by Dan Swanson and Drivtaan
Even while he was struggling toward consciousness, Ted Knight was aware of something horrible, waiting for him to awaken. It was something too horrible to face, yet something he would not be able to avoid. There was a silent struggle between his body, which was now recovered, and his mind, which sought to protect him from this horror by avoiding consciousness; it was a struggle that the body won. Consciousness returned, and with it came the inescapable realization that his foe had sacrificed the crew of an entire spaceship to capture him.
Ted’s mind seemed to split in two, one part of it trying to deal with what he had just witnessed, while the other part was tossed nearly forty-three years into the past. The final screams of the spaceship’s crew would forever echo in his mind, joining the nightmare chorus of the over two hundred thousand people who suffered and died in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He knew that he wasn’t responsible for their deaths, but that didn’t prevent them from appearing in his dreams, both day and night, and pleading for their lives as their flesh and bones melted like so much candle wax.
His anger and horror combined to form a steely determination. Fueled by this new resolve, Ted would defeat his foe. He would destroy the alien’s plans, and ensure that he never again had the power to hurt people. No price would be too great to gain this victory. No other action his enemy could have taken would have been a more certain guarantee of defeat.
Starman was not surprised to find that his cosmic rod had been taken from him. He opened his eyes to discover that he was seated in a small room. Aside from him and the chair, the room was empty. There was no door, but the opening was filled with a pale pink glow, obviously a force-field of some sort. And, on the other side of the pink glow, two aliens stood watching him. Through the glow he recognized the green-skinned Quork, his earlier foe, but the second alien, shorter and with purple skin and a large head, was new to him. The two aliens were wearing similar uniforms — gaudy knockoffs of those worn by the SS, Ted realized, festooned with ribbons, medals, and pins.
They look like a couple of clowns! he thought to himself. But he remained silent. He knew that, to stop these two, he must escape, which meant he needed to pay attention and learn everything he could about his foes. He couldn’t give in to the dangerous rage that was seething inside him.
“The mighty Starman — bah!” Quork sneered at him. “I have heard much about you from the radio signals we have received for the past twenty-five years, and all of it exaggerated, it seems. You hardly put up a decent fight.”
Ted’s resolve to remain calm shattered at the alien’s baiting of him, and he responded icily, “You bastard! You coward! You were beaten, easily, until you sacrificed your own crew to capture me.”
“What are soldiers for, if not to be sacrificed for victory?” Quork asked. To him, it seemed a rhetorical question. The purple one grimaced.
“I hardly consider the destruction of an entire destroyer, along with its entire crew, to capture a single enemy to be a resounding victory, Quork!” he snarled. “And it did not escape my notice that the ship you destroyed happened to be a chroman ship, and not a green ship.”
“It was the merely the closest ship, Martler!” Quork replied dismissively. “Green or chroman, it would have made no difference to me. My only concern was to destroy a dangerous enemy.” Martler clearly didn’t believe him.
Yet you failed to destroy that enemy, Ted thought to himself with grim satisfaction. I guarantee that your failure will lead to your downfall, he vowed, silently and solemnly.
Ted found the interaction between the two villains quite interesting and very informative. These two might be allies, but they were certainly not on good terms. Perhaps he could take advantage of the mutual distrust and antagonism later.
“I say again, Quork, that you are a coward. You let others die to cover up your own failure. Let me out of here now, and we shall see just how tough you really are.” Ted doubted his challenge would get him out of this cell, but it was worth a try.
As Quork reached toward the wall to the left of the door, Ted thought hopefully, He is going to shut off the force-field. But the green-skinned Martian abruptly pulled his hand back and flashed his captive a wicked grin. “I will personally deliver your painful death later, Earthman. You may yet have value, so you continue to live. But know this — I eagerly anticipate our final encounter.” He turned his attention back to his companion. “Come, Martler. We should check to see how much progress our scientists have made at adapting the cosmic rod to power our fleet.”
Ted began to grind his teeth. Over my dead body, he thought, grimly.
Those were hollow words, unless he could regain his freedom, starting with getting out of this cell. What did he have to work with? He was still wearing his Starman uniform with the empty holster for the cosmic rod slung from his belt. He smiled a little; his new foes were very careless. They hadn’t even removed his helmet, which left him with the built-in radio — though as he was trapped inside an alien spaceship millions of miles from Earth, those radio waves likely wouldn’t have the signal strength to reach home.
If only he was able to contact his son David, who had succeeded Ted as Starman during his long absence, and had joined the Justice Society in his stead. (*) But Ted knew that David was busy with a case of his own, and they rarely worked together in costume, lest someone realize that there was more than one Starman in Opal City. Likewise, his younger son Jack was in Los Angeles, where he was a member of Infinity Inc. as the new Star-Spangled Kid. (*) Unfortunately, both of his sons were back on Earth and thus out of reach by conventional radio. Ted would have to fend for himself.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Stars and Sliders, Infinity Inc: Ancient Prophecies and Malcontents, Epilogue: Altered Destiny, DC Universe: The Race, Book 2, Chapter 1: Big Shoes to Fill, and Starman: Stars Be My Destiny, Book 4, Epilogue: Father and Sons.]
As Ted stood, he realized that gravity was less than Earth-normal. Instead of coming to his feet, his standing motion actually launched him from the floor, and he had to ward off the ceiling, then drift slowly back to the floor. He judged the gravity to be about one-third Earth normal, which wasn’t a big surprise, seeing that his captors were Martians. He would have to move carefully until he adapted.
Starman examined he room. A few hours ago, he judged it had been a rest room, but it had been hastily converted into a cell. Stuff had been ripped off of the metal walls, and panels had been welded over whatever openings had been there previously. The floor and ceiling were made of the same metal as the walls. The commode had been removed, leaving only a four-inch pipe sticking a few inches out of the floor; no human was going to escape that way.
The room construction itself was shoddy; the corners weren’t square, the walls weren’t completely flat, and instead of precisely aligned wall panels, wide cracks between panels had been filled with welding material. The whole thing gave Ted the feeling of unskilled laborers on a rush job, and probably conscript labor, certainly not craftsmen who took any kind of pride in their work. Still, even the shoddy welds resisted his attempts to pry off the panels.
The chair was more promising. It appeared to be made of strong, lightweight plastic, and it had been backed up against the far wall and then bonded to the floor and wall with something like epoxy. Ted was unable to break the epoxy or the chair itself.
Since he wasn’t going out the pipe or passing through the walls, floor, or ceiling, that left the door, protected by the pink force-field. The aliens had a lot of faith in that field, so Ted investigated cautiously.
As he approached the door, Ted first felt a kind of buzzing on his skin, and then he started to feel twitchy, as if he’d had too much coffee. As he came closer, the twitches became shooting pains all over his body, as if pain nerves were being directly stimulated at random. As he got even closer, the intensity of the pain increased and larger groups of nerves were stimulated, so his entire arm would suddenly feel as if it were on fire, or his leg mangled and broken. He never actually touched the pale pink force-field; as he tried to force his hand closer, the pain flared in intensity, his body spasmed, and he was thrown backward away from the door. He was fortunate not to smash his head against either the chair or the floor.
Starman pulled off his cape and flicked it through the open door. The end of the cape passed easily through the field, and when he pulled it back, there was no noticeable damage. The force-field didn’t actually keep things from passing through it. Further cautious yet painful experimentation showed that the pain level grew exponentially closer to the pink field, and the pain level he would experience when passing through the door would easily kill him. What a sadistic trap Quork and Martler had created. He wondered just how many prisoners tried to get out by jumping through the field, thinking all they had to do was withstand pain for an instant. That probably amused his captors. Still, by now he had a plan. He had no way of knowing how long his foes would remain occupied. It was time to get to work.
Ted Knight kept a small toolkit in the holster for his cosmic rod. He hadn’t had to do field repairs on the cosmic rod or its predecessor the gravity rod for years, but he kept the toolkit up to date just in case.
The cutting tool looked like a hacksaw blade. Its diamond teeth easily cut the plastic chair, and Ted combined the pieces into a long hook. He tacked the pieces together with the soldering iron, then wrapped the whole thing tightly with strips of cloth cut from his cape to add additional strength and stiffness.
Quickly disassembling one of the earpieces on his helmet, he pulled out the circular disk of metal that protected his ear. It wasn’t a perfect mirror, but it would serve. He mounted this on the end of the hook, and he was ready.
Approaching the door as closely as he could, Ted extended the hook through the field. Using the mirror on the other end, much like a dentist’s mirror, he saw a small metal box welded to the wall, looking like it was part of the recent renovations, its only feature a push button. He used the hook to push the button, and as easily as that, he was out of the cell.
Ted felt pretty conspicuous wandering around the alien battleship in his bright red and green Starman uniform. He decided to investigate every room he passed in hopes of finding some alien clothing that he could don to disguise himself, at least partially. Instead, in the next room, he found Green Lantern.