My name is Barry Allen. I used to be the Fastest Man Alive. Recently, I’ve had to share that title with my nephew, Wally West. Right now, though, I’m faced with the frightening possibility that I might get to return to being the sole claimant of the position.
I don’t want to.
The Justice League’s Watchtower is impressive, but its medical bay could use some redecorating. There are only two colors here: stark white or metallic grey, and everything is so…sterile.
It’s the exact opposite of Wally.
Wally is light and life and love, and even his appearance is full of color. His hair is the brightest shade of red I’ve ever seen on a person — even brighter than Iris’ — and his eyes are as green as Alan Scott’s ring. He does not belong here in this whitewashed, medicinal place. He should not be this pale, and he should not be in a coma.
This is my fault.
Zoom has plagued me for most of my career as the Flash. He’s injured me, damaged my city, and kidnapped and almost killed the ones I love countless times over the years. He is the only person who’s ever brought me to the very brink of the line I drew for myself long ago — the promise I made to never use my powers to harm others. With my speed, I could cause massive damage to almost anyone before they could even lift a finger to defend themselves. I have to be careful, and I cannot lose control.
Zoom makes me lose control, and he’s done it more than once.
I lost it in 2002 when Zoom came this close to killing Iris. If I’d been even a nanosecond slower, I would have lost the woman I love. I’m not proud of it, but I know that if we hadn’t ended up in the 25th century during our subsequent fight, I would have broken Thawne’s neck with my bare hands.
I lost it again in 2020, when Zoom returned to torment me. He went after Central City this time, tearing through the streets without a care for how much destruction he was leaving in his wake. Hundreds of people died that day, and I’m ashamed to say, not all of them were killed by Zoom. I’ve never been able to bring myself to calculate just how many lives were ended by the effects of my own speed, but I know I was directly responsible for several deaths myself. It’s nothing short of a miracle that my city didn’t condemn me in the aftermath of that massacre.
Perhaps it doesn’t matter that they didn’t. I blamed myself enough. After I threw Zoom into the Speed Force, I figured I was finally rid of him. The Justice Society had disbanded, supervillains were on the decline, and I had already proven that I was no longer able to toe the line. I quit being the Flash and I gave up this life.
Eventually I made my peace with what had happened. The regret never went away, but the guilt faded with time. I was content with being CSI Barry Allen, without a second life as a superhero.
Then Wally came into my life. Iris and I had given up on finding him after five years without a trace, but the universe must have decided it needed a Flash. Why else would I stumble across him during a case that shouldn’t even have been mine to begin with, and why else would the exact accident that had given me my powers happen to him as well? It’s a myth that lightning doesn’t strike the same place twice, but what are the odds of it combining with the CCPD Crime Lab’s shelf of chemicals for a second time to give my nephew super speed?
Wally’s favorite hero was the Flash — it was inevitable that he’d want to take up my mantle. I still remember the shock on his face when I told him in the hospital that I was the Flash. That only made him want to be a hero even more.
He’s always been like that. Despite everything that’s happened to him, Wally has never stopped caring about people, never stopped trying to help in whatever way he can. He’s a better man — a better Flash — than I was.
Now he’s possibly dying, and I’m close to losing it again. Wally doesn’t deserve this.
I think Zoom lives to make my life hell.
Zoom is after me, just like he’s always been — but this time Wally got in his way. Wally might die because of the legacy he inherited from me, and that — above any of my past mistakes — is unacceptable.
“Come on, Wally,” I mutter. “You have to pull through this. I can’t have your death on my conscience.”
He doesn’t stir — he hasn’t for almost a week now — but I’m not giving up on him. As long as his heart is beating, there’s still hope. Speedsters aren’t so easy to keep down. We heal too fast.
There’s still hope.
There’s an unpleasant surprise waiting for me when I get back planetside. A large, bulky contraption that has Zoom’s stamp all over it is planted right in the middle of Central City Park. It looks crude and ill-fitted — no doubt cobbled together from all the parts Zoom’s been stealing — but I’ve no doubt that it will be effective.
Zoom himself is on every screen in the city. Egomaniac that he is, he’s monologuing about his evil plan. I pull out the comlink Diana gave me and tap into the Justice League’s frequency. Kent answers.
“What is it, Barry?”
“You guys better get down to Central City pronto. Zoom’s set up some sort of machine in the main park.”
“Do you know what it’s for?”
“Not yet, but I’ve a feeling he’s going to tell us. He’s making a speech on every TV in the city — you could probably watch it up on the Watchtower.”
“Noted — Superman’s bringing up the feed now.”
“Greetings, citizens of Central City,” Zoom’s saying. “My name is Professor Zoom. You may just call me Zoom. Some of you already know me, but there is one person in particular I’m speaking to.”
Though he can’t see me from wherever he’s filming this, his eyes seem to pierce straight to my core. There’s no mistaking who he’s talking to.
Sure enough, just in case I couldn’t figure out the obvious, he states, “Yes, Flash, I’m talking to you. I don’t now your name, and I don’t know exactly where you are right now — but you know who you are, and you know that what’s about to happen is your fault.”
There’s a blip in the transmission, a momentary blackout so infinitesimal that no one but a speedster would have noticed it. To anyone else, it would seem as if the camera had simply switched to a view of the machine in the park, but I know Zoom has just run there.
“I built this, Flash, with the parts I stole.” More insults to my intelligence. Thawne had never liked to admit that I am every bit as smart as he is. We’re both scientists, after all. “It’s a gravity implosion generator.”
My eyes widen involuntarily. I’m not a physicist — Wally’s the one with the double degree in physics and chemistry — but I know what this is. The impact will be devastating.
Zoom, naturally, wants to make certain that everyone understands exactly what that impact will be, because he’s launching into a simplified explanation of the how the generator works. “Basically, what it does is it emits an energy pulse that rapidly alters the Earth’s gravitational field over a certain area. Now of course, the Earth’s gravitational field isn’t meant to be altered so violently and so quickly, so what happens is that the fluctuating gravity causes a massive shockwave that will rip apart the molecules of everything and everyone in the target area.”
No, not quite. Not everyone. Everyone except —
“Of course, you being…well, you…your molecules are used to high levels of kinetic vibrations, so this won’t affect you.”
The bastard. He’s planned this. He did this specifically, so I could watch my city implode around me.
“However, I can guarantee that it will destroy the whole of Central City. And possibly Keystone as well. Who knows? I wasn’t very meticulous about my radius calibrations.”
My fingernails bite into my palms, and I glance down to find that my hands have curled into fists. What wouldn’t I give to infinite mass punch Thawne right now.
“Well, this will be a great pleasure.” Zoom’s finally wrapping up his ridiculously long-winded monologue.“Behold my revenge, Flash.” The screens go black.
Revenge. That’s what it always comes down to, doesn’t it? Revenge against me, in the most painful and heartbreaking way he can engineer.
“Barry —” Diana begins.
“But we might need you.”
“No,” I say again. “You have a good plan. Use it.”
I terminate the connection. They’re the Justice League — they’ll do what they need to do without me. I can’t be involved in the battle.I can feel my temper rising. If I don’t keep a lid on it, I could end up with a repeat of February 2020. The way my power is vibrating within me right now, if I go up against Zoom directly, people will die. It’s better if I devote my efforts to making sure that any civilians are well out of the way. It won’t be hard — after that broadcast, they’ll be avoiding the park like a plague — but I have to be sure. There can be no more innocent blood spilled on account of this feud.
It only takes a few rounds to clear out everyone within ten blocks of the park. I’m not wearing my suit, but I don’t have to. No one sees me. From the glimpses I get of the battle in the park, the League are doing a good job fighting Zoom. I knew they could handle him.
Once the battlefield is clear of non-combatants, I race home. Wally is safe from the impending danger, up on the Watchtower — I need to get Iris to safety, too. It’s crossed my mind that if the League can’t stop the gravity implosion generator from activating, people need to get as far away from the city as possible. I can’t evacuate everyone, but I’m sure as hell going to try. Starting with my wife.
Iris is exactly where I expect her to be. I scoop her up, and in the blink of an eye we’re on a hill five miles away from Central. I’m about to go back for other people, but Iris grabs my arm.
“Barry, what are you doing?”
“Evacuating,” I respond. “That machine could go off any second, I need to get as many people as I can out of —”
“Barry, you won’t have enough time,” Iris interrupts me. “You have to face Zoom yourself.”
“Iris, I can’t. The last time —”
“— is in the past, and you’ve been beating yourself up over that long enough,” she says. “This is now, it’s different. You have to fight — it’s the only way to save everyone.”
“The League —”
“Even if the League can defeat Zoom, what are the chances that they can stop that machine before it starts? You know how smart Thawne is.”
I hang my head. I do know how smart Thawne is. Iris is right — if I really don’t want anymore deaths on my conscience, I have to face Zoom head-on.
“Iris, my control…”
“I believe in you.” She takes my face in her hands, kisses my lips. “Contrary to what you think, Barry, you’ve never lost control. If you had, Zoom wouldn’t still be alive.”
“Maybe that’s the problem,” I mutter.
“You wouldn’t be the Flash if you really believed that.”
“I’m not —”
“Yes, you are,” she insists. “You may have stopped wearing the costume, but you never stopped being a Flash.” She traces a lightning bolt on my chest, exactly where the symbol on my uniform used to be. “And right now, Barry, you are the only Flash.”
I can see it in her eyes: the fear that I will forever and always be the only Flash. She loves me with everything she has, but she’s grown accustomed to having two speedsters in her life. If Wally doesn’t make it, Iris’ heart will break.
“Wally will pull through, Iris.”
She smiles sadly. “I know.” Like me, she lives in hope. Kid, you’d better not make us wait much longer. “But he’s not here now. You are.”
Yes. Yes, I am. I had told the League I would fight Zoom if I needed to. And it is my responsibility as the Flash to save everyone I can.
I step away from Iris and pop the latch on the ring I’ve been wearing since Wally landed himself in the Watchtower infirmary. The uniform fits as though I’d never taken it off.
“I love you,” I say to Iris.
“I love you, too,” she replies. “Now Run Barry, Run.”
She doesn’t need to tell me twice; I’m gone. Two seconds later, I’m at the park. The League has exceeded my expectations and completely neutralized Zoom. Kent has him in a stasis spell which I know from personal experience is not easy to get out of.
That’s not right. Zoom shouldn’t have been caught so easily.
Batman is also aware of this.
“Zoom can travel at Mach 8 and above. If he really wanted to escape, he wouldn’t have run so slowly.”
Thawne let himself be caught. But that means…
“How clever,” Zoom mocked. “But you’re right, of course. I don’t see the point of expending precious energy to escape you…because that beautiful machine in the middle of the park is going to implode the gravity field here in less than a minute – not enough time for you to teleport back to your space tower, I’d imagine. You’ll die with the city, but I’ll be totally unaffected. And then I will find the only other living person in this wreck and finally kill him.”
“No, you won’t.” Enough is enough. Time to confront my enemy again.
“Flash?” Green Lantern is surprised to see me; Batman is not.
“No, not our Flash.” He says it with conviction — doesn’t miss a trick, that man.
Zoom, of course, knows me on sight. “Well, well, the prodigal Flash crawls out of hiding. Have you been enjoying the show?”
I stare him down. Wally sewed protective lenses into his cowl, but I’m glad I didn’t, because I want Zoom to see, in my eyes, exactly how serious I am about this. “I’m not letting Central City be destroyed because of your mad quest for revenge against me.”
“You don’t have a choice. That machine begins its work in exactly three…two…one…”
There’s a roaring noise from the generator, and the ground rocks beneath my feet. The energy swirls high into the atmosphere, twisting like a tornado, and gravity goes insane.
“You’re too late, Flash!” Zoom cries gleefully. “It’s started. In a matter of minutes, Central City will be no more!”
Minutes. I have minutes. For a speedster, that’s plenty of time. And yet, as I study every aspect of the situation in ten seconds, I know there’s only one course available to me. Even I’m not fast enough to do anything else.
For the moment, everything and everyone in the vicinity is merely being tossed around like rag dolls — and that’s bad enough in itself, but it’s about to get much worse. I don’t care so much about the buildings, but the people of Central City are going to feel pure agony as their molecules tear themselves apart. I can’t let that happen. Everyone I care for — my father, Joe, Patty, all my friends at the lab, at the station, and nearly the entire Justice League — they’ll all die. I’m not even sure if Iris will be safe on that hill — the shockwaves running through the ground feel like they’d be extending more than five miles.
When it comes down to a choice between me and Central City, there isn’t a choice.
“Flash?” Diana’s caught on to what I’m thinking.
I meet her eyes — blue eyes, like mine, but hers are more like sapphires rather than the sky. “I can stop it.”
Zoom is glaring at me. “You’ll die before you manage to generate enough kinetic energy to counter the energy flow from the machine.”
I smile grimly. “That’s why you’re going to help me.” Batman tosses me a pair of handcuffs and I chain the immobile Reverse Flash to his death-by-gravity machine.
“If you expect me to help you stop this, you’re even stupider than you look.”
Even at this late stage, he’s still insulting my intelligence. That’s Eobard Thawne for you — egotist supreme.
“You don’t have a choice,” I tell him, my voice hard. “Now that you’re strapped to the machine, your molecules will automatically vibrate to counter the action of the machine so that you’ll survive. That, combined with your mass, will add kinetic energy whether you want it to or not. And the faster I run, the greater the exchange of kinetic energy between me and you, and the faster your molecules will vibrate. Think of yourself as a gear in a machine, increasing my mechanical advantage.” Wally would be proud of that speech. I’m nowhere near the physicist he is, but I can hold my own in a physics conversation.
Oh, God, Wally. He’s going to wake up — yes, he is going to wake up, I refuse to believe otherwise — and I won’t be there.
“You’re going to take us both down without accomplishing anything,” Zoom sneers. “My molecules aren’t going to pick up on your kinetic energy because there’s no connecting conduit between us.”
Unbelievable. He still doesn’t see it. And he thinks I’m the dumb one.
“We’re both connected to the Speed Force, and we’ve even travelled through it together,” I remind him. “That’s enough of a connection…especially if I break the lightspeed barrier.”
Zoom looks incredulous. “You can’t go that fast!”
Watch me, yellow man. “I can try.” ‘Try’ isn’t the right word. I’ve never done it before, because of the sheer damage I could do at that speed, but I know — especially in a high-stakes situation like this — that I’m capable of surpassing the speed of light. It’s almost poetic how the final time I’ll release the control I’ve usually been careful to keep over my speed — and the only time I’m voluntarily allowing myself to let go — is the last time I’ll ever run.
Time’s running short, but I still have a few seconds to spare to say goodbye to Kent and Diana. They’ve been my friends for almost three decades, even if I didn’t see them for twenty of those years — oh, we should have kept in touch better. And I should have taken Iris to Paris when I had the chance — we’ve always wanted to go, but we kept putting it off. We knew we both had many, many years ahead of us — more than we had any right to expect, since the Speed Force would keep us both young for decades.
We should have known it was too good to be true. Speed Force youth certainly hadn’t done much to prolong Jay Garrick’s life. Maybe it’s the Flash’s curse to die young — ironic, given how by all rights, we should be living longer than other humans. It’s probably a ridiculous notion, but if there is a curse, I hope Wally finds the loophole. He’s only twenty-three — there’s no way that it’s his fate to die in a coma.
It’s funny the things that run through your head when you realize about to die.
But I’m getting off topic. Where was I?
Oh, yes, Kent and Diana. Diana’s face is grave, and her eyes are glittering with tears. Poor Diana, it’s harder for her, with her immortality, to accept death. Kent’s face is hidden by Bruce’s flying cape, but I know him well enough to picture the stoic expression he would be wearing. They both understand duty, but Kent understands death a lot better than Diana does.
“Will miss you, Barry.”
Ah, telepathic communicator. The Justice Society of America didn’t have comlinks like the League does — we’d had to rely on Kent’s ability to speak in our heads to stay connected.
“It was an honor, Barry” Kent mutters
“Same here,” I reply in the same manner. “Tell Iris and Wally…”
“They know. But I will,” Kent promises.
If I have one, true regret in this moment, it’s that I can’t say goodbye to the two people I love most in the world; but at least the last thing I said to Iris was that I love her, and Wally knows I’m proud of him. And Kent will repeat the messages for me, just to be sure.
There’s nothing left to do. Zoom’s stuck to the machine, I’ve said my goodbyes, I’ve made peace with my imminent demise. I’m ready to save Central City.
With every lap I make around the machine, I build up speed. I feel myself exceeding all ten levels of the sound barrier, and then lightspeed — it’s easier than I thought it would be. Everything around me seems to come to a standstill, even Zoom. Besides me, the only thing moving is the spiralling energy from the generator — and even that is starting to slow. The plan’s working; my kinetic energy is countering the gravity beam. Not bad for a man whose forte is chemistry.
As I run faster and faster past the speed of light, electricity begins to coalesce around me. It hurts at first — my God, does it hurt — but I grit my teeth through the pain and keep running, and soon it doesn’t hurt anymore. In fact, it feels like home.
The park has disappeared by now — all I see are streaks of colored light: my red and yellow, blue from the electricity…and other colors are rapidly seeping in. Orange is first, naturally — then green, purple, pink, gold, silver — every bright color in the earthly spectrum and beyond. My legs should be tiring, but though I feel the exhaustion creeping in, the faster I run, the less tired I feel. How paradoxical is that?
Zoom and the machine are gone now, but I don’t stop running. I can’t stop running. It’s too invigorating. Too wonderful. After a lifetime of keeping my speed in check, I’m finally free to run as fast and as far as I can. I’m not running in a circle anymore.
The colors start blending into a pure white glow, and suddenly I know — I just know — what I’m heading into. It’s the Speed Force. I never knew very much about it, but it’s more amazing, more glorious, than I could ever have imagined. It transcends space, it transcends time…it’s a whole other state of being. A whole other universe.
So this is how speedsters die. At least the ones that run themselves to death. Jay Garrick did it too — I wonder if I’ll see him around here. And now that I realize just how vast the Speed Force is, I realize that the Flashes can’t possibly be the only speedsters in the universe. There must be others here.
I don’t see Jay, but I do see someone I recognize. Red suit, yellow boots, lightning-bolt earpieces — and lenses in the cowl.
No, please, no.
The Speed Force is beautiful, and it’s certainly a pleasant way to go — but there’s no coming back once you’re in it. Even if all you do is disappear into its dimension, you’re still dead to the regular universe. If Wally’s here, then it means…
Wally’s form moves, blends with the light…he fades from my view, then reappears in a different area.
He doesn’t acknowledge me. He doesn’t hear me. He keeps moving. He flits between the streaks, adding his red and yellow light — his aura trails behind him and forms afterimages in the fabric of the Speed Force. The pictures are like nothing I’ve ever seen before, all different, ever-shifting — but always him, and sometimes there are others with him. A pretty, dark-haired Asian woman pops up frequently — he’s kissing her, then marrying her, and then there’s two young kids with him.
And suddenly, I realize that the images aren’t just pictures — they’re scenes from Wally’s life. Life he hasn’t lived yet, but obviously a life he’s going to get to live. Wally’s going to wake up from his coma and he’s going to go on to do great things — and somehow, he’s going to be connected to the Speed Force in a way no one else has ever been before. For whatever reason, somewhere in the future, Wally is going to become so intrinsically linked to the Speed Force that it can show me his life story.
I stop looking at the images, choosing to race past them to my final destination. I don’t need to see Wally’s life. It’s enough for me to know that he will survive, that he will live. He will carry on the legacy of the Flash, and quite possibly be the greatest one of us all.
As for me, I’ve had my time. I have a different purpose now.
The ‘doorway’, so to speak, of my place in the Speed Force is just ahead. I can’t describe it — there are no words. All I know is that it’s there, waiting for me. I pause just before I step into it and cast a single look back at one of the images from Wally’s life.
It’s Wally as I left him, I don’t know how long ago. Hours? Minutes? Time is relative, especially here. It doesn’t matter anyway. Wally, right now, is still unconscious, and Hawkgirl is hovering by his bedside, fretting.
I can smile at this scene now. Wally will wake up, and he will be stronger.
But maybe I can give him a helping hand. My final gift to the nephew I love like a son.
I reach for the image with my arm and lay my hand on his forehead. Hawkgirl doesn’t notice, but he shifts ever so slightly at my touch. I smile.
“Be well, Wally.”
And he will. I’ve seen it. All will be well.
I’ve passed on my legacy. My job is done.
My name is Barry Allen. I am no longer the Fastest Man Alive.
I turn back to my doorway, and I let myself go.