by Goose Gansler
Thousands of kilometers passed by an in instant as a sleek, bullet-shaped craft rocketed through interstellar space. The silver-skinned spaceship was well-known in this sector of the galaxy. The Meteor was an impressive spacefaring vehicle, but its builder and designer was even more impressive. It wasn’t her fame as the elected leader of Hyperba, the Diamond Planet. It was because she was the proclaimed Woman of the Future. She was a mutant, born one-hundred-thousand years before evolution on Hyperba would produce such a successor to homo sapiens. She was Radea, and she was on her way home.
Sitting at the controls of the Meteor, she looked over the various gauges and dials depicting the performance of the ship. The reverse-space-odometer showed that she was only a few million kilometers from reaching the bounds of the Vigo star system.
Then it’s time to cut out the spectrum drive, she thought to herself. Leaning back in her black leather chair, she enjoyed the comfort that it provided her body. The leather was cool to the skin, and her traditional outfit allowed for plenty of it to be seen. Her one-piece green outfit had a metallic texture to it, accented by a small upturned collar and an exposed navel area. Matching green wristbands and high-heel boots completed the ensemble, along with silver globe earrings. Her lustrous auburn hair was tied back in a ponytail.
“Spectrum drive. I’ve always thought it was funny that Adam and I developed that faster-than-light technology independently. Then again, he was a human of the future as much as I.” The Adam she referred to was Adam Blake, better known as the Terran spaceman Captain Comet. They had shared a few adventures, as well as a mutual attraction. “Ah, Adam. Any interstellar long distance romance just couldn’t work, could it?” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Girl from the Diamond Planet,” Strange Adventures #12 (September, 1951).]
That romance had been a long tome ago, and while many other men had caught her eye in the intervening decades, none had managed to capture her heart. It was not that she wasn’t happy; she was. But she knew she could be happier if she could find someone who could measure up to her own level.
Thoughts of personal matters quickly dissipated into a focus on the more practical. Alarm bells began to ring as the dials and gauges began to show drastic changes. She quickly surveyed the scene and performed hundreds of calculations almost immediately in her head to decipher what the new readings meant.
“Utter nonsense,” she sighed. “These can’t be right. They say my course has changed one-hundred, fifty-two degrees by negative sixty-five degrees. My speed is accelerating at G times ten to the sixty-second and is beyond spectrum drive multi-light capability. The stress that such a change would have produced would have cracked the reinforced doranium hull in half!”
Suddenly, a telepathic message beamed directly into her head. It was loud, even for one as adeptly telepathic as herself. “It broke through my electro-etheric screens. The electromagnetic fallout must have made the the gauges go haywire.”
“Greeting and apologies, Radea of Hyperba. We are responsible for the chaos on your ship. We had to break through your shielding to contact you, and the penetration seems to have affected your systems. We are transmitting a homing beam to you. You shall come. There is a grave matter to discuss.”
Radea had to gasp, despite herself. It had been a while since she had last been contacted by them, since she had felt their unmatched mental prowess. The Guardians of the Clockwork Universe! For the Clockworkers to summon me like this, it must be something dire, indeed. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Guardians of the Clockwork Universe,” Strange Adventures #22 (July, 1952).]
It was only a matter of hours for the Meteor to traverse the light-years to its final destination. The forces that were being exerted on the ship were almost incalculable, although its pilot could calculate them with her advanced mind.
The ship suddenly decelerated from supra-light to sub-light speed in the space of an instant. Radea’s instruments picked up the change; she herself felt nothing. Quickly scanning the heavens, she picked out some familiar stars. She then processed that information with her memory of universal star maps to ascertain her position. The planet appearing before her on the main visi-plate was a few thousand light-years from where she had expected to be.
Strange, she thought. But not too surprising for a moveable planet. She continued to adjust her course to the world below. The planet seemed to shimmer with an eerie light, even though it wasn’t orbiting a sun. Radea decelerated through the atmosphere. The artificial solar glow finally gave way to clear blue skies. The homing beam directed to a building with which she was familiar — the main complex of the Clockworkers, as the Guardians of the Clockwork Universe were nicknamed, to differentiate them from the much older Guardians of the Universe.
The facility was several stories in height and circular in shape. The roof was marked in an orderly pattern of telescopic lenses around the circumference, giving the building the appearance of a clock from above. Radea put the Meteor down on the single rocket pad a few hundred yards from the facility.
When she stepped out, she was greeted by two black-robed Guardians of the Clockwork Universe. They were humanoid in shape, with an orange tint to their skin. They wore their white hair straight and long.
“Greetings, Radea of Hyperba,” one of the Clockworkers beamed mentally. “Welcome once again to Eedoc.”
“It is an honor to be summoned,” Radea silently replied in kind. Communicating telepathically provided much more flavor to the conversation than simple Interlac words ever could.
“If you will accompany us?” said the other Clockworker, gesturing with his hand, although his lips never moved. “We’ll take you directly to Nestro.”
Radea marveled at the beauty that surrounded the Clockworkers’ facility. The building was situated on a wide plain of green grass. Lush red vegetation surrounded the plain on one side. Majestic orange mountains ringed it on the other. In her infrequent visits here, she had never had the opportunity to tour the rest of the world. The rest of the planet and its inhabitants were still somewhat enigmatic to her.
Based on the hints they’ve given me, it seems that the entire population is involved to some degree in this great project of theirs — to ensure the stability of the universe. They see it as a giant timepiece that needs to run precisely. She had wondered if her thoughts were being kept to herself behind her mental shields. She didn’t think her escorts would be prying, but she knew her shields would provide no obstacle to these potent telepaths, if they had any wish to read her mind.
They reached the main entrance. A nod from one of the escorts indicated that he had beamed ahead, and that the electro-ring security system had been deactivated. She remembered the test that the system had provided her on her first visit. Overcoming the electro-rings had proven her physical worthiness to the Guardians of the Clockwork Universe to act as their champion.
The path to Nestro’s suite took them by one of the observation areas. She could see a number of younger Eedocans engaged on various observations. There were visi-plates depicting all sorts of astronomical bodies — stars, comets, planets, asteroids, black holes, even entire galaxies. Data was being mentally communicated among them at a furious pace, as they ensured that all was in order in the universe. Radea had to tune out the discourse; it was simply too fast for her to keep up with.
Finally, they reached the doors to Nestro’s office. The escorts had been in contact with the man behind the doors ever since they had entered the facility. The doors opened to the suite without any of them missing a step.
“Welcome to Eedoc,” Nestro beamed warmly from inside. Even though Radea couldn’t see the leader of the Clockworkers yet, his mental voice was unmistakable.
They turned from the entrance corridor to the interior of the suite. There she saw the aged director of this vast enterprise. He was seated at a simply polymetallic desk, its only adornment a stylized atomic model of a helium nucleus with electrons orbiting about it. Behind him was a massive, three-dimensional holo-tank showing millions of cascading equations. It was a mathematical marvel.
“Ah, you continue to appreciate the beauty of the Tapestry. That has always pleased us, for one to appreciate our work on such a level,” Nestro transmitted gratefully.
“You flatter me,” Radea beamed demurely. “I can hardly grasp the magnitude of what it represents.”
Nestro rose from his desk and looked directly at Radea with a genial smile. “We’re grateful that you came. Our models have indicated a problem that you are uniquely qualified to address.”
Radea nodded and watched as the holo-tank changed to show the equations representing a single star system. This collection of formulae she could comprehend far better.
Nestro caused the system image to be further magnified by issuing a command from the single antenna headset that he wore. “This represents the Vigo system. The only inhabited world, the fourth planet, is called Roxar. Its star is 10.15 billion years old. It should be well within the stable period of its lifetime, but as you can see…” A simple regression equation of solar flux as a function of time became magnified. “Its output has begun to decline precipitously as of late.”
“A dying star, just like the one Hyperba orbits,” Radea noted. “But we’ve been able to bolster it with periodic atomic missile ‘injections.'”
“True,” Nestro beamed patiently. “But your star’s condition was appropriate for its age. Vigo is not. If it were to undergo a supernova transformation… or, worse, collapse into a black hole, that entire sector could fall in gravitic chaos.”
The equations changed to show the potential ripple effect of the presence of a black hole in that sector. Cosmic stability was so delicately balanced in that area that such a massive change could be catastrophic on a vast scale.
“We want you to investigate,” Nestro continued, “to get more local observations, as well as to visit the planet Roxar. Perhaps the mechanical inhabitants have something to do with the situation.”
“Mechanical?” Radea’s question was simple, but it had all sorts of associated questions about the inhabitants.
“Yes, Roxar is populated by a race called the Automs, a robotic life form. (*) They have been very orderly up to now, but we fear they might be the cause.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “When Superman Defended His Arch-Enemy,” Action Comics #292 (September, 1962) and “The Kryptonite Killer,” Action Comics #294 (November, 1962).]
“I’ll go at once,” Radea replied.
Nestro nodded as he transmitted the coordinates of the system and the most judicious route to the planet.
Radea nodded her thanks and dashed back toward the rocket pad. In a few moments, she was blasting toward the Vigo system.
Nestro sat down and watched her progress on the Tapestry, noting her velocity and acceleration. The universe seemed to be becoming a more imperiled construct every day. While he was pleased that the recent formation of the Alien Alliance had brought the Oan Guardians of the Universe (with whom many had confused the Clockworkers — Guardians of the Clockwork Universe — over the millennia) back to an active role, he wondered if even their reintroduction into the grand scheme would be enough to forestall the chaos that seemed to be erupting. The Oans focused on reaction to evil, while the Clockworkers’ mission was to maintain the universe’s integrity — to keep it functioning as the machine they envisioned it to be.
“Perhaps,” Nestro contemplated, with his thoughts shielded against all, “perhaps we might be wise to develop a more structured organization of champions to operate on our behalf.”