by Dan Swanson
Starman freed Green Lantern in seconds, and the two heroes examined the device holding the power ring. Before they could figure out how to turn it off, they heard voices in the corridor.
“Some of the greens might have super-powers!” Ted Knight warned his teammate in a whisper. “Don’t hold anything back when you hit them!” Alan Scott nodded his understanding and got back onto the table, while Ted positioned himself against the wall next to the opening.
A green and a chroman entered the room. They were two steps in when Ted tapped the green on his shoulder, then launched a right that caught the turning alien on the side of the face. As the green staggered toward the wall, Ted raced forward, wrapped both arms around his foe, and slammed him into the wall.
Before the stunned chroman could react, Alan was off the table and had landed a powerful punch of his own. Despite his smaller stature, the chroman wasn’t out of the fight. Angered, his skin darkened to the color of an eggplant, and he fought back viciously. Alan’s fighting skills, honed by hours of training with Wildcat, the Atom, and other heroes, were superior to those of the Martian, and he was much stronger, being used to Earth gravity. Still, the Martian was incredibly tough, and Alan was extremely winded before he finally landed the punch that knocked out his smaller opponent. He turned to aid Starman, trying hard to catch his breath.
The green had no combat skills and little taste for fighting. Instead, he was using his shape-changing powers to try to escape. As the alien recoiled from hitting the wall, Ted found himself holding a feline, but he just kept squeezing. The Martian almost escaped when he shifted to a long, thin snake form, leaving Ted hugging air, but the hero managed to grab the snake’s body, which he began tying into a knot. The snake pulled in on itself and changed to something like a giant scorpion. Ted dodged the stinger and managed to wrap his arms around the tail. The beast’s armored body couldn’t bend enough to bring its claws to bear, and Ted’s uniform protected him against the scrabbling of the smaller rear legs. The alien countered by morphing into something similar to a giant porcupine, and the sharp quills forced Ted to let go.
Unfortunately for the alien, his head in this form was relatively unprotected, and at that second, Alan stomped on him, hard. His body changed back to his normal form as he was finally battered into unconsciousness.
“Those guys are tough!” Alan said respectfully, as he bound their unconscious opponents in strips of their own uniforms.
“Yes,” Ted replied thoughtfully. “But this green didn’t have all the super-powers that Quork has. Quork showed flight, super-strength, invisibility, shape-changing, and teleportation. I doubt that the two of us together could have overcome Quork without our weapons.”
Alan had already turned his attention to the machine holding the power ring. “So we’ll need to get them back — starting with the ring!”
After some study, Ted pointed to a switch on that machine. “I’d say this switch. What do you think?”
Alan agreed by flipping the indicated switch, and all the multicolored laser beams firing at the power ring were instantly extinguished. He extricated the ring from the innards of the globe and slipped it on his finger. Normally, he would sense a pulse from the Green Flame of Life within the ring when he donned it, but this time it was as dead as if it were a Vic Valor decoder ring from a Cracker Jack box.
“Damn!” he swore, and a few other choice phrases, some of which Ted had never heard before. “The ring doesn’t work! I was afraid of that; I was close enough all along to make it work, but it wouldn’t.”
Ted could see him straining over and over again to command the ring, but it continued to ignore him. “Could they have siphoned all its power?” he asked.
“After my last encounter with Martler, I made it immune to energy siphons such as the one Martler used,” Alan explained. “It should still have charge for a few more hours. No, that machine must have done something to it — something that keeps it from responding to my commands.” The despair in his voice was painful to hear; after nearly fifty years, the power ring clearly was more than just a tool or weapon to him.
Ted looked thoughtful. “Alan, maybe they did something to you and not to the ring. Without the ring, you are probably a lot more vulnerable than it is.”
Alan thought for a few seconds, and then slowly removed the ring and reluctantly handed it to Ted. He couldn’t believe how difficult it was, almost as if he were tearing out part of himself.
“Don’t worry, Alan,” Ted said gently, well aware of the reason for his friend’s hesitation. “Whatever is wrong, we’ll fix it. And stop these guys, too!” he promised, firmly. Alan nodded his thanks for Ted’s understanding.
As Ted slipped the ring onto the middle finger of his right hand, its green aura pulsed faintly, which was the reaction Alan normally saw when he donned the ring. Ted clenched his fist and raised his arm.
“Nothing happened! Maybe there really is something wrong with the power ring after all.” It wasn’t going to be nearly as simple as Ted had allowed himself to hope.
“It takes a while to get the hang of it, Ted,” Alan said soothingly. “It’s not as easy as thinking ‘Take me home,’ or ‘Knock out the bad guy.’ The ring would be dangerous if it responded to every whim that crossed your mind — you really have to focus on what you want to make it work.”
It was very difficult for Alan Scott to instruct someone else, even his teammate and trusted friend, to use his power ring. It felt like Ted Knight was invading some intensely personal and private part of his life. He had to remind himself that his trusted friend Ted was not trying to steal his ring or his power, and that teaching Ted to use the ring seemed to be the best way for them to escape. That didn’t make it any easier, but he focused his tremendous willpower, the same indomitable power that allowed him to use the power ring so effectively, and got on with the task at hand.
“You need to form an image in your mind of what you want the ring to do, and then, when the image is clear, command the ring to take the vision from your mind and make it real. The ring only picks up on the most powerful visualizations. Sorry, but I’ve never been able to explain it any better. It took me a lot of practice to before I was really good at it. Isn’t that what you do with the cosmic rod?”
“Not exactly. I actually activate the cosmic rod with thoughts in the form of words, rather than visualizations. At least, I used to.” He paused for a second’s thought. “It’s like I create a simple program in my head, and then mentally push that program toward the rod. It sure is hard to describe, though. There just don’t seem to be the right words.”
“So,” his friend asked, so interested he almost forget their situation, “when you want to fly, you have to think the words, ‘I want to fly’?”
“No — just ‘fly’ would be enough. At least, when I first got started. Now, it seems more like it’s instinctive. Funny, I never really noticed when I stopped using actual words.”
“Commanding the ring is like that, too, Ted. When you first start to use it, you have to concentrate on every detail, but with practice, it becomes instinctive. So, there are some similarities. Say, this has been an interesting discussion, but you had better get back to practicing again!”
Ted closed his eyes and frowned, and when he opened them again, there was suddenly a small, glowing green mist floating in the air in front of him.
“That was supposed to be…” As soon as he spoke, the mist vanished. He stopped talking, disappointed with his failure.
“Don’t close your eyes. The visual feedback is important; it helps you edit whatever you create,” Alan said encouragingly to his friend.
Ted tried again. He visualized a small glass marble floating in the air in front of him, emerald green and glowing, connected to the ring by a thin ribbon of glowing green energy, and there it was… and almost instantly, it faded away again.
“Damn! I wish I had the cosmic rod!” he swore disgustedly. The ring flashed green, and the cosmic rod appeared on the table. Ted was startled, to stay the least.
“How did that happen?” He didn’t let his surprise stop him from picking up the rod. “I didn’t even know where the rod was — how did the ring find it?”
“It’s a magic ring, Ted! If your will is strong enough, you can do almost anything.”
“I don’t believe in — damn! damn! damn! It doesn’t work!” Ted had activated the cosmic rod and sent it a command, and nothing had happened.
A very loud klaxon started blaring. Almost instantly, they heard alarmed shouts in Martian.
“I think we’re out of time, Ted! I guess we’ll be getting some on-the-job training,” Alan commented wryly. “Let me have the cosmic rod.” Ted hesitated an instant, then tossed the rod to his teammate. “What’s the command for a force-field?”
“‘Shield’! Push your thoughts out toward the rod!” Ted stopped talking to concentrate on visualizing a command for the power ring, and a dim green glow formed close around his body. It wasn’t what he wanted, so he continued to concentrate. The glow flickered, and then grew brighter, and expanded, until he was surrounded by a bright green aura. The visual feedback really was helpful.
At the same time, Alan was practically screaming in his head, I want a shield — shield — shield! He was staring at the cosmic rod and trying to force the word in that direction, whatever that meant. Without warning, he was enveloped in a golden aura, which immediately turned bright emerald. Apparently he expected to see green so strongly that the cosmic rod had somehow interpreted it as a command. The unexpected change startled him, and he lost his concentration, but the shield didn’t waver. That was another difference from the power ring. “Just call me Cosmic Lantern!” Alan quipped.
“If you’re Cosmic Lantern, I guess that makes me Green Star,” Ted replied. “Hmm… on second thought, let’s just stick with our old names.”
“Agreed,” said Alan with a grin.
Alien crew members streamed into the room. They were armed with metal clubs, and they swarmed the two heroes, swinging those clubs violently. But their weapons proved ineffective, breaking or bouncing off the force-fields, more dangerous to the aliens than to the heroes.
Alan grabbed his nearest foe by an arm and whirled him around, driving the others away from the heroes, which allowed Ted to grab another and literally throw him at the press of aliens at the door. The aliens were knocked aside, and the two heroes fought their way out of the room, easily pushing the aliens aside with their superior strength, the energy-shields making them invulnerable to blows from their opponents. They slammed and dogged the hatch and were temporarily alone.
“I guess this is what it feels like to be Superman!” Ted quipped. “Gotta love the lower gravity. What should we do now?”
“I think we need a little time to come up with a plan — and practice with our new weapons,” Alan replied.
Ted was already heading down the corridor. “There’s an airlock! Let’s go.” They opened the door and crowded inside.
“Alan, use a concentrated heat beam to weld the door shut,” Ted suggested. While Green Lantern was completing the weld, the air pumped out of the chamber, and the outer door swung open. Ted concentrated, and a tendril of energy from the ring grew into a very small right hand, much too small for what Ted wanted to do. He frowned, and the hand grew much larger, and then grasped the outer door and ripped it off its hinges. “That should buy us a few seconds, but they must have other locks. Let’s go!”
They were outside a long, low building made of metal, dug into the rugged surface of a rocky asteroid. There were a half-dozen streamlined spaceships landed nearby on an artificially leveled plain. Gun turrets on some of the spaceships traversed in their direction and started firing a stream of projectiles mixed with tracer rounds. Projectiles started to explode against their force-shields.
“Fly!” Alan commanded aloud, and shouted with his mind. He started moving, realizing that he could change directions by pointing the cosmic rod the way he wanted to go. Ted visualized himself moving through space, and quickly the two heroes were out of the explosive stream, though they could see it swing around to follow them. They quickly dropped below the level of a rocky ridge.
“We need a diversion, Ted,” Green Lantern suggested. “See if you can get the ring to create energy duplicates of us. But don’t forget to keep your shield up!”
This wasn’t as tricky as it sounds. Ted’s mind worked on multiple tracks, especially when he was working on the complex mathematical equations required to solve impossible problems in theoretical physics, so he put one of his problem-solving tracks to maintaining the force-field, while he tried to visualize images of himself and Green Lantern. Alan helped him by figuring out how to get the cosmic rod to create a mirror. A cloud of green energy sprang into existence in front of Starman, and gradually coalesced into duplicates of the two heroes. They were both glowing green, but right now, both heroes were surrounded by glowing green force-fields, so the green color wasn’t a problem.
“OK. Now, send ’em out!” The two figures moved away from the heroes, and then passed into the line of sight of the Martian base, and then fled at high speed into deep space. They zigzagged a little bit, staying out of the stream of explosive bullets, and then the heroes felt the asteroid shudder — and three ships blasted off after the fleeing images. Suddenly, at the limit of visibility, the green figures vanished, and Ted’s own force-field vanished at the same time.
Ted reacted instantly, closing his eyes and opening his mouth as wide as it could go, and air gusted out, turning to frozen vapor. He had come up with these steps as a safety measure when working on his space-borne observatory; who knew when that small space station might get hit by a micro-meteor?
Alan immediately realized what had happened, and he commanded his own field to enclose Starman. Ted wasn’t exposed to vacuum for more than a second, but he was coughing and shaking. There were already purple splotches on his hands and face where some capillaries close to the surface of his skin had burst. There was frost on his eyebrows, which was already melting. Alan was amazed at how weak, drawn, and haggard his friend looked from just that brief exposure to space. It was lucky his costume covered most of his body and head.
“What happened?” Ted gasped weakly, between horrible coughs.
“The power ring ran out of power. We’d better find a place to hide!” Staying low to the surface and moving slowly, Alan flew them across the face of the asteroid. They saw a few more rockets blast off. Ted was coughing less, though his face and hands looked even worse as the subcutaneous bleeding continued.
Ted was now able to talk, though his throat was raw and sore. “Intercept and relay local radio signals,” he gasped. Alan concentrated for a second on exactly those words, and suddenly they could hear the Martians communicating with each other. It didn’t do much good, as neither of them understood Martian, and the cosmic rod wasn’t able to translate for them as the power ring would have. But it was easy to hear anger in some of the voices, and near-panic in others.
They flew over a wide, very deep tear in the surface, and Alan dropped them into the crevice. It was absolutely pitch black, darker than any night on Earth. Partway down they found a natural overhang and moved underneath it, so their green aura wouldn’t be visible from above.
“We can’t stay here long,” Ted rasped. “The energy siphon…”
“Can probably be adapted to trace energy,” Alan agreed. “But there’s something you need to do.” He thought the necessary command, the pocket dimension opened, and he held out the magic lantern. “It only takes a few seconds; you’ll know when it’s finished.”
Despite their situation, Ted was strangely reluctant. This was Alan’s sacred ceremony, not his. But he realized it had to be done. “What about the oath?” Ted asked nervously.
“The oath isn’t necessary. Early in my career I didn’t speak an oath; then I created it as a reminder — every time I speak the oath, it reminds me of my power and my responsibilities as Green Lantern.” He hesitated, looking troubled. “If it’s all the same to you, though, I would just as soon you not use my oath. It’s a personal thing.”
“Understood,” said Ted with a nod. “But I may have to come up with something of my own.” Thinking about it for several seconds, he then faced the green-hued lantern hanging from his friend’s hand and took a deep breath, and Alan knew he was ready.
Starman made a fist of his right hand, then slowly extended his arm until the power ring on his middle finger came into contact with the green lens of the of the lantern.
“As custodian of this emerald might…”
Tendrils of emerald energy emerged from the lantern and swirled around Ted until he and the lantern were both wrapped in a glowing green flame.
“…I go now to fight for right.”
The light within the lantern began to pulse until it was keeping perfect time with Ted’s heartbeat.
“I bear the power, Green Lantern’s light!”
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 completely fill the small bubble enclosing the two men. The flame began to shrink, condensing and glowing more brilliantly as it condensed, and transformed into a green stream flowing into the power ring. Ted was almost stunned by the awesome sensations that accompanied so much power, linked to him so intimately.
Ted straightened to his full height, and again Alan was amazed at the virtually instant change in his friend. He appeared strong and confident. In a powerful voice unlike his rasp of seconds ago, he stated, “I’d say it was time to stop hiding!”