The Justice Society of America members and Sargon the Sorcerer sat around the circular meeting table. None of the JSAers had seen their old friend in some time; he had missed the last All-Star Squadron reunion dinner, traditionally held on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor. Black Canary had quickly fetched coffee from the headquarters kitchen, and was pouring it into cups. Hawkman reflected a moment on the dichotomy of it; a woman who could shatter a strong man’s spine with the flat of her hand, serving coffee like a charming hostess.
“So what’s the problem, Sargon?” the Flash asked. “You know we’ll do whatever we can to help.”
“And I appreciate that, Flash — all of you,” Sargon said, as Black Canary filled his cup. “Two sugars please, Miss Canary. The problem is simply this: I am losing my powers.”
Doctor Mid-Nite looked at Sargon quizzically. Something had sent up a red flag in his mind, but he wasn’t sure what.
“Losing your powers?” the Atom said. “How can that be? If I remember right, you’re nearly as powerful a magician as Doctor Fate.”
“The ruby in my turban is what gives me my sorcerous might, Atom,” Sargon said, indicating the ruby with a touch of his finger. “Known as the Ruby of Life, it was cut from a much larger gem, the same as the ruby set in the Ring of Life, which was worn first by the Spectre, and then stolen by his old enemy, Kulak. Lately, however, the power in my ruby has been dwindling with each use. I am afraid that, after so many years of constant use, both in battle and in my stage-magician career, I have used up its charge.”
“And you think we can help you recharge it?” Wonder Woman said, taking a sip of coffee; she had arrived at the brownstone shortly after Sargon himself. “How?”
“It is my theory that the charge can be restored to my ruby by infusion from another ruby cut from the same gem,” Sargon explained.
“You don’t mean Kulak’s ring?” Hawkman asked. “We have no idea where to find him; he’s lost in eternity, since that case back in ’42. (*) And so much the better if he stays there.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “By Hatred Possessed,” All-Star Squadron #28 (December, 1983).]
“No, I don’t mean that,” Sargon said. “I have recently learned of the existence of another gem cut from the master jewel. It was worn as a stickpin by a wealthy industrialist named Septimus Graham. Unfortunately, he was wearing it when he sailed on the Titanic, and went down with it.”
“Is that the problem?” Green Lantern said, smiling. “I thought it was something serious.”
“Sure, G.L. can get that ruby for you in nothing flat,” the Atom said cheerfully.
“My friends, I don’t know what to say,” Sargon said. “For you to do this for me–”
“Is no more than you’d do for any of us,” Hawkman said. Turning to Green Lantern, he said, “G.L., when do you want to go?”
Green Lantern shrugged. “Right now’s as good a time as any. Ever since we fought the Alchemist, I’ve felt more energetic than ever. Possibly the elixir of youth from the first time we fought him refreshed me somewhat. Won’t take long.”
“I deeply thank you, Green Lantern,” the Shade said, smiling behind the illusion the Blue Lama had cast over him. “You can’t know what this means to me. Believe me, you can’t know.”
Few ships were in this part of the Atlantic Ocean on this particular night. Those few that were chanced to see a tiny object, glowing bright green, zooming over them like a missile. In these days of growing East-West tensions, it was a wonder no one panicked.
Green Lantern rocketed over the Atlantic, the wind whipping past him razor-keen but not touching his skin. That was one of the parts of his green aura that he regretted — the inability to feel the sensation of flying. He knew that, at this height and this speed, the wind would kill him, but still, a little breeze would have been nice. He felt so sterile, so closed-off, in his green force-field.
All during the flight he had been sending sonar-like energy signals down to the bottom of the ocean with his ring. He had instructed the ring to notify him when it picked up an object the size and composition of the Titanic. He had expected to find it by now; perhaps he was searching too narrow an area. He commanded the ring to double the radius of its energy signals.
Finally, the ring flashed a brilliant glow at him. Paydirt! Green Lantern willed the ring to create a giant x-ray screen, and it was done. As plain as daylight, Green Lantern saw the rusting hulk of the ship lying in two fragments at the bottom of the ocean. With a thought, he zoomed into the water like a diving pelican and kept going. The aura projected by his ring protected him from the lack of air, the cold, and the pressure. The view around him was fascinating.
In minutes, Green Lantern came upon the ship. He took a moment to stare in awe at the Titanic. Intended to be a shining example of man’s achievement, instead it was a reminder that nature still had the last laugh. A piece of ice had sent this massive machine to its grave, along with most of its passengers and crew.
Green Lantern snapped out of his pensiveness and propelled himself forward. For the first time in thirty-six years, someone boarded the Titanic.
“Say, Canary,” Doctor Mid-Nite said, “I’m feeling a bit hungry. Are there any of those doughnuts left from this morning’s meeting?”
“I think so, Doc,” Canary said. “Want me to look?”
“No, thanks. I’ll go. Anyone else care for some?”
“I’ll have one, Doc,” the Atom said.
“Anyone else? How about you, Sargon? You’re our guest.”
“I don’t mind if I do,” Sargon said with a smile. Doctor Mid-Nite nodded almost imperceptibly and went into the kitchen.
As he glided silently through the murky waters, Green Lantern felt the most eerie feeling. Even the times he had gone into space could not compare with this. It was like going through time itself, being transported into another era. His power ring projected a green searchlight through the murk as it carried him through the passageways of the rusted hulk. In many places he had to be careful, for rotting wooden debris was everywhere; if that were to fall on him, his ring would not protect him from it.
After a few minutes of gazing at the wonders of the ship that had become a tomb, Green Lantern decided to get down to business. He used his ring to search the ship for traces of the missing gem. Sargon had explained that, while the Ruby of Life was so named because it looked like a ruby, it actually was not truly one, so the Lantern had examined Sargon’s own gem with his ring and was now searching for one like it. His ring led him deep into the ship to the luxurious cabin area. He was drawn to a cabin door that was blocked with debris. Fortunately, the debris was mostly metal, and the power ring cleared it away in a thrice.
Nothing in the world could have prepared Green Lantern for the sight that awaited him on the other side of that cabin door.
“Do you think the Lantern will be long?” Sargon asked after swallowing a mouthful of doughnut.
“As long as it takes, which, knowing him, won’t be very,” the Flash said. “He’s nearly as quick as I am.”
“While we’re waiting, anyone want a coffee refill?” Doctor Mid-Nite asked.
“None for me, thanks,” the Flash said. “Too much coffee makes me jittery.”
“I could do with another cup, thanks,” Hawkman said.
“Nobody else? Well, as long as I’m going to the kitchen, let me take your cups.” Mid-Nite went around the table, collecting coffee cups. When he got to Sargon, however, he dropped the cup; it shattered on the floor.
“Sorry about that, gang. I guess I’m getting clumsy in my old age!” Mid-Nite apologized.
“Hey, no biggie, Doc,” the Atom said. “It happens to everyone. Besides, it’s just a coffee cup.”
“True,” Mid-Nite said. “And besides, it was Sargon’s cup. So no harm, no foul, eh?”
Sargon looked up at Mid-Nite, perhaps a trifle nervously. “I’m afraid I don’t catch your meaning, Doctor.”
“Well, doesn’t your Ruby of Life give you mastery over whatever you’ve touched? Just make the cup whole again.”
A beat passed in total silence. All eyes were on Doctor Mid-Nite and Sargon the Sorcerer.
“Really, Doctor,” Sargon said at last, “don’t you think that’s a frivolous use of my powers? Just to mend a broken cup?”
“But you use your powers on stage every night, in your act,” Mid-Nite said. “And Green Lantern is on the way with more ‘juice’ for you. Surely one tiny cup won’t make a difference.”
“Doc,” Hawkman said, rising from his chair, “I get the impression you think that’s not Sargon. What’s up?”
“I was the team physician for the All-Star Squadron,” Mid-Nite said. “I did at least basic medical check-ups on all its members at one time or another. It took me a while to remember, but I finally did. The real John Sargon is a diabetic. He could never have drank that coffee with two sugars, let alone eaten that doughnut.”
Everyone was silent, watching “Sargon’s” reaction to Doctor Mid-Nite’s words. Then the impostor grinned slightly, and everything suddenly went dark.
“Good Lord!” Green Lantern exclaimed. The sound did not travel past his lips, because his power ring aura only covered his body. He gazed into the murky, ring-lit water into the long-flooded cabin.
There he saw a man, apparently in early middle age. The man wore a smart tuxedo in a cut that had been the height of fashion thirty-six years earlier, with a ruby stickpin in the lapel. The man was sitting in an opulent chair, an equally resplendent table before him. He was playing solitaire, laying playing cards on the table before him. Each pile of cards was weighted down with something, the crystal stopper of a perfume bottle or a cufflink heavy with diamonds, to keep them from floating away.
The man looked up at Green Lantern, and his expression merely added to the Lantern’s amazement. The man had a look of impatience about him, as though he had expected the hero and considered him to be late. Green Lantern began to wonder if he weren’t suffering from nitrogen narcosis.
When the man tried to signal Green Lantern with hand-signs, Lantern recovered from his shock and extended his power-ring aura to take in the whole room. The water filling the cabin was instantly translated into its component atoms, and the ring provided a medium for the two men to speak.
“Took you long enough,” the man said impatiently. “Do you know how long I’ve been cooped up in that cabin? What year is this, anyway?”
“Uh… 1948,” Green Lantern said incredulously.
The man’s eyebrows shot up. “1948? Good Lord, man, we’d better get going! We don’t want to miss the comet, now do we?”
“Um… sir?” Green Lantern stammered. “Who are you?”
“Who am I? Don’t be daft, man. I’m Septimus Graham! Who did you think?”
“Who turned out the lights?”
“Somebody get the lights on!”
“They are on!”
Doctor Mid-Nite watched in silence as his fellow Justice Society members fumbled around in the sudden dark, all except Wonder Woman. Her night vision, while not nearly as keen as Doctor Mid-Nite’s, was much better than the others’. She, at least, could tell that the overhead light was still burning, and that there were now two figures facing them at the other end of the table. Sargon the Sorcerer was gone, but in truth, he was never really there. The Shade stood in his place now, and next to him a blue-skinned woman whom Mid-Nite recognized as the Blue Lama.
“Lights won’t work,” Mid-Nite said quickly. He spoke in the mathematics-based language he and a Neptunian scientist had developed on that planet; the other JSAers had learned it in order to use it as their secret battle language, if necessary, when an enemy could overhear. “Darkness is magic. Shade and Blue Lama. Use caution.”
“Oh, stop that pathetic babbling,” Blue Lama said, lifting a forefinger. Mid-Nite felt a white-hot tingling across the lower part of his face. His hands flew to his jawline and examined it in horror. His mouth was gone.
The Shade, huh? the Flash thought to himself. His old enemy had the audacity to invade JSA Headquarters. Fortunately, he had memorized the layout of every room in the place, and could navigate them in the dark. In a twinkling he was behind the villains.
“Behind us–” the Shade began, sensing his old foe’s presence.
“Already taken care of,” Blue Lama said, smiling. The Flash was turned to stone in less time than it took to tell.
Soon, the rest of the Justice Society was equally helpless. The Shade had entombed Wonder Woman in solid darkness, like a fly in amber, after fusing her bracelets together with the same substance. He had long doubted his own humanity since the experience that changed him, but apparently he was still enough of a man that being bound by him robbed Wonder Woman of her strength. Blue Lama simply imprisoned Hawkman, the Atom, Doctor Mid-Nite, and Black Canary in glowing auras of mystic energy.
“What do you want here?” Hawkman demanded. “Why have you done this?”
“My dear fellow, you already know what we want,” the Shade said, settling down in a chair. “We want the ruby that went down on the Titanic with Septimus Graham. Your friend, Green Lantern, is kind enough to retrieve it for us. We’ll simply wait here until he returns.”
“And then, you can all die together,” Blue Lama added, reclining in a comfortable chair, one leg thrown lazily over the arm.