The Flash: The Fire Rages On, Chapter 5: Justice Calls

by Hitman 44077

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Within the barely lit main branch of the Fire Department, located in the heart of Central City, the sound of breaking glass would have normally alerted the firefighters on duty of impending trouble. However, since this branch had been deployed a short time before, none were now on hand to deal with the intruder who slowly lowered himself into the building.

By the use of his backpack, which functioned as both a jetpack and as a fuel supply for the weapons equipped on both of his hands, Firefist made his way to the floor of the second level. Carrying an extra canister filled with the fuel he used earlier in his attacks at United Fuel Industries as well as a small bomb, the villain looked around cautiously as he turned the jetpack off, unsure whether or not he was truly alone.

I expected empty buildings when I made my plans, he thought bitterly. If I hadn’t located that lone firefighter, then my matters would have, at the least, grown more complicated. Of course, he’s not a problem now — not how I left him.

Firefist looked around further, making sure that there wouldn’t be a repeat of the incident earlier. Once he was satisfied, the villain’s eyes appeared to be at ease. Very good, he thought as he raised the canister and began spraying its contents all over the building.

From the second floor and on down, Firefist drenched whatever seemed to be in his view with the canister’s contents. Finally, the canister was empty. Firefist tossed the now-empty canister aside and, as it rolled to a slow stop, activated the controls on his gloves to spray the building further with the liquid from his backpack. Out from the nozzled fingers of his specially designed gloves poured forth a different chemical, not quite as strong as the canister’s contents, but just as deadly.

I couldn’t have planned this much better, the villain thought, rather pleased with his actions. My periods of activity and inactivity only helped me with installing the fear I demanded from these pathetic fools. If they only knew the truth. But the truth is in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, Firefist turned the controls off on the inside of his gloves, and the flammable liquid slowed to a stop. I can’t afford to be careless now. I’ll need enough fuel to head back to my home. But I still have two more things to do, he thought.

Firefist walked down to floor level of the building and approached the main garage doors where the fire trucks usually pulled into. He quickly planted the bomb he’d brought with him and set it for whenever the doors were activated. The various techniques I’ve used have only confused the police in this city. I almost wonder why their level of incompetence is so high. It almost makes me wish I’d done this earlier.

He glanced around once more, almost anticipating the disaster that surely awaited the Central City Fire Department. One last thing, he thought, remembering as he reached into a small pocket on the side of his uniform.

Pulling from the small pocket on his fireproof uniform a set of dog tags, he stared at the name and number on the small necklace and narrowed his eyes. Hmm. The fire that consumes me will consume this entire city. The fire rages on, and none shall extinguish me!

Firefist glared at the dog tags for a quick moment more, then tossed the tags up in the air, not caring where they fell. The problem was that they didn’t fall to the ground. Rather, the lack of sound alerted Firefist to the only alternative available. Even as that realization dawned on him, the familiar voice of Central City’s champion called out to him.

“I had a feeling you’d turn up here,” the confident voice of the Flash said aloud. Firefist turned toward the direction that the voice came from and saw his foe standing a few short feet away from him. He twirled the dog tags around on his index finger, but his mood slowly changed. With no effort, he quit twirling the dog tags and glared at his enemy. “You have a lot to answer for,” the speedster said with restrained anger.

Firefist narrowed his eyes and addressed the Crimson Comet. “I’m impressed,” the villain said, slowly clapping his hands in a mock-congratulatory fashion. “I thought that, with all the death and destruction I caused tonight, you’d be a little too busy to deal with me.”

“You’d be surprised,” Flash said civilly. “Aside from those you viciously butchered, I managed to rescue the others trapped in your plot to destroy Central City’s UFI branch, as well as that firefighter you left for dead at the smaller fire station. Oh, and I also prevented the destruction of both facilities, though UFI’s a little worse for wear.”

Firefist grew angry, yet managed to conceal it with his demeanor. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from the Flash. That said, perhaps it is time for the truth.”

“Oh, yeah?” Flash said, unconvinced by the villain’s words.

“Take a look at the dog tags, my friend. That will tell you all you need to know,” Firefist said, inching his index finger in his right glove toward the small device that he’d built to function as a detonator. “Recognize the name?

The Flash momentarily looked at the dog tags and was shocked by the name he saw. “Rory, Mick C.?!”

As he touched the button within his glove, Firefist yelled back at the Flash, “That’s all you’ll ever learn in this life, hero!

What should have been an explosion was, in actuality, nothing. Firefist stood disbelieving for a brief second, even as Flash eyed the foe with a pleased look. “You revealed to me what I needed to know when I dealt with your last bomb. You used TNT rather than dynamite as the bomb’s main ingredient, and I know that because I found the remains of a detonator with the bomb I dealt with earlier!” the hero exclaimed. “I simply used my ability to advance the TNT to a form where it couldn’t function in an explosive manner. It’s time to give it up!”

Firefist refused to quit. “You haven’t beaten me yet, speedster!” he yelled at the Flash as he took aim, turning on the flame-throwing device within his gloves, and shot flames toward the speedster who, after dropping the dog tags, used his arms to create small, self-contained winds to trap the flames so that they didn’t touch anything soaked with the various chemicals used by Firefist earlier.

Even as Flash used his winds to quickly suck the oxygen from the flames, Firefist ran upstairs to the second floor and activated his backpack. He was already airborne and outside the building when Flash eliminated the fiery threat. After pulling free the now- nonthreatening device from the garage door, he picked up the dog tags and followed the villain in hot pursuit.

“Where are you going, Firefist? The party’s just begun!” the speedster shouted as he inched closer and closer to his foe.

So damned close! I can’t let him catch me! Firefist thought to himself, possibly possessed by the same feeling he’d instilled onto the citizens of Central City — fear. To make matters worse, the gauge on his left glove was inching closer and closer to empty. It can’t end like this! the villain frantically thought. If this is the end, then I’ll go out in a blaze of glory!

“Hmm… looks like he’s starting to lower himself. There’s no telling what he’s got left up his sleeve, but whatever it is, I’d better take care of it,” Flash said, traveling so fast that he raced up the side of a building, determined to continue the chase closer to Firefist’s level.

Firefist lowered himself to a rooftop and did away with most of the suit that protected him, not noticing how close Flash was to catching him. Aside from his boots and gloves and a non-protective cloth outfit, he also kept his helmet/backpack device on, using his gloves to soak his body with the flammable liquid. He turned on the gloves’ flame-throwing device and slowly turned the glove toward himself.

Before the flaming glove could make contact with Firefist’s skin, the foe’s gloves were suddenly gone, removed at super-speed and thrown aside to the edge of the roof. “What?!” the villain shouted aloud in anguish, cheated of his last, final effort. He looked up, his eyes glaring both hatred and sadness at the scarlet-clad hero who stood in front of him.

The Flash looked at his enemy, the man who had threatened to destroy the city, now nothing more than a beaten, broken foe. “I won’t be a party to your attempt at suicide. You’re going to answer for your crimes — for all the lives you took, all the damage to caused — and you’re going to face it as a man,” Flash said civilly. “And you’re going to face it as the man you are — underneath the mask!”

Pulling the helmet/backpack device off of Firefist’s head, the Flash was visibly shaken. “My God!” the speedster shouted in shock.

If there were any doubts about whether or not Firefist was Mick Rory, then those thoughts presented itself in reality. Standing in front of the Flash was a man standing six-foot-two inches tall with facial scarring brought about by flames some time ago.

“Who — who are you?” the Flash asked, feeling a sort of sympathy for the foe.

“Byrnes — Lyle Byrnes,” Firefist said, his voice gravelly, presumably from fire damage as well. Byrnes smiled, reminding Flash of the real danger Firefist presented. In a civil manner, the hero continued to address the villain.

“I knew you weren’t Mick Rory. So what’s the game, Byrnes? It’s no secret that Mick’s been missing for well over a year. Did you kill him?” Flash demanded.

“I wish — but I had no luck trying to locate him,” Byrnes confessed. “Seems he dropped off the face of Earth.”

“Then how did you come to own Mick’s dog tags?” Flash asked the villain.

“Mick and I go back quite a few years, Flash. He and I belonged to a special branch of the armed forces. In fact, what we were involved in wasn’t exactly acknowledged by the government of our great nation,” Byrnes said matter-of-factly. “But we did it — did anything that we were asked.”

“I find it hard to believe that Mick would involve himself in something of that nature,” Flash said.

“Let me tell you something, speedster — it was a different time fifteen, twenty years ago. You didn’t live through it, not like Mick and I. We weren’t just limited to Asia. We went wherever it was necessary,” Byrnes responded cooly. “Mick had nothing, and the Armed Forces, despite the backlash of the times, offered him more than he ever had up to that point.”

The Flash continued looking at the scarred villain as he remembered what he’d seen on the evening news back when he was a boy — the senseless bloodshed of the Vietnam War. He was glad that chapter of his life was over. But when it came to the current matter, Flash wouldn’t let himself become distracted. He addressed Byrnes again. “Maybe so, but I’ve seen a different side of Mick. He demonstrated that when he reformed.”

Byrnes chuckled, as if what he just heard seemed like a joke. “And that’s where Mick’s greatest mistakes were — actually caring about what he did. He was placed in our unit because he had certain skills. He did great with a flamethrower. But the longer he was there, the more he hated it.”

“Reasonable,” Flash replied.

“Not for me. I worked hard to get where I was. I knew how to build bombs. I knew how to create new uses for napalm. When you’re at war, no one’s innocent,” Byrnes said, seething.

“So you hate him for leaving when he completed his service?” Flash asked calmly.

“Boy you’re naive, hero,” Byrnes said sinisterly. “It goes a little deeper than that.”

“Explain,” Flash said, eyeing Byrnes civilly.

“His service was ending in a matter of weeks. In the meantime, he met a woman from a village deep in the territory we were serving. Somehow they developed a kinship, and from there, they believed, love. I knew better. I know how their kind thinks, and I knew Mick was in for a rude awakening. The final straw was when he decided he was going to live with the villagers once his time was done. I saw that as an act of betrayal, and I decided to save Mick from himself,” Byrnes said coldly.

“I sent Mick and most of the other men to search for hostile villages. Once they were far from the area, I and the one soldier I asked to stay at my side decided to take care of this village personally.” Byrnes leered as he remembered the slaughter.

The Flash’s face was one of shock, disgust, and anger. “You deranged son of a bitch!” he exclaimed.

Byrnes, still grinning, continued. “They were unprepared for what the two of us brought to the table. Most of the village was destroyed, and what was left was already in flames by the time we ran into the woman. She pleaded in her native tongue to let her and her fellow villagers live. I pulled my gun out, aimed at her head, and replied in her native tongue that this was retribution for murder. I then turned the gun on my helper and shot him dead. Then I turned the gun back on her and finished the matter.”

The Flash shook with anger, doing what he could to remain calm so that he didn’t do anything that he would regret. Byrnes continued his story.

“No sooner had I finished the matter than Mick had returned to the village. He was shocked, angry, and upset at what he saw. He ran into the bamboo structure to see me plug a final bullet into the woman he wanted to live with and attacked me in rage. He kept asking, ‘Why?! Why did you take Min-Soo away from me?!’ I told him he had a duty to the unit. I told him to find love on his own time, not mine. Mick went nuts — he embraced everything I’d tried teaching him, and he used it against me. He ended up knocking me into the floor and picked up a rock. He smashed my head again and again until I was out cold.”

“You’re a monster,” Flash said bitterly, glaring at the villain with such contempt that if looks could kill, this one would certainly have done the job. “Even after what you did to him, he refused to kill you.”

“When I came to, the structure was ablaze, and I found Mick’s dog tags on my chest. I clutched them before pocketing the reminder, but as I started to stand up, the structure collapsed around me. I was trapped, burning alive, but somehow I powered my way out of the mess and managed to fall into a nearby river.

“How long I was out I’m not sure, but when I woke up, I was in enemy hands. I’ll spare you the details of the torture, but eventually I was rescued by a different squad of soldiers. Needless to say, I was eventually sent home, but not to the place of my birth. I snatched the dog tags of a POW who’d been imprisoned with me and died at the enemy’s hands. It was his identity I assumed when I returned to the USA.

“Time passed, but I never forgot about ol’ Mick. Not even as I resumed my fellow POW’s life in scientific research, which, fortunately, I knew enough of — especially when it came to the uses of fire. How ironic that the tool Mick used to end my life would become my tool of vengeance against him!

“It was especially ironic when I learned that Mick couldn’t stay away from fire. He’d created a costumed identity, called himself Heat Wave, and embarked on petty crimes. (*) I decided that I’d use Mick’s own reputation to draw him out to me, like the proverbial moth to the flame.”

[(*) Editor’s note: Since Heat Wave’s first appearance in “The Heat is On for Captain Cold,” The Flash #140 (November, 1963).]

“But he never came,” Flash said in a tone that seemed to irritate Byrnes.

“He should have — it made sense! I destroyed a bank, not even taking money for myself. I attacked a revered holiday and tried to destroy the trash that so reminded me of those damned villagers! I vowed that if I couldn’t make Mick pay, then his city would pay — you would pay. Pay for the crimes committed when I was sentenced to burn!” Byrnes shouted angrily.

You set the blaze, Byrnes, not Mick. And as for paying, you’re going to have a lot of time to pay for what you’ve done to this city and the people here. And now,” Flash said, forcibly grabbing Byrnes’ arm, “justice calls. I think you’ll find it burns more intensely than any flame you could ever manufacture.”

With that, the Flash hoisted the villain over his shoulder and took him to Central City Police Headquarters, content and confident that the arsonist who’d caused such havoc would now face the consequences of his actions.

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