Starman: 1945: Nuclear Furnace, Chapter 7: The Sky’s the Limit

by Dan Swanson

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“Say, I didn’t get a chance to listen to the ball game today,” said Starman. “Can you guys tell me about it?” Ted Knight was genuinely interested, as he was an avid baseball fan.

Both groups of teenagers responded eagerly. It seemed that it had been a very exciting game, with great pitching and defense on both sides. Cool Papa Bell had won the game with an inside-the-park home run in the top of the twelfth inning and an incredible leaping catch against the center field wall, which took a home run away from Hank Greenburg.

Both the all-stars from the Opal City teams had good games. In the sixth inning, Mort Jackson, the big first baseman for the Opal City Hawks of the Negro National League, had hit a two-run homer that had at the time put the Hawks ahead by four to nothing. The American League team tied it in the bottom of the seventh with a grand slam by catcher Frankie Paschall of the Opal City Sky Sox.

All the boys seemed to love baseball, and after a few minutes, they were all talking noisily to each other, and it seemed that they had forgotten each other’s skin color, or that they had been fighting not a half-hour before. Eventually, the discussion, as all discussions between baseball fanatics usually did, got around to which group’s favorite team was better. Both teams were having good years.

After watching a few minutes of good-natured give and take, Starman added his two cents. “It’s not likely we’ll ever find out, guys.”

One of the colored kids spoke up mournfully. “It’s not fair!”

One of the white kids added, “How will we ever know who’s the best if they can’t play each other?”

Ted had never thought of himself as a social reformer. He normally didn’t get into situations like this. Somehow, Ted felt different about the world tonight. Last night he had discovered that there were things even a super-powered mystery-man couldn’t change. Tonight he was realizing that there were a lot of important things he could change — things he had never paid much attention to before.

These kids had been trying to hurt each other less than an hour ago, and now some of them were talking about trading baseball cards. It was the kind of success Ted had needed tonight, he realized. He wondered what he could do to encourage these kids to develop friendships. All the baseball talk gave him an idea. He would look into it further after he got some sleep.

“Say, guys, I don’t know how you got out this late without your folks catching you, but I’m sure all of them will give me hell if they ever find out how long we’ve been sitting around talking. Suppose we all go home and sneak in without getting caught? If you can tell me where to go, I can drop you off. Have any of you ever flown before?”

Starman used the gravity rod to pick them all up. They took to the air, and one by one he dropped them off near their homes. He saved the two kids who appeared to be the leaders of each group for last. When the three of them were alone together, he landed and talked with them. “Guys, I don’t know your names. I have a project in mind, and I would like the two of you to work with me on it. But I’m not comfortable calling you ‘hey, you,’ or ‘you there!’ My name is Starman, and I’m pleased to meet you!” Ted stuck out his hand to the colored kid, who was flattered to be treated like an adult by a famous mystery-man.

“My name is Jack Chisholm, Mr. Starman. It’s an honor!”

Ted turned to the white kid, who also shook his hand. “I’m Don Sherman, but my friends call me Sherm!”

“Glad to meet you, Sherm! I’d like to introduce you to Jack Chisholm.” The two kids looked at each other, then shook hands. Ted thought, They’re learning.

“If you joined me on this project, you would have to work together. What do you say?” Both were intrigued, and wanted to hear more. Ted gave them the whole idea. They were interested, but doubtful that it could work.

“I don’t know, Starman,” said Jack. “Sounds like it will take a lot of money…”

“Yeah, and there are gonna be some folks who don’t like the idea of whites and coloreds together like that! Not me! But some people are still like that.” This was from Sherm, who seemed to have forgotten that only an hour or so before, he had been one of those people.

“I have a friend who has enough money to make this happen. In fact, if she’s interested, I’ll have her give you guys a call tomorrow. And don’t worry about what people think. I think you’ll find that we have a lot of powerful people on our side!”

Starman dropped off the last two kids and headed home. He was so tired, he didn’t even stop for his customary breakfast, but just headed for bed. Just before he conked out, Ted called his personal secretary and asked him to order flowers for the cook. She sometimes took it as a personal insult when he skipped one of her meals, and she was far too good a cook to take chances with.


When he woke up just after lunchtime, Ted called Doris. “Say, honey, are you still interested in being the chairman of a non-profit organization? I’ve got an idea, but I need some help.”

“Ted, you darling! Of course I am, if it’s for a good cause! Tell me more!” They talked for a while, made some plans, assigned some action items, and hung up so they could get started.

Ted made a series of phone calls, first to some of his friends in the All-Star Squadron, and then to the owners of the Sky Sox and the Hawks, and finally to the mayor of Opal City. They knew who he was, of course, as he was rich and a leading citizen of Opal City. They were a little skeptical of Ted’s idea, but he promised them each free publicity, which helped convince them to go along with the plan.

Doris, in turn, called the law firm that she and Ted kept on retainer, and started the paperwork for setting up a non-profit organization. She then called Jack Chisholm and Don Sherman, introduced herself, and offered them part-time jobs with her new non-profit group. It wasn’t actually in existence yet, and certainly didn’t have any funding in place, but one of the benefits of being rich was to not have to worry about trivial things like money.

Secure in the knowledge that Doris was in charge and everything was in motion, Ted went off to his observatory to do a microscopic examination of the new plates. He didn’t find anything unusual, so he bundled them up and had them shipped to the AAS. He checked his mechanisms, then ate a small snack the cook had packed for him, and then took to the skies as Starman again.

Starman was very busy that night. He stopped a robbery, prevented an accident when someone ran a red light, broke up a drunken brawl at a bar on the riverfront, helped firefighters first evacuate a burning building and then put out the fire, and cleared an obstruction in the sewer that was causing a backup into the street near City Hall. The city workers who would have had to go down into the sewer to manually clear the blockage were thrilled. Ted felt he’d done a good night’s work.


Ted Knight didn’t sleep long the next day, awaking at about 10 A.M. He seemed to be filled with some kind of manic energy; he had to be doing something. He checked with Doris regarding the special project. “It’s all set up, Ted, for August 24th and 25th,” she told him over the phone. “I’m working on the publicity now, and Sherm and Jack are out drumming up interest!”

He then headed to his lab. There were a lot of projects that he had tabled because he was too busy, but now he found that he almost felt compelled to work on them. He spent hours working on many different projects, finding that he couldn’t stick to any one project very long. So he worked on his design for an improved flashlight battery, his new radio garage door opener, an ultrasonic TV channel changer, the miniature vacuum tubes he had invented for the gravity rod, a device to keep animals from leaving the yard without a fence around the yard, an electronic bug repeller, and a theory he was developing regarding the collapse of stars once they burned all of their hydrogen. Eventually, he found he couldn’t concentrate anymore, and he was still filled with this unusual energy, so he changed to Starman and went out on patrol again.

Tonight was even busier than last night. He freed a whale that had somehow wandered up the river and got stuck on a sandbar. Two kids in hot rods were playing chicken, and the brakes failed on one of the cars. Starman almost didn’t get there in time; he was barely able to lift one car just before it slammed head on into the other one. Unfortunately, he originally picked up the one with the working brakes, and he had to set that one down and frantically chase after the other car to prevent it from slamming into the crowd of kids that had gathered to watch. He made sure the crowd scattered. None of the kids from the other night were in this group; they seemed to be two or three years older than the other group.

A water main broke, and pressure for the fire hydrants fell so low that Starman had to carry water from the river to help put out the fire, and then he fixed the broken pipe. An airplane trying to land at the Opal City Airport had problems with the landing gear, and Starman helped land it safely. A tanker had leaked oil while offloading at one of the docks, and Starman cleaned up the oil slick. Once again he headed home, exhausted.

The next day, the Opal City Register ran a piece on the op-ed page about Starman. Most of the tasks he had performed over the past two nights were really not his style. Starman tended to concentrate on the issues that required super-powers, and he usually left the ordinary tasks to the appropriate civic authorities, agencies, or departments. The author expressed strong concerns about Starman not letting these people do their jobs, and wondered what would happen if the city grew to depend on him too much, and suddenly he wasn’t there.

Also in the paper was an article about the new non-profit organization in town started by Doris Lee. Called The Sky’s the Limit Foundation, the organization’s purpose was to work for the end of discrimination, and to promote racial harmony. TSTL Foundation’s first fundraising activity would be a two-day baseball fantasy day camp for kids between eight and eighteen. It would be held at Gemstone Field. Players and coaches from the Hawks and Sky Sox would give clinics on hitting, fielding, pitching, and base running, and there were going to be several special guest instructors. The two-day event would then close with the first annual exhibition game between the Hawks and the Sky Sox for the Opal City Cup, donated by the mayor.

Ted was well-pleased with himself that day. Doris was incredibly busy, working out all the details for the fantasy camp. Jack and Sherm were talking up the big event among all their friends. It was almost possible to forget that there was still a war going on.

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