Justice League of America: The Martian Chronicles, Chapter 8: Project Mind-Knife

by Libbylawrence

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Back on Earth, Green Arrow and the other Justice Leaguers had wondered exactly what had happened to their friends. They knew from information their old comrade-in-arms Dr. Ray Palmer had managed to gather, following repairs to the satellite surveillance system, that certain members had been captured. They also knew from conversations that some present members like the Flash had encounters with Martian agents before being taken by the disguised Adam Strange. However, none of them knew exactly what had happened to Superman, Batman, or Green Lantern. The three heroes were apparently beyond the reach of any normal communications device or were too busy to respond.

Squeezing Green Arrow’s hand, Black Canary said, “It’s okay, honey. We’re closing in on the Andes base, and we’ll free them. You know that!”

Green Arrow nodded, but the tension on his face and in his body language made it all too clear that the ace archer was worried about their friends. “I know, pretty bird, but I don’t like any of this at all! You remember better than anyone how those witch hunts started during the Cold War, with anyone who looked different or acted different was accused of being a Red? Well, after this is over, is the same paranoia going to cause people to see Greens everywhere they look?”

She shook her head as she recalled from her mother’s memories how she had joined her friends in the Justice Society of America in refusing to cooperate with inquisitive government officials in an earlier time on a different world. (*) She didn’t like to imagine such things could happen again.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Defeat of the Justice Society,” Adventure Comics #466 (November-December, 1979).]

Hawkwoman helped Adam Strange guide the captured ship toward the looming slopes of the Andes Mountains. “Katar, you never did say exactly what this place was. Have the aliens been using it long?” she asked in a deliberate effort to create chatter that might distract her worried friends.

Hawkman understood exactly what his wife was doing. They had worked together for so long in such unity that he could easily anticipate her every move. She could do the same with him, and he relished such closeness and understanding. “This base was created years ago by some of Superman’s old foes,” he explained. “Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Grax, and the Marauder built it. (*) They abandoned it after Superman shut them down, and eventually some of the Martians learned about it and claimed it for their own. It’s huge, to say the least!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Conspiracy of the Crime-Lords,” Action Comics #417 (October, 1972) and “The Attack of the Phantom Super-Foes,” Action Comics #418 (November, 1972).]

“I’ve shielded the ship,” said Adam Strange. “We won’t be detected! In fact, I’d say we’re close enough to attack now!”

“How about letting me slip in first and see what I can learn?” suggested the Atom. “I might be able to dismantle their security system!”

Hawkwoman smiled encouragingly. She knew young Adam Cray had a bit of a crush on her, and she also realized how eager he was to make a good impression on his more experienced teammates. “Good idea, Atom!” she said. “But what about their ability to read minds?”

“I’ve taken that into account,” said Adam Strange. “I can stay aboard the ship and use a device Sardath gave me to scramble cerebral signals. It will keep them from using that particular power while they are within range of this ship. Of course, merely noticing that they have lost a power will alert them that something mysterious is happening, so we’d better make this a fast attack!”

The champion of Rann deftly worked the controls of the Martian ship and nodded approvingly as his friends prepared to attack.

The Atom climbed into a small machine that looked somewhat like a toy car. He had become skillful in piloting the anti-gravity craft invented by his ally, the reformed villain known as Ira Quimby. “I’ll be there and back in a flash, if you’ll excuse the expression!” he said, guiding the small flying machine out of the hidden ship and downward through the cloud bank to the mountain base.

The Flash smiled and said, “Was I that eager to please when I first started?”

“Yeah,” said Green Arrow, “and you’ve only gotten worse, junior!”

Moments later, the Atom guided the small craft to a narrow opening and climbed out long enough to reduce his size and slip into the space. Making his way through the opening, he soon spotted a dim light after the crack in the wall opened into a spacious series of rooms.

It’s a big base! thought Adam Cray. Ray would find a place like this fascinating. It’s almost like an Anti-Fortress of Solitude, but then that’s exactly what Hawkman said it was originally designed to be!

As the Atom adjusted the size-and-weight controls that allowed him to shift from one size to another, he glided through the complex and marveled as he saw the large number of aliens assembled under the mountain lair. Some were green, while others were white, yellow, red, or orange.

Ray told me some of them are Martians, but others come from places like Jupiter or Saturn! he thought. Each race has a weakness of its own, but most of them have amazing powers that rival those of Superman himself!

The Atom deftly disconnected the wiring within several machines, though he wasn’t entirely certain if the alien devices were truly disabled. He frowned in concentration as he used the small laser that he carried within his weapons vest to slice open a security system, and carefully packed an odd substance within the interior.

Ray’s modification to the white dwarf matter should enable me to literally shatter this whole device by making its mass temporarily unstable! It’s wonderful how much Ray Palmer and Ira Quimby have accomplished since they started working together!

The Atom hurried away moments before the machine began to shudder violently, before it finally exploded. At that moment, he signaled his friends, and they attacked.

Having been carefully prepared by the information Dr. Palmer had transmitted to them, the team knew exactly what to do.

Adam Strange’s craft emitted a burst of energy that melted the snowy peak into a deluge of water that cascaded down into the shattered mountainside and drenched the startled aliens. As the Jovians drew back from the liquid that weakened them, bursts of flame sent the Martians cowering, even as oil and ice sapped the powers of the remaining alien races.

Of course, the fight was far from over, as the aliens fought back with a series of surprising weapons. Dozens of them swarmed up after the ship, apparently immune to all the substances that the team had rained down on them.

Are they wearing armor or exo-skeletons? gasped the Atom as he tripped a Martian and stunned him with a combination of laser heat and the impact of his normal strength upon the bigger being’s chin. Something about those battle-suits protects them like lead shields Superman from kryptonite!

The Flash was racing in a tight circle that swept several of the aliens together, leaving them dazed, but he had a more important mission: He was going to find and liberate their captive friends. Racing in and out of the scenes of battle, the scarlet speedster dodged countless small skirmishes as he searched for the others.

Green Arrow was the man of the hour as he used an arrow Adam Strange had helped him create to shower some of the atmosphere with the chemical compound called Formula Z6, which prevented them from using their powers while invisible and was typically applied to Martian criminals. (*) At least now we can see them! he thought.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Unmasking of J’onn J’onzz,” Detective Comics #273 (November, 1959).]

Black Canary took her own approach by using her canary cry to drive back some of the aliens with stunning sonic force. They all have ears, many with super-hearing, so this should slow them down! she thought.

Hawkman and Hawkwoman were using their aerial prowess to confound the aliens, since many of them were unable to move as agilely within the now-crowded and confused scene of battle.

“Shiera, watch out for them!” warned Hawkman. “The armor is keeping them safe from the oil, water, and fire!”

Hawkwoman kicked out at a Jovian as he tried to entangle her with elongating arms, but she was able to dodge his attack. She brought her mace down on his skull, but the alien seemed to absorb the impact with his pliable features.

Hawkman dived to her side, but even he could only do so much against so many foes.

Finally, the Flash raced into a massive vault in which he saw rows of captives trapped within suspended animation chambers. He stared at the scene in disbelief for a moment as he realized exactly how many helpless people were imprisoned within the mountain base. “Those poor people! I’ve got to free them!” he vowed.

Racing in and out of the rows, recognizing several of the unconscious prisoners, he finally located the missing Leaguers. Vibrating rapidly, he shattered the cells that held Aquaman, Zatanna, Elongated Man, Firestorm, and Red Tornado.

The heroes revived swiftly, and after a few words of explanation they bravely hurried to battle.

The Flash started to join them when he looked up to see a familiar figure trapped within one of the containment cells. “Blue blazes!” he cried. “How can he be here?”

***

Meanwhile aboard the JLA Satellite, repairs had been made and most systems were back online.

Dr. Ray Palmer glanced over to where Dr. Will Magnus, Ira Quimby, and members of the New Titans and the Outsiders were finished their work.

“Black Lightning, I appreciate all the work you, Halo, Windfall, and Geo-Force have done,” he said. “The same goes for you Artemis, Arsenal, Cyborg, Kole, and Changeling.”

Artemis, a lovely woman in a red and blue costume, smiled winningly as she carefully lowered a huge machine into its proper place. “We all are glad to help,” she said. “I’m sorry Nightwing had to leave so abruptly, but apparently there was trouble in Gotham City. That’s not too unusual!”

“It boggles my mind to realize that I am standing here,” remarked Ira Quimby. “Years ago I would never have been allowed to come close to the headquarters of my enemies!”

Dr. Magnus bit down on his unlit pipe and said, “Hmm? Sorry, Quimby, I was just running some proposed improvements through my mind.”

Quimby nodded and said, “Sure. I know how it goes, Doc!”

Geo-Force approached. “Dr. Palmer, have you heard from the JLA since you gave them the data we drew from the restored satellite monitors? I would join them in the fight if I felt I could be spared from this job!”

“No,” said Ray. “I haven’t heard a thing, but I do have confidence in my friends! They will win the day, just wait and see!” He sighed as he thought, I wish I was as confident as I sounded!

***

As the armored Martians flew toward Adam Strange’s confiscated ship, the champion of Rann prepared for battle. He was smart enough to have recognized that their exo-skeletal suits offered them some protection for traditional weaponry. That didn’t mean the ever-resourceful archeologist-turned-adventurer was out of ideas.

He had considered setting the craft’s automatic destruct timer, but he wasn’t a killer, and so he bravely prepared to face the powerful aliens with the only resources he still possessed: a keen mind and a brave heart.

Waiting as the five aliens boarded the ship and approached the bridge, Strange noticed that all of them were Martians, but while four were green-skinned, one of them was yellow-hued.

Even as he placed one hand near his blaster, he frowned as the yellow-skinned alien stepped forward, and a remarkable transformation occurred. “Great Scott!” he cried as he received broadcasted thoughts from the approaching and suddenly altered alien.

***

Meanwhile, just outside the Red Brotherhood’s base, his allies erupted in cheers as they emerged triumphant.

“Thanks to the Atom’s one-man demolition crew work on their equipment and the timely liberation of the other JLAers, we were able to win the day!” declared Hawkwoman.

“My internal communications system indicates our satellite systems are operational again,” said Red Tornado, “and all our allies are fine, although some have had some rather terrible traumas. Superman, Batman–”

Hawkman interrupted his friend as he pointed skyward. “Look!” he cried. “Some kind of energy is filling the skies!” Grasping his helmet, he added, “Some kind of mental energy is interfering with the cybernetic controls in my helmet!” Nearby, Hawkwoman clutched her own helmet for the same reason.

Aquaman grimaced in pain as his telepathic powers felt a sharp sensation that caused his vision to blur.

Firestorm hesitated as Martin Stein’s mental persona felt the same strange pain and remained silent, even as Ronnie Raymond asked him if he was hurt.

“It’s not magical in nature, but it’s powerful!” said Zatanna.

“It’s blotting out the sky and getting closer every second!” cried Black Canary.

“What good is a quiver full of trick arrows against something that cosmic?” asked Green Arrow.

Elongated Man hurried out of the mountain where he had been checking on the prisoners. “The aliens — all of them — they collapsed at once!” he said. “Flash found lots of prisoners. He’s freeing them faster than I could ever do!”

Hawkman spoke through clenched teeth as he grimaced with pain. “I’ve seen something like this before on Angor. They called it a Unity Mind. It’s as if a populace combined their mental essences into a weapon!”

“I think we’ve discovered the meaning of Project Mind-Knife!” said Red Tornado. “All of the sleeper agents and these warriors have pooled their mental powers for one massive psychic assault upon our world!”

As the energy drew closer, the heroes could all feel the psychic assault sweep over them.

Even Hal’s ring wouldn’t do much if that mental static messed with his concentration! thought Green Arrow, thinking of his friend Green Lantern.

At that moment, J’onn J’onzz, Captain Comet, Nubia, and Steel arrived on their own Martian ship. Martian Manhunter and Captain Comet had already sensed the potent mental energies surging in the atmosphere, and J’onn had deduced its purpose.

“All Martians have mental powers, but if a large number pooled their powers into a hive mind or some kind of collective over-mind, it could destroy the thought capabilities of a whole planet!” he explained. “That must be what their plan always was — to position sleeper agents on Earth over the years, using some to occupy or eliminate heroic opposition, and to eventually strike with this terrible psychic assault on the population!”

Captain Comet shuddered as if he was ill, but he shrugged off the sensations and said, “I have to stop it! My powers might be able to disrupt it long enough to break apart this collective mind!”

“I will join you!” said J’onn. “We might have a chance together!” But he frowned as he drew closer to Captain Comet. For a moment their thoughts were linked, and the Manhunter hesitated as he tried to make sense of the startling thoughts he sensed from the man of destiny.

Before the Martian hero could react, Comet knocked him backward into Steel and Nubia. “I have to try. It’s my job. You know that now, don’t you?” said Comet as he flew out of the ship and dropped down into the field of mental energy below. Forgive me! he thought as he vanished from view.

Nubia bounded to her feet and said, “What madness is this? Is he suicidal?”

“Perhaps,” said J’onn J’onzz. “In that last second I learned some disturbing things. I will try to explain later, after we have dealt with this crisis.”

He started to follow Captain Comet when his ship was abruptly intercepted by the Martian ship piloted by Adam Strange.

Communications systems flashed into activation, and Adam’s visage appeared on a monitor. “J’onn, hold back for a moment!” he said. “I have some new allies here, and one of them has a plan!”

Moments later, one of the armored aliens flew out of Adam’s ship, and a brilliant flash of blue energy obscured the sky.

“What’s happening?” gasped Steel.

“I am uncertain, but the pressure appears to be fading!” said J’onn. “I think the mental energies have been dispersed!”

Minutes passed, and the sky slowly cleared. The threat was over.

The two ships landed below, and J’onn J’onzz led his friends to where the freed JLAers stood with the armored Martians, including the one who had somehow stopped the mental energy from reaching its peak.

“They are on our side!” said Adam Strange.

The Martian Manhunter rushed forward as the Atom and Firestorm greeted Steel and congratulated him on his rescue. J’onn J’onzz suddenly embraced the leader of the armored Martians and said, “T’omm, I can hardly believe my eyes! You and your friends infiltrated the Brotherhood, didn’t you?”

The younger Martian stepped closer to his brother and said, “Yes, J’onn. You see, I secretly followed you one night to one of the Brotherhood’s meetings. I’ll explain more when we’re alone.”

J’onn smiled at his brother and said, “We do have much to talk about! It appears as though the menace is over!”

Hawkman gestured to a prone figure in front of them and said, “Adam Blake is dying. I think Captain Comet helped save the planet one last time! That mental energy critically injured him!”

Hawkwoman held their friend’s hand as the other heroes looked on grimly, until two newcomers emerged from within the mountain base.

“I’m Captain Comet, not that alien imposter!”

The words came from a man who appeared to be Captain Comet himself as he and the Flash approached the others.

“I found him sealed in one of the suspended animation chambers!” said the Flash.

Hawkwoman clasped his hand with relief as the real Adam Blake continued.

“I’m fine, but I was ambushed right after the Crisis,” explained Captain Comet. “I’d been working with Rip Hunter and a few of the Forgotten Heroes during the Crisis, and I’d become involved in a related case arising out of the Crisis itself when I was attacked by Martians. (*) I’ve been here ever since, although to me it feels like no time has passed. The Flash told me it’s been nearly three years!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Aftershock,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #11 (February, 1986) and “Final Crisis,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 (March, 1986).]

The dying man on the ground spoke in a weak tone of voice. “I am sorry! I did take your place as the Red Brotherhood intended, but in trying to scan your mutant brain for information, someone else happened. Your personality and your values dominated me. I became you, in a way, and I’ve lived thinking I was you all this time! I only learned the truth when the Brotherhood activated their mental attack. It broke through my own conditioning and left me aware of my true nature for the first time since I took your place. I wanted to stop my people since you would have done so. I’m dying, but I want to thank you for showing me how to live! If I’ve done any good these last few years, I owe it to you!”

With those words, the false Captain Comet closed his eyes, and his appearance changed to a green-hued Martian.

“I know he was a fake hero, but he sure died like the real thing!” said Green Arrow.

“All the other Martians who took part in that weird attack are dead,” said the Flash. “I found a lot of bodies in that base as I came out! As for the prisoners, you wouldn’t believe who else I recognized that must’ve been replaced by Martian doubles!”

J’onn J’onzz took Nubia in his arms and said, “Then at long last the Red Brotherhood is no more, and New Mars may have a chance to become a peaceful world once more!”

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