheer goes up from the crowd. Killer Mambo tosses his cape and glares at Crusher, raising his arms to soak up the applause.
Crusher leans down to ringside. “Eddie…please…” he says softly, grimacing as sweat pours down his head and face. “You’re the best, Crusher,” Eddie answers, “Get in there and bust his head.” Crusher reluctantly walks away to take his position in the ring.
Eddie turns to a shady thug next to him. “You tell Molina, I done what I could,” Eddie explains to him, “Tell him after tonight, I’m gonna need a new boy. Crusher’s nothin’ now but a hunk of used meat. But what the heck, hey…? ‘Least the big guy’s good for one last show.”
KLLAANNG! The bell rings to start the match and the crowd cheers wildly. Crusher and Killer Mambo stampede towards each other and…KTTHOOM! They collide in a mass of muscles and begin wrestling.
“Brrr, cold. Why does spring seem to start later and later each year,” Emily asks as she and Professor Stein leave the restaurant. “Climatology’s not my specialty, Miss Rice. Physics, that’s my line,” he answers, “For instance, I could explain the effect of attractive forces on sub-nuclear particles.” Dr. Rice leans close to hug him. “Mmm-hmm,” she says softly. “Which would you like to hear about?” Stein continues, asking, “The weak force, the strong force, or the magnetic…” Emily reaches up to touch his cheeks, silencing him with a kiss.
“C’mon, ya overgrown meatball!” Eddie yells at Crusher, “Fight back! People paid money for this, so give ‘em a show!” Crusher struggles, lying on his back desperately trying not to get pinned as Killer Mambo wraps him tightly around his neck and shoulders. Eddie stands next to Crusher, looking on intently. “Eddie…it hurts bad, Eddie,” Crusher pleads, “The pills…”
Slowly, Crusher seems to gain strength and size. The fearful look that was in his eyes gives way to a maniacal wide-eyed expression. He scowls and smiles slightly, clenching his fists…then…
“Holy sh…!” blurts Killer Mambo. Almost instantly, Crusher springs out of the hold and snatches Killer Mambo, thrusting him above his head. The stunned Killer Mambo flails helplessly. Crusher flings Killer Mambo to the mat like a sack of potatoes. KWHAMM! Killer Mambo smashes down and lays motionless.
The crowd quickly senses something has gone wrong. Eddie watches and then nervously makes a break for the nearest exit. “Crazy! It’s crazy! What happened to him?” Eddie asks as he pushes open the exit door. He pauses to look back. “Those pills, they must’ve - - oh, Lord, look at his eyes..! He’s gonna kill me!” The crowd begins to panic as Crusher leaps over the ring ropes and storms into the seats. “EDDDIEEE!” he bellows with eyes glowing strangely.
Eddie bolts for the lobby as the horrified crowd rushes for the exits. Professor Stein and Emily walk across the street. “Kill me - - got get outta here!” Eddie thinks, running fearfully while looking back.
“Martin, all these people running from the arena…what’s going on?” Emily asks worriedly. “I don’t…” Stein begins to answer just as Eddie smashes into him. “Eh! Watch where you’re…” Stein blurts out. “Get away from me!” Eddie yells in Stein’s face, quickly shoving him out of the way and running past. “Of all the rude…” Stein scoffs. Emily gasps, looking at the arena entrance in terror. “Martin…” she calls softly.
“EDDDIEEE!” Crusher yells, storming into the street. He sees Professor Stein. “EDDDIEEEE!” he bellows. “O, my dear Lord,” Stein gasps as Crusher moves to attack!
To be continued!