"Of course, Optimus," Abin said amiably, "What is it?"
"We don't have to talk here," Prime continued on the same course his comrade had been following. Sur's smile slipped slightly, but he followed. As they exited Mogo's atmosphere, a small ship came into view. The Transformer locked onto the craft, and flew up to it.
"You knew?" Abin sounded guilty.
"Even if you thought you could keep it from me, did you honestly expect Mogo would not notice?"
"I guess not."
"Abin, why have you been using a ship for the last two years?" Optimus prompted gently, "Is there a problem with your ring? Or with you?"
"That's not fair," 2814 countered defensively, "It's not like all Lanterns are created equal. Some are faster, some are stronger, some have had specialized training before becoming Lanterns. And others are just not fair. Kilowog is as quick on his feet as I am, is probably smarter than me, and could bench press five of me without breaking a sweat. And you are twenty-seven foot tall, multimillion year old, shape-shifting robot. And you carry an energy rifle that most warships would envy. Is it really so far-fetched that the rest of us try to bridge that gap with technology? Carry a sidearm or vibro-dagger? Or in this case, use a spacecraft so I don't have to waste my ring's energy on environmental protection or sub-light propulsion."
"That's entirely reasonable," the Cybertronian agreed, "And yet you are still lying to me."
Sur grimaced, and said, "You know me too well."
"Do you promise to keep this a secret?" the smaller Lantern continued thoughtfully.
"Of course," Optimus agreed immediately.
"Like you said, it started a couple of years ago. I had just dropped the sniper, Bedovian in a Science Cell..."
As he worked his way back out of the massive prison on Oa's large moon, Abin Sur suddenly found himself lost. Which should not have been possible. 2814 was no rookie, unfamiliar with the layout of the penitentiary; and even if he had been, his ring would have guided him. After taking a moment to get his bearings, he realized he was not lost; instead there was a corridor on his right that had never been there before. Abin reached out, to see if it was some sort of illusion, but he encountered no resistance. Consulting his ring, it confirmed that his hand was plunged into the seamless, six inch thick titanium wall and the two point three miles of solid granite on the other side.
The Green Lantern regarded the unexpected hallway carefully. He had his ring scan for magic, spatial or temporal anomalies, or anything else that could explain the path that his ring could not detect and was not on the map. But it had no answers for him.
Lacking neither courage nor curiosity, Abin Sur stepped into the corridor. No alarm sounded, nor did the walls suddenly slam shut. He asked his ring again, which confirmed he was still on Oa's moon, and was now standing inside solid rock. So the Ungaran continued forward The hall began to slant down, and then the metal walls gave way to natural stone. And the illumination ended too, forcing him to rely on the glow of his ring.
In the dim cavern Sur lost track of time, it felt as if he had been walking for hours, but his ring reported it had only been ten minutes. The tunnel meandered and frequently ramped down, deeper into the satellite. And just as he was starting to consider turning back, Abin saw a green light ahead.
He stepped into a larger chamber, lit by what appeared to be medieval torches, burning with emerald flames. In the center of the room was a fifteen foot tall version of the Corp emblem, made of an unfamiliar green material. And bound to the symbol was a creature unlike anything Sur had ever seen.
Though its body appeared mostly bipedal, where others would have had knees or elbows, the alien's limbs each split into two long tentacles. A single green spike passed through each of the sub-limbs, nailing it to the symbol of Will. It had no head, however it had a small nose-like projection in its upper chest, above a giant, fanged maw.
"Abin Sur, born of Ungara and Green Lantern of Sector 2814," the alien rasped in dark amusement, "despite their best efforts, you have come to me."
"What are you talking about?" Abin asked carefully, already asking his ring to shield his mind against the apparent telepathic intrusion.
Shortly hence his ring shall fail, Abin Sur falls under Death's Black pale.
His end shall sound the era new, when Green alone Will not shine through.
A legend shall take his place, chosen from a child race.
Then the Blackest Night shall fall, the greatest test of Lanterns all...
The creature's voice trailed off, and Sur shuddered. The words pierced him, somehow he could feel a primal truth in them. He knew he would never forget the verse proclaiming his death.
"What does that mean?" he asked sternly, using the voice he reserved for students who were not paying attention. The prophet started to laugh mockingly.
"I do not explain the visions to your masters," it said, "but it amuses me to lay out the future to you. In very short time, at least to my view, your ring will fail you at a critical moment, and you will die. Your death will be both the signal and the catalyst for two great events. Firstly, your successor shall be the greatest Green Lantern since Optimus Prime himself. And secondly, the Blackest Night, the end of the Corps, will start to take shape."
"Then if I can stop my ring from failing, or otherwise survive this prophecy, this 'Blackest Night' will not happen?" Abin demanded.
The creature's laughter rose higher, echoing now throughout the chamber, "You cannot avoid your death. Some futures are uncertain, and can be changed with wisdom and foreknowledge. But this event is written in the fabric of reality. If you manage to avoid it, time and space will warp to try again. If you succeed in thwarting fate for long enough, the universe itself will die in your stead."
"Then why tell me?"
"Because I must deliver the prophecies I am given. But telling you what it means? That is merely for my own entertainment."
Abin Sur turned and flew back the way he came, both disgusted and unsettled.
"So you are using this ship in case your ring fails you?" Optimus asked, after his friend finished his recollection.
"No," Sur shook his head, "I'm using this ship so that if I am transporting a prisoner or guarding a diplomat when my ring fails, the person I'm escorting won't just be dropped into the void."
"But I am making sure not to let my ring's charge go below half."
"Then you believe this prophecy," the first Lantern sounded surprised.
"I do. Something about the creature's words felt absolute," Sur said.
"And have you told the Guardians?"
"I spoke to Loc," Abin answered, "He told me not to tell the others. The Lanterns aren't supposed to know that that thing is down there. It was supposed to be executed eons ago for multiple counts of genocide, but the Guardian decided make use of its prophetic powers, though Loc claims they do not fully trust it."
Optimus frowned slightly, and added, "Well, if you find out anything more, or need my help, please let me know."
The wave began to fall in on itself faster. As the curl began to close, the seventeen foot tall blue robot shot out, riding a twenty foot long wooden board. She leaned in, putting herself in front of the crashing water, and let it push her the rest of the way to shore. Arcee planted her board carefully in the sand, and then transformed into vehicle mode, throwing off most of the water. As she shifted back to her bipedal form, her nanocells carried any of the liquid that had intruded back to her surface. Though they did not have the will or intellect, the Cybertronian entertained herself by imagining the tiny machines grumbling at the indignity of keeping her workings dry.
"Thanks for the waves, Mogo," Arcee told the planet under her.
"My pleasure," the Green Lantern answered, and then added, "Does this mean you are ready to talk now?"
"Am I that transparent?" she countered, an extra hint of annoyance in her always sharp voice.
"There is no right answer to your question," he said flatly. She chuckled for a moment, and then sat down on the warm sand.
"Can I ask you a question?"
"I would think in the three years you have been here, you would have learned that you do not need to request permission," he told her, not for the first time. She punched the beach gently and futilely, before looking out at the ocean with a melancholy expression.
"It's so huge," she said softly, "I can barely comprehend it. And it's just one part of one planet. How do you do it?"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"The Green Lanterns," she explained, "Let's simplify and say that there are three point six billion galaxies in the universe. That would mean that each sector Lantern is responsible for about one million galaxy. Even though only about half the galaxies support life, most of those have around twenty sentient species and hundreds of worlds with non-intelligent life."
"So how do you do it? The Lanterns are responsible for all those people, but they can only be one place at a time. So for every life they save there must be a dozen or more others that they can't. How do they cope, knowing they can't save everyone?"
"So simple to ask, so hard to answer," Mogo mused, "First, is that the Lanterns are not responsible for every life. In general, they deal with intergalactic or interplanetary threats. Most Lanterns do more, especially for their home worlds, but those are not missions assigned by the Guardians or the Honor Guard. And those of us who are not sector Lanterns help, the Honor Guard in particular."
"And things are not as bad as you might think. While there are always crimes and even minor wars, but the types of events that require a Green Lantern generally only occur three times a week in a given sector. Of course, that is an average, there are times when a Lantern is overwhelmed for a month, but then has no assignments for the rest of the year. And there are times when there are multiple events overlap, or events are beyond the influence of a single Lantern."
The planet paused to consider one such event that his friends had made him aware of.
"All that said," the sanctuary continued, "some don't cope. Almost every Lantern has come to me at some point to discuss their perceived failures. Many recover, but some do not. Abin Sur's predecessor, Stakaðr, retired because he was unable to accept his failure the prevent the star Rao from going nova and killing the natives of that system. Even though he was saving trillions of lives by stopping an intergalactic war elsewhere at the time, he never got over the deaths of the Kryptonians."
"But let me ask you this, Arcee: just because we cannot do everything, does that mean we should not do what we can?"
The young woman did not answer, she simply stared at the waves thoughtfully.
The hyperspace window opened, and for a moment Optimus Prime and his passengers thought he had come to the wrong planet. Their destination had been a beautiful world of pink hued sands and amaranth flora, deep sapphire oceans, and towering megalopolises that artfully blended esthetics and efficiency. Though the sixteen billion inhabitants lived peacefully intertwined lives, they had a military renowned across their home galaxy for repulsing multiple invasions.
All that was gone. There were no cities, no oceans, no remains of the orbital defense platforms. Though the planet still had peaks and valleys, every millimeter of the surface was composed of smooth yet faceted panes of rose-colored glass.
"Astrogation charts confirm our position," Tomar Re, Green Lantern of sector 2813 confirmed.
"The water is gone, and everything has been crystallized," Optimus said softly, "but the structure of the continents, the ocean beds, and the mountains is basically the same. This is... was Bolovax Vik."
The first report of an inhabited planet being suddenly and mysteriously glassed had come in almost a decade again, and since then the attacks had been growing more frequent. Most of the destroyed worlds were in sectors 673, 674, and 675, though a few of the surrounding sectors had been less frequently hit. There was no pattern to the attacks; two systems adjacent to each other had been burned in rapid succession, only for the next three planets to be on far sides of different sectors. All of the planets had life, but one had been the seat of an interstellar empire and home to two native sapient species, while three had only born non-intelligent single celled life, and the rest ran the gamut between those extremes. The Lanterns were trying to watch all inhabited worlds in that region of the universe, but so far, they had not been successful in finding or stopping the attackers.
"Then where is Kilowog?" Sinestro, now the newest member of the Honor Guard, demanded.
"Detecting faint life signs and Will energy, drifting towards the Bolovax star," K'ryssma reported, her wings fluttering. Prime's wheels spun up, and he flew in the indicated direction at nearly double light speed. The other Lanterns helped K'ryssma scan the system, and after a few minutes they found him. Optimus slowed and spun around so the doors to his hold faced the unconscious Lantern. A bubble of Will covered the opening, keeping the atmosphere in while allowing Tomar to reach out with his own construct and pull Kilowog in. Once their comrade was safe, they began to examine him in earnest. A large part of his uniform had been burned away, and here and there the skin underneath had been branded as well.
"No major injuries," Tomar reported, "But his ring is drained to critical levels. It only had enough power left for basic life support, and even that would have run out in a few more hours."
"Can we wake him?" Sinestro asked angrily, "We need to know what happened here."
Tomar, the closest thing they had to a medic, nodded dubiously. K'ryssma retrieved a stim-patch and applied to an unmarked section of skin on Kilowog's left shoulder. His breathing quickened, and then his eyes popped open. He sat up violently, throwing back Tomar and K'ryssma. He lifted his drained ring in impotent and unnecessary threat.
"What? Where?" he demanded, not really seeing them. Then the effects of the artificial adrenaline subsided, and he blinked in recognition.
"This is Prime, ain't it?" he asked, and Sinestro nodded.
"We apologize for not giving you time to recover, my friend," the Autobot's voice echoed around them, "But this is the quickest we have arrived after an incident, so we need to know what happened, and if you have any idea were there attackers went."
"It showed up faster than anything I've ever seen," the Bolovaxian said unsteadily, "A giant ship, the size of moon, but it didn't cause an gravitational disturbances. It launched thousands of these wedge-shaped orange fighters, each spewing red flames. I blasted some of the ships, but that just got the attention of the carrier. It fired some kind of crimson energy beam at me, and I vaguely remember putting everything I have into trying to block it. That's all I know."
A dense emerald light passed through the hold.
"Kilowog, are you fit for duty?" Prime asked before they could wonder what he had done.
"Then get that ring charged. Take Tomar and K'ryssma, and search for survivors," the Autobot instructed, "If there is anyone in shelters or deep caverns, or if any ships escaped."
"Yessir," he barked. After energizing his ring and restoring his costume, Kilowog lead his comrades out into space, and back towards his homeworld.
"I'm not sure if it was a kindness, sending him back there," Sinestro noted.
"Maybe not, but he was not going to rest, despite the fact he needs it. I'll get the Guardians to send him to Mogo after they finish the search."
Prime sent the coded message to Ganthet even as he said he announced his plan.
"I take it you got an energy signature from that scan?" the Korugarian asked.
"Yes. You and I will pursue, and if we catch up to whoever is doing this, we will call for backup."
"You think we will need backup?" Sinestro prompted confidently.
"Whatever they are, they took out Kilowog and the Bolovaxian defense force before we could respond. I think better to play it safe then to risk them getting away."
Sinestro nodded thoughtfully, as the Cybertronian opened another hyperspace gate.