“You’re Septimus Graham?” Green Lantern asked in astonishment. “But — but I thought you went down with this ship!”
“Don’t be a bally fool!” Graham snapped. “Of course I went down with it! Why else would I be stuck in this fool cabin?” The man shook his head. “I read every book in the cabin four times before the water had completely ruined the pages. Luckily I had these wax-coated cards, but how many games of solitaire do you think a man can play?”
Green Lantern’s mind was rapidly digesting the information. “You somehow used the ruby to stay alive, but you were trapped and couldn’t get free!”
Graham looked at the Lantern as though the latter had declared that the sky was blue and made it sound like a new discovery. “Of course! What else? Now, hadn’t we better get going?”
“Not just yet, Septimus,” came a third, hollow voice. Graham and Green Lantern looked around; no one was there.
“Jim? Is that you, you old trickster?” Graham asked. “Where the blazes are you?”
“In here,” the spectral voice continued. Green Lantern looked down at his own chest, and watched with sickening fascination as a bright white light shimmered and emerged from within his body. Once outside him, the light coalesced into the form of a white tuxedo and top hat, seemingly empty.
“The Ghost!” Green Lantern gasped, having heard Hawkman describe this villain after their first encounter last year. (*) But never had Hawkman mentioned that he could do this.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Ghost,” Flash Comics #88 (October, 1947).]
“Jim, you old sod!” Graham said with a happy expression. He was a long-lonely man, greeting an old friend. “Good of you to come. But why hide inside your agent there?”
“He’s not an agent of ours, not really,” the Ghost explained. “It’s a long story, but we had to trick him into finding you for us.”
Green Lantern was galvanized into action at these words. “One minute now, you disembodied dinner-jacket–”
“Oh, hush, will you?” the Ghost said, then, quick as a cobra, his hand shot out and returned to him, holding Green Lantern’s ring. Lantern gaped at this; it was the greatest surprise yet.
“You — how did — no one is supposed to be able to do that!” Lantern stammered.
“No mortal man, no,” the Ghost agreed. “That description hasn’t applied to me in over ninety years.” The empty space where a head should have been turned to Graham. “Shall we go, old friend? Don’t want to keep the comet waiting.”
Enveloped in a green nimbus of light, Septimus Graham and the Ghost rose out of the ship. Green Lantern watched them go, then looked to his side as the Atlantic Ocean came rushing in to fill the empty space. Then all he saw was blackness.
The Shade and Blue Lama made themselves quite at home at JSA Headquarters, with the heroes defeated. The Shade had browsed their library and found a copy of H.G. Wells’ The Dream and was engrossed in it. Blue Lama had forced the Atom to kneel in front of her chair, and was using his back as a footrest as she reclined, shoes off, listening to The Jack Benny Program on the radio. The JSAers chafed in their confinement — except the Flash, who stood an uncomplaining statue of stone — but could do nothing.
The JSAers had a flash of hope as the ceiling of their meeting room glowed a sudden brilliant green. Their hopes were dashed when the green aura deposited not their friend and teammate, but the Ghost and a man unknown to them in the room.
“That’s your enemy the Ghost, isn’t it, Hawkman?” Wonder Woman asked in a whisper. “You said he was a fake, a charlatan using tricks to appear supernatural.”
“I still think so,” Hawkman said firmly. “His desires are far too material.”
“You sound like Starman,” Wonder Woman commented.
“I see the JSA tumbled to your deception,” the Ghost said to the Shade. “How’d they do it?”
“I was betrayed by a cup of coffee and a doughnut,” the Shade remarked. “I’ll fill you in later. Where’s the Lantern?”
“At the bottom of the Atlantic,” the Ghost said offhandedly. The JSA visibly started at this news. “I filled Septimus in on the way. I have to admit, I never expected to find him alive.”
“Alive, but bored out of my mind,” Septimus said. “Trapped in a cabin for thirty-six years. I expected you to send someone for me, or come yourselves, as your rubies are worthless without mine. Didn’t expect you to wait till the last minute.”
“The point is, we’re all together now,” Blue Lama said, putting her shoes on. “Come, let us repair to the roof and make ready. When the comet passes, we shall be the most powerful beings in creation!”
The quartet left the room, leaving the Justice Society to puzzle over that statement, and to mourn Green Lantern.
As the sea rushed in, Green Lantern felt the terrific impact as it slammed into his body. He felt the icy cold of it, numbing his nerves. Then he felt nothing for what seemed a long, long time.
“Green Lantern?” he heard a voice calling to him. It was faint at first, but grew stronger. He struggled to open his eyes, and found light when he did. Light, and color. He felt a breeze on his face, and realized he was not at the bottom of the ocean. He looked up and saw a blond face looking down at him with sea-blue eyes. The face smiled when it realized Green Lantern was looking back.
“Whew. You gave me quite a scare, Lantern!” the blond man said. “Glad to see I wasn’t too late.”
Green Lantern tried to sit up, and coughed. A little seawater sprayed from his mouth with the cough. “You… you’re Aquatic Man, aren’t you? I remember you — you worked with the All-Star Squadron a time or two.”
“Actually, it’s Aquaman,” the seagoing hero said. “I was in the area when I saw you dive into the sea. I knew what was on the bottom at this spot, so I figured you were heading there. It wasn’t any of my business, so I kept my distance, but when I saw those two guys leaving with your ring, I figured there was trouble, so I investigated.”
“Lucky for me,” Green Lantern said. “I don’t quite know what to say, Aquaman. You saved my life.”
“You’d do as much for me,” Aquaman said simply. “What happened down there?”
Green Lantern grimaced. “I was tricked into releasing an evil power. Now I’ve got to make it right. Aquaman, how fast can you get us to Gotham City?”
Aquaman smiled. “Pretty fast. Did you notice what you’re sitting on?”
A quizzical look came over Green Lantern’s face. He looked down and found the surface smooth and slick, a dull gray color. It seemed to be a large hill of some kind, floating in the water. Suddenly, the hill began to move. Green Lantern looked up at Aquaman. “A whale?”
“His name’s Raymond,” Aquaman said. “He’ll get us there in record time.”
“I hope that’s fast enough,” Green Lantern said grimly.
In the Gotham City brownstone headquarters of the Justice Society of America, the four villains gathered on the roof. The Shade had suggested the stairs, but the Ghost simply used Green Lantern’s ring to float them all through the ceiling. Now they stood at four corners of an imaginary diamond, each holding a blood-red gem that resembled a ruby.
“I still say we should have killed the JSA,” Blue Lama complained. “A wheel could still come off somewhere.”
“Why bother?” the Shade said. “Wouldn’t it be more satisfying to keep them alive, as our slaves? In minutes, when the comet passes overhead, we shall have power enough to bend a regiment of Hawkmen and Flashes to our will.”
“Enough chatter,” Septimus Graham said. “The time approaches. Everyone in place!”
Each one held out his or her ruby, their arms extended into the center of the diamond. The four gems touched in the center. Each one (except the Ghost, who no longer had nerve endings) could feel the power in the gems, throbbing and pulsing like live electricity.
“Feel that, gentlemen?” Blue Lama asked, smiling like a hungry cat. “That’s power! Power enough to remake the world — to destroy it, if we wish! And it’s about to become ours!” She threw her head back, her lustrous black hair flowing in the growing wind.
Wonder Woman strained mightily at her shadow-bonds fusing her bracelets together. She had been doing so ceaselessly for the last two hours, trying to get them apart, which was difficult after she’d temporarily lost her Amazon strength. Finally, she felt them give a little. This was hope. She redoubled her efforts, and slowly, so slowly, the dark matter began to part.
Her comrades were freeing themselves, too. The Flash was slowly changing from a stone statue back to flesh and blood. The magic fields holding the others prisoner were dissipating. Doctor Mid-Nite’s mouth had even returned.
“What happened?” the Atom asked. “We’re free. Does that mean the villains were defeated somehow?”
“I doubt it,” Doctor Mid-Nite said grimly. “More likely it means they’re completing whatever ritual they went to the roof to perform. Probably they couldn’t divide their concentration between that and keeping us prisoner.”
“Then we have to stop them!” Hawkman declared. “Everybody, to the roof!”
That was all they needed. As one, the stalwart champions raced to the roof of their headquarters to a battle they knew they had little chance of winning, but knowing also that, if they lost, also lost was the world.
As one the Justice Society arrived on the roof. There a sight greeted their eyes that made them recoil in horror.
The four villains stood with arms extended toward one another. Their hands seemed to end in a bright crimson nimbus of light. Something was glowing with a brilliance as fierce as the sun itself. It was crackling with power, throwing off discharges like solar flares. One of them struck the large air-conditioning unit on the roof, and the unit ceased to be. It did not explode or disintegrate with any visible force; it just simply was no more.
Blue Lama noticed the heroes and laughed. “You’re too late, Justice Society! Far, far too late!”
“We’ll see about that!” Hawkman growled and charged at the villains. Wonder Woman joined him. Both were turned away, hurled back by the sheer force of the energy.
Doctor Mid-Nite hurled a blackout bomb, hoping the darkness would somehow eclipse the light of the rubies. The dark cloud was quickly dissipated by the crimson force, washed away like April mist.
The Atom raced at the villains, hoping his newly acquired atomic strength would help. Sadly, it did not; Hawkman had to catch the mighty mite before he sailed over the edge of the roof.
“Thanks for the save, Hawkman,” the Atom began. “I — hey, look!”
Hawkman looked where the Atom was pointing. “Is that — my God! It is!”
The Flash stood his ground, seething with impotent rage. He was trying to figure out a way to use his speed against the crimson force. At lightning speed his mind calculated a thousand possible strategies, but none would work.
“Flash!” Hawkman cried. “Green Lantern isn’t dead! He’s alive, and he’s coming!”
“What?” the Flash asked, whirling around to face the JSA chairman. “What do you mean?”
“You can see from up here,” Hawkman said, pointing. “There’s a whale swimming into the harbor — and Green Lantern is on its back!”
That was all the Flash needed to know. In a crimson blur he was gone, and before Hawkman could comment, he was back again, and Green Lantern was with him.
The emerald gladiator stared into the heart of the crimson fire. His eyes could see what the others could not: a tiny emerald fire burning in the midst of the scarlet — his ring. It was not on his finger, but he had worn it for the last eight years; it was as much a part of him as his left arm. He clenched his fists, gritted his teeth, and concentrated.
A minute passed, then two, and nothing happened. The crimson energy-aura spread outward, until the villains’ bodies were completely enveloped in it. Wonder Woman saw what Green Lantern was trying to do; she grasped his hand, bent her head, and concentrated, adding her willpower to his. The other JSAers saw this, and all grasped hands, forming a chain. Seven iron wills concentrated on the same end.
Finally, a bolt of green energy stabbed forth from the ring on the Ghost’s spectral glove. The beam struck the four rubies, knocking them from the four hands and spilling them to the roof, in opposite directions.
“No!” four voices screamed in unison. The crimson aura grew brighter for one instant, bright enough that nobody could see anything but scarlet light. Then it winked out, as quickly as a flipped light-switch. The four villains were gone, nowhere to be seen. All that remained was Green Lantern’s ring, lying on the roof.
“That was a close call,” the Atom said, as Green Lantern picked up his ring.
“Looks like it’s time to start looking for another secret headquarters again,” said Hawkman. “This one has obviously been compromised.”
“What should we do with these?” Black Canary asked, indicating the rubies scattered on the roof. “Destroy them?”
“I’m not sure we can,” Doctor Mid-Nite said. “They’re magical. The best we can do is make sure they never come together again.”
“That shouldn’t be too hard,” Wonder Woman said. “I can store one on Paradise Island. Hawkman can put one in Feithera for safekeeping. I’m sure Superman wouldn’t mind keeping one in his Secret Citadel. Green Lantern can send the other to the Moon.”
“What do you think happened to the Shade and the others?” the Flash asked. “Were they killed, or… what?”
“One thing I’ve learned in all my time in this business,” Green Lantern said, slipping the ring on his finger. “If you don’t have a body, they’ll be back.”
Everyone nodded grimly at that.