by Dan Swanson
On July 16, 1945, sixty miles northwest of Alamogordo, New Mexico, the first atomic bomb created by man in known history was exploded. (*) The explosion was estimated to be the equivalent of more than eighteen-thousand tons of TNT. Men who were observing from two miles away were tossed through the air. Observers at twenty miles were temporarily blinded, and felt a blast of heat equivalent to the noonday sun in the desert.
[(*) Editor’s note: There were other, earlier atomic bomb blasts in Earth-Two’s history that remain unknown to the general public.]
Many members of the Manhattan Project witnessed the explosion, but Ted Knight was not invited. Instead, he read the next day in the Opal City Register that an army munitions dump had blown up in New Mexico. Many Americans realized that this was probably a cover story told by the War Department to maintain secrecy around some new top secret weapon. Ted was sure it was a test of the atomic bomb, and unlike most other Americans, he had a way to confirm his suspicions.
That night, Starman flew from Opal City, Maryland, to New Mexico. After several hours he approached the site of the supposed munitions dump explosion. The Geiger counter in his gravity rod started clicking as he approached, confirming his suspicions. He erected his radiation shield and used the gravity rod to pinpoint the center of the radiation field. In a crater floored by sand fused into glass, he saw the twisted, melted remains of a structure, certainly the tower where the bomb had been suspended. He used the gravity rod to break off a short piece of one of the melted iron rods, and then he headed back to Opal City.
During the next day, Ted tried unsuccessfully to nap. The round trip from Opal City to New Mexico was the fastest he had ever tried to fly, and he had never flown virtually nonstop for over eight hours before. So he was exhausted. He had trouble getting the images of the crater and the melted tower out of his mind. Ted’s imagination usually showed him new inventions, and sometimes it showed him new theoretical insights. Now his imagination was showing him the nuclear fires from the center of a star, which he understood so well, unleashed on the New Mexico desert — and it kept trying to show him this same nuclear fire burning in the middle of a city.
Whenever that picture sneaked into his mind, he had to escape. He would shake his head vigorously, jump to his feet, slap himself violently in the face, and try to force himself to think of other things. His fiancée Doris Lee was more than alarmed, and she tried to calm him down. “Ted, what’s the matter?! You’re going to hurt yourself! Please calm down and tell me what’s wrong!” she pleaded, by now near-hysterical herself.
Ted walked to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a double Northern Comfort straight up. He tried to pretend that everything was normal. “Would you like a drink, Doris?”
“Ted, it’s eleven A.M.! What’s wrong with you?” Ted occasionally had a drink, but he usually nursed a single mixed drink on ice for several hours. He had been pretty wild as a rich teenager, but as he had developed a deep interest in science and technology, he found that he preferred not to cloud his mind. But he wanted that cloud now.
Ted couldn’t keep anything from Doris, and as he finished his drink and poured another, he told her the whole story. Of course, she knew some of it already. Even though she didn’t have top secret clearance as he did, Ted trusted her and had told her something about his work for the Manhattan Project.
But he had kept secret his misgivings about his contribution to the A-bomb. At times during this war, when other Americans had publicly expressed similar sentiments, those people had been labeled as being unpatriotic, verging on treasonous. Ted was a patriot, and, in fact, he had continuously fought against the Axis, since even before the United States had officially entered the war.
Even a super-powered patriot could have second thoughts about a weapon that could kill hundreds of thousands of people in seconds. Ted couldn’t help thinking of what would happen if an A-bomb was dropped on the New York, Metropolis, Gotham City metropolitan area, which was the most populous such area in the world. The death toll would be in the millions.
This thought actually helped soothe Ted, ironic as it might seem. He hoped that the U.S. could use the threat of the atomic bomb to convince Japan to surrender before they could finish their own bomb development, as he was convinced, like many others, that Japan was working to build such a bomb.
Ted gulped his second drink and poured a third. His story ran out, and he just stopped talking. He sat slumped in his easy chair and stared dully at the wall, occasionally taking a sip. Doris was still extremely alarmed about this episode; this wasn’t like Ted at all.
She slipped out of the room and returned with her own gravity rod. In late 1942, Wonder Woman had recruited the women closest to each member of the Justice Society of America to help them take down the Brain Wave. Doris Lee had donned a hastily modified version of Ted’s Starman costume and become a Starwoman of her own. Although she and some of the others were compelled to forget their boyfriends’ secret identities after that case, Doris figured out on her own that Ted was Starman about a year later, and she recalled the Brain Wave case in which she had been a Starwoman. Thus, at her request, Ted kept her Starwoman costume and gravity rod in a special case in his laboratory, and he had also taken her out flying a few times to make sure she wasn’t injured the next time she had to use the gravity rod. She had agreed not to use the gravity rod except in an emergency, but as far as she was concerned, it was one of those emergencies now.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Man Who Created Images,” All-Star Comics #15 (February-March, 1943).]
Doris wasn’t about to let Ted out of the room while he was like this. She sat with him while he silently finished his third double whiskey. He didn’t move or talk, just sat and stared, and eventually his chin fell to his chest, and he started snoring. After she was sure that he was asleep, she used the gravity rod to gently carry him to his room, and gently tucked him in. She asked Jeeves, Ted’s faithful manservant, to keep an eye on him, and then she left.
Needing some time to herself, she donned her Starwoman costume and went out for a fly. During this outing, she was contacted by the Doris Lee of the future, who convinced her that she had to hold Ted to his earlier vow to give up being Starman once they were married, even though Doris had begun to have second thoughts about this in recent months, knowing how much he loved being Starman. Years later, when Doris would finally tell Ted the story of the Doris of the future, she would end up changing some of the details, because even by 1948 she could never get Ted to discuss today’s events, and he would become angry if this day was even mentioned. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Times Past, 1948: Give Up the Stars.]
Ted Knight slept for over twenty-four hours. When he woke up, he ate a large meal, then phoned Diana Prince in Washington. “Diana, are you going to be home for a while?” he asked her.
“Sure, Ted. What’s up?”
“I need to see you for a few minutes. I’ll be there as soon as possible.” And he hung up. For her part, Diana was surprised; this wasn’t like Ted at all.
Ted had a shower and shaved, donned his Starman uniform, and then, as he carried his civilian clothes in a knapsack, he flew to Washington, D.C. A couple of blocks from Diana’s apartment, he landed in a deserted alley, put on his clothing over his costume, and walked the rest of the way. Even in his agitated state, he knew enough to protect his friend’s secret identity.
“Ted, it’s good to see you! What are you doing in Washington? You didn’t say much on the phone! You know, you look awful!” Ted did; he still had a terrible hangover, and he had a lot on his mind.
“Actually, Diana, I came just to see you. May I come in?”
“Surely!” She stepped aside, and Ted entered the room. It was quite hot within. Diana had all her windows open, but she apparently didn’t own an air conditioner. Ted started sweating. “Can I offer you a drink?” Diana asked, showing no effects from the sweltering heat.
“How about iced tea?” Ted replied quickly. He’d had enough alcohol for the moment. Diana poured, and Ted quickly chugged the cold drink.
“So, Ted, what can I do for you? Are you here to see me, or Wonder Woman?” she asked with a smile.
“Actually, Diana, I was wondering if you might let me use the Magic Sphere. I really need to find out the history of this…” And he pulled out the bit of corroded iron rod he had recovered from New Mexico. He showed it to Diana but didn’t say anything more.
She examined him closely. There was a haunted look in his eyes, and he kept looking around, as if he expected someone to be sneaking up on him. “Ted, what’s wrong? Of course you can use the Magic Sphere. While I set it up, tell me what’s going on.” Diana casually moved a wooden bookcase, packed with books, that must have weighed several hundred pounds, and pressed a certain spot on the wall behind it. A hidden panel slid open. Diana reached into the compartment behind it and pulled out the Magic Sphere. She turned and put it on the table.
“The most terrible weapon in the history of the world has just been tested, Diana, and I fear the next one will be used on Japan! I have to see it — I have to know!” Ted’s voice started softly, but with every word it became louder, and near the end he was almost screaming.
Diana realized that he was on the verge of hysteria. She wasn’t sure that it was a good idea for Ted to see whatever it was he was talking about. “Ted, relax. Take it easy!” she said, using the most soothing tones she knew. “Are you sure you really want to do this?”
Ted’s chin dropped to his chest, and he clenched both fists tightly, so tightly that his arms shook with the muscular tension. He didn’t move for a second or two. Then he raised his head and took several deep breaths. Finally, he looked at Diana, and she saw that he seemed much calmer now. “I’m sorry, Diana! You see, they finally tested the atomic bomb, and I was part of the Manhattan Project that developed it. If that bomb is used against Japan, their blood will be on my hands!”
“And so you want to watch the bomb test?” she asked him, thinking quickly. She didn’t see how that could make things better for him. “Are you sure?”
“I’m sure! Every time I close my eyes, I see a star — one of my stars — destroying the Earth and burning people to death! Every time, the vision gets worse! I need to see how it really was, to get this nightmare vision out of my head.” Ted spoke in a monotone. He was clearly struggling to contain his near-hysteria.
Diana saw the wisdom in this. Ted should be better able to handle the reality of the event than he could the horrible dream event that he was imagining, a nightmare that was getting worse each time Ted closed his eyes.
She dropped the piece of iron into the Magic Sphere’s sampler, and she and Ted watched the first atomic bomb explode.
Then they watched it over and over again. They watched it from ground zero. They watched it from the base camp ten miles away. They watched it from a secondary observation post twenty miles away. They watched it from ground level, they watched it from directly overhead, and they watched it from every angle in between. Finally, even the patience and stamina of an Amazon princess was exhausted.
“That’s enough, Ted,” she said gently. Diana was extremely shaken by the events she had just witnessed. “Surely you’ve learned enough?” She wasn’t really asking him, instead making a gentle but firm suggestion. She turned off the Magic Sphere. “Was it worth it?”
Ted looked at her. She saw that his eyes were clearer than before. He didn’t look any less haunted, and she thought that she had rarely seen anyone who looked as tired as Ted did now. “Thanks, Diana. It’s better than I hoped, and yet it’s worse. It’s not as bad as I had imagined it would be, but I can’t fool myself into believing that my imagination was exaggerating any longer! Now, I know exactly how bad it is! I can’t pretend any longer.” Ted’s voice was firm, and there was no longer any trace of hysteria in it. Diana knew that Ted had made up his mind about something.
“Ted, what are you going to do?” she asked. “I hope you aren’t going to do anything dangerous.” She wasn’t sure what she would do if he had something dangerous in mind. Her mission in Man’s World was as an ambassador of peace, and the destructive power of the atomic bomb had disturbed her ever since she had learned of its existence back in June of 1942. (*) But she and Superman had been sworn to secrecy about those events back then, and she decided not to bring it up now; that would only complicate things.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman Vs. Wonder Woman,” All New Collectors’ Edition C-54 (1978).]
“I’m going to talk to President Truman, Diana. I have to convince him not to use this bomb!”
Diana was relieved. Ted seemed to be rational again. “Good luck, Ted!” She gave him a hug, and, after taking off his civilian clothes, Starman flew out the window, headed for the White House. By now it was well after midnight, but Ted didn’t care.