by Dan Swanson
Late September, 1949:
Lily DeLuna was leaving for Europe tomorrow on a quest to find her missing brother, Eddie. Ted Knight had volunteered garage space for her Cord and her Harley-Davidson while she was overseas. Lily was sure that Ted would take great care of them, as she knew he loved fine machinery as much as she did.
Her award-winning story of Vic Valor’s career a few months earlier had given her greater national name recognition than her baseball career, and she had capitalized on her newfound exposure to line up several freelance travel writing assignments for some national magazines. Her first such article was to write about day-to-day life on an ocean liner, and her editor on this story had even picked up the cost of the transatlantic tickets. Of course, she had to write about first-class travel when only going third-class herself, but those were the kinds of hardships a journalist thrived on.
It just happened that the Boston Red Sox were in town to play the Opal City Sky Sox today, and Lily decided to take up Ted’s offer to introduce her to the great Ted Williams. She invited her police corporal friend, Fred Johnson, to join her as guests of the Knights at the ballgame that night. Even with the uncertainty of her brother’s fate still bothering her, she couldn’t conceal her excitement. She hoped Ted had remember to asked Williams to autograph a bat for her. She also hoped it would be a fast game.
She was driving the Cord one last time before she left. She would spend the night at stately Knight Manor, and Ted and Doris were going to drop her off at the airport tomorrow. She thought once again that, for rich people, they really seemed like regular folks. The rich families who had lived near her hometown of Redcliff, Ohio, had never ever mingled with anyone from town; they had servants to do all that. The Knights also had servants, of course, but they never let their servants isolate them from the regular world. She wondered if all of the mystery-men and women were nice people in their civilian identities.
Lily picked up Fred Johnson on her way. She liked him, and she planned to look him up when she got back from Europe, but she had no idea how long she’d be gone, and she didn’t want to leave any commitments behind. Fred was a big Sky Sox fan and would be rooting against the Red Sox, but he, too, looked forward to meeting Ted Williams.
Fred had known that they were going to be attending the game with Ted and Doris Knight, and he knew that the Knights were rich, but he apparently hadn’t realized exactly how rich. He couldn’t believe it when Lily drove up to the gate and greeted the gatekeeper like an old friend. The grounds were huge, and every inch was carefully tended and manicured. Half a dozen of the landscape staff were occupied trimming and weeding and planting, improving little imperfections that were invisible to Fred and Lily. Some of the Knights’ society peers were having a tennis tournament that day, and there were attractive, richly garbed folk on all six of the Knights’ well-maintained clay courts. There was another group around the pool, and some of the women were wearing suits that made Fred blush.
Lily was amused by this reaction, and with a smile she quoted the old saw, “The really rich are different from you and me!”
She could tell that Fred was starting to have second thoughts about interacting socially with Ted and Doris. She knew because she had experienced those same second thoughts the first time she had visited stately Knight Manor, even though she already knew the Knights.
“Don’t worry! Ted and Doris are exceptions. They are just like normal people!” She giggled as she said it, because she knew that, even aside from money, Ted and Doris were not just like normal people. Still, she was sure they would like Fred. After all, he, like they, had dedicated his life to the cause of justice.
“If you say so, Lily. But that swimming pool is bigger than the house I grew up in!” Well, at least he had an excuse for staring at the women around the pool. “Are they having some kind of a party? I thought we were going to the ballgame.” He was clearly nervous about the thought of having to mingle with all of Opal City’s social elite.
“Knight Manor is always like this, Fred. The Knights love to have people around, and their staff can take care of the crowd after we leave for the game. I imagine Ted and Doris have already said their goodbyes. Don’t worry, we won’t be here more than a couple of minutes.”
At the end of the long, curving driveway, Lily pulled to a stop behind a maroon Lincoln Cosmopolitan convertible. Ted and Doris were sitting on a bench in front of the mansion, waiting for them.
“Out, Fred! I need to introduce you, and we need to change cars!” This was necessary, since there was no back seat in a Cord Cabriolet.
The introductions went well, with a minimum of stammering from Fred. Ted and Doris soon charmed Fred as they charmed anyone they met, and within a few minutes he was comfortable with them. They hopped in the Lincoln and headed for the ballpark. Ted and Doris made sure to include Fred in the conversation, and by the time they got near the ballpark, Lily knew much more about him than she had earlier. He had grown up in Opal City, had been a Marine during the war, and had fought mostly in France and Germany.
The ballgame was very exciting, with the Red Sox winning six to four. This kept them one game ahead of the New York Yankees in the standings. The Sky Sox went ahead early due to some shabby play by Ted Williams in left field; he didn’t run as hard as he could, and a couple of fly balls fell that Lily, at least, thought he should have caught. At least, she was pretty sure she would have caught them. Later, though, he hit two home runs for five runs batted in, his first homer bringing the Red Sox into a four to four tie, and his second one driving in the last two runs, winning the game. “Teddy Ballgame,” as he was known, was on his way to his second MVP season, and his entire game was showcased that day, with superb hitting and average fielding.
At dinner, once she got over her awe at meeting her idol, Lily and Williams talked about hitting, almost to the exclusion of the other three. Lily learned more about hitting than she had ever thought possible, and she felt some nostalgia about playing; if she found Eddie DeLuna before the start of the next season, she just might look up the South Bend Blue Sox and see if they needed a left-fielder. But she had some observations on hitting that were new to Teddy Ballgame, too.
Williams presented autographed bats to both Lily and Fred, and she was delighted that he insisted that she autograph a ball for him. He even had an All-American Girls Professional Ball League baseball with him. He claimed it was the ball Lily had hit for her fortieth home run, and it had cost him a dollar-fifty. Even though she didn’t know whether to believe him or not, she was flattered that he had at least found an official All-American Girls Professional Ball League ball.
The Red Sox and Sky Sox had another game tomorrow, so Ted Williams had to turn in fairly early. They dropped Fred off on the way back to stately Knight Manor. Lily walked him to the door, and they shared a kiss before she left. Without being too forward, she wanted to be sure he was aware of her interest. Maybe he’d still be available when she got back.
After Ted Knight hit the sack, Lily and Doris sat up talking. Suddenly, a small light in the corner began to flash.
Doris was puzzled. “That’s an emergency signal from the police that Starman is needed. But it hasn’t been used for years, ever since Ted retired. Commissioner Bailey hasn’t used it since 1945, since Starman asked him not to!”
Lily was worried. “Shouldn’t somebody check it out? If Red Bailey sent it, he knows Starman is retired. It must be urgent!”
“Or else it hasn’t been used in so long, it’s broken!” Doris responded. Then she sighed. “I suppose we ought to tell Ted about it. But I hate to wake him.”
“Doris,” Lily said, her voice sounding intense, “you don’t suppose…” And she pointed at Doris and then herself.
Doris flashed her biggest smile and said, “Why not?” And the two of them leaped into action. “Meet you back here in five minutes!” They both headed out of the library at full speed.
Five minutes later, they were both back in the sitting room, although they were both still pulling on pieces of their costumes. Lily was astounded to see that Doris wasn’t wearing her regular Starwoman outfit. Instead, she was wearing the very revealing Moonflower costume that she had designed for Lily, while Lily was wearing the more modest costume of her own design.
“Doris! What are you doing wearing my costume?!”
“I knew you’d never wear such a slinky outfit, and I figured, why waste such a great design? Besides, you know we want to keep Starwoman a secret, so I’m going to pretend to be your sister Moonglory tonight. Say, you wouldn’t want to switch costumes, would you? Don’t you want to show off a bit? You’ve certainly got the bits to show!”
“Is that what you call those? Your ‘bits’? Aren’t you ever serious, Doris?” Lily grinned. She always had fun hanging around with Doris.
“I’m always serious about clothes, dear! I figure, if I’m going to wear a silly costume, anyway, I might as well take advantage and strut a little! Besides, how many gals my age can wear something like this and get away with it?”
Lily had to admit that Doris had a stunning figure. She wondered if she would ever dare to wear that skimpy outfit herself.
“Maybe when I’m more confident in what I’m doing, I’ll make the switch — or if I hit a beach while I’m in southern Italy. But we may have an emergency right now, so shouldn’t we get moving?”
Doris threw a concealed switch, and a part of the library’s ceiling slid aside, revealing the night sky. “After you!” She waited while Lily flew through the skylight, and then zoomed off after her.
As she rocketed toward the city, Doris Knight was surprised at how far ahead Lily DeLuna already was, and how fast she had to fly to catch up. She and Ted had spent hours training with Lily, and the power rod Lily used was not nearly as powerful as their gravity rods. Could Lily have been sandbagging the whole time? She switched her radio to the secure scrambled channel Ted had set up for the three of them.
“Say, Lily Loo, when did you get to be so fast?”
“Hmm, I honestly don’t know, Doris. Ever since Ted tinkered with it, the power rod seems to be gaining more power each time I use it.”
“That’s my Ted!” Doris cooed proudly. “If it doesn’t work, he’ll fix it. If it does work, he’ll make it work better!”
But even Ted Knight could make mistakes. When Lily had first asked him to investigate the power rod, he had taken it apart to examine the power supply. What he had found was a small, irregular nugget of some unknown metal, clearly broken from some larger piece of the same unknown metal. Xnon, the inventor of the power rod, had coated the nugget with pewter, making it into a perfect sphere. Ted found that when electric current was run through that sphere, it released tremendous amounts of energy, which Xnon had then used as the power source for his weapon, the power rod.
Although he had no idea how this sphere seemingly violated the law of conservation of energy, Ted immediately recognized an engineering problem, and jumped on it. He realized that the current that activated the sphere was provided by a battery, and that battery needed to be recharged frequently. Why not use a little bit of the energy released by the sphere to generate the very small amount of electrical current required? That way, the power rod didn’t depend on the battery being charged, and Lily would never be stranded in a tight situation without power.
What Ted hadn’t realized was that the sphere worked by changing part of its own mass into energy, and thus the more it was used, the smaller it became. The pewter coating deliberately made the process less efficient, but Xnon could pull the nugget out of the weapon when most of the coating had been converted to energy and re-coat it, and the mass of the nugget itself was never affected. What was happening now was that some of the jagged edges of the nugget itself had begun to be exposed as the pewter coating was evaporated. The conversion of the actual power metal to energy was more efficient than converting pewter, and the power rod was slowly becoming more powerful.
This process would continue until all of the jagged edges had been worn smooth, and the shrinking nugget became a perfect sphere, its most efficient shape. After that, the sphere of power metal would shrink, and the power rod would gradually become less powerful, until the last atoms of power metal were converted to energy, and it would fail.
Of course, neither Lily nor Doris — or Ted, either, for that matter — were aware of this. If someone figured it out in time, the power metal sphere could simply be dipped into molten pewter periodically, otherwise Lily was going to have a useless tool on her hands fairly soon. Hopefully, she wouldn’t be a couple of miles in the air, or in the middle of a battle with a dangerous super-villain when that happened.
“I think part of it is that I’m getting better with practice, too. Check this out!” With that, Lily swooped ahead and did a series of acrobatics that would have caused Doris to lose her dinner. Rolls, dives, climbs, sharp turns — Lily performed every maneuver her father, a World War I fighter pilot, had taught her, and maneuvers no airplane would ever be able to duplicate. All the while maintaining her high speed toward Opal City Police Headquarters.
“Hey! Save some of the energy for the bad guys!” Doris laughed at her through the radio. No wonder Lily preferred the more conservative outfit; she was making some very sharp turns.
“Oh, yeah… the bad guys…” Lily said, sounding abashed, and she immediately abandoned her acrobatics. “Say, Doris? Umm… how’d you know my nickname? No one’s called me ‘Lily Loo’ since I left Redcliffe.”
“That’s what you call yourself when you talk to yourself. You don’t mind, do you? I didn’t mean to offend you!”
“Don’t be silly! It’s great to hear it again; it makes me feel warm and happy inside. Do you have a nickname?”
Doris flew a little closer. “Nope.”
“C’mon, everybody calls you Doris all the time?”
“Well, Ted does have a pet name for me…” Her voice lowered, and the two flew a little closer together. “It’s…”
Crackle! Spizzzttt! Pssslllttt!
There was a loud crackle of static, and any eavesdroppers who were depending on the radio to overhear were disappointed. But the two heroines were close enough together that Lily heard.
She blushed. “No! He really calls you that?”
Doris grinned. “Not bad for an old lady, eh? Not all the time, actually, and never in public!”
“I can see why! I never imagined Ted was such a firecracker. He seems like such a perfect gentleman to me…”
“That hidden part of him is part of what makes him perfect, dear!” said Doris with a smile that a cat might wear after eating a canary.
“But I can’t call you that! Are you sure you don’t have some other nickname?”
Doris was thoughtful for a few seconds. She nodded. “My best friend in prep school called me Dorilee, but I never really liked that. How about Doe? You know, like a girl deer?”
Lily wasn’t convinced. “Maybe I can come up with something, if you don’t mind?”
“Nope, nickname away, Lily Loo!”
They were almost to Opal City Police Headquarters when every light in the city went out.