by Dan Swanson
“I say we just bust this rock into shards and then head in and find out what happened to the Earth!” Kell Orr commented impulsively. The twins silently agreed with him; with their new powers, they could surely break the two spaceships free from this flying rock pile.
Regor of Uuz was more cautious. “Before we rush into something, I think we should do some more investigation. Are we sure whatever pulled us here won’t return if we try to escape? What if it starts pulling stuff in again? Can we survive another meteor shower?” He was the only one on board who didn’t possess some degree of invulnerability, though his costume was nearly indestructible. The three Xenonians seemed to be in a rush to test their powers in risky situations, and Tharka the Superwoman was impulsive and impetuous. Regor thought his companions might be wondering if he was too timid, but they grudgingly agreed to gather more information.
“The Zavoy‘s technology is different from mine,” Tharka observed to Kell Orr. Much more advanced, she thought to herself, but she’d never admit that out loud. “However,” she continued smugly, “I’m sure I can modify one of your electronic telescopes so we can learn more about the missing Earth.” She was so physically overmatched by the Xenonians that she felt a little intimidated; reminding them all of her mutant mentality made her felt better. But even my mental powers that don’t depend on Zor’s lighter gravity, tactile telekinesis, remote life-sensing and invulnerability, are feeble compared to these mighty beings, she thought, and even her thoughts felt small to her.
“That’s great!” Kell Orr said enthusiastically. “Larre and Karre, why don’t you clear a path so we can bring Tharka’s ship alongside the Zavoy, and I’ll build a dome over us to protect us from any more meteors.”
Kell Orr assumed he should command because he was the most powerful of the group. There was no reference to his own smashed spaceship, Regor noticed, and he had been assigned no job. Before he could say anything else, there was a flurry of activity as the other four went about their self-appointed tasks. He watched despondently as the super-beings around him set to work. The years he’d spent following the rigorous conditioning and nutritional routines he and Superman had developed years earlier had made him far faster and more powerful than any normal human, but his strength and speed were still trivial compared to the Xenonians. He was intelligent as well, but Tharka’s mutant IQ was off the charts, and her tactile telekinesis gave her a super-sensitivity of touch that allowed her to alter the internal workings of semi-conductors and actually reprogram integrated circuits, adapting them to her needs. What could he possibly contribute to this group?
As the others carried out their tasks, Regor interrupted Kell Orr for a few minutes. Kell gave him a tool kit, and the guardian of Uuz dismounted the Zavoy‘s backup electronic telescope, carrying it and a powerful battery out to the surface so he could observe the solar system. He probably wouldn’t discover anything new, but he wasn’t going to sit around doing nothing while everyone else was working. The twins widened the tunnel between the ships and gently moved Tharka’s ship alongside the Zavoy under the dome Kell Orr was building, while Tharka added her own televisor technology to the Zavoy‘s primary electronic telescope.
Regor was able to locate all of the solar system’s planets except Earth. He spent half an hour closely examining the empty space where the Earth ought to be, but even at the telescope’s highest magnification, there was nothing there that he could see. He couldn’t see Uuz from here, either, and he realized that without a ship, he was completely dependent on these extra-solar visitors. All of them could exist unprotected in the rigors of space, while he needed a space suit. Without a ship, it would take him years to fly to Earth with the rockets in his suit (and probably centuries to reach Uuz), and he would die long before he arrived. Still, Superman trusted them, so he should be able to as well.
After about five hours, they convened inside the Zavoy. After the Zavoy‘s meal machine dispensed lunch, they gathered around the modified electronic telescope, and Tharka’s hand posed dramatically over the power switch.
“I’ve added hyperspace technology to this instrument, so what we see will not be limited by speed of light,” she announced proudly. As she worked, she’d come to realize that the Xenonians, with all their powers, would have been unable to rebuild this instrument as she had done. “We’re more than ten light hours from Earth, but what we see will be occurring in real time.”
She threw the switch, power surged through the modified telescope, and the screen filled with static. Tharka frowned, a little embarrassed, and hastily manipulated some controls. The screen cleared to show the Sun, about the same size as if seen from Earth. The woman of the future stifled a quick gasp of relief, then announced, “The range is correct. I deliberately aimed at the star so there would be something to see. Now let’s scan the nearby area.” She touched a control, and the Sun slipped off the right edge of the screen. For a couple of seconds, the stars continued to glide to the right. “OK, let’s try the other way.” She moved the same control, and the stars moved back to the left. Slowly the Sun once more swept across the screen, and then the screen again showed only stars. Then suddenly they all gasped in surprise as the Earth slid onto the screen, a brilliantly beautiful globe of green, blue, and white, floating serenely in front of the stars as if nothing had happened.
“It wasn’t there ten hours ago!” Regor exclaimed excitedly. “Another interesting coincidence; sometime within the last five hours, both the Earth reappeared and the magic force drawing stuff to this asteroid vanished.” He paused as another thought popped into his head. “Tharka, can you plot the orbits of Earth and this flying mountain?”
She could. In an instant, a monitor to the side lit up, showing Sol in the center of the screen, and the cursor started plotting out the orbit of the object they were currently riding. “It’s a cometary orbit,” she analyzed. “It will zoom past the star at high speed and then swing far away, and return again in some thousands of years. So we’re actually taking a ride on a comet.” An almost-circular ellipse appeared on the screen much closer to the star. The comet’s orbit crossed it twice. “That’s the orbit of Earth.” A red dot appeared on the cometary orbit and started to move along it toward the star, while a green dot appeared on the Earth’s orbit and began circling around the star. On its second orbit, the green dot collided with the red dot. “A year from now!” Tharka exclaimed in horror. “If we don’t do something, the Earth is doomed!”
After a few seconds of stunned silence, everyone started talking excitedly. They would use their powers, and the weapons in Tharka’s ship if necessary, to alter the course of this comet they were riding on or destroy it and then go to Earth and find out from Superman what had been going on — and let him know they’d saved his planet. Regor brightened up instantly, having just realized what he could contribute to this group. None of them, even the super-intelligent Tharka, were very good at strategy or deduction. Regor was a big picture, strategic-thinking kind of guy who sometimes let himself be overwhelmed by tactical details, but his new friends appeared to be up to handling those details, and he felt a surge of hopeful energy.
“If we change the path of this comet, we should be prepared to be attacked by whatever force made the Earth vanish,” he pointed out to his fellow castaways. They turned to look at him, startled. “We need to make preparations. Even though the Earth is back, anything that can make a planet vanish must be very powerful.”
Tharka was starting to look very thoughtful, but Kell Orr and the twins began bombarding him with unbelieving questions and comments.
“What are you talking about?”
“Why do you think what’s happening on Earth, billions of miles away, has anything to do with this floating mousetrap?”
“Anyway, whatever vanished the Earth was defeated, probably by Superman, and is no longer a threat!”
“C’mon, Dad, let’s break out of here and get going. I wanna see Earth!” Larre pleaded with his father.
“Aww, you just think you’re gonna impress all the girls with how strong you are!” his sister sneered at him.
“You’re right, son. Tharka, you and Karre will pilot the ships, and Larre and I will clear the way. Regor, you go in Tharka’s ship. Once the ships are clear, Larre and I will push this rock onto a new course that will miss Earth, then come aboard the Zavoy, and we’ll all head in. OK?” He started moving toward the airlock, assuming his orders would be obeyed. Regor was steaming at being ignored, and Karre wasn’t too thrilled about being picked to pilot rather than help her father with the super feats. She was just as powerful as her twin brother.
“No, wait!” Tharka commanded, startling everyone. “We should listen — I think he’s right! At least, I want to hear what he’s figured out before we do anything. And now that the Earth is back, do we have to rush?”
Reluctantly, Kell and the twins turned back to Regor. Well, I wanted them to pay attention to me! he thought ruefully. He started speaking, trying to project a confidence he didn’t quite feel.
“There’s a saying in Aigan-Nica military lore about several unexpected incidents that occur at around the same time,” Regor began. Back on Uuz, in his secret identity of Winki Lamm, he was a reserve officer in his nation’s army. “The first incident is happenstance. The second may be coincidence. The third likely indicates enemy action.”
Tharka nodded; she’d developed a similar rule of thumb early in her career, and it had saved her several times. Kell and his kids had obviously never heard it before, and Kell, at least, looked as if he would need further convincing. “For us, the first incident is Earth disappearing.” The Xenonians looked dubious.
“Right there, that proves enemy action to me!” Kell pronounced. “But it doesn’t prove these things are related.”
Regor nodded. “Let’s look at it from the larger view. The second incident is us being trapped on this rock, which is on path to destroy the Earth, now that it’s back. The third, which ties it all together, is that whatever drew us here vanished at pretty much the same time as the Earth reappeared. We don’t have proof of that yet, but I’m betting that if we stick around and use the unmodified telescope, we’ll see the Earth reappear exactly ten hours, thirteen minutes, and thirty-seven seconds after the instant that mysterious force vanished.” He’d calculated the time carefully; he was pleased when Tharka nodded, acknowledging the accuracy of his numbers.
“I agree,” was her only comment.
“OK, you’re probably right,” Kell conceded. “But I don’t see why that makes you sure the enemy is still active. Doesn’t the fact that the Earth has reappeared mean that the enemy has been defeated?”
“No. All it means is that Plan A has failed,” Tharka pointed out. “If the enemy is competent enough to set up a Plan B, he’s likely competent enough to survive the failure of Plan A.”
“OK. I’m not totally convinced, but you guys both have years more experience at being heroes than I have,” Kell conceded. “And it can’t hurt to make preparations. If an enemy that powerful is going to attack us, it will be better if we’re not surprised.”
Miles away, Aquarius observed the death of Larry Lance and howled with maniacal laughter. “The foolish mortals dared to oppose me!” he brayed. “Now they see how puny their own powers are compared to the awesome omnipotence that is Aquarius!” He cackled gleefully as the shock of Larry’s death broke his hypnotic hold over the Justice Society and chortled with satisfaction as Black Canary fell to her knees at the side of her beloved, overcome with grief. “I revel in the sorrow of those insects who opposed me!” he roared to the universe. “I wallowed in satisfaction at the dismay of the intruders who dared interfere with my vengeance! And soon, the rest shall fall before me! I will rush back to confront my foes and blast them where they stand!” He quivered in place as a pointing hunting dog, eager to recover its prey.
His expression changed instantly from glee to one of panic, his quivering from eagerness to fear. He continued to talk to himself, but much more quietly. “My powers are weakened, and I had trouble destroying seven of them at my full strength,” he moaned in realization. “And now there are more, and they will be angry at the death of their friend.” He hesitated, twisting this way and that as he hung in space, unsure of what to do. “I must flee again, but where?” he wondered frantically. He spotted the Moon and instantly raced for it. “I must use the wonder stick for more speed!” he said, referring to the cosmic rod that amplified his power. “It doesn’t matter that it will weaken me further, all that matters is escape!” Yet even as he rocketed skyward, he kept looking back, reassuring himself that none of the heroes was following him.
Halfway to the Moon, he suddenly came to an instant halt. “If I knew more about the newcomers, I would learn their weaknesses, and I should be able to defeat them easily!” he announced thoughtfully. “After all, am I not Aquarius the mighty, Lord of Chaos, bane of mortals?” He hung in space in a sitting position, resembling the statue of the Thinker. Commanding the wonder stick to aid him, he used his senses to began studying the members of the Justice League from a long distance. With senses unknowable to mortals, he sensed their otherness. More surprisingly, he sensed that the wonder stick was already attuned to this otherness. “Show me more!” he roared at it and then paused, almost in awe at what the cosmic rod revealed.
Another entire universe, existing side-by-side with this one! Aquarius and his fellow Living Stars were familiar with the concept of other universes, but he had never before been interested. As he studied this new universe, the universe of Earth-One, he became aware of some fascinating differences between here and there. He noted that some of the beings in this universe had almost exact duplicates in the other universe, and suddenly he was lonely.
“I’ve lived most of my existence alone, and I’ve always thought I’d be alone forever. Even the other Lords of Chaos aren’t fit company for one as majestic as I,” he wailed, tears falling from his eyes. “Even these insignificant mortals have friends, yet I am alone.” Then he suddenly brightened with hope, a huge smile playing over his face. “Perhaps there is one in this other universe similar to me, one with whom I could find some kinship!”
He continued his studies, and his hope died quickly. Aquarius and the Living Stars were anomalies in their universe, embodying inside themselves as they did some of the earlier natural laws of its cosmic youth. In a sense, the universe had outgrown those laws. However, because the universe had evolved around them, it had adapted to these small anomalous regions and learned to tolerate them. His study suggested to Aquarius that the other universe would have no such tolerance to his presence, and that there would be an interesting reaction if he were to enter that universe. In turn, this suggested that there wasn’t an Aquarius analog there.
His loneliness returned, this time threatening to overwhelm him. He hung in space motionless for hours, numb, and then he felt a hopeful itch in his mind. He concentrated on the itch, and suddenly he was whizzing through space, doing pinwheels, laughing uproariously. “I have a plan to revenge myself on both groups of mortals! A perfect plan, worthy of the magnificent Aquarius the mighty,” he bellowed. “Before they perish, they will all rue the day they dared oppose Aquarius the mighty!”
He had some preparations to make and set industriously to work, humming a happy tune he hadn’t thought of since before his banishment.