by Brian K. Asbury
Valura Tur-Thol had still not quite become used to the celebrity that went along with being an acknowledged super-hero, and she found the stares as she entered the restaurant more than a little disconcerting. She hoped she wasn’t blushing too much. Her power ring flared in response to her thought, and she had to will it into quiescence. In times of danger, it tended to act without any conscious effort on her part to protect her, and the last thing she wanted was for it to really cause the ground to open up and swallow her.
Mustering her dignity, she made her way toward where the dark-haired engineer she had rescued earlier in the day was sitting at a table with an attractive blonde-haired woman in her mid-thirties. They rose as she approached. “Green Lantern. Glad you could make it. This is my wife, Nenia.”
Valura shook hands with the other woman. “But I thought that… that you and I were…”
“…were going to have dinner alone?” said Nenia Tan-Jay with a grin. “You think I’d let my husband have an intimate meal with an attractive woman half my age? No fear!”
Seeing the alarm on Valura’s face, Tan-Jay said, “It’s all right. She’s only joking. My wife has a slightly warped sense of humor sometimes.”
“It’s why he married me,” said Nenia. “Now, shall we eat, or are we going to spend the evening apologizing?”
The meal was well underway before Valura broached the subject that had prompted her to join them here. “Tan-Jay, what did you mean when you said you were our first Green Lantern? I never heard of any other Green Lantern on Rokyn before my predecessor, and I know that she got her ring from an alien G.L. who had crash-landed here and died.”
“I never said I was Green Lantern of Rokyn,” said Tan, between bites. “I took that name some years before we came here — before Kandor was enlarged.”
“That’s impossible,” said Valura with a shake of her brown locks. “Kandor never had a Green Lantern. I’d have heard of that.”
“Tan didn’t have the role for long,” said Nenia. She turned to her husband. “Isn’t it about time you put this young woman out of her misery and explained?”
Tan smiled. “Very well.” He turned to Valura. “Have you ever heard of the Superman Emergency Squad?” he asked.
“Yes, of course,” replied Valura. “Were you a member?”
Tan nodded. “There were a hundred of us,” he said. “We were selected by the Council on the grounds of having similar builds to Superman — the idea being to confuse any of his enemies who happened to see us in action.” He laughed. “I do know that we completely freaked out Jimmy Olsen the first time he encountered us. He didn’t know what to think — was he dreaming, or did he really see a hundred tiny Supermen? Or was it the original Superman, split into a hundred by red kryptonite or magic? He couldn’t figure it out at all.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Mystery of the Tiny Supermen,” Superman’s Pal, Jimmy Olsen #48 (October, 1960).]
“That was cruel!”
“In retrospect, you’re probably right. But, anyway, I was one of them, and I shared several adventures with the Emergency Squad. It was a lot of fun, and a great thrill to have super-powers, if only temporarily. And we had the chance, of course, to contribute just a little to Superman’s great crusade for good.”
“He says, as an afterthought,” chipped in Nenia, wryly.
“Who’s telling this?” said Tan.
“You are, my dear. Pray continue.”
Tan’s expression became more serious. “There was growing unrest in Kandor, however,” he said. “As you know, Kandor was originally shrunk and placed in a bottle by Brainiac before Krypton exploded. For many years the bottle sat in Brainiac’s ship, until Superman found us and placed the bottle in his Fortress of Solitude for safety, vowing to find a way one day to enlarge us. But, as the years went by, a rumor had spread that Superman had a way to enlarge Kandor but was holding back from using it, because he was jealous of the prospect of having thousands of other people around who were just as powerful as he was.”
“That’s ridiculous!” scoffed Valura. “I know Superman! He’s the most good and noble being in the universe. He’d never entertain such a notion for an instant!”
“I know,” said Tan. “And those of us in the Squad refused to believe it. However, there were many who did believe the talk, including a scientist called Than-Ol.”
“I know of him!” gasped Valura. “He was the father of my predecessor, Todra Than-Ol.”
“Indeed,” said Tan. “And she did a great deal to make up for the harm her father had caused. Than-Ol was a scientist, and his own researches had led him to recreate an enlarging ray in Superman’s possession, which he believed was the one Superman was withholding, according to rumor. It caused a major schism within Kandor. Than-Ol’s faction actually succeeded in building their enlarging ray, seizing the bottle, and enlarging the city on Earth. They hunted down Superman and came close to executing him for his supposed ‘crime’ of keeping the city in reduced form.
“However, the ray turned out to be unstable, and the entire city started to disintegrate. Barely in time, Superman saved us by turning Brainiac’s reducing ray on Kandor again and placing us in a new bottle.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superman in Kandor,” Superman #158 (January, 1963).]
“I’ve heard this story,” said Valura. “I even remember the city being enlarged temporarily, although I was only a child at the time. That was, of course, the reason why Superman had never told the Kandorians about that ray. He knew it was unstable and would destroy us if it was used.”
Tan nodded. “That was the end of the rebellion, naturally. The ringleaders were sentenced to the Phantom Zone, and that seemed to be that.”
“Those who had supported Than-Ol and his followers became pretty quiet for a long time,” said Nenia. “It was amazing how many of them couldn’t possibly have really been involved because they were ill at the time…”
“Yes. Thank you for that insight, darling,” said Tan. “Underneath, however, it did set a lot of people thinking… wondering whether there was some way of enlarging Kandor that had been dismissed as unworkable, but could be looked at again, or that maybe there was some method no one had ever considered.
“Anyway, I was a maintenance engineer then, as I am now. One of my jobs was to service the Earth Monitors which the Emergency Squad used to keep an eye on things when Superman was absent. It was on one of those jobs, when I was looking around Earth randomly just to test the system out, that it occurred to me that there was something which no one had ever considered. And it was flying through the air over California!”
Naturally, I told Nenia about my idea. We weren’t married then, but we were betrothed, and we shared each other’s confidences. Her response shocked me, though.
“You can’t tell anyone about this!” she said.
“But… why not?” I protested. “Nenia, this could be the answer. It would work, I’m sure!”
She glared at me. “That’s what Than-Ol said. Do you want to end up like him? Am I supposed to wait while you spend twenty cycles in the Zone before we can get married?”
“Nenia, this is different!”
“Oh, really? And just how is it different? Than-Ol was equally sure he was right. He was convinced that Superman was deliberately suppressing a guaranteed method of enlarging the city, and now you’re doing the same thing! For Rao’s sake, Tan! The city is just healing the wounds of the divide Than-Ol caused, and now you want to cause another!”
“It’s the name, isn’t it? Tan… Than… similar names. Is it something about that sound that causes insanity? Because I don’t know what else it is. Your mother never mentioned any madness in the family.”
I took her gently by the wrists. “Nenia, will you calm down? I’m not accusing Superman of anything! The likelihood is that he’s never even thought of this!”
“Superman isn’t stupid, my love.”
“I know. But sometimes being too close to something makes it difficult to see. What’s the Earth saying — ‘can’t see the wood for trees’?”
“It’s a silly saying.”
“But you understand what I mean? What if it just never occurred to Kal-El that a friend and colleague of his may have the answer to our plight?”
“Simply because he’s so close that he can’t see it.”
Nenia considered it. “You still can’t tell anyone. For Rao’s sake, Tan, if you’re wrong, you could start it all up again. Let Kandor have some peace after all the turmoil!”
I had to admit she was right. “But I’ve got to do something,” I said. “I can’t just let this go untested. Suppose I contact Superman and suggest it to him.”
“Tan, Superman has been remarkably calm and understanding about recent events, but there are limits to his patience. Don’t provoke him with crazy theories. He has every right to be angry with us, and we don’t want him refusing to speak to us at all!”
“You are very much maligning Superman by suggesting that he might take offense.”
“Maybe. But do you want to risk it? Because I don’t!”
Neither did I. But that night, lying in my bed, I realized that there was something I could do. I couldn’t go public, or even ask Superman (although, to be honest, I was more scared of offending Nenia than the Man of Steel). But maybe… just maybe… I could take direct action of my own. I was a member of the Superman Emergency Squad. That gave me certain privileges.
The following morning, I requisitioned a jetpack and logged my intention to fly up to the stopper. I’d better explain about the stopper. It was the only way in or out of Kandor’s bottle. Originally, it was a simple seal connecting the bottle to its life-support system. This looked like an ordinary air tank, but in fact was a sophisticated system designed to feed the bottle with miniaturized air. After all, miniaturized lungs couldn’t possibly process full-sized oxygen molecules.
But I digress. After the rebellion, Superman realized there was a need to have a better way in and out than having to lift up the stopper each time. So he built a miniature airlock system in the seal to allow the Emergency Squad easy access when required. Naturally, this required occasional maintenance, so, as both a member of the Squad and an engineer, I had access to it and could undertake a routine check without attracting suspicion.
I flew up into the lock entrance and alighted. We had also established a ready-room in the space to house the uniforms we wore as the Superman Emergency Squad. These contained electronic I.D. devices concealed in the belt buckles, and I would need one of these to get past the Fortress’ security without setting off alarms.
One thing that I couldn’t get ahold of, though, was our enlarging gas. Outside of the bottle’s artificial red-sun environment, we Kandorians gained super-powers like Superman’s, but we were still microscopic in size. The gas was devised by one of our scientists to increase our size to a couple of inches in height. The effect was only temporarily, but it did make it easier to operate outside of Kandor. It was kept under strict security at the Squad’s headquarters, though, especially since Than-Ol’s rebellion. Oh, well — I would just have to do without it.
Making my way up to the outer lock, I felt a thrill go through me. If all went well, this could be the day we found a way to enlarge Kandor — and I would go down in history as our savior!
As I passed through the outer lock, I felt my body become energized by the ultra-solar rays of Earth’s sun. I was still deep within the Fortress, with thick layers of rock in between myself and the sun, and yet those rays still somehow penetrated down here, filling every cell of my body now that I was away from Kandor’s artificial red-sun environment.
Within a few seconds, I was energized enough to be able to fly. Contrary to popular belief, one doesn’t step into a yellow-sun environment and become instantly as strong as Superman — the energy takes time to build up to those levels. But even within a few minutes I was more powerful than any other being on Earth save Kal-El himself. It was ironic to think that, were I to reenter the bottle at that moment, my new powers would be driven away in seconds by red-sun radiation. Where does the energy all go, I wonder?
But I’m getting sidetracked again. I flew through the Fortress, confident that its defenses would recognize me as a friend with authorization to be there. I made straight for the lock in the great, golden door, which seemed even larger than it had ever done before, because I was much smaller than we of the Superman Emergency Squad normally were when we operated outside of Kandor. Within seconds I was outside, flying in brilliant sunshine over vast tracts of Arctic wasteland. Now, under the direct rays of Sol, I began to feel really powerful. I was smaller than a grain of sand, yet I could smash down mountains if I felt so inclined.
On, I flew, ever southward, the air becoming warmer, and the landscape greener as I traversed Canada in seconds and entered U.S. territory. I adjusted my flight path, heading for California and the appropriately named Coast City, home to the Ferris Aircraft Company. The human I wanted to find lived and worked there in one aspect of his life. Like Superman, he led a double existence.
I quickly located Ferris Aircraft, which I had seen many times on the Earth Monitor. However, as I descended, it suddenly occurred to me just what a task I had set myself. I had never been this small outside of the bottle city before, and everything was… well, it was simply gigantic in comparison to me. You have to have been in that situation to realize just how distorted everything looks when it’s that big relative to yourself. I couldn’t recognize anything at all close up; I had to back off some distance to make sense of what I was looking at.
Fortunately, I chanced upon someone I recognized from the monitor — a young human from northern climes whom I knew was a friend of the one I sought. He was crossing the tarmac toward a hangar, so I hitched a ride on his hat. Sure enough, in the hangar were some other people I recognized, including the female who was in overall charge of the plant — and, yes, exchanging words with her as he entered a primitive-looking hydrocarbon-powered aircraft — the man I sought. The man known, dressed as he was now, as Hal Jordan. But I knew that, when he donned a mask and a costume of green, black, and white, he had another name — Green Lantern!