CENTRAL CITY - June 21, 2002
The sky was ablaze with a myriad of colors, painting the magnificent skyscrapers of Central City and casting colored shadows on the ground below, an oddly beautiful sight amongst all the chaos. Shades of red, blue, yellow, orange, purple and many more all rocketed down to the Earth on bolts of lightning, demolishing anything that got in their way, sending whatever it hit crashing to the ground below. Bits of debris rained down, sending people scattering about in a panic, desperate not to get hit by whatever threatened to fall on their head. Mothers clutched their crying babies, fathers held their families close, and people cried out for their savior.
In the blink of an eye, the Flash burst onto the scene, a blur of red and blue splashed against a wall of crackling lightning that singed the air. Everyone cried out in joy; their hero was here to save them. He bolted from person to person, moving so fast that he seemed to be everywhere at once, saving everyone and anyone who needed it. One moment, people about to be crushed by falling debris suddenly found themselves on the other side of the street. The next, lost children huddled against the wall blinked and found they were right next to their parents. Babies stopped crying when, as if by magic, pacifiers entered their mouths.
A bolt of lightning crashed down in front of Jay Garrick, the Flash, knocking him off balance and sending him what must have been a hundred feet. He tumbled against the ground, each strike sending waves of pain through his already tired body. Finally coming to a halt, Jay cracked his head against the pavement, a wave of vertigo instantly washing over him. The world started to spin, distorting into an image that was unrecognizable as it started to resemble little more than a kaleidoscope. Vision swimming about, Jay managed to stagger to his feet, knees threatening to give out at any second. The storm was becoming too much to handle. Maybe if he was ten years younger, he could handle everything, evacuate everyone from the city, but he wasn't.
There was only one thing left to do now. Only one way left to save the universe. Erupting from where he once was, Jay sped off into the distance.
The wind whipped violently under the rainbow in the sky, rocking entire houses and contorting trees into unnatural shapes. Thunder boomed overhead, arcs of lightning trailing to the ground, toppling power lines that erupted into flames. The fire sputtered onto nearby houses, setting them ablaze and beginning a cascade of destruction as home after home caught fire. Even here in the once quiet suburbs of Central City, no one could escape the chaos of the storm.
From their front porch, Barry Allen and his mother, Nora, gawked at the chaos in front of them, unable to rip their eyes away despite the danger. They watched their world come crashing down around them. Their eyes glazed over and their minds, went numb, unable to process the events around them until a blur of red and blue intermixed with lightning snapped them back to reality.
"You should be inside!" yelled Jay, rushing over to his family and pushing them inside.
"Everything just… and then… the sky!" muttered Nora, grabbing onto her husband and pulling him close.
"I have a way to make everything better, Nora, but you're not going to like it."
A wide smile came over Barry's face.
"How are you going to save the day this time, Dad?!"
The boy ran up to his father, a wide smile covering his face. Jay picked his son up, holding him in his arms as he looked into his eyes and contemplated what to say. How was he supposed to tell his son what was about to happen? What if he said the wrong thing? But then he remembered the words of his own father, as elegant as they may have been… 'Don't spend time pussy-footing around Jay. Just do something and deal with the consequences later.' Jay smiled.
"I'm going to do what I always do, Barry. Run really fast and cross my fingers and hope for the best."
Jay held his son tight.
"I love you, Barry. You know that, right?"
"Love you too, Dad."
"Okay, hop down now, daddy's getting tired."
Jay looked at his wife, Nora.
"Tell Max what's happened here. He'll know what needs to be done."
He turned around, beginning his march out the door, though suddenly stopping.
"I almost forgot!"
Jay took his winged helmet off his head and tossed it to his son.
"I need you to hold onto this for me."
Stepping back into the windswept streets, Jay looked around and took a deep breath, steadying himself.
"You were right! There's only one way! I'm ready!"
A portal opened before him, so much power radiating off it that his hairs stood up as if they were trying to soak in its energy. From the center of the portal, which looked eerily similar to the sky, a ghostly man and woman emerged.
"We're sorry, son, but this is the only way," said the woman.
"The Speed Force is unbalanced and threatening to destroy all of creation," added the man.
"Someone needs to set it right before all is lost."
"Come with us, son; you have nothing to fear."
Jay took a step towards the portal, accepting his fate.
CENTRAL CITY - July 19, 2002
Beneath the heavy covers of his bed, Barry curled up into a ball, his father's helmet held tight against his chest. Tears rolled down the curved surface, staining the sheets. The hurt was still fresh, a white hot pain simmering in the back of his head that would never let him forget what happened. Everything that had happened since that night had been burned into his mind, the images so clear and focused, unlike, anything that had come since. The sky. The chaos. His mother's face as she clutched onto him, so afraid to let go, his dad's smile as he tossed him his helmet and told him to hold onto it. Barry tried to blink the tears away, but to no avail.
As his eyes began to droop, longing for a peaceful night's rest among so many sleepless nights, Barry heard something downstairs. Not wanting to face the nightmares that would surely come with slumber, he hopped out of bed, feet sinking into the plush carpeting. As he hurried down the creaky wooden steps, a sound came into earshot, an odd symphony of grunts and groans intermixed with the shrill scream of a woman all against a backdrop of crackling. He reached the foot of the stairs and peered into the living room.
Terror instantly overcame the young boy as he laid eyes upon red and yellow lightning surrounding his mom, who sat crying for help in the center of the whirlwind. Anything seemingly not bolted down was whipping about in the air. What was odd though was how some of these objects where moving, as if someone was picking them up and throwing them. A vat of flowers suddenly flew from the lightning, almost hitting Barry square on.
Something had to be done. Quickly, Barry ran back upstairs and fetched his father's helmet from his bed, hurrying back down once he got it. Back before the red and yellow lightning that encircled his mother, Barry steeled himself, putting on his father's helmet, as if he was trying to draw courage from it. With a high-pitched roar, he charged at the lightning, as if he was a knight in shining armor, only to fly back across the room.
Gritting his teeth, Barry picked himself back up, brow furrowed. He wasn't ready to give up, but it seemed he wouldn't have a choice in the matter. Suddenly, his mother collapsed to the ground, blood trailing out her mouth as her eyes rolled back into her head. He tried to scream-something, anything, but nothing came out. The pain in the back of his head grew hotter, beginning to boil over as tears rolled from his eyes.
The sound of police sirens blared in the distance, drawing closer until finally, the rotating red and blue lights stopped just outside the house. Leaping from the squad car, Joe West and his partner, Fred Chyre, took stock of the scene. The window to the living room was shattered and there appeared to be scorch marks around the edges. They heard a soft sobbing coming from inside.
Guns held out, Joe and Fred carefully opened the door, wary of any danger that might still be present. The door groaned opened, revealing a house that had been devastated beyond anything they had ever seen. Scorch marks littered the walls, intermixed with sizable dents and scratches. Furniture was overturned and torn to shreds, the stuffing draping the ground like a soft blanket of snow. Amongst the center of the chaos sat a little blonde-haired boy, crying over a body splayed out across the floor.
"Barry?" asked Joe.
The little boy picked up his head, beet red eyes focusing on the longtime detective.
"Oh my god, Barry."
Joe holstered his gun, running towards the young boy and drawing him into his body.
"There was lightning, sniff, red and yellow lightning! Like the storm!"
"Shhh… everything's going to be alright, son. It's gone now."
CENTRAL CITY - Present Day
Beneath the brilliant blue sky of Central City, dotted with puffy white clouds, the crowd bustled about, eager to escape the bite of the air that came with spring. Deep within the center of the crowd, a twenty-five-year-old Barry Allen tried to push his way through, desperate to make it towards the crime scene his watch was beeping on about. In his hurry, Barry tripped over himself more times than he cared to admit, apologizing profusely as he bumped and shoved into people because of his clumsiness. Everyone stared at him, wondering how he even managed to walk. Finally, Barry caught a glimpse of the yellow police tape, boldly declaring "Do Not Cross" in big black letters. He lifted the tape over his head, entering the scene of the crime.
"You're late, Barry." said Detective Joe West.
"Oh, I'm… um, sorry." mumbled Barry, fiddling with his briefcase.
Joe let out a heavy sigh.
"Just get to work. We're almost done here."
Kneeling down, Barry investigated the body before him.
"Vic's name is Justice Lavigne," said Joe, taking a knee beside Barry. "Witnesses say that he just… dropped dead."
"Hey, look, right here."
Barry pointed at a lanyard around the victim's neck.
"Look at the end of it. Looks like whatever it was attached to was torn off."
"Probably some I.D. card for wherever he worked."
"Could be relevant to why he died."
Barry searched through the man's pockets, eventually coming across a crumpled-up receipt.
"Receipt from the S.T.A.R. Labs cafe. Speaking of, by the way, can I take the car so me and Patty can go see the particle accelerator unveiling? It's my turn to choose the place for date night." said Barry.
"Back on topic."
"Sorry, my bad. Back to work."
"Could he have been working on something that caused this?"
"I doubt it. The branch here was just working on the particle accelerator. I got a few friends who work there anyway, super strict on safety."
"Probably just died of a heart attack then."
"Couldn't have. You see his face? How it looks perfectly normal? Well… uh… besides the whole dead thing. If he had suffered a heart attack, there should be evidence of cyanosis around the eyes and nose. And you see here…"
Barry pointed to the victim's neck.
"If he had a heart attack, his carotid artery should be swollen."
"How do you know this?"
"I've been listening to Patty. She loves this kind of stuff."
"Huh… you keep doing that. You know, she's really good for you. Ever since you two started dating, you've been way happier and-"
"Back on topic."
Barry's eyes widened.
He pointed to several scorch marks located around the victim's legs.
"Scorch marks… fresh."
"Okay, so what?"
Barry examined the victim's hands, finding blackened skin and burst blisters, blood and puss leaking out of them.
"These are electrical burns. Dad… suddenly dropping dead… scorch marks… electrical burns… what does that sound like?"
"How you say your mother died."
"What if… you know?"
Joe let out a heavy sigh and placed his hand on Barry's shoulder.
"Your mom killed herself, son, overdosed on a nasty bunch of drugs and her heart just… exploded."
Barry's eyes hardened, suddenly becoming akin to daggers.
"You know that's bullshit, Dad!"
"It's what the official autopsy said. I don't know what's left to say."
Barry took a deep breath, trying to let himself calm down.
"You should inform the family of the death then call S.T.A.R Labs and tell them what's happened. Make sure to mention they have a missing I.D. badge."
The room reeked of decaying corpses, far more pungent than what could be caused by the lone body in the room. Everything was stained with the odor, a constant and unending terror on the nostrils that tried to strangle the air out of your lungs the very moment you entered.
Alone in the room, a blonde-haired woman tended to the body laid out across the large metal table, her hair framing her delicate, yet still very much so beautiful, face. She poked and prodded the body, scribbling down notes on a pad of paper as she did so; clearly she was in her element, her eyes focused like so few people could manage. Yet, there was unease in them, a certain air of distress that seemed unbefitting of such a person. Brushing her hair from her face, a large, exasperated sigh escaped her lips, and she set down her pad.
A knock on the door caused the woman to jump a bit, though she quickly regained her composure as she hurried over to the door, her flats clacking against the tiled floor. She opened the door, quickly becoming overwhelmed with a wave of happiness that manifested itself in an almost comically large smile at the sight of her boyfriend, Barry Allen. He leaned down and pressed his lips against hers, the pair melting into it as they let their shoulders slump, finally at ease after a long, stressful day at work.
"You excited?!" asked Barry, who dangled a pair of keys in front of Patty's face.
"I'm excited to see you excited." Patty smiled.
"This is a big deal! With the accelerator, Doctor Wells-"
"Hush now, I said I was excited about something, didn't I?"
She gave him a quick peck on the cheek.
"Besides, I drag you places you don't want to go all the time. Now it's your turn."
"Hey! I loved horseback riding…"
"Maybe when you were actually on the horse, you did."
"Then thank god I'm much better at driving a car than I am a horse."
"You don't drive a horse, Barry."
"Maybe if you're not doing it my way."
"Come on, let's get going."
People milled about in the announcement hall of S.T.A.R. Labs, making small talk as they waited for the main event: the particle accelerator unveiling. Set to thrust humanity into a new age of science. For such a momentous occasion, most people looked bored, leaning against the walls and trying to distract themselves with the various scientific looking devices situated behind glass windows after their meaningless conversations began to bore them. They fiddled with their collars and dresses, clearly uncomfortable in the room that sweltered with the body heat of what must have been a hundred people, only adding to their growing misery.
Barry and Patty entered the hall, suddenly hitting the wall of misery that everyone else had been subjected to for some time. It didn't seem to deter Barry though; his smile still remained wide and in awe of his mere presence in the building. Patty, on the other hand, adopted the expression of everyone else, more quickly than they had in fact.
Suddenly, the previously dim stage at the front of the room blared to life, and a tall man with slicked back brown hair walked onto it.
"My name," said the man, pausing for what could only be dramatic effect, "is Doctor Harrison Wells."
The room erupted with thunderous applause.
"Wow! And I've only just said my name!"
He took a deep breath.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Central City branch of S.T.A.R. Labs, the world's leader in the branches of medicine, technology, and… well, everything. Here, we focus on the research of metahumans, trying to discover what makes the likes of people like Superman, tick. We hope that through this, we can bring about advancements in all areas of life. Imagine our world running on the Flash's lightning! Or our cars being able to change into whatever shape we want with Martian Manhunter's powers! That is what we strive to accomplish here, and as of today, we have taken a great leap forward in achieving that goal. You all know what it is! You all know why you're here!"
The doctor threw his arms forward and a blue hologram of the particle accelerator materialized above everyone's head.
"Our newly finished particle accelerator! Now-"
His watch began to beep, a blinking red light that instantly caught Wells's attention.
"Ah… would you look at this. Ladies and gentlemen, I will sadly have to excuse myself; it seems my team is running ahead of schedule. If you wish to view the first test, simply make your way towards the viewing chamber."
The crowd began to make its way towards the viewing chamber, seemingly not wanting to miss out on what would be a historic occasion. Barry got up and began to follow them, though he stopped once Patty tugged on his shirt.
"Barry," said Patty, "I think I forgot my coat back at the lab."
Barry shuffled his feet.
"Can it… uh… wait?"
Patty glared at him.
"I don't want the janitors to take it like last time."
"Then we're going?"
The sound of squeaking shoes filled the corridors of S.T.A.R. Labs as people walked about, tending to their many responsibilities for the big night. With careless abandon, Harrison pushed his way through them, making people bite their lips as they held back what would surely be a string of insults. Wherever he was going, he was sure in a rush. He came before one of the many dull grey panels that lined the corridors of S.T.A.R. Labs, and looked over both of his shoulders. Trailing his hand down the side, he stopped once he felt a smooth surface, a sharp contrast to the coarseness of the panel, and held his finger there. Once he heard a sharp beep, he pushed against the panel… and went through it!
Harrison's face relaxed as he entered the room. The white walls were covered with large, white bumps, each adorned with a symbol that could seemingly belong to some pictographic language, arranged in what looked like braille, though it most certainly didn't correlate with any of those words.
A large blue holographic head materialized above a white podium at the head of the room.
"Good evening, Doctor A-"
"Someone activated Justice Lavigne's I.D card. Can you confirm this?"
"Yes, I can. Someone attempted to access the Particle Loading Bay using Justice Lavigne's I.D. card. Access was denied."
"Play the security footage."
Off to the side, another hologram appeared, playing the requested footage.
A blond-haired man wearing the lab coat of a S.T.A.R. Labs employee stood before the large metal door of the Particle Loading Bay. He looked over both his shoulders and when he deemed the coast to be clear, he swiped the I.D. card in the scanner. Red lights strobed from the box, but the man didn't panic, like he had expected this.
"You asked me to inform you when the accelerator would be activated. One minute till activation."
The man began to jiggle the scanner, the cover eventually falling off, revealing the wiring and circuitry. He fiddled with it, and the doors opened.
'That's impossible,' thought Harrison, 'Power should have been cut to that unit. And how did he get that cover off?'
And then he felt it. At first, it was a low humming that permeated the air, tingling the ears as he tried to figure out what the hell that was. Then, the ground began to course with a steady vibration, like how a washing machine could rock the floorboards. And then… and then… everything shook with the power of a thousand atomic bombs.
The image that flashed up in front of Harrison made his eyes go wide with shock.
"Gideon! Initiate the Storm Protocol!"
A cold breeze wafted through one of the open windows of the CCPD crime lab, sending chills up the spine of Barry and Patty. The pair searched for Patty's missing coat, turning the room inside out. They tore through the cabinets that lined the walls, rummaging through the array of chemicals and old equipment that had been stuffed in there.
"It's not here!" complained Barry, who threw his hands up in defeat.
"Just keep looking, Barry. It's the only one I have left."
An explosion suddenly rocked the building, shattering the glass window.
The sky tore asunder, erupting into a myriad of colors as lightning began to rocket down towards the earth.
Ever since he was a child, Barry had had nightmares of the night his father was ripped away from him. Even after all these years, he could recall everything in excruciating detail from the way the air smelled like scorched ozone to the touch of his mother holding him tight against her chest. And the sky… so hypnotizingly beautiful, yet somehow still managing to evoke a sense of dread, like the universe itself was coming apart. Now it was back; now Barry's nightmare was tearing itself across the sky. It was just like how he remembered it.
"Barry, is that…?"
Barry nodded a solemn confirmation.
"Didn't the… you know… last time?"
Barry nodded once again.
"And now the Flash is missing and on top of that, the Justice League is gone. What do we do?"
It came crashing down from the heavens, a bolt of pure power and energy that found its way to one Barry Allen, just as it had father before him.
To be continued in The Flash #2, Return!