Kilowog asked.“Asking me a fourth time won’t make me ready,”
The two Lanterns flew side by side, green dots against the swathes of gray dominating the clouds. It had only been days since Hal had started flying, but something felt different today. Like the air slid past his body too easily, the atmosphere didn’t drag so heavily on his body. Lower air pressure, maybe. A storm was brewing.
Hal hated storms growing up. All it took was one drum roll of thunder to send him running to cower underneath his mom’s bed sheets. He didn’t like them much more as an adult. A storm was a day you couldn’t fly, when the universe reminded him that his feet had to be planted firmly on the ground…. But maybe this ring could change that.“Thought you might’ve prepped on the way over,”
Kilowog said. His flight was different than Hal’s. Where the human flew straight and true, pointed like an arrow, Kilowog drifted with the breeze, up and down, side to side. He had two nubs of green energy on his shoulders, sticking out from the rest of the energy sheathe that coated his body. They looked almost like the remnants of wings, long since fallen off.“... You’ve been with me this whole flight. You’ve asked me on this flight,”
Hal said. He banked in the air, now facing Kilowog, who had summoned a shimmering green panel, interfacing with it as he flew.“You went five minutes without complaining. I thought you calmed down.”
Kilowog’s fat fingers squished against his console, prompting flashes of emerald and sending digits flying across the screen.“Shove it, Kilowog. Are we there yet?”
Hal asked.“A minute out or so. He’ll be waiting for us above the clouds,”
Kilowog said, dismissing his readout. Hal never liked the way Kilowog talked about him, the man they were going to see: Thaal Sinestro. Kilowog was always joking with Hal or ribbing him, telling Hal the parts of being a Green Lantern he knew and bullshitting the parts he didn’t. When it came to Sinestro, all the cumulative hours Hal had spent learning what each twitch of muscle might mean in the aliens expression meant nothing. His big, dopey hippo jaws were set against one another, and his brow closed down on the black points of his eyes.
It was a little like what he imagined Carol must look like, hunched over the control console while Hal pulled some stunt or other in Ferris Air’s jets, her asking him to slow down for just one minute. Hal had come to think of it as business mode
. And Kilowog? Well, when it came to Sinestro, it looked like he meant business.
Hal and Kilowog shifted their paths and shot up through the cloud cover, to find themselves greeted by a sheet of green force, situated firm and flat against the top of the clouds. It had to be as long as a football field, but looked as thin as a sheet of paper. One man stood in the center, garbed in the same black and green uniform as Hal and Kilowog. As they neared, Hal realized the man wasn’t standing
so much as floating
off the platform, keeping his body as taught and measured as his red face that was coming into view. “Are you prepared to begin, Lantern Jordan?”
From the platform Thaal Sinestro had an inch on Kilowog, but if they were level, Kilowog had him by a foot and a half. Most of his face was forehead, to better contain his ego with Kilowog had said, rounding out a face of hard edges and high cheekbones. There were no blemishes to him, unless you counted his permanent frown or the trim mustache that lived above it.
Hal and Kilowog touched down, and Kilowog thumped Hal’s back. “Show ‘im how it’s done, little poozer.”“Yessir,”
Hal said, half to Kilowog and half to Sinestro. “It’s just a quick lesson, right? I’ve been playing hooky with my job for a week now because of all this, and my boss is starting to get --”“You will provide whatever time the Green Lantern Corps requires of you,”
Sinestro cut him off, “approach me.”
Hal glanced back at Kilowog, but the big guy was staring straight through him, eyes locked on Sinestro. Hal stepped forward.“As a Green Lantern, you are expected to study, develop, and apply a variety of techniques with your issued power ring, be they for combat or otherwise. Against most threats, you will find typical constructs next to useless, especially those generated by a Lantern that is… Well, as green as you,”
Sinestro said.“On this occasion, it is my duty as your superior to introduce you to these concepts in a simple trial. The technique I will demonstrate for you today is known as Ganthet’s Alembic.”
Sinestro presented his hand as the light from his ring began to pulse and glow, collecting itself into a bubble the size of Hal’s head. It may as well have been any other construct, green shapes broken as easily as they were created, but there was something… Different about this one. About the snaking flow of the energy within.“Your task is to overcome this technique, and, if you are able, to score a hit on me.”
Sinestro said.“Uh huh...”
Hal spread out his stance, trying to remember the bits and pieces he’d heard from Kilowog about fighting, or the half-forgotten memories of his schoolyard tussles… But this was probably going to be a little
different. “Got any words of advice, teach?”
For the first time, Hal saw Sinestro smile. “Remember, Jordan. No fear.”
Sinestro flicked his wrist and the ball launched from his ring as fast as any fighter Hal had ever been in control of. Dodging was out of the question. He did as he had been taught, searching in his heart and his mind and making something manifest of his will
. Hal’s ring sparked to life and an aegis leapt from it, directly in the path of Sinestro’s attack. Get through this you son of a --
The ball collapsed Hal’s shield on impact, causing it to crumple and fold in, like the attack was a black hole. The constructs sparked against each other as Hal’s sputtered and died, energy consumed by the ball. Now past his only line of defense, the ball subsumed his ring hand, and locked itself in place.
But he was… Fine. Hal wiggled his fingers inside the sphere. Nothing. Wrist felt a little heftier than usual, maybe.“What is this thing? A Green Lantern boxing glove?”
Hal shouted over to Sinestro. The other Lantern was still, balancing himself in flight. He beckoned Hal.“Come find out.”
Sinestro said.“Your funeral,”
Hal joked. He brought himself into the air and surged forward, sending out bolts of emerald from his ring. Sinestro swerved, dodging each in turn, but something was wrong. Hal had done this before, shooting beams at old cans with Kilowog, but something about each of his shots looked weaker than usual. Less glow, less speed. His flight balance didn’t feel right, either, like was drifting to the side.
Hal dropped back to the platform and shook his hand out. His wrist was
heavier, his whole hand was, even more than before. He tried to waggle his fingers and it felt like dragging weights over sand. What?“Are you quite finished shooting?”
Sinestro called to him. Hal ignored him, focusing on the sphere. He could still move
his hand at least, but if it got any heavier there would be problems. Hal chanced a look back to Kilowog, whose beady eyes were still firm on Sinestro. No help from there. Thunder cracked somewhere in the cloud cover below. The storm was starting. Hal’s heart thumped heavy in his chest. He swallowed. He could do this.
Experimentally, Hal willed the energy to flow steady from his ring, suffusing into the sphere around it. His hand grew heavier still, it was starting to feel like he was lugging around a steel block instead of a hand. He stopped the flow, and just as quickly the weight stopped growing. Could it be that my ring is...?“Ganthet’s Alembic is so called for its apparent alchemical ability,”
Sinestro said, “converting your energy into mass. But understanding this will no longer help you, you’ve already lost your freedom of movement,”
his smile widened, “feel free to tap out.”“We’ll see about that!”
Hal shouted. If there was any one thing he knew about constructs, it was that, unless destroyed, their creator was always in absolute control of them, which meant he had to get Sinestro to release it…
Hal took off at a sprint, boots thumping against the green platform, he brought his hand to bear and swung the ball at Sinestro. He sidestepped, and Hal came around for another strike, throwing his body weight into it. Sinestro dodged backward and Hal threw himself off balance, tumbling across the platform. Hell.
Hal eyed Sinestro, and then the open sky above him.No fear.
Hal locked his left hand around his right wrist, supporting the weight as he rocked up to his knees. He pushed himself into the air, kicking off the platform and using his ring to bring him higher.
Sinestro observed from below, showing no expression but for the remnants of his smile. Hal had to be high enough by now, a hundred feet in the air over his opponent, but he could still hear the roar of the thundering clouds beneath. He banked hard, yanking the alembic along with him -- dive bombing Sinestro.“Dodge this!”
Hal’s ring pulsed as he dropped, funneling more and more energy into Sinestro’s construct, letting its weight pull him down faster. It felt like he was guiding a freight train. Hal’s vision was too blurred to quite see -- the Green Lantern domino mask didn’t come with prescription glasses, unfortunately -- but he hoped he’d wiped the grin from Sinestro’s face. Whatever way he’d try to dodge Hal could follow the blob of his body. No matter what, this haymaker would hit home.
In the last moments before impact, Hal caught Sinestro’s face. No smile, no frown, just a brow crinkled in concentration. Sinestro’s ring flared and the ball around Hal’s hand exploded into a plume of green light and smoke.
The explosion threw Hal like a ragdoll, slamming him shoulder first into the platform and then streaking over it, bouncing and crushing his shoulder against the platform, again and again. Hal pushed himself up. It felt like someone hit his shoulder with a sledgehammer. Hal rolled over to face Sinestro. He’d already recovered from the explosion, but there was a tear across the front of his costume, leaving the Lantern logo sagging.“Did I pass?”
Hal asked, chest heaving. Sinestro had definitely lost his smile. He displayed his ring. Lightning sparked in the clouds below.“Count yourself lucky, Jordan. I am going to further your education.”
A green sheathe began to manifest across Sinestro’s body as Hal struggled to his feet.
The green outline forming around Sinestro seemed to sizzle and pop, reacting to the air around it. Hal couldn’t quite make out what it was from this distance, not without his glasses. It was some kind of full body construct, but not like the ones most Lanterns used for flight.
Something hit Hal, laying a weight across his chest. He teetered backward. It wasn’t a projectile, or any kind of attack -- it felt like the wind itself was moving against him. Through the semitransparent platform, Hal saw the clouds roll and shift as electricity crackled between them.
The weight shifted and Hal jerked the other way, wind whipped across his skin and ruffled the folds of his Lantern outfit while his hair ran freely, no longer constrained by whatever product goop was holding it steady before, come loose in the gale. Sinestro maintained his calm, sweeping his arms around him in movements that seemed practiced, yet forceful. He was like a typhoon. Whatever this was, Hal couldn’t beat it, at least not without seeing it.
He was sure he couldn’t just wave his ring around and hope it would work. Kilowog said that any good construct only needs two things: will
. He had to believe he had the will. The ring chose him, after all. But understanding…? Well, Hal had been wearing glasses all his life, hadn’t he?
Hal stumbled across the platform. The wind was picking up, it was like feeling turbulence in his jet but this time he got to feel it against his skin, shaking him to the bone, it felt like the wind could just grab him and throw him away. Thunder screamed below them, shaking the surface of the platform. Hal shuddered. He had to act fast.
Hal turned his ring on himself, drawing out motes of energy. This would need to be precise, the shaking in his hands be damned. The motes struggled against the wind, winking and sputtering as thunder crashed beneath, but they made it through the holes in his domino mask, laying themselves onto his eyes.
It felt like when he opened his eyes in a chlorine pool, a stinging burn that made tears well up, but Hal fought the urge to close his eyes as they adjusted. The energy settled in, molding to them, settling themselves as a lens, fit just to his prescription.
Through the sundering gale Hal finally got a true glimpse of Sinestro. The other Lantern had made himself a suit, wired by glowing pipes into the platform below, feeding gaping holes all along the suit’s arms and chest. The wind was ferocious enough near Sinestro that Hal could actually see
it, rippling across the surface of Sinestro’s construct. Sinestro shifted, raising an arm and sending a zephyr Hal’s way. It was like he was guiding
it, somehow… But there was a change.
A well appeared in Sinsestro’s half of the platform, opening to the fabric of the sky beneath, and a cloud began its ascent, through the whole and being vacuumed into Sinestro’s armor. Sinestro wasn’t bothering to hit Hal with wind, he was winding up for something. Hal caught notes of dashing yellow, spriting and weaving all across Sinestro’s armor.Could it be?
A sound like thunder welled up, a roaring rumble of the whining construct and the hiss of raw electricity. He felt it then, the fear, rising up through his chest and making an electric cage around his heart. Every beat sounded like a bass drum. Thump. Thump. Thump.
He was a little boy again, hiding under mom’s covers, and this was it.“Enough!”
It was Kilowog. Big man could move quiet when he wanted to. He planted himself in front of Hal, surging with energy like Hal had never seen, where there had once been vestigial nubs, it was like there was a whole green creature
growing from Kilowog’s back, its flesh riddled with boils that popped with Kilowog’s movement.
Sinestro jerked his hand upward and a rainbow erupted from his hand, spewing color and light, flashing and zagging as the main arc of his thunderbolt split the sky above.“Enough, indeed.”
Hal could hardly hear Sinestro over the ringing in his ears -- had the thunder really been that loud? He felt Kilowog’s arm slipping under him, rough pink skin dragging across the back of his costume as Kilowog hauled him to his feet. The energy had left Sinestro’s body and he stood as them, but another Lantern.“You have passed this trial, Lantern Jordan, despite your partner’s interference. Leave me. You will both receive assignment shortly.”
Sinestro did not break Kilowog’s gaze as he spoke.“Let’s go, Hal.”
Kilowog guided him to the edge of the platform.“What… What was that?”
Hal asked, but he already knew the answer. It was no simple construct, no trick of the light or the senses, but the power of the ring, no, of Sinestro’s technique, used to its fullest potential.“It was something you shouldn’t have had to see. Can you fly?”
Hal rolled his shoulder. It still stung like a mother, but that shouldn’t stop him. He nodded.
Hal didn’t look back to Sinestro as he stepped off the platform, but Hal could feel his yellow eyes following, like electricity down his spine.