by Dan Swanson
Meanwhile, Regor of Uuz had jetted away from his decoy and began firing yet another weapon at the star giant. It was something Doctor Computeer had developed and left in Tharka’s ship, a shoulder-mounted rocket launcher that fired missiles tipped with tactical nuclear warheads. They delivered incredible concussive force with almost no radiation released — the perfect weapon to attack Aquarius. He had time to fire twice before the monster turned to him and launched another bolt from the cosmic rod. Regor saw death approaching as he realized he didn’t have time to dodge. As he stared in horror at the approaching dart of destruction, the faceplate of his space helmet was shattered by a beam of blackness that shot from his eyes.
The black beam hit the energy ball, which shrunk as it fought against the stream of blackness. To Regor’s astonishment, the deadly dart vanished before it reached him. He was even more astounded that he wasn’t trying to breathe the empty vacuum of space, as the broken helmet was somehow still holding atmosphere! He noticed a dim, gray blur surrounding him, like nothing he had never seen before. He gently touched the faint gray aura over his shattered faceplate, and it was like pressing his finger into the side of a balloon — it resisted his touch and stretched a little. He didn’t press any harder; right now he had no desire to see if he could burst that balloon.
Meanwhile, the two missiles exploded against Aquarius like a one-two punch, knocking him tumbling. His concentration was disturbed, and his humanoid form collapsed back into his natural shape, which looked like a giant paramecium glowing. Apart from the first punch landed by Superman in his original fight with the JSA, this was the first attack by these mortals that had actually hurt him. Enraged, he zoomed off in Regor’s direction, planning to personally destroy this annoying flea.
“Hey, there’s somebody out here already!” Ted Knight yelped as he saw Aquarius being bombarded by beams and bolts. “The big guy sure knows how to make friends everywhere he goes, huh?” he added with a chuckle. “Maybe he should take a Dale Carnegie course.”
“Well, let’s show ’em we’re on their side,” Alan Scott replied. “You ready?”
“Yep, let’s go!” Starman brought their impromptu spaceship to a halt, then used the cosmic rod to enclose himself in an environment-sustaining force field. “Split up and blast him from the sides?”
Before Green Lantern could answer, they saw a human missile smash into Aquarius, bounce off, and get blasted. When Aquarius used the cosmic rod to banish the human figure, Ted couldn’t take it any longer.
“I’m tired of that monster using my cosmic rod for his perverted purposes!” he shouted in anger. “Let’s put an end to this.”
At that instant, Aquarius was battered by the two nukes, and he changed his form. “Now!” Green Lantern shouted, and the heroes — now each under his own power — flashed into position for their planned attack.
Tharka the Superwoman extended her mental senses; if she could read this monster’s mind, it would give them an advantage fighting him. Instead, she discovered two human minds she hadn’t expected and realized they were about to attack Aquarius with their energy weapons. “Stop!” she shouted with a mental command. “He absorbs energy attacks! You’ll just make him stronger!”
Ted and Alan were both surprised at the telepathic message, but each hero had dealt with telepathy before. Green Lantern held back his attack and used his ring to send back a mental query. “Who are you?”
Meanwhile, Ted was too angry to wait. He gritted his teeth, hating what he was going to have to do, but he’d thought about it the whole time they were flying out here. He wasn’t going to allow anyone to use his inventions for evil purposes. He commanded his cosmic rod to send a secret signal, and the stolen cosmic rod exploded.
“Yee-hah!” Ted yelled. “Take that, you bastard!” One of the lowest points in Ted’s life had been when the U.S. dropped the first Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He had been involved in the Manhattan Project, and it had taken him years to get over the guilt he felt for the hundreds of thousands of deaths. He had come to accept that the bomb had been necessary and that the project would have gone on without him, but he was also determined that nobody was going to use his technology for evil purposes ever again as long as he could help it. The cosmic rod used some very rare materials, and destroying one was a major loss of resources, but stopping this monster was more urgent to Ted than any number of cosmic rods could be.
The explosion was far more effective than Ted had hoped. About a third of the mass of Aquarius’s body simply vanished in a flash of bright actinic light, and the remaining mass was blasted away at high speed, tumbling wildly. Ted used the cosmic rod to rocket after it; he wasn’t going to take any chances with this monster. That blast shouldn’t have been enough to kill it. And quickly, as Aquarius stopped tumbling and his body coalesced into its natural form, noticeably smaller now than before the explosive bolt, he knew it hadn’t. With a roar of rage, Aquarius blasted Ted with an incredibly powerful energy blast, which splattered against his energy shield and came within a whisker of shattering it.
In his rage and fury, even without his wonder stick, even drained of most of his magic and missing part of his mass, Aquarius was a formidable foe. He unleashed blast after blast of incredible power, pounding continuously against Starman’s force shield. Ted was unable to counter-attack, and his shield was weakening rapidly. He realized instantly that he would be quickly overwhelmed.
But Starman wasn’t the only hero in the sky. Kell Orr rocketed back to the fight and battered at Aquarius with his fists, landing blow after blow with enough power to shatter a mountain. Regor had jetted around to the monster’s far side, and the mysterious black beams from his eyes seemed to cause pain, as Aquarius was shifting and twisting wildly to try to escape them. Tharka was using her new-found telepathy to disrupt that alien’s concentration, filling his mind with images of his own defeat. And Green Lantern had ordered his ring to form a giant stone mallet from the material of the comet, and a giant, massively muscled green arm hammered away at the outnumbered energy being.
Without the wonder stick to draw cosmic energy for a recharge, and prevented from using his own natural energy-absorbing power by the tactics of his enemies, Aquarius quickly realized he was fighting a losing battle. He would soon be too weak to escape. Straining his concentration to a maximum level to counteract Tharka’s mental attack, he pretended to be weaker than he was while marshalling his energy for an escape into hyperspace.
Tharka read his intentions from his mind and broadcast a warning to her companions, but Green Lantern and Starman had too much experience to be fooled by an opponent playing possum. Ted enclosed Aquarius in a force globe designed to block any type of ambient energy that the alien might use to recharge from reaching him. Green Lantern instantly reinforced this globe with one of his own, and the heroes ordered their twin globes to shrink, forcing Aquarius to expend more energy to save himself from being crushed. It didn’t take too long before he had used up most of his remaining energy and fell into a state resembling unconsciousness.
“So, what do we do with Aquarius?” Green Lantern asked. The heroes were now assembled in the control room of the Zavoy, which, along with Tharka’s ship, was headed Earthward. A quick hyperjump had put them just outside the orbit of Mars; it would only take a couple of hours more to reach Earth.
“Execute him!” Kell Orr insisted. “He has been destroying civilizations and murdering beings for literally billions of years. He may have killed more beings than any other entity in the universe! It’s our duty to those who have already died — and if we fail to execute him, and he kills again in the future, the blood will be on our hands.” Coming from a civilization that had all but eliminated crime, the scope of Aquarius’s evil deeds was beyond his power to comprehend, and his innate sense of justice had been stirred.
Green Lantern wasn’t usually in favor of execution, but he and Hal Jordan, the Green Lantern from Earth-One, had already passed a death sentence on Aquarius, and the fact that the alien energy monster had survived didn’t change his opinion. Aquarius had slaughtered literally trillions of innocent beings in his wanderings across the universe and would undoubtedly slaughter more if given the chance. “I agree. We have a unique opportunity to rid the universe of a major evil. We must act! We can avenge more lives than any of us have ever imagined.”
“Our job isn’t to be avengers,” Starman reminded his companions. “We’re champions of justice. But I have an idea. Green Lantern and I have a — well, I guess he’s a colleague — who is better qualified than we are to decide what to do about Aquarius. In fact, I would say this is just the kind of situation he was created to deal with.” He told the extraterrestrial visitors about the Spectre, and the companions agreed to let him deal with Aquarius. The astral avenger seemed to be the perfect choice to deal with a being who had begun his life as a star.
Green Lantern shuddered, hating to think of what vengeance the Spectre might take for the lives of trillions of innocents, but Ted was right — it seemed a perfect answer. None of these companions had enough power to be sure Aquarius never harmed anyone again without killing anyone, but surely the Spectre’s power dwarfed even that of Aquarius.
With the fate of Aquarius settled, it was time to ponder the new powers gained by Tharka and Regor.
Tharka revealed that she was now a projective telepath able to read minds and send her thoughts into the minds of others, and her telekinetic power was now strong enough to move small objects, perhaps a couple of pounds in Earth gravity. As far as she could tell, her other powers remained unchanged.
There was some excitement generated by the investigation of Regor’s new powers. Regor’s eye beams could disintegrate Green Lantern’s ring constructs as well as beams from the cosmic rod. They punched holes in force fields and cancelled laser beams, Kell Orr’s vision powers, and lightning bolts. Kell volunteered to stick his hand into the beam, and it hurt. But what really caused consternation for Ted and Tharka was that there was no trace of the dissipated energy. It wasn’t changed to heat, and Regor was not absorbing or storing it.
“That’s impossible!” Ted protested vehemently to the universe. “That’s a violation of the conservation of energy law!”
“It could be magic, Ted,” Green Lantern suggested helpfully.
Tharka snorted. “I don’t believe in magic!” But she was visibly upset; natural laws were the foundation of her universe just as they were of Ted’s.
Alan laughed. “Ted doesn’t, either, even though he believes in the power of the magic ring I wear. To him, ‘magic’ is a code word for, ‘I don’t understand it yet.'”
Ted nodded in agreement. “Perhaps the missing energy is being shunted into another dimension, somehow, or through time. I’m sure I can figure it out with time and the right equipment.”
Regor’s gray aura didn’t seem to be related to the eye beams. The aura was a weak force field that could protect him from external gas and fluid pressures ranging from vacuum through about two atmospheres, and it passed oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. However, it couldn’t manufacture oxygen; in a vacuum, Regor would have to carry his own. It didn’t make him invulnerable, and maintaining it took energy; he couldn’t count on it to protect him indefinitely. But it had saved his life in the earlier battle.
“The question that remains is why Tharka and I developed new powers — not that I’m complaining,” Regor chuckled. “She and I must have been exposed to something that affected us but didn’t affect the Xenonians. That might be because they are invulnerable, or they weren’t exposed long enough, or exposure to them is the cause.” The three Xenonians looked stunned. “Hey, like I said, I’m not complaining!” he continued before they could get mad. “But if Alan and Ted start developing new powers–”
“While you’ve done a good job of enumerating the possibilities,” Tharka broke in, “it seems much more likely to me that we were somehow changed by exposure to the comet. After all, we’ve posited that Aquarius cast a spell of some kind on the comet to make it attract space junk.”
“More damned magic,” Ted grumbled as the rest of the group laughed.