“Must be a storm brewing,” Corona said to herself. “Funny how it’s coming in so precisely on the hour. I heard the forecast earlier, and that new weatherman at station QWRD predicted the storm would hit exactly at this moment. He’s good, but I doubt his Q-rating will be very high. He was so stern and cold. He lacked that warmth you tend to want from weathermen.”
She entered her home, and in a flash she donned her normal clothing as Alex DeWitt. “You know, it may just be that I’m on the road too much, but this place doesn’t feel like home,” she said as she turned on the radio.
“Man, what kind of format is this?” she smirked. “Instead of Hits of the ’70s, this sounds like some type of classical music from Mars!”
She switched channels and heard the same kind of perfectly regulated music. Even the songs with vocal accompaniment lacked any true emotion. The singers were sterile in their inhuman precision. No note was even slightly off-key, but none of the songs conveyed any feeling. She turned off the radio and decided to call it a night.
Alex tossed and turned in nightmarish fever until the dawn broke, and she yawned wearily as she awoke.
“I feel as if I did not get any rest last night,” she said. “I had one nightmare after another. All those odd men I’ve seen or met lately turned up in a procession out of the Twilight Zone. Funny how they all had something in common in spite of their different appearances or occupations. Maybe I do need to get more rest. This double life is wearing thin.”
Alex slipped into a pale peach skirt and blouse. She was used to the outfit and enjoyed the feel of the fabrics and the look it gave her. However, on this day, she did not like the outfit. “This does not match. The shading is slightly off. Funny, I never even cared before. How careless of me! No wonder Jewelius Black rejected me!” she said as she returned to her uniform.
She decided to seek out another photographer to talk about her work. She knew a retired photojournalist lived down the block, and she had hoped to approach him about her work for a few weeks now. She reached his home after streaking out of her open apartment window.
What was I thinking leaving home in broad daylight without taking a simple precaution like obscuring my exit? she thought suddenly. This is a sure way to lose my secret identity! Then again, why use one? My subjects could better know and respect me if my domicile is known to all. It really is a rather pathetic place for one such as I to dwell!
She created an outfit of perfectly matched colors and flawlessly placed lines. No hair was out of place, and her entire demeanor seemed oddly clinical. She knocked on the door and introduced herself to the old man.
“Mr. Parker, I have seen your work, and I wanted your feedback about my own,” she said. “Circumstances have of late made me question my own artistic vision.”
The old man ushered her inside his humble home and offered her a snack. “Would you care for milk and crackers?” he said. “My old aunt always swore by it as a snack, and I’ve never lost the habit.”
She frowned. “Thanks, but about my work? Give me a candid opinion, please,” she insisted.
He spread the photos across the table and began to examine them. “Oh, my, I spilled some milk on that one!” he gasped.
She swept the photos off the table and stood up rapidly. “You foolish old man!” she cried. “How dare you damage my creations? Be careful!”
Alex grew pale as her words were met with sincere apologies. She grasped his arm and said, “Please forgive me! I don’t know what came over me!”
“I understand,” he said. “I like your photos. You bring real warmth to them. Now, this one is a bit conventional, though. If you had tried a different angle and placed the morning sunlight just so, it would have been a better shot.”
Alex shrieked in anger. “Ki-Mon, you witless dolt! Be thankful that I don’t incinerate you where you stand!”
She took her collection and rushed out into the street. Her heart raced, and she placed one hand across her brow.
“What’s happening to me?” she gasped. “Ki-Mon? Jewelius Black instead of Julius Black? What kind of language is that? I acted like a first-class witch to that poor old man. Am I losing my mind?”
Alex DeWitt sat in her bathtub and pondered her recent actions. She had always been levelheaded, and even during her teen years she had been the voice of reason, while Aimee had been the spoiled one. Why was she now acting so differently?
She soaked in the warm waters and considered her options. She had been the strong one when their father died. She had felt the loss deeply, but she had been able to carry his warmth, love, and presence with her as she continued on with life. She believed in him and his words from her final visit to his sickbed.
“Alex, I am so proud of you,” he had said. “You are going to make a wonderful woman when you grow up. I want you to remember that I’ll always be with you. My love will never leave you. The moments we’ve shared and the love between us will live long after this old shell ends.”
She had wept over his thin form and lamented the time together cancer would deprive them of now. “Daddy, I don’t want to lose you!” she had sobbed as her body heaved in total loss and regret.
He had hushed her cries and whispered, “You won’t lose me. I’ll be in your heart and in your photos! There will be some of me in every picture you take.”
That statement had been so true. Alex knew that she brought her father’s vitality and energy into her work. She created images that spoke of the humanity within her subjects. It was a flawed humanity, but it was real and warm and carried with it humor and love and simple values. That was what she loved about the camera. It preserved those moments for when the subjects were no longer physically around. She didn’t care if men like Black valued that. Alex knew that the very thing that made her pictures special was the same humanity that her father represented in all his endearing and slightly untamed mannerisms.
She wrapped a towel around herself and walked over to the nightstand. As she held up the photo, she gasped.
It was wrong. The image was not the way it should have been. Oh, the man in the picture was Alex DeWitt, but it was a sterile Alex without that twinkle in the eye or that belly laugh hidden around the crooked grin.
“The smile is different!” she said. “It’s cold, almost mocking. The whole world is wrong! My apartment is too orderly. The people I meet all speak of ridding the world of chaos and bringing a controlling order to everything. Humanity is missing, too, from all I see or hear. The music was not just cold, but was alien.”
She held up the ring and envisioned her costume. In place of the gold and white one, a purple and blue one materialized, and she fought to turn it back into the costume she knew so well.
Her features in the mirror were more angular than before, and her complexion was reddish in hue. She cried out, “Shetira jannt Korugarian!”
She realized her words had been in an alien tongue. The ring had not translated the language for her. She had spoken in this unknown tongue. She also knew instinctively now that the words and her altered physiognomy came from the world called Korugar. It existed in another dimensional realm.
A figure suddenly materialized in front of her and sneered coldly at her confusion. “You still don’t fully understand the blessings bestowed upon you, do you?” he said.
His tone was the same as that of the man in the theater, the editor at Okay Magazine, the cop, and the weatherman. He was slender, with reddish or purple-hued skin, and wore a thin mustache.
“I am Sinestro, and you wield my ring,” he said. “It was made for me. It was meant for me. The ring came from a dimension called Qward. Those who made it knew it was meant for me. They had made such rings for me before with my careful direction. Since they had such experience of my needs and my personality, they pre-set the ring to conform to my sensibilities. Oh, like all such rings of power, it is now yours. The user sets the mindset of the ring. If it speaks to you, it will speak in English. However, while you control the ring, my mental pattern is imprinted within its design. This was done to make it more readily adaptable to my will.”
Alex backed away from him. “You are evil! It’s your voice, your interpretation of how the world should be, that has been warping my world and me!” she said. “You want total order through domination! The names like Black and Ki-Mon come from experiences you’ve had! Why, something about the man Jordan stands out, too! He is an enemy of yours. I know I recalled him in some manner.”
Sinestro laughed coldly and extended one elegant hand. “My dear, you may have known of him as the Green Lantern from Earth-One.”
She nodded and fought for time. “I saw his photo once — that was it! He had a mask on, but he was Jordan! You can’t keep me under your influence. You almost had me. Little by little, I was becoming more like you. My world was beginning to fit your desires. It was becoming cold and losing humanity. You almost made me one like you!” She raised her ring and returned her costume to the gold and white of Corona. “You won’t conquer my world!” she vowed defiantly.
He laughed coldly. “This is not your world. You are in mine!”
Her eyes widened in understanding. “I’m inside the ring!”
Sinestro nodded. “At last you see through the brightest day and blackest night, eh?”
“You brought me, or at least my mind, inside the ring when I slept,” said Corona. “The last few days, or weeks, even, have all been taking place in some world you’ve created inside the power ring. That’s why you kept popping up in various guises. I sense my body is in a coma in the world beyond the ring.”
Sinestro clapped his hands together and said, “Excellent. You make a fine pupil. Now, earn your final commendation. Tell me what I am!”
“You aren’t really here,” she said. “The real Sinestro is in that other universe. He may even be dead, for all I know. You are just an energy construction from within the ring. When the Qwardians made this ring for you, they preset it to be attuned to your mind and will. Thus, without even ever knowing it existed, your values and your powerful will have slowly tried to exert influence over me. You waited until I was tired from the trip with Buffy Winter to draw me inside, but you failed in one aspect.”
Sinestro looked bored. “Do tell?”
“My father’s smile,” she said. “It was wrong. It lacked his sparkle. You could project yourself into my world, as you did when Jennie-Lynn and I were at the movies, but that was a weak effort — a phantasm at best. It required your actually bringing my mind into this ring world for you to dominate me more fully. This world conforms to your vision, but while you could duplicate everything according to your sense of cold and clinical order, you could not give that elusive something found in things like my father’s smile or beautiful piece of music full of passion and feeling to your constructions!”
Sinestro sneered at her words. “Bah! I need nothing as fragile as the butterfly-like sensibilities you prate on and on about, girl!”
She smiled and said, “Ah, but without such things, you could never control me or make me think this world was the real world. Your little seduction failed. I can exert greater control now. I can banish you back to the dim recesses of the ring’s programming by merely awakening my sleeping mind!”
Alex concentrated and thought of her real body, her home, her childhood memories, and of course the things missing from the ring construct’s world like her father’s real smile. She gasped and sat up in bed.
“There’s no place like home,” she said with a smile.
She worked next to Green Lantern later that day as their combined expert willpower altered and erased the programming of the power ring.
“It’s all yours now, Corona,” said the emerald warrior. “We’ve removed the pre-programmed Sinestro sensibilities, and now it’s as much a weapon for good as you wish it to be!”
Corona nodded. “I feel as if some faint taint that was always there before has been removed. Some unnecessary impurity, you might say.”
Green Lantern smiled. “Well put. The real Sinestro may never even know that such a ring exists. He was never really here, you know.”
“Good,” said Corona. “I don’t think he and I would hit it off.”