by Dan Swanson and Drivtaan
Alan Scott had always thought of monitor duty as a necessary boredom, and as Green Lantern kicked back in an oversized leather chair in front of a bank of video screen in the Justice Society of America’s Gotham City brownstone, he couldn’t help but chuckle at the aggravation Wildcat always went through when it was his turn. Still, he couldn’t fault the man.
Despite it being a necessary boredom, he could see why his teammate held that opinion. Several years ago, the team had set up a twenty-four-hour public hotline, equipped with cutting-edge communications technology, and staffed by highly trained emergency service operators, which made it possible to contact an active member of the JSA within seconds, regardless of where he or she was in the world.
For a while, the team had agreed to let the members of the Junior JSA deal with monitor duty as part of their training under the watchful eye of Ma Hunkel, but since the battle with Vic Valor that trashed the surrounding neighborhood, the mayor of Gotham City insisted that one of the active members of the team be at the JSA Brownstone at all times. (*) In order to maintain good public relations with the city, Hawkman readily agreed, and thanks to the magic-using members of the team, all team members, regardless of where they called home, could be instantly transported to the brownstone for their turns at the monitors.
[(*) Editor’s note: See All-Star: The Return of Vic Valor.]
One of the main duties of the hotline operators was to screen out false alarms. Out of the hundreds of calls every hour, all but one or two a day were referred to other organizations, such as local police and fire departments. The team that they had assembled to man the phones — and Alan considered them a team — was particularly good at separating the crank callers from the rest. Perhaps one, or maybe all of them, had some sort of latent psychic ability, he surmised. Regardless, the call that had just been forwarded to the JSA Brownstone had the sound of a crank call, but the hero decided to take it anyway. If nothing else, it would help liven up the evening.
“This is Green Lantern,” said Alan. “How can I help you?”
There was an instant of hesitation on the other end of the phone before the caller began to speak. “Mr. Lantern, sir, my name is Scott Rumstay. I’m an astronomy student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. I’ve been doing a lot of observations for my undergrad thesis, and I’ve discovered what I believe to be an ‘Earth-crossing’ asteroid. That’s an asteroid with an orbit that crosses Earth’s orbit, Mr. Lantern.” The youngster sounded nervous, and Green Lantern couldn’t blame him; he probably didn’t talk to a lot of super-heroes at MIT. Alan knew what an Earth-crossing asteroid was, but he didn’t want to make the lad even more nervous by interrupting him. “There are probably thousands of this type of asteroid, but this one is going to hit the Earth in seven days.”
Green Lantern was more than a little skeptical, but he decided to try to allay the young man’s fears. “Why hasn’t anyone else discovered this, Mr. Rumstay?” he asked. “I’d think that an asteroid that close to us would have been seen by a lot of people.” Actually, Alan Scott knew the vastness of space from personal experience, but he still couldn’t believe that, of all of the thousands of people worldwide who watched the skies on a regular basis, one lone student was the solitary observer of something so important.
“I’m using some… novel observational techniques as part of my thesis…” Rumstay was obviously hesitant, and Green Lantern realized that the student was probably talking about techniques no one else believed in. “And I’ve been examining areas of space that are well out of the plane of the ecliptic — places others wouldn’t normally look. Isn’t that the purpose of a thesis — to do what no one else has done before?” The young man sounded defensive, almost pleading. “This asteroid is very unusual; it has very low albedo. That means that it doesn’t reflect much visible light.”
“Mr. Rumstay,” Green Lantern interrupted gently, “I’ve studied engineering, and I’ve had a lot of experience in outer space. This will go a lot quicker if you just assume that I know the terminology. If there is something I don’t understand, I will ask for an explanation.”
If the kid had been flustered before, now he was absolutely flabbergasted. The older man decided that if he were going to get any more information, he would have to calm the young man down.
“Scott, son, take a deep breath. I promise I’ll look into this personally, and whatever it is, I’m sure the JSA can handle it. It won’t be the first asteroid we’ve deflected.” The hero’s calming tone, combined with his absolute confidence, had the desired effect. Scott felt like his favorite uncle had just calmed him down, but he knew it was for his own good. He took a deep breath before continuing. He had been so worried about being thought of as a crank that it was hard to believe that the world-famous super-hero Green Lantern was actually taking him seriously.
“MIT is a foreign member of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and through my thesis advisor, I’ve been able to get some access time on the Astron Space Telescope, a Russian orbiting observatory. I’ve been working in the UV, making observations that can’t be made from Earth due to the oxygen in the atmosphere,” Scott said.
As the young man continued, Alan learned about Rumstay’s discovery of a moving ultraviolet source inside the solar system. He was impressed to learn that the young man had used techniques of his own devising to determine that it was a non-reflective asteroid, nearly invisible in the visible spectrum, and that he had realized that the ultraviolet light he was observing was a reflection of the sun’s ultraviolet output, meaning the asteroid was almost a perfect mirror when viewed in the UV. He had calculated its orbit and determined that the Earth had a mere seven days before impact.
“Well, actually,” Rumstay continued, apologetically, “there is really a ninety-five percent probability that it will pass within two-hundred and fifty thousand miles of the Earth. That puts it inside the orbit of the moon. The math gets too complex to be a hundred percent sure, but the Earth’s gravity will have a continual influence on the asteroid’s orbit over the next week. I honestly believe that the gravitational pull will bring it down on us.” He was on the verge of becoming frantic again.
“Don’t worry, son,” Green Lantern told him. “The JSA will take care of it. Give me the relevant orbital parameters, and I’ll check it out.” As the young man told him what he needed to know, Alan Scott was already contacting one of his teammates — one who had a lot more experience with orbits and astronomical bodies.
If it was possible to start at the center of the sun and follow a line from there through the center of the Earth, and then proceed another one million miles, you would end up at the L2 Lagrangian point. To some it was but a name on a diagram of local outer space, but to Ted Knight, the JSA’s original Starman, it was a place of serenity. From his deep space observatory floating in space at L2, shielded from the glare of the sun by the Earth’s shadow, beyond the distortion caused by Earth’s atmosphere, Ted had been privy to sights few others would ever see.
For several hours, his attention had been focused on Barnard’s Runaway Star, and it probably would have for several hours to come had it not been for an annoying beep that startled him and caused him to turn from his observations. A small, flashing red light kept time with the beep, further distracting him from his work. Although he liked his friends from the JSA, he still found it irksome when they disturbed his work. He crossed the floor and tapped a button on the console. Immediately, the flashing and beeping ceased.
“This is Ted. Go ahead,” he said, then waited. The round-trip communication delay to Earth was just over ten seconds.
“Ted, it’s G.L.,” Alan Scott said. “We just received a call through the hotline, and I thought it might be something you would be interested in checking out.”
As his friend began to repeat the conversation he’d had several minutes earlier, Ted’s irritation began to fade with each new detail. Earth-crossing asteroids were not an everyday event, especially one that was invisible to the naked eye, so Ted was quickly becoming intrigued by this phenomenon and the mysteries that accompanied it. He also realized that this meant they would probably be saving the world again.
“Could you get in touch with Fate, or possibly the T-bolt, and see about getting us some magical transportation out to that flying mountain?” Ted asked, once the green gladiator had finished describing the problem. “It would take me the better part of a day to get there under my own power, and it sounds like we can’t afford such a delay.”
He had always before ignored the ten-second communication, but after hearing the news, Ted could feel himself getting a little antsy during the wait. When the reply came, he could tell that his teammate sounded a little put out.
“I’ll see if I can contact Doctor Fate, then join you as soon as possible,” Alan said.
Green Lantern had clearly expected Starman to handle this investigation himself, but after a few moments of reflection, he realized that he shouldn’t expect his friend to fly solo on this. Not only might the task require more power than Ted could supply, but solitude could quickly become loneliness when traveling alone in the empty, vast black expanse of deep space.
While Ted waited for Alan to arrive, he packed some provisions from the observatory’s pantry into a gravity lens, then turned his attention to studying the asteroid Scott Rumstay had discovered.
It took Green Lantern almost an hour to locate Doctor Fate and explain the situation to him. By the time he and Fate appeared on the observatory, Ted had learned quite a bit about the asteroid that Rumstay had named Damocles after the sword of Damocles myth. First was the confirmation of its very existence, and more importantly there was the data that showed it would indeed pass close enough to be drawn into the Earth’s gravitational pull. After adjusting the settings of a few of the automated observational instruments so they would continue to gather and organize information, he was almost ready to go.
He took a few extra moments to change into his costume, then gave his teammates a nod indicating he was ready. It only took a few seconds for the Green Lantern to whisk them away into deep space, while Doctor Fate himself returned to Earth.