Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Zoe Saugin: Legion of Superheroes ally, infused with Green Lantern energy
Standing outside the building which housed the most famous team of heroes in the galaxy, Zoe Saugin gave Dragonmage a warm embrace. “Thanks for all your help,” she smiled sadly. “I still think there’s more to this mess with Qward than we’ve seen, but since we sent the surviving Thunderers back to their home dimension I guess we’re kinda stuck on getting any more answers.”
“I do wish you’d stay,” Xao Jin replied. “You’d be an absolute asset to the Legion, and even if you’re not interested in joining you’ll be safer here with us if the Qwardians do come after you again.”
Zoe stepped back and chuckled wryly. “I can look after myself, Xao. Anyway, between Dawnstar, Supergirl, Mon-El and probably half a dozen other people on your team if I do need help you’re not that far away. I need to find Sodam Yat though, and I need to tell the friends and families of the other Green Lanterns what happened to them. Once I’ve fulfilled my responsibilities as the last Green Lantern, who knows? I’ve got all this power now, I need to do something positive with it so I might just come back.”
“It’s your decision of course,” Xao answered diplomatically. “But I will miss you, Zoe. It’s a shame we only ever get to see one another in the middle of a crisis.”
“That part I agree with,” Zoe nodded. “I promise I’ll come visit again as soon as I can. Thanks again!” She allowed the emerald energy which now permeated her to manifest itself as an aura of light, and Dragonmage watched as his childhood friend flew off into the Martian skies.
On board a cruiser in planetary orbit
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Mon-El aka Lar Gand: Daxamite physiology
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Shadow Lass aka Tasmia Mallor: darkness generation
Star Boy aka Thom Kallor: celestial mass-transference
“It’s definitely them.”
Mon-El had been staring intently through the floor of the Legion’s cruiser for the last few seconds, but he turned now to face the rest of his teammates in a Legion cruiser which had travelled over 160 million miles. A United Planets automated research station had gone offline after recording a massive energy surge, so the UP had asked the Legion of Superheroes to investigate. Thanks to Mon-El’s range of vision powers, the Legion now knew that the Heavensent were responsible for this vandalism. The Legion had previously encountered the temporally displaced villains as part of the much larger Judgement League, but the Heavensent had left that group before the Legion’s final encounter with the League.
Brainiac 5 was confident that they could defeat the Heavensent in the very likely circumstance that it came to a fight, but it would be much easier if they’d brought more heavy hitters. His computer mind almost instantly calculated the probable delay in calling reinforcements and dismissed it as being an unviable option. With their powers and abilities, the Heavensent might know the Legion were here before too long; best for the heroes to strike now while they still had the element of surprise. “This outpost holds no sentient staff,” Brainiac 5 mused out loud. “There’s no tactical advantage to taking it over…can you see anything which may help to explain why the Heavensent are there, Mon-El?”
“Actually, yes.” The square-jawed Daxamite frowned as he trained his uncanny eyesight on the small planet once more. “It looks like they’ve rigged up a sens-tank and there’s someone inside. The entire team is present and accounted for though and I don’t recognise who they have in there.”
“Intriguing,” Brainiac 5 replied. “I recommend we find out. Shadow Lass, if you’d be so kind as to provide us with some cover let’s pay our Mercurian squatters a visit.”
The Legionnaires left their vessel, a disc of utter blackness masking them before the star-filled sky. Their transuits kept them safe from the deathly cold here on Mercury’s dark side, and their flight rings carried them to the tiny planet’s surface in little time. The facility they were looking for was small, far smaller than the Legion’s headquarters. It was also one of very few structures on Mercury, and the Legion found it easily in the deep crater which kept it out of sunlight during this little world’s insanely hot daytime temperatures. Brainiac 5 didn’t share Shadow Lass’s perfect vision in darkness or any of Mon-El’s sensory capabilities, so he was forced to monitor their progress using mapping software on his omnicom. Once the group of heroes were in position, Brainiac asked Shadow Lass to drop her darkness field. “The outer structure displays irregular density directly below us,” the Coluan announced, his green face glowing in the light of his handheld device. “I believe the Heavensent made their entrance here and have carried out temporary repairs to protect the facility’s integrity. Mon-El, if you could assist us in following their path?”
“Happy to help, Brainy.” The Daxamite gripped a thick plate of metal and easily bent it back, providing a makeshift doorway which the other Legionnaires took advantage of. He repaired the damage as soon as everybody was safely through, using heat vision to weld the tear back into place.
“Thank you,” Brainiac replied. “Now we should—“ He was interrupted by a loud grunt of pain, and the Heavensent’s hyper-speedster Tachyon came into view as he bounced off of Brainiac 5’s forcefield. He’d been moving too fast for the Legionnaires to see when he’d charged towards them, but they all clearly saw now that he was about to be smeared across the floor.
“I’ve got him!” Mon-El was a blur of motion as he raced to catch the white-garbed villain. “I may not be in your league when it comes to speed,” Mon-El teased the villain as he protected him from impact and gripped him tight, “But I’m a little stronger than you, Tachyon. You’re not going anywhere.”
Before Mon-El had even finished speaking, Tachyon was nothing more than a fading after-image in his arms. The villain had already decked Color Kid and Polar Boy in the time it took for Mon-El to realise he’d escaped, and Tachyon stood now in the doorway to the room the Legion had invaded. “Not in my league?” Tachyon grinned wickedly. “We’re not even playing the same sport. I can break the time barrier, you second-rate Superman…only a couple of seconds, but that’s all I need to walk all over you chumpers.”
Tachyon’s world suddenly turned pitch black. “I’m guessing chumper is some kind of regional slang from whatever backwater era Earth-Man recruited you from,” Shadow Lass retorted coolly. “I’m also guessing that like you, it’s not very pleasant. In case you’re not intelligent enough to work this out for yourself, I wouldn’t attempt any of your speed tricks while you can’t see where you’re going. The results wouldn’t be pretty.”
“Works both ways,” his voice rang out from within an 8 foot radius of pure darkness. "The second you come in here and throw a punch or a kick, that’s the same second you find yourself with some broken bones.”
“We don’t have to go in there,” Star Boy rolled his eyes. “Idiot.” He raised one white-gloved arm and the air turned dark around his hand. Thom Kallor’s power couldn’t be seen within the impenetrable darkness it targetted but all of the Legionnaires heard the buckling of the floor, the wrenching scream of metallic consoles suddenly too heavy to stand, and the painful thud of Tachyon slamming straight into the ground. Shadow Lass allowed the darkness to dissipate, and the heroes saw Tachyon out cold on the damaged floor.
“Good work, you two.” Brainiac 5 turned to Fire Lad, who’d gone to help his two former colleagues in the Legion of Substitute Heroes. “How are Polar Boy and Color Kid?” Brainy asked.
“Broge muh aww,” Color Kid winced, touching his broken jaw as tenderly as possible.
“We’re probably both concussed,” Polar Boy moaned, leaning on Fire Lad’s arm to stand. “I’ll shoot a cold spike through us to keep us from getting too dopey for now, but we’re going to need the sickbay when we get back to the ship.”
“You’ll be heading back to the ship now,” Brainiac 5 stated without emotion. “I’m not taking injured Legionnaires into battle. You’re a potential liability and your health is more important than any villain’s plot.”
“Eminently reasonable,” a woman’s voice sounded out. “I’m afraid you’ve removed that option from the equation by breaking into our facility though, Legionnaires. You’ll all have to die now of course.” The golden-skinned woman Celestine hovered before them, a flaming corona where her hair should be. The flames continued down the length of her arms, ending at a point just beyond her wrist. Behind Celestine, Red Giant and White Dwarf were poised for battle. The first man stood 12 feet tall, very nearly scraping against the ceiling. The second of the duo didn’t even reach 4 feet in height. Completing the group, the mute creature known only as Void emerged through an internal wall, leaving a hole in his wake shaped like his own silhouette.
“I don’t like to manhandle a lady, but you’re not much of a lady.” Mon-El charged at Celestine before she could mount an attack and barrelled straight through the floor with her, driving the golden powerhouse deep beneath Mercury’s surface.
“Star Boy, stay close by.” Brainiac 5 dropped the forcefield which had been surrounding him since his descent to Mercury and projected it again, this time around Void. “If this doesn’t work, I may need your assistance.”
“You think he can get through your forcefield, Brainy?” Even as Star Boy spoke the words, Void silently passed through the field and advanced toward the Legionnaires.
“Maybe my darkness can contain him?” Shadow Lass enveloped Void in her own power, but the darkness simply ceased to exist as soon as it breached his event horizon.
“No, I’m afraid Star Boy is the only Legionnaire present who can affect our foe.” Brainiac sounded utterly calm, though Void was mere feet away from him in this confined space.
“What can I do?” Thom shrugged, backing away slowly from the unstoppable force before them. “I don’t even think he has mass, Brainy!”
“Even a photon possesses mass,” Brainiac replied, “Minimal though it may be. Increase Void’s mass by a factor of nine thousand seven hundred please, Star Boy.”
“Nine thou—!” Thom began to protest, but thought better of it. His ability to transfer mass from stars into any given target was not so refined that he could guarantee the result his leader had requested, but he knew that Brainiac wouldn’t ask for such a specific result unless it were necessary. He resolved to do his best. With both arms stretched out before him, Star Boy trembled with the effort. The familiar dark nimbus of his power surrounded his arms and filled the silhouette of Void’s form. At first the mute creature gave no sign that he was even aware anything was happening, but as his mass increased further and further he began to falter. He doubled over as if in pain, and then with a small pop of displaced air he was gone. “What happened?” The overtaxed Star Boy collapsed to his knees. “Brainy, tell me I didn’t kill him!”
“I do not believe Void is capable of dying in any sense that we recognise the term,” Brainiac answered. “You simply destabilised his form temporarily by exceeding the threshold of mass he’s capable of safely annexing. Now, let us find out if our friends need assistance with their own enemies.”
White Dwarf covered his face with his forearm against Fire Lad’s flame breath. The villain's power was to increase his density as he shrunk down, and at his current three foot stature he was basically fireproof. The heat and light were a nuisance nonetheless. “We both know this is just a delaying tactic,” the former scientist announced. “You’re going to find it difficult to breathe fire once I crush your larynx, Legionnaire.” The barrage of flames ceased, and White Dwarf lowered his arm. “What the..?”
The ceiling had vanished, and in its place was a blanket of stars. Somehow the Legionnaires had removed the building’s roof altogether, but that made no sense. Explosive decompression should have sent all of them hurtling into space and an almost instant death! Before he could question the odd sight any further, Red Giant toppled down painfully on top of the diminutive White Dwarf. Helplessly entwined, both men were covered in a foot of ice to match the solid block of ice around Red Giant’s feet which had caused him to tumble down in the first place.
“That should keep them both under control for a while,” Polar Boy advised Fire Lad and Color Kid. “Super-strength doesn’t mean much if you don’t have the leverage to use it.”
“Good work, Brek…and thankss for your help, Ulu.” Fire Lad patted Color Kid on the shoulder. “I’ll admit, I wass getting a little worried when my fire on itss own wassn’t bothering him much. That sstarry disstraction wass perfect.”
Color Kid nodded, his throbbing jaw too sore for him to even attempt to talk. The ground beneath their feet suddenly shook violently, and they all looked down at the debris Mon-El and Celestine had left behind them. Right on cue, Mon-El tunnelled up through the ground to rejoin his team. His costume was in tatters and he looked worse for wear, but unlike his passenger Celestine he was still conscious. “She’s no pushover, but neither am I.” Mon-El dumped her unceremoniously on top of the struggling Red Giant. “Now…should we see what it is exactly they were doing here?”
“Absolutely,” Brainiac 5 took control. “Legionnaires, I’ve accessed their files and I believe I have a very unpleasant idea why the Heavensent have come to this place. I’d like to see their subject in person before I elaborate on my suspicions however.”
The Legionnaires made their way through the tiny building to the sense-tank which the Heavensent had constructed. Within they saw a humanoid female floating, oblivious to anything going on around her. The woman’s naked skin was coarse, etched with lines. She was disturbingly gaunt, and completely hairless. Her nose was almost non-existent, just a small raised ridge with two thin nostrils. Polar Boy looked from the woman in the tube to Fire Lad and back again. “Staq, she…she looks like you!”
“I know.” Fire Lad approached the sens-tank and touched it gingerly. “I feel like…I feel like I know her….iss that sstupid?”
Mon-El looked her up and down, then trained his enhanced senses on Fire Lad. “Genetically, you’re very similar. Why would the Heavensent have some poor Shwarian woman in a sens-tank though?”
“She’s not Shwarian,” Brainiac 5 answered. “In truth, she’s not a member of any race. The Heavensent have created her as a prototype colonist for this planet.”
“She’s bio-engineered?” Shadow Lass hugged Mon-El. “Why would the Heavensent want to create someone capable of living on an otherwise uninhabitable planet?”
“According to the files I’ve found,” Brainiac explained, “The Heavensent consider their powers to be some kind of divine gift. It seems that they’ve created this woman to worship them, and they plan on creating an entire artificial population just like her. She has an uncanny resistance to temperature extremes, along with other adaptations which would support her survival in Mercury’s hostile environment. If they’re allowed to continue, they’ll produce an entire army of loyal followers specifically grown for this environment.”
“Why do I feel thiss…connection with her though?” Fire Lad asked, staring up at the naked woman in awe. “Why are we sso ssimilar if sshe’ss an artificial lifeform?”
Before anybody could answer, an explosion rocked the building. The gravity generators failed, and the Legionnaires were sent hurtling into the vacuum of space along with the debris of the research facility they’d been standing in. Mon-El was fast enough to protect Shadow Lass with his invulnerable form and Brainiac 5’s forcefield shielded everyone else, but not before the tremendous force of the explosion knocked out Star Boy and Polar Boy.
Mon-El trained his telescopic vision on the escaping Heavensent. “White Dwarf is much smaller,” he reported. “He must have shrunk down to increase his strength and maneuverability, escaped Polar Boy’s ice trap and helped Celestine recover so they could make their escape. Do you want me to take pursuit, Brainy?”
“Let them go,” Brainiac 5 said. “Almost half of our team require medical attention; even without Void on their side, we’re not in a position to engage the Heavensent at the moment. Celestine’s dramatic exit destroyed the facility they’d taken over, but I downloaded more data which I can review on the way back to Mars to shed some more light on what it is exactly that they’ve done here today.”
Fire Lad flew to the side of the nameless woman in the sens-tank. In the explosion her tank had been ruptured and its liquid nutrient solution had frozen solid even as it had flowed into Mercury’s practically non-existent atmosphere. Staq Mavlen's heart was in his throat, though he couldn’t explain why. “What about her?” he asked hesitantly.
“I don’t want to provide false hope,” Brainiac 5 responded. “She may be beyond help, Fire Lad…
...If there is a way to help her though, I promise you that we’ll find it.”
Pauvitz Point, Portela Mountain Ranges
The self-christened Mwindaji handed his newfound patient a thermos full of water from Fraukinyagen River half a klik west. The bald white man with the pointed ears took it gratefully. “Thank you for everything,” the man named Vidar spoke gratefully as he sipped the fresh water. “Honestly, now that I’ve recovered my wits, my rings can restore me to full health but I do appreciate the lengths you’ve gone to in order to help a complete stranger.”
“You are most welcome,” Mwindaji bowed his head respectfully. In truth, it had only taken him half an hour to erect a makeshift shelter from branches and sheetbark. Mwindaji had thought he’d have to call on outside help for this stranger who’d fallen from the sky, but the man had gotten his spirits back surprisingly swiftly. “These rings you wear…is this how you survived your fall from the heavens?”
“It is,” the older man replied. “Tell me Mwindaji, have you heard of the Green Lantern Corps?”
“I am afraid not,” the dark-skinned teenager shook his head. “Here on Kirinyaga, we are not privy to the common workings of the worlds of the United Planets.”
“The Green Lantern Corps are a kind of intergalactic police force,” Vidar indulged him. “They haven’t much of a presence these days, but once upon a time they were a powerful force for good in the universe.” He held up his hand and the yellow ring he was wearing now glowed. “The Sinestro Corps were their brothers in arms, their rings were golden rather than green. These rings are weapons of the highest order, though it has been a long time since they were wielded for good. It was an enemy of the corps who laid me low, and sentenced me to what he thought would be my death. These rings saved my life…if I had their brothers, they might have been able to do more than simply offer a measure of protection.”
“There are more like this?” Mwindaji asked. “Rings whose power can protect you from terminal impact, restore your health at a faster rate?”
“There are seven corps in total,” the older man explained. “Individually they are powerful, together they would give me the power of a god. I plan to find them all and heal this universe’s woes.”
Mwindaji was stunned. To have met such a man on his Initiation Trek…surely this was a sign, a portent for him to follow. “Vidar…” he spoke cautiously in his stunted Interlac. “I am a tracker…I am perhaps the finest tracker of any I know. If these rings you need to find, I can help you achieve this.”
Vidar paused in sipping the water he’d been given. He’d been cast out of Qward, his allies turned against him. He was surprised to still be alive. If not for the green and gold rings he wore, he had no doubt he’d right now be plummeting to his eternal doom in Q’Uld’s bottomless Void. The rings had seen fit though not only to keep him alive, not only to transport him from Qwardian space to his home dimension, but to dump him unceremoniously with this naive stranger who might have the ability to help him find every other ring he needed to complete his goal. This was more than luck, this was destiny. He opened his mouth to answer Mwindaji, but he suddenly found it supremely difficult to form words or even the concept of words. His mind raced with a rush of input unlike anything he’d ever experienced before.
So it was that Vidar, the man known to others as Universo, emitted a spastic monosyllable and collapsed drooling and insensate before his newfound saviour.
TO BE CONTINUED..!
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
Nura Nal sat up in bed with a shocked gasp, instantly jolted out of her slumber by the jarring realism of the vision she’d just experienced. Not wasting a moment of time, she brought her flight ring to her perennially glossy lips. “Dawnstar, this is Dream Girl! Where are you?!”
“What is it, Dream Girl?” came Dawnstar’s haughty reply. “I have agreed to aid the Science Police in locating a cache of solar crystals the Taurus Gang have sequestered away in the asteroid belt.”
“Forget about that,” Dream Girl said dismissively. “Get back to Mars, you’re going to be needed.”
“In case you’ve forgotten, you haven’t been the leader of the Legion of Superheroes for quite some time,” Dawnstar countered. “And without my powers, it may take the Science Police months to locate these stolen valuables.”
“Without your powers, Lightning Lass is going to die!” Nura snapped. “Now get back here!” She ended the communication before Dawnstar could protest and shook Thom Kallor next to her roughly.
“I’m awake,” the hirsute Legionnaire named Star Boy grumbled. “I was hoping you’d go back to sleep, but no such luck huh?”
“Put your costume on,” Nura commanded as she bounced out of the luxurious bed they shared and made her way toward the en suite bathroom. “Trust me lover, you’re not going to want to be naked ten minutes from now.”
In the borderless void which was Quislet’s quarters, four Legionnaires waited with varying degrees of patience before a small perfectly formed black disc. Comet Queen was bent over, three-fingered hands pressed against her thighs as she tried fruitlessly to peer into the sightless depths of the black hole. “They’ve been gone like starspans,” she whined. “Can’t we call them for an update?”
“As I explained the last three times you asked,” Brainiac 5 struggled to maintain a civil tone, “I imagine it’s already quite taxing for Tellus to remain tethered here with us while he simultaneously accompanies Wildfire into Teallian space. There is no reason for us to make his task even more difficult by badgering him for constant reassurances. When there is news to impart, I trust he will do so.”
Beside the Coluan hypergenius, Tellus was hunched over in eerie stillness while Chlorophyll Kid stood next to him watching the Hykraian’s back pods anxiously. Chlor didn’t fully understand the unique visual language of the Hykraians, but his old friend Color Kid had made a point of studying Hykraian communication since joining the Legion of Superheroes and he’d shared a few pointers with Chlorophyll Kid. One of the things that Chlor remembered was that a Hykraian’s pods turned white when they were in a state of great stress or shock. Tellus’ pods had been stark white for a large part of the time he’d been on the other side of that black hole. “H-hey Grava?” Chlorophyll Kid called out nervously, “Maybe y-you shouldn’t be standing so close to that portal, we d-don’t really know h-how safe it is.”
Comet Queen didn’t move back, but swivelled to grin at the slightly overweight hero. “It’s sweet that you care, starshine. But I jumped into the tail of a comet to get my powers, a baby black hole’s not gonna scare me now.”
Immediately as she completed her statement, Tellus shuddered to life and his telepathic voice rang out in all their skulls. Legionnaires!!
Comet Queen and Chlorophyll Kid gave a surprised yelp, and even Brainiac 5 was visibly startled. My apologies, Tellus continued. But the urgency is warranted. My friends, the Teallians are invading our space! They have Wildfire captive, and Quislet seems to be working alongside them!
“What?!” Comet Queen exclaimed. “Quislet would never work with his weird energy people against us, we’re his friends! And how are they gonna invade us when they can’t even exist in our space?” She heard a poop-pop-poop which she recognised instantly and squealed in excitement which soon turned to alarm as a deep blue version of Quislet’s familiar microship zoomed straight out of the black hole, barely missing the golden heroine. Not missing a beat, Brainiac 5 projected a forcefield around himself, Comet Queen, Tellus and Chlorophyll Kid.
“Well,” Brainiac deadpanned. “I suppose that renders that question moot.”
Silver City, Crescent Bay Fusion Restaurant
Outside of his Element Lad costume Jan Arrah was just one more well-dressed diner at the most exclusive eatery on Earth’s moon, though not many people were paying attention to Jan with his date stealing glances from most of the sentients in the room. In her deep jade evening dress, a dusky shawl draped over pale freckled shoulders and her fiery red hair tied up in a loose bun, Shvaughn Erin was breathtaking. “You hate ostentation,” Shvaughn smirked over a glass of Winathian rose wine. “Why’d you bring us here, Jan?”
“Because I’ve seen my partner’s bucket list,” Jan smiled back, “And this restaurant is quite high up on it. Forgive me if I want to spoil the woman I love after nearly losing her.”
Shvaughn put her glass back down and reached across the table to grip Jan’s hand. “You are too good for me, you know that?”
“Luckily for you, I’m convinced otherwise.” Jan brought her hand to his lips and kissed it gently. Screams diverted the couple’s attention, and they looked outside the picture window to see a Science Police patrol droid opening fire on passing skycars.
“What the sprock?” With one hand, Shvaughn reached for the modular pistol in her handbag on the floor. She drew her other hand close to her mouth and uttered an override command into her wrist-comm unit to deactivate the droid. “Nothing happened!” she exclaimed. “If someone’s hacked into SP systems—“
“Then it means we settle this in a slightly more dramatic way,” Jan completed her sentence for her. He stepped up from the table and sent an electro-static charge through his suit which clothed him immediately in a far more famous fuchsia and black outfit. He approached the huge window and turned part of the glass into free-floating oxygen, a stunt he next repeated with the droid itself. Jan turned to a nearby waiter watching in mute shock. “Sorry about the window,” he apologised. “I’ll replace it with a temporary layer of aluminium and of course the Legion will pay for a more permanent repair.”
“Jan, look out!” Shvaughn pointed past him. The Trommite hero turned just in time to see a tiny blue ship fly through the hole in the window. A golden spark leaped from the ship’s open hull into the window pane itself, and transformed into an acutely angled glass creature which slashed at Element Lad. Jan jumped back just in time to avoid being disembowelled, and before the odd creature could make a second attempt Shvaughn disintegrated it with a well-placed shot from her handgun.
“Quislet! Tell us! About! The Element Lad!” the living ember barked. “Transmutation! Powers! Useless! Against Teallian! Matter!” The Teallian re-entered his ship, but as soon as the hull closed Element Lad encased the vessel in a solid iron block and it fell with a loud thud to the restaurant floor.
“I may not be able to transform your ship,” Jan said coolly. “That doesn’t matter though when I can just trap you inside of it.” He looked gratefully at his Science Police lover. “Thanks for the assist, Shvaughn. I’d better call this in to Brainiac 5, I’m sure he’ll be just as intrigued as I am to find out why one of Quislet’s people are taking potshots at sentients on Earth’s moon.”
“Jan, it’s not just one of his people.” Shvaughn had retrieved her omnicom from her handbag now and stared at it incredulously. “SP reports are coming in faster than I can read them. This is a full-scale invasion of the United Planets!”
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
In the Legion’s monitor room, Gas Girl’s jet black eyes grew wide with disbelief as she gazed at a galaxy-wide holographic tableau of violence. “They really are everywhere,” she announced to Brainiac 5 over a comms link. “Quislet’s people are opening portals all throughout known space! Mars, Earth, even Weber’s World!”
On one holoscreen Night Girl, Cosmic Boy, Timber Wolf and Color Kid faced reanimated statues of their fallen comrades Ferro Lad and Karate Kid just outside the Legion’s headquarters. On another screen the Legion of Substitute Heroes protected the citizens of Metropolis from a rampaging 30 foot tall moopsball mascot. Gas Girl’s lifelong friend Life Lass tested her powers against the Teallians on Lallor, and Takron-Galtos’s resident superhero team the Workforce had the unenviable task of fighting off Teallians while simultaneously preventing the prison planet’s criminal population from making their escape. Like Element Lad and Shvaughn Erin on Luna, Shrinking Violet and Calorie Queen’s date on Bismoll had also been interrupted. Bouncing Boy and Duplicate Damsel had stopped a Teallian from demolishing the Time Institute on Titan and Sensor Girl had reported an incursion on her isolated world of Orando. It seemed nowhere was safe from the inter-dimensional invaders.
Brainiac 5 began to utter a command, but his holographic visage flickered and faded in a shrill burst of feedback as the computer console projecting it came to life surrounded in a telltale glow. “This! Our space! Now!” the vaguely humanoid collection of metal and plastic ranted. “Legionnaires! In the way!”
The construct brought a heavy fist down on Gas Girl, and the bald heroine dissipated into a fine mist to protect herself from force powerful enough to completely shatter the chair she’d been sitting in. The Teallian took another ineffective swing at her before it burned out its current form and leaped into another console. He’s gonna destroy the whole monitor room if I don’t stop him, Gas Girl assessed the situation. What can I do though? No point corroding whatever form he’s using, that’s just destroying the building for him! It was then that she saw the extradimensional invader’s shiny blue ship hovering obediently in a high corner of the room waiting for its master. “Hey!” Gas Girl shouted. “You need that ship to stay in our dimension, right? Wonder what’ll happen when my acidic mist burns right into the hull?” Her cloudy form shifted color until it was a sickly green, and she drifted toward the vessel.
“No!” the Teallian screamed in predictable alarm. “Maybe Gas Girl! Do it! Maybe not! Not take! Risk!” The Teallian abandoned its current host and the pile of plasteel and electronics crumbled into powdery dust as he entered his ship and zoomed out of the room and into the corridor.
“Another one!” a younger girl’s voice rang out. Gas Girl’s slower moving mist form made it out of the room just in time to see the Academy student Dragonwing exhale a plume of flame which the ship expertly ducked. Her attack instead melted a small hole through the external wall of the Legion’s headquarters and the Teallian took advantage of the opportunity to flee through it.
Gas Girl paused before Dragonwing, Chemical Kid close behind his classmate. “Are you guys okay?” the Lalloran heroine asked.
“Are you kidding?” Chemical Kid beamed. “This is the most fun we’ve had since we came to this dusthole of a planet! It’s like playing Starship Shooters III in real life!”
Gas Girl smirked, though her facial features were vague enough in this form that it went unnoticed. It was a very brief time ago that she’d been that young and eager herself; she liked these kids. She followed the microship outside and into a scene of utter chaos. There were creatures made of rock and plasteel, converted aircars and shuttles, even a floating billboard which had absurdly grown four arms to wrestle with Elastic Lad while it flashed Interlac slogans about the health benefits of McCauley Industries detox ray treatments. A spindly long-limbed creature which had once been an antennae array swirled up Gas Girl’s form as it fell past her, then disintegrated before it hit the ground. The incorporeal heroine looked up to see Phantom Girl descending.
Tinya rolled her eyes. “I went phantom, the silly thing charged straight through me and off the roof…they may have Quislet’s powers but they don’t have his smarts.” Tinya gave her similarly insubstantial comrade an exaggerated look of seriousness. “Grife, don’t ever tell Quislet I said that. He’ll be impossible!” Phantom Girl and Gas Girl both giggled, then peered skywards when a sharp crack of thunder caught their attention.
High above the Legionnaires’ home, Ayla Ranzz’s power decimated the winged metal form of the Teallian who’d pursued her this far. In the early morning sun her lightning didn’t draw much attention outside the immediate area, but the deep boom which accompanied it was heard by every sentient within a hundred feet. The thunderclap made everybody look, and that made it all the more gut-wrenching when the Teallian leaped straight from its former vessel to the golden band which Lightning Lass wore on her finger. Ayla’s eyes grew wide with horror as she realised what was happening. “No!” She clutched desperately as what had once been her flight ring morphed into a miniscule replica of a Teallian ship and darted off, glinting in the sunshine. Ayla herself plummeted like a rock, gravity taking its swift and inevitable course.
Another Teallian had engaged Gas Girl and Phantom Girl; the instant either of them turned solid to catch Ayla they’d doom themselves. Sun Boy was protecting Invisible Kid and Infectious Lass, both of whose powers were no defence against these queer invaders. Even Timber Wolf could only look on helplessly as a Teallian-possessed titanium cable kept him bound and occupied on the ground that Ayla was rushing toward.
This is so stupid, Ayla fumed. How does an ex-Light Lass die from a sprocking fall?? She thought of her brothers Garth and Mekt. She closed her eyes as the ground came closer, then screamed as she felt something entirely different slam into her and whisk her sideways. She opened one eye gingerly and saw that she was in Dawnstar’s arms. “Holy nass! Dawny!!” Ayla hugged her winged saviour with trembling arms and planted a wet kiss on her cheek. “You saved my life!! Where did you come from?? How did you even know I needed saving?! Oh sprock, I think I’m gonna throw up.”
Dawnstar’s wings spread wide to slow her flight, and she deposited Lightning Lass gracefully alongside Blok, Diamond Damsel and Kid Computo. Danielle Foccart helped the far less graceful Lightning Lass stand while Blok and Diamond Damsel smashed Teallian rock creatures around them. “You may thank Dream Girl,” Dawnstar replied, wiping her cheek with the back of her sleeve. “Eternally frustrating she may be, but her precognition does have its uses. What is this madness, Legionnaires? If I didn’t know better, I’d think we were facing Quislet’s people!”
“No, no, you know just well enough.” Danielle rubbed Ayla’s shoulder while the still shaking heroine sucked down lungfuls of air and steadied herself.
“Looks like Quislet was a spy all along,” Ayla continued explaining. “We don’t really know anymore than that yet though.”
“Where is Quislet?” Dawnstar asked huffily. She narrowed her eyes and looked into the distance, completely ignoring the pitched combat going on only feet away. “My power can’t sense a trace of him anywhere. For that matter, where is Wildifire?”
Kid Computo bit her lip and shared an awkward sideways glance with Lightning Lass. “Welll….funny you should ask that…”
Inside a force bubble in a universe dominated by blazing reds and oranges, the formless anti-energy named Drake Burroughs fumed. He’d been trying to break free of the Teallians’ ensnarement since they’d started their invasion of United Planets space. The glowing spark which was Quislet in his native state hovered just outside Wildfire’s containment bubble while a seemingly endless procession of Teallian ships continued to fly off in pyramid formation to wreak havoc in Wildfire’s home dimension.
“Quislet, what the sprock is this about?!” Wildfire exploded impotently. “Your people can’t exist outside of their ships for more than a bunch of seconds at a time back home, how the sprock do they think they’re gonna take over the UP? Why do they even want to take over the UP?! Last time I was here, they were appalled by my individuality! Don’t they realise there’s a whole sprocking universe of individuality out there waiting for them?!”
“Quislet sorry!” the Teallian Legionnaire blurted. “Quislet—“
“Damn it, stop apologising!” Wildfire shouted. “Just answer the sprocking question!”
“Teall not take over United Planets,” Quislet explained, “Teall annex the space, expand home dimension! When Quislet’s people inhabit matter, matter falls apart and energy released! Only little bit of energy from Quislet alone, but—“
Wildfire completed the statement, his mind racing. “—But the energy release from every one of your people, every single time they jump into something, eventually it’ll tip the balance and make my space habitable to them, and inhabitable to organic life! But that’ll take forever! What the sprock kind of nutty plan is that?!”
While not physically present, Wildfire’s Hykraian comrade Tellus had accompanied Wildfire here via mind link and thus shared his awareness of everything that transpired. We do not know the average lifespan of a Teallian, the telepathic hero reminded him. They may consider your definition of forever as something far more finite and reasonable, Wildfire.
“So you’ve been planning this the whole time you’ve been in the Legion?!” Wildfire raged at Quislet. “What were we to you, just some kicks while your pals perfected their plan to destroy our whole dimension? Damn it Quislet, we trusted you!”
“Quislet’s people not want to annex your space at first,” Quislet replied. “First they want to find other energy beings like us, to assimilate. When they find out your space full of sentients they can’t assimilate then Teall scared, but after Quislet’s ship wrecked and Quislet sent home Teall came up with new plan! They send Quislet back to spy on Legion, to send reports about Legionnaire powers so they know how to fight Legion! And then they decide to take Legion’s space!”
“And you just helped them?!” Wildfire ranted. “Are you nuts?! What am I saying, of course you're nuts! And I’m just as crazy for ever coming after you!”
“Not Quislet’s fault!” the Teallian pleaded. “Teallians change Quislet to make him more like them! Quislet fight back but Quislet couldn’t fight forever! Quislet never want to hurt Legion but Teall make him thinksame! And then Fearstorm scared it out of Quislet, made Quislet more like old self! But too late then! Too late for anything! Quislet come home to try and talk Teall out of crazy plan but Teallians got Quislet good! Wildfire should never have come to Teall, Quislet’s people do the same to Wildfire too now!”
Wildfire! Tellus exclaimed telepathically. What he describes sounds like behaviour modification! If that is the case, Quislet was never truly responsible for his betrayal at all!
Maybe so but that doesn’t help us fix this, Wildfire thought back. “You need to tell your people to come to their senses,” he said out loud to Quislet. “You know the Legion will stop them, but how many sentients are gonna get hurt in the meantime? You really want that on your conscience?”
“Quislet can’t help it!” he protested. “Quislet don’t want to hurt anybody but Quislet different now! Teallians made Quislet like them!”
If only my powers could affect our friend’s mind, Tellus pondered, I could have a chance of restoring Quislet to his original state. Working together we could perhaps end this without the need for violence. I am sorry Wildfire, I have failed.
Wait a minute, Wildfire considered their dilemma. You can’t affect Quislet’s mind because he’s an energy being, right?
That is correct, Tellus replied.
Wildfire had an epiphany. Tellus! I’m an energy being! If you can get into my head, what makes Quislet so different?!
I have conferred with Brainiac 5 about this, Tellus explained. The strength of his psychic link shared the concepts he was thinking as strongly as it shared the words which described those concepts. Our understanding is that when you lost your human body, you instinctively structured your anti-energy matrix to replicate your neural network as accurately as possible. If I am to be honest I do not understand the science at all, but I am comfortable deferring to Brainac 5’s expertise in this. Quislet never had a human brain, his physical make-up is so divorced from any other living creature I have known that my powers do not even recognise him as possessing a mind at all.
So all we have to do, Drake Burroughs mused sardonically, Is get Quislet to become a completely different species. Easy. He paused a moment. You know, maybe it is actually easy..!
I sense what you are planning, Tellus spoke into Drake Burroughs’ mind. It seems highly improbable if I may say, my friend.
I’m a ball of anti-energy carrying someone’s disembodied mind into a universe completely unlike my own. I think we left probability back a ways ago, Tellus. Wildfire called Quislet’s name out loud. “You remember when you were teaching me how to conform my energy into a corporeal body?” Wildfire asked. “How did you do that?”
“Quislet know energy matrices,” the tiny Teallian responded. “Quislet know how to shape their fields, teach Wildfire how to shape. But Wildfire not very good at it, how that help Wildfire now?”
“I’m terrible at it,” Wildfire agreed. “But you, you’re really good.”
“Quislet good at everything,” the ego-driven entity started to warm to the subject.
“Why, I’ll bet you could even mimic the structure of whatever passes for my brain these days so you could speak to Tellus too!” Wildfire prompted him.
“Quislet never try before,” he answered. “But Quislet bet he can do it easy! How hard can Wildfire’s brain be?” His energy form seemed to change frequency somehow. Wildfire wasn’t entirely sure how or even how he could sense it, but he did sense it. And do did Tellus.
Contact! the Hykraian exclaimed.
For the first time since they’d joined the Legion of Superheroes together, Tellus had more than a vague peripheral awareness of Quislet’s psyche. As overwhelming as Teall itself was, Quislet was driven by simple desires; hedonism, independence, altruism, friendship. Tellus was glad that his friend’s mind was so easily understood, because operating through Wildfire as a proxy he wasn’t sure he’d have the strength of will to access Quislet if the Teallian Legionnaire were even half as complex as any of his organic comrades.
It was easy to see where the Teallian hive mind had grafted their personality additions on to the rebel in their midst to make him a more docile servant. The crippling obedience and need for approval were like grey webbed cocoons around the joyously vibrant strands of energy that made Quislet unique. Normally Tellus didn’t approve of using his own telepathy in an aggressive manner, but these people had hurt his friend in a way that he knew somewhere deep inside Quislet abhorred. Tellus wasn’t going to fail him now. He visualised the personality grafts as seaweed, his strong Hykraian paws rending them to shreds of astral matter which floated away on the tide as he swiped again and again to reveal the pure white star of Quislet’s inner essence.
Stop! A barrage of angry psionic voices screeched. Intruder! Make Quislet! Thinkapart! Teall! Won’t let! Intruder! Bring! The traitor! Back! The drab ribbons began to form again around Quislet’s mind. As much as Tellus tried to tear them away, the Hykraian knew he was not strong enough to oppose an entire race of sentient beings when that race was united as one overpowering force.
“Tellus done enough,” Quislet said out loud, having felt his telepathic teammate’s despair. “Quislet do this wrong before, Quislet try to fight Teall! Maybe Quislet learn something from Wildfire and Tellus! Now Quislet teach Teall to be like him!”
Quislet, no! Tellus protested, realising what he was going to attempt.
"What the hell’s going on?!" Wildfire shouted. He had some awareness that there was a psychic conflict occurring but Tellus’ link with him didn’t extend to allow Drake to be connected to the struggle going on around Quislet’s psyche at the moment. All he could sense was the heightened emotion coming from both his teammates and the rest of the Teallians, and the physical presence of a growing number of Teallians surrounding them all.
Both physically and astrally, Quislet’s brightness began to bleed into the Teallians around him. They changed color ever so slightly, and their frequency changed as his energy flowed through them all. The effect spread out, and then something amazing happened. Each individual Teallian became a different hue to his neighbour. Their frequencies all rose or fell only the most minute amount, with each one finding its own unique point of vibration. Influenced by the only individual mind their species had ever spawned, the Teallian hive mind transformed itself into a race of unique entities. The wave that Quislet had started was propelled by his fellow Teallians, and soon not a one of them was spared from its individualising effect. The Teallians crackled once more, and an ember of energy instantly familiar to Wildfire and Tellus reformed before them.
“Quislet save the day again!” the exuberant little spark boasted. With no effort at all, he released Wildfire from the containment bubble in which he’d been trapped this whole time.
“Okay, someone explain to me what just happened!” Wildfire complained. “We’re all friends now?? What the sprock, you two?!”
“Like Quislet said,” the once-again cocky adventurer explained, “Quislet teach Teall to be like him! Teallians all their own people now! Minds still connected, but not one! Teallians have to make up their own minds what they want to do now but they don’t know how yet so they all come home to learn! Quislet going to visit lots and teach them to be awesome heroes like Quislet, the best Legionnaire of all!”
We were still connected for some of that process, Tellus explained more fully. It seems that as the Teallians could influence Quislet’s matrix, he could also influence theirs. It was something that had never occurred to him to try, and it has evolved their entire race! They are all retreating, Wildfire! Quislet really has won the day! Our friend has returned to us!
“Well that’s just great,” Wildfire groaned. “If his ego was planet-size before, it’s gonna be as big as a sprockin’ star system now. Come on…
…Let’s get our nasses outta here.”
Q’Uld, the Voidrim
On a world of golden sands and the ruins of buildings which had once dominated those sands, there stood a city. Many of the cities of Qward had fallen over the centuries and not risen again, but this city…this city had stood. The citystate of Q’Uld was a thin crescent-shaped testament to the enduring stamina of the Qwardian people. Internal power struggles, interdimensional assaults from the Green Lantern Corps, the Sinestro Corps, Krona, the Descendants of Mongul, several incarnations of Earth's Justice Leagues and Rannian champions, nameless predators from the Bleed or the higher or lower planes of the multiverse, none of these things had managed to permanently wipe out the war-borne Thunderers of Qward. Q’Uld was their proudest remaining seat of power, and it loomed over an enormous void which devoured anything that plunged into its unholy depths. Sometimes, standing on the Voidrim, the Thunderers felt the bone-chilling wails of the lost souls it had been swallowing since before the beginning of recorded time. Only one creature had ever emerged from the Void, the Qwardian deity Erdammeru. Erdammeru the Void Hound had rained terror down upon the Qwardians, taught them the value of violence and was responsible for their devotion to the art and tools of war.
One of those tools was the golden ring which currently sat upon the finger of a cloaked bald man. A green twin sat on his other finger, and he huddled inside his cloak now while these weapons for once used their power for a constructive purpose to heal his broken body. He tried to hide his weakness from Highlord Ofreie, the stoic armoured Qwardian who currently walked the Voidrim as his companion. The cloaked bald man was not a Qwardian, he was not from this universe at all. He had found his way here through guile and the application of his vast and self-serving intellect, and those gifts had done him well so far but he couldn’t afford to rest on his laurels.
“How many more of my Thunderers died?” Highlord Ofreie asked bluntly. His voice was booming and his enormous round eyes seemed to stare into the cloaked human too well.
“All of them,” the Earthman answered without hesitation. He knew it wouldn’t serve him well to try and sugarcoat it. “Larfleeze killed them all. I was lucky to escape with my life at all.”
“When you came to my world,” the leader of the Qwardian people decreed, “You came with promises that we would gain the power of all of the Corps. Instead, we have found slaughter at the hands of Green and Orange Lanterns.”
“A temporary setback,” the shorter man replied quickly. “Don’t forget I also brought you a yellow ring and a green ring. The Orange Lantern was more savage than I anticipated, but with reinforcements—“
“It has not escaped my attention that you wear those rings, human.” The Highlord stopped strolling and looked down at the bald man. The Qwardian was a full head higher than his interdimensional ally. “I know, I know...until we learn to reverse-engineer the weaponry they are the only rings we own. And you are far more familiar with their workings than we are. When you proposed to wear them in our service until our enemies were dead, admittedly that prospect was enticing to me. It has been many many cycles since our people had enemies to face in bloody battle.”
“You can’t be getting cold feet now!” the human man protested. “We slaughtered the Green Lantern Corps, we can kill Larfleeze! We’ll find the other rings and your Thunderers will have the power of all seven Corps! Just as I promised!”
“You have delivered something substantially different to your promise, human. You have delivered us to the attention of Sodam Yat, to the attention of the female Green Lantern who absorbed her comrade’s power. You delivered us to the attention of the Orange Lantern, to the authorities of your universe who now hold those Thunderers whom survived your scheming like rats in a cage. You have not delivered us new enemies…you have pointed your enemies toward us. And I suspect you would find it hard to depart with the power of the Emotional Spectrum were we to help you find it. Simply put…the risk outweighs the benefits.”
The human man felt a sharp stabbing pain in his gut which wrenched the breath out of him. His mouth gaped in confusion and he coughed thick blood up onto the jagged blade which Highlord Ofreie had skilfully inserted into his torso. The Highlord slashed sideways before his victim could put either of his two rings to use, and the human man screamed in agony as more of his blood spattered the Qwardian’s golden armour. “You…you…I’ll…” the bald human staggered, remaining conscious only through sheer force of will. Green energy already began to seep across his open wound, but before he could go on the offence the Highlord simply smashed him across the temple with the heavy handle of the knife. The cloaked human tipped over the edge of the barricade upon which they’d been walking alongside and tumbled silently into the whipping winds of the Void.
Highlord Ofreie watched the man fall long enough to placate himself that he was truly doomed, and then turned away to walk from the Voidrim back into the city which he ruled with an iron fist. “The Thunderers of Qward are no man’s pawns,” the Highlord proclaimed to his departed victim.
“You would do well to remember that in your next life, Universo."
Two light minutes from Larfleezia
Chameleon Boy aka Reep Daggle: Durlan shapeshifter
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Zoe Saugin: non-Legionnaire, infused with Green Lantern energy
Xao Jin groaned as he stirred into consciousness. He instantly realised he was no longer on the Orange Lantern’s junkyard planet, and it only took a couple of seconds longer for him to recognise his surroundings as the sickbay on one of the Legion of Superheroes’ cruisers. He looked across to see Polar Boy and Chameleon Boy in their own beds, Zoe and Light Lad watching over them. “What happened..?” the groggy young sorcerer asked. He tried to sit up and thought better of it immediately. “Larfleeze..?”
“…thinks we’re dead thanks to Matter-Eater Lad’s crazy idea,” Zoe answered his question.
“The atmosphere of Larfleezia turned out to be quite volatile,” Light Lad explained when he saw the confusion on Dragonmage’s face. “Tenzil told Fire Lad to set it alight as a distraction to cover our escape, and…well, one megascraper-sized fireball later and Larfleeze thinks we’ve been incinerated. Which isn’t surprising as we very nearly were.”
“The others?” Dragonmage looked across at his bedridden comrades.
“They’ll both be fine,” Darvan reassured him. “Just a little banged up. We’re all a little banged up, Larfleeze and his agents are scary powerful!”
“I shouldn’t have taken you with me,” Zoe admitted glumly. “I could have gotten you all killed, I’m sorry.”
“You might have gotten yourself killed if we hadn’t been there,” Dragonmage countered with a pained smile. “I’d rather take some bruises if the alternative is losing a friend.”
“At least it’s all over now.” Zoe gave a dejected sigh. “The way Larfleeze was acting made me think he’d come across a Green Lantern before we got there. So when I woke up on your ship I checked and one of the Green Lantern rings is unaccounted for. Those Thunderers must have taken it on Oa, and then they tried to take Larfleeze’s ring, and well…he killed them all and I can’t find any trace of the missing ring so I guess he destroyed that too. I can’t believe my friends died so that those monsters could get one sprocking ring and I never even got a chance to avenge them.” Her voice cracked as she finished talking, and Zoe wiped at her eyes with the back of her gloved hand.
“Cham and Polar Boy don’t need me while they’re resting,” Light Lad announced quietly to Dragonmage and Zoe. "I’ll give you two a little privacy.”
Darvan left the sickbay, and Zoe Saugin considered her next move.
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem: hyper-stimulated plant growth
Comet Queen aka Grava: flight, gas generation
Tellus aka Ganglios: telepathy and telekinesis
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being
“So what’s the little jerk done now, Brainy?” Wildfire stood in the featureless space of Quislet’s quarters and looked over the black hole floating before them all.
“We don’t know that Quislet has done anything,” Brainiac 5 answered calmly while Comet Queen poked her tongue out at Wildfire. “From Comet Queen’s reports it seems that he retreated into isolation after Fearstorm’s psionic assault. His fellow Teallians may have simply chosen to exploit that isolation to abduct him once more.”
“Last time you got him back straight away!” Comet Queen railed. “It’s been days this time around! Parse me to the C-Span, the shiny little shuttle could be dead already!”
“I don’t think Quislet can die,” Wildfire dissented. “Not like you guys anyway. I’m gonna be stuck with that twerp forever.”
“Quislet’s immortal?” Chlorophyll Kid’s eyes grew wide. “Wait a m-minute…W-Wildfire, are you saying that you’re immortal??”
“You never heard of conservation of energy?” Wildfire retorted bluntly.
“Under the examinations of both myself and the Science Police, neither Wildfire nor Quislet have displayed signs of anything approximating atomic decay,” Brainiac explained more thoroughly. “It seems that one of the basic precepts of physics holds true for them as it does for any other form of energy; they naturally remain constant.”
Chlorophyll Kid thought on the matter for a moment. “B-but…how do you replenish—"
“Can we get on with this?” Wildfire interrupted. "Not that I don’t enjoy talking about how I’m gonna outlive everyone I’ve ever loved but truth be told, I really don’t enjoy it.”
“Of course,” Brainiac acquiesced with uncommon humility. “My apologies, Wildfire. Sometimes my scientific interest overcomes my sense of propriety. Tellus, are you prepared?”
“Prepared and quite eager if I may say so,” the gentle Hykraian’s voice modulator sounded. “Ensuring Quislet’s safety is of course my first priority, but I must admit that the opportunity to explore Teall with Wildfire’s assistance is one that I find fascinating.”
“I’m nebula-hazy,” Comet Queen pouted. “Quislet told me baryonic matter can’t exist in his crazy energy world the same way he can’t exist in ours without his shinygleaming microship…and how’s Tellus gonna fit in that little hole anyway?” She pointed at the perfectly black disc which was barely large enough to fit Quislet’s ship.
“It is true that I cannot physically enter Teall,” Tellus explained patiently, “Nor can my telepathy unaided communicate with the Teallians. Wildfire can exist in both worlds however, and by linking my mind to his I will be able to sense Teall as he does. I will also act as his bridge to the rest of you.” Tellus let the soft wave of his telepathy wash over Grava, subtly excluding the others. I know how important Quislet is to you, Comet Queen. He is my friend also. We will bring him back.
Comet Queen hugged herself and smiled shyly. It had been a long time since she’d been a student alongside Tellus at the Legion Academy and the two had never been particularly close, but she had always felt that he had a respect for her she wasn’t sure she’d earned. “Thanks Space-Fishy,” she mouthed silently.
“Come on,” Drake Burroughs prompted Tellus. “Do your head-voodoo and let’s go get back the one Legionnaire who’s ever been a bigger pain in the butt than me.” He opened his mind to Tellus and felt an initial icy rush followed by a warm flow of inquisitive empathy.
While the Hykraian’s enormous yellow body remained motionless beside the others, Wildfire could unmistakably feel Tellus’ presence in his mind. Indeed, Tellus agreed. Let us depart.
Brainiac 5 surrounded everyone else in a forcefield to protect them from unintended backwash as Wildfire faced the black hole and raised his visor. For an instant, the blazing light of explosive anti-energy filled the borderless space of Quislet’s room and then Wildfire’s empty costume drifted to a floating rest. Brainiac 5 dropped his forcefield and Comet Queen rushed to pick up Wildifire’s costume. Clutching it to her bosom while Chlorophyll Kid stood close by, she looked into the void that had claimed her friend.
“Good luck, starshines,” she whispered into the darkness.
Tellus had often wondered how it was that Wildfire interpreted reality visually when he no longer had eyes. He supposed it must be some function of Drake Burroughs’ Terran mind trying to retain as much of a link to its previous existence as it could. Right now, Tellus wasn’t sure how to feel about that. To Wildfire’s mind, Teallian space was an overwhelming plane of black and white areas which appeared flat but at the same time three-dimensional. Tellus’ own eyes weren’t as adjusted to certain fields of vision as those of his mammalian friends and he’d had to teach himself to adjust when seeing through their senses, but this was a different matter entirely.
It’s weird for me too, Wildfire admitted. And it’s weird that this link goes both ways…I can kind of feel what you’re projecting but I don’t think you’re consciously projecting it…does that make sense?
For this level of connection there will be some natural ebb and flow between our minds, Tellus explained. Imagine it as a tide drawing closer and further to shore. There is a subsurface level where the connection remains strong, but we will co-mingle at other depths as they happen to come into contact as well.
I guess now I know how Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl’s psychic rapport feels, Wildfire mused. Have to admit, it’s not as creepy as I thought it would be. Tellus clearly felt what was swimming between those words. ...I wish I could have this with Dawnstar.
It was difficult to gauge either time or spatial dimension here, but soon they seemed to be closing in on a particular black area in front of/surrounding them. There’s something I gotta warn you, Wildfire confessed. This is just the border space between Teall and our world. Teall is not gonna be anything you can prepare for, just like nothing I could have said would have prepared you for this weirdo place. But Tellus, when we get there you need to be on top of your game.
The Teallians nearly assimilated you upon your last visit, Tellus picked up from his teammate’s thoughts. Wildfire, why did you not tell us of this before we left?? I sense that you barely escaped with your energy form and psyche intact!
Last time Quislet came back here we just let him, Wildfire explained. Tellus could feel his guilt like a burning grip. Better than anyone else I knew what was waiting for him back here, and I always wondered if I should have done more to try and help him. This is my chance to make that up to him…and if Brainy knew how dangerous this was last time there’s no way he’d risk sending me back now. But Quislet and I made it out on our own when we were last here. This time we’ve got your help, there’s no way we can fail.
Let us hope not, Tellus replied. Together they felt reality around them change structure somehow. It were as though they were being compressed and simultaneously stretched out into an infinitely long and thin cylindrical space. They tasted something like battery acid as their minds tried desperately to interpret the physics-bending changes taking place any way they could. They were overcome with a sickening sense of vertigo and then they could have sworn Wildfire’s naked energy form made the same annoying poop-pop-poop as Quislet’s tiny ship as they were expelled into a geometric sea of fiery orange and yellow particles. The micro-dimension of Teall felt impossibly larger than the threshold they’d traveled through to reach here, but at the same time claustrophobically small. Tellus had to call on meditative techniques he’d learned before ever leaving Hykraius to centre himself in this hellish miasma.
You okay buddy? Wildfire asked.
I do not like this place, Tellus answered almost fearfully. I feel far from the embrace of Great Mother Ocean here, Wildfire.
We’re far from a lot of things, Wildfire sympathised. Heads up, we’ve got company.
Five fiercely glowing embers shot through the matrix toward them like comets through a blazing sky. They were at once like torpedoes shooting through an ocean but at the same time almost seemed like a virtual simulation, mathematically mapped out to precise points. Everything felt right-angled here, unnatural. Back on Mars, Tellus could feel the pods on his back turn a stark white color. He held on to that, held on to the dim awareness of Brainiac 5, Comet Queen and Chlorophyll Kid’s concern for them. He was afraid without it he would lose his anchor and drift madly here forever.
“Outsider!” one of the embers trilled in a voice unerringly similar to Quislet’s. “But! Familiar!” Each word came from a different glowing lifeform, continuing flawlessly from its predecessor.
I see them as you do, Tellus confided to Wildfire. But my telepathy senses them no more than it senses Quislet.
That’s not necessarily a disadvantage, Wildfire thought back at his teammate. They can’t sense you either. They think I’m here alone. With whatever passed for his voice in this space, Wildfire addressed the Teallians. “You should recognise me,” he announced. “I’ve been here once before, the last time you tried to kidnap my friend. I’m here to help him come home, just like last time.”
“This! Quislet home!” the hive mind of Teall barked. “Soon! Your world! Home! As well!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Wildfire demanded.
“You! Think! Quislet! Traitor! Think-Apart!” The five Teallians surrounded the ball of anti-energy which constituted Drake Burroughs’ presence here. “That Quislet! Lives no more! Quislet! Fixed now! Teallian scout!”
“What have you done to him?” Wildfire asked. He wished he didn’t feel so helpless here. “What do you mean he’s fixed now?”
“We! Show!” the Teallians crowed. Three of them positioned themselves in triangulation around Wildfire and encased him in a bubble of invisible force. The other two shot away into the distance.
Don’t panic, Wildfire comforted Tellus silently. Once they bring Quislet here, we’ll figure out a way to escape.
Tellus didn’t respond. He knew Wildfire was accustomed to blasting his way out of any situation, but Tellus had a sinking feeling this was one problem they weren’t going to be able to charge their way through. The absent Teallians returned soon enough, a new glowing ember alongside them. Somehow, Wildfire and through him Tellus knew the newcomer was their comrade despite the fact that he was visually identical to his fellow Teallians. Tellus wondered if perhaps Wildfire’s own energy form responded to some unique emission of Quislet’s on a subconscious level which allowed Wildfire to recognise him without even being aware of it.
“Quislet!” Wildfire pushed against the force constraining him. “Come on! Rebuild your ship, let’s get out of here!”
“Wildfire should not have come to Teall,” Quislet responded. There was something in his voice that Wildfire had never heard, something he couldn’t quite place. Then it dawned on him. It was contrition.
“Quislet, stop messing around!” Wildfire snapped. “I don’t know what they’ve done to you, but you don’t have to put up with it! We can help you, Tellus came with me!”
“Tellus here?” A note of hope lifted Quislet’s tone. “Tellus, go home if you hear Quislet! Tell Legion, Quislet sorry!”
“Sorry?” Wildfire asked. “Sorry about what? Quislet, what’s going on?” It was then that Drake Burroughs noticed more of the shining sparks of life which were the Teallians shooting through the blazing cosmos toward them. A handful more stopped near them, followed by twice as many more. A couple dozen more came, and many more after them. Soon a pyramid formation of Teallians floated before them, each one an exactly calculated distance from his neighbour. “Quislet!” Wildfire shouted. “Tell me what’s going on, damn it!”
Quislet remained quiet on the matter, but the Teallian hive mind did not. “You! Think! Quislet! Your hero!” they screamed. “Quislet! Only! Gather! Information! First! Teallians! Want to! Assimilate! Alien life! Now! Teallians! Assimilate! Alien Dimension!”
“Quislet sorry!” the Teallian Legionnaire repeated. “Quislet not want to hurt Legion, Legion Quislet’s friends. But too late for that, too late for anything now!” As he spoke, the pyramid formation of Teallians focused their energy alteration abilities and each individual constructed a micro-ship around himself. Whereas Quislet’s ship was a gleaming chrome though, these ships were a deep metallic blue, sinister red trim highlighting their rounded curves.
Wildfire, what is happening? Tellus asked, alarmed.
The dark ships flew off in formation, dozens upon dozens of them following the path Wildfire and Tellus had taken to get here. Still entrapped by the handful of Quislet’s people they’d originally encountered, Drake Burroughs could only watch in horror. Tellus, warn Brainy! Wildfire ordered urgently.
Teall is invading the United Planets!
Husband Hill, Legion of Superhero Headquarters
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem: hyper-stimulated plant growth
Comet Queen aka Grava: flight, gas generation
Ral Benem took a gulp of his nutrient shake as he climbed the emergency stairs on his way from the Legion’s gym back to his personal quarters. The shake tasted foul, but Stone Boy had sworn it would help him replace electrolytes lost from physical activity while giving Ral the protein he’d need to repair and build muscle mass. Coming from Zwen, a planet not quite as technologically advanced as the UP standard, Stone Boy had been a great aid in helping Chlorophyll Kid lose weight as naturally as possible. It was also his idea for Ral to take the stairs where possible instead of relying on the people-moving technologies the rest of the Legion took for granted. His legs felt like Ventura Jelly after the intensive workout he’d just pushed himself through, but Ral had to admit that it felt good accomplishing his goals through his own hard work rather than letting a cellular trim-ray do the job for him. He was panting and wiping sweat from his brow when he came across Comet Queen sitting by the door to the first of the residential levels. She was holding her knees up close to her flat chest and she looked utterly miserable. “Comet Queen?” Chlorophyll Kid questioned. “What are you doing here all on your own?”
“I’m sorry, starshine,” she sniffed. “This is like the border territories of Legionland, nobody ever uses these stairs. I didn’t think I’d bother anyone here.” She wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
“You’re not bothering me,” Chlorophyll Kid reassured her. “I guess it’s just a weird place to hang out…h-hey, have you been crying?” He crouched down to her eye level.
“It’s Quislet!” Grava bawled. “He hasn’t come out of his room in days and nobody cares but me!” She buried her face in her hands and sobbed loudly.
“Aw hey, I-I’m sure it’s not that bad.” Chlorophyll Kid very awkwardly patted her knee. “He just—“
“No!!” Comet Queen blurted. She looked up at Chlorophyll Kid imploringly. “Don’t say that! Everyone says that, but what they mean is we just don’t matter! When Lightning Lad died, the rest of the Legionnaires couldn’t wait to sacrifice themselves to bring him back! When Shrinking Violet got kidnapped by that creep Micro Lad, the Legion ran after her faster than a tachyon burst when they found out! Parse me to the C-span, they tried to clone Lyle Norg and Ferro Lad! Bouncy told us all about it when I was at the Academy! Do you know what they did when Quislet’s first shuttle went full Q-dispersal and he phantomed back to Teall? Nothing! They knew his weird energy people hated him and they didn’t do a thing about it! They treat me and him both like we’re in elliptical orbits and we just don’t matter!” She had worked herself up too much to continue and lost herself into disconsolate wailing once more.
Chlorophyll Kid felt something come over him. Part of it was guilt. Like everyone else on the team, he tended to identify Comet Queen and Quislet more in terms of their idiosyncratic personality quirks than anything deeper than that. But a larger part of what he was feeling now was empathy. He’d been a member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes a lot longer than he’d been in the Legion of Superheroes, and for years the larger Legion had ignored and underestimated Ral and his friends. Even Polar Boy had turned his back on the Subs when he joined the Legion of Superheroes. As much as that had hurt, Chlorophyll Kid couldn’t deny that making it into the Legion of Superheroes himself had given him a sense of validation that he shouldn’t have needed to have felt. He was proud to be a full-fledged member of the Legion of Superheroes, but he knew that there was a particular elitism that permeated this team.
Ral gently lifted Grava’s chin up so she was facing him again. “Come on,” he said with a determination that shocked her out of her hysteria.
“Where?” the young heroine was clueless. “Where are we going, starshine?”
“You do matter,” Chlorophyll Kid declared firmly. “So does Quislet. And it’s time someone else in this team learned that.” He stood and offered his hand to help Grava to her feet, then gripping her hand tightly Ral Benem stormed off toward Brainiac 5’s multi-lab.
SOMEWHERE OUTSIDE UNITED PLANETS SPACE
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Zoe Saugin: non-Legionnaire, infused with Green Lantern energy
Zoe Saugin had followed the trail of the Thunderers of Qward so swiftly that even Supergirl had to make an effort to match her speed. The Legion of Superheroes’ young sorcerer Dragonmage would never have been able to follow his old friend’s trail using his flight ring and he was glad that Supergirl had been there to carry him. Glowing an iridescent green, Zoe paused before a large brownish-grey world. It was the first time she’d stopped in nearly 30 minutes of space flight, and it gave the two Legionnaires the opportunity they’d been waiting for. Kara flew directly in front of Zoe, and Xao pointed at his ear. Zoe was confused for a moment, but she soon realised that he was trying to find a way to communicate with her and she used her power to transmit her voice from her ring to his telepathic earplug. “You two didn’t need to come,” she warned them. “This is a dangerous place for anyone who’s not a Green Lantern. What’s down there is not likely to be much fun for me as it is."
“Nobody doubts your power,” Dragonmage answered diplomatically. “Supergirl is at least your equal though, and my dragonforms may come in handy."
“It’s not about power,” Zoe explained. “This planet is Larfleezia. The one and only Orange Lantern rules here with an iron fist, an immeasurably old alien named Larfleeze. He signed a peace treaty with the Green Lantern Corps nearly a thousand years ago, Sodam Yat taught us about him. Larfleeze wasn’t supposed to bother us and we wouldn’t bother him. My power’s tracked the Thunderers of Qward here, if they think they can hide out on his planet they’ve thought wrong. He’ll give me the Thunderers to satisfy the terms of our treaty, he won’t take kindly to any other outsiders though. It’s best you stay here.”
Supergirl had a faraway look in her eye as she gazed upon the ugly planet. “Are you sure there’s only one Orange Lantern?” she asked.
“Of course I’m sure,” Zoe dissented. “Sodam Yat met Larfleeze. He lived through this history, Supergirl.”
“He may not have lived through enough of it,” Kara retorted. She released Dragonmage and took point in front of her two fellow travellers. “Because there are a whole lot of Orange Lanterns flying up to meet us right now.”
Zoe looked planetside and her already green eyes flared a slightly brighter emerald. “You’re right,” she admitted in a confused tone. “There’s an army of them approaching us…but that makes no sense, orange is the color of avarice! The whole reason there’s only one Orange Lantern is that Larfleeze refuses to share his power with anyone else! He never has! Why would he have his own corps now?”
“Wait, you said avarice?” Dragonmage thought on the matter. He could see the beginnings of the army that ascended through Larfleezia’s unbreathable atmosphere, dozens upon dozens of tiny gleaming orange lights twinkling in the murky fog. “You mean greed? Zoe, what if he’s decided he wants to be the only Lantern? If this Larfleeze can’t possess the other colors, maybe he’s just as happy to see them destroyed!”
The question remained unanswered. Powered by the orange light, Larfleeze’s agents swarmed the three heroes in no time. A platoon of automatons hit them like a wall of force, their metallic shells illuminated by neon orange strips of light. Supergirl’s invulnerable form shielded Dragonmage from the brunt of the attacking force, but sheer numbers soon separated them. He saw a flash of Kara's cape beneath a mountain of metal and completely lost sight of Zoe within seconds. Paradoxically, as much as the multitude of robots made them impossibly daunting opponents it also gave Xao some measure of safety. They swept over him like an unstoppable tidal wave of force, but none of the stronger and more durable machines had yet targeted him individually. Still, he knew his luck couldn’t hold out. Tumbling through the void of space as he was, bouncing painfully from one metal shell to the next, he couldn’t focus his concentration enough to summon a dragonform. He needed a moment to find his centre, just one moment.
Granting his wish in the most backhanded way, one of the robots grabbed Dragonmage by the throat. Its orange optical sensors blazed, and he heard a painfully shrill voice rip through his skull. “You think you can steal from Larfleeze? Nobody steals from Larfleeze! The Orange Agents will destroy you for even trying! Larfleezia and everything on it belongs to the God of the Orange Light!”
Dragonmage was no robotics expert, but he had the highly uncomfortable sensation that this thing was about to kill him. You wanted more experience with combat magic, he chided himself, Well here it is. Grimacing, Xao Jin knew he didn’t have the luxury of an elegant solution. An enormous jade dragon appeared behind him, its powerful jaws yawning wide enough to swallow both Dragonmage and his foe whole. Appearing suddenly in the middle of the robots as it had, it smashed several of them into their fellows. Its spreading wings and flicking tail took care of double that number. Finally, its roar of fury somehow travelling through the vacuum unaided, the dragon dashed forward and ripped the head clean off of Dragonmage’s robotic opponent. A dragonform this large and powerful was difficult to control, but outnumbered as he was, Dragonmage wasn’t too concerned about control. He trusted both Supergirl and Zoe to be able to keep clear of the beast, and he was happy for it to take out as many of these so-called Orange Agents as possible. Using his flight ring to mount the dragonform’s scaled head, Dragonmage felt something surprising as it tore through the ranks of the artificial beings’ ranks.
He was enjoying himself.
“Get off of me!”
Supergirl hurled two of the robots into the crowd of metal which surrounded her. One of their appendages continued to grip ineffectively at her forearm until the rest of its body smashed to smithereens against its troopmates and the orange light which had given it life faded. More accurately, the light didn’t fade so much as it dispersed into near invisibility and beamed back down to the planet’s surface. It was something most other people wouldn’t have noticed, but with her enhanced senses very little in this universe was hidden from Kara Zor-El.
One of the things which was hidden from her right now was Dragonmage’s whereabouts. Nor could Kara see Zoe Saugin. There was a lot of lead in these metal shells, and there were a lot of metal shells. Supergirl’s x-ray vision was useless here, and it stopped her from truly releasing her power. As much as she’d have liked to incinerate the robots en masse, she had to make sure Zoe and Xao were safe first. Think, Kara. Twin beams of red light shot forth form her eyes to penetrate two of the attackers, her fists demolishing another three of them. Super-hearing is useless in space, and even if it wasn’t I doubt it’d overcome a hundred stupid robots screaming through my flight ring about their stupid orange god…I can’t see through these dumb machines, there must be some way to find Xao and his Green Lantern pal and get them out of this mechanical feeding frenzy! An animalistic roar came over the space battle even as Supergirl was lamenting that she couldn’t hear anything, and she cocked her head to one side with a puzzled expression. In the distance, dozens of robots flew in all directions and an enormous dragon appeared from out of nowhere. Kara smiled. Guess I found Dragonmage. She flew through a wall of the robots like a human battering ram, calling on a wide swath of heat vision to annihilate another squad of them who’d been getting in position to fire on the young sorcerer from above his field of vision. You’re full of surprises, Supergirl complimented him telepathically now that they were once again within range to use their earplugs to communicate. Nice one, short stuff!
Dragonmage blushed furiously. It’s really nothing, but thank you. Have you seen Zoe?
A brilliant explosion of emerald light caught the duo’s attention, dozens of robots flying from the force of rapidly expanding green energy a few miles away. I think she’s over there, Supergirl deadpanned. You wanna go have an old-fashioned superhero team-up?
Sure, I— Dragonmage cried out sharply, and though the sound didn’t travel beyond his transuit the telepathic connection passed on a knife of pain to Supergirl’s mind as well.
Unused to the sensation, Kara reeled for a second. Dragonmage, what is it? she asked. She instantly saw the cause of their mutual pain for herself. The robots weren’t just strong, a lot of them had cannons in their appendages or weapon ports in their heads or torsos. They worked together now to fire upon the dragon which had scattered so many of them, and the onslaught of orange energy was causing psionic feedback. The dragon shimmered and faded from existence, and no sooner had it gone than they turned their energy assault on Supergirl and her dazed teammate. Supergirl leaped to action, hugging Xao close and protecting him with her own hide for the second time today. The robots had them surrounded though, and their energy assault was hurting even Kara. If a single beam hit Dragonmage, he’d be dead for sure. She racked her brain for a way to get him to safety, but she couldn’t think of a method which would leave him unharmed. With the speed and efficiency with which these robots were surrounding the two teenagers, staying in one place wasn’t going to protect him for long either.
Suddenly a bunch of robots on one side were enveloped in a red flash of light which left them smouldering and half melted. A red and blue blur zoomed through more of them, tearing them to pieces and scattering them. Finally, a thin sheen of ice developed over more of the automatons, and the newly brittle hunks of frozen metal shattered just as easily before the charge of the petrified Legionnaire Stone Boy. Stone Boy and Polar Boy hovered before Supergirl and the now recovered Dragonmage while Mon-El and Ultra Boy continued to deal destruction on a grand scale to the robots in the immediate area. With a clearing made in the machine onslaught, Supergirl’s telescopic vision picked up the Legion’s shuttle near one of Larfleezia’s moons and her x-ray vision told her Chameleon Boy, Fire Lad, Light Lad and Matter-Eater Lad were on board. No doubt you could have found a way out of that mess yourself, Stone Boy greeted them via telepathic earplug, but when Ultra Boy’s penetra-vision saw you both underneath a dogpile of robots he thought neither of you would be ungrateful for the assist either.
He was right, Supergirl gave her rescuers a grateful smile. And I always say one good turn deserves another. She sped forward and smashed through five of the automatons surrounding Jo Nah.
Thanks, Jo winked. I could have taken them but you know, one power at a time means I have to think a little more about it.
Stone Boy traded blows with another of the Orange Agents while Polar Boy’s ice shields kept orange energy blasts at bay. Dragonmage was in the process of casting a new dragonform when he suddenly vanished in a streak of green light. Green’s good, right? a surprised Polar Boy asked. Green’s one of ours?
Stone Boy gave a brief look of concern before his fist caved in his opponent’s face plate. Let’s hope so.
Dragonmage looked around in a daze. He could see the expanse of space around him and he could see his friends swarmed by a seemingly endless number of Orange Agents some distance away. Everything was tinged in green though. ‘Wha—?” The young sorcerer was shocked to hear his own voice clearly.
“Sorry for the rude abduction,” Zoe’s voice sounded. Xao spun around to find her floating behind him and realised they were both floating inside a translucent green sphere of light containing a breathable environment. “We can’t fight these Orange Agents forever, they’ll eventually wear us down. I need to take the fight to the Thunderers, and I can sense that they’re down there on Larfleezia. I don’t know why they’re working with Larfleeze, but I intend to find out.”
“And you brought me here to…help you?” Dragonmage asked disbelieving. “Zoe, I can’t just leave the Legionnaires to fight these things on their own!”
“Oh, come on.” She rolled her eyes. “Even Stone Boy is holding his own, you think the Orange Agents are a threat to Mon-El, Ultra Boy or sprocking Supergirl? You said you were here for me and I didn’t want to bring you into this, but it’s too late for that so are you going to help me or not?”
Xao struggled between loyalty to his friend and loyalty to his team. Zoe was the only reason any of them were even here, Xao didn’t feel right leaving them to finish the fight she’d led them to. He felt worse about the idea of her confronting those Thunderers again on her own, especially if they were allied with someone who referred to himself as an orange god. “Very well,” he finally agreed meekly. “I’ll help.”
“Xao Jin, you’re the best friend a girl could ask for!” Zoe threw herself at him, hugging him tight. The bubble flashed away toward the dirty planet’s furthest hemisphere, far away from the main continent from which thee robots were swarming forth. In their wake, a jade dragon small enough to fit in the palm of a young man’s hand zipped off in the other direction away from the planet.
The surface of Larfleezia was a chaotic mess. It had been many centuries since its several large landmasses had featured anything even resembling conventional cities. The entire world now was just a space for Larfleeze to store the many many things he hoarded. Rare gems, discarded machinery and the detritus of generations piled high around the planet like manmade mountains. What had once been a robust civilisation of artificially intelligent machines had for hundreds of years now been nothing more than an extension of Larfleeze’s will. Those who weren’t cataloguing his worldwide collection were preparing to meet their fellow Orange Agents in battle high above their trashpile of a planet. Larfleezia’s atmosphere had long since been rendered toxic to organic beings, and the only two flesh and blood men currently on Larfleezia’s surface were protected by their similarly hued rings.
After billions of years of close proximity to its exotic and mind-warping radiations, Larfleeze now contained the energy of the orange power battery within him. Physically, the self-proclaimed orange god was not particularly imposing. He was long-limbed, wiry and awkward in stance. The sharpened fangs and tusks which sprouted forth from his elongated snout gave him an air of savagery though, and one look into his manically gleaming eyes confirmed his single-minded animal lust. “You try to steal from Larfleeze?!” the ancient alien ranted, spit flying from his bare-toothed snarl. “Pray to your own stupid god that the God of the Orange Light only kills you! Better than what I did to your friends!” He gestured, and a deadly rain of orange hardlight blades rained sideways at the bald stranger who’d invaded Larfleeze’s home.
The stranger’s hastily erected golden shield couldn’t stand up to the assault, and it exploded into fragments which dissipated into the thick soup of air around them. One of the knives slashed his arm, and a second embedded itself in his thigh. “Wait!” the invader called out. “We can help each other! I can help you find all the material wealth you could possibly desire! All I ask is seven little rings and I’ll help make the universe yours!”
“Larfleeze doesn’t help,” the alien sneered, “And Larfleeze doesn’t share. The orange light is mine! Only mine!” Larfleeze gestured at the corpses around him, Thunderers he’d slain. “Then again, maybe Larfleeze should be magnanimous. Have all the orange light you need!” A ray of light beamed forth from the ring on his clutching hand and enveloped the Qwardian corpses. The orange ring scanned and replicated them, and in as much time as it took to imagine the assault half a dozen orange Thunderers were closing in on their former commander. Larfleeze howled with wheezing laughter as the purple-robed bald man pulled out every stop just to survive the attack of thunderbolts and battering shields.
The stranger manipulated two of the constructs into annihilating each other, and despite himself Larfleeze was impressed. Whomever this rash would-be thief was, he knew how to use the green and gold rings he was wielding. Larfleeze had initially thought the man to be a Green Lantern. The Sinestro Corps hadn’t existed for centuries so he couldn’t possibly be a Yellow Lantern. Larfleeze had developed a grudging tolerance of the Green Lanterns though, they were the only sentients he’d even come close to respecting. The members of the Green Lantern Corps were traditionally chosen not just for their dauntless will, but also their altruism and sense of honour. It didn’t make sense that one of them now would reduce himself to brazen robbery. Unless…why was he wielding two different colored rings? Why did he want more? Was he being directly influenced by Parallax or one of the other emotional entities? Larfleeze realised it didn’t matter. He just wanted him dead, and then those rings would belong to Larfleeze. His eyes glinted orange with avaricious desire. His treaty with the Green Lanterns meant he’d never been able to add a Green Lantern ring to his collection of valuables, but really this one had come storming into his house. “...And everything that comes to Larfleeze is mine," he crowed, rubbing his taloned hands together gleefully.
With the disgustingly hairless stranger distracted by Larfleeze’s constructs, Larfleeze himself concentrated on two towering piles of vehicles on either side of him. He visualised enormous orange plates on either side of those piles, and without any hesitation Larfleeze slammed the plates together. The bald man was caught in the middle of the deadly crush, his shocked cry cut short by the sound of hundreds of tons of metal and plastic smashed together. Larfleeze presumed the man must be dead and was about to use his own ring to scan for those the stranger had worn when a female voice caught his notice.
“Larfleeze, right?” Zoe Saugin floated before him in her green bubble, Dragonmage at his side. “What happened to these Thunderers?” She looked down at the broken corpses littering the cluttered battle site.
Larfleeze instantly forgot about his victim. The presence of another Green Lantern here confirmed the truth he’d not wanted to face. His centuries-old treaty really had been broken. The Green Lanterns were as base as any other creature in this universe. “Mine!” Larfleeze exploded in fury. “The orange ring is mine!” Dispelling all finesse, he simply blasted the emerald bubble to nothingness.
Zoe was aghast at the raw power he displayed. Even with her own ring supplementing the energy she’d absorbed from Neon, she had barely kept the force bubble intact long enough to prevent herself and Xao from being obliterated. She refocused her willpower and envisioned Larfleeze in a cocoon of green light. It was a cocoon he shattered with frighteningly little effort. “Mine!” he raved once again, flying straight at her. “Bring two Green Lanterns, bring a million, you’ll never take Larfleeze’s ring!”
Orange hardlight claws extended from his raised arm, but before he could strike at Zoe he found himself entangled in dozens of slithering scarlet snake-like dragons. “What is this?!” he railed. “You have a red ring too?! Larfleeze will take them all! Red, yellow, green, all will be mine!!”
“It’s not any kind of ring,” Dragonmage spoke up. “It’s a simple spell. I can assure you we haven’t come to steal your ring. In fact Sir, I believe we may have a common enemy.”
“Magic?!” Larfleeze shook his head in blind rage. “Larfleeze hates magic!” An omnidirectional burst of orange light tore the dragonforms apart and sent Zoe and Xao flying backwards where they bounced painfully several times before coming to a stop. As they both rose groaning to their feet, the Orange Lantern advanced on Zoe. He formed an orange noose around her throat and lifted her from the ground kicking and gasping for air. Panicked as she was, she couldn’t concentrate to save herself and resorted to clawing at her throat ineffectively. “Now,” Larfleeze sneered while Zoe’s face turned red then purple, “Larfleeze will kill you and take your ring, then Larfleeze will take your friend’s rings and then Larfleeze—“
“Imposter!” an unerringly familiar voice barked from behind him. “You think you can impersonate Larfleeze?!"
Larfleeze turned to face the newcomer and was utterly stunned to come face to face with an exact duplicate of himself, right down to the orange ring. “How—“
Before he could make sense of the doppelgänger, he was abruptly flung into orbit. Larfleeze’s twin morphed into the friendlier form of Chameleon Boy, and Light Lad, Fire Lad and Matter-Eater Lad stepped out from where they’d been hiding behind a colossal mound of golden coins. Matter-Eater Lad wasted no time in flying to Zoe’s side. He momentarily deactivated the transuit which was keeping him safe from Larfleezia’s toxic air and with one well-placed chomp he disrupted the orange noose which was still choking the life out of the young Green Lantern. She collapsed into his arms while Light Lad helped support a concussed Dragonmage. “Saved…my life,” she rasped. “Both of us…how..?”
“Dragonmage here sent us a little escort,” Chameleon Boy explained. “When his dragonform phased through the hull of our shuttle, we figured he might need help.”
“Thank you,” Xao grimaced. His head pounded, but he knew he couldn’t afford the luxury of unconsciousness. “I don’t know how much you saw but this Larfleeze is powerful…he was too powerful for the two of us, and I can’t imagine that you’ve inconvenienced him for very long. We should leave.”
“Xao, no!” Zoe uttered a hoarse complaint. “We still don’t know why the Thunderers were here, why they attacked Oa!”
“These men are not going to give us any answers,” Light Lad said, looking at the Qwardian corpses around them. “And we saw and heard enough that I believe this Larfleeze person can back up his threat to kill you and take your ring if we stay.”
As the senior Legionnaire present, Chameleon Boy made the decision to take charge. “We’re leaving,” he announced firmly. “Even Jo and the others must be getting tired fighting those robots by now.”
“He’ll just follow us!” Zoe shouted in opposition. “We can fight him on the run or we can fight him here!”
There was a tremendous sonic boom, and before any of the gathered heroes could react Larfleeze cannonballed back in with terrifying force. The impact of his landing sent them all flying and toppled his hoarded piles of belongings. “Mine!” Larfleeze roared triumphantly. “You're all mine!!”
His head bleeding, Matter-Eater Lad looked around at his allies. Chameleon Boy and Dragonmage were out, Light Lad and Fire Lad weren’t much better off. Barely conscious, Zoe nonetheless wobbled defiantly on her feet. “Sorry kid,” Tenzil muttered under his breath. “I can see how that stubbornness made you a Green Lantern, but you gotta learn when to cut and run.” He grabbed the nearest heavy object and smacked her upside the head with it before she could launch an ill-advised attack. “Darvan!” Tenzil bellowed. “Grab Cham and Dragonmage, we’re about to make the galaxy’s most suicidal escape attempt! Hey Staq, how flammable d’you think this pea-soup atmosphere is? You think this Larfleeze guy likes his planet more than he likes the idea of killing us?”
“You’re not sseriouss...” Fire Lad’s jaw dropped as he realised what Matter-Eater Lad was suggesting. Larfleeze created a small arsenal of floating orange guns pointed right at them and Fire Lad made his decision. Suicidal is right, he thought to himself as he inhaled as large a lungful of oxygen as his transuit would let him. Still, probable death beats certain death. He switched off his transuit and breathed a plume of flame into the smog around them. There was a rush of motion as Light Lad’s power released them from gravity’s hold, their field of vision filled with flames and the spike in temperature even penetrated the comfort of their transuits.
Then there was blissful oblivion.
Husband Hill, Legion of Superhero Headquarters
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem: hyper-stimulated plant growth
Comet Queen aka Grava: flight, gas generation
“So that’s the problem.” Chlorophyll Kid completed his monologue with his arms folded aggressively across his chest as he stood in Brainiac 5’s multi-lab. Comet Queen stood behind the former Substitute Hero. She’d been unusually subdued while Chlorophyll Kid had demanded their leader’s attention and explained Grava’s fears about Quislet. Until now Grava had known Chlorophyll Kid as a stammering insecure guy, kind of cute in his own way and sweet as Honeyrock Magma, but she’d never suspected this side of him existed. She was a little awestruck, truth be told.
“Ridiculous,” Brainiac answered without looking up from his latest experiment. “The Legion insisted that Quislet undergo rigorous psychological testing when he first joined the team, and again when he rejoined us. The artificial influence of Fearstorm aside, it’s not possible for Quislet to suffer from any kind of emotional distress. If anything, that’s even more true of him since his return. The fact of the matter is there is very little to Quislet aside from pure hedonism.”
“You think he’s been out partying all this time?” Comet Queen threw her hands up. “You think he wouldn’t tell me if he was?”
“Brainiac.” Chlorophyll Kid moved around so he was in the Coluan’s field of vision. “Can’t you just check? Please? If this were any other Legionnaire, you know you’d be taking his absence more seriously. He’s not even answering direct comms.”
Brainiac sighed and squeezed the bridge of his nose. “I’d be taking it more seriously because any other Legionnaire takes their role here more seriously. Still, if it’ll earn me some peace and quiet…” He tapped at a button to record the progress of his experiment without him and walked over to a larger console where he entered a command to locate Quislet’s homing beacon. The console breeped rudely back at him and Brainiac frowned.
“What…what does that mean?” Comet Queen asked gingerly. “The shiny little shuttle’s in his hangar, right?”
“No,” Brainiac 5 replied darkly. “The shiny little shuttle is most assuredly not in his hangar. Nor is he anywhere else within his homing transmitter’s range.” He stepped back from the console and thought for a moment. “Come with me,” he said without another word of explanation. Comet Queen looked imploringly at Chlorophyll Kid who simply shrugged, and they both ran to follow their leader’s determined gait out of the multi-lab.
The trio found themselves outside the door to Quislet’s quarters. “I’m not gleaming your shine,” a puzzled Comet Queen approached Brainiac 5. “I thought you said the shiny little shuttle wasn’t here?”
“The shiny— Quislet — is not here,” Brainiac 5 corrected himself. “However, I have a sinking feeling the answer to his whereabouts is.” He uttered a command to override the privacy lock and the door to Quislet’s residence whooshed open. True to his word, Quislet was nowhere in sight. In fact, the room itself was a featureless white void. Only one thing broke the surreal sameness, a small perfectly formed black hole floating in the centre of it all.
“Wh-what is that..?” Chlorophyll Kid stuttered.
“That,” Brainiac 5 answered, “is trouble.”
NEXT: THE SECRET ORIGIN OF QUISLET 2.0
“We’d better join up with the others.”
Nightwind had been watching Variable Lad and Lullabye Lad work together to clear a damaged food storage facility when the tremors started. Berta had felt uneasy since arriving in the city, though she’d brushed it aside to concentrate on the task assigned to her. She felt sorry for Lullabye Lad; while the multi-tendrilled form which Variable Lad had taken on was perfect for carrying debris from one point to another, Waiane Wentim’s unique power to induce sleep was just as useless here as was his native Zwennite ability to transform himself into an immobile stone form. Nightwind remembered only too well being sent on missions with her fellow Academy students where her own powers were less than helpful, and she’d burned with shame and feelings of self-consciousness to begin with. Eventually she’d come to terms with the realisation that some situations were simply beyond her power and she’d learned other ways to contribute, but Lullabye Lad wasn’t quite there yet.