Ted Knight awoke with a great pain in his head. As he lifted himself off the cold concrete floor, he felt the large bruise on the back of his head.
“Damn, that’s got to be an ugly mark.”
As his eyes adjusted to the low-level lighting, Ted could see that he was in a prison cell. To his right lay another body. He quickly crawled over and shook him. “Max! Max! Wake up!”
Professor Maximillian Arturo slowly stirred and managed to sit up against the wall. “For the love of heaven, man, do you have to shout? My head is pounding quite enough as it is, thank you.”
The professor looked around the room. “Hmmph. You would think that, being the counterparts of great leaders here, we could at least have been provided with hospitable accommodations.”
“I think that’s the point, Max. We’re counterparts.”
“Yes, I suppose so. Where are Mr. Mallory and the others?”
“I don’t know, Max. I can’t see any other cells, and I don’t hear anyone.”
The two sat in silence for a moment.
“This doppelgänger of yours, he doesn’t seem like a very nice fellow. I can scarcely imagine you participating in such activities as he has.”
Ted sat down next to his friend, a rueful smile crossing his lips. “Don’t be too sure, Max. There’s a lot about me that you might not be aware of.”
“Really? I would think that being Opal City’s world-famous hero, as well as the premier astronomer of our time, would be quite enough.”
“You would think so, wouldn’t you? Tell me, Max, have you ever heard of the Manhattan Project?”
“Ha! Do I look like a college freshman, Mr. Knight?”
“Well, I was there at the table with Einstein and the others. Oh, the government sold us a bill of goods. It would never be used for evil, they said, never for destruction. Its presence alone would turn the tide in the favor of the Allies. We had to have it before the Nazis did. So we did our patriotic duty. Then Hiroshima came. Then Nagasaki.”
“Dear God, man, you can’t blame yourself!”
“I don’t anymore, Max, but it was a hard road getting there. I remember coming home that night. Starman had foiled yet another plot of the dastardly Mist. Then I turned on the evening news, and I heard what had happened. I killed those people, Max, as surely as if I had pulled the trigger myself. At first I tried to ignore it. I continued on with my career as Starman and made wedding plans with my fiancée, Doris. We were married towards the end of 1945, and I fulfilled my promise to quit as Starman.
“Early in 1946, however, it all came back to me. Repressing all thoughts about it and throwing myself into my astronomy research had only made it worse… far, far worse. Doris found me at home, sitting completely still in a catatonic state on the couch. She wasn’t sure what to do. Even though I had agreed to stop being Starman, she felt she had no choice but to contact my former allies in the JSA. Hawkman and Green Lantern arrived, but they couldn’t reach me. They took me to see my physician, Dr. Charles McNider. Physically, I was fine, but mentally? I couldn’t deal with the guilt, Max, so my mind shut me down and tucked me away in a safe place. It wasn’t until June of 1947 that I emerged, fully sane once again. It was difficult.”
“Fascinating. What was it that caused you to emerge from your catatonic state?” Max asked, totally engrossed in Ted’s story.
“A friend. Over the course of those two years, nearly the entire JSA came to visit me. Doctor Mid-Nite came weekly, but the others popped in every now and then, or so Doris said. Doctor Fate tried to reach my mind unsuccessfully. Wonder Woman brought her purple ray, but it didn’t work. Johnny Thunder, bless his heart, ordered his Thunderbolt to heal me without any luck.
“Then, one day in June, 1947, Superman and Batman helped out on a case. (*) They didn’t hang around with the Justice Society very often in those days. After the case, Doctor Mid-Nite asked Superman to visit me, since he was the only JSAer who hadn’t for some reason. Superman apologized for not doing so sooner, but he was kept so busy in Metropolis by the likes of Luthor and the Prankster, that he never got around to it.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Five Drowned Men,” All-Star Comics #36 (August-September, 1947).]
“I remember Superman arriving vaguely, but I’ll never forget his words. ‘Ted, you did what your country asked of you. For that we are forever grateful. What you did helped to save lives, even if some were lost in the process. Forgive yourself. Your country is proud of you.’
“At that moment, it was like the fog cleared, and all I could see was that giant red S emblazoned across his chest. It was like America herself had forgiven me. I whispered to Superman, ‘Thank you.’ Doris fainted, but Superman caught her in time.”
“That’s not surprising,” Max said. “There are very few icons as powerful in their imagery as Superman. I shudder to think how long you might have been in that coma had Superman not existed.”
“But the one who truly nursed me back to health was Doris — my beautiful Doris. She visited me every day during those awful years. Any other woman would have left me and gotten on with their life, but not Doris Lee. She saved me.
“I became Starman only once again in 1948, when a case involving Hourman and a group of villains intent on taking his life prompted me to use the cosmic rod again. (*) After that case I went back to my normal, married civilian life. Then in early 1951 I heard about what Congress was doing to the JSA. The JSA had been summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee, having been set up to look like communists. That day the JSA folded, and they all went into retirement, for the most part. Wonder Woman continued to be active because of her special relationship with the government, and no one dared stop Superman, Batman, and Robin, but the rest of them stayed out of sight, except for scattered cases here and there in their home towns. Starman would not grace Opal’s skies again until 1964, when I got the call from the JSA. I remember looking at Doris. She just smiled at me, holding our newborn son, David, and told me to go. She was truly a remarkable woman. So you see, Max, there but for the grace of God go I.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Hourman and Starman: Times Past, 1948: Time and Stars.]
Before the professor could respond, the door to the cell opened, and a figure entered.
“That was a touching story, my friend. We may be more alike than I thought.”
Ted Knight found himself face to face — with himself.
The professor leaned over to Ted. “This is ironic, don’t you think?”
In another part of the compound, Quinn Mallory, Wade Welles, and Remmy Brown were just beginning to awaken.
“Oh, man, did anyone get the license plate off that truck?” Remmy said as he sat up, holding his neck.
“Where are we?” Wade asked as she pulled herself up. “The last thing I remember is those Nazis swarming all over us.”
Quinn looked around the room. There was a small window to the outside and a heavy iron door with some sort of small passthrough. It was locked naturally. “Oh, man…”
Remmy went over to Quinn. “What is it, Q-Ball? Are you OK?”
Quinn was frantically patting himself. “I’m fine, but they took the timer.”
Wade chuckled. “That’s standard operating procedure, isn’t it? Someone always captures us, they separate us, and they take the timer. Almost seems like a plot for a bad Star Trek episode.”
“Yeah,” Remmy replied, “except Mr. Spock always had some Vulcan mumbo jumbo that could get them out of it.”
“Or Captain Kirk seduced the incredibly hot woman that was there,” Quinn said with a smile.
A few hours went by, and there was no contact with the outside. They tried banging on the door, but no one came. Bored, Remmy began to sing softly.
“Amazing grace… how sweet the sound… that saved a wretch… like meee…”
Wade and Quinn listened intently as Remmy began to get into the song, singing louder, when they heard someone at the door. It opened to reveal a teenager with unruly black hair, wearing a button-down shirt and jeans.
“Man, where’d you learn to sing like that? That’s awesome. I haven’t heard that song anywhere except on some of my Dad’s old records,” the young man said.
“Well thanks,” Remmy said, “I’m surprised that anyone on this world even knows the song.”
“Oh, my name’s Jack, by the way. I just have a real fascination for the old stuff, before the friggin’ Nazis ruined everything.”
Quinn stepped forward. “Is that why you’re here? To help us escape?”
The kid chuckled. “Yeah, right. This whole place is wired with electronic surveillance, dude. There’d be friggin’ goose-steppers all over you in a heartbeat. Professor Arturo sent me down here to get you.”
“Well, let’s not disappoint the man.”
A few minutes later, the trio led by Jack Knight reached the lab of Professor Maximillian Arturo. Quinn was enraptured by the sights he saw. Even on his world, computer equipment was not this sophisticated. Wade, too, was drawn to the sights, while Remmy felt like he’d just stepped into Dr. Frankenstein’s lab.
“Wade, look at this,” said Quinn. “They’ve been working on sliding technology, too. This is amazing. Maybe they could help us get home.”
“Indeed, young man, we would be delighted to, in exchange for your assistance.”
The three Sliders looked up to see a man approach them. He was dressed in a tweed jacket and a bowtie and affected an English accent. He had the same dark hair and beard, but this Professor Arturo didn’t exactly look the same. He stuck his hand out. “Professor Maximillian Arturo at your service.”
Quinn shook the man’s hand. “Quinn Mallory. These are my friends, Wade Welles and Rembrandt Brown. Umm, no offense, Professor, but why would I want to help Nazis?”
The professor laughed. “Ah, my boy, there is much I need to explain to you. You see, I have been working to overthrow the Nazi regime here, and with your arrival, I may finally be able to make that happen. Let me show you my research.”
“What about the electronic surveillance Jack told us about?”
“Really, Mr. Mallory, do give me a little credit. I’ve successfully circumvented it for years.”
While Quinn and the other professor walked through the lab, Wade pulled Remmy aside. “Doesn’t something strike you as odd about this Arturo? He only vaguely resembles our Professor, and he’s not heavy, more muscular. And he has a strange look in his eye.”
“Three words, Wade: Logan St. Claire. She was Quinn’s double on that one Earth, and they looked nothing alike. (*) There’s no law that says all duplicates have to one-hundred percent identical.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Double Cross,” Sliders, September 27, 1996.]
“Hmmm… I don’t know, Remmy. Something about him just strikes me the wrong way.”