Darkseid watches as his side game continues while his plans against Earth's legends goes on. The Parasite forces Ronnie and the Professor to split after absorbing their energy. Ronnie learns a shocking revelation about the Professor which leads to friction between them. Firehawk arrives in Pittsburgh to battle the Parasite.
There are values to games: Amusement, instruction, a way to idle away time until more important matters call. Not all games are equal. The more complex the mind, the more intricate the diversion must be; that which amuses the child should not necessarily be expected to amuse the adult.
While he awaits the playing out of all his machinations with Earth’s legends, Darkseid has amused himself with playing with the little lives of some of the humans. He causes the Parasite to be reborn, watched as it stripped Firehawk of her energy and with it her powers. With her energy, the Parasite also absorbed her memories and within those found the name of another potential source of energy - - Firestorm!
The Nuclear Man confronted the threat, and the Parasite absorbed Firestorm’s energy as well, causing him to fission back into his normal vulnerable selves. All in all, it has been a delightful recreation for the dark god.
But now, his major interest is rushing towards its final crisis. Darkseid turns from his recreation towards more serious matters. For the pawns in his game, things couldn’t be more serious.
Parasite stands on the floor of the abandoned Hannigan Steel Mill. His fists clench the coats of Ronnie Raymond and Martin Stein. He holds them suspended with their feet dangling above the floor.
“Of course, if I drain your normal energy, you’ll die. A quick snack, but that’s all,” Parasite tells his captives. “But if I keep you alive, you can form Firestorm again. Feed me again. Isn’t that preferable to dying?”
Stein looks down at the green-skinned creature. “…No…I won’t! I refuse!” he answers.
Parasite glares at him. “That’s easy for you to say, Professor. You’re already dying,” he replies.
“What!?” Ronnie blurts out.
“Oh, that’s right. He didn’t tell you about the brain tumor,” Parasite explains. “Found out a few weeks ago. It’s inoperable. He has a year - - max. I found it out when I absorbed your energies. I got your memories, too, Ronnie. All of them, Ronnie! I know you can force the fusion process whether the Prof here wants it or not. The Prof hasn’t any family or friends. You do. When I consume normal folks’ energy, they die. So, how defiant are you feeling, Ronnie?”
WHRRAAAEEEEEEEEE! REEEREEEREEEREEE! Screeeeeeeeeech! “Cops!” Parasite snaps, “I didn’t order out!” The police quickly surround the building. Officers fan out, several carrying M-16s.
“Firestorm! This is Len Davis!” the Police Commander calls through a bullhorn. “I’m here with Chief Ferguson! The Presidential ban is still in effect! We want you and whoever you’re fighting to come out slowly and surrender. We don’t have any option on this. Come out now!”
Parasite eyes the entrances intently. “Okay…Len. You want both Firestorm and his opponent, you’ll get both in a swell package!” he says. “Just let me find a pantry to put the groceries in first!”
FZAAM! Parasite floats up and blasts through the roof of the mill. He rises up above the building carrying Ronnie and the Professor. “This is good,” Parasite announces. FZAPP! Using a transforming burst from Firestorm’s powers, Parasite attaches the hands and feet of Ronnie and Stein to a mill smokestack. The two men hang suspended high above the roof.
“Stay put, Professor, Ronnie. No one likes having to look for lunch,” Parasite tells them. “First, I’m gonna work up an appetite!” SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Parasite turns and flies off, leaving a fiery trail in the sky behind him.
“Arms…feel like…they’re being ripped out of my sockets!” Ronnie groans. “Haven’t felt this bad since I was gang tackled by the MSU front line!”
Professor Stein looks over and asks, “Ronald, can we form Firestorm? Try?”
Ronnie closes his eyes and concentrates for several moments, but nothing happens. “Uhnnn! Ahhhh, it’s no good, Professor,” Ronnie sighs. “It’s like the last time we battled Typhoon; we haven’t built up enough energy to fuse back!”
Ronnie struggles against the restraints. “Professor, why didn’t you tell me about the tumor?” Ronnie asks.
“I…Well, I meant to…But…there’s been problems between us of late…”
“I’m sorry, Professor, but that’s a crock!” Ronnie replies. Sweat drips down his face from the effort of trying to fuse them.
“I’m a very private person, Ronald,” Stein explains. “I’ve never been very good with people…with sharing things…”
“I know that, Professor, but anything that affects you in such a basic way has got to affect us both as Firestorm!” Ronnie replies. “Whether you like me or trust me or whatever doesn’t matter! This affects me, too! You had no right to keep it a secret!”
On the street far below, the flame-haired Parasite walks out of the steel mill. “I’m telling you, Chief, that’s not Firestorm!” Davis calls over. He stands with his men while Chief Ferguson stands near a police cruiser several feet away.
“You tell him, Len! The name’s Parasite, Ferguson!” the creature yells to them.
“Whoever, or whatever, I’m telling you to surrender!” Chief Ferguson orders.
Parasite simply smiles at him, taunting, “Make me.”
POW! BLAM! BLAM! POW! POW! BLAM! POW! BLAM! The police open fire at Parasite. FZAAM! Parasite uses a transforming beam aimed at his feet to instantly create a large stone wall between himself and the oncoming barrage of bullets. Zinng! Speedoo! The bullets harmlessly hit and ricochet off the wall.
“My turn,” Parasite announces. BDOOM! The stone shards are only inches long, edged like razors, and have the velocity of small missiles. They smash against metal and splinter into smaller shards. They rip through flesh and bone like shrapnel.
“Unnnhgh!” an officer cries out as he is hit. “Aaaaagh!” yells another as he is wounded.
“Hey, let’s protect our local cops,” Parasite calls to them. “Seal ‘em airtight in plastic blocks so they’ll last forever. You can put ‘em on display down at Police H.Q., Chief.” FZAAP! FZAAP!
Parasite smiles at the Chief. He holds his hands out in front of him. “And now…for my next trick..!” he announces.
KKKKKKFWA-BOOOMM! Parasite detonates a small nuclear explosion in his hands! BUH-BOOM-BOOOOM! Shock waves ripple outwards, blasting several officers down as a small mushroom cloud rises from Parasite’s hands.
“Now…I’ll just…aaaaabsorb it all back into me!” Parasite tells them. Incredibly, the energy release from the explosion stops expanding and flows right back into Parasite! “No muss. No radiation. No consequences. This time! Hahahahahaha!” Parasite warns.
“Pull the men back, Len. I’m not going to sacrifice any more of them,” Ferguson orders. “Okay, Parasite. You’ve proven how tough you are. Want to tell me what it is you want?”
“Don’t worry about me, Chief. Whatever I want, I’ll just take. Or make,” Parasite answers. He aims a transforming burst at the railroad tracks at his feet. FZAAAP! Instantly, a huge diamond appears next to him.
“This doesn’t have to be a diamond, you know. It could be a gold nugget or a chicken wing that size,” Parasite explains. “Or maybe, I’ll set off another nuclear blast. Let it go this time. The electromagnetic pulse would wipe out our communications, wreck defense systems, wipe computers clean. Got any idea of the mess that would make of the banking system, Fergie?”
The Chief tries to reason with the maniacal mind of Parasite. “Supposing you could do all that, Parasite, why would you want to?”
A sly smile forms on Parasite’s lips. “Just because I can, Fergie,” he replies.
SSSSSSSSSSSSSS! Like a meteor trail, a flaming figure speeds through the sky and rapidly approaches Pittsburgh.
“I don’t get it, Professor,” Ronnie wonders. “The Parasite almost seems to have more power than we do as Firestorm!”
Stein nods. “He needs only one mind to focus the power. We need two and we are not always well synchronized. He’s wasting his power, however. Look at his hair. It’s shorter!”
Ronnie looks down at Parasite far below them. “So?” he asks.
“By flaunting his stolen power, he’s consuming it at a far faster rate than he would otherwise!” Stein explains. “He’ll have only his own power shortly, formidable though that is!”
Ronnie thinks quickly. “And that might give us a chance! C’mon, Professor! Concentrate! Maybe we can fuse now!” he exclaims.
Atomic rings sparkle and dance between them… “Uhnnn! It’s no good, my boy,” Stein moans. “We still haven’t stored up enough energy to trigger the ignition!”
Down on the street, Chief Ferguson continues trying to negotiate with Parasite. “Look, Parasite, if need be, we can get others to deal with you. Folks whose powers surpass yours!” he tells the creature.
Parasite smiles and nods at him eagerly. “Do it!” he directs. “Why not start with the Man of Steel? For some reason, I got a real deep down interest in meeting him!”
A voice from above calls out unexpectedly and startles Parasite. “He’s busy,” the voice tells him, suggesting, “Start with me.”
“Huh?!” Parasite blurts in surprise.
SHAKOWWWWWW! “In case you’ve forgotten, the name’s Firehawk!” she yells as she flashes past. Her fiery wake roars over Parasite!
“Argh!” he cries out as he staggers. “Wrong, Bimbo! It’s dead meat!” he yells after her.
FWOOSH! Parasite propels himself skyward in pursuit. “He’s got Firestorm’s raw power, all right!” Firehawk thinks as she watches him approach. “But neither his smarts nor his agility!”
She quickly dodges as Parasite shoots toward her. SWOOOOOSH! “Hey!” Parasite gasps as he passes by her. WHAM! Parasite smashes into a smokestack. Firehawk extends her wings and floats near him. “That’s taken some of the wind out of his sails. And his lungs,” she thinks.
“Firehawk!” both Ronnie and Professor Stein yell out to her. She turns and sees them suspended high in the air on another smokestack nearby. “Boys, there are easier ways of getting my attention!” she tells them with relief as she flies over to them.
“Thank heavens you’re still alive!” Stein answers her.
“It wasn’t because big and stupid didn’t try. He beat me as Firehawk and I woke up as Lorraine!” she explains. “After that, it was still almost an hour before I could get up enough energy to change back to Firehawk! In the meantime, I heard about the attack here in Pittsburgh. I took the high road approach and saw his energy flashes as I got closer. Give me a second and I’ll get you free.”
“There’s no time!” Stein warns. “Listen, you must use your superior endurance to wear the Parasite down; make him burn up energy while he chases you! Keep him angry but keep him distant!”
Firehawk looks to her right and sees Parasite quickly approaching them. “Angry is no problem; distant may be,” she answers.
“Then go! Don’t worry about us!” Stein directs her.
SWOOOOOSH! She flies off, quickly gaining speed. FOOOSH! Parasite pursues, bearing down on her intently. “Compromise, Professor. I’ll go and worry about you!” Firehawk thinks.
She leads Parasite into the massive expanse of the steel mill’s interior. SWOOOOSH! “Hurt yourself, Beefcakes? Maybe I should kiss and make it better?” she asks.
SWOOOSH! FWOOOM! They twist and turn around the rafters. “I’ll give you a kiss, Lorraine. One that’ll go to the back of your throat and leave you nothin’ but a husk!” he calls back.
Firehawk turns abruptly, criss-crossing back on her flaming path and ducking in behind a large industrial cauldron. “Great!” she thinks. “He knows who I am! Got to dump this chump and find out from Ron and the Professor how we’re going to deal with him!”
She watches as Parasite falls for the diversion. He turns and follows one of her fiery paths as she watches from behind him. “That’s right, Flame-for-Brains. Go where you think I went. While I slip out the side and rescue Ronnie and the Professor!” she thinks. She turns and sails out of a mill window, flying back towards the smokestack where the two men hang helplessly.
“Firehawk! Behind you!” Stein yells out as she approaches.
Parasite swoops down and wraps his arms around her neck. “Big mistake, my dear!” he snarls in her ear. “I got their power and their memories, which means I also got the Professor’s smarts! I figured out real quick what game you were playing!”
Firehawk struggles in his grip. “Uh! Can’t move!” she thinks nervously.
“So all this running around has done you no good, Lorraine. It just made me hungry,” Parasite says with a smile. He squeezes his arm tighter around her throat and begins an energy drain.
SSSSUUUUUCCKKKK! “No! He’s absorbing…me energy again!” Firehawk groans. FZAAM! She fires a burst from her hand toward Ronnie and the Professor. “Only hope…I can feed Ronnie and the Professor, too!” she thinks anxiously.
An atomic ring forms in the air near the top of the smokestack. It rapidly gets larger and larger until…BLAM! Firestorm fuses with explosive force, shattering the bricks and mortar of the smokestack!
FZAPP! FZAAM! Ronnie reforms the smokestack with restructuring bursts to prevent the deadly rain from falling onto the police teams below.
Parasite pulls energy from Firehawk quickly. Within seconds, her Firehawk persona fades away, leaving Lorraine Reilly clutched in Parasite’s powerful grip. “There’s Lorraine! All back to normal!” Parasite observes.
She fights against his grip, pushing her hands into his neck. “…Let…go!” she groans as she struggles.
“No, I don’t think so. You’ve come back once to bother me,” he answers. “It’s time for dessert, Lorraine, and you’re it!”
SSSSUUUUCCCKKK! “NOOOOOOOOO!” Lorraine yells in agony as her life force drains away.
Ronnie soars next to Parasite and Lorraine. “She said no, Jerkwad. Take a hint. Take a hike,” he tells Parasite.
FZAAM! Ronnie fires a nuclear blast at Parasite, blowing him back in the air! Ronnie quickly catches Lorraine. “She’s out but she’s still alive, Professor,” he says as he looks her over quickly.
“Ronald, the Parasite. He’s coming back!” Stein warns.
FZAAP! “I saw him,” Ronnie replies as he encases Parasite in a giant diamond. “No sweat.”
The diamond plummets. WHOMP! It lands on the ground next to the steel mill. “Let’s not get overconfident, Ronald!” Stein cautions.
KKKKRAAK-A-DOOOMM! The diamond explodes away from Parasite! “RARRRRGG!” he bellows, extending his wings and flexing powerfully. “You’re dead, Punk! The girl’s dead, your family’s dead, anyone who ever shook hands with you is dead! You hear me?!” Parasite growls at Firestorm.
“Yeah. Real stupid, Parasite. Threatening me is one thing. Threatening those I care about is another,” Ronnie answers, slowly walking closer. “Because there’s only one sure way of protecting them, isn’t there? And I don’t have to come close to you to do it.”
Ronnie aims at the earth at Parasite’s feet. FZAAP! Instantly, a barrage of rocks blasts into Parasite! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! “Arrrgh!” Parasite groans. WHAM! BAM! BAM! THUD! THUD! THUD!
Stones are ripped off the Earth, formed into plugs, and flung at the Parasite with the force and rapidity of an Uzi. “STOP IT!” Parasite yells, trying to shield his head with his hands. WHACK! CRACK! THUD! BLUD! THUD! THUD! THUD! WHAM! WHAM! WHAM!
“No,” Ronnie answers him calmly.
“STOP!” Parasite yells out. FASHHHH! Parasite unleashes energy to blow back the rock barrage. Ronnie fires another restructuring beam at Parasite’s feet. Then come the cables coiling around him, biting him with electric fangs.
ZZZAAAP! K*K*K*K*K*K*K! “YARRG!” Parasite yells in pain as the cables encircle his neck and chest. He grips the cables and pulls on them. SNAP! KKKRAKKLE! PAP! With great effort, he rips the cables away.
“Huff! Heuh!” he grunts. “Not bad, kid! But I’ve taken the worst you had to offer and I’m still standing!” Ronnie walks closer as police start to form up behind him. Parasite’s hair is no longer flaming with energy.
“The worst? No, you’ve just sampled the start,” Ronnie answers. “I watched how you handled my power. Got an idea of what I could do if I didn’t hold back, like how you created that controlled nuclear explosion. You’re pretty tough, Parasite. Almost invulnerable. But I wonder if you could survive one of those nuclear explosions. Let’s find out.”
Ronnie glares at Parasite. Commander Davis, Chief Ferguson, and Lorraine look on fearfully. “Ronald, you’re not serious?” Stein blurts. “Ronald?”
Ronnie holds his hand out and small rings of nuclear energy start to radiate from his palm. “…You’re serious..!” Parasite exclaims, eyes wide with nervousness. FASSSHHH! “I’m getting outta here!” he cries out, quickly leaping into the air. FOOOSH! Ronnie flies up in close pursuit.
He is no longer Parasite. Once more he’s Ruby Jones, the petty loser that he was before he became the Parasite. He flees, frantically trying to escape a flame-topped fury that relentlessly stalks and finally strikes him!
FZAAM! Ronnie focuses a transforming beam at Parasite, sealing him in a yellow crystal container. “Ah, I see, Ronald,” Stein observes. “It was all a ruse. Make him burn up the stolen energy. What is that you have him encased in?”
Parasite starts to fall back to Earth. “Amber,” Ronnie explains.
“I see. And were you planning to let it just drop back to Earth?” Stein asks.
Ronnie follows behind as Parasite plummets. “Yep,” he answers.
“I…see, Well, the cocoon you’ve put him in may give him enough protection to survive. But what if it doesn’t?” Stein asks.
“Right now, Professor, I really don’t care,” Ronnie replies.
WHOMP! Parasite lands with an explosion of dirt and rock! Parasite lies motionless at the bottom of a large crater. “Is…Is he alive, Ronald?” Stein asks.
Ronnie lands at the crater’s edge. “For the moment,” he answers as he looks down at Parasite.
Ferguson and Davis walk over to the crater. “Okay, Firestorm. We’ll take him now. We just got word the Presidential ban’s been lifted. Go home,” Ferguson tells Firestorm.
“What makes you think you can hold him?” Ronnie asks.
“There’s a new prison / holding facility down in Louisiana called Belle Reve that specializes in characters like the Parasite,” Ferguson explains. “We’ve got a call in to them and some of their experts are on the way here. In any case, it’s not your job. Getting rid of that big diamond he created, fixing up the steel mill - - those are things you should be attending to.”
Ronnie nods. “I’ll take care of the diamond on my way out and deal with the factory tomorrow,” he answers. Lorraine walks up to join them. “Make sure your guys do their job as well, Chief,” Ronnie calls as he soars into the air.
“He scares me,” Ferguson says.
“The Parasite?” Davis asks.
“Firestorm,” Ferguson answers.
“What? C’mon, Chief! Flame-Top’s on our side!” Davis replies.
“Is he?” Ferguson asks. “Look, your buddy Firestorm chooses to obey the law right now, but what if he didn’t? There isn’t a force on Earth could make him obey. Him or any of the others like him! All these ‘heroes’ work outside the law, and so long as society has no way of compelling them to obey, we stand in danger of bringing the whole structure down and that’s what scares me about Firestorm!”
Lorraine stands near, listening to Chief Ferguson. “Maybe I’ll rethink that idea of transferring to Vandemeer! Something scary is happening to Ronnie…to Firestorm,” she thinks. “I really think he intended to kill the Parasite!”
Several minutes later, Ronnie comes down to land near the dorm buildings on the campus of Vandemeer University. In a flash of atomic light, he and Professor Stein fission out of Firestorm and back to their separate personas.
“Ronald, were you going to kill the Parasite, there at the end?” Stein asks.
“I don’t know. Maybe, for that moment, I wanted to,” Ronnie answers.
“Ronald, I’m appalled..!” Stein exclaims, reaching out towards Ronnie with his hand.
“So am I!” Ronnie replies, growing irritated. “You’re the guy making a big thing about trust between us, but you hide the fact you’re dying from me! Whatever our problems, I thought we were sorta friends! But we’re not! We’re just two strangers who share a secret! Maybe that’s all we ever were.”
The two men turn from each other and slowly walk off in opposite directions. “Maybe that’s the way it should be!” Ronnie continues as they part. “Maybe it’s stupid to expect it to be anything more. Fine. From now on, I won’t!”
On Apokolips, all is dark. The gambit has failed, the challenger has gone to plot new strategies. The side game lies forgotten. It was never more than a divertisment for the dark god, a mischief with which to pass the time. An idle whim. As always, when the gods game with mortal lives, even their whims carry long shadows.