Times Past, 1948
Give Up the Stars
by Dan Swanson
After his promise to retire three years earlier, Ted Knight’s sudden return as Starman alarms his wife, Doris. Now, for the first time, Ted learns the reason behind his wife’s desire for Starman to remain retired, when she tells him about the time in 1945 that Doris Lee received a message from the future from Doris Knight!
December 8, 1948:
Ted Knight was fairly worn out. As Starman, he and Hourman had a busy hour last night in Baltimore, and both of them had been away from crime-fighting for a few years. Maybe he was a little out of shape. He hadn’t yet told his wife Doris that he had gone out as Starman for the first time since 1945; he was hoping that perhaps she wouldn’t find out, and he wouldn’t have to explain himself.
No such luck. Doris Knight always read the morning paper, and there on the front page was a picture of Starman and Hourman fighting the Sky Pirate. The big, bold headline read, Starman and Hourman Clean Up Baltimore.
Ted was rudely roused from his dozing state when Doris slammed open the bedroom door, rushed in, and thrashed him with the newspaper. She was yelling at the top of her lungs, and crying at the same time. “Ted, you promised me you would give up being Starman! You could have been killed! How can I ever trust you again?”
But Ted didn’t quite understand her reaction. “Honey, one of my best friends was in danger! How could I possibly not help him?”
“So the big, strong Starman had to go help his friend! Nobody else in the world could do what you did, right? One of your other buddies from the Justice Society couldn’t have helped Rex? Ted, you promised!”
Ted was stunned. “Geez, Doris, I never even considered it! I’ve always believed that a man should solve his own problems, so when I found out somebody planned an ambush against Rex, it never even occurred to me to tell anyone else. You know, now that I think of it, it’s kind of weird how I found out. Why should Donovan have known anything about…?”
“Damn you, Ted Knight! Don’t you dare change the subject! You made a promise to me on our wedding day, and you didn’t even think about that promise when you went charging off to the rescue! I know you — you are so cocky, you knew you couldn’t get hurt, and you just figured that your demure, little, submissive wife would passively accept you breaking your word to her. Well, you are wrong, Mr. Knight! What do you think of that?”
Ted was thinking as quickly as possible. He’d really stepped in it this time. She was one hundred percent right; he hadn’t thought about his promise. He’d never really understood why she’d asked him never to be Starman again, and he had certainly never dreamed she would be so upset. He quickly decided that only being completely honest with her gave him any chance of getting through this.
“Doris, honey, I really don’t understand. Yes, you did ask me not to become Starman again, but you never really explained why you felt that way. You didn’t make a big deal out of it, and I really didn’t realize it was this important to you.
“I know that my being Starman is one of the things that finally attracted you to me — you told me so yourself! Ted Knight was too timid. And once you knew, the danger never seemed to scare you off before we were finally set our wedding date. What about the times you were Starwoman? You loved it! I honestly never did understand what made you change your attitude towards me being Starman. I’m really sorry I upset you, and I’m sorry I broke that promise. Please explain to me why this is so important to you.”
Doris looked like she wanted to yell some more, but Ted’s obvious sincerity reached her. She made a clear effort to calm down, and finally took a deep breath, then began again, this time quietly, but with obvious emotion. As she spoke, tears ran down her face, but she ignored them. “I’m sorry, Ted. I know how much being Starman means to you, and I know your friends are very important to you. I never told you this whole story before, because it’s so unbelievable!”
Ted realized that, with Doris calming down, there was a really good chance that they could work this out without more fighting. “Doris, honey, what can be more unbelievable than being Starman? I can fly! I have a gravity rod that is like a magic wand to most people. And you know I’ve seen some pretty unbelievable things with the Justice Society. I’ve been to the future, I’ve been to the past, I’ve traveled to other planets, and I’ve met people who breathe water and communicate by telepathy. I’ve fought against supposed demigods, for heaven’s sake!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Justice Society of America: Times Past, 1943: Society Girls.]
Doris perked up a little. “Funny you should mention time travel and telepathy, Ted. When I get to the unbelievable parts of my story, remember what you said just now!” She looked at Ted sharply, and he nodded his head, but had sense enough to remain silent.
“You probably don’t remember the last time I used a gravity rod as Starwoman,” she began. “It was the summer of 1945, a few months before we got married. You had just learned about the A-bomb test in New Mexico, and you’d sunk into despair, telling me for the first time about your involvement with the government’s top-secret atomic bomb project. I don’t remember all the details, but you were depressed. I couldn’t stand seeing you like that, and I needed some time to myself to sort out my feelings. So I got out the Starwoman costume and spare gravity rod from that special case you keep it in, and just went out flying. It was close to midnight, there was a half-moon in the clear July sky, and it was just a beautiful evening. I took a snack, and after an hour or so of soaring, I landed in the hills and had a picnic, all by myself. It was so nice out, I decided to sleep outside. After all, I had the gravity rod to protect me!
“As I lay there, watching the stars and waiting for sleep to catch up to me, I thought I heard a voice. I looked around, but there wasn’t anyone nearby. I stopped breathing and listened as hard as I could, and I realized that I was hearing the words in my mind!”
Doris looked at Ted to see if he believed her story. He knew better than to interrupt or show any signs of disbelief.
“Someone was in my head, trying to talk to me! I concentrated on listening, and the voice became the slightest bit clearer. I still missed a lot, but heard enough to get the message. It was me, Ted, from sometime in the future!
“She was frantic to talk to me — I mean, I was frantic to talk to me — I mean… well, you know what I mean! Future Doris was trying to use the gravity rod to send a signal from the future to my mind. She remembered going flying this evening, and she thought that maybe my gravity rod would help me hear her. I tried telling the rod to help me hear, and, you know, it actually worked! I heard more of what she had to say, and sometimes I could remember her memories. Ted, she warned me that if you changed to Starman after we got married, you would be killed!”
“Honey, are you sure you weren’t dreaming this?”
“Ted Knight, I know dreams from reality, and this was not a dream! This was really the Doris of the future. And you were really dead in her world!”
“How do you know it was really her? I mean, you?” Ted asked. “Could it not have been one of my enemies, trying to get me out of the way?”
“Ted, I asked her the same thing! Do you remember what happened the night way back in April, 1941, when you proposed to me?” Doris blushed. “Ted, I’ve never told a soul about that, but she knew every detail! And her mind — I was in her mind, and we both remembered that night in perfect detail! It just couldn’t have been faked!” Ted was stunned, and he blushed a little, too. He had never told anyone, even his best friends, about that special evening. This story had the ring of truth to it.
“She told me about our wedding, Ted, and everything she told me came true, down to the person who caught my bouquet. I remembered her wedding with her memories.
“But what she told me next was about your death, Ted. And she didn’t just tell me about it — I shared her memories and actually watched you get killed! Ted, I couldn’t possibly stand to see that again!
“In her world, sometime after they got married, Starman caught a crook and made a vicious enemy. He quickly escaped from jail, and promised vengeance on Starman. He somehow got hold of a device that caused your gravity rod to explode, killing you!
“Ted, you were on a live TV broadcast when it happened, and she was watching. I mean, I was watching! You were there on the TV screen, and then, suddenly it looked like somebody was shining a spotlight on you. And your gravity rod started to glow brighter and brighter. You must have realized that the explosion was coming, because you — I’m sorry, I mean he — suddenly flew up into the air as fast as you could go, and then there was an explosion, and then the TV camera got wrecked, and I saw it all. You can’t imagine how horrid it was!
“She was never able to give me the dates — or I was just never able to hear them. She had just come from the memorial service, and she was still crying. I mean, I was still crying, They never found his body, Ted! They couldn’t even have a funeral, just a memorial service.”
Doris stopped and wiped her eyes, then continued. “We felt so terrible! She was so proud of you, too, Ted — some of the most important people in the world were at your memorial service. Two of them who were especially nice to her were Albert Einstein and Ted Williams.”
A thought struck Ted, and he interrupted. “Hmm… Is that why you never go to Red Sox games with me?”
“Every time I see Teddy, or dear Albert, I remember your memorial service. I won’t ever do that voluntarily! Anyway, Ted, the same evening after that service was over, she went home, took out the spare gravity rod, and tried to talk to me. And it worked!”
Doris finally ran down. She stopped talking and kept weeping. Ted wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him. She buried her head against his shoulder.
“That’s a heck of a story!” said Ted. “I can see why you don’t want me being Starman! But why do you think we can change the future?”
“Oh, Ted, the future has already been changed,” said Doris. “Well, actually, it’s the past now, but it was the future when it changed. Well, actually, it was the present when it changed, it was the future when I first heard of it, and it’s the past now.” Doris was starting to get a little confused; the English language wasn’t designed to explain the events she was talking about.
“Future Doris never got a message from her future, so her Ted never stopped being Starman, almost every night. But you haven’t been Starman for three years, except for yesterday. And, you remember that witchy little waitress at our wedding reception who insulted Libby, and Johnny got loud until Jay made him cool off?” Ted looked puzzled. He didn’t remember anything of the sort. “Oh! This is so weird, Ted! It never happened at our reception, because I had Libby and Johnny sit at another table, and kept an eye on that waitress all night! So I’ve already changed the future that much. And if you never change to Starman again, you should be safe from that awful crook!”
Doris had become much calmer than when she had slammed open the door. But she stopped weeping now, and Ted could hear anger creeping into her voice again.
“As long as you kept your promise, Ted, I was sure you were safe, but how can I be sure any longer? Ted, I can’t stop you from changing to Starman again, but before you do, you had better be sure you have a really good reason! You might not lose your life, but don’t be surprised if you lose your wife the next time! I will not watch you die again, especially knowing that I couldn’t do anything to stop it. Please, Ted, don’t put me into that position again!”
“Well, honey, now that I know the whole story, I promise that, unless you say it’s OK, I’ll never change to Starman again. Since the bad guy killed me when I was Starman, as long as I don’t change again, I should be safe. Thank you for finally sharing the story with me. It must have weighed on you the whole time.”
“Oh, Ted, I feel so much better!”
In his inner thoughts, Ted Knight smiled. He hadn’t quite promised to never become Starman again. He knew, with great sadness, that his friend Albert Einstein might not have much longer to live. Once Albert had passed away, he would try to convince Doris that it was safe again — well, as safe as being a super-hero could ever be. He was sure he could keep his promise for that long.