NOTE: This story fits in between GL's appearances in "Kara and the Dreamsmith" and "Funeral For a Flash". Continuity...gahhh!!!
Characters in this story are property of DC Comics. No money is being made from this story, no infringement is intended.
"You're not goin' anywhere without me," John had said.
"Or me," Katma had added.
"Just fine," Hal Jordan had said. "But this is my woman we're talking about, so stay out of my way."
With that, the three of them stood at the Power Battery and touched their rings to it, suffusing the room with a lambent green glow while they spoke the most common of the standard Lantern Oaths:
"In brightest day, in blackest night
No evil shall escape my sight.
Let those who worship evil's might,
Beware my power--Green Lantern's light!"
It still gave John Stewart a charge when he did that. He was the newest of the three, and was no longer a substitute for Hal Jordan, but a Green Lantern in his own right. But it was nothing compared to the charge he got from seeing Katma Tui, the red-skinned Green Lantern from Korugar, smile at him.
But Hal, in his dress green-black-and-whites, stood tall, proud, and grim, as John imagined he had during his days as a USAF fighter jock. He'd heard that Jordan had missed the space program by only that much, because his reaction to fear was, according to the psych boys, nil. They wanted an astronaut who could recognize danger normally and react to it, so Hal didn't make the cut.
He'd had to settle for being Earth's first Green Lantern, instead.
Now the Crisis was over--just--and Carol Ferris, the woman he loved, was still on the world of Zamaron, as their queen Star Sapphire, her alternate personality, his enemy. He was going to get her and bring her back, or know the reason why.
"We've been apart too many times, too often, too long," Hal had said. "Now I've got the ring back, and I'm getting her back for keeps, or never."
John remembered that, and all the other events of the past few weeks, as the three of them rose immaterially and invisibly through the hangar roof at Ferris Aircraft. He remembered the Crisis. He remembered Guy Gardner, the most colossal jerk to wear a power ring. He remembered falling in love with Katma Tui, and she with him.
So he knew where Hal was coming from.
They accellerated out of the Earth system while he was still in mid-muse.
On Oa, the Guardians of the Universe were still picking up the pieces. So few of them still remained. So many of them, and their Green Lantern Corpsmen, had died.
The deaths of the Lanterns were increasing in recent years. In the war against Sinestro, the battle with the Qwardian Black Lanterns, the clash with Krona and Nekron, and, yes, in the Crisis, lives had been lost. No matter how many there seemed to be, there never seemed to be enough. And they were hard to replace.
"Perhaps we should reopen communications with the Zamarons," said one to his fellow.
"Perhaps not," said the second. "We have existed eons without them, and they without us."
"All the more reason for us communicating," the first asserted. "Should we have been in contact with them, perhaps the events of recent years would not have occurred as they did."
"The three Corpsmen are travelling there on a personal mission," said the second, as one who knew. "Would you direct your wishes towards them?"
After a pause, the first said, "Not at present. But...shall we monitor them?"
"We shall," the second proclaimed, and he activated a thought-screen to show the Lanterns streaking across deep space.
Neither the two nor their brethren offered to interfere. But, before long, the viewscreen drew quite an audience.
Carl Ferris wished he was a drinking man at times like these. Sometimes, so did his wife, Yvonne. She walked in on him as he sat in his pajamas and robe, sitting at a chair near his billiards table, holding a pool cue across his lap, but not doing anything with it.
"Carl," she said.
"She's gone," he said. "Carol's still gone."
"I know, dear," said Yvonne, touching the back of his neck in the way that wives know. "It's just as hard on me, and you know that."
"I think Jordan knows," he said. "By damn, I think he knows."
"Carl, you've got to go to work," she said. "Ferris is already in enough problems. The solar jet, remember?"
"Solar jet be hanged!" The jet was supposed to get the troubled Ferris Aircraft Company out of debt, and it still might. But delays, not the least of which was a hijack attempt by Eclipso, had held things up. Now Bruce Gordon, Clay Kendall, and April O'Rourke were gone, and he'd already fired John Stewart. But Carol...
The woman who, he hated to admit, had made Ferris work for all those years he'd been off with Yvonne on that round-the-world trip. The woman who...
had made the company work better than he had.
Now she was gone.
She had gone off with Jordan when he blew back into town, and the two had set up housekeeping for months. Then, wham, she was gone, and nobody was able to tell him where.
His daughter. His lovely, and beloved, and very capable daughter. Gone.
Carl Ferris used the cue as a cane and got to his feet. "Get the chauffeur, Yve," he said. "I've got something to do."
"You're going to work?" said Yvonne, hopefully.
"Yes. But first, I'm going to hire a detective. I want Hal Jordan, and I want some answers out of him. However I have to get them."
The planet of Zamaron is a hell of a long ways from Earth, but if you know the right shortcuts (through spacewarps) and have the right vehicle (a power ring), it can be made in less than a day. Provided your will power doesn't run out.
Katma was carrying the Power Battery with her on a tether. Both it and the battery were invisible. Hal wanted to get the thing finished in under a day, but the trip up and back would take over 24 hours. When they got tired, they just put the rings on automatic and slept, surrounded by their protective green auras.
She sent a telepathic message privately to Hal. <I am proud of you, Hal Jordan,> Katma said.
Katma saw Hal's surprised masked face turn her way. <Proud? What for?>
<Remember when you met me for the first time, and had me choose between my Corpsmanship and my love for Imi Kann? Do you remember that, Hal?>
<Oh, yes,> Hal Jordan responded, and she could hear the world-weariness in his tone. <I've been reminded of that several times lately, Katma. By you.>
<Indeed,> Katma replied.
John Stewart sent them both a message. <Both of you talkin' ‘bout something I shouldn't be hearin'? I'm seeing you both looking at each other like you were passin' notes in class.>
<We're fine, John,> Hal responded.
Katma continued, <I gave up the man I loved then for the Corps. Then you gave up your Corpsmanship for the woman you loved. I rebuked you then.>
<I remember,> said Hal.
<But do you remember what you told me when we first met? "Once a Green Lantern, always a Green Lantern"? Do you remember that, too, Hal?>
<Yes, Kat, my memory works at least as well as yours, I think. Point being?>
<Point being, that you have realized both your hypocrisy and the correctness of your statement. You relinquished your ring, but found you could not stop being a Lantern. You regained your ring, and lost your love, when she merged with her Predator-self to become Star Sapphire again. So...it is quite true, "Once a Green Lantern, always a Green Lantern." But Green Lanterns, at least humanoid ones, are also male and female. And it is not good that one should be alone.>
He gave her a cynical smile. <Score one for the lady from Korugar. And, Kat...I'm sorry.>
Her face showed sorrow for an instant. Half of Korugar had been devastated by the Crisis, though half its population survived. <There is nothing to be done for it, Hal.>
<I know. Thank you for coming with me.>
<I am coming to be with John as well. But I come, most of all, as a Green Lantern.>
<One of the best,> Hal said, and meant it.
<Jordan,> said John, <are you ever gonna stop thinkin' at my woman, and start thinkin' with me? It gets boring out here. I keep wantin' to yell, "Are we there yet?">
Hal grinned. <I'll give you a hint, John. We're not.>
<Last time I give you a line!>
<Bet not,> thought Hal.
The three of them continued on, a living wedge of green, thinking themselves unperceived by any living beings in the sector of space through which they passed.
They were wrong.
They were being followed.
She wondered how much of her was still Carol Ferris.
Lounging in a bath, scrubbed by three young Zamaron women (although she knew they were far older than she was, they just looked younger), in full view of the paralyzed Hector Hammond, she considered the overlay of her personality that was Star Sapphire.
Part of her, the Predator-self, had been produced by her aggressive impulses, separated, then reabsorbed. That was when Carol had used the sapphire gem the Zamarons had given her years ago to become Star Sapphire once again. This time, she meant to stay a Sapphire.
"Does the queen think the water too warm, or, perhaps, too cold?" asked Namita, one of her attendants. "We can adjust it with a simple action."
"The water is fine, Nami," Star Sapphire replied. "Just do what you do, and all will be well." She lifted one bare leg out of the water, ostensibly for the girl to soap it, but really for the effect it would have on Hammond. She saw his eyes bulging. That was the one part of him that moved...voluntarily, that is...and she took sadistic pleasure in it.
He had the brain of a future-man, with mind-over-matter powers that even staggered Green Lantern. But his body betrayed him, like any man's. She had told him once that women knew the importance of bodies, and now Hammond did as well. He had exchanged his mobility for the power a meteor had given him.
Now, she guessed that he was considering he'd made the wrong choice.
Not that a short fiftyish guy with an oversized cranium had much chance with her, anyway. No, Hammond was just her tool, her "partner", to be used against Hal Jordan if he showed up, and to help her defend the world of Zamaron from whatever should threaten it. Including the Green Lantern Corps.
<Must you...do that?> came a telepathic message.
<Oh?> she responded, looking at him. <Do you...wish me to stop it?> She dangled her leg over the edge of the ornate tub.
The answer took some time in coming. In telepathy, it is still possible to note a tone of desperation.
<No,> he said.
One of the girls saw where she was looking. "Does the queen wish me to draw a curtain? Is the queen feeling offended?"
"Hardly," said Star, standing up to display her dripping-wet body in the full. She glanced coyly at her captive audience. If the chair he sat in hadn't been balanced by lines of magnetic force, she was sure he'd have fallen over on his forehead. Telltale beads of sweat were on his brow. She chose a towel one of the Zamarons proferred, but didn't cover herself entirely with it, turning around so that she faced away from Hammond. "No, Hector Hammond can hardly offend me. And as for myself, why...I can't imagine any effect I would have on him."
She looked over her shoulder, smiling, a moment. The girls weren't sure whether they should feign giggles of support. Hammond might be paralyzed, but he still had power.
Another telepathic message came through. <Have a care, woman. I am not without my limits.>
Star Sapphire faced him, making no effort to keep the towel over any part of her but her shoulders. <I know, Hector. And we're both quite well aware of what some of those limits are. Aren't we?>
She felt the pressure at her temples. Hammond was hitting her with a psychic bolt. It wouldn't be lethal, but he was really chancing it even using this much power on her. She exerted her own will.
A large star sapphire gem, the symbol of her power, levitated from her table nearby and flew to her hand. Its power reinforced her own, and she formed a psi-shield against him. <That will be enough, Hammond. If you wish the alliance to continue, cease your attack.>
<And if you wish it continue, cease your teasing.>
<I will behave the way I wish to,> sent Star Sapphire, coldly.
<Then we are not allies!>
She moved closer to the little man in the chair. The Zamarons clutched for weapons, placed nearby. "Hold," she told them.
<Do we not have an enemy in common?> she asked him, only inches away from where he sat.
<We...do,> acknowledged Hammond, staring at her breasts.
<Do you think that he will stay away from me for long?>
<In my estimation...no,> Hammond admitted.
"Then, my dear Hector," she said aloud, turning her back to him, "the course is clear. Lay off your psych-attack and I will do my bathing in private."
She turned on him, watched him, and neither spoke nor telepathed.
<I would...prefer you continue,> Hammond finally sent.
Star Sapphire smiled. "Well...perhaps someday," she said. She grabbed a robe from a nearby chair, slipped into it, and walked out of the chamber, not giving Hammond a second look. The Zamarons followed, only giving him the barest of glances.
After awhile, Hector Hammond created an illusion of himself and Star Sapphire that was only frustrating. He traded it for one of himself destroying Green Lantern.
That was much more satisfying.
The triad of Green Lanterns entered Zamaron space shortly after disabling some sentinel satellites that fired upon them. The second and third fired golden projectiles at them, and they had to use parts of the first satellite to destroy them.
<They know we're here,> sent Katma.
<Better believe,> Hal Jordan replied. All three of them, protected
by their green auras, streaked down towards the continent upon which the
Zamarons had their capital city. Katma used her ring to do a quick
scan of the populance below. All female, many in warrior garb that
conjured up images of medaeval soldiers on her world. Hal said they
dressed like ancient Romans of Earth, if Roman women had worn combat dress.
The non-combatants tended to wear short gowns.
Too many of them seemed to be from the same cookie-cutter stamp, visually, though there were differences.
<No children,> sent Katma.
<Maybe they've all grown up,> offered John.
<What do they do for sex?> wondered the Korugarian.
Hal shot a look back at her. <Don't get captured by them. You might find out.>
The red woman made a face. <That will be quite enough of that, Hal Jordan.>
John Stewart had been sweeping the area below and ahead of them with his ring's beam, invisibly. His head came up. <We've got incoming, guys. Battle stations!>
They were in the upper mid-atmosphere of Zamaron by this time. A group of what appeared to be yellow fighter jets of some strange design were coming at them. Rapidly.
Hal grinned. The fighter jock in him was coming to the surface. <Remember, don't kill or injure them. That's not what Green Lanterns do. But let ‘em know we're here.>
<What about the yellow on ‘em?> asked John.
<Just makes it more interesting, John,> Hal answered.
The three of them dived towards the group of five jets. Through what passed for the windscreens in each of them, they could see pilots and co-pilots...all women. Gender equality had come even farther on Korugar than in America on Earth, but Katma still felt a surge of pride.
Within the craft flying point, one Zamaron pilot was awaiting the lineup signal on her computer sighting device. Once it had picked a target, the one she had on a viewscreen, all she had to do was say the word, and the sensors relayed her command to the firing mechanism.
Unfortunately, one second the Lanterns were there, and in the next, they weren't.
The co-pilot's eyes widened. "Anamede! They're gone!"
The pilot cursed. "Invisibility. They can do that. Sensors, heat-pattern." The viewscreen on her craft's control board showed three sets of human-shaped heat impulses, but each of them had moved further apart from the others. The computer was tracking her target, the female Green Lantern.
Anamede made a decision. "Release," she said. A blast of yellow energy spurted forth from a projector in the left wing. It was primed to seek heat, but stay on the general trajectory the target computer selected for it. The problem was, Anamede had released it a tad prematurely, so the heat-sensors would have to work harder.
Another problem: suddenly, there were two sets of heat images on the screen, both of female shape. And one was hotter than the other. The energy-blast was directed to the hotter of the two, and, in a fraction of a second, blew its target to pieces.
It was only a very hot simulacrum of a woman, created by Katma Tui.
Katma used her ring to alter her physical density to almost nil. The trick she was attempting would be dangerous--one contact with a yellow part of the ship, and her density would return to normal, splatting her like a bug on a land vehicle--but was possible. The windscreen of the jet was clear, not yellow.
She passed through it, through the startled pilots, and through several other objects before getting her ring to retro her to a halt in an open space of the jet behind the cockpit. Once still, Katma commanded the ring to restore her normal density.
Quickly, efficiently, the co-pilot of the craft left her seat and came at her, a yellow stunner in her hand. It would render the red woman unconscious if it made contact. She sprinted at her foe with a speed that did her training regimen great credit.
Katma Tui had undergone an efficient regimen herself.
With a movement of her supple body, much more flexible than the rather muscular one of the Zamaron, she dodged, grabbed the woman's stunner arm, twisted, and threw her foe off her feet. The Zamaron was still hanging onto the stunner. That was all right by Katma. Gritting her teeth behind closed lips, she bent the woman's arm with a sudden movement until the head of the stunner came into contact with an unhelmeted portion of her face.
A bioelectric charge was released into the co-pilot's body and she went limp.
Anamede, letting the jet fly itself, had now turned in Katma's direction and had drawn a weapon that looked deadlier than any stunner. It was also yellow in color. Kat decided she was getting tired of the monochromatic taste in decor on this planet.
The beam of her ring shot forth at Anamede's face. Once there, it transformed its leading edge into a cloud of potent sleep-gas. The Zamaron, surprised, tried to fight it, but fell on her face after she took a single step.
Katma Tui smiled, briefly, then walked around the fallen Zamaron, sat in the pilot's seat, and ordered the ring to tell her how to fly the thing.
Outside, she saw that Hal and John were keeping busy. One of them had plugged the exhaust of a craft with a block of ice created from the moisture in the air, and saved the occupants of the plane by equipping them with green wings when they bailed out. John had created a mobile vacuum chamber around one, moving as it moved, and pumped the air out from it, causing a flameout of the craft. It fell through the green box around it, but John gave the pilot and copilot a flying platform to stand on once they bailed. Hal grabbed the falling plane with a green probe up its exhaust, and used it as a club to knock down the remaining two craft, placing both sets of pilots in a power-ringed glider after they ejected.
She heard a voice in her head. <You okay, Kat?>
<Just fine, John,> she sent, her hands on the controls of the plane. <Want to come aboard?>
Hal Jordan sent, <Check that thing for hidden booby traps. It may have safeguards against unauthorized pilots.>
<Already checked and disabled, Hal,> Katma replied. <Are we QX for the next phase of the mission?>
<QX?> Hal Jordan, flying beside the craft, looked at John with suspicion and amazement.
<Ah, she's been reading my stash of Lensman novels,> John sent, apologetically. <You know, the Doc Smith books. I swear, Hal, those Lensmen were just like us! Only I don't think the uniforms were as good.>
<Okay, okay, we're QX,> sent Hal. <Let's see what they have next.>
Katma grinned and set a course for the Zamaron capital.
Several miles above them, a magenta-clad woman, seemingly exposed to the conditions of atmosphere thinning into the edges of space, monitored them from a distance. She nodded to herself. The Green Lanterns had made the point strike, as she intended. Hopefully, her stealth aura would enable her to remain undetected in their wake. She just hoped it worked as well with Zamaron defenses. Sadly, she wasn't quite up-to-date on them.
Let the Green Lanterns battle the pretender Carol Ferris, and either take the star sapphire from her, or be defeated by her. Whichever the case, she would be there afterward to take the throne, whether from Ferris's unconscious fingers, or after she bested the weakened bitch in a second battle.
The first Green Lantern of Earth would soon have the woman he wanted, whatever the outcome.
And Remoni-Notra, the true Star Sapphire, would have the throne of Zamaron.
The door window was just like Jonny liked it. Straight out of a 1930's detective novel. He'd made the guy get the lettering just right, and a lot of the clients had enjoyed the effect. Of course, no big guys had come in to strongarm him off a case, like in the movies. His clients wanted erring spouses trailed, or wanted to find out who was leaking information to whom, or wanted stolen property found and recovered.
He'd been in some brannigans, all right. Even met some super-heroes along the way. But for the most part, it was routine detective work. That suited Jonny just fine.
A large shadow was visible through the mottled glass of the door, beyond the black lettering in reverse. Well, at least it was in reverse on this side. "Come in, sir," said Jonny, taking his feet off the desk blotter.
The man who entered was a successful businessman, all three-piece suit, walking cane, hat, and manila folder in hand, and white hair and mustache framing a mildly disapproving stare. "Mr. Double?" he said.
"That's me, just like it says on the door," said Jonny Double, smiling a bit and rising to shake the man's hand. He could play it cool when he wanted, but he liked to sell himself a bit to the clients. "Mr. Ferris?"
"Yes," said Carl Ferris. He shook Double's hand perfunctorily. "I need, I, uh, that is...I need a couple of persons found, Mr. Double."
"You have their particulars in there?" Double pointed to the folder.
Ferris walked over to the desk and opened the folder on top of it. Jonny went behind it to have a look. Two photos were clipped to separate interior sides of the folder, each in front of some typed pages. Jonny raised an eyebrow. The girl in one photo was a looker, all right. Black hair, a face like Helen of Troy's, and, he guessed, a body to match. The guy was in a suit, smiling a bit like James Coburn in a Flint movie. He looked tough.
"This is your daughter?" said Jonny Double, indicating the girl.
"Of course," said Ferris. "And this is Hal Jordan, my test pilot. Probably my former test pilot."
Jonny scratched the back of his neck. "You want me to find out where they've run off to together, and why?"
"You have to find out, Mr. Double. You have to find out."
The detective looked at Carl Ferris and decided this was what Philip Marlowe felt when he looked at General Sternwood.
"Let's get started," said Jonny.
The Zamaron craft came in for a landing at the field nearest the imperial palace, or what passed for it. Hal Jordan telepathed, <Watch out. We'll probably have to fight our way to Carol.>
<Which is no less than what we expected, Hal,> replied Katma Tui. <Watch out, yourself...and we'll watch each other's back.>
The Zamaron pilots were still unconscious, and bound by green bands in the back portion of the craft. Katma would free them before she left the planet. But, unless more complications came up than even they had expected, she didn't think they'd spend that long a time there.
The scenario was pretty simple. Hal wanted to go to Carol, try to convince her one last time to give up the Star Sapphire bit and come back to live with him on Earth as his wife. Whatever the decision, Hal said he'd abide by it.
Of course, thought Katma as she threw open the door with a burst of green ring-energy, that was assuming there was more of Carol Ferris to reach in Star Sapphire than he had found in their last encounter. The last time Hal Jordan had met Star Sapphire, she was a power-hungry bitch, formed from the union of Carol's subconscious with the Predator, that weapon-wielding villain which the sapphire had spawned from her aggressive traits.
That much had negated Carol's life-long love for Hal, either as himself or as Green Lantern of Sector 2814.
Sometimes, Katma thought as she sent a projected image of herself through the hatch door, reality really bit.
Several blasts of yellow light went through the image, dissipating it. Evidently the Zamarons were locked and loaded, as John sometimes put it. Luckily, the Ring was only limited by yellow, the 24-hour time limit, and the user's imagination, and Kat had a fairly good imagination.
She pointed her ring-hand at her chest and sent a verdant beam into her body. Within instants, she saw the interior of the craft get bigger, incredibly so. Then it went by so quickly that it appeared a colorless blur. In order to shrink herself to subatomic size, the process had to be done very quickly. Katma had instructed the ring to stop when she got to a certain point, and covered her eyes and ears with a radar-like device. The sight of atoms her own size would be quite disorienting.
Katma Tui was surrounded by a protective green aura, since there was no air to breathe at this low a level of existence. She was hanging suspended in subatomic space, the atoms of the craft and the planet's atmosphere and everything material about it represented on her green viewscreen as spheroids of varying size and distance.
She telepathed a question to the ring. <Have I fallen below the level of the ship's atoms, and above those of the ground?>
<Yes,> it replied, in the neutral tones programmed into it by the Guardians of the Universe.
A welcome voice resounded in her mind. <Kat, where are you? We saw something that looked like you get torn to pieces by the Zamarons. Was that a hologram?>
<I'm fine, Hal,> she answered. <Just give me a moment.>
She commanded her emerald circlet to expand her once again, and the process was reversed. From the subatomic universe, she expanded to molecular size, then to that of microscopic organisms, then beyond that to pinpoint size, to barely visible, to, finally, that of an adult Korugarian female sprawled on the landing field, overshadowed by the Zamaronian plane above her. Katma let out a gasp of air and nullified her protective aura and radar-goggles.
The Zam guardians were visible, uniformed and equipped with ray-weapons, standing behind a yellow portable shield. Katma considered what would be the best method to take them down. But, as she did so, a green beam from an invisible source lanced out at them from the side. Either Hal or John, she told herself. Well, best sit back and see how they would handle it. She might pick up something new.
As it was, the unseen Lantern's beam solidified into a huge spade, rammed into the ground just below the Zamaron guard detachment, and scooped them all up, turning them and the asphaltic-covered ground they stood on upside down. The women, with a series of simultaneous shouts, pratfell into the hole. Katma grinned.
The beam of a second Green Lantern shot forth and went into the new excavation, then retracted, drawing the Zamarons' ray-weapons with it. With that, Hal Jordan and John Stewart made themselves visible and landed near the hole. John kept watch for other Zamarons, who were even now headed across the field, weapons at the ready. He held his ring hand up threateningly. They hung back.
"We don't have any interest in fighting you," Hal was saying. "All we want is an audience with your Queen Carol."
One of the guardwomen answered him. "Do you think we'd let three of our queen's deadliest enemies into her very presence, armed with your rings? We seek to protect her, not to sacrifice her."
John Stewart said, "If you think we'd kill her, then you don't know anything about the Lantern Corps. And you sure don't know a thing about this guy here." He indicated Hal with his thumb.
Hal Jordan stood with his hands on his hips, resolute. "The only reason I've come to your world is love. I mean to give your queen one last chance to be the woman I once loved...the woman I could love again. If she refuses me, then we're all gone. We won't bother her again."
Another Zamaron said, "We have finally gotten her to accept the duties of queenship, and you wish to take her from us already? I know one thing of you Lanterns, then...you are insane!"
Katma Tui stepped up, now her full height. "Perhaps, woman. But love has a way of making us that, sometimes." She glanced at Hal, meaningfully, then turned back to the guards. "You will admit us to the queen's presence. You will allow us to retain our rings. Otherwise, we will storm the palace ourselves and force our way into her presence. Choose now, ladies: which alternative?"
There was silence on the part of the women guards, most of whom looked uneasily at one another.
"Fine, then," said Kat. "We'll do the second."
Hal said, "Hold on, Kat. Before we act in haste--"
That was when a fairly large hologram of the head of Star Sapphire, in mask and tiara, appeared in the air above them. A second later, they heard her voice, transmitted through speakers at a nearby terminal building.
"This is your queen, Star Sapphire, speaking," she said, in a tone of cool but haughty grandeur. "I command that you bring the three Green Lanterns to me forthwith. I expect them within the hour. That is an order, and that is all."
The hologram faded. John Stewart looked at Hal. "I've got a fix on that transmission."
Hal smiled. "Then Carol'd better expect us within the minute."
Katma said to the guards, "Don't bother taking us. We'll take care of it ourselves." With that, she and the other two Lanterns rose into the sky, arced into horizontal positions, and flew off, John Stewart at the point.
The guards looked after them for a few seconds, then wondered what in blazes to put in their reports to save themselves from disciplinary action.
"Just tell the truth," suggested Lania. "The bosses know about Green Lanterns."
"Best idea anyone's come up with so far," agreed her sergeant, and the contingent of them headed for the terminal.
Jonny Double was searching the house of Carol Ferris, a magnificent beachfront three-story place which had been unoccupied for long enough to attract the attention of cops and realtors. He considered his own three-room digs, and then shrugged.
All the luxuries that made upscale life worth living were inside, at an annual price of more than what most people make in their lifetimes. Well, he'd seen women of similar status run off with men who couldn't buy enough furniture to fill one of these rooms. Not often, true. They also usually ended up coming back to the ones who kept them in such splendor, after their flings.
The case seemed simple enough. Carol Ferris had run off with her lover, this hotdog test pilot. Her for love, him for money. Carl Ferris didn't want the guy's hands in his wallet. Maybe. But maybe it wasn't that simple.
Jordan had, according to Ferris, lived with Carol for some time in this place. But he must've moved out, because none of his effects were here. Not even a pair of jockey shorts in a drawer.
However, most of Carol's clothes were still there. Even the unmentionables. Her three cars were also still in the garage. Had the both of them fled danger, rather than eloped? Possibility. The place looked like she'd just never come back from work.
Double pushed two rows of clothes aside from a closet rack and stopped dead when he saw what was on the wall behind them.
It was a picture of Hal Jordan, in his flight gear. A head shot, smiling.
The picture, and the wall around it, was scored with triple diagonal cut-marks that formed an X, meeting in the center of the photo. The cuts were evenly-spaced, as if three barber's razors had been strapped together to do the job.
Jonny put his handkerchief over his hand before reaching out to touch the picture. Nothing behind it, nothing on the back of it. He took it out of the frame. Nothing but the seal of the photography place that did the enlargment.
Did Carol Ferris do this? Or even Hal Jordan, if he didn't like himself much?
More likely, somebody else had. Somebody from whom Jordan and Carol were fleeing. If they had time to flee. He didn't see any bloodstains, and some of the thick rugs in the place would have been hard to scrub clean. Impossible, for anything less than a cleaning service.
Alternate scenario: Carol Ferris had slashed the picture, Jordan had fled her. A possibility, true, but somehow it didn't feel as right to him as the other.
Jonny Double stuck the picture under his arm and headed for the door. He'd checked the grounds, but a second, more thorough, check was called for.
He just didn't know if he was looking for one grave or two.
Hal Jordan didn't like anything about the palace.
In another context, he might have. The Zamarons were not really enemies, more rivals than anything else. They had never been out to conquer Earth. They'd just wanted to make Carol Ferris their queen. Now, they had her.
All he had was a short shot to convince her to come back with him.
The women who escorted the three Green Lanterns through the place were as beefy as bodybuilders, carried ray-weapons that looked formidable enough to repel a Qwardian warship, and were dressed completely in yellow, even to face-plates. They halted before a large doorway. Two other guards stood there, weapons pointed at them, faces looking like basalt.
"The queen is expecting us," said one of their warders, and presented an identifier disk.
One of the guards took it, ran it through a scanner, and handed it back. Neither she nor her partner said a word. The doors before them withdrew into their frame. The guards escorted them briefly into the room beyond, and the portals quickly shut behind them.
Hal, Katma, and John looked about them. The throneroom was huge. Hal had seen it before, but it still compared well with the greatest palaces extant on Earth. Ten women stood on guard, in uniforms similar to those of the guards escorting them. The place was done up in yellow, which was a change from the last time Hal had seen it.
But his attention was drawn to the woman on the great golden throne at the end of the room. She was still clad in the costume that he had seen her in when they parted: the maroon leotard, boots, tiara and mask of Star Sapphire.
She had Carol's body and face. But the expression on her face, that mixture of regality and cruelty, belonged to the Star Sapphire that he had only recently seen. Not the one whom he had first met, but the one who had claimed the Predator's essence.
Star Sapphire seemed to regard him with amusement. Then she spoke.
"Well, Hal Jordan, you wished to see me once more. Satisfied?"
John and Katma looked at him, while keeping watch on the guards. They had agreed that Hal would do most of the talking on this one. Only he could get through to Carol Ferris, if Carol was even still there to be gotten to.
The first Green Lantern of Earth swallowed. "I'm not sure, Carol."
The magenta-clad woman sat up abruptly in a threatening pose. "You will address the presence as Star Sapphire, Jordan. Not by that name which you knew me formerly to bear. Anything less is a dishonor. Is that clear?"
"No," he said. "Not to me. Want to know why?"
Despite herself, she appeared curious. "Speak, then."
"I intend to," said Hal, clasping his hands behind him. "Because, in a way, I did come here to see Star Sapphire. That is, if I couldn't see Carol. But not to see the Star Sapphire who sits before me."
"Jordan, I warn you--" snapped Star Sapphire, leaning forward.
John Stewart stepped up, and the guards about him pointed their weaponry at him. "You got any warnings, lady, you better give ‘em to all of us," he said. "Us Green Lanterns tend to stick together in these sort of things."
"John, that'll be enough," said Hal. He noted that Katma was no less prepared for battle than Stewart, and was reassured. He turned back to Carol. "We came in peace. But we came looking for Carol Ferris, or for the Star Sapphire I used to know. I would like to see either of them."
The woman on the throne sat back with a bit more ease. "You have only myself to deal with, Jordan," she said. "There is no other."
"With all due respect, o queen," said Hal, "I'm not sure I believe that."
She looked down upon him from her throne-platform that hovered ten feet above floor level, and smiled in egotism. "Then you believe in the fairy tales of our people, Hal Jordan...my former people. I have embraced what I had to embrace in order to become what I am. The queen of the Zamarons. Nothing less than what I am could rule them. Or would deserve to."
"I believe that something more than you is necessary to rule them," said Hal. "Because what you were, when I knew you, was far more than you are today."
A flickering of anger crossed her face. He hated to see it, but he pressed on. "You are what you are today because you embraced the persona you once expelled from your body, the Predator. Do you know why you expelled him, Carol?"
"Because of my emotional conflict over you, Hal Jordan," she said with contempt. "Acting upon the powers of my sapphire gem."
"Not entirely," Hal said. "I think you expelled him because he was unfit."
"Unfit!" She stood with a start, hands poised on the arms of her throne, and the Zamaron guard stood even more to attention than before.
"That's right, Star," Hal snapped back. "Not just because he was the part of you that had to be hard. God knows, Carol Ferris had that. She couldn't have run Ferris Aircraft all those years and not have had that. The Predator was more than that. He was the part of you that was--dark. Evil. More than an agressor, Carol. He was the being who hated everything Carol Ferris loved."
"I warn you, Jordan--" she raged.
"No, Carol," said Hal, not even bothering with her queen-name now. "I'm warning you. Without the check of compassion, without the ability to love, or give a damn about the people you're supposed to rule, you'll be anything but a queen. You'll simply be a tyrant. That's what the Predator wants you to be, and that's what you're handing him. I could create a mirror here, and show you. As a matter of fact, that's what I'll do."
"No, Hal!" exclaimed Katma, her ring already glowing.
"It's all right," said Hal Jordan, and a spurt of green flame shot forth from his ring. Within an instant, its energy-matrix spread into a large rectangular shape.
"Guards, hold your fire!" ordered Star Sapphire. The women stayed alert, their weapons pointed at the three persons in green and black. The rectangular shape resolved itself into a mirror, held in a green frame, hovering several feet above the floor. Hal Jordan's will power levitated it towards Star Sapphire, halting it only a short distance from her.
"My queen, allow me--", insisted one of the guards.
"No!" The queen of Zamaron halted her, her hand upraised. Star Sapphire peered into the mirror.
Hal Jordan spoke again. "Like what you see, Carol? If there's anything of Carol Ferris still left in you, and there has to be, I don't see how you could. Do you remember what you used to see in the mirror, Carol? The face of a compassionate woman? The woman who loved me, and whom I loved in return? I can remember, Carol. I think you can, too."
She was silent. John and Katma stood uneasily, but ready.
"If you can remember her, Carol, I want you to remember how she felt about me. How I felt about her, too. Because I still feel that way, Carol. I want you back. I want to take the real Carol Ferris back home with me, and make her my wife. Failing that...I at least want the real Star Sapphire to take over again. Not the woman I see before me, not somebody who could be a female Hitler, given enough time...but the woman who fought me, at times, but who was never evil. I'm not asking you to do this for me. Do it for the people you rule. And do it, more than anything, for yourself. Do it, Carol. Now."
For a long moment, the queen looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her breath came hard, and her face showed conflict. Katma Tui felt a surge of empathy for her, and prayed to her deity.
Then Star Sapphire's hand came up, and a burst of power lanced forth from it. The mirror was blasted into pieces, scattering bits of itself across the room. Those before it shielded their eyes. Hal sent a command through his ring, and the fragments of mirror dissolved into nothingness.
She arose from her throne, and if the Predator had a female face to wear, it was hers.
"My choice has been made, Hal Jordan. I made it some time ago. Shall I convince you?"
Star Sapphire waved her purple-gloved hand before her. On the floor below her throne, two pockets of space opened up, and two figures extruded into common reality. One of them was seated. Hal Jordan knew them both.
"I ran a subspace scan when we came in," Hal said, in a gritty voice. "I knew you had two hidden cards. I just didn't know who was on them."
One of the newcomers was Hector Hammond who had, as much as he could manage, a smile on his face.
The other one wore a modified Lantern uniform and had a bowl haircut. He also had a smile of cruelty to match Carol's. "Hello, Jordan," he said.
"Great to meet you again, Gardner," said John Stewart, acidly.
Katma Tui stepped forward with her fellows. Star Sapphire was leaping from her throne, borne on waves of sapphire-energy. Katma shot forth a bolt of power from her ring. It was intercepted in mid-air by a similar bolt from the gem on Star's tiara, and dissipated.
No use for negotiation anymore, or for speeches about love, compassion, and good government.
Nothing to do but fight.
A throneroom was a hell of a place to have a war, but you don't always get to pick your battlefields.
Hal Jordan was dealing with the mental assault of the immobile Hector Hammond, a force which was pushing him down as if an industrial press had been installed above his head. His ring-energy lanced out, but bounced off a telekinetic shield Hammond had about his person. The motionless man was one of his deadliest foes, a human hyperevolved into the sort of man who might exist 300,000 years from now. The Green Lantern constructed a cube of green power about himself, but its top and sides strained and began to buckle.
<Now, Green Lantern, be sure to tell your fellow Corpsmen on the
other side that the last foes you fought were known, collectively, as the
Triumvirate of Terror,> Hammond telepathed to him.
<Go to hell, Hammond,> Jordan sent back, sweating with will-effort.
In response, the sides of his green cube were studded with deadly spearpoints, elongating towards him. It took all that he had to push them back into the sides of the cube. Then he formed a huge green hammer, saw, and steam-drill, and sent them all to assault Hammond's invisible force-shield. None of the effort did much good.
One of the yellow-clad Zamaron guards aimed her weapon at the Green Lantern. Her superior struck down her arm. "No," said the guard in command.
"But our queen--"
"Our queen gave orders that she and her allies would battle the Lanterns alone, if battle were joined," the commander said. "Obey, or the next bolt to be loosed in this room will be directed at you."
Reluctantly, the big woman holstered her blaster. Then she joined the other guards in watching the six-person battle before them, and waiting for what was to come.
John Stewart tried to reach Hal to offer help, but got blasted back by a huge boxing glove formed by Guy Gardner's ring power. He answered with a green clamp that slammed the renegade Lantern against the opposite wall, from which two Zamarons leapt away. "So what made you side with the enemy, Gardner?" called Stewart. "I never liked you, but I thought you had more class than that."
Guy Gardner gave back his sardonic smile, even as he cut through the clamp with a green buzzsaw. "The enemy I've got is Jordan," he said. "I lost a woman because of him. I lost a mind because of him. Now I've got a new mind...and I like it just fine." Freed from the clamp, he shot the green buzzsaw blade flying at John like a Frisbee with teeth. Stewart leaped above the blade's path. The large disc slammed into the marble wall of the throneroom, above more Zamaron guards who were hugging the floor, and chewed halfway through it before it stopped.
Katma Tui was struggling with Star Sapphire herself, pitting her ring's
power against the purple energies of Carol's sapphire tiara-gem.
The grappling tendrils of power she sent against Sapphire's oval-shaped
energy shield were cut off by its edges, or broken against its surface.
As she looked upon it, and wondered just what sort of power with which to counter it, she saw her vision going purple...
...and then felt something solidifying about her head.
"Your ring will probably protect you from asphyxiating," Star Sapphire said, constructing the energy-box about Katma's head. "But I doubt it'll save you from unconsciousness."
The Korugarian woman grasped the solid purple box about her head, trying to shake it loose, trying to find some air to breathe, sending a command to her power ring to break her free. Then she felt the pain of a mallet-like blow indenting her stomach and sending her off her feet. It would have knocked the air out of her, had she been able to breathe.
Katma landed on her back on the topaz-tiled floor, with Star Sapphire looking on, smiling while she massaged her knuckles.
A green power-shoot sprang from Katma's ring, intruded into the small space between her neck and the purple box, surrounded her head inside with a thin aura, and expanded. The cube of sapphire power held for a few seconds, then buckled, then cracked apart with a sharp report.
The red-skinned woman sucked in sweet air, then leapt to her feet. Star Sapphire was already directing another bolt at her. She deflected it off a green shield.
"Hit me when I can't see, will you?" grated Katma. "Hal Jordan was right. You have no honor, now. If you ever did."
Star's mouth was open, about to release a curse or a taunt.
Katma Tui shot forward, boosted by ring power, and smashed her fist into Carol's mouth. It spun the queen around and sent her to the floor herself. A green cage stabbed points into the floor around her, surrounding Star Sapphire and keeping her there.
A plane of purple power sliced through it, and a jack of energy knocked the top off the cage, enabling the cruel queen to fly free. She fixed Katma Tui with a smile of confidence.
"It's disappointing you're not Hal," she murmured. "But you'll be a good warmup."
The Guardians who were left, those who remained alive after the great Crisis, were clustered about the viewscreen through which they followed the progression of the battle on Zamaron. They were, ostensibly, as emotional as many of the other races in the universe. But they had mastered the art of concealing their concern a few billion years ago. Had they known the game of poker, the Oans would have been master players.
The emotions they sought to conceal from each other would have tested their poker faces greatly.
"It can be argued," said one, "that in using his power for a personal matter, Hal Jordan is technically violating his oath."
The one beside him fixed him with a look even colder than usual. "It can also be argued that Hal Jordan and his comrades are acting to prevent a known enemy from becoming a clear and present danger," he said. "Such is not unheard of, in the Lantern Annals."
"True," said a third. "Yet, a ring-bearer is required to act upon clear action of evil, not when an evil act can only be hypothesized. If in question, the bearer must present clear evidence of evil intent during a board of inquiry."
A fourth said, "The Guardian will note in review that Hal Jordan did not attack the Zamaron queen. He stated his mission to be one of peace, and made a persuasive speech to her in hopes of reforming her. Would the Guardian state that a mirror is an offensive weapon?"
"Perhaps the deadliest of all, my fellow," the third said. "Yet, it is one's judgment that Hal Jordan is within the letter of the law, as are the two fellow Lanterns with him. Also, if Hal Jordan acts from the motivation of love--" He glanced at the image of the Zamaron guards watching the battle. "--Perhaps the Guardian can empathize with such emotion."
The small blue man whom he addressed looked upon one of the guards, who was not quite so stocky as the others and in whose face was a hint of more than conventional beauty. Briefly, his mind flashed back to an incident over five billion years in the past. To the Parting.
It took him a great pause to say, "One can, perhaps, so empathize. Let us watch this battle to its end."
"Agreed, my fellow," said the fourth. "Definitely agreed."
So the Guardians stood and watched.
Hector Hammond could barely suppress his glee. After all these years, after all the plans and plots that had come to naught, no matter what pawns he worked through...the Green Lantern was finally in his hands. Well, as a figure of speech. Hammond could do nothing with his hands. A more appropriate term, he judged, would be that he had the Lantern in mind.
They had first crossed paths when Hammond was anything but a little, large-craniumed man in a mobile chair. Back then, Hector Hammond had been a middle-aged but dashing man about town, who had come across what he dubbed an Evolution Meteor. The rock from the skies had the power to speed up the evolution of those to whom he subjected to its power. At first he used part of its might to turn several scientists in his employ into geniuses, whom he used in an attempt to gain great power. Of course, the Lantern had to poke his ring hand into matters, but even then, Hammond almost triumphed.
When he was released from jail, Hammond had gone a step further, and used the meteor on himself. It shrank and wizened his body somewhat, turned him into a big-domed caricature of a genius, but he had anticipated such. It was the price of having one's mentality and dormant mental powers boosted to such a degree that many of the things the Lantern did with his ring, Hector Hammond could do with his mind. At that time, Hammond was still mobile, and threw in with a gang of other powerful crooks to attack the Justice League.
In that, they failed again. Hammond did another short jail term, got out, and gave himself another boost of meteor power. This time, it had an effect he hadn't anticipated, even with his greater mentality: it boosted his mind-power yet again, but it left his body completely immobile. Save for those functions necessary for life, such as breathing and blood circulation, Hector Hammond could not move.
But he could move things with his mind, telekinetically. He also had other powers, which he used, once he adjusted to his new status. The immobility only made him hate Green Lantern more.
In his first encounter with the Lantern after immobilizing himself, Hammond had managed to take control of the power ring itself. The hero countered that by ordering the ring to run out of power once he was within range of Hammond, and then by knocking Hammond unconscious. When the mind-master awoke, he was within a prison cell again. He could easily have escaped, simply by mentally ordering a guard to free him. But Green Lantern would simply have put him back again.
Thus, Hammond frequently worked through pawns against his foe thereafter, choosing first the Lantern's Modoran enemy, Sonar. But Sonar failed him, as did all the others. Now, with a combination of the right choice of allies and handling things more directly, he had hit upon a winning combination. This time, the Lantern was doomed.
<That's what you always think, Hammond.>
Hector Hammond cursed himself at hypermental speed. He must have been literally thinking so hard he was telepathing to the Lantern. Damnably dangerous in a fight, telegraphing one's punches.
He looked at the Lantern, huddled there in his green cube with the walls pressing in on him. A bit more, and you'd probably be able to see the juice spurting.
But the Lantern was looking at him, and smiling.
Hammond hadn't fought the man more than a dozen times without learning something about him. A smiling Lantern was a dangerous Lantern. He concentrated on compressing the green walls about his foe, and withdrew his telepathic extrusion...
...or tried to.
Again, Hector Hammond tried to close down his mind link. It could not be done. The thing remained open, like a telephone that couldn't be hung up, or a pipeline open at both ends.
The metaphor hit him like a tidal wave and he tried to shut everything down. Too late.
First the Lantern was in the cage, then he was out of it. Hammond saw the walls collapse beyond what a cockroach could have comfortably fit into.
Then he felt a pressure in his own mind. A pressure which rivalled any to which he had subjected a foe. The mentalist's defenses went into operation, but it was a bit late. After all, when an enemy has transformed his body into an analogue of mental energy and sped up the telepathic pipe into your mind, such an action is closing the gate once the horse has bolted.
A flash of green light permeated his mind.
Hector Hammond slumped even more in his chair, completely and totally unconscious.
It was impossible to perceive the energy-Hal Jordan leaving Hammond's oversize brain and converting himself into normal matter again. All one could see with the unaided eye was a Green Lantern, standing beside a senseless big-domed man, in a spot where he had not been a second ago.
Guy Gardner, still fighting with John Stewart, saw Jordan standing there and guessed what had happened, or something like it. "You!" he seethed. He created a battering ram, against whose thrust Stewart was barely able to erect a force-shield. The impact of the ram caromed him off a wall and bounced him into three Zamaron guards, against whose yellow armor his shield dissipated. "Pardon me, ladies," he said, disentangling himself.
"Come on, Gardner, if you think you can do it," challenged Jordan, hovering three feet off the floor. Guy's ring blazed almost as brightly as his eyes, in response.
A green wall sprang up between them and blocked the force of their blasts. "Back off, Hal," ordered John. "Mr. Moe Howard Haircut ‘n' me started this fight. And we're gonna be the ones to finish it."
Gardner turned to him and sent a green flying tiger shark in his direction, mouth open, teeth sharp. "Wrong, boy. I'm gonna be the one to finish it."
With a flux of will-power, John Stewart jammed the verdant shark's jaws with a green, expanding log, created a green lasso, snagged the great fish's tail with it, and swung it with all his might at the throneroom wall. It smashed a hole in the stone, splattering itself into green energy-motes. "People 1, Jaws 0," Stewart cracked.
His foe didn't bother answering with words. A blast of power, undefined but deadly, was already pouring forth from his ring. John guessed that to touch the blast would be certain death. Hal Jordan had already powered up a shield to ward it off, but some of Gardner's doom-burst was penetrating it.
Stewart was standing fairly close to one of the Zamaron guards. "Pardon me, miss," he said, and grabbed the helmet off of her head, much to her dismay. Then he went into a football quarterback's stance and pitched the golden headgear as hard and as accurately as he could.
It went through energy-burst and shield without stopping and crashed into Guy Gardner's head.
The man who could have been Earth's first Green Lantern tried to hang onto consciousness, tried even to stay aloft, but knew it was a losing gambit. Especially when John Stewart vaulted above Jordan's shield, hurtled towards him, and smashed a hard right hand into his jaw.
Guy Gardner fell ten feet towards the floor and bounced up several inches from the green net Hal had created to stop him. He fell back once more, and sprawled senseless in the mesh.
John looked at Hal. "Why'd you bother doing that?"
"Well, after all," said Hal, reasonably, "he is a Green Lantern."
Motion caught John's eye on the other end of the room. "Speaking of which," he said, and started to rise in the air again. Hal turned quickly, and saw what he suspected: Katma Tui and Star Sapphire still battling it out. It seemed a pretty even match.
Hal shot past John Stewart, and crashed just a second before him into a wall of half-green, half-purple.
"Mind your own business!" yelled Katma Tui, bleeding a bit from the nose.
"What she said," agreed Star Sapphire, showing claw marks on her left cheek.
John asked Hal, "Should we let ‘em?"
Hal looked at both of them, weighed what he owed to Katma against what he hoped for from Carol, and made a decision. "Yeah. She'd probably kick both our butts back to Aldebaran if we didn't."
"O-kay," said John, and formed a floating sofa for both of them to sit on, just beyond the shield.
Katma and Carol were both locked in a grapple physically, but that was only secondary to the real combat. A starburst of power hung in the air over their heads, tied to dual lifelines: one coming from Star Sapphire's gem, the other from Katma's power ring.
It was a test of wills, the most primal one for a Green Lantern.
Both women were panting as if they'd run a marathon. Their costumes were sweat-stained, and their muscles trembled with effort. They alternated closing their eyes in concentration and trying to stare the other one down.
Katma could see what Hal meant about the Predator in Carol's visage. It had twisted her face into one of the most cruel and arrogant aspects she had ever seen on a woman, on Korugar or elsewhere.
But in the depths of her eyes, Katma seemed to sense something more. Something a bit trapped, a bit different.
Encouraged, she tried pouring on more will. It had to be enough. It had to reclaim Carol from the Star Sapphire.
The Zamaron queen started out with a growl, amplified it to a scream, and sent every bit of mental power she had through her gem and into the burst of power.
In another moment, the glowing powerball was forced in Katma Tui's direction, finally touched her, and made her shriek. She let go of Star Sapphire's body and fell, limply, towards the floor.
Hal tried to catch her first, but John scooped him. Katma's lovely form landed square in his arms, a good five feet from the marble.
John looked up at Jordan, grimly. "All right, that's it, Hal. You've got your answer. There's nothing left in that woman but a bitch. Let's get out of here."
But something was happening to Star Sapphire.
The powerburst, still extant, hung just outside of her body, in a mingled fury of green and purple. Star herself, barely able to make the effort, barely able to hold herself aloft, seemed to be keeping it away from her.
Then she looked up and said, in a tone of desperation, "Hal! Help me!"
The Green Lantern didn't have to be told twice.
Hal streaked to Star Sapphire's side, the dual force-shield having dissipated by now, and started to encircle the energy-burst in a green globe. "No!" she shouted. "Don't wall it off! Keep it away, but..."
"But what, Carol?"
"Leave it open! I've got to...got to..."
"John," snapped Hal. "I think we've got a problem."
Stewart deposited Katma on a newly-created green bed and soared to the rafters again. "Just what am I supposed to do to solve it, green brother?"
As he looked at Star Sapphire, he froze in shock.
The woman's face was distorting as if she were a stretched dough-person. Part of her was being drawn towards the power-burst. A beam from Hal Jordan's ring had formed a pair of pincers, which was holding the quivering burst in place, several feet from her, but it was striving to break free and touch her. "Help me hold this thing," he hissed, his other arm wrapped about Carol.
Obediently, John formed a second pincers with his ring, and felt the ball of energy resisting him strongly. "What's happening to Carol?"
Hal didn't answer. He was too busy watching.
Part of her seemed to be spinning away, like ectoplasm emerging from a medium's flesh. Her original mass wasn't visibly affected, but another self was being brought forth. It was vaguely coalescing, dummying up into a homuncular shape.
And it was the most horrible thing Hal Jordan had ever seen, but he knew it had to run its course.
It took all his strength to hold Carol back, for her physical self was being drawn to the power-burst. More than that, it took the might of two power rings and her star sapphire gem to keep them apart. The Zamaron guards below watched in terrible fascination at what was happening to their queen, and wondered if they should shoot the Lanterns down, or if the aliens were trying to save her.
And then the only connection between the meta-being and Star Sapphire was a thin silvery thread, which broke like a severed umbilical. It retracted quickly into the main mass of itself, which hardened, coalesced, and defined itself into a humanoid being. One which cupped its hands beneath the purple and green ball of fire. One which was all too familiar to Hal Jordan.
"The Predator," he said, softly.
John Stewart wondered, fleetingly, how what had come from Carol could have formed itself into male flesh and then into a covering of black and silver body armor, complete with three claw-weapons on each hand. But then again, he'd seen a lot more unusual stuff than that in his brief days with the Corps.
"The very same," said Carol's other-self, smiling. "And, though I can't do without my host-body, Jordan, I believe I can do without you two." He raised the ball of power and prepared to hurl it.
A purple burst of light cleaved through the roof of the throneroom, smashed into the force-ball, and crushed it into the Predator's body.
A light of terror went on in his eyes as he shouted, "NOOOOO!", before finally and totally combusting out of existence. Small flaming embers of him fell towards the floor. They smouldered in green and purple fire for a few seconds before going out.
Hal Jordan looked at Star Sapphire, who was breathing hard, but a bit more easily. She looked back at him. In her face was none of the cruelty, arrogance, or hatred of the woman he had seen only a few minutes before.
He looked into the eyes of Carol Ferris.
She looked back, and in a few more seconds she smiled. "Thank you, Hal."
John touched his shoulder. "Before you guys kiss and make up...what about her?"
A woman descended on the air, through the hole in the roof. She wore a uniform identical to that of Star Sapphire, and appeared in all visible ways to be her doppleganger. Some of the Zamaron guards looked baffled, but their commander understood and held up her hand.
"Stand down, sisters," she said. "It is another claimant."
The second Star Sapphire's heels and toes clacked down on the marble floor not far from Katma Tui's reclining form. She took in the scene with a long look, and then folded her arms.
"I am Remoni-Notra, who also wields the power of the star sapphire," she said, formally. "As is my right, I have saved my sister. As is also my right, I claim the right to fight her for the throne."
Hal hesitated a second, then said, "Oh, right. I remember you from the old Secret Society of Super-Villains. The pinch-hitter Star Sapphire."
Remoni shrugged off the insult. "I congratulate you on your victory,
Green Lanterns. Nonetheless, I must prove my claim to the crown,
as is our custom, by combat."
"Now, wait a minute," said John Stewart, angrily. "This woman's just been through hell and a half. You can't expect her to just get up and fight you like that. I don't care what kind of customs you've got. You do that, and we're gonna show you an old custom from my old ‘hood--the gang fight."
Carol said, "It is the tribal custom, John. There are four Star Sapphires in each generation. They battle until all but one is defeated. The one who remains is the true Star Sapphire. By their law, I am required to...to fight her."
"And by my honor, and my love for you, I am required to defend you," pronounced Hal, standing between the two women with his ring hand upraised towards Remoni. "I warn you, lady, a move made on this woman will be considered a move against all of us."
"Say that again," said John Stewart, smiling tightly.
Katma Tui roused herself and looked up at the hovering figures. "What's happening?" she asked. "A Star Sapphire Corps?"
"If you feel up to it, we may need a hand," called down Hal.
The Zamaron guard commander, Hebe, helped Katma up but held her arm. "Hold, all of you. Remoni-Notra, called Star Sapphire, you are aware of the laws of the challenge. That, in times of recent confrontation, a challenging queen must give time of recuperation to the queen reigning. Is this not so?"
"It is," said Remoni. "But I wish to have this matter done with directly, and it is not our custom to battle to the death. This you know. The time of recuperation is undefined, and if we fight now, the formality is fulfilled."
Carol took a deep breath, then let it out. Then she took Hal's arm away from her, and descended to the floor, standing before Remoni. Tensely, Hal called out, "Carol."
She looked up. "Let me handle this, Hal." Then she addressed her twin. "I must admit to two things, Remoni, if I may."
"Go ahead," said the other.
"First: with the loss of the Predator, a great deal of my lust for power is gone as well. The throne would be nice to have. After all, I do enjoy running things. Hal will testify to that." She smiled at him, briefly, then turned back to her competitor.
"At the same time, I want to retain the power of the star sapphire. I think--I know--I can use it for good purposes. But I want to use it on my own world. I have a family there. I have friends there. And...yes, Hal...I have the man whom I love there, and that's you."
Hal didn't say anything. He couldn't say anything. Neither did his two companions. But, behind her white glove, Katma managed to hide half of her smile.
"So, that all boils down to the second thing I have to say. Which is, Remoni...if you want the throne, you've got it. I relinquish my rights to the queenship of Zamora in your favor. Satisfied?"
The other Star Sapphire's jaw hung open. Carol grinned. Hal descended to the floor, and she put her arm around him. "I think I've got the best of the deal."
"But you can't!" Remoni protested. "We have to fight! If you concede, you can't keep the Star Sapphire! It's in our books of law!"
Katma and John came down to flank Hal and Carol. "Write a new rule book," John said. "We've got a couple of prisoners to drop off. And unless you want to fight us all...so long, baby."
"Baby?" raged Remoni-Notra. "Baby? I'll have you...I'll..."
Hebe touched her shoulder. "My queen, it's true that a few rules may have to be bent to accomodate this, but I think we can manage. We are a race of warriors, true, but not without compassion. Or common sense."
"You...you..." The new queen of Zamora fairly shook with anger. Hal, John, and Katma surrounded Hammond and Gardner with green bond-auras and flew with them to the roof and through the hole Remoni had blasted in it.
"Bye," Carol called back. "Thanks for the sapphire."
And it came to pass that, on Earth, not more than a week later, a triple wedding ceremony was held, at which Oliver Queen and Dinah Lance, John Stewart and Katma Tui, and, yes, Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris said the words "I do," which, in themselves, may possess quite more power than the Guardians dreamed of in their lifetime. The event was attended by almost as many incognito super-heroes as had been at the weddings of Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne, and by a number of disguised Green Lantern Corpsmen, among whom were the ever-present Kilowog, Salaak, Ch'p, and Arisia. The young, golden-skinned girl dabbed at her eyes with a hanky and mourned the loss of Hal to Carol, but decided that he just had a taste for older women.
It was also attended by Carl Ferris, who gave the bride away, and by Yvonne Ferris, both of whom were damned glad to have their daughter back, even if they dressed her and Hal Jordan down for eloping like that without even giving them a phone call. Even Jonny Double managed to make the list. He was rather glad that it turned out the way it did, before he even had to tell anyone other than Carl that there might have been foul play. He was even more glad that Mr. Ferris wrote him a check for two thousand dollars.
He never did figure out why Jordan's picture had all those scratches in it, but life is full of little mysteries.
The thing went off rather well in the minister's estimation, though he did wonder, briefly, why two of the rings used in the ceremony appeared to be emerald, rather than diamond.
It would be nice to say that the couples enjoyed a long honeymoon, but that would be encroaching on another story. Or perhaps two.
For our part, let us pull back to the viewscreen on Oa, where almost as many Guardians were watching the wedding as had watched the battle. Their poker faces were a bit easier to hold this time, but only by a tad.
"The wedding of two Green Lanterns," said one speaker. "Not unprecedented, true, but extremely rare. One would hope for the best results from their offspring."
"One could expect hardly less from the progeny of Hal Jordan and his wife, who is the chosen of Zamaron," said a second. "A Lantern of that line could produce wonders, indeed. Is that not so, my fellow?"
"A possibility," allowed the third. "One might even consider the merging of two such lines as a Healing. Might one not?"
"As opposed to a Parting?" offered a fourth. "Is this the meaning one's fellow wishes to convey?"
The third speaker looked into the Oan sky, towards the quadrant in which, though their sun was out, he knew the star which Zamaron orbited to be located.
"One could construe that meaning, yes," he said. "And more besides. Yes, perhaps much more. Besides."
The wise little blue man turned from the viewscreen and made his way towards the dais of their great chamber.
Behind him, after looking in the direction of Zamaron, the other Guardians followed.
This one's for Steve Englehart, Gil Kane, and John Broome.