Fri, 25 Feb 2000
"Matt Nute" mightynute@home.com
Marathon (PG, Flash)

 

DISCLAIMER: The characters and places portrayed within are property of DC Comics, and are used without permission nor intent of copyright infringement. No profit is being made from this work, if you DC lawyers have a problem with this, consider it an open, unsolicited submission. The song used within is by Rush, and is copyright them, and can be found on the albums "A Show of Hands" and "Power Windows".

ARCHIVISTS: Just ask. A copy of this story can be found soon on the NuteWorldOrder website (http://users.ultrashell.net/~nute).

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Marathon

Matt Nute

 

In French Samoa, a child falls from a wall, gravity pulling him mercilessly towards a pile of rocks below. His mouth opens, but he doesn't have time to scream before I get to him. I decelerate to just under the speed of sound and snatch him out of midair. A quick lap of the islands to curb momentum, and he's deposited harmlessly at the foot of the wall, light as a feather, before his friends ever know he fell.

Seconds later, I'm skimming over the Sahara, melting sand into glass as I weave lazily through sand dunes. It wasn't so long ago that I was here in Northern Africa, doing my part to stop the Axis. Every few seconds, every hundred or so miles, I pass a burnt-out husk of a Panzer tank or a ransacked bivouac site, abandoned to the mercy of the Sirocco winds.

Left turn and I'm over the Atlantic Ocean. Water laps around the soles of my boots, but surface tension doesn't have time to break and pull me under until I'm six miles away. A quick glance over my right shoulder and I see the wake I'm leaving as I pass a Dutch freighter headed for Amsterdam. It'll get there in two weeks. I could be there in less than a minute.

I set foot on land moments later, making up time as I lengthen my stride, watching the busy streets pass me by. Boston, New York, right to Cincinatti, left through the wheat fields of the heartland, then shifting my weight, using the Missouri River to kill some velocity, locking my left leg, and skidding to a stop in...

Keystone City. My town. Not my hometown, that's a ways north in Indiana, but Keystone City, Missouri, here is where I'm needed, where I'm more than just Jason Peter Garrick, lab assistant and amateur chemist. Here, I'm recognized for being so much more than my mundane life.

I'm the fastest man alive.

I'm the Flash.

I check my watch; there's at least thirty seconds before they expect me at City Hall. Time enough to make sure I look my best. A quick spit shine over the boots at superspeed polishes them to a gleam, and a handkerchief brushed over the chrome 'doughboy' helmet makes it shine like a beacon. I'd meant it to be an homage to Hermes, with the wings and all that, but in these times, it's just another thing that ties me to this town. Keystone City Textiles has been pumping out olive drab uniforms for our boys overseas for three straight years now. I suppose this helmet makes me look a tad... martial, as Carter would say.

I step off, reminding myself that while I did my share against the Axis, I'm no soldier. I never had to spend weeks huddled down in the trenches, eating C-rations out of leaky cans. At any time, I could have run to Coney Island in moments for a hot dog, zipped home to my own warm bed to catch forty winks.

And as I slow to a dramatic stop next to the Mayor's podium outside City Hall, I'm almost embarassed to see these people here, bundled up like Eskimos, braving the cold to see their hero. I see everyone's eyes widen like children's, awed at my entrance. Most of them have probably caught mere glimpses of me whipping through the streets, faster than the wind. A few may even have seen me slowing down to deliver some criminal to the boys in blue.

I don't think any of them have seen me at a standstill, though. I grin at them, although they probably can't tell. I always make a habit of vibrating my face at superspeed, so no one recognizes me as anything more than a general blur. I wave, remembering to do it slowly enough not to cause a mini-tornado. I only made that mistake once, and it was a long six hours picking oak leaves out of every rain gutter in town. I hadn't quite mastered running up walls then.

But that was then, this is now. New Years' Day, 1946. I only hear the Mayor's speech with half my attention, as he goes on about the war being over, me being Keystone's own hometown war hero, how our men will be home by the spring.

I'm spending my time looking at each face. None of them could give half a care about the speech. I can feel their eyes tracing the lightning bolt embroidered on my wool sweater. I laugh to myself, thinking of Al Pratt's jokes about my lack of "super fashion sense". So I wear my old college sweater tucked into a pair of blue jeans with farmer's boots. At over nine hundred miles an hour, a cape seems pretty impractical, Al.

And then it hits me. One of the benefits of superspeed is incredibly sensitive hearing, since my eardrums are adapted to hearing things around me while I'm moving faster than a bullet. And after four long months overseas, I recognize the sound of a bolt sliding back on a German submachine gun, even through the applause.

Without even waiting for the Mayor to finish his sentence, I give him a stiff-arm push my college football coach would have loved to see me try on the field. I push everything I have into full throttle, looking through the crowd, only just now starting to creep ever so slowly into confusion. I know that next will come shock, and later, fear and panic. There's over three hundred people in those bleachers, and gathered on the sidewalks. A madman opening fire would start a riot that would kill more people than his bullets can.

And I'm off, my boots scorching the crepe paper draped over the mayor's platform. With an eyeblink of concentration, I send a vibration through my entire body, altering the attunement of my molecules enough to pass insubstantially through the crowd like a ghost. My eyes are dashing, left, right, up, down.

WHERE is that gun?

I hear the crack of the shot, drawn out like the roar of a train. Frantically, I step out into the open street, my eyesight keener than a hawk's at this speed. I see the first bullet, and I'm already on a parallel trajectory. Like DiMaggio fielding a low line drive, I wrap my fingers around that hot lump of lead, throwing it down into the asphalt. Peering forward, I see the barrel sticking out from an alley, as the gunman begins his quick steps into his firing position, ready to spray death into the crowd.

He thinks he's moving pretty fast.

He's slower than a snail.

I'm on him before the powder can even begin to burn in the second bullet. I chop my hand through the barrel, cleaving it like a knife through butter. Rapid-fire haymakers juggle the would-be assassin off his feet, forcing the air from his lungs. Cinching a bicep around his neck, I rocket off, trailing him like a flag in my wake, his legs flailing for purchase.

Vibrating myself, I pass right through the wall of the Keystone City police station at around one hundred fifty. I let him go as I pass partially through the iron bars, and watch him bounce off the brick wall of his new cell as his molecules slow back to solidity. He'll have a few broken bones, maybe a few cracked vertebrae, and definitely a concussion. I stop by the Commissioner's desk and scrawl him a note, careful not to let the pencil burst into flame.

In an eyeblink, I'm off again, zig-zagging through the city and back to City Hall. Before the crowd has even registered my action, I lift the Mayor to his feet, taking my place at his side again. For all the crowd sees, he's only stumbled, and I've helped him to his feet. He stammers, looks at me, then smiles. For an instant, he meets my eyes and he knows what I've done, even as the phantom echoes from the gunshot echo weakly from the walls.

Minutes later, I'm shaking hands and kissing babies. I feel more like a celebrity than a superhero. Across the street in a vacant lot, I can already see kids running around, one of them's wearing a hubcap on his head. I can hear him laugh as he runs around his friends with the hyperactivity of youth.

Playing "Justice Society". I wonder if this happens to Ted Knight over in Opal City.

I pause a moment for reflection. Joan and I have talked a few times about children. We both have our careers, and she knows the hazards of this life I lead. Maybe one day, I'll stop being the Flash, and settle down to the life of an everyday hero and father. I can be the Fastest Dad Alive.

But that day's a while off. I'm not ready for retirement, not for a long time coming. I take a few quick steps, wave to the crowd again, and then I'm off.

Keystone City fades behind me as I hit the Texas panhandle faster than any stampede. I'm arcing left across the Gulf of Mexico before the applause fades in my ears. I don't think I'll ever get used to it, and I know I'll never take it for granted. They love me, love the fantastic things I can do.

I hope the next Flash appreciates his fans as much. Of course, I know there's going to be another one, I can't do this forever. Whether in Keystone City, or over the river in Central, someone's going to need to be faster than a train to keep up with the times.

Like a relay, I think. I'm just running one lap of it here. Soon enough, I'll pass the baton...


From first to last The peak is never passed Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes One moment's high, and glory rolls on by Like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades In the summer sky


My lungs are on fire. I mean that literally.

At this moment, I can actually start to feel my body start to burn from the inside out. The pain is like nothing I've ever felt before. Not when Cobalt Blue hit me with that magic flame of his, not when the Mirror Master split me into a hundred miniature duplicates, or when Abra Kadabra turned me into a wooden puppet. Those moments hurt, but not like this.

What hurts is knowing that I could stop this at any time. I could just slow down. I could stop.

No, I can't. Because I'm the only one who can do this. Only I can destroy the Anti-Monitor's antimatter cannon, only I'm fast enough.

Only me. Me, Barry Allen. I'm the fastest man alive.

I'm the Flash.

And right now, I'm doing laps around a sphere of pure antimatter, trying to collapse it before it explodes, wiping out not just this galaxy, but this entire universe. EVERY universe, actually. The Anti-Monitor told me himself. This device will convert the entire multiverse into antimatter, to be ruled solely by him as everyone and everything I know is utterly annihilated in the antimatter wave.

Despite the flames in my charred throat, I sigh. I came back to the 20th century for this? I was happy, in the future, back reunited with Iris. I had lost so much when she was taken from me. I thought Zoom had killed her, driven his buzzsaw fingers right into her brain. I held her body in my arms. I buried her. And I mourned, God, how I mourned.

And then I killed him.

It was an accident, I tell myself. It's what I told the court. And they acquitted me. Because it was an accident. Because I can't believe that any pain, not even losing Iris, would drive me to murder. Not even for revenge on the man who took her life.

And then I found her again. She'd been dragged through time by her parents, themselves from the 30th century. She helped save me, there at that trial. She swayed the jury to my innocence, and I was a free man. Free to be with my wife, one thousand years away from the world where I was the Flash, superhero and charter member of the Justice League.

I was finally just Barry Allen, happy husband. We were going to live there for years, hundreds of them, given 30th century medicine and science. We were going to be man and wife for centuries.

We had four months.

Then that antimatter wave began to sweep across the cosmos, through time, and that hand plucked me out of my new time and back to this moment, to the very instant Creation began. Here the Anti-Monitor would remake the multiverse in his image.

He kept me trapped, drawing off my speed and vibration powers to gain access through all time and space. And he left that hack villain, the Psycho-Pirate, to guard me. He swore that his plan would not fail, that I would watch as everything I ever had known was erased from existence utterly.

Damned if I was going to let that happen.

I broke free, and found this cannon. I'd understood antimatter theory only briefly, mostly from theoretical conversations with Firestorm or Dr. Light. And I may only be a lowly police chemist, but I knew that if this cannon stood, there was no way all of our heroes could prevail in this crisis. All I had to do was implode it, rip around it like a mad comet in orbit until my own speed crushed it into nothingness. I'd never gone that fast before. I'd have to pass through, on to the other side of lightspeed. Beyond even the barriers of space and time.

I knew I had it in me, physically. I could run fast enough to break every law of physics Newton ever dreamed of. But I knew, in some part of my mind that wasn't ruled by Barry, the analytical science geek, that I would only get to do this once. I knew that my frail human body couldn't handle the raw power needed to breach this thing.

In four words; It. Would. Kill. Me.

Do I have it in me to make this choice? Can I sacrifice myself, my future, my life with Iris, our dreams? Do I have the strength to do that, knowing the universe is at stake?

I close my eyes...

And I run.

Three thousand laps, thirty thousand, thirty million. My body's breaking apart, my cells burning into pure energy as I'm pumping everything I have out onto the track. I feel like I'm breathing sand, tearing my insides out. My feet are like lead encased in concrete, but I run. I have to run. I need to run, faster than anyone, anything has gone before.

The air starts to hum around me as I see the very molecules zip past me, through me. The world blueshifts down the visual spectrum as my vision begins to blur. I can feel my costume flapping loose, as I'm burning my own body for reserves. I can't see the antimatter cannon anymore. I can feel it, though. Feel it compressing, smaller and smaller. I can't see anything , God... is this it?

I see something. Iris. Our wedding day. The night when I first took her into our marriage bed. The day I revealed my secret to her, only to find out she'd already known. The pain of losing her, and the utter joy at finding her again.

To her, I didn't have to be the Flash. I could just be Barry Allen. They'll find my costume here, in the ruins of this place. Maybe Wally will find it in him to carry on. It's time for him to leave the name of Kid Flash behind. I regret not having a son to fill my yellow boots, but Wally's the best heir I could ask for, in spirit if not in flesh.

It's up to you now, Wally. It's your race to run now. Take the baton and run with it, until it's your turn to pass the mantle on.

I can't feel my legs, but I know that the antimatter cannon's almost ready to go. One more burst of speed. One more push, just one more moment of speed...

Light. I see Iris, Wally, Jay, all of them around me. It's... it's heaven.

It worked.

My name was Barry Allen. And I was the luckiest man alive.

I was the Flash.


From first to last The peak is never passed Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes One moment's high, and glory rolls on by Like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades In the summer sky


They say that when you die, you're supposed to see a white light, or something like a tunnel. People who've come back from near-death experiences often tell tales of walking slowly upwards, feeling some great peace.

I'll bet none of them thought breaching Heaven would be like this. Vibrating between matter and pure speed energy, channeling the very essence of speed through my body. It's beauty and chaos rolled into one, this weird void of crackling energy. Like being inside the thunder, literally riding the lightning from cloud to cloud. I think to myself that this is what electricity must feel like, being thrown from the heavens to Earth.

But I'm going the other way. I can't even tell if my feet are running on solid ground here, or if my legs are moving at all. All I know is the speed. The exhilarating rush that comes with being the absolte master of velocity and motion.

Now, if I could just get an airbag, I'd be happy. I feel like a kernel in a Jiffy Pop bag, bouncing back and forth in this maelstrom. I pushed that barrier, that unbreakable wall just on the other side of lightspeed. I pushed it so hard it gave, and now I'm here in this weird half-existence between the timestream and the Speed Force. Maybe it's one or the other, maybe it's both.

Either way, damn, it's a rush.

So there I was, in the 52nd Century, trying to race through time, collecting the ambient speed energy that Savitar had left in his wake, after he'd charged like a bull out of the Speed Force, backwards through time in some insane vendetta against me. Oh, I beat the tar out of him and tossed him back into the Force, back into the Valhalla that waits for all of us speedsters. No one's supposed to come back from it, although I've done it a few times. That's me, bending the laws of physics until they snap.

Anyway, there I was, running backwards through time, trying to repair the damage done. Imagine taking a dirt bike racing through wet sand, and kicking up a rooster tail of spray. Now, imagine that sand is the fabric of time, and Savitar's the dirt bike. My job is to run fast enough to get all those grans of sand back in order.

Impossible? Nah. I'm fast enough.

Hard? Damn straight. But I did it. Unfortunately, I pushed myself a little too fast.

So here I am, back in the Speed Force. And it's really pulling me this time, trying to yank me in. That call, man... it's tempting. I know that on the other side there's peace. I know Johnny Quick found his, and Barry too, in his way. I know that somehow, I'm sharing their energy, every time I put one foot in front of the other.

Maybe it's time after all, time for me to join them. I mean, I've run my race more times than any of them. Taken more victory laps than I'm due. Maybe it's time I pass the torch. Jesse's ready to take my place, and in a few years, Bart's... well, Bart's always going to be... Impulsive. But they'll both do me proud. Not just me. They're living up to an entire legacy of speed, dating back to that first time the first speedster laced on his boots and raced the lightning.

Energy crackles around me, urging me faster. I accede, opening the throttle more, feeling it flow through me. There's thousands of voices, faint and indiscernible, but I can hear them all whispering approval. They want me to come home, into the Speed Force where I belong.

I'm almost there now, all it would take is one burst to pass that final threshold. With one more step, I can pass the baton on to the next generation, and take my place in the legends. One more moment of glory, and I'm history.

Uncle Barry would be proud of me. I know it. I can almost feel him pacing me, like in the old days, when I was Kid Flash, running at his side. Now, he's running at mine. I can feel that syncopated beat, a rhythm I haven't experienced since I was sixteen. I've been waiting for this moment, every day since I was eleven years old and first took those tentative steps into the realm of speed.

This moment. Wow. Have you ever tried to define a 'moment'? Most people don't give it a thought. Scientists call it Planck's constant, the smallest measurable instant of time. The little ticks that divide the universe into moments. I'm stepping between those ticks now, weaving in and out of the moments that make up... everything, really.

I'm almost giddy with excitement, and anticipation. This is what I've always wanted to do. This is where I've always wanted to be. This is where I belong.

And there's another moment calling to me. One I haven't experienced yet. And like that, it's past. Part of me wonders, what's it like, knowing time's done with you? Knowing your race is run? I mean, this is really it, the finish line. One last surge, and my journey's done.

I don't know how, but my feet skip a beat. And like a tornado, everything starts rushing by around me. Instead of me running through time, time's running through and around me. All those moments of my life, those I've lived and those I never had the chance to, flash by faster than I can see.

I'm not ready to let go of those moments yet.

I feel myself falling forward, like stepping off a curb. My feet move to keep up, and the rush of oncoming air folds around me like diving into a swimming pool. I feel ground under my feet, and the rush of oxygen back in my lungs.

A few quick steps, a balance shift, and I'm coasting to a stop in midtown Keystone City. Wow. Get dumped out of nirvana, and wind up almost literally in my own backyard. A quick glance at the city clock tells me it's only a few seconds since I left on this madcap run. And the fact that the timestream isn't collapsing around me tells me I fixed things. I ran them right.

But the fading exhilaration, and the lingering ecstasy... it taunts me with the promise of more. I know, moreso than anyone else alive, what's waiting for me when my race is run. I've seen my Heaven, and I'm not ready to go through those gates yet.

I've still got a few more laps to run. One day I'll pass that baton on, but not until my race is complete. And I have a feeling that finish line won't come along until I'm ready to cross it.

I'll pass on this legacy, just like it was passed on to me. Having traveled the timestream, I know the Flash legend will live on for millennia, there's always going to be someone to ride the lightning, to know what it's like to race through each moment of life like no one else can.

For this moment, though, that's my role. That's my race to run.

My name is Wally West. I'm the fastest man alive.

I'm the Flash.


From first to last
The peak is never passed
Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes
One moment's high, and glory rolls on by
Like a streak of lightning that flashes and fades In the summer sky


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