by CSyphrett, with Doc Quantum
August 1, 1985:
Marlon Wells was hard at work for the State Forensics Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. He was testing a substance for poison, and as he held the test tube in the light from a window, watching the color change, it tested positive. Marlon smiled in satisfaction. The case was closed as far as he was concerned, and he could move on to the next in his docket.
Suddenly, though, a bolt of lightning crashed through the window out of the stormy skies above, sending Marlon flying through a chemical shelf. He hit the floor, sliding into the broken glass. Faintly hearing the cries of his coworkers, he tried to pick himself up and survey the damage, but he found he couldn’t do anything but shake for the first minute or two. By the time he could move, people were dashing into the lab to see what had happened. All of his work was ruined.
Marlon picked himself up with the help of his friend Rudy Presser, another forensic scientist, and gritted his teeth in frustration. All of the evidence he had gathered was gone with a single flash of lightning. He slammed his hand into the top of a nearby table. No one noticed, not even Marlon, that his hand had moved faster than the eye could follow.
The rest of the afternoon passed at a mind-numbingly slow speed, as Marlon Wells was forced to sit through numerous tests at the hospital, until he was cleared to be discharged. And despite all the excitement of the accident at the lab, apparently nothing was wrong with him.
Driving through town at a sedate pace, his windshield wipers at full speed, Marlon saw a diner throwing a neon glow on the street, and his stomach growled at him furiously, as if it had a mind of its own. He hadn’t had anything to eat since that morning, as he’d skipped lunch to finish his poison test. Pulling into a parking spot, he avoided the rain as best he could as he went inside. Maybe some food would settle his nerves a little.
The waitress, a pretty white girl with blond hair, took his order and then moved to her next customer with a gentle approach. Marlon watched her working her booths for want of something better to do. She came toward his booth a few minutes later with his food.
Marlon then frowned as he saw one of her other customers, a man with a sly smile, casually slide a foot into the aisle to trip her. The waitress tripped, then started to fall, spilling Marlon’s food into the air.
His reaction came without much thought at all. Suddenly, the waitress was standing on her feet, holding all of Marlon’s dinner, and looking a little dumbstruck. Only the chemist realized that he had caught the waitress and the food and had made things right in a blink of an eye. The tripper, who had been laughing in anticipation, froze when he saw that the waitress was still standing. He looked at his companions, who shrugged at the strangeness of the event.
The waitress placed his food on the table, and Marlon quietly began to eat, smiling at her in an attempt to be reassuring the way a stranger would be. She nodded in appreciation and went back to work.
Marlon reexamined the event as much as he dared, making sure to watch the bully as he thought about this new gift. It seemed unbelievable now, but he had gotten up from his booth, caught the waitress and put her back on her feet, placed the tray in her hands, caught the food in midair, and put the plates back on the tray in a tenth of a second. It was a seemingly impossible feat.
After glaring in his direction for a few moments, the bullies got up and left in a hurry. Marlon relaxed after they left, still thinking about what he had done and experienced. He had become a super-hero like that Captain Marvel fellow. That was a given. There was no other explanation. The question still remained: how had this happened?
Finishing his meal, Marlon paid his bill and left a tip, then walked outside, deep in thought, no longer even noticing the storm. He needed to experiment and see what he could really do. Another question also came to mind: how long would this new speed last?
“Well, well, well, if it isn’t the knight in shining armor,” said a voice.
“Make way for the Black Knight!” another said derisively, and the others laughed.
The bullies were standing around Marlon’s car, seeing an easy mark in the slim chemist. A simple beating would be revenge for thwarting their prank, but there was something in their eyes that let Marlon know their intentions were far worse.
By all appearances, the world seemed to be coming to an end. Almost a week ago the skies had turned stormy and red, and three days ago white walls of pure antimatter had begun eating at the world, accompanied by a feeling of great rage that everyone in the world experienced at the same time. (*) Luckily the red skies, antimatter, and feelings of anger ended in the same day, replaced by strange time anomalies and warp zones in which you could view other realities. Fear of the unknown had caused crime to skyrocket, and looting and murder was on the rise as well. If the world was going to end, many people figured, what was the point of following the rules? Marlon had tried to focus on his work to keep himself from freaking out about it like everyone else, but young men with violent tendencies were becoming even more violent than usual.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Three Earths, Three Deaths,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #6 (September, 1985).]
“I wouldn’t do anything,” Marlon said. “I’m not in a mood to be bothered right now.”
“Really, ‘brotha’?” said the leader of the rowdy bunch, affecting an exaggerated accent. “What’chu gonna do if we decide to cave your thick skull in?”
“I’ll have to arrest you, fill out the paperwork, and process you,” said Marlon matter-of-factly. “Then I’ll have to escort you to the Albuquerque City Jail.”
“I’d like to see you try,” said the chief bully, rushing the chemist and swinging his fist with all of his might. He seemed to pass right through Marlon, then fell on the wet pavement in surprise. Marlon kicked him in the side of the head, which seemed to stun him.
“Anybody else feel like going to jail tonight?” he asked the other bullies as he tied up their leader with his own belt. The others fled as if they had seen a ghost. “You and me are going to have a long talk at the station about manners,” Marlon promised his prisoner as he helped the man into his car.
Marlon started back to the station, then paused as fire engines passed, going the other way. He turned and followed the fire engines, thinking that his new ability might be needed.
“What’s goin’ on?” asked the bully.
“I don’t know yet,” said Marlon.
In a matter of moments, Marlon and his prisoner arrived at a burning house surrounded by fire engines. Getting out of his car, Marlon waved a policeman over and explained the situation to the patrolman, who nodded.
“C’mon, buddy,” the patrolman said, hoisting the bully out of the car. “We’re going to give you a nice set of clothes and free room and board.”
Marlon watched as the man was led away and the policeman read him his Miranda Rights; he would have to pay a visit to the station when he was done here to press assault charges against the man. As soon as the two had left the scene entirely, Marlon began wondering if he could put his new speed to use in this situation. Perhaps, he figured, he could put out the fire somehow.
As he rushed forward at super-speed, the water from the fire hoses seemed to freeze at the speed he was moving. As he went into the house, the back draft in his wake instantly caught the flames and smoke, trailing them behind his path as the sudden wind snuffed out some of the smaller flames. He rushed from room to room, going faster and faster. A vacuum created by his movements eventually put the fire out inside, while the heavy rain had kept the fire from spreading outside. Marlon went out the back door before anyone saw what he had done.
Pausing in a nearby alley to take a deep breath, he marveled at what had just happened. He had actually put out a fire with super-speed, just like the speedster heroes from the comic-books he’d read since he was a kid: the Flash and the more obscure knockoff character called the Rush. It was almost beyond belief. Even more incredible, now that he thought about it, was how his accident with the lightning and the chemicals, and even the incident at the diner, closely mimicked the origin of the Flash. Marlon had even pursued a career as a police scientist because of his childhood hero, and now, in an improbable turn of events, he’d also gained his hero’s super-powers through a similar accident. He’d become a real speed demon. What were the odds that all of this was just a coincidence?
Then another question entered his mind: just how fast was he? He would have to find out, and soon.