A suicide attempt stuns the Vandemeer University campus. Ronnie tries to talk to Doreen about an unexpected revelation affecting their relationship. The perpetrator of the sabotage of Ronnie's helmet confesses.
“Ay, but to die, and go we know not where; To lie in cold obstruction and to rot…”
Shakespeare, Measure for Measure, Act 3, Scene 1
“So odd to think…I’ll never see this season again. A year from now, at the most the doctors say, I’ll be dead because of the brain tumor,” thinks Professor Martin Stein. “Part of the time I’m angry; most of the time, I’m scared. Above all, what I am is certain…I don’t want to die.” He stands, leaning against his desk in his office at Vandemeer University. He longingly gazes out the window, watching the first leaves of autumn starting to fall.
“Professor Stein? May I come in?” asks the frail voice of Dr. Wendy Olsen.
“Mm? Oh, yes, yes, Wendy. What is it?” Stein answers.
“You’ve been very reclusive lately, Professor,” she replies with concern. “Several of us have been wondering what’s wrong…”
“There’s…ahh…it’s nothing, Wendy,” he answers. He takes off his glasses, cleaning the lenses with his handkerchief. “Really. Nothing you can do anything about.”
She watches him carefully. “I can listen, Professor. I know how to do that!” she says supportively.
“Yes, yes, I know you do,” Stein replies. “I…am not very good at talking, however.”
Wendy leans forward in her wheelchair towards him. “It’s not always what you succeed at, Professor, it’s what you try,” she says reassuringly. “And the truth is…you don’t have to try very hard. To have friends, you have to want to be a friend. And friends don’t shut themselves off from others as you have, Professor!”
She turns and heads out of his office. Stein stares down at the floor. “True enough, Wendy,” he thinks. “Perhaps I’m afraid of dying because I was never very good at living. I’ve kept people at a distance because letting them close always seemed to result in pain. I’ve alienated or let myself be alienated from everyone I ever knew. Lately that has even included Ronald, my other half as Firestorm. I’ve taken refuge in my intellect and flattered myself that, because it was larger than most people’s, it made me greater. “
Elsewhere on campus, Cliff Carmichael makes his way to the rooftop of a University building. Dark clouds hang in the evening sky. He somberly climbs the parapet wall and stands at the edge. He looks down, torn between jumping off the roof or climbing back down to safety. A tear rolls down his cheek.
“But what have I to show for my ‘gift’?” Professor Stein continues pondering. “The nuclear reactor I designed that was supposed to be my masterpiece blew up in my face. Now I even have questions about the basic safety and efficacy of all nuclear power! The accident at least created Firestorm, but even there I am merely a passive participant! Ronald makes all the decisions! I do have one decision to make. I shall not spend the days that are left to me ruing over what my life has or could have been! I will take the time and make something of it. Give it meaning; accomplish something that is worth doing. I will not waste the portion of life that remains to me.”
On the football field, Coach Percy confronts Ronnie after a drill. “Raymond, you’ve been missing far too many practices here and even when you’re here, you’re not all here,” the Coach explains.
“Yessir,” Ronnie replies.
“That won’t do, Raymond,” Coach Percy continues.
“No sir,” Ronnie answers anxiously.
“You’re riding the bench, Raymond, until I see a change in you!” the Coach adds. “It’s not only me, Raymond! Your teachers are having the same complaints about you! Better clean up your act, son, or you’ll find yourself not only bounced off the team…but out of the school! Understand?”
Ronnie stammers nervously, “Uhhhhh, yeah. Yessir. Thank you.” Coach Percy turns and walks towards other players. “Oh, wow,” Ronnie worriedly thinks. “I get kicked out of school and Dad’ll kill me! I better…hey, isn’t that…”
Doreen walks past. “Doreen? Hey, Doreen! Wait up!” Ronnie calls to her, jogging to catch up. “Man oh man! She must still be mad at me for when I had to cut out to fight the Parasite!” he thinks. “Doreen! Hey, c’mon; give me a chance!” he calls to her.
She stops and turns to face him. “I’m through giving you chances, Ronald!” she says, looking sad. She then turns quickly and continues walking.
“What?” Ronnie replies, “Hey! C’mon, Doreen! Wait!” He jogs to catch up to her again. “Look, I can explain about the other day if you’ll just give me the chance!” he pleads.
“So…How’s your father, Ronnie?” she asks, not breaking stride.
“My father? What’s he got to do..?” Ronnie asks confusedly.
“Your father was the reason you left in such a hurry the other night, remember?” she answers as she glares at him. “No, of course you don’t. You don’t even bother to keep your lies straight anymore! And don’t you dare deny it! I followed you, Ronald! I saw you meet Professor Stein and then the two of you disappeared!”
Ronnie looks at her with surprise. “You followed me?! Hey, what kind of trust is that?” he asks.
“All that you deserve!” she snaps back at him. “Why didn’t you just tell me you had to meet Professor Stein? Unless there’s some sort of connection between you two that you don’t want me to know about!”
“What are you saying?” Ronnie replies hesitantly.
RRREEERRREE! “Hey, what’s with the siren?” Ronnie asks.
“Some guy’s atop the Nelson Building and he’s gonna jump!” a student tells Ronnie and Doreen as he runs past them towards the commotion. They quickly walk toward the nearby Nelson Building. A crowd gathers as police cars pull up alongside. People look up anxiously at a solitary figure standing on the edge of the six-story building’s roof.
“Oh, no! Somebody stop him!” Doreen cries out.
The dark clouds overhead start to give way to a thunderstorm. Lightning flickers in the sky. “Storm’s kicking up. Looks like it’s gonna be a bad one. If we don’t get that kid down quick…this wind’ll blow him off,” a student tells his companions.
A police officer approaches the base of the Nelson Building with a bullhorn. “Hey, up there! Stay steady and relax! No one wants to hurt you!” he calls up to the figure on the roof. “We just wanna talk, okay?”
On the edge of the building, at the lip of eternity, a young man wavers and fate decides. KRAKOOMM! Lightning blasts down and strikes the parapet wall of the Nelson Building!
It seems so slow. The body etched against the sky flutters like a leaf as it begins its fall. There is no time - - to scream, to run from revealing eyes, to call an orderly summoning of the power. If a life is to be saved, he must act now.
Doreen and Ronnie watch in horror as the man falls. Atomic rings start to dance in Ronnie’s mind. “…Ronald..?” Professor Stein blurts out as he feels the unexpected pull of fusion beginning.
The falling body flutters like a leaf. The power is summoned. The girl starts to turn. The hero appears. “Ron…nie?” Doreen gasps as she turns to see Firestorm standing next to her. The truth is revealed. A second has passed.
FWOSSH! Ronnie leaps into the air! “Ronald, what of our pact?” Stein asks quickly. “You swore that, for the time being, I alone would initiate the merger!”
Ronnie speeds below the falling man. “Unless a life was at stake, Professor!” He answers. “You yourself made that little condition, remember? And we’ve got about two seconds to save someone who just jumped off the building!”
FZAAM! “Ahhhh! Excellent idea, Ronald!” Stein observes as Ronnie aims a transforming beam at the man. “A parachute out of dust particles to slow his fall without breaking his neck!” Stein says. “He’s still falling much too fast, however! Might I suggest now changing the parachute to a helium balloon? I believe I’ve calculated for a negative buoyancy.”
“Worth a shot!” Ronnie answers quickly.
FZAAM! Instantly, the parachute transforms into a large balloon. The man’s fall slows quickly. “Yeahhh, that’s done it!” Ronnie says as he watches. “Let’s land, Professor. I wanna find out who this geek is. Maybe send some helium down his throat and make him talk funny.”
The man’s feet reach the ground. Ronnie aims at the balloon. FZAAM! POP! Ronnie deflates the balloon with a small nuclear burst. He looks over the man standing there. “Wha…Cliff Carmichael?” Ronnie thinks with shock.
Police officers rush up to Cliff, quickly grabbing him. “Nice work, Flametop!” an officer tells Firestorm. “If you hadna showed up, the kid woulda bought it for sure! We’ll take care of him now!”
Ronnie glares at his nemesis. “You can drop-kick him into the Ohio for all I care,” he snorts and leaps into the air.
“Ronald! That was uncalled for!” Stein chides him angrily.
“You don’t understand, Professor!” Ronnie answers. “I was right next to Doreen when Carmichael jumped! To save his crummy neck, I had to merge right in front of her! Do you understand what I’m saying, Professor? Doreen knows we’re Firestorm!” Lightning flashes in the sky and a driving rain starts to fall. Ronnie circles around above the campus. “Cripes! I can’t see her anywhere!” he frets.
“Ronald, calm down and think! The shock must have scared her,” Stein directs him. “Where is she likely to have gone?”
Ronnie continues looking through the rain. “I dunno…her room in the dorm, maybe,” he answers.
“Why don’t we commence our search there?” Stein suggests.
Ronnie quickly lands near the Women’s Dormitory Building. “I’ll duck down out of sight here,” Ronnie replies. “Protect our ‘secret identity,’ always assuming we still have a secret identity.” Seconds later, Ronnie and the Professor step out of Firestorm in a flash of fission.
“Do you want me with you when you speak to Doreen?” Stein asks.
“No, that’ll just scare her more! Sorry, Professor, but I gotta handle this by my lonesome,” Ronnie answers.
Stein nods and turns to head back to his office. “Just as well,” he thinks. “I want to know why the Carmichael boy tried to kill himself and this way I can get started.”
A short time later…Ronnie, still in his football uniform, walks down the hallway of the Women’s Dorm. “She’s not in her room, she’s not in my room, she’s not in the lounge…where is she?” he wonders with concern.
“Ron!” a voice calls to him.
Ronnie turns to look behind him. “Oh hi, Bree. Listen, have you seen Doreen?” he greets Bree Brandon.
“Yeah, she’s over in my room,” Bree answers. “She’s all upset and she won’t say why. You guys fighting, or what?”
Ronnie sighs. “Something like that,” he answers. “Listen, do you mind if Doreen and I just talk to each other for a bit, sort of private like?”
Bree nods. “In my room? Okay, I guess so. Room 301,” she answers.
“Thanks, Bree,” Ronnie replies.
“Es nada, Ron,” she says with a smile. Ronnie turns to head for her room. Bree watches him walk down the hallway. “And if Doreen doesn’t want you anymore, you come right back to ol’ Bree, you hear, handsome?” she thinks.
Ronnie finds his way to room 301. Nok! Nok! He raps on the door. “Doreen? It’s Ronnie. Look, I just saw Bree and she said you were in here. We gotta talk, Doreen! Please?” he asks.
After a long moment, Doreen answers. “Okay. Come in,” she calls softly out to Ronnie.
Ronnie walks in and sees Doreen sitting on the bed with her back to him. “I…uh…I know it must be pretty weird for you seeing me change into…well, the other guy like that, but, honey, I’m still me! The same goofed-up guy you’ve always known. I’m not a monster, Doreen..!” Ronnie starts to explain.
“I didn’t think you were, Ronnie. But I don’t know if you’re the ‘Ronnie’ I knew, either,” Doreen answers. “I was a bit spooked at first by what happened, I’ll admit. But that’s not the problem. We’ve been going together for a few years now, right? At least as long as this Firestorm character’s been around, right? I thought we were in love.” She pauses to wipe tears from her eyes. “I’ve always thought love was based on trust and caring and sharing,” she continues. “You never shared this with me, Ronnie…your being Firestorm. Just the most important thing in your life! Didn’t you think you could trust me, or what?”
Ronnie walks next to her. “It wasn’t just my secret to tell, Doreen. There’s Professor Stein, as well,” he answers.
“Did you ever ask him? Was it important enough to you to push the issue?” she asks, hanging her head on her hand. A long, quiet moment passes. “I didn’t think so,” she sighs sadly. “What does your Dad think about it? Does your stepmom know?”
“She guessed. I haven’t told Dad,” Ronnie explains.
Doreen turns sharply, pointing a finger at Ronnie. “She knows but he doesn’t?! You both keep it from him?!” she blurts. “Ronnie, do you have any idea of what that might do to their marriage if your Dad ever learned that?!”
Ronnie looks back at her with a downcast expression. “Dad and I have never been real close. We’re not like you and your Dad, Doreen,” he answers.
Tears drip down Doreen’s cheeks. “That’s not the point, Ronnie! When you’re close to someone and then they keep something from you, something this important in their lives…you feel betrayed!” she replies. “That’s how he’ll feel…That’s how I feel! Your concealing your being Firestorm makes me wonder if I ever knew you, Ronnie!”
Knock! Knock! Bree opens the door and leans in. “Uhhh, guys? Look, I’m sorry to interrupt whatever you’re doing, but there’s some people here looking for Ronnie and I think it’s pretty important,” she tells them. She opens the door wider. Professor Stein stands next to her beside two police officers.
“Ronald, I think you should come with these policemen,” Stein tells him. “I went down to the station to inquire about the Carmichael boy…”
Doreen stands up. “Cliff? What’s the matter with Cliff?” she asks.
“He was the young man who attempted to throw himself from the roof of the building, Miss Day,” Professor Stein answers her.
“Oh no…No!” Doreen sobs.
“Yes, well. Carmichael was talking with a psychiatrist at the station,” Stein continues. “I believe it’s important Ronald should hear what he’s saying. As should you, Miss Day. Will you come?” They all head out and start down the hall towards the exit.
“Uhhh, do you guys think I could stop at my locker and change along the way?” Ronnie asks. “I’m leaving cleat marks all over the place.”
One quick change later…A steady rain falls outside Pittsburgh Police Precinct 101. Professor Stein guides the group up the entrance steps. “This way,” he tells them as they enter the lobby. “Our contact is Captain Turillen, the Day Watch Commander,” he explains.
Ronnie looks around the busy station. “Why is it every time I enter a police station, I think they’re going to arrest me for what I did to Mrs. Stevens’ cat when I was five?” he thinks.
Captain Turillen recognizes Professor Stein in the crowd and walks over to the group. “Thank you all for coming down,” Turillen tells them. “Carmichael’s been suggesting some things that I hope you two could either corroborate or deny.” He leads them to the interrogation area and into an observation room. “He’s being questioned right now,” Turillen continues. “He refused to name a lawyer, so there’s a public defender, Miss Joy Ravenport, in with him. You can watch from here. It’s a one-way mirror. And there’s also a loudspeaker. You’ll be able to see and hear him, but he won’t know you’re here.”
The group files in, taking places alongside the observation window. Cliff sits inside at a table with Ms. Ravenport. Two men review documents and take notes as the questioning continues. “Shut up, Mr. Carmichael!” Ravenport barks at her client.
“Much against the advice of Ms. Ravenport, her client has gotten ‘cooperative’,” Captain Turillen explains.
“Freak off, lady! I didn’t ask for you and I don’t want you!” Cliff snarls at her angrily. “I want to talk; I’ve got to talk, don’t you understand, you stupid bimbo? “I’m guilty! I cut the strap on the helmet that paralyzed my cousin Hugo!”
Ravenport tries to calm him. “Your legal culpability will be decided in a court of law,” she answers. “Now, exercise your right to be silent so I can do my job!”
Cliff shakes his head, looking downtrodden. “I can’t bear the guilt anymore. I don’t want to get off!” he replies quickly. “You too stupid to understand that? I want to be punished!”
“Where’s this football helmet now?” she asks with a sigh.
“Someone noticed the cut, so I stole the helmet and chucked it in the river,” Cliff explains. “You think I’m stupid enough to hang on to that?”
Detective Lieutenant Blum stands behind Cliff looking over some documents. “You said your intended target was another player, a Ronald Raymond?” he asks.
“Yeah, ol’ Ronnie. It was his helmet,” Cliff answers. “Hugo somehow wound up wearing it and it snapped off during a play. Hugo got hurt…paralyzed.”
The police psychiatrist checks his notes. “This girl, Doreen Day, that you mentioned. You used to date her before ‘Ronnie’ showed up. Is she the reason you cut the helmet strap? To get back at Raymond for having taken Miss Day away from you?” he asks.
“Get serious,” Cliff scoffs as Doreen watches in shock. “Raymond couldn’t have taken anything away from me that I really wanted,” Cliff continues. “Raymond’s one of these big dumb jocks who thinks the world spins around him because he’s good at children’s games. If you ask me, that’s what’s wrong with this country: Making heroes out of big dumb jocks. I just wanted to take him down a peg or two.”
The psychiatrist asks, “Even if you had to cripple him?”
Ravenport quickly interjects, “Don’t answer that.”
Cliff glares at her angrily. “Blow it out your briefcase,” he answers. “No, I wasn’t trying to cripple Raymond, but I wouldn’t have shed any tears if I had. Know what I think? I think Raymond saw the cut and knew I’d done it. So, to get back at me, he gives his helmet to Hugo, figuring that something would happen to Hugo. Raymond’s the one you should be questioning, not me!”
Ms. Ravenport, Lt. Blum, and the psychiatrist look at him in shock for a moment. “We’re done with questioning for the day, I think,” the psychiatrist says as he gets up from the table. “Lt. Blum, Ms. Ravenport - - would you please join me in the corridor?” he asks.
The three file out, joining Captain Turillen and the others in the observation room. “Well? What’ve we got?” Turillen asks.
“Well, the kid should go into psychiatric observation because of the suicide attempt, for starters,” the psychiatrist answers.
“What about the chin strap? Attempted murder?” Turillen asks.
“Well, Captain, there’s bound to be some question whether he was mentally competent when he committed the act,” Blum replies.
“If he committed the act,” Ravenport adds.
“That, too,” Turillen nods. “If he did and if he was, was the kid competent when he confessed to it?”
Ravenport shakes her head. “Let’s be real, boys. Try to bring that ‘confession’ into a court of law and I’ll stuff it back up your shorts,” she tells them.
“In any case, that’s one troubled young man in there,” Turillen continues. “Can we all agree he gets remanded for psychiatric care while we try to locate his parents or guardian or whatever? See about getting him some long-range professional care?”
“Agreed, conditionally,.” Ravenport nods.
Blum and the psychiatrist reply, “Agreed.”
Turillen turns to Ronnie and Doreen. He shakes Ronnie’s hand. “Thanks for coming down, you two. Sorry it was a waste of time,” he tells them.
“That’s okay. I learned a lot,” Ronnie answers. “I learned just how much Cliff Carmichael hates me.”
Professor Stein, Ronnie, and Doreen head out the exit into the steady rain. Doreen pops her umbrella over her head. “How about you, Doreen? You hate me, too?” Ronnie asks her.
“Oh, Ronnie! Honestly!” she sighs. “I don’t hate you, but I don’t know what I feel for you right now. I think it’s better we didn’t see each other for awhile. You and the Professor don’t have to worry. I won’t tell anyone about your…your ‘secret identities.’”
Ronnie reaches for her but she turns away. “Aaah…swell. Great,” he says softly.
“And Ronnie? Call you Dad soon, okay? Let him know,” she says as she walks away.
Ronnie stands in the rain, watching her walk off. Professor Stein asks, “Ronald, are you all right?”
Ronnie turns to him. “Yeah…no. I don’t know,” he replies. “I think I managed to mangle another one of my relationships. It’s getting to be a bad habit. I think it’s time to break this habit. Maybe start putting some back together. Wanna volunteer?”
“I’d like to very much, Ronald. Please,” Stein replies. They turn to walk in the rain back to campus.
It’s better to light a single candle than to curse the darkness. These two friends have decided to do that: To find that which binds them one to the other and bridges the gaps. They will need that friendship in the days ahead. BRRRKOOMM! For it is a world increasingly lit by lightning.