Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Yellow Fever

by Nicolas Juzda

Ninety-eight percent of the matter in the universe was not, in actual fact, yellow. It was simply that ninety-eight percent of the problems in the universe were yellow.

The Green Lantern remembered saying words to that effect only hours earlier. He had been on Oa, receiving a commendation from the Guardians themselves, and afterward he had attended a reception in his honour. A few of his fellow members of the Corps had been there, and he had come upon a couple of relative rookies in conversation. They had been bemoaning the multitude of yellow-coloured menaces they had already had to face in their brief careers, and he had startled them when he approached. But he had smiled warmly at his comrades and revealed that even a celebrated veteran like himself gave a silent curse at each golden obstacle. The tension had been broken, and the entire assemblage of Green Lanterns had begun to swap stories of the yellow irritants they had overcome.

The Guardians of the Universe had bestowed upon each of those Green Lanterns (and their brethren throughout the universe, a corps 3600 members strong) a ring that could manipulate, create, or destroy matter and energy to a degree limited only by the bearer's will... and an inability to effect anything coloured yellow.

To be a Green Lantern was to be like a God, but always watching for a banana peel.

His journey home had been uneventful up until now. He had no need for a starship; his ring produced a protective aura that shielded him from the void, an atmosphere for him to breathe, and even propulsion. What it didn't provide was entertainment. He occupied his time thinking about nothing of any particular significance.

To someone unused to such a voyage, it would have been majestic. To him, it was a commute.

He had been crossing through a star system when he had seen the meteor, and had slowed to a halt to examine it. The meteor was vaguely spherical, with a diameter perhaps 7000 kilometers across. It left a visible trail of minute particles in its wake, but it appeared quite solid. It was also a rather attractive shade of yellow.

At first, this appeared to the Green Lantern to be nothing more than a navigation hazard. Its hue meant that he would have to give it a wide berth, since he had no desire to take the risk, however remote, of a chunk breaking off and hitting him. Anything yellow would pass right through his protective aura without even being slowed down.

It was only after a second that he realized the meteor was on a collision course with one of the two planets that circled this star. Though whispy clouds encircled the planet and blocked any real view of the surface, what little he could see appeared green and blue.

"Ring, does that planet contain any life?" the Green Lantern asked. He waited a moment for the ring to scan the globe before him.

"Affirmative," the ring replied. "There are 64 597 246 241 046 673 life forms detectable on that planet, comprising 91 236 distinct species."

"How many are sentient?"

"Impossible to determine."

"Have any developed technology or culture normally considered to be a sign of sentience?"

"One species has developed basic agricultural techniques."

"Can you display a member of that race?"

In answer, a hologram appeared in space a few meters from him. It was, like anything created by the ring, green in colour, though the original creature was probably not. The being that was displayed was half the Green Lantern's size, bipedal and furry. It appeared vaguely porcine.

"Cute." The hologram disappeared. The Green Lantern turned towards the meteor. "Ring, what is the probable result of that meteor continuing on its present course?"

"It will enter the planet's atmosphere in one hour, four minutes, and sixteen seconds. In one hour, four minutes, and fifty-eight seconds, it will collide with the planetary surface in the south-western hemisphere."

"The effect of that impact will be what?"

"Initial impact will likely kill all life in the south-western hemisphere. Additionally, the resulting atmospheric disturbance will cause climatic shifts that will lower the surface temperature worldwide, to the point where the vast majority of species would be unable to survive."

The Green Lantern sighed.

"Ring, how much time is remaining until you need to be re-charged?"

"One hour, seven minutes and zero seconds."

"Time to get home?"

"Forty-three minutes and fifteen seconds to atmosphere. Forty-four minutes and twenty-six seconds to place of residence."

That meant he'd have to work fast. The ring needed to be recharged every twenty-four hours, or it would suddenly lose all power. If that happened while he was in space, he would have no hope of survival. And even if he got the job done, if it took more than twenty minutes he wouldn't have time to get home. He didn't relish the thought of being stranded on the planet below. A barely agricultural civilization would certainly not be able to send him back to his own world, and even if his fellow Green Lanterns came to rescue him, it might be weeks before he was found, if not months.

"Ring, send a message to the nearest Corps member informing them of my location, and asking for assistance."

"Unable to comply."

The Green Lantern swore silently. "Why not?"

"Microscopic yellow particles from the meteor are interfering with transmission."

Why did it always have to be yellow?

The Green Lantern had often wondered about the seemingly arbitrary nature of the limitation. Why yellow? It wasn't as if there was anything physically different about yellow objects, other than their colour. Why should that matter?

To be yellow was to reflect light in a certain way, in certain wavelengths. In the dark, colours were meaningless. With no light to reflect, a yellow object's sole distinguishing property effectively ceased to exist. It was the most ephemeral quality imaginable.

Yet the weakness remained.

"Do those yellow particles pose any danger currently?" he asked.

"Negative. They do not have sufficient mass to cause physical harm upon contact with you."

The Green Lantern felt relief. All members of the Corps were alleged to be "born without fear", but that didn't mean that they were not conscious of danger. If the particles had posed a significant threat, he would have had to deal with that, and he didn't want additional complications. There were enough already.

"Ring, that species that you displayed earlier, would it survive the collision?"

"Probability of species survival is point zero nine percent."

The Green Lantern pictured those porcine creatures on the surface. Those on this side of the planet must have already seen the meteor looming in the sky; even the heavy cloud cover would not have obscured it. Did they wonder what it was? Did they understand that it could herald their destruction? Were any huddled with their families even now, awaiting the end?

The Green Lantern flew a quick circle around the meteor at super-light speed, trying to find some area that was a different colour. If he could spot even a small section that was not yellow, he could focus on that point, and thus influence the entire object.

But everything that he could see appeared to be completely one hundred percent yellow.

His thoughts turned to those alien races that did not have sight, or had it limited to wavelengths that did not include the golden hue. To them, yellow was a purely abstract concept, detectable only with instrumentation designed to register qualities of light rays that their own senses could not. Some of the Corps were like that, he knew. Did that make the limitation even more nonsensical to them, or would the mystique of something beyond their own experience make the weakness more acceptable?

He considered what it would be like to have the convenience of easily identifying what his ring would and would not work against removed. It was not a pleasant thought, and he was glad his own vision allowed him that ability.

However, his thankfulness did not diminish his annoyance at the meteor in front of him. He could not affect it directly. He could neither stop it nor divert its course, let alone destroy it. As far as it was concerned, he was powerless.

Perhaps, if he could not affect the meteor, he should avert the collision by moving the planet. It seemed a ludicrous thought at first, but he had adjusted to just how great the power of the ring was. It would not be easy, but he could do it. He could remove the entire planet from its orbit, allow the meteor to pass, and then return the globe to its rightful place. He could even ensure that the fantastic stress of such a move did not have any impact upon the world.

The problem was that such a maneuver would require him to remain where he was for longer than his ring charge would last. He could not move it and then leave; even if he placed the planet in a stable position while he was gone, he could only shield it from the climatic results while present. Abandoning it outside of its orbit would cause untold damage.

Similarly, any attempt to render the planet intangible would require his constant presence. Evacuating the populace in time was also out of the question, even if he could think of anywhere to put them.

The other planet in the star system was clearly uninhabited, but it had no atmosphere at all and could not support life. It was also too small to be of any use as a projectile. It was a fraction of the size of the meteor, so hurling the smaller planetoid at the yellow threat would not alter the latter's course significantly enough to avoid the collision.

The final element of this system, the star itself, was no help either. It was, naturally, a yellow sun.

It wasn't as if "yellow" was even a universal concept, the Green Lantern knew, even among those who had the physical ability to perceive it. On his home planet, there were cultures who had not developed on their own the idea that "yellow" was a colour in its own right. They saw the world solely in terms of "light" and "dark", or if they had developed a few other colours, yellow had not been among them.

The Green Lantern smiled ruefully at his own silent complaints. If not being aware of something meant it really didn't exist, he'd have found his work much easier.

So, he couldn't affect the planet; that would require too much time spent here. He could affect the small planetoid, but it was useless. He couldn't affect the sun (not that he could think of any real reason to if he could). And he couldn't affect the meteor.

Yellow.

"Ring, what's the current time to impact?"

"Fifty-seven minutes and sixteen seconds."

Seven minutes had elapsed. He only had thirteen minutes left before he would no longer have a sufficient charge to return home.

He looked at the meteor. It wasn't a bright and true yellow. It was more a nice dusty shade, almost orange, but not quite. He wondered about that, as well. Everyone could identify pure yellow (if they could see it and had internalized the concept of yellow), but who could say just where yellow became orange?

The Green Lantern worried about that. He realized that one day his judgment about what was yellow and what was orange might differ from his ring's. It was utterly subjective. He believed he recalled seeing studies that proved that different people would mark that border in different places, and that even the same individual would not consistently give the same answer. His ring was more reliable; it would doubtless always draw the line in the exact same place. But one day, he might think that he was safe from some apparently orange threat, and pay the price.

He wondered how many Green Lanterns had fallen, over the millennia, to that fate.

He shuddered.

Time was running out, he realized. With no productive avenues that he could see, he had allowed his mind to wander. It might cost the lives of everything living on the planet below him.

Yellow. It all came down to yellow.

Normally, when he was fighting some criminal or other menace, he was on a planet. There were plenty of ways to manipulate the situation so that he could circumvent any yellow obstacles. He could make use of objects he was able to effect, if for no other purpose than to alter the colour of anything yellow. Here there was nothing.

There was just the planet, the meteor... and him.

He couldn't effect the meteor or the star, he couldn't effect the planet, but he could effect himself.

Forget the cultural implications; those were merely a way of diverting his mind. Yellow was really just a wavelength of light. Nothing more.

The ring could transport him through space at super-light speeds. It did so routinely. It could also transport him at relatively slow speeds, slower than sound. It did that routinely as well. But there was a speed level in between. That he used almost never.

Yellow was a wavelength of light. Move towards a wavelength and you make it, in your own frame of reference, shorter. Move fast enough, and it becomes so short that it's another colour entirely.

The Green Lantern tried to get the idea clear in his head, because an entire planet was at stake. He pictured a stream of vehicles passing him, one by one, at the same steady speed. In his mind, he was turned sideways, so he could see them as they passed. He wouldn't be able to know how long they were, except by the length of time each took as it moved by him. That was their length, so far as he was concerned.

Now he pictured that he had begun to sidestep, heading in the direction from which the vehicles were coming. That would decrease the amount of time it took for each one to pass him. To all intents and purposes, he'd made them shorter.

He was no physicist, and he knew it was probably a flawed analogy. But he seemed to remember that this would work, and he had nothing to lose. Actually, he realized, he did have something to lose: his life. But the beings on that planet below had no other hope, and that meant that, despite the danger, he really had no choice at all.

The Green Lantern flew towards the meteor, as fast as he could.

He felt his mass increase due to relativity, but he pressed on. He focussed his will, urging his ring to cope with the problem. He cleared his mind, removed all thoughts of physics, all thoughts of colour theory, all thoughts except for the need for speed.

The meteor loomed closer, and he suddenly became aware that he had done no calculations. Would he achieve sufficient velocity before impact? If not, the collision would kill him.

Time was running short, though. Starting again would eat up valuable minutes.

His only choice was to accelerate more rapidly.

The mass of his body was ten times its normal level, then twenty, increasing every second. He had moved continents in his time as a Green Lantern, but that task might soon look easy in comparison.

He resisted the temptation to shoot to super-light speeds. It would be far easier to travel at that velocity, with its own set of physical laws. He would not have to worry about increasing mass then. But he would also not be able to do what needed to be done. At super-light speeds, the wavelengths of light rays were the same as if the viewer were standing still.

Still not fast enough, he knew. The meteor continued to appear yellow.

Now every single cell in his body seemed to have the mass of a planet, of a star. He wasn't sure whether his relativistic mass increase really had gone that far, but it certainly felt like it had. He was dragging a universe on sheer force of will.

He was lucky this was outer space; the friction in an atmosphere would have made this challenge even more difficult, probably impossible.

Yet more acceleration was required. He steeled himself and continued on.

The meteor was huge, blocking anything else from his view. In less than a minute, he would hit it.

There was a significant chance he would not be able to stop or turn away in time if he needed to.

He braced himself.

And the yellow meteor became green.

Instantly, he fired a blast of emerald energy from his ring. It lanced forward, enveloping the meteor, consuming it.

That task, which had to be done while still maintaining his velocity, felt like it would cause his brain to explode from the sheer strain. But there was no other choice. His own life, and an entire civilization, depended on this moment.

For long agonizing seconds he poured every ounce of will he had into his ring. He wasn't even sure if he would survive, but if he could destroy the meteor and save the planet, that would be enough.

Then it was over.

The Green Lantern breathed a sigh of relief. He glanced around, and saw that all that remained of the meteor were a few small rocks that would burn up upon entering the planet's atmosphere.

A job well done.

"Ring, what's the time remaining on your charge?"

"Forty-five minutes and six seconds."

"Let's go home," the Green Lantern said, though the command to set himself on his way was mental and required no verbal order. He was already in motion as he spoke.

As the Green Lantern flew out of the star system, a thought occurred to him, and he laughed softly to himself.

Ninety-eight percent of the problems in the universe were yellow. Because if it wasn't yellow, it wasn't a problem.

 
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