“Man, I must be Mr. Popular today!” Green Arrow said, looking over his shoulder at the three ships pursuing him. “Well, they’re flying mighty close to one another. Let’s see how much togetherness they can take!“
The archer was correct; in their zeal to obey their commander’s orders to capture him, the drone pilots were concentrating on his position and not paying enough attention to their own. Selecting two arrows from his quiver, Green Arrow fired them both at once. The arrows sped true between each pair of ships. The arrows were highly magnetized; having been made for Green Arrow by Hawkman using Thanagarian technology, each had enough power to pull a speeding car off its course. The ships slammed into each other, then bounced away, wobbling through the sky erratically.
Green Arrow fired another volley, this time exploding-arrows. Two arrows exploded just above the nose of each ship, right in front of where the pilot’s seat would be. Two ships crashed into each other, this time knocking each other completely off-course; one crashed to the desert, the other into a tall rock formation. The third managed to right itself and continued after Green Arrow.
“Some guys don’t know when to quit!” Green Arrow complained, flying on. “Let’s see, the ships have no windshields or anything; the pilots must see by radar or some such. Let’s see if I can foul that up!” Green Arrow fired another shaft with a bulbous head the size of a tennis ball. It exploded inches from the drone ship’s nose, and a cloud of silver filings filled the air. The ship passed through the filings, and some of the magnetized particles stuck to the ship. The metallic particles fouled the electronic sensors of the ship; it swayed and wobbled as it flew through the air, effectively blinded. It passed low over a towering spire of rock, and the point of the spire ripped open the hull like a can opener. The ship crashed to the desert floor.
“Great job, Green Arrow!” Adam Strange cried, flying up behind his friend. “I came to help you, but it looks like you don’t need it!”
“I got lucky,” Green Arrow said in a dismissive manner. “We’re no closer to freeing Rann from these goons, though!”
“Guess again, G.A.!” Adam said, grinning. “I just found another puzzle to solve!”
“You’ve figured it out, Adam?” Sardath asked. “Figured what out?”
“Green Arrow had a bit of trouble with the rocket pack,” Adam said. “And that got me thinking. The ships attacked us so hard and fast, and we’ve been so desperate and stressed ever since, we haven’t had time to notice something.”
“Notice what, Adam?” asked Strange’s wife, Alanna.
“The ships,” Adam said, “give off no exhaust.”
Sardath’s eyes grew wide behind his visor. “That’s right! There’s no kind of propulsion emission at all! I never even noticed it, but you’re right!”
“Then how do they fly?” Alanna asked. “They must have some kind of propulsion system!”
“I’ve thought about that,” Adam said. “Something Sardath told me about, a new principle in assisted flight that he was thinking of modifying our own ships to work on, if feasible.”
“I see what you’re driving at, Adam!” Sardath said. “That principle I discussed with Professor Vek, my colleague on Winath!”
“Winath?” Green Arrow asked, raising an eyebrow.
“It’s an inhabited planet several thousand light-years from here,” Adam Strange explained. “They mostly communicate via I.M.’s.”
“Interstellar messages,” Sardath said. “A recent innovation in communication. Fascinating, really; allows two–“
“Sardath,” Adam reminded gently.
“Oh, yes, of course. The principle involves an electromagnetic propulsion system, using a planet’s own magnetic field. Drone ships can maneuver about without any kind of internal propulsion system!”
“But the apparatus required to generate such magnetic propulsion is too large for single-pilot flyers,” Adam reminded him.
“Indeed,” Sardath said. “It would require a much larger craft, a mother ship, if you will, generating power and broadcasting it to the smaller drones.”
“So if we find the queen bee and take it out,” Green Arrow said, jumping on the idea, “the worker bees will drop, too!”
“Precisely,” Adam said, smiling. “And Sardath can rig a device to help us trace the broadcast power back to the mother ship!”
“Give me twenty minutes,” Sardath promised, hustling to the miniature laboratory the rebels had set up on the mesa.
“Drone Ship Pi repor–“
“Where is he?!” the commander demanded. “Where is Green Arrow?“
“Two men with rocket-packs spotted, one presumably Green Arrow,” Pi reported.
“Get them! And you know what will happen to anyone who lets his ship be disabled!”
Pi and four other ships converged on the spot where the two fliers had been seen. Adam Strange and Green Arrow hovered in midair, waiting for the ships. Green Arrow watched the screen of a small device about the size of a garage-door opener that he held in his hand.
“If I’m reading your pop-in-law’s device right,” the archer said, “the mother ship is about four miles to the east and three hundred feet up.”
“Up?” Adam repeated, raising an eyebrow.
“Up,” Green Arrow confirmed.
“Here come the ships!” Adam cried, pointing. “You go after the mother ship; I’ll handle the drones!”
“You’re a brave man, Adam,” Green Arrow said sincerely. “Five ships armed with death-rays coming for us, and you’re gonna hold ’em off!”
“Haven’t you noticed?” Adam asked with a grin. “They’re more interested in you!“
“Yeah,” Green Arrow said. “I’ll have a talk with the mother ship about that.” The emerald-clad archer took off into the Rann sky. Adam Strange tensed and watched the five ships bearing down. He saw them begin to change course to follow Green Arrow.
“Ah-ah-ah,” the champion of Rann said, “You’re going to make me feel unwanted!“
Adam arced into the sky after the ships and aimed a pistol at them. This was not his usual ray-blaster, but a pistol with a cylindrical drum attached to it. Adam squeezed off ten shots, aiming two at each ship. Tiny white pellets zipped from the pistol and struck the ships, bursting into flame as they struck the hulls. The pellets contained a napalm-like chemical developed by Sardath for use in controlled rubbish burning; it burned hotter than an Earth blast furnace, only for about ten seconds, but that was enough. The intense heat decayed the magnetic fields generated by the ships, allowing them to fly through the Rann sky. Like kites with clipped strings, the ships soared down and skimmed across the desert floor like stones before coming to rest in a crashed heap.
“That’s all my fire-pellets,” Adam mused, “and I’m sure more ships are on the way! Hurry, G.A.!”
Green Arrow soared up into the clouds. He noticed one cloud bank much larger than the others. While other clouds stirred slightly in the breeze, this one moved not at all.
“You’ve gotta be kidding,” Green Arrow snorted. “The old phony cloud cover trick!” As he soared up to the cloud bank, Green Arrow fired an emerald shaft ahead of him. This was an electro-arrow, delivering a powerful electric jolt. He did not know the exact composition of the artificial cloud, but he was sure the dense gas must have some vaporous chemicals that could be condensed by electric spark. Sure enough, the arrow vanished into the cloud, a bright golden flash was dimly seen through it, and the cloud began to dissipate.
“Whoa,” Green Arrow said. “That is one big mother–!” The ship was of similar construction to the one-man drones, but much bigger, perhaps five times as large.
“Now I just have to figure a way in,” Green Arrow said, arcing around the ship. Suddenly, a bright bluish light beam stabbed out from the ship, bathing the archer in its light. The beam began to pull Green Arrow toward the ship.
“Guess that solves that problem,” the archer mused.
Green Arrow stood in a column of bluish light that rendered him nearly immobile. He could move his head enough to speak, that was all. The commander of the alien invaders sat in his command chair and sneered at the captive archer.
“It’s been a long time, Green Arrow,” Carthan of Dryanna said. “Surprised to see me?“
“I admit I am,” Green Arrow said. “I hadn’t thought of you as anyone’s errand boy. Guess I was wrong.”
“Errand boy!” Carthan cried out, slamming his fist against the armrest of the chair. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Which word gives you trouble, Carthan?” Green Arrow asked. “The Alien Alliance put you up to this, didn’t they?”
“True,” Carthan admitted. “After you and your ridiculous Martian friend helped that traitoress Kalpyrna oust me from my rightful position as ruler of Dryanna, I was exiled from the planet. (*) Exiled! I, the warlord who had won a thousand battles for Dryanna’s glory! I drifted from planet to planet for a while, until I happened to meet another deposed warlord, one I had met across a battlefield on Rimbor once. He was a space pirate now and offered me a position with his band. I accepted and, in time, assumed his place as leader.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Green Arrow and Martian Manhunter: Times Past, 1976: The Devil You Know.]
“Through assassination, I bet,” Green Arrow said.
“Is there a more efficient way?” Carthan asked. “Anyway, when the Gordanians approached me to hire my crew to take over Rann for them, I accepted. Their credits are as gray as anyone’s; and besides, Rann is a known ally of your pathetic Justice League. I never dreamed that one of my most hated enemies of all would fall right into my lap! If only the Martian were here, my revenge would be complete!”
“A little early for reruns, ain’t it, Carthan?” Green Arrow asked.
The former warlord and current pirate chieftain eyed Green Arrow strangely. “What is a rerun?” he asked.
“It’s an Earth term for a presentation of something you’ve seen before,” Green Arrow explained. “Like your whole revenge bit. I’ve heard it dozens of times from a lot bigger fish than you. You don’t scare me, Carthan.”
The space pirate looked on the verge of crying out in rage; then he smiled and chuckled to himself. “Oh, I will, Green Arrow, I will. I have lots of time to work on it. I’m sure I’ll find some way to make you scream.”
“Chicken,” Green Arrow snorted.
“What did you say?” Carthan demanded.
“I said chicken,” Green Arrow repeated. “What, is that another Earth term you don’t understand?”
“It is a small bird, is it not?” Carthan asked, puzzled.
“It is,” Green Arrow nodded. “But in this context, it means I’m calling you a coward.”
“What?!” the space pirate roared, leaping up from his chair. “You dare call me a coward?!“
“I dare, coward,” the archer sneered. “In front of your men I’m saying you’re a yellow-bellied coward, unfit to lead warriors! If I’m wrong, turn off this beam and fight me man to man! No weapons, no ray-guns, nothing! Just you and me, our fists and our guts! What do you say, chicken?“
Carthan trembled with rage. He glanced over his shoulder at the men standing behind him. He saw them waiting anxiously for his answer. With a snarl, Carthan’s hand stabbed out at the control panel, touched a button. The bluish light shining on Green Arrow faded away.
“To the death,” Carthan growled, striding forward purposefully.
“Wouldn’t have it any other way,” Green Arrow said, nodding as he took off his quiver.
“–any other way,” the archer’s voice came through the communications receiver in Adam Strange’s helmet.
“I’ve got you, G.A.!” Adam said, rocketing into the sky. “Now just hold out until I get there!”
The champion of Rann soared through the sky, homing in on Green Arrow’s communications signal. In moments, he located the ship. The craft had already generated another artificial cloud bank, but Adam saw through this ruse instantly. Grinning, he took from his belt the small device his father-in-law had crafted.
“Submit!” Carthan cried as his fist slammed into Green Arrow’s jaw. The archer reeled with the blow but remained on his feet.
Green Arrow and Carthan had traded punches for ten minutes now. The Earth-man was getting the worst of it; strings of blood ran from his nose and lip, and his vision was cloudy. But still he battled on.
“Commander!” one of Carthan’s men cried.
“Not now!” Carthan snarled, throwing another punch. Green Arrow barely dodged it, taking a glancing blow on the shoulder rather than the chin.
“But, sir,” the man insisted.
“Crepaqs!” Carthan snarled to his second-in-command. “Silence that fool!”
Unhesitatingly, Crepaqs drew his ray-pistol and fired at the insistent speaker. The man crumpled to the floor in a lifeless heap. Carthan grinned at the sound, and the distraction was enough for Green Arrow to get in a right cross that made his ears ring. With a bellow of rage, Carthan countered with a two-handed blow to Green Arrow’s stomach. The archer sank to his knees.
“Do you submit?” Carthan demanded. Green Arrow looked up at his opponent defiantly; then his eyes brightened, and a grin spread slowly across his face.
“Yeah, sure,” he wheezed. “I give up.”
Carthan crowed with delight. “You see, my warriors? Do you see the fate of he who calls me coward? Do you–?” Carthan whirled to face his men, and his jaw dropped to the floor. His men stood in a row with their hands on top of their heads. Adam Strange stood there, his ray pistol trained on them.
“They see, Carthan,” Adam said. “I think they get the message, too.”
“Did you get it on, Adam?” Green Arrow asked, climbing to his feet.
“I did,” Adam nodded.
“Get what?” Carthan demanded.
“A special ionizing jammer,” Adam explained. “I fastened it to the hull of your ship. It creates an ion shield that prevents any electromagnetic waves from leaving this ship.”
Carthan gaped in astonishment. “My ships! My drones!”
“Outta gas, right about now,” Green Arrow chuckled. “The Rannites’ll pick ’em up, never fear.”
“That’s right, Carthan, don’t worry about your men,” Adam said sternly. “You’ve got other things to worry about, like facing justice for the destruction of Ranagar.”
The space pirate swallowed audibly.
“I can’t thank you enough, Green Arrow,” said Adam Strange, shaking his friend’s hand. “Without your help, Rann would be under the thumb of the Alien Alliance.”
“All in a day’s work, buddy,” Green Arrow said with a grin. Sardath’s healing devices had repaired the damage Carthan had inflicted, and the archer was as good as new. “I’m just sorry I’m out of the fight on Earth, for now.” He turned to Sardath. “How long until the zeta beam wears off, Sardie?”
“Roughly a week, as you figure time,” Sardath replied. “I am sorry you must be detained in this manner.”
“There’s still much good you could do here, Green Arrow,” Alanna offered. “Ranagar needs rebuilding; there are dozens of survivors needing food and medical care.”
“Hey, anything I can do for an expecting mother,” Green Arrow said. “Point me in the right direction.”
“Splendid!” Sardath said. “But before you begin in earnest, I’d like to have a chat with you. Your weapon fascinates me. A seemingly primitive projectile weapon, but used as a delivery system for more technologically advanced weaponry! Remarkable!“
“Nothin’ next to your gizmos, Sardie,” Green Arrow said.
“Indeed,” Sardath said. “But I have ideas for several devices that might make excellent additions to your arrows! I’d be happy to show you some preliminary sketches.”
“You don’t say?” Green Arrow said, brightening. “Sardie, ol’ pal, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship!”