by Dan Swanson
A few days later, General Leslie Groves convened everyone in the Manhattan Project to let them know what had been discovered about the Aryan Flame.
Jason Heber had not been caught. Or, more accurately, the spy who had been posing as Jason Heber got away with the suitcase containing plans, schematics, blueprints, and notes for many of the projects at the Manhattan Project.
The FBI had searched for Jason Heber. They discovered that he had moved almost six months ago and hadn’t notified the project of his new address. Fortunately, he usually rode the subway along with several other machinists, and they knew his stop. After some legwork in the neighborhood, they located his new house. Everyone expected it to be empty, but they found the real Jason Heber locked in a cage in one of the bedrooms.
Heber was sick and feeble from being imprisoned for a long time, and they took him to a hospital. It was immediately clear that it could not have been Heber who attacked Ted Knight. An investigator spent hours talking to him and eventually put together the story. One of the FBI agents read from the report to the assembly.
“The Germans have been trying to use atomic radiation to mutate men into super-beings. The project had an early success, but aside from one soldier who gained flawed super-powers, every other experimental subject died horribly. The Nazi general running the project threatened to use the researchers as the next subjects if they didn’t come up with something that worked. They claimed that the problem was that they didn’t have sufficient control over the radiation exposure.
“Unbeknownst to us, the Germans had a spy in the Manhattan Project. This spy had just reported that the project was building a device to control radiation exposure, the RadCAM. Since the German researchers claimed that it would take them several years to develop a similar device, the Germans decided to steal the RadCAM when it was finished.”
Ted Knight considered this. He realized that if he had been starting from scratch, it might have taken him a couple of years to build the RadCAM. But because the circuitry was very similar to some of the control circuitry in the gravity rod, he had been able to complete the RadCAM in just over six months. The Germans must have heard about the project just when he got started.
The agent continued. “By the way, we still don’t know who that spy is. That’s why we are now doing new security checks on everyone in this room.”
This made a lot of the project members unhappy. Not that they expected to be found out as spies or anything, but having the FBI check out your background could be an uncomfortable thing, especially since many of them had unconventional pasts. But there wasn’t really much they could do about it. The agent continued reading.
“The German project had succeeded in producing one super-powered human, and they decided to use him to steal the RadCAM. This soldier had mutated into a human chameleon. Not only could he take on the physical appearance of anyone, but while he was imitating someone else’s form, he had a kind of psychic link that let him access the mind and physical skill of that person as well. The flaw in his powers is that the only way for the spy to return to his own form, or take another form, is to break that psychic link, and the only known way to break the link is to kill the other person! This caused the spy incredible pain, but the German command didn’t care. They commanded this spy to go to America, infiltrate the Manhattan Project, and steal the RadCAM.
“The Germans captured an American sailor from a ship that was just about to head back to the U.S. The spy took his place. Once he reached the U.S., he deserted and contacted a Nazi bund. They notified Germany that he had arrived, and the sailor was killed. This left the spy free to find a new subject. He chose Jason Heber. He had to keep Heber alive until he succeeded in stealing the RadCAM. Because he had to pass as Heber, he spent many hours talking with him, and that’s how Heber found all this out.
“We don’t know why the Germans apparently changed their plans. The original plan only involved one person, and the phony Heber was supposed to smash the RadCAM, not use it to create another superhuman being. But we do know what actually did happen, thanks to Mr. Knight, and we know that the spy escaped with the plans to the RadCAM and quite a few other secret devices. We really can’t tell what they got, because of the destruction of the lab buildings.”
It was a wild story, but Ted was personally acquainted with Doctor Fate, the Spectre, and a blind man who could see in the dark. It sounded plausible to him. He spoke up. “General Groves, if I understand this right, there is a super-human German spy around who is a human chameleon, but who can’t use his powers as long as Jason Heber remains alive?” Groves nodded. “And the Germans apparently knew in advance how to use the RadCAM to induce super-powers in human subjects? And they may have the plans to a dozen or so other top secret Manhattan Project gadgets as well?”
Groves was starting to become angry. He had already understood the ramifications that Ted was just figuring out, but he had hoped that nobody else would think of them right away. Most of the scientists didn’t have Ted’s experience at thinking logically under emotional stress. “What’s your point, Mr. Knight? We checked closely, and none of those ‘gadgets’ was a weapon!”
“I don’t know what your point is, General, but my point is this: I solved a major theoretical problem regarding nuclear reactions, and you used that new theory to figure out how to build ‘safe’ atomic bombs! I built you a control system that allows us to safely build and operate the first atomic reactor, and you built another reactor to breed enriched uranium and plutonium to use in those ‘safe’ atomic bombs! And I built the RadCAM, and the Germans have already used it as a weapon, too.
“I know we are at war, General, and I know we must win the war. But we don’t need atomic weapons to do it! I joined this project in the hopes of helping us learn to use atomic power safely, to make everyone’s life better, but everything I built becomes just another weapon. My point is, I quit!” And he turned and walked away.
As it turned out, it wasn’t quite that easy to quit the high-security Manhattan Project, but Ted Knight had influential friends who stood behind him, including not only a high-ranking FBI man named Woodley Allen, but the president of the United States himself. Many of the scientists, engineers, and technicians on the project felt much the same way as Ted but were less vocal with their thoughts, and they wished him well. Ted returned to his private life, spending most of his time either fighting crime as Starman or gazing at the stars in his private observatory in Opal city, whenever he wasn’t out on the town with his fiancée, Doris Lee.
When Jason Heber got out of the hospital, he wasn’t welcome back at the Manhattan Project. Nothing that happened was his fault, but it was decided that he was a security risk, anyway. Ted met him at the front door of the hospital and offered him a job, working with Ted on whatever project Ted was interested in at the time. And, Ted thought to himself, maybe you will be a little safer here where Starman can occasionally look in on you.
The Aryan Flame never awoke. He died from radiation poisoning. The doctors and researchers studied his body and discovered that if Starman, Captain Triumph, and Johnny Quick hadn’t managed to quench the atomic reaction in his body, he would probably have exploded and turned Columbia University, and much of the fledgling Manhattan Project, into a giant radioactive crater. This was some consolation to the project members; it meant that simply building their own RadCAM wouldn’t automatically give Germany an army of supermen. And it was a small comfort to Ted, who had to live with the knowledge that his invention had killed a man. He knew it wasn’t his fault, but he had become a mystery-man to help people and save lives, not to invent killing machines.
Before America entered World War II, and long before he became Starman, Ted Knight had been little more than a dilettante where science was concerned. He was obviously gifted in the sciences, but he had never sought it out as a career, preferring to let the world think he was merely a wealthy, eccentric playboy who suffered from hypochondria and occasionally dabbled in astronomy at his private observatory. He had kept secret his year-long collaboration with Professor Abraham Davis, during which time they developed a practical use for the stellar energy that Ted had discovered on his own at his observatory, which eventually became the prototype of his gravity rod. Ted had been the junior partner at first, but the major breakthroughs during the gravity rod’s development had all been his own; like all brilliant inventors (and, sadly, precious few trained scientists), Ted’s true talent was in unconventional thinking.
Professor Davis had been so impressed with the young man, despite his shyness when it came to sciences, that he had introduced Ted to Albert Einstein himself. This was only a couple of months after Einstein and Leó Szilárd had written their letter to President Roosevelt, who authorized the founding of the Advisory Committee on Uranium. Ted was invited to attend a few committee meetings as a guest, but it was after the official meetings ended that Ted’s contribution to the Uranium Committee proved most fruitful. He spent many hours in discussion over drinks and cigars in those heady early days of the war with other brilliant minds, offering his ideas and suggestions, which would go far in eventually establishing the Manhattan Project some years later. By that time, of course, Ted had already become Starman and had largely put the sciences out of his mind for the time being. His fresh involvement in the Manhattan Project had rekindled his interests, but even though that was now over, he decided to continue working on his theories in his spare time.
Over the next year, the Manhattan Project would be primarily relocated from the universities where it had originated to two specially built laboratories, one in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and one in Los Alamos, New Mexico. Although Ted Knight kept himself on good terms with those involved in the project, he would not be invited back.