by Dan Swanson
“Before I begin my story, wielder of the glow,” replied Marnu, “I would know how it is that the Galactic Patrol was destroyed a tiak ago, yet you have somehow acquired a globe and glove. And how shall I address you?”
“You can call me Strobe,” said Jim Chisholm. Last year, Johnny Thunder of the Justice Society had suggested the name, because, as Johnny noted, when Jim was around, it was lights out for the bad guys. (*) It also worked in another way, Jim mused grimly, because the of the contrast between the bright white light of his power, and the darkness that had enveloped his life since he gained said power.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Johnny Thunder and Strobe: Another Manic Monday.]
As Jim told his story, Marnu became more and more agitated as he spoke. “Exposure to the glow restored much of my memory,” Marnu began after the story was over, “yet listening to your story brings back even more. While I was battling against the destruction of my Patrol, I was captured by Burr, Malignon, Infi, and Pandemma, the Lords of Chaos whose activities had been most severely disrupted by the Patrol. By combining their powers, they were able to render me powerless and imprison me, though even the combined might of four Lords of Chaos was insufficient to kill a Lord of Order. And now, though I am freed, still do I remain powerless.”
“You’re kidding, right, big fella? The way I hear it, when you’ve been pretending to be Vic Valor, your power level is right up there with the most powerful heroes in the JSA!”
“Alas, friend Strobe, you have only a very limited understanding of the powers of a Lord of Order. And I have not been ‘pretending’ to be Vic Valor; I was a being very like the Vic Valor now standing before you, ere I was elevated as a Lord of Order. Even the name is similar. While my original name cannot be translated directly into English, its meaning was courageous champion.”
Doctor Fate’s golden ankh-aura grew and pulsed, and both Valor and Strobe were bathed in a brilliant golden light. Jim could feel this light penetrating his body, warming and illuminating every molecule. When the radiance vanished, he felt better than he had ever felt in his life, as if somehow this golden brilliance had both washed and renewed him. And in a way, it had.
“Strobe, I have lifted from your mind and your weapon a curse of chaotic origin, placed on you by Wotan, a young Lord of Chaos,” explained Fate. “He could not prevent the glove and globe from passing into your possession, so he cursed them; each time you used the glove, Chaos would disrupt your life and sap your will to live. Wotan, however, is quite new to his powers, and I have been easily able to lift his curse. I could have done this earlier, but an aspect of this curse prevented you from approaching any mage with enough power to aid you.”
Doctor Fate turned back to the Lord of Order. “Marnu, though you were perhaps unaware, more than the combined power of four Lords of Chaos you named was turned against you. I sense also the influence of a powerful chaotic artifact, the Lens of Allouche. I believe that only the Lens can undo the spell that is binding your powers. Until you are able to lift the spell, you will continue to be imprisoned in the mechanical body you now inhabit. I sense that the Lens, long a tool of Burr, has now passed into the possession of Wotan.”
Far away, Wotan continued to be amused. He had planned that these three advocates of Order would continue to fight, rather than talk, but there were always problems when someone as strongly tied to Chaos as he tried to make plans. Their discovery that the Lens of Allouche was involved strongly suggested that he would soon have visitors.
When he had been recently promoted to the rank of Lord of Chaos, Wotan had assumed the residence and duties of the Elder Chaotic, Burr, who was now advocating the cause of Chaos at a higher level elsewhere in the universe. One of his new possessions was the Lens of Allouche, and it seemed certain that Marnu, at least, and likely Strobe as well, would soon be looking for that ancient mystical artifact. Well, he would have to arrange an appropriate welcome; it wasn’t quite what he had in mind for his next project, but it was one that promised its own type of satisfaction. Several schemes jumped immediately to mind, and he quickly immersed himself in the details.
On Earth, Vic Valor was planning a project of his own. “I must locate the Lens and destroy it. It is sure to be far from Earth, and heavily guarded, and without my powers it will be a formidable quest. And yet, if I am to regain my powers, I must not fail!”
Strobe was fighting through a tremendous amount of anger after learning who it was who was responsible for the death of his parents and all the other personal disasters he’d experienced during the past year. “Somewhere among the stars far from Earth, huh? And a chance to strike back at the Lord of Chaos who messed up my life? I’m in!”
“Your courage honors those who previously bore the glove and globe, my friend. Let us make what preparations we can, and then go search those stars you speak of!”
“Nothin’ to do with courage, really. Nothin’ to keep me here,” Jim replied, dismissive of his own motives. “So, when we leaving?”
Marnu seemed to feel that his Vic Valor persona was more appropriate for dealing with humans, and it was the almost-human Vic Valor, rather than the Lord of Order, who shrugged. It was amazing how alive the mechanical body seemed. “We are going to need a space vessel, and none of the spaceships humanity has produced so far is advanced enough. Nabu, without my powers, I am unable to provide a ship; can you bring us a cruiser from the Galactic Patrol base on Ekluabdyalbker?”
“Hold on!” Jim insisted. “Any Patrol ship would be over a hundred-thousand years old! They must all be trash by now. Iredok flew one of them here, and it killed him.”
“Galactic Patrol ships were built to last, Jim. And I was the designer of those ships — if there is anything wrong, I will be able to fix it. Besides, you still have the glove, and I can survive in space without a ship. Nothing can go wrong, and if it does, we have it covered, anyway.”
“You’re a pretty cocky guy, you know that?” Jim asked, somewhat troubled. In his experience, cockiness usually led to trouble. On the other hand, he was dealing with a Lord of Order. He hoped this guy wasn’t overestimating his abilities, basing his self-confidence on powers he no longer possessed.
Marnu ignored the barb. “I’ll want a couple of days to make sure the ship is space-worthy. Can you provide us with provisions?”
“Yeah, right! Case you missed it in my story, I’m homeless and flat broke these days. Not sure I even remember what money looks like.”
“Use the power of your glove to unearth some coal and bring it here. I assume that a handful of diamonds would solve the monetary issues?” A few minutes later, Valor duplicated an old Superman trick, creating diamonds by squeezing lumps of coal with his super-strength.
With a lot of things to accomplish, and a self-imposed deadline, they set to work preparing for their upcoming departure from Earth, and their quest for revenge against the forces of Chaos that had disrupted both their lives.
Doctor Fate was indeed able to teleport an interstellar vessel from the long-abandoned Galactic Patrol base on the rogue planet Ekluabdyalbker, though it exhausted certain rare magical components that might take him centuries to replenish, leaving Marnu deeply in his debt. Fate deposited the ship in an unpopulated mountainous region near Vancouver, British Columbia, and Vic Valor went to work, relying on the technological knowledge that had so long ago allowed him to found the Galactic Patrol. The ship was a Patrol cruiser about the same size and general shape as the Hindenburg dirigible. It was, in equal parts, a minor warship and an exploration vessel.
Jim Chisholm also headed to Vancouver, where he exchanged diamonds for cash. He had selected Vancouver, as it was the home of several small cruise lines, and he contacted one of the suppliers for these lines. He arranged to purchase a standard package for a small cruise ship on a one-week cruise; he figured supplies for seventy-five people for a week would last a lot longer for two people, one of whom didn’t eat. And there were a lot of things included in the standard package that he might have forgotten, like sundries for the on-ship stores, recreational supplies such as decks of cards and books, and cleaning supplies. Some of it he thought they would never need, but it would cost more for the supplier to break open the packages and remove anything than it was worth. They had plenty of storage space.
So, four days later, Strobe used his power to unload four tractor trailers into the storage holds on their new cruiser. And then another four trucks showed up, chartered by Vic Valor, these ones carrying machine tools and computers. It wasn’t exactly the greatest confidence builder Jim had ever seen, really, but as Valor had said earlier, they both had super-powers and could survive in space without a spaceship if necessary.
Jim had already gathered his remaining possessions, so once their stuff was stowed, the two heroes held a short christening ceremony, naming the ship the Tiak Avenger. Jim had convinced his companion that a shakedown cruise was necessary before they headed into deep space far from any star, so they headed outward from the sun in normal space.
Shortly after launch, as they passed the orbit of the moon, Vic Valor discussed the condition of the ship. “I was extremely disappointed in the state of the ship when it arrived. When I first turned things on, less than half of the systems would even power up. It is almost unthinkable to me that a Galactic Patrol ship could deteriorate so much in such a short time! They were designed, by me, to easily last several tiaks.”
“A tiak may be like a week to you, but I’m surprised the whole thing didn’t crumble to dust when Fate moved it,” Jim replied. “Human-made machinery rarely lasts a hundred years.” He was thoughtful for a few seconds. “Besides, you expected regular maintenance during that time, didn’t you? That would make a big difference, I’ll bet. There are some cars on Earth which are almost a hundred years old and in brand-new condition, and Old Ironsides is almost two-hundred years old. Proper care makes a big difference!”
Vic Valor didn’t respond directly. “With the spare parts normally carried aboard, and by scavenging non-essential systems, I’ve managed to restore propulsion, life-support for important areas, and navigation to one-hundred-percent efficiency. Weapons and defenses are totally down, and I’ve shut down life-support in the areas we won’t be using. I propose that we make Ekluabdyalbker our first port of call. The Patrol had extensive maintenance facilities there, and we should be able to restore this ship to full capability, even if the facilities have deteriorated to the same extent as this ship. Plus, Ekluabdyalbker was an intelligence-gathering base, so we may find information to guide us on our quest.”
The spells concealing and protecting Burr’s preferred home, and now Wotan’s, had been established eons ago, and were consistently reinforced and updated whenever the current owner felt sufficiently paranoid. Drawing upon the knowledge left to him by Nabu, Doctor Fate had been unable to give them anything more than a general direction, so Valor expected to use intelligence he’d collected as Marnu before his personal disaster. He didn’t see anything unusual about relying on one-hundred-thousand-year-old intelligence. Jim realized this was consistent with his expectations regarding the Patrol cruiser. He was starting to learn that Marnu might be a little naïve in the ways of short-lived mortals.
The Galactic Patrol cruiser was highly automated and could be left on autopilot in routine situations. About a third of the vessel was devoted to power, engines, weapons, and defenses (currently inactive), and life-support, and another third was currently devoted to storage. Jim and Vic rattled around in the remaining third, which included living quarters, recreational facilities, and the control rooms. Hanging underneath where the gondola would be in a real dirigible was a hangar that housed a pair of much smaller auxiliary vessels.
System glitches occurred frequently. The temperature in Jim’s room plunged to below zero. Lights in one of the hallways flashed like a strobe light. Sensors showed “ghosts” — two or three images of the same things. All their clocks started counting down instead of up, which wasn’t a system failure, Valor insisted, but a programming error he’d made when reprogramming things to use the Earth clock. Valor was able to fix all of these things quickly, and by the end of the second day, things appeared to be more stable.
Around noon, ship’s time — which was set to the same time as in Seacoast City, California — on the third day, Jim was in the control room familiarizing himself with everything. He had quickly discovered that, when he wore the glove, the ship would respond to his mental commands. They were passing close to the asteroid of Juno, and Jim was using the ship’s tele-viewer to examine it closely. Initially there was nothing of interest — it looked just like any other asteroid, a giant boulder tumbling endlessly through space — but then Jim was stunned to see a futuristic city, with tall buildings and monorails wandering through the buildings. And then, just as quickly as it had appeared, it vanished again.
It must be a malfunction, he thought, and called his partner to the bridge. After watching the recording, Valor agreed, but he was unable to find anything wrong with the tele-viewer. Meanwhile, Jim had ordered the Tiak Avenger into a wide turn and a second, lower pass across the asteroid. The rest of the surface was as expected, but when they came to a halt above the same point, they were again looking down on a fantastic city.
“There’s really something there!” Jim shouted. He adjusted the focus. “I can see people and cars on the streets. But all around the city, nothing but the dead rock surface of the asteroid! How can that be?”
“I think we are somehow looking through… a hole in space, Jim,” Valor replied. “The polyphasic tachyon array shows three images: the asteroid, something floating above the surface — and something inside that.” He looked at another instrument and reacted with alarm. “I think we should move awa–”
Juno vanished. Instead of moving through empty space thousands of miles from a small asteroid, the Tiak Avenger was suddenly deep in a planetary atmosphere, not more than a mile above the futuristic city, plunging toward the surface at deadly velocity.