Hope Dies
postlo3w
UNKNOWN LOCATION
Shrinking Violet aka Salu Digby: shrinking

Shrinking Violet pondered where in the galaxy she was. Only a couple of millimetres tall, she’d stowed away on the outfit of the man she now knew was called Mwindaji while Universo had spirited them all away from Xerox in a green bubble. At her current stature, she was far too small to be able to judge spacial perspective and distance normally; even if Universo’s construct hadn’t been obscuring her view she doubted she’d have any idea how far they’d travelled or on which planet they’d now landed. The bubble dissipated, and realising they were now inside some kind of structure Vi kept watch for any kind of familiar feature. This building was well lit and obviously man-made but beyond that she had nothing. She considered activating her homing beacon but she’d seen how versatile these colorful Lantern Corps rings were, and Universo had four of them. She didn’t want to do anything that might tip him off to her presence until it was absolutely necessary.

“Vidar?” Mwindaji asked, his voice booming and distorted to Vi’s tiny ears. “I have been wondering...my tracking ability amplified by your wondrous rings has succeeded in locating the red and blue rings you sought; and of course I am happy to assist you in locating the remaining three you tell me of...but how did it come to pass that you gained the green and golden rings you already possessed when we first met?”

“You will recall that I advised you of the Green Lantern Corps,” Universo explained patiently. “As a member of that proud organisation, I was entrusted with one of their rings.”

Vi fumed silently. Universo’s son and one of the Legion’s most trusted allies Rond Vidar had worn a Green Lantern ring; Rond had died in Universo’s attempt to take it for himself, but the actual ring had escaped the villain’s grasp at that point. Shrinking Violet didn’t know exactly how the elder Vidar had managed to get his hands on one of the weapons, but she suspected it had a lot more to do with the Thunderers of Qward and their massacre of the nascent Green Lantern Corps than any altruistic reason Universo might concoct.

“As far as the favoured weapon of the Sinestro Corps,” Universo held the gleaming gold ring before himself thoughtfully, “I discovered that over the course of centuries this ring had wound up in the occult collection of a man named Vrykos….a terribly evil man. It was my duty to free the ring from his clutches before he realised its true power and used it to commit great horrors upon his world, so I sacrificed something of my own to trade him for it.”

Violet’s brow furrowed, then her eyes widened in shock as it dawned on her...Cosmic Boy and Night Girl’s wedding! Vi had been in a hypnotic trance for most of the Legion’s encounter with Vrykos, but she remembered now that the Kathooni vampire had even told the Legion he was using Universo’s Hypno Stone against them! Sprock! They’d all been so distracted with Vrykos and with the wedding itself that it had never occurred to a single one of them to follow it up!!

“I had thought it was pure happenstance which placed the golden ring of the Sinestro Corps on my finger,” Universo continued, “But I believe now that it was fate, just as it was fate which led me to you, Mwindaji - the one man who could help me find the rest of the rings to complete my mission. Now if you’ll forgive me, Satan Girl must have returned to us by now. I suggest you take this opportunity to rest while I go to welcome her back. I will call on you when we are ready to retrieve the next two rings, son.”

“Vidar?” Mwindaji repeated the man's name uncertainly. “Once you have achieved your goal...once you have the godlike power you seek...you will restore Supergirl to her true self, yes? I cannot believe that she is truly content in her current state.”

“Of course, my friend.” Universo smiled obligingly. “We must all go to great lengths to obtain universal peace, but once we have found that peace all of our sacrifices can be undone.” He walked away, leaving Mwindaji to his own counsel.

Violet considered her options. There’s no point trying to snap Supergirl out of it; if Brainiac 5 couldn’t do it I don’t stand a chance. Time to take a different kind of risk.

Unnoticed by Mwindaji, she flew up inside one of the ceiling’s light fittings and raised her flight ring to her lips.

**********
XEROX
The Sorceror’s World

ROLL CALL
Blok: magically enhanced strength, invulnerability, speed, flight, stamina, wisdom and courage
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Element Lad aka Jan Arrah: elemental transmutation
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Gas Girl aka Tal Nahii: can transform into any gas
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Lightning Lad aka Garth Ranzz: reserve member, electricity generation and manipulation
Mon-El aka Lar Gand: Daxamite physiology
Night Girl aka Lydda Jath Krinn: photosensitive super-strength
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: reserve member, telepathy
Shadow Lass aka Tasmia Mallor: darkness generation
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being

Blok moaned as his world came into focus. The Black Witch had hit the Legion with a wave of suffering so intense that even the magically enhanced stone giant had felt it. The pain had been just that though; pain. Blok wasn’t actually physically injured, and he knew that none of the other Legionnaires would be either. Still, he’d blacked out momentarily and he could see his teammates all around him, sleeping off the mystical assault they’d just endured.

Blok observed that the storm which had been raging around them was showing no signs of abating. The Black Witch’s summoned demons were nowhere to be seen, and neither was she. There was a massive hole in the side of her castle wall though, and a wail of anguish came forth from deep within that damaged structure. Sparing a swift glance to make sure Mon-El at least was beginning to rouse from his forced slumber, Blok darted into the black fortress. “Mysa!” he called out. “Where are you?”

“This way,” a male voice responded. A limping pink-skinned teenager leaned on the cold hard wall beside Blok. He was soaked from the downpour and blood had seeped into his mage’s robes.

Blok recognised the battered Khund quickly. “Harlak?? You are wounded, allow me to assist you!”

He offered an enormous gold-flecked hand for support, and Harlak shook his head violently. “It is only a few broken bones,” the Khundish sorceror brushed aside Blok’s concern. “We were attacked by an insanely powerful woman...I trust she is the reason behind the Legion of Superheroes’ presence here as well?” He made his way forward as he spoke, each step setting his teeth on edge.

“Our friend has been brainwashed by the villain Universo,” Blok explained sadly. “We have not had much success in restoring her to us thus far, and Mysa...Mysa could not see that the Legion are here only to help.”

Before Harlak could frame a reply, the two men heard another tormented scream and the sound of something breaking. Swallowing his pride, the Khund took Blok’s hand. “I have never heard my mistress like this,” he admitted grimly. “Follow the light to her, Legionnaire.” He focused through his pain; despite his earlier comment, even a simple incantation was difficult. His vision swam before him, every inch of his body was on fire with sensation, but he wouldn’t let her down a second time today. Spectral ribbons of light reached forth from his shaking fingertips and led the men down into the catacombs of the building.

The sight which greeted them in the dimly lit room at the end of their quest broke their hearts. Kneeling in rainwater which was still pouring down through the ruined foundations of the castle, the hunched form of the Black Witch sobbed before the smoking remains of a cylindrical pedestal.

“...Mysa..?” Blok ventured uncertainly.

“M-mistress..?” Harlak had only known cold authority or ferocious power from the woman before him for so long, he was not at all prepared to see this display of grief now.

“The ring,” she despaired. “They took the ring and now all is lost!”

“Mistress, I - I do not understand,” Harlak continued, obviously disconcerted. “I have never been to this section of the castle, you have always deemed it off-limits to all save yourself. But...a ring was kept here?”

“Not just any ring!” Mysa railed. “The sole remaining Blue Lantern ring in all of creation!” She took a deep harrowing breath and continued in a quivering voice, her white face hidden behind black hair. “...After the Magic Wars, after the Archmage destroyed Zerox, you recall that the last Age of Magic had ended…”

“Of course.” A melancholy passed over Blok as he recalled Magnetic Kid’s sacrifice and the explosion of the original Sorceror’s World. It had indeed been presumed that with the destruction of the Archmage, magic had ceased to exist; but this very world, Blok’s survival right now showed that was a lie. He wondered why he’d never questioned this till now and what relevance an old war had to this theft here and now.

“Magic cannot simply cease to exist,” Mysa explained. “Magic is life. It was dispersed throughout all of reality. It would have taken time to strike a new balance with the forces of science; perhaps millennia.”

“But Mordu created a new Sorceror’s World almost immediately,” a confused Harlak interrupted. “My studies continued, Mordru’s power was restored...this world Xerox is almost precisely like the world Zerox which preceded it!”

“The power lust of Mordru the Merciless comes second to no living entity, no force.” Mysa looked up through her drooping hair at the two men. “That monster could never be content to wait millennia for the natural order of things to have its way. So he searched for something, some relic or some alchemic component to speed up the process; to gather the disintegrated energies of the last Age of Magic and to hasten the birth of a new one.”

“And this Blue Lantern ring was that relic?” Blok struggled to understand.

“The Blue Lantern ring is the ring of hope,” Mysa replied. “The ring fed his hope...and with hope, all things are possible. And now…” She looked at the ruined pedestal. “Now, hope is gone.”

“Hope is never gone.” A new voice entered the conversation, that of Element Lad. Mysa Nal was too disconsolate to care, but Blok and Harlak both turned to see Fire Lad, Gas Girl, Phantom Girl, Polar Boy, Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad behind him.

“You don’t need some ring to hope for the best, Witch.” Polar Boy stepped forward and offered the Black Witch a helping hand to stand up. “You’ve got the Legion of Superheroes now. The others are outside, we’ll all do everything we can to help.”

“...and not just the Legion of Superheroes.” A bright emerald light filled the room and a green glowing humanoid phased through the ceiling. The brilliant light dimmed to the point everyone present could make out a red-haired girl in a Green Lantern costume, and Zoe Saugin landed in the midst of the heroes.

“So...Dragonmage told me you guys have been having some jewellery problems?”

**********
While the Black Witch brooded alone in the ruins of her castle basement, the Legion allowed the power of the last Green Lantern to shelter them from the weather outside. They told Zoe about Supergirl’s unexpected and violent change of identity and the resulting chaos while Harlak summoned healers to help their wounded. “What I don’t understand,” Color Kid mused finally, “Is why my power had the effect that it did when I changed her ring from red to green. I thought she was going to die!”

“It’s lucky she didn’t!” Zoe blurted. “Sodam Yat told us all about the different colors of the emotional spectrum...the Red Lantern ring replaces its wearer’s blood with the ring’s energy; anybody other than a Kryptonian would have dropped dead straight away if you’d stripped that red light from them!”

Ulu shuddered. “That’s horrific!”

“Uh guys..?” Phantom Girl asked. “Not to change the subject, but has anyone seen Vi..?”

“Dawnstar, find her.” The timbre in Brainiac 5’s voice gave some of the older Legionnaires cause to exchange concerned glances. “Green Lantern, tell me...how do we fix what has been done to Supergirl?”

Zoe looked around at the gathered heroes with a helpless expression. “Nearly all of the Red Lantern Corps historically were able to overcome their ragelust at some point or another, to live as close to normal lives as they could...but Brainiac...I’m so sorry...there’s very little chance she’ll ever be able to remove that ring and live.”

“Very little chance indicates that some chance exists,” Brainiac challenged her bluntly.

“Well...the Blue Lantern ring might be able to help...but even though the blue ring is the ring of hope, I don’t want to give you false hope. I only know what Sodam told us, I don’t have any idea how to actually use that ring…”

“Then you’re useless,” Brainiac dismissed her before coldly turning away from the red-haired teenager. “Dawnstar, where is Shrinking Violet? We need to embark on our next move.”

“Brainy!” Phantom Girl chastised her Coluan teammate. “That was rude!”

“Phantom Girl’s right,” Saturn Girl agreed, frowning crossly. “Green Lantern didn’t have to come when Dragonmage called her, Brainiac…and she’s already given us more information than we had previously. I think you owe her an apology.”

“It’s okay,” Zoe placated the women. “I get it, this must be hard on all of you...I don’t know Supergirl very well, but even I can tell how much you all love her. I mean she’s a living legend, of course you love her!”

“Dawnstar??” Brainiac repeated pointedly, ignoring the others.

The Amerind tracker frowned. “Brainiac...Shrinking Violet is not anywhere on this world!”

“Ludicrous,” Brainiac huffed.

“Hey!” Wildfire pointed a finger. “Careful, buddy!” He turned to Dawnstar and spoke more softly. “Dawny, are you sure? You took some pretty nasty hits from those demon things, you might have a concussion or--”

“I know my power, Drake.” Dawnstar’s voice was like ice. “I don’t presume to understand the mechanics, but I assure you...Shrinking Violet is far far from Xerox; in fact, she is no longer within this star system.”

Shrinking Violet couldn’t have timed her call more perfectly if she’d planned it. “Brainiac?” Her voice came forth from his flight ring. “It’s Vi...I don’t know how long I’m going to be able to talk so I’ll make this quick. Satan Girl’s attack was a distraction; Universo stole some blue ring from Mysa’s castle, he’s working with a tracker named Mwindaji and it looks like he’s already got red, green and gold in his collection. He said there are two more left and they’re about to go hunt down their next one; he’s using the rings he's already got to enhance Mwindaji’s natural tracking ability.”

“There are seven distinct Lantern Corps,” Brainiac countered. “If he plans to complete his collection, he must realise there are three more--”

“Oh duh!” Zoe slapped her forehead. “The Thunderers of Qward! Universo must have been behind the Thunderers of Qward! They massacred my friends and then went after Larfleeze’s orange ring but Larfleeze fought them off! That’s why that overpowered idiot thought I was trying to steal his stupid orange ring, he must have thought Universo was a Green Lantern because Universo was using one of the rings he took from us! That son of a batwitch!”

“I saw Larfleeze’s power myself,” Light Lad added. “It’d make sense that Universo would want to get every other ring on his hands before he went back for a rematch...that monster murdered every one of those Thunderers and nearly murdered all of us straight after without even breaking a sweat.”

“Violet!” Brainiac barked. “Which ring is he going after next? Dawnstar can beat them there!”

“He didn’t say,” Vi replied hurriedly. “I -- sprock! Brainy, I have to go! I’ll stay with them, tell Dawnstar to track me if she can’t track them!”

“Violet?” Brainiac shouted louder. “Violet!”

“Brainiac.” Mon-El closed a gentle yet firm hand over Brainac 5’s flight ring. “If Violet’s in danger of being discovered, you can’t endanger her by calling her back. You know that.”

“Of course.” The Coluan man stepped back and ran a slightly trembling hand through his hair. “Of course.” There was a silence which hung awkwardly in the air for too long before Brainiac 5 took a deep breath and centred himself. “Green Lantern,” he spoke in a controlled voice. “What can you tell us of the remaining rings?”

“Besides Larfleeze’s orange ring?” Zoe tried to recall Sodam’s lectures. “There’s the indigo ring of compassion and the violet ring of love...honestly, I don’t know if any indigo rings even exist anymore. The violet rings belong to the Zamarons though, they withdrew from the rest of the galaxy a couple of centuries ago but as far as anyone knows they’re still on--”

“--Zamaron,” Mon-El completed her statement. “Their home planet. I’m something of an explorer...it’s been a few years since I’ve been back, but I still remember where it is.”

“Brainiac,” Dawnstar spoke up. “I don’t want to cause undue concern, but...I can no longer sense Shrinking Violet. At all.”

“Let’s not assume the worst,” Element Lad announced calmly. “You haven’t been able to track Universo either; if Vi’s small enough and within range of his power he may be shielding her without even realising it.”

Brainiac 5 paced back and forth, a million thoughts racing through his computer mind. He suddenly stopped with a jolt and faced the assemblage of heroes. “Presumably, Universo’s troupe will be working together. That means they can only go after one ring at a time, and that means that for the first time we have them at a disadvantage. Mon-El, you’ll take half of us to Zamaron. Dawnstar, I appreciate that you’ve not had any contact with the indigo ring but if Universo’s rings can amplify this Mwindaji person’s power, Green Lantern can do the same for you. You’ll take the remaining Legionnaires in search of the indigo ring. We’ll touch base when one of us has achieved our objective. Even if Universo beats us to one of the rings, he will have no choice but to face the Legion for the other.”

“Wait a nano!” Wildfire protested. “Dawnstar’s hurt, Brainy! She’s not in any state to go chasing round after some overblown holotoon toy!”

“I am quite capable of speaking for myself,” the winged Legionnaire declared, “And I will perform my duty as a Legionnaire, Wildfire.”

“Then stop wasting time and do it,” Brainiac snapped. “Green Lantern, create a construct to carry Blok, Wildfire, Phantom Girl, Polar Boy, Color Kid and Fire Lad so you can all follow Dawnstar. Everybody else, accompany me to the cruiser.”

He turned tail and stormed off without another word, thunder rumbling ominously overhead.

**********
ZAMARON
Palace of the Most Beloved Queen Di’Ana

ROLL CALL
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Element Lad aka Jan Arrah: elemental transmutation
Gas Girl aka Tal Nahii: can transform into any gas
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Lightning Lad aka Garth Ranzz: reserve member, electricity generation and manipulation
Mon-El aka Lar Gand: Daxamite physiology
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: reserve member, telepathy
Shadow Lass aka Tasmia Mallor: darkness generation

While Mon-El and Shadow Lass approached Zamaron’s royal guards, Gas Girl lingered at the rear of the small gathering of Legionnaires trailing behind. Openly awed, Tal took in the unique architecture of this planet. The buildings here were all sensuous curves and rounded edges, almost floral in structure. The structures were positioned on enormous flat platforms emerging from violet mists, reminding Gas Girl of lily pads back on her own homeworld Lallor during Winter’s constant fog. A warm violet glow permeated the buildings, the Zamarons themselves and the world’s very atmosphere. Three enormous moons hung in luminescent glory above. All in all, this world was breathtaking.

Light Lad sidled up beside her. “It’s a little overwhelming, isn’t it?”

Gas Girl blushed. “Oh! I’m sorry, you must think I’m such a country bumpkus...it’s just that Lallor is a desert wasteland compared to this planet. It’s so beautiful!”

Light Lad chuckled. “Gas Girl, I’m from Winath….we’ve got nothing but farmland and more farmland, I’m right there in bumpkusville with you.”

“So this is the famous Legion of Superheroes!” a melodic female voice greeted them all.

Along with the other Legionnaires, Gas Girl and Light Lad watched a statuesque woman with deep blue skin descend the palace stairs toward them. Like the royal guards, she wore shimmering violet armour and seemed to be suffused with violet light herself. Unlike her guards, her armour was more elaborate and spoke to her higher station. A broad tiara sat atop her hairless head, a darker purple star inset into it. Her breastplate and girdle both were engraved with intricate lines, and shining bracers covered her entire forearms. In one hand she held a halberd while a lariat hung looped at her waist. Both weapons seemed to be literally composed of violet light.

The palace guards took on a deferential stance immediately, and perhaps surprisingly, so did Mon-El. “Your Highness.” He bowed respectfully. “I’m sorry to say that this is not a social call.”

“Unlike your last visit then,” the queen smiled slyly. She offered her free hand and Mon-El took it in his own, gently kissing her elongated fingers. Shadow Lass maintained her composure while she looked on, but she made a mental note to ask her lover some very detailed questions at a more appropriate time.

The queen looked down upon the other Legionnaires; Light Lad noticed that she was taller even than himself. “I have not had the pleasure of meeting Mon-El’s comrades in arms,” she indulged the gathered heroes, “But the Legion of Superheroes are known even here, and all of you are welcome on Zamaron for as long as you need. I am Queen Di’Ana. Now please; speak to me of your desires. Desire is after all Zamaron’s prime currency.”

Though he couldn’t see Tasmia’s face, Mon-El had no doubt she’d be quietly fuming by now. He forced back a growing smirk and looked the elegant Queen Di’Ana in the eye.

“Actually, Your Highness, on this particular occasion I think we may be able to help each other...”

**********
XOLNAR
Haamilton Pluridium Mine Pit DC-AC-309, approximately 35 kliks north of Jjonn Fort

ROLL CALL
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being
Zoe Saugin: Legion of Superheroes ally, infused with Green Lantern energy

While automated mining equipment worked obliviously all around them, Dawnstar and Wildfire descended to the bottom of an enormous hole in the ground. A sepulchral wind wailed and the temperature was well below zero, but to two Legionnaires who could survive unaided in the vacuum of space the bitterest of weather could pose no discomfort.

The rest of their teammates were protected by an emerald vessel shaped by the will of Zoe Saugin. “I know I mentioned this earlier,” Phantom Girl smiled, “But it’s amazing what you can do with that ring, GL...I mean this is for all intents and purposes a functioning cruiser and you’re maintaining that headset Dawnstar’s wearing and it’s all made out of light!”

Zoe swivelled around in the pilot’s seat she’d imagined for herself to face Phantom Girl. “Ever since Neon gave me her power, I feel like I can do anything,” she explained. “I thought it would have faded by now but I’m as strong as ever!” As she spoke, she reconfigured the shuttle into a turbolift capsule to follow Dawnstar’s descent.

“I hope Lydda’s okay back on Xerox,” Color Kid mused. “She took a pretty bad hit.”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Polar Boy said. “Harlak seemed pretty confident that their healers could help her...I thought Brainy was gonna have an aneurysm when Blok said he was staying on Xerox with her though!”

“Poor Brainy,” Tinya sighed. “He’s really taking this hard, he and Kara have got the worst luck in the universe when it comes to their relationship.”

“Dawnstar and Wildfire just landed,” Zoe changed the subject. “I’m going to dissolve this construct, do you guys need environmental protection?”

“Our flight rings can handle it,” Phantom Girl said. “Transuits on, everyone.”

Everybody but Fire Lad activated their transuit function, and Color Kid tapped his friend on the shoulder. “Staq? Didn’t you hear Phantom Girl? We need to activate our transuits, pal.”
“Hmm?” The flame-crested hero flinched. “Oh ssorry...I wass light yearss away.” He activated his own field, and Zoe melted the craft down around them until it was a literal green lantern lighting their way. While the heroes caught up with Dawnstar and Wildfire on foot, Color Kid frowned. He had a feeling he knew exactly where Fire Lad’s mind was, and it was really beginning to bother him. Once all this was over, he resolved to have a talk to the other Subs about Staq Mavlen’s mounting obsession with the Mercurian woman in Brainiac 5’s multi-lab.

“I find this construct to be invasive and unnatural,” Dawnstar complained, “But I must admit that it has performed the task for which it was designed, Green Lantern. Normally my tracking ability is of reduced effectiveness on a planet’s surface, but I am finding no difficulty at all in locating this indigo ring.” While she spoke, she fidgeted with the tiara-like headpiece.

Zoe shrugged. “Sorry I couldn’t make it feel nicer; at least it looks neat though!”

“Fortunately, I no longer require it at all but I thank you for your aid.” The winged woman removed the headset and handed it back to Zoe, who simply allowed it to dissipate. Dawnstar pointed at a craggy outcropping of rock. “The ring we seek is approximately seventeen feet in that direction.”

“Back away, everyone.” Wildfire took a step forward, his gauntlets charged with anti-energy. “I’ll blast it free.”

“Drake.” Phantom Girl rolled her eyes. “We’re in a mine, silly! You can’t go throwing around energy blasts, you’ll bring the whole place crashing down around us. This needs a woman’s touch.” Without further ado, she turned intangible and disappeared into the mine wall.

While they waited, Polar Boy kicked a loose pebble out of boredom. “Isn’t Rainbow Girl from this planet? No wonder she ran away to Earth, what a dump!”

“Xolnar’s not all like this,” Color Kid laughed. “I mean we are in a mine, Brek. I doubt the Xolnarian Tourism Board really had much input in designing this place.”

“Maybe they should have,” Zoe smirked cheekily. “I’m with Polar Boy, it’s pretty dire.” One of the faceless mining robots turned its sensory unit toward her for a moment then trundled off with what Zoe imagined to be a disgruntled beep.

“Got it!” An excited Phantom Girl emerged from the rock face, opening her palm to reveal a small indigo ring. “There’s a whole vault full of stuff in there actually, it looks like it hasn’t been opened in forever!”

“My mom would have a field day,” Zoe beamed. “It’s a shame we don’t have the luxury of doing some more exploring while we’re here, but we’d better touch base with the rest of your team, huh?”

“No!” a manic voice screeched from above them. “There will be no base touching! No anything except death for all of you!” Before Green Lantern or the Legionnaires could do more than turn to face their surprise intruder, a wide beam of orange light collapsed tons of rock on top of them all.

Not having turned solid yet, only Phantom Girl was unscathed. She drifted up through the rubble still clutching the indigo ring. Tinya recognised their assailant from her teammates' descriptions, it was the Orange Lantern named Larfleeze. Zoe followed Phantom Girl almost instantly, having used her ring to replicate Tinya’s power. “What are you doing here, Larfleeze?” Zoe demanded. She hadn’t reacted in time to protect herself entirely from the falling rock but she tried her best to hide that fact from the insane Orange Lantern.

“Green Lanterns broke the treaty you had with Larfleeze when you came for Larfleeze’s ring!” he screamed, spittle flying from his mouth. “But you didn’t get Larfleeze’s ring! The orange power is mine! Mine!”

“Oh for--I don’t want your stupid ring!” Zoe shouted back at him. “That was Universo! We’re trying to stop him from getting his hands on any more of them, you idiot!”

While Zoe kept the Orange Lantern occupied, Tinya activated her homing beacon. Wildfire at least would be fine under this mountain of rock, but the others had no such guarantee and she had a feeling they weren’t going to be able to talk their way out of this confrontation. She was glad at least that there were no sentients employed at this mining site.

“You think Larfleeze is stupid!” Larfleeze ranted. “Everyone thinks Larfleeze is stupid! But Larfleeze is smarter than you think, Green Lantern! Larfleeze was smart enough to know you wouldn’t stop at wanting just Larfleeze’s ring, and Larfleeze was smart enough to track you down and let you find another ring for him!” He levelled another blast at the two women, surprising them by adjusting its wavelength so it would affect them in their intangible states. Phantom Girl screamed as she was slammed into the enormous pile of rubble that had buried her teammates and the indigo ring fell from her limp hand.

Tinya was unconscious, but Zoe held on by sheer force of will. Still, she was in agony and her head was spinning. While she struggled to clamber to her feet, an orange boot came down on her outstretched hand. Zoe cried out in pain as she felt bones crack beneath Larfleeze’s heel. “And now,” the Orange Lantern gloated, “All the rings will be mine! Mine!!”

An orange pincer of energy removed the emerald ring from Zoe’s finger and the last thing she saw before her world turned black was her ring joining its indigo and orange siblings on Larfleeze’s radiant fist.

...TO BE CONTINUED!!!

The Devil And The Witch
postlo3w
MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters

ROLL CALL
Element Lad aka Jan Arrah: elemental transmutation
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: reserve member, telepathy

Polar Boy's steamy breath fogged up the glass of the viewing pane as he looked over his many wounded teammates in the Legion's sickbay beyond. "Grife Saturn Girl, I wish we'd gotten back sooner...I can't believe Supergirl did all this!"

"Don't feel too badly," Saturn Girl replied. "Those asteroid miners may not have survived that cave-in without you and Element Lad to help them, Polar Boy. Besides, as brutal as Satan Girl's assault was there's every likelihood that you'd just be two more bodies in beds right now. She was nothing like the Kara we know."

"I suppose nothing should shock me anymore," Element Lad added, "But I must admit, I wouldn't have expected Universo to unleash such an obscure threat from our past against us...I mean the Legion faced Satan Girl years ago, and that was only because of red kryptonite. It seems like an awfully risky gambit on his part to assume Kara would still have that part of herself buried somewhere deep inside."

"It was years ago for us," a new voice joined them. "I doubt it's such a distant memory for Kara, she's a lot younger than us nowadays." The three heroes turned to see a bandaged Cosmic Boy exit the sickbay, Night Girl on his heels.

"Rokk!" Saturn Girl scolded the man who was one of her oldest friends. "Shouldn't you be resting?"

"That's what I said," Night Girl rolled her eyes. "Shades forbid he should listen to his wife though."

"Don't worry," Cosmic Boy held up his hands in surrender and winced as he felt a sharp twinge in his chest. "I'm in no hurry to leap back into action just yet. I'm not a complete invalid though...that ring Kara was wearing, something about it kept bugging me so I did some research and...well, it's not particularly heartwarming news."

"The Red Lantern ring?" Saturn Girl queried. "That's what Brainy called it, right?"

"That's right." Rokk handed Imra an omnicom, on its screen a flickering image of a group of different races of aliens in similar rings. Their outfits were roughly identical and all of them bore the same arcane symbol that Satan Girl had displayed on her chest.

"What is this?" Polar Boy asked, craning to peer over Saturn Girl's shoulder. "Is that a Red Lantern Corps? Like the Green Lantern Corps?"

"Hold on," Jan Arrah's eyes narrowed and he enlarged a section of the image with his thumb and forefinger. "That blonde girl in the back, is that..."

"...Kara?" Rokk finished his question for him. "None other. In the early 21st century, Supergirl joined the Red Lantern Corps briefly. It's a weird but minor footnote in her career, I'm genuinely surprised that Universo was even aware of it...I love ancient history and even I only really half-remembered. I don't know if becoming a Red Lantern is something our Supergirl has done herself yet, but if Universo somehow managed to get his hands on an actual Red Lantern ring, it may already have been somehow attuned to her. Our records of the Red Lantern Corps are ridiculously sparse and as much mythology as fact, but if they're even partially true..."

"It says here that the Red Lanterns are powered by rage," Saturn Girl read aloud. "That certainly meshes with what I felt when I faced her. She was consumed by rage, I've never felt anything like it."

"Excellent," Polar Boy joked flatly. "All we need to do then is find and take down an enraged Kryptonian before she kills us all."

Nobody laughed.

**********
LEGION OF SUPERHEROES HEADQUARTERS
Legion Academy Suites

ROLL CALL
Dragonwing aka Marya Pai: acid venom, fire breath
Laurel Kent: Legion intern, invulnerability

Laurel Kent sat on a console, glumly watching a holographic image of the current Legion Academy class as it rotated through various recordings of the students. The indestructible teenager was so absorbed in her misery that she didn't even notice when her fiery-haired classmate entered the dimly illuminated room. "Grife, Kent! What are you doin' in here with the lights out?" Dragonwing snarked. She leaned against a table on the opposite side of the hologram.

"Leave me alone, Marya," Laurel pouted. "I'm not in the mood."

"Hadru checked on Gravity Kid," Dragonwing completely ignored her. "He's gonna be okay, he'll need some follicle-stim treatments if he wants to grow back that stupid fuzz he spends so much time on though after Supergirl burnt it all off."

Dragonwing chuckled at herself, a laugh that Laurel quickly cut short. "It's not funny, Marya! Gravity Kid could have died because of me! I thought...I thought Saturn Girl did die. Grife, I can still smell her burning."

"That's the job," Dragonwing shrugged. "He knew that before he ever applied to join this school, just like all of us did."

"But Saturn Girl told us to evacuate!" Laurel protested. "If we'd just done like she said--"

"You really think any of those Legionnaires don't know by now we're a stubborn buncha bastiches?" Dragonwing interrupted her. "You don't get to be in the Legion just meekly following orders all the time, and it took a lotta guts to do what you did -- it's not often I throw out props, girl. You deserve 'em this time though so stop beating yourself up. You're gonna get in enough trouble from Iron-Butt Imra anyway, you don't need to be addin' to that yourself."

"Speaking of trouble," an older man's voice came from the classroom's doorway, "Don't think Iron-Butt Imra or her equally iron-butt husband have forgotten you and Chemical Kid broke curfew again last night, Dragonwing. I could have sworn I put the two of you on clean-up duty this morning." Lightning Lad entered the room, his hands folded across his chest and an expression on his face which made it clear this was not a point of contention.

"Right." Dragonwing scurried out past Garth Ranzz. "Sorry, Teach. Just helping morale."

Garth watched Dragonwing leave, the animated dragon on her voluminous coat rushing across its surface from right to left as she walked off. Once she was out of earshot, he turned his attention to Laurel. "Of course she's not entirely wrong, you know."

"Wh-what?" Laurel was shaken from her self-pity. "What do you mean she's not entirely wrong?"

Garth joined Laurel in watching the holographic display of Academy students. "You should have obeyed Saturn Girl's command," Lightning Lad said. "And Gravity Kid unquestionably suffered because you didn't. But that's on him as much as it's on you, Laurel. What you're feeling now is something which has been felt by every mission leader who ever screwed up...believe me, it's a feeling I'm very familiar with. As difficult as it may be to come to terms with right now, you need to understand that Gravity Kid made a choice to follow you." He turned now to look her in the eye. "I also know a little something about feeling responsible for your family's violence and mental health issues...I understand why you felt obligated to confront Supergirl because I would have made the exact same choice if it were Lightning Lord hurting my friends."

"Then...then I'm not in trouble?" Laurel implored.

"You don't get out of it that easy," Garth smirked. "Don't worry, we'll come up with something that will have you abusing us just like Chemical Kid and Dragonwing no doubt are right now. But Dragonwing was right about something else too...the Legion of Superheroes will never expect you to meekly follow orders if you genuinely think it's not the right thing to do; and at the end of the day, you kids came a lot closer to stopping Kara than anybody else. That's something to be proud of."

"Thanks Lightning Lad," Laurel smiled wanly. "I guess that makes me feel a little better."

"I'm glad," Garth Ranzz moved toward the door. "Let's just hope the rematch goes a little more in our favour...now that everyone's arrived back at base, we're taking a team to find Kara and Universo."

"Good luck," Laurel called out after the departing hero.

You're gonna need it, she thought darkly.

***********
DEEP SPACE
Two parsecs beyond the Sol system

ROLL CALL
Blok: magically enhanced strength, invulnerability, speed, flight, stamina, wisdom and courage
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Element Lad aka Jan Arrah: elemental transmutation
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Gas Girl aka Tal Nahii: can transform into any gas
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Lightning Lad aka Garth Ranzz: reserve member, electricity generation and manipulation
Mon-El aka Lar Gand: Daxamite physiology
Night Girl aka Lydda Jath Krinn: photosensitive super-strength
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: reserve member, telepathy
Shadow Lass aka Tasmia Mallor: darkness generation
Shrinking Violet aka Salu Digby: shrinking
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being

Having programmed the Legion’s cruiser to follow Dawnstar, Lightning Lad watched the winged Legionnaire on a wide viewscreen. Mon-El and Wildfire accompanied the tracker outside the vehicle. “I still don’t think we should have left Chameleon Boy and Dream Girl back on Mars,” Lightning Lad volunteered to his wife. “Even with the two of us on active duty, half the team’s injured. We need all the Legionnaires we can get.”

“It makes tactical sense,” Saturn Girl answered her husband while she adjusted engineering controls. “If Chameleon Boy, Dream Girl, myself and Brainiac 5 were Kara’s real targets as we suspect, we’re a very inviting target if we’re all in the same place. You know how dangerous Universo is, Garth. We can’t afford to give him the opening.”

“You sound awfully calm about someone having brainwashed the most powerful girl in the galaxy to kill you,” Garth retorted.

“I’m more annoyed that you didn’t stay with Graym and Garridan to be honest,” Imra said bluntly. “I’m not happy about both of us heading into danger while our sons hope for us to come home in one piece.”

“I’ll never question abandoning a fight to help our children when they’re in direct danger,” Garth replied firmly. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let my wife go fight for her life while I sit at home wringing my hands. I love you, dope.” He leaned across and kissed her before she could protest.

Brainiac 5 entered the bridge, interrupting the couple without apology. “Change course immediately,” he ordered. “Dawnstar just contacted me; Kara has abruptly changed her trajectory. There is only one place she can be going now.” As he spoke, Dawnstar, Mon-El and Wildfire accelerated out of view.

“Nice timing,” Lightning Lad muttered sarcastically before he straightened up and reached for the navcontrols. “Where are we headed, Brainy?”

Brainiac 5’s reply was only three words, but they filled the Legion founders with a sense of foreboding.

“The Sorceror’s World.”

**********
XEROX
The Sorceror’s World
Above a wide green field and beneath several bloated moons, Mysa Nal hovered impassively while the Khund mage Harlak took a serrated dagger to his open palm. He opened a small gash and held the wound over a bonfire where black blood dripped into the flames. Speaking words older than his own ancestors Harlak summoned sprites from the fire, tiny dancing lights which flickered and laughed a cheeky crackling sound.

“Your studies are proceeding at an exemplary pace,” the Black Witch decreed. “At this rate, you will have mastered Khundish Blood Magic by the end of the next Apollorenian Cycle.”

“Thank you Mistress!” Harlak beamed at the tiny leaping fire faeries he’d summoned. In his childhood back on Khundia, he’d only dreamed he’d see even a portion of the wonders he’d encountered here on Xerox. The raw beauty of the supernatural world was more inspiring than he’d imagined it could be.

A sonic boom drew the Black Witch and Harlak’s gaze skyward, the Khund’s flaming nymphs following suit. While the denizens of the Sorceror’s World were still registering that a new light had appeared in the firmament, its originator made landfall. The other side of the field exploded with the impact, only Harlak’s combat-trained reflexes erected a magical shield in time to protect himself and Mysa from flying debris. The pink-hued youth’s shield fell beneath the onslaught, and Harlak himself only remained upright through force of will. “Mistress, what was that?” he asked through gritted teeth. “A meteor?”

“Not a meteor,” Mysa Nal replied coldly, her fingers already weaving some enchantment.

Before she could say more, a red streak came straight at them from the crash site. Satan Girl stopped before the two mages, one hand gripped tight around Harlak’s exposed throat. Harlak struggled fruitlessly for a moment, but he quickly realised that her strength far outstripped his. Seeing his own blood running down his arm, he was struck with inspiration. Exercising his control over the fire sprites, they rose and merged forms to create one composite entity the size of a small child. They moved to assault the villainess hurting their master, but Satan Girl simply laughed and dispersed the living flames with one blast of super-breath. “You’ll have to do better than that,” she sneered, throwing Harlak aside like he was nothing more than a rag doll. He bounced painfully several times before rolling to a halt halfway across the devastated field.

“Then do better I shall,” the Black Witch intoned.

Pendulous clouds gathered above them, the sound of thunder filling the formerly peaceful skies. Satan Girl moved toward the witch, but she’d barely left the ground when a tremendous lightning bolt tore straight through her. The Kryptonian teenager screamed in agony, dropping to her knees. With ragged breaths, she looked up at Mysa. “How..?”

“You pitiful creature.” While the temperature dropped and winds howled, the Black Witch made an elaborate gesture. Slimy tendrils came forth from the broken earth like an army of enormous earthworms. They curled around Satan Girl’s limbs and her neck, slowly but inexorably dragging her beneath the ground’s surface. Content that Satan Girl was subdued, the Black Witch calmly approached her would-be assailant. “What kind of fool mounts an attack on somebody without knowing the power they command? Tell me.”

Satan Girl had begun to panic, but panic turned now to frustration and frustration to rage. Drawing strength from her anger, she craned her neck upwards against the drag of the tendrils until she could see the hem of the Black Witch’s cloak. “I’ll tell you while you burn,” she spat. Twin beams of intense heat blazed from hateful eyes, and Mysa’s black cloak burst into flames.

“No!” Shocked but unhurt, Mysa staggered backwards a few steps. Rain finally poured down from the now moonless skies, dousing the flames before she could come to any harm. Satan Girl’s true goal had been distraction however, and with that goal achieved she used the power of the Red Lantern ring to tear her way free from the witch’s mystical entrapment.

A flash of lightning illuminated the sheer intensity of fury on Satan Girl’s face as she launched herself at the Black Witch. Before the lightning’s accompanying thunderbolt sounded, the two women were miles away and Satan Girl had the Black Witch pinned up against the cold stone wall of her own castle. “Now where were we?” Satan Girl grinned wickedly, her eyes flaring bright.

“...I know you!” Mysa realised suddenly. “Your voice, your power...how do I know you? Et Ednetso!” The spell was a simple one, forcing Satan Girl’s black cowl to fade to transparency. Mysa Nal’s eyes widened in amazement as she recognised the blonde juggernaut.

“Supergirl!” Both women gaped at the sound of Mon-El's booming voice behind them to see him floating alongside Wildfire and Dawnstar. “Let her go, Kara!” Mon-El commanded.

“That’s really what you want?” Kara Zor-El mocked the Daxamite. “I thought you’d be happy, Mon...you all know it’s just a matter of time till she goes all Mordru: The Sequel on you.”

“You presume far too much, girl out of time.” Mysa’s voice sounded positively sepulchral. Now that she knew Satan Girl’s identity, she knew that Kara was as famously vulnerable to magic as her cousin. The fact that she hadn’t succumbed yet could be attributed to only one thing; the ring. “You know nothing of the sacrifices I have made, that I continue to make to contain Mordru’s evil. Every time you Legionnaires come here you bring nothing but disdain and gormless need. And now you seek to bring destruction? I will not allow it.” She gripped Kara’s Red Lantern ring. “Aufero Magus Infusco!”

Kara felt as though her blood were frozen. Her red aura faded momentarily and she dropped the Black Witch in shock. “Mysa...what..?” For a moment, she sounded like any other frightened teenager.

Mysa reached for the ring again, her grip absurdly stronger than Kara’s own. “Aufero Magus Infusco!”

Mysa herself seemed to almost glow with a crimson light, and Kara fell screaming to one knee. “Stop it! What are you doing to me?!”

“Mysa, that’s enough!” Mon-El ordered. “You’re hurting her!”

“Am I?” The Black Witch’s eyes were two burning embers in a deathly white face. “I will inflict pain and more to protect my world, man of Daxam. Aufero Magus--”

“I said that’s enough!” Before the witch could complete her incantation, Mon-El moved in a blur to interject himself between the two women. Trusting that Kara’s innate invulnerability would protect her, he grabbed her and threw her wildly across the storm-swept landscape. “Get after her!” Mon-El shouted at Wildfire. “Keep her busy till the rest of the Legion arrive and we can get to the bottom of this!” He turned back to Mysa and found himself chilled by her expression.

“I tire of the Legion of Superheroes’ constant interference in my affairs, man of Daxam. And I would remind you that you are no more immune to my magic than she whom you seek to protect!” The Black Witch’s glare intensified, and the power she’d already absorbed from the Red Lantern ring exploded forth from her eyes. Mon-El bellowed in pain and clutched at his face, staggering backwards.

“Mysa!” Dawnstar chided her former teammate. “Stop this at once! Have you forgotten that we are friends?”

“The Black Witch has no friends,” Mysa Nal intoned, the thunder overhead crashing ominously. “You should never have come to this place, tracker.” Dawnstar felt something grab at her from below and looked down to see thick clawed arms reaching out from the ground.

The winged Legionnaire’s screams were drowned out by the angry skies.

**********
Miles away, Wildfire landed in the shattered remains of a stone cairn. Satan Girl or Supergirl or whatever she was calling herself had obviously landed here, but she wasn’t here now. Drake Burroughs was glad that Dawnstar had remained with Mon-El for her own safety, but he could definitely use her tracking power right now. His own senses weren’t nearly as badly affected by darkness as an organic being would be, but the darkness together with the driving rain and the electrically charged atmosphere had much the same effect. He could barely see anything more than twenty or thirty feet away. He knew Kara must have him in her sights right now though, so he figured the best approach was the direct one. He was about to call her name when a tremendous impact from behind drove him into the mud. Wildfire rolled over to see Satan Girl’s glowering form overhead. “I don’t want to hurt you--” he began.

“Oh Wildfire, that’s so cute.” Satan Girl hefted him up in her left hand and delivered a powerful blow with her right that sent him flying straight up half a mile. Before he could get his bearings, she was suddenly above him again. “Now that I've recovered from the Witch’s hoodoo, like that’s even an option.” She clasped both fists together and slammed him straight back down again.

Wildfire hit the ground with enough force to leave a small crater. This was bad. She could easily rupture his containment suit if she tried, her blows came just shy of doing precisely that. She was toying with him. He wasn’t looking forward to what he’d have to do next; if this didn’t work, he might be taken out of the fight altogether. It was his only chance to end this though. He stood up and watched Satan Girl diving down at him, waiting for the last possible instant before he made his move. Drake Burroughs flipped the visor which kept his containment suit sealed and channeled the entirety of his power into what should have been a devastating expulsion of anti-energy. To his astonishment, absolutely nothing happened.

Satan Girl pinned him down to the ground and Wildfire realised that she was using the power of the ring to seal his suit. She leaned close to the open space in his cowl and sneered hatefully. “The Red Lantern energy can burn through just about anything,” Satan Girl taunted. “Let’s see if it can burn your stupid anti-energy!”

Before she could make good on her threat, Satan Girl found her head enclosed in a mass of glowing green rock. Her concentration broken, the crimson field keeping Wildfire contained was weakened enough that he exploded through it and bathed her in enough raw energy to destroy a city block. The green rock was disintegrated in the blast, and Satan Girl found herself somersaulting backwards through the rain. She righted herself, but before she could mount a counter-attack she was grabbed from behind and charged face-first into the mud. She felt someone straddling her from behind and two insanely strong hands holding her head down, and Satan Girl roared.

“Struggle as much as you like, Kara.” The voice belonged to Night Girl. “We’ve all seen what that ring lets you do, I’m not letting you up until Saturn Girl frees you of whatever hold this thing has on you.” With the storm as heavy as it had become, it was dark enough that Lydda was near full-strength anyway; with Color Kid making the transuit she’d just activated completely opaque, the photosensitive heroine was as formidable as she was going to get.

While Wildfire slowly filled his containment suit once more and Kara raged impotently, six more Legionnaires looked on. Brainiac 5 dropped the forcefield which had protected himself, Color Kid, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Element Lad and Phantom Girl from Wildfire’s explosive backwash.

Element Lad approached Satan Girl warily. “Have you got her under control, Night Girl?” Jan Arrah asked. “I’d rather not subject Kara to kryptonite again if I don’t need to, but if it’s necessary…”

“I hate to say it but we might have to,” Lydda grunted. “It’s almost like this damn ring is making her stronger!”

“That is precisely what is happening,” Brainiac explained. “The Red Lantern ring is powered by rage; to phrase it indelicately, the angrier she gets the stronger she gets. Don’t act yet, Element Lad, but remain ready. Saturn Girl, can you please assist?”

“Of course, Brainy.” Saturn Girl stepped forward, her husband shadowing her protectively.

A hand suddenly clawed at Imra from beneath the ground until Lightning Lad dissuaded it with a well-placed blast of electricity. “Now what?!” Garth complained.

“I don’t know,” Phantom Girl retorted as she watched a grotesque limb slash through her own intangible form, “But this looks more like Sorceror’s World trouble than Satan Girl trouble, guys.”

All around the Legionnaires, demonic forms clambered from the wet earth.

**********
Back at the Black Witch’s castle, nine more Legionnaires found themselves in the same predicament as their friends. Shadow Lass’s darkness hid her from the monsters which had burst forth from the ground at their feet while Mon-El and Blok found themselves buried beneath a growing pile of them. Initially the wind and rain had hampered Fire Lad’s ability to protect himself, but Gas Girl’s power gave him a medium volatile enough to overcome the weather. The wind actually worked in Light Lad’s favour; once he made the demons lighter than air, they were picked up by stray gusts and smashed against the castle walls or sent tumbling far away from the heroes. Dawnstar had already fallen before the others arrived and Polar Boy now stood at her defence, regenerating ice walls faster than they could be torn down. A diminutive Shrinking Violet stood on the shivering Tharrian’s shoulder, clinging at his collar to fight the howling winds. Above them all, untouched by the furious elements in a preternaturally calm eye, the Black Witch watched in cold judgement.

“I hate this!” Shrinking Violet shouted into Polar Boy’s ear. “I can’t do anything against these monsters!”

A massive three-fingered hand smashed through one of Polar Boy’s barricades and Brek reinforced the wall quickly, freezing the creature in mid-swipe. “If it makes you feel any better,” Brek replied, “I don’t know how much longer I’m gonna be able to keep this up! If these demons don’t get me, hypothermia will!”

Vi knew Polar Boy was exaggerating, but she also knew that this environment must paradoxically be much more difficult for their resident cryokinetic to endure than it was for the rest of them. Coming from an insanely hot world like Tharr, even a pleasant day on Earth or Mars was uncomfortably cold for him. She wasn’t really concerned though; his flight ring’s transuit function was calibrated specifically for his Tharrian physiology, if things got too bad it would activate automatically. Vi considered her options. Maybe she’d be more useful taking on Mysa? After all, the Black Witch was responsible for these creatures.

Just as she’d decided to confront the sorceress, something else caught the Imskian heroine’s eye. The others were all too preoccupied with these demons, but Vi was certain she’d seen a flash of emerald out there in the stormy night. Curious, the tiny woman focused intently on her flight ring and fought the driving winds to take a closer look.

With a flex of their mighty muscles, Blok and Mon-El sent their army of attackers hurtling every which way. While Blok was none the worse for wear, Mon-El’s costume had shreds torn from it and he was covered in shallow cuts and grazes. “Mon-El, you are injured!” Blok exclaimed.

“I’ll heal,” the stoic Daxamite replied. “Against magic, I don’t have any more defences than anybody else but I can still throw a mean punch.”

“May I suggest you continue to engage these minions from a distance and assist our friends as necessary?” Blok asked. “I wish to have words with their mistress.”

“Good idea,” Mon-El nodded. He took to the air and with a focused gust of super-breath scattered two of the creatures who’d been sneaking up on Fire Lad.

Blok made his way to the Black Witch, throwing off two of the attacking demons who’d become airborne. The effort was completely casual on his part, and they didn’t slow his ascent in the slightest. “Mysa, please! I understand you must feel betrayed, but Supergirl is not in her right mind! We have come to help her, and to help you if you will allow us!”

The Black Witch fixed the stone man with a long frozen stare. “In respect for our prior friendship, I will allow you to depart my world. Take the Kryptonian with you or do not, it is no matter to me. If she remains however, if any of you remain, you will be subject to my judgement for your actions here today.”

“Mysa...our prior friendship..?” The hurt in Blok’s voice was evident, as was the concern. He’d felt that they had begun repairing the rift between them the last time the Legion had come to the Sorceror’s World; had she really become so much darker since then? So much more lost? What exactly was it doing to her to have to contain Mordru’s essence for so long?

“You are a good man, Blok of Dryad. Despite all else, I know this to be true.” Her words were kind, but her demeanour was no less icy. “These Legionnaires are mortal however, and mortals are necessarily flawed. I can no longer ignore those flaws when I have so many of my own I must push down.”

“Please Mysa, just call off your servants...before somebody is harmed.”

The Black Witch regarded him and Blok could sense that somewhere deep inside, the compassionate woman he knew was fighting this shadow which tainted all that she was now. She opened her mouth to speak, then with no warning grabbed at her head and cried out in shock. “No!” she screeched. “How could you do this? How could you all do this??”

Then the Black Witch threw wide her arms, and waves of pain washed over them all.

**********
Satan Girl and Night Girl’s fight had now moved to a forest. Tree limbs swayed urgently in the winds as if to evade the female powerhouses, and most of the other Legionnaires had found themselves too occupied with the Black Witch’s mystical servants to follow. Color Kid and Brainiac 5 alone had escaped the demons’ groping claws, and had followed the trail of violence to the thrashing women. “Lydda’s holding out well,” Color Kid hissed at his leader, “But I don’t know how much longer she can last...what can we do, Brainiac?”

“Our best hopes rested with Saturn Girl,” Brainiac 5 mumbled forlornly. “Without her….I don’t know...”

Though his eyes were hidden behind permanent artificial shadow, Color Kid gaped at the Coluan. He had never once heard Brainiac 5 admit ignorance, he didn’t realise such a thing was even possible!

A series of thunderous cracks diverted his attention, and Ulu spun to see three mighty trees topple to the ground as Satan Girl was punched through all three of them. While the massive trunks were still collapsing and taking more of the forest with them, Satan Girl recovered her bearing and charged Night Girl through two more trees. “How are you so strong?!” Kara ranted, her own anger clouding her reason. “With my aura, with this lightning strobing constantly, how?!” Too incensed for speech, Kara released a noise which was half shriek and half sickly gurgle. Before Lydda could defend herself, she was splattered in fiery crimson vomit.

The Kathooni heroine wailed in pain as the corrosive bile instantly disintegrated her transuit and started burning through her costume. The driving rain washed some of it away, but nowhere near enough.

“Kara, stop this!” Brainiac 5 floated closer, his mastery of his forcefield belt enabling him to project a field between Lydda’s body and the majority of the gross attack. That which had already soaked through her costume continued to burn though, and Night Girl huddled in torment.

At the sound of Querl Dox’s voice, Satan Girl rounded on him in a blur. Faster than any of the heroes could follow, she slammed him up against one of the trees still standing and Brainiac felt a sharp stabbing pain in his back. Think, he chastised himself. Damn it Querl, it’s the one ability you possess. Put your emotions aside and use it! All of a sudden, it came to him.

“Kara...Kara, why are you here?”

Satan Girl had been an instant away from repeating her vomitous attack on Brainiac 5, but the unexpected tone of his query somehow got through to her. She slammed him up harder against the trunk of the tree. “You’ve got the nerve to ask why?” she snarled viciously. “All this time you’ve known...you’ve known that my destiny was never to live out the rest of my life in the 31st century, was it? You’re just stringing me along until you get sick of me and then you’ll send me back to the past to die! It’s in your damn history books, Universo showed me!”

“So you hate us, yes.” Brainiac’s voice was preternaturally calm and controlled. “But if you’re motivated purely by hatred of the Legion, why have you come to the Sorceror’s World to pick a fight with a woman who hasn’t been an active member of the team since before you rejoined?”

Her grip lessened ever so slightly, and Brainiac could see the question repeating itself in her mind. He displayed no visible response, but if he’d believed in a divine power he knew he would be praying right now for Kara to fight.

...And then her red aura turned green.

Satan Girl’s scream was like nothing the heroes had heard. She dropped Brainiac and collapsed to the forest floor, convulsing violently. It only took Brainiac 5 an instant to discern what had happened, and with uncommon passion he turned on Color Kid. “Change it back!!”

Ulu was stunned. “Wh--what? Brainiac, I was just trying to distract her--”

“Change it back now!!” the Coluan screamed, veins bulging in his neck.

Deeply unsettled, Color Kid allowed his power to come into play once more and the green aura shifted swiftly back to red. Kara Zor-El’s convulsions slowed and stopped, leaving her in a hunched over heap in the mud and the grass.

Brainiac reached for her gingerly. “Kara--”

In return, she rose to her feet and backhanded the Coluan hero hard enough to send him flying several metres where he hit a tree with bone-crunching impact. Eyes glowering with inhuman rage and bloody bile dribbling from her lower lip, Satan Girl turned on Ulu Vakk. He’d never seen a face so contorted by animalistic emotion, and Ulu was frozen with terror. He was convinced he was about to end up a pile of charred bones. Satan Girl’s eyes flared a blazing red, then inexplicably faded. She cocked her head to one side as if hearing something only she could hear, and then the Kryptonian teen shot straight up into the upper atmosphere and beyond.

Color Kid realised he’d been holding his breath this whole time, and he forced himself to exhale as legs like jelly lowered him to the forest floor.

**********
While the Legionnaires were busy with Satan Girl and the Black Witch, two newcomers had made their way to the Sorceror’s World. Protected from the elements by a translucent emerald sphere, Universo and Mwindaji touched down gently by the Black Witch’s castle. On the other side of the imposing stone fortress the Witch’s battle with the Legion could not be heard, but both men had seen its chaos on their way down through Xerox’s lightning-crossed skies.

“Vidar, I must speak once more of my doubts.” Mwindaji’s features were hidden beneath an elaborate green headpiece designed to boost his tracking power, but concern was evident in his voice. “You have told me that we freed Supergirl from the lies of her teammates with the red rings I found for you, but...even on Kirinyaga we have heard of the Legion of Superheroes, of their heroism. And Supergirl is legendary throughout the galaxy! I do not understand why we could not enlist their aid in a more honorable manner.”

Universo dissolved the apparatus around Mwindaji’s head with a quick gesture. A red ring hung on a chain around his neck as companion to the green and gold rings he wore on his fingers. “I know it is difficult, but you must trust me. The Legion of Superheroes are not what they seem. They have opposed me on more than one occasion...my son fell for their lies, and now he lies dead. They do not support the cause of justice, Mwindaji. They support the status quo. These are two different things.”

“I will submit to your greater knowledge,” Mwindaji bowed his head. “Admittedly I have little experience in the worlds outside of my homelands.”

“There is no shame in ignorance,” Universo decreed magnanimously. “So long as one is open to learning. Now tell me...can you home in on our target?”

Mwindaji perked up. “Easily,” he smiled. “I do not know how to say the word in Interlac...there is a...haze..? I needed your assistance to bring us this far, but this close to the ring we seek, no haze could hide its glow. It is within these castle walls.”

“Then lead on, my friend.” Universo shifted the dome around them and projected it before them, smashing a hole in the black stone wall.

The castle’s interior was lightless, deathly cold and filled with distant wailing sounds. Universo created a golden torch to illuminate their way but even with the light they could barely see more than five or six feet ahead. Mwindaji walked forward cautiously, but at a steady pace. He’d just rounded a corner when a slavering werewolf pounced out of the darkness at him.

“Mwindaji!” Universo exclaimed. “Back away, I’ll take care of this beast!”

“Do not trouble yourself,” the athletic teen replied as he evaded the lycanthrope’s slashing claws. “I may not have your miraculous weapons, but I would be a poor son of Kirinyaga were I not able to defend myself against one dumb beast.” He maneuvered deftly around the werewolf until he was behind it, then in one smooth motion grabbed its head in both hands and gave a savage twist. The creature’s neck gave a crisp snap and its head hung limply at a wrong angle, but as soon as Mwindaji released the werewolf its injury healed with a sick cracking slowness and it faced the men once more. “What monster is this??” Mwindaji gawked in horror.

“A magical monster,” Universo replied patiently. “No disrespect intended to your prowess Mwindaji, but the Black Witch’s supernatural guardians may be a little more than you’re accustomed to. Here, let me.” He raised one fist, and a blinding golden light slammed the creature through the ceiling. Before the two men could take another step, they saw the glowing eyes of five more beasts just ahead. “This is going to take too long,” Universo frowned. “Mwindaji, can you tell me exactly where the ring is now?”

The tracker closed his eyes for a second. “Down,” he answered with utmost confidence. “Down seven meits and across to the left fourteen more.”

Unfamiliar with Kirinyagan measurements, Universo uttered an exasperated sigh. “Just direct me as we go.” He enveloped the both of them in another green bubble, and as Mysa’s faithful servants hurled themselves ineffectively at the bubble it smashed through the stone floor and the floor below that one. The men pierced seven levels in all until Mwindaji bade Universo to change direction. They smashed once again through the castle’s interior, noticing that these walls seemed to be carved out of the foundation of the world itself rather than manmade.

Eventually they came to their end goal. In an otherwise empty circular room, on a pedestal at its exact centre, a small blue ring glowed faintly. His heart pounding with anticipation, Universo lowered his forcefield. He reached out with a trembling hand and claimed his fourth prize. A powerful din could be heard above them, and Universo knew there was no time right now to savour this. He restored the force bubble around them both, then forsaking any need for subtlety, the two men smashed their way through the castle’s interior until a green bubble reinforced in gold rocketed away from the mystical planet.

So small that she could not be seen by either man, hidden in one of the seams of Mwindaji’s outfit, Shrinking Violet’s heart pounded for an altogether different reason.

...What have you gotten yourself into now, Vi..?

TO BE CONTINUED..!

And The Reapers Are Angels
postlo3w
MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
Drura Sehpt's large lavender eyes fluttered open. She could taste blood, and she was sore all over. There had been a tremendous crashing boom, and then...then what? Groaning, she propped herself up on one elbow and surveyed her surroundings. She was in the cold night air in the midst of a pile of debris, alarms screaming all around her. This made no sense, she'd been in her quarters with...Jacques! Where was Jacques??

She heard a cough nearby, followed by a sharp intake of air. Dragging herself from the bed she'd been trapped beneath, Drura made her way to the sound. There, Jacques Foccart lay beneath a section of wall, much heavier than Drura's own obstacle had been. Her heart jumped into her throat as a million fears played through her mind. Enough, the Somahturian heroine chastised herself. He's wounded but he's alive.

"Drura..? Ma cherie..?" Invisible Kid reached for her with one trembling and blood-soaked hand, and Infectious Lass instinctively pulled away.

"Jacques, no!" She warned her lover. "We're both bleeding and I may be concussed! I - I may not be able to control my power."

"Qu'est-il arrive?" the clearly confused young man asked. He grimaced, each breath bringing stabbing agony. He tried to shift the debris pinning him down, but that only brought an all-new intensity of pain and a roar that made Drura flinch in sympathy.

Drura's eyes filled with tears. "Jacques! Jacques, stop! I don't know if my translator is broken, but I can't understand you...I don't know if you can understand me, but please don't move...I'll find someone. Just...just stay there!" She stood on wobbly legs, leaning against an exposed beam of metal. None of this made any sense; had they been teleported somewhere? Sent into the timestream again? Then she recognised a slender yellow arm emerging from the rubble nearby, a flight ring gleaming on Nightwind's limp finger. The truth hit her like a ton of inertron. Somebody had attacked the Legion of Superheroes in their home!

As she cautiously advanced toward the frighteningly prone Nightwind, Drura saw two more casualties - Lightning Lass and Kid Computo were both unconscious, and Ayla's arm was bent at a horrible angle. Danielle had sustained a nasty gash to her forehead, and there was a patch of blood ever so slowly growing on the thigh of her pants. Both of them were breathing though, Drura could see their chests rising and falling from here. She hated to have to make this choice at all, but before she helped them she needed to know if Nightwind was still alive under all this destruction. Drura wracked her brain for a way to touch Berta without risking her exposure to countless illnesses when she saw something that chilled her to the marrow.

Ten feet to the left, standing on a pile of debris higher than Drura's eye level, a distinctly female form was silhouetted against the night sky. A form-fitting black bodysuit and cowl hid the woman's identity, red cape flicking in the breeze behind her. She was surrounded by a devilish red glow, and red highlights ran along her costume leading to a strange red symbol emblazoned across her chest. The stranger's eyes too glowed red, illuminating her only exposed flesh as her lower face contorted into a contemptuous snarl. The only other clue to her identity was golden hair emerging from the back of her cowl...Drura had no idea who the woman was, but it seemed clear that she was responsible for this devastating assault.

"You hurt my friends!" Infectious Lass shouted weakly. "I'm not going to let you get away with that!" Her head was spinning, but Drura had to try something. Praying that she could maintain enough self-control not to endanger the nearby Legionnaires, she directed a stream of debilitatingly nasty microbes at the woman in red and black.

Moving faster than Drura could follow, the strange woman closed on Infectious Lass and hoisted her up by the throat. She dangled the terrified Somahturian in her left hand, and raised her right hand so that Drura could see for the first time the crimson ring her assailant wore. "As long as I'm wearing this you don't have a chance in Hell of stopping me," the woman spat.

Drura knew she was right - the woman wasn't just glowing, she was sealed away from the world under a red aura. Drura couldn't send any diseases through that nimbus of energy, and she couldn't cast her power through it to command any microscopic lifeforms which might be lying dormant within the woman already. Worse, the woman was beginning to squeeze. Infectious Lass heard Invisible Kid's helpless protests and held on to consciousness with everything she had. If she were to fall now, Jacques would surely be next...

"Get away from her!" a gravelly voice roared. A flash of diamond filled Drura's field of vision before she fell to the floor rasping for air. Diamond Damsel charged at the mystery assailant, knocking her away from Infectious Lass.

The mysterious attacker staggered back a couple of steps initially under Diamond Damsel's pounding fists, but soon recovered her bearing and blocked the Legionnaire's next blow. "Who are you?" Diamond Damsel demanded. "Why are you doing this?" It had been Iris Jacobs' good fortune that she'd managed to complete her transformation into Diamond Damsel while her quarters crumbled around her ears, but the ease with which this woman stood against her now made her doubt that luck was going to last.

"You can call me Satan Girl for as long as you've got the ability to call me anything at all," the villainess retorted wickedly. The light in her eyes intensified, and twin beams of crimson light penetrated Diamond Damsel's breast. The Legionnaire screamed, gripped by a level of pain she'd felt less than a handful of times over the past millenium as Satan Girl's heat vision burned a tiny hole straight through her body and clear to the other side.

"How--?" Diamond Damsel pleaded. Her right arm had gone dead and her left arm clutched at her smoking shoulder. "I'm made of diamond, that's impossible!"

"Lasers cut diamonds all the time," Satan Girl taunted. "And diamond shatters, once you've found its flaw." She closed on the ancient heroine in a blur and backhanded her roughly. Diamond Damsel flew through two of the base's walls which were still standing and landed in a dazed heap.

As Diamond Damsel struggled to clamber from the wreckage, her masked attacker was standing over her. This time Satan Girl extended her ringed hand toward her victim, and the ring projected a series of holographic gridlines which seemed to be measuring something, closing in on one central point. They formed a three-dimensional cone which zeroed in on the centre of Diamond Damsel's forehead, and Satan Girl bared her teeth in a sadistic grin. "There's that pesky flaw now, speak of the devil."

Before Satan Girl could strike, a tiny spaceship circled her head like an angry mosquito. "Satan Girl tough!" Quislet's shrill voice rang out. "Not many girls or boys can give Diamond Damsel the ol' one-two! Quislet better come to the rescue super quick!"

The microship's hull began to slide open but before the extradimensional hero could exit his craft, Satan Girl grabbed it by the tail fin and threw it miles across the night sky. "Not really a fan of that word," she grunted in disgust. "Super." She turned back to her original target, but Diamond Damsel had already disappeared beneath a shifting carpet of metal which moved as though it were alive. Momentarily confused, Satan Girl soon realised what had happened. She turned to face the architect of Diamond Damsel's salvation and saw Cosmic Boy standing alongside his wife Night Girl. Tellus, Dragonmage and Blok were right behind them.

"Who are you?" Cosmic Boy demanded. "Who are you really?? You can't be who you look like, Satan Girl was the result of Supergirl's exposure to red kryptonite and red kryptonite never affects Kryptonians the same way twice!"

"Jeepers Cosmic Boy, maybe you're not as much of a know-it-all as you think you are," Satan Girl mocked the Legion's founder in a singsong voice. Before he could respond, she had closed the range. Cosmic Boy desperately threw up a shield of omnisteel formed from the debris around them, but Satan Girl punched it hard enough that it shattered and sent Rokk following Quislet into the cold night.

"Rokk!" Night Girl's eyes widened with fear and she flew after her husband without a second thought.

Blok stepped forward and slammed a fist almost as wide as Satan Girl's waist into her gut. As powerful as she'd shown herself to be, she had not braced against his assault. She brought several walls crashing down with her as she crashed deeper into the Legion's headquarters, and Blok turned to his Hykraian comrade. "Tellus! I know this is not normally the way you conduct yourself, but we must know if this is really Supergirl! We need your telepathy, my friend!"

Satan Girl had already recovered, and she charged into Blok with a scream of utter frustration. Blok allowed himself to be knocked back, hoping to spare his friends and home from any more collateral damage. The two of them cleared the Legion's headquarters altogether and landed with a resounding thud in the Martian soil below. Peering over the edge as the mighty combatants traded blows, Tellus put his own power to use. "It is Supergirl," his voice modulator announced with far less distress than he felt. "But she is so full of emotional pain, so full of rage!"

Kryptonian strength backed by the red ring on Satan Girl's finger sent Blok flying up into Tellus. The Hykraian was immediately buried in what remained of someone's quarters, but Blok was only momentarily inconvenienced. "Dragonmage!" Blok cried out urgently. "Kryptonians are vulnerable to magic!"

To his credit, the young sorceror had already begun weaving a dragonform as soon as he'd had confirmation of Satan Girl's true identity but he was far from finished when a crimson beam from his former teammate's ring hurled him back against one of the few remaining walls to join Tellus in unconsciousness.

Blok lifted his flight ring to his gold-veined stone mouth. "Attention, all Legionnaires! Supergirl is under some form of mind control, she has attacked our base and has already gravely injured several of our teammates! Converge--" Blok stopped mid-sentence, and tilted his head toward the self-titled Satan Girl. She was hovering before him, a cruel smile adorning her lips. Why would she just be floating there while he called for reinforcements? Unless...unless she wanted the Legion to converge here?

Satan Girl could see the gears turning in Blok's mind and her smile turned into a petty frown. "You think you're so smart now, don't you Blok?" She slammed into him with more force than he'd felt since his powers had been enhanced by the Rock of Eternity. "Maybe you should do a little less thinking and a little more punching!" In Blok's chest remained a large lightning bolt-shaped gash which was constantly alight with the magic which now permeated his form. Satan Girl drove a powerful fist into that space, assuming his insides would be less protected than his rocky exterior. Instead she was shocked to discover pain - even with her red lantern ring's protective aura, the raw mystical energies were too much for a Kryptonian to withstand.

She yanked her hand away with a surprised yelp, and Blok took his cue to act. Moving swiftly, he held Satan Girl's arms behind her back with a mighty bearhug and drew her face in close to his chest. "I do not wish to hurt you, Supergirl!" Blok shouted over her protests. "Please, think about what you are doing...you have been manipulated to harm your friends, you must fight this!"

"My friends?" she parroted incredulously. "None of you are my friends, Blok! And you're not even the reason I'm here, so let me go!" She glared hatefully at the stone giant's face, and crimson rays of heat burst forth from her own eyes and into his. Blinded, Blok roared in sudden discomfort and released his grip enough that she could burst free. She hovered above him and backed by the red lantern ring, clenched her fists together and slammed Blok so ferociously that he crashed through every level of the Legion's headquarters down to the ground.

Pausing only as long as it took to scan the remainder of the building with her x-ray vision, Satan Girl found one of the women she'd actually come here for. She descended via the hole Blok had made and walked on air a couple of inches above the ground on the building's third level. She saw a cloud of noxious green gas floating toward her, and realised immediately that it must be Gas Girl. Without breaking stride at all, Satan Girl dissipated the Lallorian heroine with one gust of super-breath.

Too late, she realised the mist had been a distraction. Timber Wolf bounced from wall to wall, his misty cover now evaporated. He closed on Satan Girl and kicked her with both feet right in the jaw, and her head snapped back. "This is crazy," Brin Londo remarked as he pushed his hyperagility to its limits to evade an enraged Satan Girl's blows. "Supergirl, you're tough but you must know you can't take on the whole Legion!" Brin knew he wasn't strong enough to stand up to Supergirl one on one, he'd have to rely on his cunning. He grabbed her cape in both hands and wrapped it around her head, using it to slam her head first into the floor.

"You people keep calling me Supergirl," she retorted as she effortlessly burned the cape to tatters. "Supergirl's dead, Timber Wolf...but then you already knew that, didn't you?" Tired of playing with him, she looked up from where she'd landed and spewed a horrific stream of what seemed to be blood. Taken utterly by surprise, the grotesque stream of blood burned Timber Wolf and he instinctively threw his arms up to protect his face. Satan Girl charged him through another bunch of walls, collecting Comet Queen and Chlorophyll Kid purely by accident along the way.

Satan Girl turned to leave until she felt a weakened Timber Wolf grip her ankle. "I'm not...done...yet," the barely conscious hero groaned.

Kara Zor-El gave Timber Wolf a disdainful look and his world exploded into red.

**********
Chameleon Boy had just returned home from a successful night infiltrating a local banyo fruit smuggling ring. Feeling pleased with his success and happy for some company he had sought out Star Boy, Sun Boy and Stone Boy in one of the base's recreation rooms where they were playing their latest virtual reality game obsession Orandan Knights. Cham had barely finished loading his holographic avatar into the game when alarms sounded and a tremendous impact rocked the building. "We're under assault?" Cham removed the multi-pronged headpiece he'd been wearing and blinked as he readjusted to the real world. "Who'd be reckless enough to attack the Legion of Superheroes in our own home?"

"Good question," Sun Boy frowned as he, Star Boy and Stone Boy removed their own headpieces. The sounds of battle continued above them, and the building shook as though it were about to come down around their ears. "We'd better get up there and find out!" Dirk led the charge as the quartet of young men made their way toward the chaotic din. They received Blok's warning en route, but none of them had any luck in returning contact with him.

"Stop!" A breathless Dream Girl intercepted them, still adjusting her gloves. Her hair was unstyled and her face was devoid of makeup, a sight most of these men had seen less than a handful of times in all the years they'd known her.

"Dreamy, are you nuts?" Star Boy threw his hands up. "Listen to that racket, Supergirl could be killing our friends up there!"

"She's not after our friends, Thom!" Dream Girl countered abruptly.

"There are only four Legionnaires Satan Girl wants to kill!"

"Dream Girl, you've obviously had a vision," Chameleon Boy deduced, "Who are her targets?"

"You, me, Brainy, and Imra!" Dream Girl answered quickly.

"That doesn't make any sense," Stone Boy's voice became harsher and more grating as his flesh petrified mid-sentence. "Saturn Girl's not even an active Legionnaire anymore!"

Another portion of the ceiling fell away, and a bruised and beaten Matter-Eater Lad fell through wrapped up in Elastic Lady's malleable body. Satan Girl descended after them, hovering imperiously. "Can you believe those two didn't just turn and run?" she taunted cruelly. "Oh hey, there you are!" She turned to face Dream Girl and Chameleon Boy, blasting them with a wide arc of heat vision. Thinking quickly, Chameleon Boy turned into a dragonfly and darted away from the blistering heat while Stone Boy leaped in front of a screaming Dream Girl.

"If you really are Supergirl we'll help you," Sun Boy caught her attention, "But we're not going to let you hurt anyone else, Kara. You'll thank us for this later, trust me." He thrust both arms forward and bathed her in red flame.

"You're cute, Sun Boy." Satan Girl threw her head back and laughed. "But what makes you think you'll do any better than -- hey! What's going on?!" The flames were actually beginning to hurt her, and her flight failed as she fell to the ground near Elastic Lad and Matter-Eater Lad.

"Red solar flare to remove your powers," Sun Boy explained as he continued the assault. "I'm not just a devastatingly handsome face, you know."

She raised her ringed hand, but suddenly found it too heavy to lift. Surrounded in dark air, her hand slammed dramatically to the floor and knocked her off-balance. Star Boy stood close by Sun Boy, Thom's own power responsible for the ring's drastic increase in mass. "What is that?" Thom asked. "A red kryptonite ring? You think that's what's made her like this, Sun Boy?"

"The red lantern ring hasn't made me like anything," Satan Girl spat through clenched teeth. "It's set me free from the ridiculous fantasy you people had me living in!" Her jaw dropped open and like Timber Wolf before them, Sun Boy and Star Boy were both smothered in a seething flood of blood-red bile. The two men bellowed in agony as it burned through their flesh.

"Stop this!" Stone Boy leaped forward and delivered a mighty blow to Satan Girl's jaw. Still feeling the effects of Sun Boy's power, Satan Girl cried out and hit the deck. "You're hurting your friends!" Dag Wentim continued. "Don't you care?"

Satan Girl reinforced her force-field and used the power of the red lantern ring to counteract the ring's increased mass. "Don't you talk to me about caring!" she railed furiously. She blasted Stone Boy with the ring and he flew into a wall. As he climbed to his feet, she blasted him again. "How many months have I been here with you people, all of you pretending like you give a damn about me? Like I'm part of your so-called family? When all I've ever been is an amusement! Some fun souvenir from the past to be put back as soon as you're sick of me! To die!!" As she ranted, she'd kept blasting Stone Boy and now the two were outside in the dirt. The sun had started to rise over the Martian horizon, and even now Kara could feel its rays restoring her Kryptonian strength. She had reached a level of rage so intense she wasn't capable of coherent speech anymore, and without even really being consciously aware of what she was doing she vomited blood over the Zwennite hero. His petrified form protected him from the worst of it, but the acidic assault still hurt. Wiping the foul substance from his eyes, Dag Wentim looked up in anxious disbelief as Satan Girl stood poised to deliver a fatal blow.

A pulse of light as red as her own aura struck the Kryptonian teenager from behind and she arched her back in irritation. "Back for more, Sun Boy?" Satan Girl spun around, her teeth bared.

"Not Sun Boy," Chameleon Boy shot back, a ridiculously oversized red solar rifle slung over his shoulder and Dream Girl standing by his side. "Stone Boy brought us enough time to get to the armory, but he's done his job."

"This ludicrous grudge you're bearing is with us, isn't it?" Dream Girl provoked her. "Well we're right here, Kara. Come get us."

The corrupted teen of steel shrieked in fury and charged straight at the duo, right into the path of Cham's next blast. Knocked off course, she dug a trench in the Martian soil and when she extricated herself both of the Legionnaires had disappeared into the building. Relying on her ring for protection and flight, Kara gave chase just in time to see Dream Girl's chrome heeled boot vanish around a corner. Satan Girl poured on the speed and rounded the corner, opening fire on Dream Girl the instant she saw her. The explosion of light brought the ceiling down on her target, and when the dust settled she saw Dream Girl impaled on a girder. Dream Girl's normally vivid blue eyes stared lifelessly at her murderer and Chameleon Boy's corpse emerged from beneath the pile of rubble nearby. For one long moment, Kara Zor-El looked upon her victims in a stunned stupor. She had come to kill them, and she'd killed them. Repeating that fact to herself almost as though she were trying to convince herself she'd done the right thing, she resolved to finish what she'd come here for and zipped out into the Martian sunlight to recharge.

**********
For the first time in minutes, Laurel Kent's home was filled with silence. Standing alone in a corridor in the building's untouched east wing, the raven-haired teen found the silence more off-putting than the racket. At least noise meant the Legion were still fighting; that they were still alive.

As soon as the devastation had begun, Lightning Lad had evacuated the building with his twin sons and Saturn Girl had telepathically gathered the students under their care. Laurel couldn't imagine that Garth Ranzz would have been at all happy with leaving his wife to protect their students without him, but Laurel also knew from experience how resolute Imra Ardeen Ranzz could be when she set her mind to something. Kid Quantum was away visiting her brother and Chemical Kid and Dragonwing hadn't come home yet from whatever clubs they'd hit last night. Laurel, Gravity Kid, Lullabye Lad, Variable Lad and Glorith had responded to Imra's summons though, and all five students would readily have agreed to follow her command to join up with Lightning Lad until Laurel overheard Dream Girl telling Saturn Girl who was behind this chaos.

Satan Girl. Laurel had read the files. She knew Satan Girl was really Supergirl, and looking down on her poncho at the crest of the House of El that Laurel shared with her distant relative, Laurel felt a responsibility to deal with her. So she'd come up with a plan. And now, as she stood in this corridor with its flickering lights waiting for Satan Girl to appear in chase of her prey, Laurel clenched her fists tightly to stop her hands from shaking. She'd never in her life felt this kind of apprehension about physical violence, but then she'd never in her life had to fight a crazed Kryptonian.

Her feet never touching the ground, Satan Girl walked around the corner and tensed up when she saw Laurel. "You know, I'm mad at the others but it's a whole new level of mad I am with you," the time-displaced blonde snarled, "You're my family, Laurel. Why didn't you tell me the truth? Kal would disown you if he was here. I may not be able to break you but I'm going to bring you a world of hurt, little girl."

"You gonna talk about it or do it?" Laurel retorted, hearing the quiver in her voice. Enraged, Satan Girl charged straight at her cousin's descendant. Standing her ground, Laurel breathed a sigh of relief when Satan Girl stopped short in mid-air. A web of ethereal light held the struggling Kryptonian in place as she tried to figure out how this was happening. "Guys, now!" Laurel bellowed.

Having been hidden in a darkened room to her right, Satan Girl saw now the telltale facial markings of the sorceress Glorith glowing dimly. The light gleamed off of Lullabye Lad's golden bracers, and with outstretched arms he mustered his most commanding voice. "Go to sleep, Supergirl!" At the same time, a grotesque three-armed spindly male leaped out and wrapped his extended limbs around Satan Girl. Fighting an overpowering drowsiness, she realised that the alien creature must be Variable Lad. Moreso, the Jaquaan youth must have taken on a power-leeching form because he was swiftly growing in size while the light of her aura was fading.

"Laurel! I - I can't take much more!" Variable Lad had taken on extreme proportions and was bleeding red energy from his eyes and a mouth filled with rows of sharp teeth.

"It's alright, Oaa. You've done your part. Tel?" Laurel stepped forward, fists balled as she approached the weakened Satan Girl. Variable Lad released her and flew off to discharge his excess energy harmlessly, and Gravity Kid appeared from a console behind Laurel. His arms were surrounded by a bluish nimbus of light, and as Laurel swung a fist at Satan Girl her fist was enclosed in the same aura. When Laurel Kent hit Satan Girl, her indestructible fist was accompanied with a g-force dozens of times more intense than that of the planet Mars. The force of the punch broke Glorith's spell of ensnarement, and a groggy Satan Girl bounced several times before she came to a stop down the other end of the corridor.

"Oh wow," Laurel laughed nervously. "I kinda can't believe that worked!"

Lullabye Lad appeared at his invulnerable classmate's side. "Laurel, I had trouble sedating her even as much as I did before...she's so much angrier now though, you better finish her off before she snaps out of it altogether."

"Got it," Laurel flew after her foe. "Tel, juice me again--"

She never finished her statement before there was an inhuman scream, and the corridor filled with searing heat and force. The walls were slagged, trapping Glorith in the room where she'd been hidden and leaving Lullabye Lad half-buried in molten plasteel. Only his Zwennite instinct to turn to stone in the face of danger had kept him from being instantly killed. Laurel had unwittingly shielded Gravity Kid behind her from the worst of the damage but he was still severely burned, his already revealing costume in shreds. The force of the blast had knocked Laurel flying into Tel Vole, mercifully knocking him out so he couldn't feel the immense pain of his injuries. Laurel wasn't hurt but her poncho had been incinerated and she herself had been disoriented by the blast. Before she could get her bearings, Satan Girl was lifting her up by a fistful of hair.

"You think you're so smart?!" Satan Girl slammed her through a wall into the adjoining room. "You think you can beat me through trickery?!" She picked her up again and threw her viciously back into the corridor. "All of you Legionnaires think you're so much better than me, laughing down your noses at me! And you're not even a proper Legionnaire! You'll never be a Legionnaire!" While she was ranting, she rained blow upon blow on a helpless Laurel. The savage beating was beginning to hurt her and Laurel cried out, but Satan Girl was beyond hearing.

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MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
Drura Sehpt's large lavender eyes fluttered open. She could taste blood, and she was sore all over. There had been a tremendous crashing boom, and then...then what? Groaning, she propped herself up on one elbow and surveyed her surroundings. She was in the cold night air in the midst of a pile of debris, alarms screaming all around her. This made no sense, she'd been in her quarters with...Jacques! Where was Jacques??

She heard a cough nearby, followed by a sharp intake of air. Dragging herself from the bed she'd been trapped beneath, Drura made her way to the sound. There, Jacques Foccart lay beneath a section of wall, much heavier than Drura's own obstacle had been. Her heart jumped into her throat as a million fears played through her mind. Enough, the Somahturian heroine chastised herself. He's wounded but he's alive.

"Drura..? Ma cherie..?" Invisible Kid reached for her with one trembling and blood-soaked hand, and Infectious Lass instinctively pulled away.

"Jacques, no!" She warned her lover. "We're both bleeding and I may be concussed! I - I may not be able to control my power."

"Qu'est-il arrive?" the clearly confused young man asked. He grimaced, each breath bringing stabbing agony. He tried to shift the debris pinning him down, but that only brought an all-new intensity of pain and a roar that made Drura flinch in sympathy.

Drura's eyes filled with tears. "Jacques! Jacques, stop! I don't know if my translator is broken, but I can't understand you...I don't know if you can understand me, but please don't move...I'll find someone. Just...just stay there!" She stood on wobbly legs, leaning against an exposed beam of metal. None of this made any sense; had they been teleported somewhere? Sent into the timestream again? Then she recognised a slender yellow arm emerging from the rubble nearby, a flight ring gleaming on Nightwind's limp finger. The truth hit her like a ton of inertron. Somebody had attacked the Legion of Superheroes in their home!

As she cautiously advanced toward the frighteningly prone Nightwind, Drura saw two more casualties - Lightning Lass and Kid Computo were both unconscious, and Ayla's arm was bent at a horrible angle. Danielle had sustained a nasty gash to her forehead, and there was a patch of blood ever so slowly growing on the thigh of her pants. Both of them were breathing though, Drura could see their chests rising and falling from here. She hated to have to make this choice at all, but before she helped them she needed to know if Nightwind was still alive under all this destruction. Drura wracked her brain for a way to touch Berta without risking her exposure to countless illnesses when she saw something that chilled her to the marrow.

Ten feet to the left, standing on a pile of debris higher than Drura's eye level, a distinctly female form was silhouetted against the night sky. A form-fitting black bodysuit and cowl hid the woman's identity, red cape flicking in the breeze behind her. She was surrounded by a devilish red glow, and red highlights ran along her costume leading to a strange red symbol emblazoned across her chest. The stranger's eyes too glowed red, illuminating her only exposed flesh as her lower face contorted into a contemptuous snarl. The only other clue to her identity was golden hair emerging from the back of her cowl...Drura had no idea who the woman was, but it seemed clear that she was responsible for this devastating assault.

"You hurt my friends!" Infectious Lass shouted weakly. "I'm not going to let you get away with that!" Her head was spinning, but Drura had to try something. Praying that she could maintain enough self-control not to endanger the nearby Legionnaires, she directed a stream of debilitatingly nasty microbes at the woman in red and black.

Moving faster than Drura could follow, the strange woman closed on Infectious Lass and hoisted her up by the throat. She dangled the terrified Somahturian in her left hand, and raised her right hand so that Drura could see for the first time the crimson ring her assailant wore. "As long as I'm wearing this you don't have a chance in Hell of stopping me," the woman spat.

Drura knew she was right - the woman wasn't just glowing, she was sealed away from the world under a red aura. Drura couldn't send any diseases through that nimbus of energy, and she couldn't cast her power through it to command any microscopic lifeforms which might be lying dormant within the woman already. Worse, the woman was beginning to squeeze. Infectious Lass heard Invisible Kid's helpless protests and held on to consciousness with everything she had. If she were to fall now, Jacques would surely be next...

"Get away from her!" a gravelly voice roared. A flash of diamond filled Drura's field of vision before she fell to the floor rasping for air. Diamond Damsel charged at the mystery assailant, knocking her away from Infectious Lass.

The mysterious attacker staggered back a couple of steps initially under Diamond Damsel's pounding fists, but soon recovered her bearing and blocked the Legionnaire's next blow. "Who are you?" Diamond Damsel demanded. "Why are you doing this?" It had been Iris Jacobs' good fortune that she'd managed to complete her transformation into Diamond Damsel while her quarters crumbled around her ears, but the ease with which this woman stood against her now made her doubt that luck was going to last.

"You can call me Satan Girl for as long as you've got the ability to call me anything at all," the villainess retorted wickedly. The light in her eyes intensified, and twin beams of crimson light penetrated Diamond Damsel's breast. The Legionnaire screamed, gripped by a level of pain she'd felt less than a handful of times over the past millenium as Satan Girl's heat vision burned a tiny hole straight through her body and clear to the other side.

"How--?" Diamond Damsel pleaded. Her right arm had gone dead and her left arm clutched at her smoking shoulder. "I'm made of diamond, that's impossible!"

"Lasers cut diamonds all the time," Satan Girl taunted. "And diamond shatters, once you've found its flaw." She closed on the ancient heroine in a blur and backhanded her roughly. Diamond Damsel flew through two of the base's walls which were still standing and landed in a dazed heap.

As Diamond Damsel struggled to clamber from the wreckage, her masked attacker was standing over her. This time Satan Girl extended her ringed hand toward her victim, and the ring projected a series of holographic gridlines which seemed to be measuring something, closing in on one central point. They formed a three-dimensional cone which zeroed in on the centre of Diamond Damsel's forehead, and Satan Girl bared her teeth in a sadistic grin. "There's that pesky flaw now, speak of the devil."

Before Satan Girl could strike, a tiny spaceship circled her head like an angry mosquito. "Satan Girl tough!" Quislet's shrill voice rang out. "Not many girls or boys can give Diamond Damsel the ol' one-two! Quislet better come to the rescue super quick!"

The microship's hull began to slide open but before the extradimensional hero could exit his craft, Satan Girl grabbed it by the tail fin and threw it miles across the night sky. "Not really a fan of that word," she grunted in disgust. "Super." She turned back to her original target, but Diamond Damsel had already disappeared beneath a shifting carpet of metal which moved as though it were alive. Momentarily confused, Satan Girl soon realised what had happened. She turned to face the architect of Diamond Damsel's salvation and saw Cosmic Boy standing alongside his wife Night Girl. Tellus, Dragonmage and Blok were right behind them.

"Who are you?" Cosmic Boy demanded. "Who are you really?? You can't be who you look like, Satan Girl was the result of Supergirl's exposure to red kryptonite and red kryptonite never affects Kryptonians the same way twice!"

"Jeepers Cosmic Boy, maybe you're not as much of a know-it-all as you think you are," Satan Girl mocked the Legion's founder in a singsong voice. Before he could respond, she had closed the range. Cosmic Boy desperately threw up a shield of omnisteel formed from the debris around them, but Satan Girl punched it hard enough that it shattered and sent Rokk following Quislet into the cold night.

"Rokk!" Night Girl's eyes widened with fear and she flew after her husband without a second thought.

Blok stepped forward and slammed a fist almost as wide as Satan Girl's waist into her gut. As powerful as she'd shown herself to be, she had not braced against his assault. She brought several walls crashing down with her as she crashed deeper into the Legion's headquarters, and Blok turned to his Hykraian comrade. "Tellus! I know this is not normally the way you conduct yourself, but we must know if this is really Supergirl! We need your telepathy, my friend!"

Satan Girl had already recovered, and she charged into Blok with a scream of utter frustration. Blok allowed himself to be knocked back, hoping to spare his friends and home from any more collateral damage. The two of them cleared the Legion's headquarters altogether and landed with a resounding thud in the Martian soil below. Peering over the edge as the mighty combatants traded blows, Tellus put his own power to use. "It is Supergirl," his voice modulator announced with far less distress than he felt. "But she is so full of emotional pain, so full of rage!"

Kryptonian strength backed by the red ring on Satan Girl's finger sent Blok flying up into Tellus. The Hykraian was immediately buried in what remained of someone's quarters, but Blok was only momentarily inconvenienced. "Dragonmage!" Blok cried out urgently. "Kryptonians are vulnerable to magic!"

To his credit, the young sorceror had already begun weaving a dragonform as soon as he'd had confirmation of Satan Girl's true identity but he was far from finished when a crimson beam from his former teammate's ring hurled him back against one of the few remaining walls to join Tellus in unconsciousness.

Blok lifted his flight ring to his gold-veined stone mouth. "Attention, all Legionnaires! Supergirl is under some form of mind control, she has attacked our base and has already gravely injured several of our teammates! Converge--" Blok stopped mid-sentence, and tilted his head toward the self-titled Satan Girl. She was hovering before him, a cruel smile adorning her lips. Why would she just be floating there while he called for reinforcements? Unless...unless she wanted the Legion to converge here?

Satan Girl could see the gears turning in Blok's mind and her smile turned into a petty frown. "You think you're so smart now, don't you Blok?" She slammed into him with more force than he'd felt since his powers had been enhanced by the Rock of Eternity. "Maybe you should do a little less thinking and a little more punching!" In Blok's chest remained a large lightning bolt-shaped gash which was constantly alight with the magic which now permeated his form. Satan Girl drove a powerful fist into that space, assuming his insides would be less protected than his rocky exterior. Instead she was shocked to discover pain - even with her red lantern ring's protective aura, the raw mystical energies were too much for a Kryptonian to withstand.

She yanked her hand away with a surprised yelp, and Blok took his cue to act. Moving swiftly, he held Satan Girl's arms behind her back with a mighty bearhug and drew her face in close to his chest. "I do not wish to hurt you, Supergirl!" Blok shouted over her protests. "Please, think about what you are doing...you have been manipulated to harm your friends, you must fight this!"

"My friends?" she parroted incredulously. "None of you are my friends, Blok! And you're not even the reason I'm here, so let me go!" She glared hatefully at the stone giant's face, and crimson rays of heat burst forth from her own eyes and into his. Blinded, Blok roared in sudden discomfort and released his grip enough that she could burst free. She hovered above him and backed by the red lantern ring, clenched her fists together and slammed Blok so ferociously that he crashed through every level of the Legion's headquarters down to the ground.

Pausing only as long as it took to scan the remainder of the building with her x-ray vision, Satan Girl found one of the women she'd actually come here for. She descended via the hole Blok had made and walked on air a couple of inches above the ground on the building's third level. She saw a cloud of noxious green gas floating toward her, and realised immediately that it must be Gas Girl. Without breaking stride at all, Satan Girl dissipated the Lallorian heroine with one gust of super-breath.

Too late, she realised the mist had been a distraction. Timber Wolf bounced from wall to wall, his misty cover now evaporated. He closed on Satan Girl and kicked her with both feet right in the jaw, and her head snapped back. "This is crazy," Brin Londo remarked as he pushed his hyperagility to its limits to evade an enraged Satan Girl's blows. "Supergirl, you're tough but you must know you can't take on the whole Legion!" Brin knew he wasn't strong enough to stand up to Supergirl one on one, he'd have to rely on his cunning. He grabbed her cape in both hands and wrapped it around her head, using it to slam her head first into the floor.

"You people keep calling me Supergirl," she retorted as she effortlessly burned the cape to tatters. "Supergirl's dead, Timber Wolf...but then you already knew that, didn't you?" Tired of playing with him, she looked up from where she'd landed and spewed a horrific stream of what seemed to be blood. Taken utterly by surprise, the grotesque stream of blood burned Timber Wolf and he instinctively threw his arms up to protect his face. Satan Girl charged him through another bunch of walls, collecting Comet Queen and Chlorophyll Kid purely by accident along the way.

Satan Girl turned to leave until she felt a weakened Timber Wolf grip her ankle. "I'm not...done...yet," the barely conscious hero groaned.

Kara Zor-El gave Timber Wolf a disdainful look and his world exploded into red.

**********
Chameleon Boy had just returned home from a successful night infiltrating a local banyo fruit smuggling ring. Feeling pleased with his success and happy for some company he had sought out Star Boy, Sun Boy and Stone Boy in one of the base's recreation rooms where they were playing their latest virtual reality game obsession Orandan Knights. Cham had barely finished loading his holographic avatar into the game when alarms sounded and a tremendous impact rocked the building. "We're under assault?" Cham removed the multi-pronged headpiece he'd been wearing and blinked as he readjusted to the real world. "Who'd be reckless enough to attack the Legion of Superheroes in our own home?"

"Good question," Sun Boy frowned as he, Star Boy and Stone Boy removed their own headpieces. The sounds of battle continued above them, and the building shook as though it were about to come down around their ears. "We'd better get up there and find out!" Dirk led the charge as the quartet of young men made their way toward the chaotic din. They received Blok's warning en route, but none of them had any luck in returning contact with him.

"Stop!" A breathless Dream Girl intercepted them, still adjusting her gloves. Her hair was unstyled and her face was devoid of makeup, a sight most of these men had seen less than a handful of times in all the years they'd known her.

"Dreamy, are you nuts?" Star Boy threw his hands up. "Listen to that racket, Supergirl could be killing our friends up there!"

"She's not after our friends, Thom!" Dream Girl countered abruptly.

"There are only four Legionnaires Satan Girl wants to kill!"

"Dream Girl, you've obviously had a vision," Chameleon Boy deduced, "Who are her targets?"

"You, me, Brainy, and Imra!" Dream Girl answered quickly.

"That doesn't make any sense," Stone Boy's voice became harsher and more grating as his flesh petrified mid-sentence. "Saturn Girl's not even an active Legionnaire anymore!"

Another portion of the ceiling fell away, and a bruised and beaten Matter-Eater Lad fell through wrapped up in Elastic Lady's malleable body. Satan Girl descended after them, hovering imperiously. "Can you believe those two didn't just turn and run?" she taunted cruelly. "Oh hey, there you are!" She turned to face Dream Girl and Chameleon Boy, blasting them with a wide arc of heat vision. Thinking quickly, Chameleon Boy turned into a dragonfly and darted away from the blistering heat while Stone Boy leaped in front of a screaming Dream Girl.

"If you really are Supergirl we'll help you," Sun Boy caught her attention, "But we're not going to let you hurt anyone else, Kara. You'll thank us for this later, trust me." He thrust both arms forward and bathed her in red flame.

"You're cute, Sun Boy." Satan Girl threw her head back and laughed. "But what makes you think you'll do any better than -- hey! What's going on?!" The flames were actually beginning to hurt her, and her flight failed as she fell to the ground near Elastic Lad and Matter-Eater Lad.

"Red solar flare to remove your powers," Sun Boy explained as he continued the assault. "I'm not just a devastatingly handsome face, you know."

She raised her ringed hand, but suddenly found it too heavy to lift. Surrounded in dark air, her hand slammed dramatically to the floor and knocked her off-balance. Star Boy stood close by Sun Boy, Thom's own power responsible for the ring's drastic increase in mass. "What is that?" Thom asked. "A red kryptonite ring? You think that's what's made her like this, Sun Boy?"

"The red lantern ring hasn't made me like anything," Satan Girl spat through clenched teeth. "It's set me free from the ridiculous fantasy you people had me living in!" Her jaw dropped open and like Timber Wolf before them, Sun Boy and Star Boy were both smothered in a seething flood of blood-red bile. The two men bellowed in agony as it burned through their flesh.

"Stop this!" Stone Boy leaped forward and delivered a mighty blow to Satan Girl's jaw. Still feeling the effects of Sun Boy's power, Satan Girl cried out and hit the deck. "You're hurting your friends!" Dag Wentim continued. "Don't you care?"

Satan Girl reinforced her force-field and used the power of the red lantern ring to counteract the ring's increased mass. "Don't you talk to me about caring!" she railed furiously. She blasted Stone Boy with the ring and he flew into a wall. As he climbed to his feet, she blasted him again. "How many months have I been here with you people, all of you pretending like you give a damn about me? Like I'm part of your so-called family? When all I've ever been is an amusement! Some fun souvenir from the past to be put back as soon as you're sick of me! To die!!" As she ranted, she'd kept blasting Stone Boy and now the two were outside in the dirt. The sun had started to rise over the Martian horizon, and even now Kara could feel its rays restoring her Kryptonian strength. She had reached a level of rage so intense she wasn't capable of coherent speech anymore, and without even really being consciously aware of what she was doing she vomited blood over the Zwennite hero. His petrified form protected him from the worst of it, but the acidic assault still hurt. Wiping the foul substance from his eyes, Dag Wentim looked up in anxious disbelief as Satan Girl stood poised to deliver a fatal blow.

A pulse of light as red as her own aura struck the Kryptonian teenager from behind and she arched her back in irritation. "Back for more, Sun Boy?" Satan Girl spun around, her teeth bared.

"Not Sun Boy," Chameleon Boy shot back, a ridiculously oversized red solar rifle slung over his shoulder and Dream Girl standing by his side. "Stone Boy brought us enough time to get to the armory, but he's done his job."

"This ludicrous grudge you're bearing is with us, isn't it?" Dream Girl provoked her. "Well we're right here, Kara. Come get us."

The corrupted teen of steel shrieked in fury and charged straight at the duo, right into the path of Cham's next blast. Knocked off course, she dug a trench in the Martian soil and when she extricated herself both of the Legionnaires had disappeared into the building. Relying on her ring for protection and flight, Kara gave chase just in time to see Dream Girl's chrome heeled boot vanish around a corner. Satan Girl poured on the speed and rounded the corner, opening fire on Dream Girl the instant she saw her. The explosion of light brought the ceiling down on her target, and when the dust settled she saw Dream Girl impaled on a girder. Dream Girl's normally vivid blue eyes stared lifelessly at her murderer and Chameleon Boy's corpse emerged from beneath the pile of rubble nearby. For one long moment, Kara Zor-El looked upon her victims in a stunned stupor. She had come to kill them, and she'd killed them. Repeating that fact to herself almost as though she were trying to convince herself she'd done the right thing, she resolved to finish what she'd come here for and zipped out into the Martian sunlight to recharge.

**********
For the first time in minutes, Laurel Kent's home was filled with silence. Standing alone in a corridor in the building's untouched east wing, the raven-haired teen found the silence more off-putting than the racket. At least noise meant the Legion were still fighting; that they were still alive.

As soon as the devastation had begun, Lightning Lad had evacuated the building with his twin sons and Saturn Girl had telepathically gathered the students under their care. Laurel couldn't imagine that Garth Ranzz would have been at all happy with leaving his wife to protect their students without him, but Laurel also knew from experience how resolute Imra Ardeen Ranzz could be when she set her mind to something. Kid Quantum was away visiting her brother and Chemical Kid and Dragonwing hadn't come home yet from whatever clubs they'd hit last night. Laurel, Gravity Kid, Lullabye Lad, Variable Lad and Glorith had responded to Imra's summons though, and all five students would readily have agreed to follow her command to join up with Lightning Lad until Laurel overheard Dream Girl telling Saturn Girl who was behind this chaos.

Satan Girl. Laurel had read the files. She knew Satan Girl was really Supergirl, and looking down on her poncho at the crest of the House of El that Laurel shared with her distant relative, Laurel felt a responsibility to deal with her. So she'd come up with a plan. And now, as she stood in this corridor with its flickering lights waiting for Satan Girl to appear in chase of her prey, Laurel clenched her fists tightly to stop her hands from shaking. She'd never in her life felt this kind of apprehension about physical violence, but then she'd never in her life had to fight a crazed Kryptonian.

Her feet never touching the ground, Satan Girl walked around the corner and tensed up when she saw Laurel. "You know, I'm mad at the others but it's a whole new level of mad I am with you," the time-displaced blonde snarled, "You're my family, Laurel. Why didn't you tell me the truth? Kal would disown you if he was here. I may not be able to break you but I'm going to bring you a world of hurt, little girl."

"You gonna talk about it or do it?" Laurel retorted, hearing the quiver in her voice. Enraged, Satan Girl charged straight at her cousin's descendant. Standing her ground, Laurel breathed a sigh of relief when Satan Girl stopped short in mid-air. A web of ethereal light held the struggling Kryptonian in place as she tried to figure out how this was happening. "Guys, now!" Laurel bellowed.

Having been hidden in a darkened room to her right, Satan Girl saw now the telltale facial markings of the sorceress Glorith glowing dimly. The light gleamed off of Lullabye Lad's golden bracers, and with outstretched arms he mustered his most commanding voice. "Go to sleep, Supergirl!" At the same time, a grotesque three-armed spindly male leaped out and wrapped his extended limbs around Satan Girl. Fighting an overpowering drowsiness, she realised that the alien creature must be Variable Lad. Moreso, the Jaquaan youth must have taken on a power-leeching form because he was swiftly growing in size while the light of her aura was fading.

"Laurel! I - I can't take much more!" Variable Lad had taken on extreme proportions and was bleeding red energy from his eyes and a mouth filled with rows of sharp teeth.

"It's alright, Oaa. You've done your part. Tel?" Laurel stepped forward, fists balled as she approached the weakened Satan Girl. Variable Lad released her and flew off to discharge his excess energy harmlessly, and Gravity Kid appeared from a console behind Laurel. His arms were surrounded by a bluish nimbus of light, and as Laurel swung a fist at Satan Girl her fist was enclosed in the same aura. When Laurel Kent hit Satan Girl, her indestructible fist was accompanied with a g-force dozens of times more intense than that of the planet Mars. The force of the punch broke Glorith's spell of ensnarement, and a groggy Satan Girl bounced several times before she came to a stop down the other end of the corridor.

"Oh wow," Laurel laughed nervously. "I kinda can't believe that worked!"

Lullabye Lad appeared at his invulnerable classmate's side. "Laurel, I had trouble sedating her even as much as I did before...she's so much angrier now though, you better finish her off before she snaps out of it altogether."

"Got it," Laurel flew after her foe. "Tel, juice me again--"

She never finished her statement before there was an inhuman scream, and the corridor filled with searing heat and force. The walls were slagged, trapping Glorith in the room where she'd been hidden and leaving Lullabye Lad half-buried in molten plasteel. Only his Zwennite instinct to turn to stone in the face of danger had kept him from being instantly killed. Laurel had unwittingly shielded Gravity Kid behind her from the worst of the damage but he was still severely burned, his already revealing costume in shreds. The force of the blast had knocked Laurel flying into Tel Vole, mercifully knocking him out so he couldn't feel the immense pain of his injuries. Laurel wasn't hurt but her poncho had been incinerated and she herself had been disoriented by the blast. Before she could get her bearings, Satan Girl was lifting her up by a fistful of hair.

"You think you're so smart?!" Satan Girl slammed her through a wall into the adjoining room. "You think you can beat me through trickery?!" She picked her up again and threw her viciously back into the corridor. "All of you Legionnaires think you're so much better than me, laughing down your noses at me! And you're not even a proper Legionnaire! You'll never be a Legionnaire!" While she was ranting, she rained blow upon blow on a helpless Laurel. The savage beating was beginning to hurt her and Laurel cried out, but Satan Girl was beyond hearing.

<KARA!>

The telepathic shout reverberated through both Satan Girl and Laurel's skulls, and their heads snapped to the side to see Saturn Girl standing before them, hands on her hips. "Saturn Girl..." Laurel moaned weakly. "You have to run...she was too far gone for Lullabye Lad's power..."

"I told you to evacuate," Saturn Girl chided her young charge. "I trusted you to make sure the other students got away safely, Laurel. I'll deal with you later. As for you, Kara--"

"Burn."

Kara Zor-El glared at the first friend she'd ever made in the Legion of Superheroes, and Imra Ardeen-Ranzz screamed as heat vision immolated her where she stood. The sound was like nothing Laurel had ever heard, and Laurel sobbed as she crawled across to her teacher's unmoving form. She made a futile attempt to smother the flames with her own bruised skin, but she knew it was too late. Satan Girl watched the scenario play out for a while, the grim set of her jaw betraying no compassion. Eventually, she left the crying student behind her and marched on to her final target.

**********
When Satan Girl had initially struck, Fire Lad and Color Kid were in Brainiac 5's multilab with the Coluan hypergenius. Fire Lad had been visiting Aqeaa, the Shwarian name he'd given to the artificial Mercurian woman the Heavensent had created. She remained in a sens-tank where her vitals could be constantly monitored, and Fire Lad had taken it upon himself to ensure that Brainiac 5 did everything he could to help the mysterious lifeform.

The instant Brainiac 5 had seen Satan Girl on security footage he'd recognised her. Upon seeing her path through the Legion's headquarters, he'd also quickly deduced that she was coming for this very lab. Removing Aqeaa's sens-tank and some of his more volatile experiments to an emergency tesseract, he'd assigned Color Kid and Fire Lad to the tesseract as well. While Color Kid had vigorously protested, Brainiac had made a mental note of Fire Lad's enthusiasm for the task. As he sealed the tesseract portal, Brainiac promised himself he'd look into Staq's growing obsession with Aqeaa...assuming he survived today.

He called in all offworld Legionnaires and then Brainiac 5 examined his options. He could flee, but doing so would place the rest of the Legion, their home and potentially the residents of Mars in more danger. The Legion's armory existed in its own tesseract, one which could be accessed from various strategic points throughout the base. But no. Whatever else happened today, Querl Dox couldn't bring himself to hurt Kara Zor-El with premeditation. He could leave the lab to engage her, but there was always the possibility that Satan Girl had been recreated as a distraction specifically to leave the secrets of his multilab unattended. No, the prudent course of action was to stand his ground. Then the door to his lab whooshed open and Brainiac 5 saw a familiar if mildly unexpected face.

"Brainy," his old friend greeted him. "There's something you need to know..."

Minutes later, Satan Girl ripped that same door from its moorings. While he was waiting for her, Brainiac 5 had disabled the base's alarms as the sound was infuriating...and with everything his 12th level intellect knew about the ring Satan Girl wore, the last thing he wanted was to make her angrier than she was. With a wrathful wordless scream, Satan Girl bathed Brainiac 5 in red light. Though every piece of equipment around him was ruined, his forcefield protected him effortlessly and he retaliated with two simple words.

"Hello Kara."

"Don't hello Kara me!" she screeched. "How can you just sit there so...so complacent! I'm going to kill you! I'm going to kill you like I've killed all your stupid friends!" She began pounding against his forcefield with blows so ferocious they rattled everything in the room.

"I don't think you will," Querl Dox responded calmly. "I've been watching you on our security feeds you see, and Kara...you've had every opportunity to murder every single Legionnaire and student you've come across, but you stopped yourself in every case."

"No I didn't!" She switched to heat vision and though the forcefield held, Brainiac was forced to shield his eyes. "I killed Dream Girl...and Cham! And Saturn Girl!"

"Did you?" he asked from behind the shade of a crooked arm. "Because I have to say...even without a red lantern ring, the Supergirl I know has the power to murder those three along with everyone else here - but more to the point, the Satan Girl I remember would have made damn sure she did it. The Kara Zor-El I know is intimately familiar with how tricky the people on this team can be when they need to be. And none of that matters because..." Despite himself, Brainiac 5's voice cracked. "...the Kara Zor-El I love has nothing but compassion for each and every one of us."

Satan Girl stopped her assault and stood facing Brainiac 5, their faces only inches from one another. For the longest moment, the air was filled with her ragged breathing before she shook her head and raised her fists to punch Brainiac's forcefield again. Brainiac 5's eyes welled with tears. He'd had her, he could feel it...but just as quickly she'd slipped through his fingers.

"I don't love you!" she wailed. "I don't, I don't!" She bashed at the forcefield with both fists and blasted it again with heat vision. Under such an onslaught, even Brainiac 5's technology would soon fail.

"You do love us," a new voice entered the conversation. "And we love you, Kara. Stop this. Come back to us." Incredulous, she stopped her barrage and turned toward the voice. Impossibly, looking just as he had the day he'd left the team, Shadow Lad stood before her.

Satan Girl stepped back, taking on the posture of a cornered animal. "Sh-Shady..? Brainy..? Oh Rao, what am I doing?" For the first time all night, her face wasn't contorted with anger...for the first time she looked scared.

Before either of the men could reply, an anti-energy blast tore the far wall apart and Wildfire hovered beyond; Mon-El, Ultra Boy, Shadow Lass, Phantom Girl and Dawnstar were by his side. Shadow Lass was visibly surprised to see her cousin. "Grev?? But you're on Talok VIII! What are you doing here? How did you get here??"

For the second time in as many moments, Kara Zor-El's face was overcome with a mask of pure unadulterated rage. "I knew it! I knew it!" she screamed. "You even said it yourself!" she turned on Brainiac. "I should know how tricky you can be! Damn you all to hell!" She zoomed through the ceiling, rocketing straight up until she'd cleared the building. Mon-El rushed to pull Brainiac and Shadow Lad from falling debris while Ultra Boy, Dawnstar and Wildfire raced to follow Satan Girl.

The trio had almost cleared the atmosphere when their leader called them back. "The three of you are no match for her, and we have bigger fish to fry," Brainiac said, "To use a Terran colloquialism."

When they returned to what was left of their headquarters, Saturn Girl and Dream Girl had joined the others in the multi-lab. "I had to make Kara and Laurel both think that Kara had killed me," Imra explained. "I couldn't risk trying to override that terrible ring's influence on her, and I needed Laurel's reaction to be genuine. I feel horrible, but--"

"Don't," Dream Girl interjected. "It's like I said on the way here, we did what we had to. If Cham hadn't shapeshifted to make it look like she'd killed both of us while I hid, I don't want to think about what might have happened."

Shadow Lad's form and voice warped until Chameleon Boy was standing before them. "I just hope that my last little trick didn't turn Kara against us forever...I'm sorry Brainy, but I was desperate."

"You put my cousin in danger!" Shadow Lass pointed a finger at Cham. "She could be on her way to kill him right now!"

"She isn't," Brainiac 5 replied in a voice devoid of emotion. "And if you hadn't barged in the way you did, Chameleon Boy's gambit may very well have spared us a lot of coming pain. We'll notify Shadow Lad to be cautious but he's perfectly safe, Shadow Lass. There were only four Legionnaires against whom Kara did more than threaten lethal force."

"You, me, Cham and Imra," Dream Girl recited, recalling the prophetic vision which had spared her from the fate that had met the rest of her quarters when Satan Girl came crashing through. Dream Girl and Saturn Girl's eyes widened as they realised what Brainiac 5's 12th level intellect and Chameleon Boy's keen powers of deduction had already told them and the four spoke their tormentor's name in unison.

"Universo."

Date Night
postlo3w
RIMBOR
Devil's Canyon

ROLL CALL
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being

Outside a filthy bar in Rimbor's most violent city, a muscular yellow-skinned woman tensed involuntarily at the sound of a familiar voice above her. "When Laurel Kent told us the Sklarian raider she lost on Cadmu used knives rather than firearms I knew that it must have been you, Atta." The Sklarian warrior spun on her heel and flung two daggers at Dawnstar before she'd even laid eyes on her. The winged Legionnaire snatched the blades out of the air faster than Atta's eyes could follow, then continued in a haughty tone. "Please. I move faster than the speed of light. There is no need for you to embarass yourself any further."

Atta saw that the Legion's tracker had not come alone; Wildfire floated beside her, his flight ring enabling him to hover in place without the telltale roar of anti-energy propulsion. "Shouldn't you be rotting in a jail cell somewhere?" Drake Burroughs asked, blasting the ground at Atta's feet and landing her on her tailbone. "You know, like the rest of your pals that our students captured?"

Atta climbed to her feet, drawing a large serrated machete from a sheath across her back. "I guess I've got friends in low places," she snarled.

"You can't be this stupid," Wildfire continued, unfazed by the Sklarian woman's weapon. He landed directly before her, Atta's angry face reflected in his visor. "Either that thing's not sharp enough to cut through my containment suit, or it is sharp enough and I go boom. Either result's not really a win for you, lady."

"If you're after the genesample I stole, you're too late Legionnaires." Atta replaced her blade, but stood in open opposition to the two heroes. "The delivery's already been made."

"We know that," Dawnstar responded. "You're going to tell us to whom that delivery was made."

"And why would I do that?" Atta smirked.

"Because until this morning I had a date planned with my lady," Wildfire answered her question, "And this is what we ended up doing instead. So now I've got a whole heap of frustration to get rid of, and you can either give up someone who can help me with that or I can take it out on you. I'm not fussed either way."

Atta gave them a stubborn scowl.

"I suppose we all do what we have to, Legionnaires."

**********
MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters

ROLL CALL
Lightning Lass aka Ayla Ranzz: electricity generation and manipulation
Shrinking Violet aka Salu Digby: shrinking

Salu Digby looked herself over one final time in the reflective surface of the Legion's turbolift, smoothing down some minor creases in her dark green suit. The door opened with an almost silent whoosh, and the petite Imskian woman nearly walked straight into Lightning Lass as she exited the turbolift. "I'm so sorry Ayla, I didn't mean to bowl you over!"

Ayla laughed at her friend. "I'll live...how come you're all dressed up? Hot night on the town?"

"Cal's friend is in some nu-bass band," Vi explained. Cal was Calorie Queen, the occasional heroine whom Shrinking Violet had been dating for the past few months. "Hey, actually I was looking for you earlier - do you and Light Lad want to tag along? We're going to grab dinner before the show anyway so you could get changed and meet us there if you like!"

"Darvan's out with his new doctor crush," Ayla replied. "And thanks for asking, but to be honest I'm really looking forward to a hot bath and bingewatching a bunch of Galactic Heart episodes."

"Oh, Ayla!" Vi's hand flew to her mouth. "I'm so sorry, I didn't even know that you and Darvan were having problems! If you need someone to talk to--"

Ayla laughed again and hugged her visibly confused friend. "You're sweet to worry, Vi...but please don't. Darvan and I are just friends with, well...extra benefits, I guess you could say. He's a great guy, but after Brin I'm not really in a rush to jump into another full-time relationship. If Darvan's found a connection with someone else, I'm 100% on side with it."

"I guess I'm more of a traditionalist," Vi blushed a little awkwardly. "If you change your mind, the offer still stands anyway - hit us up if you feel like heading out after all."

"Sure thing," Ayla squeezed Vi's shoulder. "Have fun if I don't see you!" Lightning Lass entered the turbolift and smiled as she recalled having passed Ultra Boy and Phantom Girl canoodling in one of the outdoor gardens earlier. Since Infectious Lass and Tellus had dealt with that weird conceptual virus, the past few days had been unusually sedate around here. With everyone being given the chance to actually relax for a change, it was nice to see so many happy couples about.

The turbolift stopped on Ayla's level and an intertwined Gravity Kid and Lullabye Lad almost fell through the opening doors. Gravity Kid cleared his throat and stood to attention, too mortified to meet Ayla's gaze. "...Uh, sorry Lightning Lass."

Ayla struggled not to giggle at the awkward teenagers. "It's okay boys...maybe do the rest of the Legion a favour and keep the groping to your quarters rather than the corridors though, huh?"

"Right...of course," Tel Vole muttered hurriedly while Lullabye Lad coughed into his fist to hide his own chuckling. As Ayla walked toward her room, she heard Stone Boy's little brother finally explode into loud guffaws from the closed turbolift doors behind her. Ayla rolled her eyes and allowed herself an indulgent smile.

Yep, definitely something in the air these days.

**********
NALTOR
Crystal Falls Tourist Resort

ROLL CALL
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology

In civilian clothes, Querl Dox and Kara Zor-El were just two of more than 1.5 million sentients who came to Naltor annually to see the spectacle of the Crystal Falls. The waterfalls were nearly 3000 feet high and saturated with microscopic particles of luminite, a mineral found only on Naltor. Under normal conditions luminite was entirely unremarkable outside of the almost imperceptible rose tinge that it gave to any body of water in which it found its home; the mineral had an unusual reaction to kinetic energy however, bonding in clumps whenever in motion. As the luminite-rich waters cascaded over rocks and crevasses and finally found its way to a drop thousands of feet straight down, large chunks of golden and rose-coloured crystals filled the waterfalls and delighted visitors. Upon settling in the pool of water at the bottom of the falls, the luminite quickly separated once more into discrete almost invisible particles.

"I'm glad Dream Girl told me about this place," Kara gushed. "The falls are so pretty, thanks for coming Brainy."

The green-skinned genius smiled at his companion. "You're more than welcome, Kara. To tell the truth, I wanted to ensure that Naltor is making a speedy recovery after the conceptual virus anyway. Naltor is one of the most technologically advanced worlds in the United Planets, they were quite severely impacted here. Fortunately, a world of precognitives is very rarely completely unprepared for a crisis - things could have been far worse."

"Speaking of which," Kara turned her bright blue eyes away from the gleaming falls to face Brainiac 5, "How are you feeling? I was worried about you, you know."

"I know." Brainiac gingerly reached for her hand and gave it a quick squeeze before he let her go again. "And I appreciate the concern. Thankfully there appears to have been no long-term damage. After my prescribed period of rest, I'm sure I will be fine, as will the other remaining survivors. I'm led to believe that Infectious Lass and Tellus gave an exemplary performance in resolving the situation."

Kara took a few seconds to just enjoy being present with Querl. Their lives rarely allowed for these quiet moments, less so since Brainiac 5 had been elected leader of the Legion of Superheroes. "Brainy..?" she eventually asked in a voice filled with an unusual uncertainty.

"What is it, Kara?" the Coluan responded.

"I...I don't know how to say this. I can smash moons and fly in space on my own but this kind of thing is a new frontier for me, I guess."

Brainiac 5 gave the Kryptonian teenager his full attention. "I find the best way to say something is just to say it," he teased kindly.

Supergirl found herself dwelling in his eyes. "I...Brainy, what do you see...how do you see our relationship?" Kara's heart was pounding in her chest; fighting the Parasite was less nerve-wracking than this conversation!

"I care a great deal about you," Brainiac smiled. He held Kara's chin between his thumb and forefinger. "I acknowledge that our relationship is not one which is easy to define, Kara. Previously when you've come to the Legion's time, or when we have travelled to your past, we've not had to explore these questions. We both knew that it wasn't really possible for this connection between us to be built upon. I must admit, I thought that I had sensed a lack of interest on your part since you've been with the team these past few months. I thought that perhaps you had outgrown your attraction to me." He spoke with a tone that was completely matter of fact, but Supergirl respected how much Brainy was opening up to her.

"It's hard," Kara conceded. "I mean...there are no rules for what we are, are there? The last time I knew you, you were so much younger; and you're right Brainy, I think our circumstances always let us live this fantasy romance that never really had to exist in the real world. And now...now I live in your real world day in and day out, and I guess I've been too scared to put the fantasy to the test. I care a lot for you too...more than any guy I've met...but I guess I was worried that you had outgrown me! I mean I must be a dumb kid to you now..."

Brainiac shook Kara from her train of thought with a hearty laugh. "What's so funny?" she frowned.

"I'm sorry," Querl Dox collected himself. "It's just...Kara, I'm a Brainiac. There is no polite way to say this, but if intellectual capacity were going to divide us it would have done so the first day we met. I may have aged a few years physically since your last stint with the Legion of Superheroes, but there is no wider gap in our comparitive mental or emotional maturity. I'm very much still the same teenage boy who became infatuated with you at first sight - my facial hair just requires more regular grooming these days!"

Kara poked him in the ribs. "Was that your attempt at humour, Dox? I swear, you're such a dork." They both chuckled, feeling that a burden had been lifted in discussing what they'd both kept to themselves for so long.

"Brainy." Kara's smile faded and she held both of his hands in hers. "After the conceptual virus...after I came so close to - to losing you, I realised I don't want to let my fear dictate how I live anymore. Maybe there is no future for us...maybe I'll be back in my own time again tomorrow, or maybe it will be too hard to build a relationship based on what we've got so far. But I want to find that out for myself. What do you say?"

"I say...let us find out for ourselves." He squeezed her hands again, and leaned down for a kiss. They embraced tenderly, neither of them aware of the crowds of sentients milling about, or of anything else in the universe aside from each other.

**********
Eventually, normal life had to intrude once more upon the young couple. After a heartlifting day on Naltor, Supergirl escorted Brainiac 5 back to the Legion of Superheroes' home on Mars. While the moons Phobos and Deimos made their way across a star-filled Martian sky, Supergirl sat on the roof of the base grinning like the lovestruck teenager she was finally allowing herself to be.

With her telescopic vision, she easily saw Saturn Girl and Lightning Lad at the main entrance many stories below. They were with their children Graym and Garridan, and the two young boys were waving at Laurel Kent flying off into the city. Watching her cousin's descendant speed off, Kara idly wondered if she'd ever meet any of her own descendants in this time. Or maybe, she thought dreamily, she'd have children in the 31st century one day just like Garth and Imra had. She pictured a little blonde-haired green girl running around and shook her head. Silly. Still, it was fun to think about.

Suddenly, Kara's head jerked up. Her super-hearing picked up her name being called out from the dayside of the planet, and the maid of might wasted no time in responding. Switching into her iconic costume before her name had been called more than once, she was over the horizon in almost the same amount of time.

Homing in on the frightened male voice, Supergirl found a middle-aged bald man sprawled out at the bottom of a pit used by Mars' ultra-fast magtrains. Poor guy must have fallen in, Kara thought as she approached. I thought security fields were meant to stop exactly this kind of thing from happening!

Her telescopic vision showed her that the next magtrain was less than five seconds away from killing the pale-skinned man and Kara elected to worry about how this had happened later...right now, all that mattered was saving his life. She scooped up the green and gold-garbed stranger and deposited him on a nearby walkway as the train whooshed by harmlessly beneath them.

"Sir, my x-ray vision isn't picking up any broken bones," she instructed as she helped him stand, "But I think it'd be a good idea for me to take you to the closest hospital anyway...I'm sure you've had a nasty shock."

"Thank you," the older man replied. "I'll be fine now. I'm just glad you were there, Supergirl."

"All in a day's work," Kara answered, her face screwing up as she looked the robed man up and down. There was something awfully familiar about him...she was sure she'd seen this pointy-eared man somewhere before. "Sir, if you don't mind me asking...why did you call out to me specifically? I was on the other side of the planet, it's just lucky that I heard you in time to help!"

"I assure you," the man said in a strangely reassuring tone, "Luck had nothing to do with it. And I called you here because Supergirl....I am going to help you."

Now that they were face-to-face, Supergirl saw that he wore a golden monocle. There was something in the way it gleamed, something that demanded her utmost attention. Some part of Kara Zor-El tried to raise an alarm, tried to tell her where she'd remembered this man, but her thoughts were like molasses.

Mutely, she watched the man she now realised was Universo raise a closed fist. "I'm going to help you see the truth," the villain continued speaking to his mesmerised subject. "The truth about your so-called friends in the Legion of Superheroes....the truth about your life...and your death. And all you need to do is put this on."

...He opened his fist, and there in the centre of his palm sat a solitary red ring.

NEXT: SATAN GIRL!

THE CONCEPTUAL VIRUS Part 3 of 3: Lonely Times
postlo3w
CADMU
Geddu Precinct

ROLL CALL
Legion Academy:
Gravity Kid aka Tel Vole:
gravity manipulation
Laurel Kent: Legion intern, invulnerability
Lullabye Lad aka Waiane Wentim: Zwennite physiology, narcoleptic induction
Variable Lad aka Oaa Tseldor: abilities change with each manifestation


Led by the Neocaste hero Quill King, four Legion Academy students descended through the Cadmu skies. Windowless buildings towered all around them, creating artificial canyons hundreds of stories deep. For all the advanced architecture here though, the neophyte heroes had seen barely a sign of life since their arrival.

"They call this the science planet, right?" Lullabye Lad asked their guide. "Whatever it is taking out all the geniuses must have hit Cadmu hard, it's like a ghost world here!"

"We have been affected more than a lot of other worlds," the aptly-named Quill King conceded, "But honestly, there's not a heck of a lot more sentients out and about even normally. Our population is a lot lower than the UP average, and most everything on Cadmu is automated. Anyway, this is our destination." He gestured to a balcony below them jutting out of one of the ubiquitous towers. "The Sklarian raiders our security web enountered are down there. They've disabled both security and sensors, but once we get inside the building I should be able to access those systems manually."

"We might be able to go one better," Laurel Kent offered. "Ultra Boy sent us here to help, time we earned our keep! Variable Lad, do you have a form with extranormal senses?"

Two of the young Jaquaan's three arms gripped his large purple head. "Extranormal...hmm, like penetra-vision..?" His features contorted in concentration and he transmorphed into a wiggling mass of hundreds of segmented wormlike strands that wasn't remotely humanoid.

Lullabye Lad was visibly disgusted but Gravity Kid and Laurel both managed to hide their instinctive revulsion. Laurel had seen Chameleon Boy and Chameleon Girl change shape dozens of times during her time at the Academy, but Variable Lad's transformations were always so much more unsettling. For his part, Quill King stared in open awe. "That's amazing!" the Cadmian hero beamed. "To be able to rewrite your own biology like that in an instant...we Neocaste have a variety of powers of course, but we're all limited within our individual powersets! How do you initiate the change, Variable Lad? How do you regulate your transformations?"

"Good questions, but maybe best kept for another time," Gravity Kid stepped in. "Oaa, what can you sense?"

"I don't have penetra-vision like I was hoping," a mouth somewhere deep inside the eyeless mass mumbled, "But this form does have a kind of hyperspatial awareness. It's difficult to describe my perceptions, but I can lead you to the raiders. There are six of them and they're armed. It looks like they're stealing data from that room there." Several of Variable Lad's thin appendages intertwined to form a thicker tendril and gestured at one of the building's walls.

"That's one of our top genelabs," Quill King scowled. "They could be taking highly sensitive research! Normally I wouldn't recommend casual destruction of property, but we don't have time to get in there using conventional means!"

"Say no more," Laurel gave a cheeky smirk. "Grav--"

"I'll get us in," Gravity Kid interrupted abruptly. "Everyone, be careful - Sklarian raiders have given the Legion a hard time in the past. Even without the mass-shifting powers some of them have, they're dangerous."

"It's so cute when you go into protective mode," Lullabye Lad teased his boyfriend.

Gravity Kid blushed slightly and flew ahead of the others without responding. Turning his attention to the wall that Variable Lad had pointed out, his power warped the gravitational forces around it and a moment later it had crumpled under its own vastly magnified weight.

Inside the sterile laboratory, three of the yellow-skinned women reacted almost immediately. Blaster fire converged on Gravity Kid before the stunned hero had a chance to even announce himself.

"You should follow your own advice," Laurel remarked with a hint of sarcasm as she darted in front of him to shield him from the barrage. "Sklarian raiders are dangerous, remember?"

"It's rude to come to my planet and steal our things, and it's extremely rude to shoot at our guests," Quill King taunted the women. He returned their fire with a volley of his own quills, disarming two of the criminals. While they struggled with the quills embedded in their arms, the third shooter realised that Laurel must be invulnerable and turned her gun on Quill King.

"You're really not very nice, are you?" Lullabye Lad pouted. "By the way, that was my boyfriend you just tried to kill so you're lucky the worst I can do is put you nasty nassheads to sleep!" The Zwennite teenager's power was less dynamic than some of his fellow students, but no less effective. All three of the Sklarians slumped to the floor unconscious.

"We've got what we need and killing a pack of stupid children and some backwater superhero doesn't interest me in the slightest," the most muscular of the remaining women barked. "Let's get out of here." She leaped from the hole that Gravity Kid had created and fell straight down. A few stories below, she pulled two massive knives from sheathes across her back and plunged the knives into the wall of the building. The knives brought her to a halt and powerful leg muscles kicked her off the wall to a walkway circling the neighbouring tower. The last two raiders phased through the floor of the genelab to the room below.

"Gravity Kid," Laurel faced her fellow student. "Go after--"

"I'm on it!" he cut Laurel off again. Gravity Kid began to follow the knifewoman as she fled across balconies and elevated walkways, but Laurel intercepted him and placed a hand on his exposed chest before he could fly more than a couple of feet.

"No!" she snapped, annoyed. "Quill King and I can handle the one with the knives, the other two can phase! You and Lullabye Lad are the only ones whose powers will affect them, take Variable Lad with you so you can track them down!"

Tel hated to admit it, but she was right. Grudgingly, he collected the other boys and left Laurel and Quill King together. "I hope we haven't lost her," Laurel muttered as she veered off in pursuit of her prey. "If Tel didn't insist on grandstanding every possible nano the opportunity presented itself we might have had them all by now!"

"Gravity Kid seems very eager to prove himself," Quill King replied. "Try not to be too hard on him."

"I think he's just jealous the Legion gave me an internship and not him," the indestructible girl continued. "I mean I get it, he's all about joining the Legion of Superheroes and then I come back and he must think I stole his thunder...but how does he think I feel? My friends are actual Legionnaires and I'm still the baby of the -- watch out!" She caught a gleam in her peripheral vision and raced to block three shining daggers flying straight at her Cadmian ally. One of the blades bounced harmlessly off of Laurel's outstretched arm, but the second took a gash out of Quill King's shoulder and the third struck his flight belt. The device sparked and sputtered, and Quill King plummeted like a rock.

Laurel looked from the swiftly falling Quill King to his attacker perched on a ledge above. She was reasonably certain she could take the blue-haired Sklarian out with a quick charge attack, but she wasn't at all confident she'd be quick enough to fight her and rescue Quill King as well. "Sprock it!" Laurel snarled through gritted teeth as she dived after him. She knew she was handing the woman her escape on a platter, but there was no contest. If there was one lesson that Bouncing Boy and Duplicate Damsel had drummed into Laurel Kent above all others, it was that saving lives always took precedence over beating up bad guys. Her flight ring enabled Laurel to catch up to him easily, and her unbreakable skin meant his quills were no threat to her. She manouvred herself beneath him and matched his speed, grabbing him around the waist and taking him to a nearby balcony. "We better get you to a medical facility," Laurel said as she helped him stand. "How are you feeling?"

"It's just a surface wound," Quill King answered. "And I heal quickly, the wound is already starting to close over."

Laurel could see that he had in fact stopped bleeding and the cut seemed smaller than it had been moments ago. "I'm so sorry," she blurted. "We came here to help and we didn't help at all. Maybe Cosmic Boy was right, maybe I'm not ready for this."

"And maybe Gravity Kid is not the only student overly eager to prove himself," Quill King smiled wryly. "You saved my life, Laurel Kent - and I'm under no illusions as to my ability to be able to deal with those raiders alone. I guarantee you I wouldn't have had any more success if you'd not been here."

"I guess," the blue-eyed girl stared glumly into Cadmu's skies above. She knew that she should be focusing on her successes as much as her failures, that was something else her teachers had drummed into her. She couldn't help but feel however that her failure today was going to have more of an impact than her successes would...

**********
MEDICUS ONE
Earth orbit

ROLL CALL
Blok:
magically enhanced strength, invulnerability, speed, flight, stamina, wisdom and courage
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Infectious Lass aka Drura Sehpt: disease transmission and immunity
Kid Computo aka Danielle Foccart: cyberempathy
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Tellus aka Ganglios: telepathy and telekinesis


Dr Richard Kent Shakespeare leaned back from a floating pile of hardlight screens in an advanced laboratory space nestled in the bowels of Medicus One. It was here that the men whom Kid Computo had named the Titan Triad had conducted the ghoulish experiments which had left both their unwilling patient and themselves dead. Kent had just spent half an hour trying his best to comprehend exactly what it was that they'd done, and more importantly how every other impacted sentient in the United Planets could be spared from the same grim doom. A sonic mat thrummed almost imperceptibly as it supported Kent's muscled back, and he swivelled in his orthopedic seat to face six Legionnaires anxiously awaiting his diagnosis.

Kent pinched the bridge of his nose. "I...think...I can confirm what Blok gleaned from this data when he read through it himself. It seems that our rather ambitious Titanian doctors were on a mission to elevate the cognitive abilities of every sentient in the United Planets to Coluan standards; which might be a laudable goal if they'd not had to torture this poor Somahturian boy to death to achieve it or if they'd perhaps asked the average citizen of the United Planets if we wanted to undergo a procedure so far divorced from any accepted medical practice that it might as well be sorcery. No offence, Dragonmage."

"None taken, Doctor." The green-clad teenager nodded respectfully.

"There are some viruses that can force a host's body to strengthen certain characteristics as an immune response," Infectious Lass mused aloud. "Kathooni Divine Touch very occasionally gives its victims super-strength as a farewell gift....I mean, nothing on Night Girl's level of course, but greater than Kathooni people are normally capable of achieving on their own. Do you think those horrible...things...they did to Durran Mahn were meant to replicate something like that, but for brains..?"

"I don't know, Drura..." Light Lad bit his thumbnail. "...Giving someone increased strength is actually pretty easy with modern bioscience. I mean whether you're changing the physical makeup of someone's muscle and bone structure or playing around with adrenal output or whatever, it's not....well, it's not brain surgery, is it? But there's a reason we compare anything difficult to brain surgery, because brains are so much more complex. I can't see a virus being able to effect that kind of a change on a large scale, especially when we're talking about a diverse range of species like we know have been afflicted..."

"Umm, I don't want to be that guy," Kid Computo raised her hand to speak, "But Light Lad, I think you're overanalysing this. You don't have any screws loose. You know it's a super irresponsible idea to go around designing viruses to transform people's brains en masse...these guys were obviously space crazy and they made their dumb virus thinking it would work and then--" she paused to mime a knife slicing her throat and took on the melodramatic tone of a horror holo presenter "--they paid the price! Seems pretty cut and dry to me!"

Darvan sighed in exasperation. "Danielle, please don't use that term...you know I hate it when the psychologically unwell are used for a punchline. And stop watching those shinzy old holos your brother keeps digging up," he added as an afterthought to ease the tension. Danielle made a silly face at him in response. All of these Legionnaires were out of their element and all of them were acutely aware that if they didn't do their absolute best to work with what they had, they'd be letting down not only their friends but a large portion of the galaxy. The frustration was starting to wear on even the most easy-going of them.

"I see where you're both coming from," Kent cut in diplomatically. "Darvan is right however...expecting one virus, even a custom-made virus, to be able to physically restructure the brains of countless sentients, and at the speed this has happened...it's not feasible. And these men may have had absolutely abhorrent ethics, but all three of them were incredibly gifted intellectually. They'd have known immediately that wasn't a path worth taking."

"Then...there is no virus..?" Tellus asked in plain confusion.

Now it was Kent who sighed, though his vexation was borne of the knowledge that everything he was about to say was almost purely guesswork. Still, Blok had come to the same conclusion while Kent was en route to the lab, and when all was said and done it was the only lead they had to work with. As completely unbelievable as it seemed, it must be the truth. He cleared his throat, stood up and straightened his posture. If he was going to try and sell this, he'd have to present as much confidence as he could muster.

"It seems that the Titanian doctors used psitech of their own construction to twist Durran Mahn's symbiosis with viruses and bacteria to create an...an entirely new class of life. A conceptual virus. I mean, it's...it's basically a destructive meme. It's the most outlandish thing I've ever come across, I can't even believe I'm standing here talking about it with you all."

"I don't get it," Danielle Foccart shrugged. "You're saying they only created the idea of a virus? How could that possibly be dangerous?"

"Ideas can be very dangerous in a figurative sense," Kent replied. "In this case though, the danger's more literal than symbolic. This conceptual virus travels at the speed of thought from one mind to the next trying to infect everyone it comes across. The intention was for it to plant itself in our minds, to change the way we use our synaptic networks in an effort to comprehend it, and in doing so essentially upgrade our minds."

"So what went wrong?" Light Lad asked.

"My best guess," the brawny doctor continued, "Is that the conceptual virus succeeds in altering synaptic behaviour too well. Looking at both bio-scans and psi-scans knowing what we know now, it's not hard to believe that our patients' condition is a result of their minds burning themselves out trying to comprehend an incomprehensible idea."

"I have a question," Infectious Lass asked once she'd processed everything Kent had just told them.

"Why aren't we sick?" Kent anticipated his longtime friend's concern. He gave a dark chuckle. "Ironically, we're not smart enough to grasp the concept in the first place. This memetic organism which was intended to improve our mental faculties is so advanced that it requires a higher than normal level of intelligence for it to take root at all."

"So what we're looking at," Kid Computo summarised, "Is a virus which only exists as a thought, so Infectious Lass can't control it...and a thought which is too advanced for Tellus to comprehend so he can't control it. So basically...we're sprocked."

"There is always hope," Dragonmage countered his teammate. "Even if we can't see that just yet."

Blok, who had been pondering the situation in silence this whole time, finally joined the discourse. "Perhaps if we cannot comprehend this threat sufficiently to combat it, we need to change the way we are looking for it."

"I am not certain that I understand," Tellus confessed.

"I definitely don't understand," Kid Computo agreed with the Hykraian.

"We know that Tellus cannot detect the conceptual virus," Blok explained, "Just as most of us here are incapable of detecting viruses in the physical world without specialised tools. Infectious Lass can detect and interact with viruses on the physical plane, but she has no ability to access the psionic plane."

Infectious Lass beamed as she picked up on where Blok was heading. "...You think Tellus and I might succeed working together where we've failed individually?"

Tellus remembered his recent mind merge with Wildfire, the way his interpretation of his surroundings had so drastically altered. "My friends, I believe this plan is worth further investigation. Infectious Lass, I must warn you that the level of rapport necessary for this will involve a true blending of our innermost selves. Simple telepathic contact will not suffice for us to be able to combine our perceptions as Blok has suggested. I assure you there is no danger, but we will be connected on a deeper level than I know to describe. If privacy is a concern--"

"I can surrender my privacy for the chance to save our friends," Drura interrupted without hesitation. "How do we do this?"

"I recommend that you make yourself comfortable," the electronic monotone of Tellus' voice modulator instructed before he continued telepathically, <And allow my mind to wash over yours.>

Soon, Drura Sehpt sat in a slightly reclined chair with her eyes closed and her hands clasped loosely in her lap. Tellus was motionless before her, his massive forelimbs supporting his weight with his smaller hindlimbs and tail curled beneath him. His helmeted face was mere inches from Drura's white skin, the pods on his back gradually shifting through a variety of soft pastel colours.

Kent Shakespeare watched the two in open fascination while Light Lad allowed himself a slight smirk at Kent's expression. Darvan knew that blend of awe and curiosity well, he'd experienced it himself many times when he'd first joined the Legion. Dragonmage had taken advantage of the lull to retreat to a corner of the lab where he floated now in restorative meditation, and Blok subtly kept a protective eye over all of them. Kid Computo had grown tired of observing Tellus and Infectious Lass almost immediately; she didn't see the appeal in watching her teammates just sit there like statues, and at any rate it was way more fun watching Kent and Darvan's growing attraction play out before her. Danielle understood the gravity of the situation as well as any of them, but she thought it was cute that in the midst of all of this two people could still make a connection.

Drura Sehpt looked around without opening her eyes. The material confines of Medicus One were ethereal, walls so ghostly she felt she could dispel them like dye in water with a wave of her hand. By contrast, Kent Shakespeare and Drura's fellow Legionnaires glowed with a warm interior light which somehow gave them more substance than the space station enclosing them. Beyond the now translucent walls she could see other lights, sentients living and breathing all around them. She looked down, and saw her own phantom body sitting peacefully. Drura flinched at the sight.

<All is well>, Tellus soothed her. The Hykraian's astral form glowed brighter than any of them combined and in a way that Drura was unable to enunciate, his light was combined with hers while still somehow separate. <Joined at this level we simply share perceptions,> he explained gently.

His intent washed over Drura like a warm tide and she found herself comforted by that more than his words. <Tellus, is this what it's like for you all the time?> she asked in wonder. <Is this how you see the world?>

<In a manner of speaking,> Tellus replied. <My own senses have not overcome yours, Infectious Lass. With this bond and by the grace of Great Mother Ocean, we compliment one another equally. This experience is new for me also; I never realised that your bond with the small life of the universe was so joyous!> Drura could feel it plainly; Tellus was no less awestruck than she. She savoured the feeling. Drura had long since resigned herself to the knowledge that in choosing the life she had chosen, she'd given up the unique sense of community that she'd had on Somahtur. Even Jacques with all of his affection for her couldn't comprehend what it meant for Drura to share herself with countless numbers of microscopic lifeforms. On her homeworld, a Somahturian's bond with small life was almost a sacred thing; anywhere else in the galaxy it was seen as a useful if discomforting asset at best and a curse at worst.

Feeling Tellus' reverence reminded Drura just how special her symbiosis was, and she realised that her reaction to their merging of minds had given Tellus the same gift. Despite their very different backgrounds, the two heroes shared one thing in common; in wanting to explore the universe beyond their homeworlds they'd both had to give up a great deal. They allowed themselves a moment to bathe in their mutual eddie of emotions.

<Okay, enough of the love-in,> Drura took charge. <Where do we go from here? How do we find this conceptual virus thing?>

<In the depths of Great Mother Ocean, sometimes it is best to allow her currents to take us where she will,> Tellus answered cryptically. Drura didn't really understand the meaning of his words, but she got the gist of his message. The two were merged, but it was not a static combination. One mind naturally subsumed another, then their positions would change. At times they seemed almost one consciousness, and then Drura would realise she was seeing Tellus from the outside once again. She got the sense that trying to force dominance wouldn't accomplish anything; for this intense connection to maintain itself, they had to just let it happen. And it was as she made that precise realisation that Drura Sehpt found exactly what it was they were looking for. She called Tellus' name excitedly.

Tellus had made the discovery along with his Somahturian comrade. Like a constantly shifting 4th-dimensional puzzle box, they saw a vaguely defined construct encompassing each of their friends. The individual constructs were part of a larger whole, connected to one another in a fragile ever-moving lattice which spread as far as they could see. <This is why the virus maintains its strength over interstellar space,> it dawned on Tellus. <This conceptual virus is not a collective of individual lifeforms, it is one eternally sprawling mass...its individual strands may weaken with distance, but its victims are not fighting an individual strand; they are fighting one entity so immense that no sentient mind could stand against it!>

<Immense and unnatural,> Drura added with a hint of sadness. <This is a perversion of life...this is a perversion of Durran Mahn's gift...and it's lonely, Tellus. It's so lonely.> Drura's astral form extended one luminescent hand toward the entity, and Tellus' initial instinct was to caution her...but then he recognised the truth as plainly as she did; this creature had been borne of symbiosis and set afrift in a universe without a host. This concept the three Titanians had created which was so unknowable that sentients died trying to understand it was the most primal need that any living being could know.

It just didn't want to be alone.

Drura Sehpt made contact with the conceptual virus, and at first there was no visible effect. Tellus and Drura both felt it immediately though; a painless jolt which reverberated at thoughtspeed through the twitching turning organism all around them. In less time than it took to realise that it was happening, the conceptual virus turned back on itself. It surrendered its hold on every one of its victims across the vast spread of the United Planets, and it compacted itself until it surrounded only Tellus and Infectious Lass.

<We did it!> Drura rejoiced. She could sense something approximating contentment from the psionic entity, a sense that it had fulfilled its imperative to find symbiosis. Moreover, she could feel through Tellus that tortured minds all throughout Medicus One had finally found a measure of peace. It was over. Then something else occurred to the young Somahturian. <Oh no, Tellus...the virus is no longer spreading because it's found a compatible host but...the only reason we're a compatible host is because of the combination of our abilities! When our minds unmerge...>

<...We will no longer be able to offer symbiosis,> Tellus completed the sentence. He shared Drura's sadness, but he also shared her knowledge that this was necessary. As a living habitat to disease, Infectious Lass was well acquainted with nature's cycle of life and death. She was just glad that in the end they'd been able to help Durran Mahn's legacy not be one of galaxy-wide decimation.

Drura felt that Tellus was about to end the mind merge and then suddenly, almost abruptly, she found herself back in the chair. Her lavender eyes blinked a few times as she adjusted once more to physical reality and she placed one delicate hand on Tellus' shoulder, still hunched in the same position before her. She looked soulfully into his round dark eyes, and though his face remained an expressionless mask the two shared a mutual wistfulness as the last remnants of their bond evaporated.

"Is it working?" Light Lad asked. "Can you sense the virus?"

"It is done," Tellus answered for them both. "The conceptual virus will hurt nobody ever again."

Infectious Lass was glad that Tellus had taken the lead. His voice modulator would betray no emotion, and she wasn't ready just yet to try and explain why their victory felt bittersweet.

**********
KIRINYAGA
Pauvitz Point, Portela Mountain Ranges


The dark-skinned teenager named Mwindaji watched curiously as his patient finished the soup he'd been given. Kirinyaga was far from the centre of United Planets activity, and while the effects of the conceptual virus had reached this world, any official explanation of the malady had not. All Mwindaji knew was that this Vidar man had succumbed to a mysterious ailment which had left him unconscious for more than a day, and that he had just as quickly recovered. Vidar had consulted with his miraculous green and gold rings, and while they still didn't know what had struck him down he assured Mwindaji that the teen had never been in any danger and that Vidar himself was now fine.

"You do seem more healthy to me," Mwindaji commented in his clipped Interlac, taking the empty soup bowl away.

"I give you my word that I am indeed much healthier," Vidar smiled. "Mwindaji, twice I am in your debt now. You helped me when I first came to this world, and again when I fell ill. I hate to impose upon you again, but before I passed out...I seem to remember that you mentioned you're a tracker of some skill?"

Mwindaji puffed out his chest. "I may be the finest tracker on all Kirinyaga," he stated proudly. From somebody else this claim might sound arrogant, but Vidar got the sense that Mwindaji was simply stating a fact as he knew it.

"...And you'd be willing to help me find the remaining five rings? To bring an end to violence and fear throughout all worlds?"

"The name I have chosen for myself, Mwindaji," the youth explained, "It is the name of a great hero from Kirinyaga's distant past. An explorer and one of the forefathers of my people. I chose this name so that I may honour him, and now my path has crossed your own. I feel that the great Mwindaji smiles down upon me, that he has given me this opportunity to forge a destiny to make my ancestors and my blood proud." He thumped one closed fist against his chest and stood bolt upright. "Vidar, it would be my privilege to assist any way I can in this endeavour. I pledge myself to your cause."

"Excellent." Vidar climbed out of bed and used his rings to clothe himself in an armoured green and gold outfit, a high-collared green cape with golden interior billowing dramatically behind him. He clapped a hand on Mwindaji's shoulder and bared a toothy grin.

"Then let's get started."

THE CONCEPTUAL VIRUS Part 2 of 3: Symbiote's Lament
postlo3w
MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters
ROLL CALL
Legion Academy:
Chemical Kid aka Hadru Jamik: control of chemical reactions
Dragonwing aka Marya Pai: acid venom, fire breath
Glorith: sorceress
Gravity Kid aka Tel Vole: gravity manipulation
Kid Quantum aka Jazmin Cullen: quantum field manipulation
Laurel Kent: Legion intern, invulnerability
Lullabye Lad aka Waiane Wentim: Zwennite physiology, narcoleptic induction
Variable Lad aka Oaa Tseldor: abilities change with each manifestation
Legion of Superheroes:
Blok: magically enhanced strength, invulnerability, speed, flight, stamina, wisdom and courage
Chameleon Boy aka Reep Daggle: Durlan shapeshifter
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem: hyper-stimulated plant growth
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Comet Queen aka Grava: flight, gas generation
Cosmic Boy aka Rokk Krinn: magnetism
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Diamond Damsel aka Iris Jacobs: living diamond
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Element Lad aka Jan Arrah: elemental transmutation
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Gas Girl aka Tal Nahii: can transform into any gas
Infectious Lass aka Drura Sehpt: disease transmission and immunity
Invisible Kid II aka Jacques Foccart: invisibility
Kid Computo aka Danielle Foccart: cyberempathy
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Lightning Lass aka Ayla Ranzz: electricity generation and manipulation
Matter-Eater Lad aka Tenzil Kem: can eat inorganic matter in all its forms
Mon-El aka Lar Gand: Daxamite physiology
Night Girl aka Lydda Jath Krinn: photosensitive super-strength
Nightwind aka Berta Skye Haris: wind control
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Quislet: energy being, temporary matter animation
Shadow Lass aka Tasmia Mallor: darkness generation
Shrinking Violet aka Salu Digby: shrinking
Star Boy aka Thom Kallor: celestial mass-transference
Stone Boy aka Dag Wentim: ability to transmute to living stone
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Tellus aka Ganglios: telepathy and telekinesis
Timber Wolf aka Brin Londo: super-strength & super-agility
Ultra Boy aka Jo Nah: deputy leader; ultra-energy which can be directed into any one of strength, speed, flight, invulnerability, flash vision, penetra-vision at a time
Wildfire aka Drake Burroughs: anti-energy being
Ultra Boy paced the floor of the Legion’s colossal meeting room, hands folded tensely across his chest. Before him 32 other Legionnaires sat in a similarly agitated state, along with the student body of the Legion Academy.
“Okay!” Jo Nah announced loudly, catching the attention of dozens of metahumans in mid-conversation with one another. “This is what we’ve got. It looks like every sentient with a higher than usual level of intelligence in the entire UP has fallen victim to the same attack. Our leader who also happens to be the guy who usually does our thinking for us is one of those victims so we’re gonna have to figure out a way to fix this ourselves. Ideas?”
“How do we even know it’s an attack?” Wildfire asked. “Nobody’s come forward to claim responsibility!"
“It’s also worth noting that it’s affected sentients from all walks of life,” Chameleon Boy pondered out loud. “We’ve had reports from Takron-Galtos of prisoners experiencing the same symptoms as our own colleagues. If this is a pre-meditated attack, it’s very indiscriminatory.”
“There’s no virus or bacteria behind this,” Infectious Lass volunteered. “I’d know straight away.”
Ultra Boy stopped before Dragonmage. “Have we confirmed it’s not magic? It hit everyone at the same time, and I’d have no problem believing someone like Mordru could be powerful enough to pull this off.”
Dragonmage shook his head in response. “No, there’s definitely no sorcerous cause behind it. I also took the added precaution of asking Glorith to assist with a scrying spell in case my own magic wasn’t up to the task.” Hidden behind her hood, the introverted student sorceress nodded mutely at the sound of her name.
“If I may offer a suggestion,” Blok’s gravelly voice filled the room, “You said that all of the victims were affected at the same time Ultra Boy, but this is not entirely true. Reports do seem to have taken longer to arrive from certain worlds than others, this may indicate that there is an origin point from which this enigma has spread?”
Timber Wolf scoffed openly. “Pebblehead, you want us to go through data from sprock knows how many worlds to map some kinda pattern? By the time we do that our buddies could be dead!”
“I’ll do it,” Supergirl stood up. “If it helps Brainy and the others—“
“No,” Shrinking Violet disagreed. “I hate to say it, but Timber Wolf’s right. Factoring in how long it took for victims to be confirmed, how long it would take for the news to reach us…it’s an unrealistic goal, there must be a better use of our time.”
“Guys,” Kid Computo uttered before she was interrupted by Star Boy.
“There are nearly 50 of us in this room!” Thom shouted. “Surely we’re capable of following different trails! I’m not going to watch the woman I love die because some of us can’t look past their own cynicism to contribute anything helpful!”
“Guys!” Kid Computo spoke up a little louder.
“It’s not cynicism,” Shrinking Violet snapped. “It’s realism, Star Boy!”
Danielle Foccart tried a third time to get her team’s attention, but by this time the room had erupted into a chaotic din. Frustrated, she opened a channel to every one of their flight rings and broadcast her voice at maximum volume. “Guys!!” The room stopped and turned to her. Danielle sighed and spoke at her normal volume again. “Cyber-empathy, remember? I can collate all the data we need in a few minutes as soon as I’ve got access to it!”
“Okay then.” Ultra Boy took command before anybody had a chance to take them off course again. “Kid C, go do what you need to do and tell me what you come up with. Cham, keep working with the SP to look up any criminal leads. Matter-Eater Lad, take half the Academy to Colu. Laurel, take the other half to Cadmu. They’re the two most technologically advanced worlds in the UP, they’ve both lost a lot of their brains trust right now.”
Laurel Kent was visibly taken aback. “You - you’re sending me to lead a squad on my own? Without a Legion minder?”
“Is that wise, Ultra Boy?” Cosmic Boy began to rise from his seat. “I mean no disrespect to Laurel at all, but —“
“If I was wise, I’d be burning up in our sickbay right now with Brainy and the others,” Ultra Boy interrupted abruptly. “I’m doing the best I can in a lousy situation Cos, and we all need to do the same. We made Laurel an intern because we thought she had the stuff - this is her chance to prove it. She’ll be working with what’s left of the Neocaste, that’s more than we had a lot of the time when we were her age.”
“What about the rest of us?” Wildfire asked.
Ultra Boy had anticipated the question and answered without hesitation. “With a lot of the people who keep the UP running out of commission right now, there’s no shortage of craziness to keep us occupied. I’m sending you out to the places that can probably best use our help.”
Star Boy looked up from his holoscreen. “Ultra Boy, I don’t see my name anywhere on these squads.”
“That’s because we’re going to need someone to stay with Brainy and the others in the sickbay…you and Supergirl are it. And before either of you complain, you’re not being benched. We need to know straight away if their conditions change, and if this is the first stage of some kind of assault we’ll need to make sure they’ve got protection while they can’t defend themselves.” Ultra Boy stood up and walked towards the door. “Right then, let’s go Legion!”
As the team took their deputy leader’s lead and made their way out of the room, Kid Computo pushed through her teammates to catch Jo Nah before he got too far away. “Ultra Boy, wait!”
Ultra Boy stopped in his tracks, Phantom Girl at his side. “What is it, Kid C?”
“I think I’ve got the point of origin that Blok talked about, and well…I know what Drura said, but she might have ruled out this being a disease a little too soon.”
Ultra Boy’s eyes widened. “Wait, you’ve scoured through that data already?”
“Sure,” Danielle shrugged. “I told you it’d take me no time once I had access to it! I just linked in from my console while the rest of you guys were finishing up with the meeting.”
“That’s brilliant, Danielle!” Phantom Girl smiled warmly at her younger teammate. “What makes you think Infectious Lass might be wrong though?”
“If I’m right…and I don’t see any reason to think otherwise…all of this started on Medicus One!”
Ultra Boy hoped that it was just a morbid coincidence that this mysterious event had come from Earth’s most famous medical facility. What kind of disease could affect an entire galaxy almost simultaneously? And how could the Legion begin to fight that? “Let me juggle some of the squad rosters,” Jo replied. “I’ll give you a team to take there, see what you can dig up.”
**********
LEGION OF SUPERHEROES HEADQUARTERS
Sickbay
ROLL CALL
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Dream Girl aka Nura Nal: Naltorian precognition
Elastic Lad aka Jams-Ols 5: super-elongation
Lightning Lad aka Garth Ranzz: reserve member, electricity generation and manipulation
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: reserve member, telepathy
Star Boy aka Thom Kallor: celestial mass-transference
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Sun Boy aka Dirk Morgna: heat and light generation
The first thing that Star Boy and Supergirl saw when they entered the Legion’s highly advanced sickbay was Lightning Lad hunched over his wife’s inert form. He gripped one of her hands tightly in his own and his eyes were bloodshot. In individual beds beside Saturn Girl lay the four active members of the team who had also been stricken. “Grife, Garth.” Star Boy placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “You look terrible, pal. Why don’t you take a break and go get some fresh air?”
Lightning Lad was visibly startled at the touch. “No,” he said a little too sharply. “I need to be here for when Imra wakes up.”
“Do you want me to get you anything?” Supergirl asked. “A drink, something to eat?”
“I’m fine,” he uttered through gritted teeth. He saw the look that Thom and Kara exchanged, and released a deep exhalation. “I’m sorry,” he apologised. “I know you’re just trying to help and I know how I must look. I haven’t left Imra’s side since she collapsed. It’s just…since all of this started I’ve been feeling an escalating tension, beyond just being worried sick about the woman I love and feeling helpless. I think…I think it’s our rapport, I can’t help but get a sense of the pain she must be feeling. And it’s getting worse every minute, and I can’t do a damn thing but watch her suffer.” His voice cracked and he looked as though he were being torn apart on the inside.
Supergirl felt a pang of sympathy. She was filled with dread for Brainiac 5, she couldn’t imagine how much worse this must be for Lightning Lad having to watch his wife suffer the same fate. Kara silently chided herself; this whole time she’d been with the Legion, she’d treated it like one extended vacation. In her heart of hearts, she didn’t really know how she felt about Brainiac 5. There was definitely a connection there, one which was strong enough to have prevented her from pursuing a burgeoning attraction to Shadow Lad when he’d been on the team. But while Kara had only been absent from the team for months, years had passed for the Legion. She’d become a part of Brainiac 5’s past before he’d even been a real part of her life at all.
The blonde Kryptonian stood by Querl Dox’s side and uttered a silent prayer to Rao that he wasn’t fated to become one more person for her to have loved and lost. She knew one thing for certain, this was her life now…and if Brainiac 5 recovered then Kara Zor-El would do everything in her considerable power to find out exactly what role she wanted him to play in it.
**********
MEDICUS ONE
Earth orbit
ROLL CALL
Blok: magically enhanced strength, invulnerability, speed, flight, stamina, wisdom and courage
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Infectious Lass aka Drura Sehpt: disease transmission and immunity
Kid Computo aka Danielle Foccart: cyberempathy
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Tellus aka Ganglios: telepathy and telekinesis
As their cruiser docked with Medicus One, six heroes waited patiently for the airlock door to open and grant them entry to the renowned medical satellite. “There’s something I don’t understand,” Light Lad puzzled. He looked up at Blok, one of the only Legionnaires the tall Winathian actually could look up to. “Why do you think it is that you haven’t you been affected by whatever this is, Blok? Your intelligence was enhanced along with your physical characteristics, right?”
The stone giant’s head turned toward Darvan with a slight creaking sound, the golden veins which covered his surface glinting as they caught the light. “I have considered the matter myself,” Blok replied thoughtfully. “In truth, I do not know. It may be that the wisdom of Solomon is not a quantifiable intelligence in the sense that United Planets sentients generally consider. Perhaps the magical origin of my amplified power protects me, or perhaps some such as myself, Supergirl and Mon-El are simply hardy enough to resist whatever has caused this ailment. We may find the answer to your question here if we are fortunate, Light Lad.”
“I’m surprised Sun Boy’s down and out with the others,” Kid Computo remarked. “He never really struck me as being particularly umm…gifted.”
“Since leaving Hykraius,” Tellus volunteered, “I have found that most sentients possess more depth than they display…Sun Boy exemplifies this truth as much as anybody I have encountered.”
With an almost silent whoosh, the Legionnaires saw Dr Richard Kent Shakespeare standing in place of a closed metal door. He was broad-shouldered and square-jawed, but his holo-star looks were currently tempered by obvious exhaustion. “Kent!” Infectious Lass rushed forward. “Thanks so much for greeting us, I know you must be terribly busy!”
“Busy isn’t the word for it,” he squeezed Drura’s hand in his own gloved hands. “You know I’ve always got time for you though, especially if the Legion can help us get to the bottom of this. Our best minds are out of commission and the rest of us are struggling to even come to terms with the scope of this tragedy, let alone find out what’s causing it.”
“I hope this doesn’t come out the wrong way,” Infectious Lass continued as the beleaguered doctor led them through the hospital, “But I’m glad you weren’t affected.”
“I won’t lie,” Kent gave her a sardonic smirk, “It’s a little bit of a blow to the ego, but I’m not really in a position to complain.”
“Grife,” Danielle whispered to Dragonmage, “I can see why my brother’s jealous of this guy…he’s the whole package, isn’t he?”
“I…suppose..?” the young sorcerer agreed weakly. For all of his mystical knowledge, he had precious little experience in the sphere of relationships. Infectious Lass had told them on the way here that Dr Shakespeare was the first friend she'd made after leaving her planet. Surely if there were any romantic interest between them it would have developed before now…once again, Xao Jin was reminded that life’s capacity for education was infinite.
“Dr Shakespeare, do you have any idea at all where this may have originated?” Light Lad asked. He’d expected the satellite to be in chaos, but while medical staff were rushing perhaps a little more anxiously than usual from one task to the next this was a far cry calmer than he knew any Winathian hospital would be right now. It seemed there was a reason Medicus One enjoyed the sterling reputation that it did.
“We have no idea where this came from,” Kent answered wearily. “Honestly, until you contacted us to let us know our facility was the origin point we didn’t even know that much. Oh, and please…call me Kent, Light Lad.”
“Only if you call me Darvan,” the attractive strawberry blond shot back automatically.
Blok had a sudden inspiration. “Are there any patients or staff on board whom you would expect to be impacted by this malady but have not been? If this is a conscious attack of some kind, it stands to reason that its culprit must be highly intelligent themselves to have orchestrated all of this.” He didn’t want to voice his suspicions aloud just yet, but the Dryadian very clearly remembered when the villainous Universo had almost permanently defeated the Legion of Superheroes by isolating its most intelligent members.
“Not to the best of my knowledge,” Kent gave the question some consideration. “There are a lot of sentients on board this satellite though, and I don’t personally know all of them. I guess I could have one of our personnel droids compile a list…bear in mind that it won’t be complete, I mean we don’t generally give people an IQ test before they come on board.”
“But you do run psychological profiles, right?” Light Lad piped up. “I mean it’s a necessary part of the screening process for new staff and it should be part of a holistic health approach for a large cross-section of patients!”
“A fellow professional I see,” Kent grinned.
Darvan cleared his throat, mildly embarrassed. “I was an orderly back home…on Winath, I mean. But yeah, I guess I paid attention. If you’d be happy to let Kid Computo and me at your database, I think working together we should be able to come up with some way to track the results we’re looking for…and let you get back to helping the people who really need you right now.”
Kent turned down a corridor and led the Legionnaires to a small empty office. “Seems like maybe you were lucky to escape a hospital bed too, Darvan! Quite the brain on you…feel free to use this office and feel free to let me know if there’s anything else I can do to assist.” He left the Legionnaires and continued through the satellite on his own.
Light Lad watched the muscular doctor depart, flinching when Danielle Foccart poked him in the ribs. “If you’re done admiring each other’s brains,” she teased, “Let’s get started.”
**********
It wasn’t long before Light Lad and Kid Computo had found the anomaly for which they’d been searching. As they walked through the satellite’s lower levels, Danielle shared with the Legionnaires what it was that she and Darvan had discovered. “Doctors Marlak Moris, Carta Zorlo and Wlasky Slav,” the young girl gleaned directly from the data bouncing around them invisibly throughout Medicus One. “Three Titanian specialists in the fields of neurology and psychology. Guys, they’re ticking every one of the crazy villain boxes…they’ve been in trouble with various authorities and ethics committees on Titan and abroad, and from their notes they came to Medicus One along with around a million other scientists and doctors to study Durran Mahn with some kind of grand plan in mind.”
“I’m sorry,” Dragonmage interrupted, “Who is Durran Mahn..?”
“A Somahturian refugee,” Danielle explained. “My brother and I saved him from some of the Judgement League a little while back.”
“Is Somahtur not your homeworld, Infectious Lass?” the electronic monotone of Tellus’ voice modulator sounded.
“It is,” Drura answered quietly. “My people aren’t supposed to leave Somahtur, our natural state is to share our bodies with the small life of the universe - the viruses and bacteria that make everybody else sick. Some of us though…some of us love our world more than anything, but we want more out of existence. We want to see the stars and the planets, and the wide teeming life which exists outside of the life that we already know. So we break quarantine to leave our planet. This boy Durran found out what I discovered when I left Somahtur…life is hard for a Somahturian off-world. The people who aren’t scared of us see as lab specimens. I know it’s necessary for him to be quarantined here until it’s safe for him and everyone else for him to leave…but it’s not at all fun.”
“Which brings us to the Titan Triad’s lair.” Kid Computo stopped outside a sealed door adorned with holographic Interlac signs telling them in no uncertain terms that intrusion was unwelcome. “They’ve been holed up in this lab with our Somahturian friend since before any of this began, and looking at their history they definitely qualify as smart enough to be affected by this thing. Transuits on just in case everyone, I’ll — huh.”
“What is it, Danielle?” Infectious Lass asked.
“They’ve shut themselves off from the rest of Medicus One’s network,” Danielle Foccart stood with her hands on her hips. “That’s rude!”
“I could use my telekinesis to gain entry,” Tellus offered, “Though I am not sensing any active minds inside, Kid Computo. They may have left if their plan has come to fruition already?”
“I don’t think so,” Danielle concentrated, sticking the tip of her tongue out from between clamped lips. “Psi-baffling technology, I’m shutting it down now. Lots of standard privacy tech too, they really didn’t want to be interrupted! The day hasn’t come that a computer said no to me though.” She theatrically threw her arms wide and the thick lab door opened in accord. “Ta-daah!”
“Allow me to enter first,” Blok took point. “We do not know what dangers we shall face inside.”
“I don’t think that’s likely to be an issue, Blok.” Light Lad stepped around the large hero and made his way to three wizened old men laying dead on the floor, their eyes staring glassy at the ceiling. “I recognise them from their holos, this is Moris, Zorlo and Slav.”
“Durran? Durran Mahn?” Infectious Lass saw a chalk-white arm exposed in a plexiglass tube and approached. “Durran, we’re here to—“ Drura Sehpt screamed, an unholy wail that brought the other Legionnaires racing to her side.
Before them lay the Somahturian teen, but he was far beyond their help. The top of his head had been cut open, and all sorts of exotic wires and tools pierced his exposed brain. Needles fed fluid in to and out of his naked body from the neck down. Drura hid her face in her hands and Kid Computo placed a comforting arm around her brother’s girlfriend’s shoulders.
“What - what did they do to this poor boy?” Dragonmage blanched when he saw the alien corpse.
“I don’t know,” Light Lad answered stonily. “But whatever it was, it was nothing good.”
On a console near the deceased Dr Zorlo, Blok alone noticed a small flashing line of text at the console he’d obviously been working on when he collapsed:
CONCEPTUAL VIRUS: Gestation Complete

THE CONCEPTUAL VIRUS Part 1 of 3: Psydemic
postlo3w
MARS
Legion of Superheroes Headquarters, Brainiac 5’s multi-lab
ROLL CALL
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: 12th level intelligence, team leader
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem: hyper-stimulated plant growth
Color Kid aka Ulu Vakk: color manipulation
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen: fire-breathing
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Ultra Boy aka Jo Nah: ultra-energy which can be directed into any one of strength, speed, flight, invulnerability, flash vision, penetra-vision at a time; deputy leader
Kara Zor-El sat atop a console in Brainiac 5’s multi-lab, her legs dangling idly. She pulled a Winathian Crimsonberry Candy from her mouth with an audible pop and watched closely as a seemingly oblivious Brainiac 5 adjusted slide controls on a hardlight panel of his own design. “How is she, Brainy? Have you been able to stabilise her?”
“The Heavensent may be dangerously deluded, but I must admit that Red Giant at least is no slouch when it comes to genetic sequencing. The work he's done here is exemplary, and it’s a testament to his genius that this subject has survived till now.” The Legion’s Coluan leader turned from his own work to look over the Mercurian woman the Heavensent had constructed. Though her sens-tank on Mercury had been irreparably damaged, she had been developed specifically to thrive in extremes of temperature and the utter lack of atmosphere on the tiny planet. These attributes had kept her alive long enough for Brainiac to get her back to the more advanced resources of his own lab on Mars, and ensure that she’d have the best chance of surviving. The comatose woman wore a plain black bodysuit now, partially for modesty but more importantly so that her vital signs could be more easily monitored thanks to the sensors integrated into the fabric.
To the right of the tube, Fire Lad stood rigidly. At his side, Polar Boy exchanged the occasional concerned glance with Color Kid and Chlorophyll Kid seated nearby. Phantom Girl and Ultra Boy rounded out the group, the pair standing by Supergirl on the left side of the tube. “You make her ssound like sshe’s a ssciencce exxperiment,” Fire Lad hissed.
“Brainy doesn’t mean anything by it,” Phantom Girl soothed.
“Yeah,” Ultra Boy smirked. “He just gets turned up playing mad scientist, isn’t that right pal?”
Supergirl laughed out loud. “That’s turned on, you ultra-dork.” She turned playfully back to Brainiac 5. “Is that the truth, Professor Dox? Do you get turned on wearing that white lab coat?”
Brainiac 5 cleared his throat, refusing to face the maid of might. “Honestly, I don’t know why I allow — allow —“ He staggered and brought one hand to his forehead before his eyes rolled back in his head and Querl Dox fainted dead away.
Brainy!!” Before he even reached the floor, Supergirl had leaped to his side and caught the unconscious man.
Chlorophyll Kid stood up and approached gingerly. “I-is h-h-he—“
“Kara, can you see anything out of the ordinary?” Ultra Boy asked.
“No!” She looked Brainiac 5 up and down desperately. He was taking short sharp shallow breaths and his core temperature had risen drastically, but whatever was causing this was not something Kara could punch. Supergirl gave Jo Nah an imploring look, her bright blue eyes wide with fear. “Ultra Boy, he’s going to be okay…right?”
Phantom Girl placed a comforting hand on Supergirl’s shoulder and wiped a stray lock of Brainiac’s hair away from his face. “Everything will be fine, Kara. I promise.”
“This is a little outside my skill set,” Ultra Boy breathed out. “Color Kid, could you do me a favour and get Dream Girl or Mon-El here? We’ll try and make Brainy comfortable in the meantime.”
“Of course.” Color Kid left the room to call Dream Girl in private, but before he did so he caught Polar Boy’s eye. While everybody else in the room was overtly worried about their stricken leader, Ulu and Brek noticed that Fire Lad alone kept glancing from Brainiac 5 to the nameless Mercurian woman and back.
Color Kid and Polar Boy couldn’t help but wonder darkly where this was going to lead.
**********
MARS
Legion of Superheroes Headquarters, Combat training room A
ROLL CALL
Dream Girl aka Nura Nal: Naltorian precognition
Kid Computo aka Danielle Foccart: cyberempathy
Danielle Foccart lay back on the padded mat, winded. She was exhausted and hurting, and she praised the technologically advanced age in which she lived that at least she had a rejuvenation bath to look forward to when this punishment was done so she could soothe her bumps and bruises.
“Come on.” Nura Nal stood over her and offered her hand. “We’re not finished yet. Believe me, I know how frustrating martial arts training can be when it consists primarily of being put on your backside. Just consider yourself lucky you were never on the team when Val or Myg were our combat trainers, even precognition was never much defence against a Karate Kid.”
“This is stupid,” Kid Computo huffed. She ignored Dream Girl’s hand and forced herself to stand under her own power; Danielle resolved to retain at least that small dignity. “I’ve got my power, why do I even need to know how to block a punch? Martial arts training didn’t do those Karate Kids a lot of good, did it??”
Slack-jawed, Dream Girl took a step back. “…Wow. Really, Danielle?”
Danielle Foccart felt an uncomfortable rush of blood to her head. “Oh grife, I’m so sorry…that was so insensitive of me, I don’t know how that even came out.”
“It’s alright,” Dream Girl sighed. She folded her arms across her ample bosom and looked down at the ground. “Val was my friend. Not a lot of people would have ever called Myg a friend exactly, but he did save my life more than once. I understand they're ancient history for you new kids, but just be glad Timber Wolf didn’t hear you make that remark. Still, maybe that’s enough practice for one day. I’ll see if Shadow Lass or Shrinking Violet are able to pick up where we left off after you’ve had a day to recover.”
Kid Computo rushed to Dream Girl’s side as the statuesque blonde walked toward the exit. “Dream Girl, I really am sorry…that was a horrible thing to say, I’m just tired and sore and I wish my feet were bigger so that when I put one in my mouth it would at least stop any more stupid words from coming out!“
“Danielle, stop.” Dream Girl faced the younger girl with a forgiving smile. “I do understand your frustration, truly. You should have heard some of the remarkably inventive curses I discovered when I began my training with Val. That was — that — “ She wavered on her chrome heels and collapsed to the floor.
Danielle had seen this before, but it still unnerved her. She wondered how long she’d need to be a Legionnaire before she’d grow accustomed to Nura Nal passing out when a flash from the future decided to hit her.
After a couple more seconds, Danielle began to wonder if she was right this time to be unnerved. “Dream Girl..?” she asked nervously. The pale-skinned woman was completely unresponsive, so Danielle crouched down and shook her. Nothing. Danielle’s cyberempathy picked up a transmission coming through to Dream Girl’s flight ring so she rerouted it to her own. “Color Kid,” she spoke first, “I think Dream Girl’s unwell...or it could be a psychic attack. Brainiac 5’s flight ring is close by you, I’m opening up this channel to—“
“Don’t bother,” Color Kid said glumly. “Instead, you’d better turn your attention to finding someone who can help them both.”
**********
EARTH
Bulgaria, Last Stout Bar
ROLL CALL
Dawnstar: translightspeed flight, interstellar-range tracking
Elastic Lad aka Jams-Ols 5: super-elongation
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Lightning Lass aka Ayla Ranzz: electricity generation and manipulation
Ayla Ranzz led the quartet of heroes in their descent through the chilly Balkan moonlight to land on the rubbish-strewn street outside the Last Stout Bar. “Dawny, I know this is a pointless question,” Ayla asked through a disgusted grimace, “But are you absolutely sure that bear woman is here?”
“Unfortunately so,” the winged Legionnaire replied with equal disdain for their grimy surroundings. “While my tracking power is generally much more efficient in the void of deep space, Star-Bear has a rather unique signature. I doubt she’d be able to hide anywhere from me.”
Light Lad watched a Science Police droid across the road taking a couple of raucous drunks into custody. “I see this place hasn’t become any more classy since the last time I was here.”
Lightning Lass guffawed. “You’ve been to this dump, Darvan? Grife, you’re just full of surprises!”
“On Legion business!” Darvan Locke clarified, his face flushed red. “Believe me, this isn’t my usual choice of entertainment venue.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” Elastic Lad chimed in as he elongated his torso to cover the bar’s large front facing window, “But gosh, I think we’re about to have some excitement!” Before the other three could respond, a blue-skinned man came hurtling through the window. Elastic Lad’s body protected everyone from the broken glass and also gave the unwilling makeshift projectile a safe landing. Inside the venue, a full bar fight had erupted with an eight foot tall bear in its centre. In case there remained any lingering doubts at all that she was their target, the bear seemed composed of a living starscape and her eyes were two incandescent orbs.
“Darvan, can you break that up before someone gets killed?” Ayla asked. “Dawny, get everyone else out of there would you? I want to have some words with this Star-Bear…those words mainly being zap and boom if you get my drift.” She held up hands crackling with electricity to accentuate her point.
Light Lad stood before the broken window and extended his arms. “Your wish is my command, pretty lady.” Gravity was suspended throughout the tiny bar, and staff and patrons alike rose into the air where they hovered confused.
Dawnstar’s lips turned down in a revolted scowl. She knew why Lightning Lass had asked her to carry out this task, nobody else could come anywhere near matching her speed. Darting in and out of that nauseating floating field of alcohol and food scraps was not going to be pleasant though and she knew she’d be a mess by the time she was finished. She sighed and reminded herself that nobody had ever promised a Legionnaire’s life would be glamorous. Several trips and scant seconds later, a couple dozen very dazed would-be brawlers found themselves unceremoniously deposited on the other side of the street where more Science Police droids awaited them.
Star-Bear had found herself as affected by Light Lad’s power as everyone else in the room, but unlike everyone else she could grow an extra couple of feet in height and brace herself between the floor and the ceiling. She bellowed a roar so loud that the remaining shards of glass still attached to the windowframe rattled and fell.
“I don’t understand you people,” Lightning Lass addressed the enormous cosmic creature, “We took your stupid Judgement League apart and gave you the opportunity for a fresh start wherever you wanted…and what do you do? Go straight back to terrorising innocent sentients across this continent. I don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to help the Science Police round up a bunch of bullies as I am right now.” Both arms glowing pink with electrical energy, Lightning Lass unleashed that power in a mighty bolt straight at the Star-Bear. For her part, the Russian she-bear roared in defiance and seemed completely unfazed. In fact, she almost seemed to relish the lightning arcing across her form.
Elastic Lad’s neck stretched so that he could peer over Ayla’s shoulder from where the rest of him was directing stragglers away from the fight scene several metres away. “I probably should have said something sooner, but gee whiz that was a really swell speech Lightning Lass! You’re really great at standing up to villains, if you don’t mind me saying so it’s actually very inspiring! I’m really happy to have had the chance to work with you today, you’re—“
“Elastic Lad!” Lightning Lass shouted. “Kind of in the middle of something here!!” She amped up her power and blasted Star-Bear again.
“Oh, right! Gosh, sorry!” He retracted his head for an instant before it reappeared once more right next to Lightning Lass’s own face. “Just wanted to let you know, I read the Science Police files on all of the Judgement League and they weren’t terribly comprehensive for a lot of their members, especially Star-Bear in particular which I guess makes sense as she seems to have come from several centuries in our past and it seems like Earth-Man went to a lot of gosh-darn effort to recruit people to his team who hadn’t really made a lot of impact in the history holos, which again I guess totally makes sense as he wouldn’t want to have disrupted the timeline - I mean he’s evil, but he’s not suicidal, and—“
Ayla threw two more blasts at Star-Bear while Elastic Lad was rambling, but she couldn’t take any more. Infuriated, she turned on him. “Elastic Lad! If you have a point, get to it!! I’m trying to take this stupid space bear out and nothing I’m doing has the slightest effect!”
“Oh! Uh, actually,” the red-haired youth replied awkwardly, “That’s what I wanted to tell you. I’m pretty sure she absorbs energy...I think you’re actually making her stronger."
Look out!!” Dawnstar slammed into Lightning Lass hard enough to knock the wind out of her and zoomed along the street with her, the snow on the ground kicking up in her wake. Star-Bear’s powerful leg muscles had kicked off the nearest surface and launched her like a cannonball straight into the ground where Ayla had been standing half a second ago. Elastic Lad’s neck quickly retracted to a safe distance from the giant cosmic bear as Star-Bear turned on her haunches with her fangs and claws exposed to deliver a powerfully threatening bellow at the heroes.
“Elastic Lad!” Lightning Lass called out. “Yes or no, can she fly??”
“No,” Jams-Ols 5 responded, and paused before continuing. “But she does have a host of super interesting—“
“Good enough for me!” Ayla cut him off. “Darvan?”
The ursine villain was already finding she needed to dig her powerful toes into the ground to fight Light Lad’s power; once he amplified it to actively hurl her several stories into the air she could do nothing more than flail in powerless rage. She expanded her size once more, using the energy she’d absorbed from Ayla’s assault to fuel her growth. This too proved futile, and in the end she had to admit defeat and shift back to the much more manageable human form of Ursula Yenova. “You Legionnaires are no fun!” the stocky woman hollered down at the heroes. “Can a lady not have a little ruckus in your future?!?
Lightning Lass cocked a thumb at the villain. “Can you believe her?” Ayla chuckled. “Where does she think she is, Rimbor?”
Light Lad laughed at Ayla’s remark, though as soon as he looked at her his smile faded. “Ayla, Dawnstar! Look!” Unwilling to release Ursula, he gestured with one hand.
Just past Lightning Lass, Elastic Lad’s elongated form lay limp and silent in the dirty snow.
**********
MARS
Legion of Superheroes Headquarters, Brainiac 5’s multi-lab
ROLL CALL
Legion Academy
Gravity Kid aka Tel Vole: gravity manipulation
Laurel Kent: Legion intern, invulnerability
Lightning Lad aka Garth Ranzz: teacher, electricity generation and manipulation
Saturn Girl aka Imra Ardeen Ranzz: teacher, telepathy
Variable Lad aka Oaa Tseldor: abilities change with each manifestation
Legion of Superheroes
Brainiac 5 aka Querl Dox: team leader, 12th level intelligence
Dream Girl aka Nura Nal: Naltorian precognition
Phantom Girl aka Tinya Wazzo: intangibility
Sun Boy aka Dirk Morgna: heat and light generation
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Ultra Boy aka Jo Nah: deputy leader; ultra-energy which can be directed into any one of strength, speed, flight, invulnerability, flash vision, penetra-vision at a time
“Where’s Brainy?!” Garth Ranzz’s voice rang out in the large laboratory. “I need Brainy!!” Phantom Girl could hear the panic in his voice, and rushed to meet him as he came bursting into the lab with an unconscious Saturn Girl in his  arms. Gravity Kid, Variable Lad and Laurel Kent were at their teachers’ side.
“Garth, please try to calm down.” Phantom Girl stood before him and tried to slow his pace. “Imra’s not the only—“
Where is Brainiac 5?!” the man also named Lightning Lad demanded furiously, his eyes tiny orbs of pale blue energy. “Imra needs his help, damn it!"
“Hey!” Supergirl appeared by Phantom Girl’s side, hovering so that she was a couple of inches taller than the Legion founder. “What Phantom Girl’s trying to tell you is that Brainy’s in the same position as Saturn Girl is. And they’re not the only ones, take a look around you Lightning Lad!”
Lightning Lad’s face was contorted with rage, but it softened as he saw that Brainiac 5, Dream Girl and Sun Boy were in individual beds being monitored by medical equipment. All of them were in deep sleep. “What…what happened?” Garth asked more quietly.
“We don’t know,” Supergirl returned to the ground. “But we’re trying to find out. It’s not just here. Lightning Lass is bringing Elastic Lad back now, he’s been affected by…whatever this is as well.”
“It’s not just the Legion of Superheroes either,” Ultra Boy approached and stood by Phantom Girl’s side. “Bouncing Boy tells me half the Time Institute are out of it, and Medicus One has been inundated with new patients. I don’t know what they’re supposed to do about it though, I mean something that works this quickly across half a solar system can’t be a disease…can it?”
“I don’t know, Jo.” Phantom Girl squeezed his hand. “Infectious Lass should be able to rule it out for sure, she’s on her way back to base now. I asked Kid Computo to help Gas Girl find out how far this has spread as well.”
“Thanks babe.” Ultra Boy kissed her on top of the head. “Come on Garth, let’s make sure Imra’s as comfortable as possible.”
**********
MARS
Legion of Superheroes Headquarters, Mission Monitor Room
ROLL CALL
Gas Girl aka Tal Nahii: can transform into any gas
Kid Computo aka Danielle Foccart: cyberempathy
“I don’t know if I should be glad or depressed that Brainy repaired this place so quickly after the Teallians attacked,” Kid Computo slumped in her seat. “It’s good that we’ve got access to our monitor room again, but none of this news is what I want to hear. It seems like every planet and outpost in the UP is suffering, there’s gonna be chaos if we don’t find an answer to this soon.”
“Tell me about it!” Gas Girl agreed emphatically. “I was on monitor duty when this all started anyway…with this happening so soon after the Teallian invasion, the Science Police have already had to respond to outbreaks of violence in some areas. I’m just calling Lallor now to see if — oh, Evolvo Lad! Hi!”
The visage of an absolutely ordinary looking man with mousy brown hair appeared before the two heroines. “Hello Gas Girl, I can see you’ve not used your personal channel to call so I suppose this must be Legion business?”
“You’re right,” Gas Girl smiled, “As usual. Actually, it might be your more evolved self whose help we need. Can you evolve for us?”
“You haven’t heard?” Evolvo Lad raised an eyebrow. “There’s a kind of psychic epidemic affecting minds across the UP—“
“I know,” Gas Girl interjected. “That’s why we need your hyperbrain. It’s affected all of our best intellects, we need someone smart enough to be able to help figure out what’s going on.”
“Tal, you’re not understanding.” Evolvo Lad shook his head. “I can’t evolve because then I’d fall victim to the same affliction. It’s not a coincidence that the smartest minds of the Legion have been affected…
…they’re the target.”
TO BE CONTINUED..!

A Woman From The Rib
postlo3w

MARS

Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters

ROLL CALL

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.

**********

MERCURY

On board a cruiser in planetary orbit

ROLL CALL

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.”

**********

KIRINYAGA

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..!


(no subject)
postlo3w
MARS
Cerberus Palus, Elysium Fields Floating Gardens

ROLL CALL
Chlorophyll Kid aka Ral Benem:
hyper-stimulated plant growth
Comet Queen aka Grava: flight, gas generation

As Comet Queen approached the expansive floating gardens of Elysium Fields, it occurred to her she’d never been here before. The gardens stretched for a couple of miles, held aloft above ancient Martian lava flows by modern gravitic technologies. The artificial forest was an oasis of green on the red planet, and while Grava preferred the star-dotted vastness of outer space she had to admit that the gardens were pretty in their own way. She hadn’t come to look at trees today though. She flew low over the verdant canopy, attracting stares from tourists below and causing children to whoop in excitement as they recognised the golden girl streaking overhead. This is space-crazy, Grava chastised herself. I’m never gonna scope him here if he’s not in his costume, I’ll have to call him. Just as she was about to speak into her flight ring, a tousled head of blond hair caught her attention by a bed of siren cylinders. Grava circled her unwitting target a couple of times until she was sure it was him and then landed a few feet away.

While families and nature-lovers in the area gasped and took out their recording devices, Ral Benem remained completely oblivious to Grava’s arrival. Dressed very casually, he was fascinated by the long pinkish colored flowers before him. As their name would suggest, the siren cylinders were a group of brightly hued hollow tubes rising from a dense bush of rough-edged leaves. They whistled at various pitches, a subsonic component attracting nearby insects to enter their deadly embrace. Once the insects made their way inside the cylindrical flowers, a sticky excretion sealed their fate. Ral heard a familiar voice call out “Starshine!” and he tilted his head in mild surprise.

“Grava?” he turned to face his teammate. “You’re in costume, d-does the Legion need me?”

“Nonono, nothing like that!” She shook her head vigorously. “Kid Computo traced your flight ring here, I hope you’re not flaring!”

Ral raised one puzzled eyebrow. “Uhh...no. No, I...don’t think I’m f-flaring. H-how can I help you?”

“I just wanted to say thanks,” she smiled shyly, digging at the dirt nervously with one oversized toe. “Quislet’s my pal, and when he needed help you were the only one who listened to me. I know I’m not in the same orbit as everyone else. I’m not used to anyone listening to me, even my friends don’t listen to me most of the time. I’m nova bright that you did, and now the shiny little shuttle and Tellus and Wildfire are talking to the United Planets about bringing Teall into their gravitational pull, and it’s all thanks to you! So I just wanted to say thanks!” She ran up to him and kissed him on the cheek. “Oh! And I came to give you this!” Grava brought her left arm from behind her back and revealed a hastily wrapped box in her palm. She’d decorated the wrapping paper herself with childish renditions of trees and flowers.

Ral was equally bemused and touched. “Y-you d-didn’t need to d-do that,” he stammered, taking the box from her. “Everyone deserves t-to be heard, Grava.”

“Open it!” she squealed, clapping her hands and jumping up and down on the spot. “Open it, open it!”

Ral laughed. “Okay, okay, give me a nano.” He tore at the paper and removed the lid from the small box, unsure of what he could expect. With Comet Queen, it could be anything. “G-grava! Oh wow Grava, it’s b-beautiful!” He removed from the box a small multi-faceted flower made from black stone which gleamed in the sunlight. “T-this must have c-cost you a fortune, it-it’s flawless!” Stunned, he held the quartz flower closer to his face and turned it around so he could examine every surface.

“Do you love it?” Grava clutched her hands before her face. “Do you love it? Starshine, tell me you love it! It’s a crystal rose, from Qual III! It’s not a real rose of course, I mean duh, but the crystal grows like that ‘cause of…reasons. I dunno, I kind of went nebula hazy when my auto-teacher beamed that part.”

“It’s really beautiful Grava, truly. And very thoughtful. I do love it, thank you.” Ral gave her a warm smile and she giggled nervously.

“Yay! Okay, gotta fly! Enjoy your plants!” She kissed him on the cheek again and was a tiny golden streak in the distance before he could respond. Ral touched his cheek while he watched her disappear into the endless blue skies. She certainly was a strange girl…

...but he was beginning to like it.

**********
MARS
Husband Hill, Legion of Superheroes Headquarters

ROLL CALL
Fire Lad aka Staq Mavlen:
fire-breathing
Light Lad aka Darvan Locke: anti-gravity control
Polar Boy aka Brek Bannin: cold and ice generation


Staq Mavlen and Brek Bannin left one of their base’s well-equipped cafeterias with full bellies. Staq belched and a harmless mini-fireball exploded forth from his open mouth before quickly dissipating. “Ssorry.” The skinny hero called Fire Lad covered his mouth. “Better out than in, right?”

Brek pushed his old comrade playfully. “You’re disgusting! How many years have we known each other and you still haven’t learned basic manners?”

“I’m from Sshwar,” came Fire Lad’s self-depreciating retort. “You’re lucky I’ve learned to usse cutlery, buddy.” Fire Lad was glad that their friendship had reached a stage where they could joke like this. Even when Polar Boy had led the Legion of Substitute Heroes he’d always maintained some emotional distance from the rest of his team. While Fire Lad, Night Girl, Stone Boy and Chlorophyll Kid really embraced their friendships with one another and Color Kid had easily fallen into that circle when he joined the team, Brek had always seemed to hold himself a little apart. They all knew that he valued their camaraderie, but he could never seem to show it. Brek had been the youngest of them, maybe he thought he needed to maintain his exterior at all times to maintain their respect? Maybe he’d been so focused on joining the Legion of Superheroes the whole time that everything else came second? Staq honestly didn’t know, but ever since Fire Lad and Color Kid had called Polar Boy out on his poor behaviour he really had made efforts to change. In a lot of ways Fire Lad felt like Polar Boy was opening up to them more now than he had in the entire time they’d known him.

“Fire Lad!”

The sound of his codename shook Staq from his reverie. Fire Lad and Polar Boy looked to see Light Lad running down the corridor toward them. “I’m glad I found you,” the lanky Winathian smiled as he made his way past Shrinking Violet walking in the opposite direction. “There’s something I’ve been wanting to bring up!”

“Ssure, what iss it?” Staq asked. He and Light Lad were almost the same height but though Darvan might be lean, Staq was practically a skeleton in comparison. Beside them both, the much shorter Polar Boy watched the conversation curiously.

“It’s your readings,” Darvan explained. He presented the omnicom for Fire Lad’s perusal. “Your bio-readings, I mean. Remember how we were all a little worse for wear after we fled Larfleezia? I checked all of our readings from our shuttle’s sickbay, you know, just to be sure there were no internal injuries or anything that it hadn’t picked up. Yours are…well, they’re a little weird. I mean I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about, there’s certainly no sign of obvious damage—“

“Thankss for telling me,” Staq quickly lowered the omnicom without more than a glance. “I’m fine though, like you ssaid there’ss no ssign of damage right?”

“How are his readings weird?” Brek asked abruptly.

“That’s the thing, I’m not really sure to be honest.” Light Lad admitted. “I was an intern at a psychiatric institute before I joined the Legion, genetics isn’t really my strong suit.”

“Whoa, genetics?” Polar Boy’s eyebrows rose. “Staq, I don’t think you should dismiss this so quickly.”

“I ssaid I’m fine,” Fire Lad brushed their concerns aside. “Thankss for going to the effort of finding me to tell me, Light Lad. I appressiate the the thought, but there’ss definitely nothing to worry about.”

“Staq, I’m not so sure.” Polar Boy looked into his friend’s eyes, eyes which had long since lost any visible sign of either pupils or irises. Not for the first time in recent days, Brek found himself wondering about the physiological changes Fire Lad had undergone since their first meeting. The drastic weight loss, his skin becoming more leathery, his hair falling out to be replaced by a crest of flame…and now even his voice had changed, becoming more sibilant to the point where even Legionnaires who’d only known him since he joined the team had observed a difference. These changes had come in so gradually that nobody ever really noticed until he was suddenly a dramatically different person physically than he’d been months ago, and Staq had always assured his friends that it was normal for Shwarians to react strangely when spending large periods of time away from the rarified atmosphere of their homeworld. Now though, it was clear this metamorphosis was more than superficial. “What would it hurt to get checked out?” Brek continued. “At least then we’ll know everything’s okay.”

“Everything iss okay!” Fire Lad hissed sharply. Angry flickers of flame shot from his nostrils. “I’m telling you both…there’ss nothing to worry about! I’m fine!”

He pushed past Light Lad and Polar Boy, and the two heroes watched in concern as their teammate stormed off in a huff.

**********
TAKRON-GALTOS
Northern continent, “The Welcome Mat"

ROLL CALL
Legion of Superheroes:
Chameleon Boy aka Reep Daggle:
Durlan shapeshifter
Cosmic Boy aka Rokk Krinn: magnetism
Dragonmage aka Xao Jin: dragon magic
Sun Boy aka Dirk Morgna: heat and light generation
Supergirl aka Kara Zor-El: Kryptonian physiology
Ultra Boy aka Jo Nah: deputy leader, ultra-energy which can be directed into any one of strength, speed, flight, invulnerability, flash vision, penetra-vision at a time

Workforce:
Abyss aka Kol Dane:
wears void-ring granting flight and transportation to a pocket dimension
Bioluminescent Lass aka Jaene Birrun: enhanced bioluminescence
Gear aka I.Z.O.R: techno-organic being
Ion aka Mara Waid: shrinking
Magno aka Dyrk Magz: magnetism
Sizzle aka Teela Spuunvll: energy conversion
Triplicate Boy aka Dre Conno: Carggite triplication
Twine aka Oliv Dah: energy-siphon whips

Zoe Saugin: Legion of Superheroes ally, infused with Green Lantern energy


Doors a couple of feet thick groaned as they retracted into their housings and six Legionnaires watched alongside the last Green Lantern while a large sparse room on the other side was revealed. The Workforce awaited them there, eight metahumans charged with defending the prison planet Takron-Galtos and ensuring its captive population of prisoners remained captive.

“Hello Legionnaires,” a chirpy blond boy greeted the galaxy-famed heroes. “For those of you we haven’t met, I’m Dyrk Magz but you can call me Magno. The rest of my team are Bioluminescent Lass, Gear, Ion, Triplicate Boy, Sizzle, Twine and Abyss. Obviously none of you need introduction. Please, step into the Welcome Mat with us.”

“Wasn’t your name Void last time we met?” Cosmic Boy asked the skinny man called Abyss.

“Takron-Galtos has had a couple new intakes from your old pals in the Judgement League,” Abyss replied sardonically. “Finding out one of their ex-teammates is a walking lobotomy with the same name as me was all the inspiration I needed to change mine."

“Speaking of names,” Supergirl joined in, “The Welcome Mat seems kinda friendly for a prison, doesn’t it?”

“The official designation is Inmate Processing Facility 1-D,” Gear explained. “Welcome Mat seems a little catchier, and considering all new prisoners pass through here when they're processed, the name fits.”

“Might I just say,” Magno gushed, “It’s an unbelievable honour getting to meet the legendary Supergirl. I mean working with the Legion of Superheroes is a privilege in itself of course, but you’re…well, legendary!”

“...If you believe it’s really her,” Abyss muttered under his breath. Beside him, Twine’s eyes twinkled as she smiled behind her muzzle. With her super-hearing, Supergirl easily heard the barbed comment but she didn’t react. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard doubts of her legitimacy in the 31st century. While most sentients were awestruck to be in the presence of an almost mythologically famous heroine, there were the occasional few who simply assumed she was a Daxamite playing a role. Kara had long since learned to let it slide.

“I’m glad you guys were okay with us coming here,” Ultra Boy stepped forward and shook Magno’s hand. “We don’t want to step on any toes and we know the SP have already interrogated the Thunderers we took into custody but hopefully we’ll be able to get some more out of them. Granted, most of us are just here for extra muscle but between Cham, Dragonmage and Green Lantern we should have enough detective brains and weird powers to give us a better chance than your average psi-cop.”

“...Oh.” Magno seemed taken aback. “Oh gosh, I’m sorry Ultra Boy. We didn’t realise you were intending to bring the Green Lantern in on the interrogation.”

“Is that a problem?” Cosmic Boy asked.

While Magno stumbled for diplomacy, the Imskian Ion answered more bluntly. “She doesn’t have the clearance.”

“What?” Now it was Zoe who was taken aback. “Those monsters killed my friends! If you think I’m sitting this out while the Legion—“

“I’m sorry, Green Lantern.” Magno’s apology seemed completely genuine. “I really am, I’ve read the reports and I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. But Ion’s right…to be honest, it’s only a goodwill gesture toward the Legion of Superheroes that you’re allowed in the Welcome Mat at all. You’re more than welcome to wait here, you don’t have the security clearance to be allowed any further though.”

“This sucks!” Zoe exploded.

“I’m sorry,” Cosmic Boy apologised again while Ultra Boy looked on slightly annoyed at the imposition on his leadership. “This is really the Workforce’s decision though, we can’t dictate terms here.”

“I’m a sprocking Green Lantern!” Zoe complained. “We’re the cops of the universe for crying out loud!”

Self-appointed cops,” Abyss clarified with a smirk.

“I’m afraid the regulations are quite explicit on this,” Gear added more soberly.

Zoe’s eyes flared green. “I could charge in there through all of you if that’s what I wanted to do!” She saw the Workforce take on defensive stance, and even some of the Legion joined suit. With a frustrated grunt, she threw her head back and flew straight up. In the brief instant it took her to reach the ceiling, her whole body was surrounded in an emerald aura and she phased harmlessly through it.

“Everyone else go ahead,” Ultra Boy commanded before Cosmic Boy could say anything more. “Dragonmage, you’re her friend. Come with me, we’ll try and calm her down and join the others once we’ve done that.” As he headed toward the external door with Xao, Jo turned around almost as an afterthought. “Cham, you’re in charge till I get back.”

Following Zoe’s green trail wasn’t at all difficult, and soon Ultra Boy and Dragonmage had caught up with her high above the surface of Takron-Galtos. “Zoe!” Dragonmage called out. “Where are you going?”

“This is so stupid!” she spun around and faced the two men. “They know I could flatten the lot of them, right? I could probably tear this dumb planet in half if I wanted! I’m one of the good guys, who are those jerks to tell me I can’t avenge my friends?!”

Ultra Boy wiped loose strands of hair behind his ear. “Yeahhh, no offence kid but when you say stuff like that I can see why they’d have trust issues.”

“Oh come on, of course I’m not gonna actually do anything like that!” she countered. “I’m just venting! Ever since those Thunderer squajes killed my friends I’ve been on the back foot trying to get anywhere with finding out why they attacked! And now this stupid planet’s stupid regulations are getting in my way! After everything I’ve gone through, can’t one thing just be easy??”

“I know it must be incredibly frustrating,” Xao said, “But the Workforce are just doing their job, Zoe. They’re not the enemy here.”

“They’re not the enemy,” Ultra Boy agreed. “But their regulations are stupid.”

Zoe and Xao both stared wide-eyed. “…What..?”

“Well they are,” Jo shrugged. “You’ve gone through enough that you deserve to be down there. And if we can’t get you physically in the room with us, well then…we’ll just have to find a way around it.”

“Wow.” Zoe’s anger had been replaced by surprise. “I did not expect the Legion of Superheroes to help me find a way to break the rules!”

“Most of the Legion of Superheroes weren’t born and bred on Rimbor,” Ultra Boy gave a cheeky smile. “Now one of you is a sorcerer and the other one’s got the most versatile power in the galaxy…I’m pretty sure if we put our heads together we should be able to find a way to make you our silent partner down there.”

**********
While the Thunderers had been divested of their extra-dimensional weaponry, they were still dangerous warriors. Accordingly, they were kept isolated from the Workforce and Legion of Superheroes both by virtue of a translucent forcefield.

“I’m surprised you didn’t put them in separate cells,” Sun Boy remarked offhand when he saw the plate-eyed men congregated together in the one large room.

“Originally we did,” Magno replied. “Once we realised we weren’t getting anywhere with them individually we thought they might be more likely to let their guard down if they were allowed to interact normally with one another.”

“It’s a clever strategy,” Chameleon Boy complimented the Braalian teen. “I’m guessing you haven’t had much luck with it though. These men have had extensive military training. You can tell from their body language, the way they are around one another.” Cham stood close to the forcefield, analysing each of the Qwardians intently even as they looked him up and down with open hostility. “I’d also hazard a guess that they came prepared to endure much worse treatment than they’ve received,” Cham continued. “Look at their scars, their lack of fear. If their actions already weren’t enough to convince us, it’s obvious that they’re accustomed to a much more brutal lifestyle than we are.”

“Sounds like you missed your calling,” Ultra Boy’s voice chimed in as one of Triplicate Boy’s bodies accompanied Jo and Dragonmage down the corridor. “Shoulda been a profiler for the SP, Cham.”

While Triplicate Boy’s bodies merged, Jo took position next to Chameleon Boy and Dragonmage slipped quietly into place among the other Legionnaires. “I’ll tell you something else though,” Jo continued. “They’re not scared of us, but they’re scared of something. Look how tense they are, I don’t think it’s loyalty that’s keeping them from blabbing everything.” Ultra Boy rapped a knuckle against the forcefield and it emitted a sharp zapping sound.

“You guys should be scared of us,” Ultra Boy taunted the Qwardians. “Our boy Dragonmage here is a sorcerer and I guarantee you when his magic dragons eat your brains to get the answers we need it’s gonna hurt a lot more than any telepath would.” Simultaneously, and unnoticed by anybody present, Gear stared curiously around the room and extended an intricate antennae array from his forearm.

“Uh, Ultra Boy..?” Dragonmage tried to keep his voice down. “My dragonforms don’t actually hurt necessarily, and uhh…to be honest, I haven’t really summoned a dragonform before which can duplicate a mental probe to that extent…” The Asian hero blushed as he confessed his limitations. Behind him, Gear silently extended his neck a couple of feet straight up. Micro-circuitry became visible beneath flesh-hued epidermal panels, and his eyes shifted color gradually from one end of the visual spectrum to the other.

“Have some faith in yourself, Dragonmage.” Sun Boy gave the slight teen a reassuring pat on the back. “We do.”

“...Magno?” Gear’s voice sounded out uncertainly. “I don’t want to alarm anybody but some very strange energies are accumulating in this area.”

Supergirl put her own enhanced vision to the task. “That’s weird,” Kara pouted. “I can’t see anything—“

Before anybody else could utter a word, a deafening thunderclap sounded and the room was filled with a blinding light. “Thunderers!” Sizzle warned. She’d reacted fast enough to convert most of the light which reached her into electrical energy, protecting her sight. With a crackling jolt she soon had one of the intruders convulsing. There were a dozen Thunderers in all, and they immediately leaped to attack. While a couple went for the forcefield restraining their compatriots, the others drew their thunderbolts to attack the startled heroes. Protected by their own powers, Supergirl intercepted a couple of the thunderbolts in a blur of motion and Sun Boy incinerated two more before they could reach their targets. Gear and Bioluminescent Lass rushed to protect their own still recovering teammates, and when the artificial lightning struck Gear he squealed raw code and collapsed in a smoking heap.

Bioluminescent Lass stood over Triplicate Boy, her eyes wide with fear as she faced down the much more physically imposing Qwardian who now bore down on them both. The ethereal heroine was clearly terrified, but stood her ground nonetheless. “I won’t let you hurt him,” her voice trembled.

“You don’t have a choice in the matter,” the Thunderer snarled. He drew a thunderbolt from the quiver on his back and flung it at her, and Bioluminescent Lass pushed her Carggite teammate aside with as much force as she could muster in a futile attempt to protect him. The slender woman was surprised when an emerald wall appeared out of nowhere to protect her from the destructive force of the exploding thunderbolt.

“Too bad I don’t have the clearance to be here,” Zoe Saugin announced smugly from where she’d phased through the ceiling. “Might have been able to save your life.”

“Green Lantern?!” Still seeing stars, Magno ripped metal panelling from the ceiling itself to protect everyone else until they could see clearly again. “Not to seem ungrateful, but how did you know the Thunderers were here?”

“Does it matter?” Zoe grabbed one of the extra-dimensional invaders in an oversized green hand and flung him into his allies. “I can leave you to fight them on your own if you’d prefer!” She glanced across at Dragonmage and the sorcerer felt a tickle in his ear as Zoe allowed the tiny eavesdropping device she’d planted in there earlier to dissipate.

The Thunderers’ weapons smashed Magno’s makeshift shield to shreds, injuring Sizzle and Bioluminescent Lass with flying shrapnel. With their years of experience working together, the more powerful Legionnaires had already moved to protect their more easily damaged teammates. “We need some room to move!” Ultra Boy shouted as Chameleon Boy in hummingbird form flew past his eye. “We’re gonna trip over each other in this jail! Cos, can you help us out?”

“Of course,” Cosmic Boy raised his arms to the ceiling and concentrated. “Cover me please, Sun Boy. Magno, you should get your injured teammates to safety.”

“I should help you with that metal,” the younger Braalian countered. “The outer layers are magnetically shielded. Trip! Get Gear, Sizzle and Jaene out of here.”

“Why am I always on nursemaid duty?” Triplicate Boy whined as the three of him collected his wounded comrades.

“Because you’d do so much good taking on one of these bruisers,” Abyss mocked him. “We all work to our strengths, nursemaid.” His void-ring bathed one of the Thunderers in black light and the man vanished screaming. Next to him another of the Thunderers fell over, the Imskian Ion wreaking havoc with his inner ear.

The woman named Twine whipped at yet another of the Thunderers with her siphoning lashes, ignoring Chameleon Boy’s warnings when he realised she was going to miss her mark in the crowded space. Instead of hitting her foe, her energy whip smacked against the forcefield holding their original captives. With an anti-climactic fizzle, the field collapsed and the Qwardians were all reunited.

“The pink woman has done part of our job for us!” one of the Qwardians bellowed. “Thunderers, complete the mission!” What came next shocked everyone present. Every armed Thunderer drew his weapon, but instead of striking the heroes they hurled their thunderbolts at their weaponless comrades. Their deaths were gory and almost instant.

No!” Zoe grabbed the man who’d given the command in a green bubble and whisked him through the tear in the ceiling which Magno and Cosmic Boy had now made. She was out of sight in no time, only an emerald streak marking her passing. “What is wrong with you people?!” she screamed through bared teeth when she finally stopped above the clouds of Takron-Galtos. “You kill my friends and now you kill your own men?? Are you insane?!”

“The Thunderers of Qward were manipulated into slaying your fellow ringbearers to suit the purposes of one of your own people,” the man in the bubble sneered. “Nobody manipulates a Qwardian warrior successfully for long. That man is dead now, and for their failure to defeat or escape you it has been determined that our failed warriors needed to die as punishment for their failure.”

“You are crazy!” Zoe snapped. “Maybe I should kill you, you mad squaj!”

“You will not,” the Qwardian replied with a sinister smile. “Your people are not willing to kill, and that has always been your weakness.”

“With due respect to your culture,” Dragonmage’s voice joined the conversation, “It’s not a weakness. I understand why you perceive it to be one, but our respect for life is one of our greatest strengths.”

Supergirl had accompanied Dragonmage and she now spoke as well. “We’ve disarmed the rest of them,” she reported. “They said the same thing as your friend here. None of them know who this guy is who allegedly sent them after the Green Lantern Corps, and we might never find out what he had against you, but they all claim he’s dead now and they don’t have any interest in continuing hostilities.”

“I can summon a dragonform which will carry them back to Qward,” Dragonmage continued. “And once Gear is recovered, the Workforce are confident that he will be able to help erect a warning system so that we’ll have advance notice if and when the Qwardian dimensional barrier is breached again. With luck, we’ll be able to stop it from being breached at all. It’s over, Zoe.”

Zoe Saugin stared intensely at the Thunderer inside her emerald bubble.

“Really?” she asked. “Then why don’t I feel like this is over?”

*********
KIRINYAGA
Somewhere in the Portela Mountain Ranges

He’d been named Gahiji at birth, but if he survived this Initiation Trek the young man walking these treacherous mountain passes already knew what name he’d take in its place. On the border world Kirinyaga, Mwindaji was a hero who’d lived long ago. He was the boldest and the most adored of the planet’s forefathers, and when Gahiji completed this journey to adulthood which was both symbolic and literal, he would take on Mwindaji’s name. It was a mark of respect, but moreso it was a statement of intent. Gahiji could not imagine himself living and dying on this world as so many of his people were content to do. Like Mwindaji of old, he wanted to explore distant worlds and cultures, discover new boundaries and traverse each and every one.

He was the strongest tracker in his class, easily able to locate even a prairie hare on the other side of the continent. His dedication to physical perfection bordered on obsession, and though he knew that this Initiation Trek would surely test him he had complete confidence that he would meet his family on the other side. Not every son of Kirinyaga was so fortunate; these mountains had seen their fare share of young corpses who’d faltered on their way to manhood, but Gahiji was determined not to be one of them.

As the dark-skinned youth used his gnarled hiking staff to push thorny bristlebush from his path, he noticed something in the deep indigo dusk skies. At first he thought it was a shooting star, but when its golden plummet changed to emerald his curiosity was piqued. Gahiji had no problem determining where the unidentified object landed. His tracking sense was sufficiently developed that he’d likely be able to trace its path even if he hadn’t seen it fall with his own eyes; having witnessed its descent, tracking it was a feat any Kirinyaga child could achieve. He considered how far following this mysterious object would take him from his path. He estimated only several hours at the most, he could still be in the arms of his mothers by morning. Gahiji considered as well the name he’d chosen for himself as a man and the reasons behind that name. Would the legendary Mwindaji balk at being sent off-course by a new discovery? Of course not. His mind made up, the athletic teen changed course without a second thought.

It took Gahiji the better part of the night to find the object of his interest. Luckily, Kirinyagan night vision served him well and he managed to avoid any and all predators which stood between he and his quarry. An hour before the sun was due to rise, the moon hanging faded in the sky, Gahiji finally found what he’d spent hours looking for. A ditch was marked in the dirt where the unidentified object had skidded to a halt after its fall from the firmament, and at its end point Gahiji found a blood-soaked man in a tattered robe. “Do not move!” Gahiji’s Interlac was heavily accented, but his panic came across clearly. This man had no obvious signs of protective clothing, it was a miracle that he was alive at all. Yet, he was alive.

“I do not know how it is that you have survived such a fall,” Gahiji blurted as he circled the man looking for obvious signs of injury. “But I pledge to do everything in my power to help restore you to health, my friend. What is your name? From where have you come?”

The bald man coughed, and a spatter of blood stained his lip. “My name?” the bald stranger repeated. “You may call me…Vidar. I don’t know how I have survived this fall from grace either…not that I’m complaining. What’s your name, son?”

“My name..?” The young tracker paused. Helping this stranger would irrevocably remove him from his Initiation Trek. But somehow, he felt that it would lead him somewhere far more adventurous. He straightened his posture and took a deep breath.

“…My name is Mwindaji. Let me help you."

THE SECRET ORIGIN OF QUISLET 2.0 Part 2 of 2: New Dimensions
postlo3w

MARS

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.”

**********

LUNA

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!”

**********

MARS

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…”

**********

TEALL

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.”

**********

QWARD

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."


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