by Dan Swanson and Drivtaan
Green Lantern and Starman appeared as tiny specks floating near to the vast asteroid, one glowing green and the other gold, wrapped in shimmering force-fields supplied by their signature icons, the power ring and the cosmic rod. Within these fields of protection, the temperature remained a constant seventy-two degrees Fahrenheit, they were protected from the impact of the multitude of micro-meteors that were pulled along in the wake of the asteroid Damocles, and they could communicate simply by talking. Although the two men, each clad in a tight-fitting red, green, and yellow caped costume, appeared motionless as they floated near the spinning asteroid, this absence of motion was just an illusion. Along with Damocles, they were moving toward Earth at almost six hundred thousand miles an hour.
A dozen giant searchlights, creations of Alan Scott’s power ring and Ted Knight’s cosmic rod, tried to illuminate the mountain-sized asteroid, but to no avail. Wherever the light struck, it was as though Damocles absorbed it like a thirsty sponge.
“It reflects UV rays!” Alan said, suddenly remembering what Scott Rumstay had told him.
Instantly, the green and gold spotlights went dark. Energy constructs in the form of goggles appeared on the faces of both men. These goggles, one of them magical in origin and the other technological, stepped down the energy of the incoming ultraviolet light, converting it into the visible spectrum. Jagged rocks, rugged peaks, and treacherous gouges now stood out boldly on the surface of the massive rock.
“Is it just me,” Green Lantern asked, “or is this thing moving awfully fast for an asteroid?”
“By my calculations,” Starman replied, “it appears to be moving about three times faster than the average comet, all of which move much faster than normal asteroids.”
“Wouldn’t it be easiest to just blast it to smithereens and be done with it?”
Ted could sense that Green Lantern was getting impatient, and possibly even a bit nervous. “We can’t risk that for two reasons. The first is that, if we just smash it, all of the pieces will continue to follow the same trajectory, and we will have millions of possible impacts to deal with — which could still wipe out all life on Earth. Our best bet is to divert it — use our powers to push it into a different orbit so that it will miss not only our planet, but other planets in the solar system.”
“What’s the second reason?” Alan asked.
“We need to study it,” Ted said. “Look at the way it responds to light. Think of the applications for a material like that.”
“Are you talking about non-military applications?” Green Lantern asked sarcastically. “I, personally, can’t think of a single valid civilian application for that kind of stealth technology. I thought you’d given up building weapons, Ted.”
“That wasn’t necessary, Alan, and you know it,” Ted barked back. “Just because you can’t immediately think of any civilian application doesn’t mean there aren’t any.” Due to his work on the original atomic bomb, weapons and the military were still a very sore spot with Ted, even after over forty years had passed. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Times Past, 1945: Nuclear Furnace.]
“Aw, geez,” Alan said. “I’m sorry, Ted. I didn’t mean anything by it. It’s just that I can’t see a reason for saving this thing for study.”
Ted willed himself to calm down; he knew that his friend wasn’t just taking potshots at him. The size of Damocles alone was nearly overwhelming, and it was affecting his responses. Ted regularly observed the largest objects in the universe, but there was a difference between watching a star, made tiny by incredible distance, through a telescope, and floating as an insignificant speck next to one of the smallest possible astronomical objects. Still, the significance of the human mind isn’t limited by mere size, he tried to reassure himself.
“I’m sorry, too, Alan! I didn’t mean to flash at you like that. I’ll admit that it is possible there won’t be any civilian applications for what we could learn from it, but such knowledge might come in handy should we encounter something like this again. I think we might be putting the cart before the horse, anyway. We need to move it to a safe orbit before we do anything.”
“That means we’ve got to figure out how to stop it from spinning first,” Alan said.
“By my calculations, we’ve got about fifty-five hours before we reach the point where any actions will be useless,” Ted said. “Let’s land and get started.”
The protective nimbuses around the heroes flared, the gold of Starman’s somewhat subdued in comparison to the brilliant emerald of Green Lantern’s, and the two men began to drift around the asteroid. They continued to adjust their speed, and in a few moments, the rolling surface below them slowed, then became stationary. Once this was achieved, they dropped gently to the surface of the asteroid. By the time they touched down, Ted was giving Alan the final details of his plan.
The two men began excavating a tunnel slanting into the rock approximately one hundred feet long and aimed in the direction of the spin. At the end of the tunnel, they created energy constructs like giant rocket engines, mounted on pads of green and golden energy that overlaid the solid rock, aimed to fire back along the shaft and out the entrance. Once the rockets were completed, the two men lifted from the surface of Damocles, moved a safe distance away, and ignited their engines. As the thrust built up, a geyser of green and gold energy erupted from the mouth of the tunnel, and the heroes could see the surface of the asteroid shudder as the massive rack was shaken by quakes. As the rock continued to spin, the residual energy in the exhaust began to wrap around the surface. In a few revolutions, there was a misty green and gold aura surrounding Damocles.
“Thousands of times more powerful than any rocket ever invented, and silent in vacuum,” Ted commented, his voice holding a touch of awe. “We’re releasing more power every second than hundreds of atomic bombs, and it will still take hours to stop the rotation.” Only someone who knew him well would have recognized the pain in his voice when Ted mentioned atomic bombs.
The truth was that neither man knew how exactly long it would take. They didn’t know exactly how much thrust their energy-based rockets were delivering, and they didn’t know the exact mass of the asteroid. This would be a seat-of-the-pants operation — they would just watch the spin closely, and as the asteroid slowed, they would be ready to cut off thrust at any time.
Constant concentration was required to keep the rockets firing, and after several hours, the two men knew they had to take a break. Not only were they dealing with the mental strain of keeping up this tedious battle with the asteroid’s momentum, but their physical strength was also beginning to lag. Most importantly, Alan mentioned that his ring was due for a recharge. Their protective auras flared again, and the violent geyser of energy stopped erupting from the tunnel. The two men gently drifted back down to the surface.
Green Lantern turned his attention to a nearby cliff on the rugged surface. Again, his emerald aura pulsed, and a glowing green jackhammer materialized out of the hard vacuum. As he began to dig into the rocky wall, Starman used the cosmic rod to pull the debris out of the hole and send it spinning into space, away from the direction of the Earth.
“Air lock?” Green Lantern asked his fellow hero, counting on the rapport they shared after over forty years of association to convey his entire meaning.
“I don’t think we’ll be here long,” Starman replied. “I’ll supply the walls and door if you supply the furniture.”
Alan grinned. “Deal.” They kept digging.
It wasn’t exactly just like home, but it was pretty fancy for a temporary shelter on a lonely asteroid millions of miles from Earth. When they finished, they had a manmade cave lined and sealed by the golden force-field of the cosmic rod, which also supplied the shirtsleeve environment. A green table, thick shag carpet, and a pair of plush green recliners appeared, courtesy of the power ring.
“TV or radio?” Green Lantern asked his friend. “We should be able to pick up the news, even from out here, with a big enough antenna.”
“Let’s skip it for now,” Ted replied, fatigue showing in his voice. “If anything important comes up, the JSA can contact us directly.”
As Ted settled gratefully into one of the recliners, Green Lantern commanded his ring to open the private magical pocket universe he had created earlier in order to bring along his magic lantern. He removed the glowing green artifact and gently set it on the table.
Ted had witnessed this short ceremony before, but it never got old. In a sense, he found the whole thing as invigorating as Alan did — after all, being inspired by reading Green Lantern’s exploits in the news was one of the reasons he had donned the Starman uniform in the first place. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Catch a Falling Starman,” All-Star Squadron #41 (January, 1985).]
Green Lantern stood before the table, made a fist of his left hand, and slowly extended his arm until the power ring on his middle finger came in contact with the green lens of the lantern.
“And I shall shed my light over dark evil…”
Tendrils of emerald energy emerged from the lantern and swirled around Alan until he and the lantern were both wrapped in a glowing green flame.
“…for the dark things cannot stand the light…”
The light within the lantern began to pulse until it was keeping perfect time with Alan’s heartbeat.
“…the light of the Green Lantern!”
The moment the final syllable had passed his lips, there was a noiseless, forceless, explosion of green energy that erupted from the lantern, and the green flame expanded to fill the small room. It then began to shrink, condensing and glowing more brilliantly as it condensed and transformed into a green stream, flowing into the power ring. To Ted Knight, it seemed as if time was standing still, and this transformation was taking a long time, but when the last wisp of green energy was absorbed by the ring, he knew the whole process had taken only a few seconds.
Ted couldn’t help but grin at the smile that appeared on Alan’s face once the glow that had surrounded him faded. More than anything, that smile showed the true mark of Alan’s long association with the magical Green Flame of Life. As he watched his friend, Ted knew that the affinity he had with his cosmic rod and the stellar energy that powered it could never affect him like that. Still, and he grinned at the thought, it was his pride and joy, and he was quite satisfied with his powerful device.
After discovering that Green Lantern was dragging around a pocket universe, Ted was almost abashed as he used the cosmic rod to dispel the self-sustaining gravity lens he had created to carry his supplies. The gravity lens was invisible, it had no mass and almost no inertia, and time passed differently inside the pocket it created — but it was no pocket dimension by a long shot. Still it served its purpose, holding supplies that Alan hadn’t thought to bring. Ted set out a picnic lunch, and the two of them fell to. They continued to discuss their plans as they ate.
“Did you notice that the low albedo is a surface effect only?” Green Lantern asked his friend. “Seems kind of strange to me.”
“I did notice that. As soon as you started digging, you revealed regular rock. I checked in some other locations, and it’s the same everywhere I looked. There is a layer of some kind of dust on the surface — dust that makes Damocles almost impossible for humans to see, especially against the background of space — and a normal asteroid underneath.” He stopped for an instant to think. “This rock seems to have fallen in from the Oort Cloud — maybe somewhere in the outer system there is a cloud of this stealthy stuff, and our asteroid, here, flew through it and picked up this stealthy coating on its journey towards the sun. Maybe.”
“But you don’t believe that, eh?” Alan didn’t sound like he believed it, either.
“An asteroid that just happens to be completely coated with something that makes it virtually invisible to humans? Moving three times as fast as you would normally expect? And on a multi-billion-mile flight that is aimed exactly at the Earth? What are the odds?”
“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence,” Green Lantern mused thoughtfully. “Three times is enemy action, Mr. Bond!” he quoted from Goldfinger. His daughter Jennie-Lynn’s interest in movies had evidently begun to rub off on him.
The heroes decided that, even though they suspected enemy action, making sure Damocles would miss Earth still had to be their first priority. They could search the asteroid for clues to their enemy once it was in a safer orbit. After their rest period, they headed back to the sky to restart their retro-rockets. Once again, they witnessed the awe-inspiring energy geyser, blanketing the asteroid in a yellowish-green glowing haze. As the rotation became slower and slower, Green Lantern landed again. He used the power ring to create a stable platform just above the surface of Damocles, shielded from the quakes, then created a surveyor’s theodolite. He got a line on a star, and the instant the star stopped moving, he signaled Starman, and they stopped their retro-rockets. The ground continued to shake for a while, but an hour after the rockets were stopped, things had quieted down, and Green Lantern was able to verify that Damocles was no longer spinning.
The next step was to move the asteroid into a new orbit. Green Lantern used his surveying tools to locate specific spots on the surface of Damocles, based on specifications provided by Starman, and this time, they set up a dozen energy-construct rocket engines. Once again, they watched geysers of glowing energy blast into the sky, giving Damocles a glowing tail like a comet. They kept at it for eighteen hours, with rest periods as required, and they used Green Lantern’s ring-created surveying tools to check the stars. Several times they tweaked the thrust of various rockets, refining Damocles’ new orbit until finally even the finicky Ted Knight was one hundred percent satisfied.
“Shut them all down!” he ordered, and they did. Once again, Damocles moved through space silently, unaccompanied by any glowing energy vapors. Floating in the sky behind the asteroid, the two men turned to shake hands over a job well done. But at that instant, without warning, Damocles exploded in a silent holocaust of glowing green energy.