Starman held the blonde beauty Queen Merria and shook hands with Jediah Rikane in an odd gesture that combined the Americana of Will Payton’s life with the regal manner of the alien prince. He still knew all about his life as Will, but he now also felt and knew all that Prince Gavyn had known.
I can’t explain this. I feel as though I am meant to be here. If I am Gavyn, then how can I also be Will? he thought. I love Mara, yet this Merria is also dear to me. I recall her touch, her kiss, and her tears. I feel such joy at the sight of her, yet I still know that I never loved her… or did I?
“You are troubled, and well should you be,” said Rikane. “I will explain. Your life ended in the Crisis. Yet, because of the stars that give you sustenance, you could not cease to exist while they still whirled above. You were grafted onto this Earth man, and he also received your powers, if not awareness of your past. I awoke both when I touched him with the staff you once carried!”
Starman nodded. “I understand, but I also feel as though I am one going through the motions without being fully in control. I see that action alone can bring me repose! Let me take to the skies and defend our world!” Kissing Merria again, he flew off as she watched and clasped her hands together prayerfully.
“He will save us all!” declared Rikane.
Merria nodded. “But will he lose himself doing so?”
Flying high into the air, Starman soon reached the space around the planet. There he saw a large warship hovering in orbit around the Throneworld. That ship bears the hallmark of our ancient enemies, the J’ai! he thought. (*) That in itself explains how they could menace our empire with naught but one ship. It is not the ship nor its armament that is the peril. The J’ai are inhuman weapons in and of themselves!
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Blind Hero’s Bluff,” Superman #309 (March, 1977).]
Starman did not hesitate to ponder how he could know such information about the odd craft or its occupants. The facts came from the memories of Prince Gavyn. The facts came from his own memory as he struggled to adjust his way of thinking. After all, he was Prince Gavyn.
Crashing directly through the ship, Starman shattered its hull without stopping, ignoring the alarms and lights that went off around him. He merely smashed through the metal with brute strength and flew faster and faster as he damaged the weapon systems. He knew that the artificial weapons weren’t the main danger.
He continued his destructive rampage, then turned to face the aliens as they emerged from the wrecked ship into space itself. They came in single file and were silent and menacing. Each one was around two times the size of a human, and each one had either four or six arms. Their faces were shielded within an armored crest that spread across the top of each head like an ornate battle helmet. Their eyes were somewhat recessed.
They are like giant humanoid ants or insects! he thought as the part that was Will Payton asserted itself from within the memories of the late Prince Gavyn. They don’t seem to have any individuality. They also lack any obvious means of communication with one another! They appear to be moving and acting in one accord, but without actually working together or talking!
He felt a stinging blow as the first of the J’ai warriors connected with a blow. Shrugging it off, he blasted it back with a blazing nimbus of stellar fire. The alien reeled backward and collapsed. As it fell, it tore open its own armored thorax and shuddered in the final moments of life.
Great Scott! It killed itself! he gasped.
The fallen J’ai warrior had indeed taken its own life. Will had been careful not to kill the creature, since he valued life in all its forms and felt that this could not change, no matter what Gavyn believed. The alien’s death served a grim purpose, for as it died, eight other J’ai warriors emerged from the shell and grew to the size of the original.
My memories from my time as Gavyn are fading in and out! he realized. That means I don’t know what that thing is doing, but I have a bad feeling that I’m witnessing what makes them so deadly! Each one dies and then produces eight more! They’re like that monster Hercules fought in the old myths! The Chimera? No, the Hydra! The Hydra could lose one dragon-like head, only to sprout two more! These things multiply as they die! They use no true combat strategy — they just swarm like alien bugs and use sheer numbers to crush their prey! I wonder if they follow a particular life-cycle, like some insects?
Starman struggled as the eight J’ai warriors battered him. He could resist them one at a time, but their sheer mass and power could hurt him. Fighting free of them, he flew backward.
Got to think! Gavyn is gone. I don’t know what that means. It makes me doubt I truly carry any trace of their hero within me! That feeling only came on when he touched me with that staff! Still, that riddle can wait. It’s up to plain old Will Payton to save the day, or at least stay alive!
Starman saw the wave of alien warriors grow closer as they followed him downward to the Throneworld below. “I can’t let those people down,” he vowed. “They may not be my people, but they need help, and I won’t turn my back on them!”
Smashing his fist through one J’ai, he grimaced as it also shattered its own thorax and multiplied. “OK, energy or force will still cause them to pull that trick! That means I need to stop them without actually touching them!”
Frowning, Starman drew back until his hovering form was all that stood between them and the world below. All of the aliens could see him outlined against the planet, and like a human constellation, Starman hoped to alter the destiny of the people below.
As he concentrated, he began to generate not heat but light. He strained until his body glowed ever brighter. The energy came from the stars around him, and he felt both a thrilling sense of power and a rushing sense of dread.
I’ve blinded them! he thought. Those strange helmet things must be their means of seeing. I’ve dazzled them all and stopped them cold. They don’t know what to do, since they’re not hurt. They can’t pull that suicide multiplication tactic without receiving some type of injury of the physical or energy-based kind! Just shining so brightly that they lose their sight isn’t triggering their war tactic! Still, I’m getting tired! I can’t keep this up indefinitely. I’ve held them off, but if I can’t find an additional source of energy, then when I falter, they’ll conquer! Shaking his head in disgust, Starman flew back to the palace at blinding speed.
Rikane and Merria greeted him with eager faces. “You drove them back, but they still come!” said Rikane.
“Beloved!” said Merria. “What can we do to help?”
“The staff!” said Starman. “I need a power source. Let me draw upon its unique energies to try to blind them all!” Grabbing the fallen staff, he said, “I sense that this staff can somehow generate enough raw light to force them to flee. They won’t be able to function with such a blinding power blazing in their path. They aren’t the smartest race around!”
“If you can hold them off or drive them away, their normal cycle of hibernation will be in effect not many moons from now!” said Rikane. “That is why they attack at only certain times. They must dwell in their hives for much of the year!”
Starman felt a surge of power, and the memories of Gavyn came back anew. He also felt an odd sense of purpose as he flew back and raised the staff. This time, the raw energy came from within the staff, fueling his own energies. He felt the power surge within him, and he struggled to keep from screaming as the light threatened to overcome his very sense of self.
An explosion of light erupted in the upper atmosphere, and when the light had faded, Starman was alone.
The energy had blinded the J’ai warriors, leaving them unable to function. They had fled, and he felt some ghost of a memory whisper that such was their way. They would return to their nests and heal for perhaps years to come. Their threat would not return for several of their odd and mysterious life cycles. Rikane’s words had been correct — at least as far as the J’ai were concerned.
Feeling very drained, Starman slowly made his way back to the Throneworld, where cheering crowds welcomed him as their champion. Queen Merria rushed to him, and he stopped her gently but firmly. “Starman defeated them,” he said. “They won’t be back for a long time, if ever!”
“You are Starman!” said Jediah Rikane. “As I said, you are Prince Gavyn!”
Starman gazed at the lovely blonde woman and the stalwart man, then shook his head. “Nice try, but it won’t work,” said Will Payton. “I am the same guy I always was. The memories of your late prince weren’t imprinted within me, nor was his soul linked to mine. You planted those memories when you touched me with his staff. It was a nice trick, and it worked. You wanted to make me think I was this hero so I’d save you all. Well, while you used me and tried to rob me of my very identity, you also gave me his skills and his knowledge.
“Prince Gavyn was the one who saved your world,” Starman continued. “You see, you had it all wrong. I know you were just trying to save your empire, and I don’t blame you, but there’s irony in what occurred. There’s irony and tragedy. You see, Prince Gavyn did live on after the Crisis. His soul, or essence, as you called it, went into the staff when he was converted to pure energy!”
Rikane buried his face in his hands and gasped. “No!” he said in a broken voice. “I thought it was merely Gavyn’s strong personality and the mystic connection between one of royal blood with the staff itself that enabled me to place those memories within you for a time after the touch of the staff! You mean, our champion truly lived on within that staff?”
Starman nodded. “Yes. He guided me in defeating them. He knew their life cycles were such that driving them off in such a way would prevent their return for a long, long time. He also knew that, in expending that energy so completely, he was giving up what life remained to him. Prince Gavyn sacrificed himself to save you all!”
Merria began to weep silently before managing to compose herself. “Thank you,” she finally said. “You honored him. We will remember you, and we will never forget him!”
“I have cost us our champion,” said Rikane with deep regret. “My blind manipulation of this man led us to this final loss of Gavyn!”
“He did not blame you,” said Starman. “I sensed only love from his final thoughts of you and this world!” Turning to the blonde woman, he said, “You say he was destined to die four times. Perhaps even this time did not truly end his life. If he existed as pure energy of an unknown type, then he may be able to re-form eventually, or perhaps his essence now exists in some other universe only a being like that could access!”
Merria nodded and said, “You are kind. You are a true hero. Gavyn would have been honored by your friendship!”
“I’m glad I was able to help, but my own world is facing an invasion as well, and I have friends in need,” said Starman. “Please return me to the spaceways, and I will go home. Since the energy trail you created to lead me here was fake, I have no way to trace my own missing friend.”
Rikane activated a small glowing sphere, and Starman found himself back in space, where he quickly began to make the journey homeward. He could detect no sign of Snapper Carr, and he prayed that the young man was still alive.
I can’t give up, but I’m going to need to rethink my efforts, he thought as he flew off. One man can help me for sure — Captain Comet!
High above the Throneworld, while Queen Merria and Jediah Rikane stared upward at the now-peaceful skies, a single star gleamed with an unusual brilliance, as if in final benediction for a departed champion.