by Brian K. Asbury
In the lounge, Peterson was supporting Firestorm and slapping him around. He seemed to be coming to.
“Stand back,” said Montague. “A whiff of brimstone, I think!” He gestured, and something flared violet in front of Firestorm’s face. The air was suddenly filled with the stench of sulphur dioxide. Peterson jumped back, and Firestorm began to cough and choke.
“What… what the hell?” he spluttered. His eyes opened, and he looked up at Montague. His jaw dropped, and he shrank back.
“Surprised, Firestorm?” Montague said. “Well here’s another surprise.” He gestured again, and iron shackles appeared on the dazed hero’s wrists and ankles. Firestorm stared at them in shock, then back at his tormentor again.
“That’s right,” said Montague. “I have the power to transmute matter — just like you. Of course, you could always use your own powers to remove those irons. Go ahead. Please do so.”
Firestorm looked at the shackles and seemed to concentrate. “What have you done to me?”
“Done? Isn’t it obvious? I have stolen your powers!” The bearded man laughed aloud. “The device you thought was called a psi-com and was for communicating with other worlds is, in fact, called a psi-phon. It was designed as a means of removing the powers of rogue meta-humans. But it can also reverse the process and give those powers to someone else!”
Firestorm was speechless. Professor? he thought silently. What are we going to do? There was no mental answer.
“And now, perhaps, it is time to end this charade,” said Montague. “There is no further need to conceal from you the true name of the man who has ruined you. Montague is my name, my young fool, but it is my first name, not my last. My friends and associates call me Monty. That’s Monty Moran. You may have read about me in the Justice League’s files.”
Firestorm’s mind raced. He had indeed heard of a Monty Moran, who was an old foe of the Martian Manhunter and who had once helped an assortment of other JLA foes escape prison, long before Firestorm had become a member. (*) “The — the Getaway Mastermind?” he gasped.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Gravity Went Wild,” Justice League of America #5 (July, 1961).]
“That is what I have been called until now,” said Moran. “But from now on, I think I will have a different nom de plume. How does Monty Moran, the Nuclear Man sound to you?”
“So what do you intend to do with Firestorm?” the young woman called Amy April asked.
Moran seemed to ignore the question. “Kowalski — contact our men in Metropolis and get everything ready for the transfer. The address is on here.” He handed him the papers that Amy had brought with her. “We move as soon as they’re in position.” Kowalski nodded and moved to the phone across the other side of the room.
“And as for our pathetic friend here,” Moran said to Amy, indicating Firestorm, “don’t worry your pretty head about him.”
Amy’s expression changed momentarily as he said this, then flickered back to its former state — a change that did not go unnoticed by Firestorm. For a brief instant, her face had betrayed utter loathing.
Moran moved to the helpless hero. “Firestorm is going to tell us all about the Justice League’s secrets, aren’t you? Starting with the location of their closest transporter and how to use it to reach their satellite headquarters.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding!” said Firestorm.
Moran threw back his head and laughed. “Kidding? Oh, no — I never kid, my young friend. You are going to tell me everything I want to know.”
“Go screw yourself!”
Moran’s face contorted in anger. “We’ll see how cocky you are when you’re the victim of your own former powers, you insolent puppy!” His mouth twisted into an evil grin. “Puppy, yes! Miss April, how would you like a cute little puppy, eh? I fancy a few hours as a helpless little pet might well change Mr. Firestorm’s mind!”
He raised his arms, and energy crackled between his hands. “Monty–” began Amy.
“Be quiet. Presto… change-o!”
Energy flared between Moran and Firestorm, and then suddenly, the bearded villain screamed. He collapsed, clutching at his head, and the flames around his hair and beard died.
“Boss?” cried Peterson. Moran’s men all rushed to his side. “Are you all right?”
“Some… sort of… feedback…” gasped Moran.
“Geez, you look terrible!” Amy said. “Grey, Luthor — take him into the bedroom.”
“Yes… please…” Moran said. “Need… lie down…” The two men carried him away.
“What the hell happened?” Seeger said.
“I don’t know,” Amy said. “Maybe because the powers came from Firestorm, they wouldn’t work on him for some reason. I’m just guessing here.”
“Well, whatever,” said Kowalski. “Until the boss recovers, let’s get Firestorm out of the way. There’s a storeroom down the hall. Dump him in there.”
“Who died and made you boss?” Seeger grumped. “And anyway, there’s tools and stuff in there.”
“One — they’re locked in boxes. Two — who the hell do you think Firestorm is — the A-Team? He isn’t going to build a goddamn tank and come bustin’ out with guns blazing, you idiot!”
“OK, OK,” Seeger said. He grabbed one of Firestorm’s shoulders, Peterson grasped the other, and they hauled him to his feet. “C’mon, hotshot. Time for beddy-byes.”
They dragged Firestorm down a short corridor, opened a door, and threw him inside. The door closed, leaving the powerless hero in the dark.
“Professor?” he whispered softly. “Aw, come on, Professor Stein, answer me, willya?”
But there was still no reply. “Oh, God, Professor,” he said. “What’s happened to you? Has Moran’s machine destroyed you?”
OK, OK, Ronnie, he thought. Don’t start panicking. Just because you can’t hear the professor doesn’t mean he isn’t there. Maybe we need the Firestorm powers to communicate.
Even if that were the case, though, it still looked bad. Professor Stein would be condemned to a twilight semi-existence, trapped in their joined body but unable to interact with it in any way — even denied his usual ability to kvetch silently in the background.
Not that things looked that much brighter for Ronnie Raymond. Even if by some miracle he found a way to escape from Moran, he could hardly go home like this — looking like Firestorm rather than Ronnie. Would his dad believe who he was? Would Doreen? Would anybody?
This had to rate as one of the worst situations he had ever been in: deprived of his powers, clapped in irons and locked in a darkened, windowless room. He couldn’t even send for help, as someone had removed his Justice League signal device while he was unconscious.
I wonder if Batman ever has days like this? he mused.
Monty Moran felt little better than Firestorm was feeling. When he had tried to transform the former possessor of his new powers, it had seemed as if every nerve in his body had fired at once — a massive shock to the system that had left him nauseous, weak as a kitten, and with a head that felt as if Superman had stomped on it.
It was inexplicable. The powers had worked perfectly the first couple of times he had tried them. There was obviously some limitation that he didn’t know about — some inhibition against… against what? Using them on their former owner? Using them on a human being? Or… a half-memory stirred. Something about a foe of Firestorm’s using a weapon made of rawhide because it wouldn’t be affected by the Nuclear Man’s matter-transformation powers.
Maybe that was it. Maybe these powers could only transform inorganic matter. In that case, what a blasted fool he had been to try to transform a living man. Well, he wouldn’t make that mistake again.
He raised himself up off the bed where his men had left him. He could feel the powers slowly returning to him, but he still felt sick. He needed fresh air. There was also a persistent buzzing in his head — almost like a voice, nagging, cajoling him. Why wouldn’t it stop?
He staggered toward the window, threw back the curtains, and raised the sash. He stuck his head out and breathed deeply.
But the strange buzzing seemed only to get louder.
“So what can I do around here?” said Amy April as Moran’s men busied around, packing some equipment away while seeming to activate other devices.
“Nothin’, doll,” said Seeger. “Just stand there looking pretty. That’s what the boss pays you for.”
Her face contorted in anger. “Speak to me like that again, and your face will be anything but pretty, I promise you that.”
“You were paid to find us a place in Metropolis,” said Peterson. “You’ve done that, so relax.”
“I can do more than act as just a glorified real estate agent,” she told him. “What about the prisoner? I could attend to him.”
“What do you mean?” Kowalski said. “The prisoner is the boss’ responsibility. That’s why we’ve moved him out of the way. The boss won’t like it if you start interfering.”
“The boss,” she said, smiling sweetly, “doesn’t seem to be able to do much of anything at the moment. Something weird happened when he tried to use Firestorm’s powers on Firestorm himself. Don’t you think he’d want to know why? And I’ll bet Firestorm knows.”
She put her hand on Kowalski’s shoulder. “Let me go and have a word with him. I’m sure I could get him to talk.” She moved closer, almost talking directly into Kowalski’s ear. “I can be very persuasive when I want to be, you know…”
Kowalski gulped. “Er…”
“Go on. I’m doing nothing else, and Monty would be grateful, I’m sure.”
“O-OK,” said Kowalski, wiping the sweat from his brow. “But be careful. Super-heroes are tricky. Take Grey in with you as extra insurance.”
“Grey?!” she exclaimed. “You’ve got to be kidding. How can I turn on my seductive charm with Gorilla Grodd’s long-lost brother hovering in the background?”
“Hey, who are you calling–?” Grey began.
“That’s the deal, take it or leave it,” said Kowalski. “I’m not letting anybody alone with Firestorm. It’s too risky.”
Amy pouted, but it was clear that Kowalski had no intention of changing his mind. “Oh, all right. Come along, Titano,” she said to Grey. “Let’s go talk to the great hero.”
“Now listen–” Grey began, but no one was listening. Scowling, he trotted down the corridor after her.
“Let’s just get something straight,” Amy said as they reached the door. “I do the talking here, OK? Don’t interfere unless Firestorm tries something.”
“Yes, Mistress,” Grey intoned sarcastically, making his best Quasimodo face.
“Hrrmmm,” muttered Amy. She opened the door, and they stepped inside. She switched on the light. “Hello, hotshot,” she said to Firestorm. “Are you finding the accommodations comfortable?”
“What are you going to do with me?” said Firestorm.
“You’ll see,” Amy replied, smiling. “Close the door, will you, Grey?”
The big man scowled again but obeyed her order. “That’s better,” she said. “Well, Firestorm, the first order of business is to do this.” She raised her right hand. Flames and static flared, and an electrical discharge flickered between her hand and Grey. He convulsed and collapsed in a heap. “Much better,” she said.
“What the hell?” exclaimed Firestorm, trying to edge away.
She grinned at him. “What’s the matter, hotshot?” she said in a suddenly English accent. “Never see the cavalry charging over the hill to the rescue before?”
“Wh-who are you? And what happened to your voice?”
“One moment,” she said. “Let’s make sure we’re not disturbed.” She raised her open palm to the door handle. Heat flared; the smell of hot metal and scorched wood filled the room, and the handle and lock melted into slag.
“That’s better.” She turned back to Firestorm. “I’m with British Intelligence. Codename Firebrand. And what do you mean what happened to my voice?”
“Well, a minute ago, I’d have sworn you were a New Yorker. Now you sound British — sort of British, anyway.”
She snorted. “‘Sort of’? We don’t all talk like Joan Collins, you know. I’m from Manchester. It’s a completely different accent from the fake London stuff you see on TV over here. But thanks for the compliment — if my New York accent fooled you, it obviously fooled Moran and his gang. I knew all those hours listening to Granddad Reilly when I was a kid would pay off.”
“Granddad — Reilly?” Firestorm’s mind raced. Reilly? Was this strange Englishwoman related to Lorraine Reilly, AKA Firehawk?
“He came from New York. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II but married my gran and settled in England.” She shook her head. “But enough about me — we’ve got to get you out of here. Your falling for Moran’s trap has completely screwed up this operation.”
“Get me out of here? What about the professor?”
“Who the hell is the professor?”
“I… uh… it’s difficult to say,” said Firestorm.
“Well, you can tell me afterwards,” she said, approaching him and holding up one finger. Flames and static played about her again, and a laser lanced from the finger. She quickly used it to cut through the shackles holding Firestorm.
“That’s a pretty neat trick,” the Nuclear Man said, rubbing his wrists. “How do you do that?”
Firebrand had turned away and seemed to be studying one wall. “Total conversion,” she said.
“Total conversion. I can change any or all of my mass to any kind of energy. Now stand back. Getting you out of here will blow my cover, but you’d be too useful to Moran as a hostage. Damn! Why couldn’t he have waited till I got back? I could have sabotaged the psi-phon easily without him realizing it if I’d been here. He’d just have assumed it didn’t work, he’d have let you go, and nobody would have been any the wiser.”
She raised both of her hands to face the wall. Energy again crackled around her, and two laser-like beams flared from her palms, striking the wall and cutting deep into it as she turned her arms in a circle.
“Wow!” said Firestorm, duly impressed. “With power like that, how come I’ve never heard of you?”
“Because, as I said, I work for British Intelligence. We don’t exactly advertise. There. And now, this is going to be the noisy bit.” There was now a complete circle inscribed in the wall. She bunched her hands into fists, then thrust them out in the direction of the circle. The section of wall flew out and exploded into dust, revealing daylight outside.
“Right. Come on, quickly.” She pulled Firestorm toward the hole.
“But I can’t! My powers…”
“We’ll figure out how to get your powers back later. Come on!”
He reluctantly followed her to the hole. “Just a minute — we’re over twenty-five stories up!”
“Doesn’t matter. Hold onto me and jump!”
“If you say so.” Steeling himself, Firestorm grabbed her tightly, and they both plunged through the hole. And down. And down.
“If you’re gonna fly us, now would be a pretty good time!” he yelled.
“Fly?” said Firebrand. “Who said I could fly?”
Monty Moran, still hanging out of his window, saw the falling couple and scowled. “Oh, no you don’t!” he snarled. “Nobody gets away from me like that!” He summoned up his powers and let fly with an atomic blast with as much strength behind it as he could muster.
And the pair vanished from view in a terrific explosion.