"There's a chemical compound in his system," the doctor announced as he entered the room. "It's not like one I've seen before. It's definitely a home brew, unrefined and amateur, but very effective."
"Have you determined its purpose?" Batman questioned him.
The doctor looked down at his notes and frowned slightly. "It's somewhat a mix of chlorpromazine and alprazolam. Chlorpromazine is typically used to treat patients experiencing hallucinations. However, it can cause the patient to experience uncontrolled agitation and fits of rage. The makeup of the chlorpromazine has been slightly altered to increase that effect. Obviously we're seeing that in the Flash and I do believe that was the primary purpose of the compound."
Superman made a discouraged noise to himself while Green Lantern asked, "And the other chemical?"
"Alprazolam. It's used to treat anxiety disorders. It's also rather habit-forming. I believe its addition to the mixture was to simply get people to take more," he explained.
"Alright," Green Lantern said. "Someone is getting people to take an addictive drug that causes them to become uncontrollably violent while it's in their system. Do we know why? Or how they're taking it? I can't imagine Flash willingly taking a drug like that."
Superman suddenly shouted, "The pizza!" Seeing the blank looks of his friends, he continued, "Flash had been grumbling about pizza since we caught up with him at his home, and he made a point to stop for more even when I was chasing after him. Atom reported all of Flash's coworkers were also touchy and arguing for no reason. A group of friends all showing the same symptoms, it could be the food they're sharing, right?"
The doctor's face brightened, "Very true, Superman. These are all drugs taken orally and could easily have been turned to powder and mixed into something without being detected, especially if other strong flavors are present to mask the medicinal taste."
Bruce leaned forward against the console and added, "There's no way to test for that on Flash, though."
The doctor's face fell back into a sobering look. "No, there isn't. With Flash's superhigh metabolism, any food he ate is already being digested and obtaining a sample would be impossible. I was lucky the drug was still in his system when he came in. I approximate it would normally take two hours for something like this drug mix to completely leave his body, but with the running he's been doing since being put in that room, it is likely to be gone in another half-hour or so."
"Thank you, doctor." Batman dismissed the man and waited for him to leave before turning back to the other two.
"Now what?" Superman asked him.
Twenty minutes later Batman turned the speaker in Flash's cell back on. A soft voice began to filter through the console.
"Uh, guys? I, uh, I'm not really sure what's going on. I mean, I remember it and everything and I get why I'm in here, but I don't know why I was doing it…can I come out now? I promise I'm not going to run. Well no I can't promise I won't run but I promise I won't run away?"
The three superheroes listening glanced at each other. "I think it's okay. If he tries anything he'll just wear the drug out faster," Green Lantern said.
"I agree," Batman said. He turned to Superman, "Clark, go down and open the door for Wally, and be ready just in case. John and I will head to the medical bay."
Superman nodded, "We'll meet you there."
As Green Lantern and Batman left to get the doctor prepared for his patient, Superman flew down to the cell door and steeled himself to contain his friend should the Flash still be under any influence of the drug.
Once there, he pressed a button next to the door to activate the intercom. "Wally? I'm going to release the lock, now." He heard a soft cheer in response. "On the condition that you report to the medical bay for further testing."
"That's fine! Cool! Whatever! I have no idea what's going on and if the doc knows what's up then I'm all for it. Just let me out, Supes. I'm going crazy in this little room." Flash's voice answered him. "Err…more crazy at least."
Superman pressed in the code to unlock the door, and Flash slowly - as slowly as Flash did anything - poked his head through the opening. "I promise I won't try to run away again, Clark," he said sheepishly.
Superman smiled. "That's good to hear, Wally. Come on, let's get you checked out."
The two set off down the hallway in silence. After a few paces, Flash finally asked, "I don't know why I did any of that stuff." His voice was low and soft. "I'm never…I'm not that kind of person."
Superman stopped him and put a hand on his shoulder. "And that wasn't you then either. Someone drugged you, Wally. It wasn't your fault." Flash gave him an incredulous look.
"W-what?" They continued walking as Superman explained what they had learned. Flash's face went from incredulous to baffled, to angry, to sad. "Why would someone do that?"
"That's what we're going to find out next." Batman told him as they walked into the medical bay. The doctor turned toward the group while holding some equipment.
"Flash, good to see you feeling better," he said, politely. "Please sit over here a moment. I'll get a few blood samples from you and you can be on your way. It will take some time to process the results; I'll send the information to Batman's portable when it's done."
"Thanks, doc," Flash responded. "So," he turned to the other heroes. "Where to now?"
"We're going to check out the pizza place you stopped at when we picked you up at your home," Green Lantern told him. "It's our best lead right now."
Flash replied, "Oh yeah! Little Joey's. Hey, the guys and I went there for lunch this afternoon."
"Exactly," Green Lantern said. "We think the ingredients may have been tampered with."
"Well let's get to it!" Flash stated as soon as the doctor finished. He stood and hopped in place. "I'm feeling a lot better." Batman nodded his assent and they headed over to the teleportation beam. Once on the ground in Keystone City, Flash directed them to Little Joey's. It was already into the evening shift when they arrived and the building showed a steady flow of traffic. Walking up cleared out a couple loiterers, but the real show was inside. Passing the threshold the four heroes were treated to no less then four full-on fights, as well as a steady background of shouting.
Superman raised his eyebrows and said, "I think we might be on the right track."
"I don't know why I even bother, none of you appreciate my work here anyway! I let you eat my momma's recipe and I get paid crap for it!" One voice rose out above the others, clearly the owner judging by his tirade.
"Joey?" Flash questioned him.
The man spun around and his face hardened at the sight of the four men in his restaurant. "What do you want? Why don't you do your job and get these idiots out of my shop."
Batman stepped closer to him. "Where do you store your ingredients?"
"Why should I tell you? You're not the health department. Get out of my shop, I'm closing now," Joey snarled.
Batman took another step forward until he was in the man's personal space. "Where. Are your. Ingredients."
Obviously self-preservation kicked in because Joey eventually threw his hand in the direction of the back kitchen and turned away from them. Batman led them into the kitchen where they found a basic assembly line setup. Cheese and toppings in containers on top of the counter and below.
"I think we can rule out any extra toppings," Flash said. "Everyone gets different stuff on their pizza, there wouldn't be any way to insure the drug got to people. The only things everyone shares are dough, cheese, and sauce. And the dough even just sometimes because it's made in batches and for different types. There's thin crust and deep dish and pan and regular and square and—"
"Got it," Green Lantern interrupted. "You know your pizza. We'll check out the cheese and sauce first."
Batman was already leaning under the counter and grabbing something. He brought out an unopened bag of mozzarella from the cooler underneath. "Unless the drug is being manufactured by this dairy company, I'm guessing it's not the cheese either. All of these toppings, cheese included, are bought from outside companies who distribute to more places than just Little Joey's. If we assume this is ground zero for the drug, we can only focus on things made in-house. Namely the dough and sauce."
Flash had already zipped to another corner of the kitchen and was standing over a large basin. "Here," he called over.
They gathered around the pot of sauce. Batman grabbed a vial from his belt and took a sample for testing. "We won't know for sure if this is the cause until it can be analyzed. I'll take it back to the Watchtower and look into the toppings distributor to see if there are other cases, but you three should follow up on this lead now."
The others nodded at him and he turned to leave. Flash, Green Lantern, and Superman found Joey in the front of the shop again. "What now?" he grumbled. "Not done snooping through all my things?"
"Who made your sauce today, Joey?" Flash asked him.
"Peter. Good for nothing dropout."
"We need his contact information," Superman said.
Joey reluctantly gave the superheroes the information they wanted: address, phone, picture, work history. He was eager to get them to go away. They acquiesced and left for Peter's home. It turned out to be a small studio apartment in a rougher part of the city. They knocked to no answer. Superman narrowed his gaze to look inside with his X-Ray vision.
"He's not here," he told them. "The room is a disaster, scattered with paper and textbooks. And tomatoes."
"Well that's a clue if I ever heard one," Flash commentated.
Green Lantern touched his com-link and called Batman. "The person who makes the sauce is a kid named Peter Tolk, twenty years old, lives alone in Eastridge Apartments, number forty-two. He's not home, can you check out other contacts?"
Green Lantern could hear Batman clicking away at the computers in the Watchtower. He answered, "West Keys High School graduate. Father deceased, mother lives alone at thirty-seven-sixty-four Stone Bridge Circle. Cousin nearby at Riverway Apartments, number seventeen-B Dropped out of Keystone University after one year when his scholarship was cancelled. No felony record but he was recently held for trespassing on Keystone University's private property."
Superman said, "I'll check out his mother's house. Green Lantern, why don't you head to the cousin's place to see if he's been by. Flash?"
"I'll head over to the U, got it. Big place, but it shouldn't take me long to do a few sweeps." He nodded at the other two and they parted ways.
Flash was at the University in a few seconds and was trying to decide the best route to take through the school. He started with the Northern buildings and worked clockwise. Halfway through the South building, which housed the science department, he spotted just what he'd been on the lookout for. Flash saw the dim light coming through the cracked door of a chemical lab, a lab that clearly needed a key for entry and was in a section of the building that had already been locked down for the night.
He peered in though the crack and saw Peter, identifying him from his employee picture. He stepped back and quietly told Superman, Batman, and Green Lantern the situation. On any other team mission Flash might have waited for backup, he might have assessed his surroundings for weapons or tried to take out his target with his speed. Peter, though…Peter was just a kid. Seemingly regular, no identifiable powers, just cooking up a regular crime. The normal kind that Flash didn't often deal with.
He walked inside.
The boy hunched over the tabletop was lost in concentration. He was surrounded by beakers filled with substances Flash couldn't identify on sight. He was young, his face covered in grime and his hair flat with sweat. His eyes red and puffy.
"Peter," Flash softly called.
The boy's head shot up and he spun around. "F-f-f-flash! Wha…what are you doing here?"
"What are you doing here, Peter? You're not allowed in this part of the school anymore, not since you dropped out."
Peter's face twisted. "I didn't drop out!" He yelled before looking at the ground shamefully and turning his back to the Flash.
"Peter," Flash began. "Why have you been drugging strangers at work?" He could hear the boy's breath speed up.
"You're making more right now, aren't you? All of this is Keystone U's property. If We take it to the professor, what would he say you're concocting?"
Peter turned back to face Flash, the angry look back on his face. "Professor Jacobs doesn't know how to do half of this! He would have no idea what I'm doing!" he yelled.
"Did you know you drugged me today?" Flash could hear Superman and Green Lantern land in the hall behind him as they started to walk inside. "What's going on?" Flash asked.
Peter stuttered out, "It, it wasn't for you, F-flash. It's just an experiment."
"You're hurting people, Peter. You're forcing them to ingest something potentially dangerous."
"I just want them to understand!" he yelled at Flash. "They took it away! They took it all away from me. School was my only chance to get out of here someday. I earned it! It's not right for them to just take it away one day and say they don't want to pay for me anymore." Silent tears began to fall down his cheeks.
Flash approached him slowly, "Is it fair for you drug random strangers in retaliation?" He reached an arm out to the boy, who flinched away.
"It's the only way to show them! I know what I'm doing, I'm better than half the people in this place. Smarter." Peter kept mumbling to himself, reasoning away his actions.
Batman's voice came over the com-link. "Police should be there soon." And as if on cue, Flash saw and red and blue lights begin to blink against the window.
Peter looked up at the lights and a terrified look passed over him. "No! No, I'm just…it's just an experiment! You can't…!"
"I'm sorry, Peter," Superman said from behind him. "You need to go in."
Peter simply sunk to the floor, weak from his crying and not bothering to fight against three super powered heroes. When the police entered he tried once more to explain, to get himself pardoned, but the police simply cuffed him and started collecting the evidence in the lab.
Flash walked outside with the men holding Peter. As he was being put into the back of the squad car, Peter called out to him. "I thought you only fought super powered villains, Flash. What do you care about a kid who doses a little pizza sauce?"
Flash tilted his head, pretending to think about it for a second. "Truth is, Peter, it's not about having powers. It's about stopping bad things from happening when we have to ability to. Sure, a bad thing is you secretly drugging my favorite food to make the entire town hate everything. But just as bad is that you've been let down by so many people, making you feel like the world doesn't want you. If I'm going to call myself Keystone's hero, isn't it just as much my responsibility to help you live in a good environment, to provide opportunities through safe streets and extra construction jobs picking up after me?" He flashed a big grin.
Flash thought for another moment before continuing as Peter was put in the car. "I worked a dead end job when I first got out of high school. I couldn't support myself and I had to rely entirely on extended family members and the guys from my shop. You've got no one there, and I get that. You're going to jail, man, I can't do anything to help that because it was a bad decision you made. But you're a lot like me, believe it or not, and if you do your time and come see me when you're out, maybe I can be one of those people you can finally rely on."
Peter looked up at Flash, squinting his eyes against the sun in the background, and smiled.
Done? DONE. I don't know how it turned out to be honest, but at the very least I hope you'll be happy that it's finally over after a year and a half. Let's just put it all behind us now.