by Brian K. Asbury
The smooth metal wall seemed to shimmer momentarily as a humanoid figure detached itself from it. She stood and smoothed down her white tunic, taking in her new surroundings. I’m outside at last, she thought. But where on Bgtzl am I?
The answer came immediately: I’m not on Bgtzl! It was obvious — the too-sharply-defined shadows, the lack of atmospheric haze, the brightness and clarity of the stars… wherever she was, this was hard vacuum. This world, planetoid — whatever — lacked an atmosphere.
A moment of panic almost overcame her. If I solidify here, I’ll be dead in seconds from explosive decompression! The almost made her reflexively do just that, but she pulled herself together and held her phantom form. She looked back at the gleaming white wall. Should she go back? To what? The only living being she had seen since picking herself up after the explosion had been a grossly fat green-skinned alien clad in an enveloping purple robe. She shuddered. Had that alien brought her here? And if so, for what purpose?
I must find some of my own people, she thought. They’ll help me.
But where were her own people? Was she the only one of her people on this world? She squinted up at the stars. They seemed familiar enough, but there were subtle differences. The star she knew as Avinquel was too bright, while Seraneth was much too dim. How could that be? The sun, too — it was much too yellow. Not even Bgtzl’s stellar system, then.
She started to walk away from the white dome. Perhaps there were other bases on this world. Perhaps there were people here who could help her. She could at least explain to them who she was and what…
She stopped dead. Explain to them who she was? She was… She was…
She couldn’t remember. Her name… was gone. She couldn’t remember it.
Gods! she thought, then started to run away from the dome, as if she could run away from whatever was clouding her mind, or perhaps catch up with the memories that seemed to be missing. She could not recall a single fact about herself — who she was, what her occupation was, even where she lived — other than the name of her home planet, Bgtzl, and the names of a few stars, recalled more by instinct than anything else. It was all gone — all of it.
She slowed as she approached a metal strip across her path. It was shimmering slightly, as if generating some sort of energy, but it could not harm her in her phantom form, she was certain of that. She bounded across it, continued running for a few yards, and then stopped, as if some sixth sense had told her something had changed.
She looked back, and another wave of panic again almost shifted her into solid form and certain death.
The dome was gone. It was no longer there.
No! she silently screamed in her head. This can’t be. It was there just seconds ago! She walked back on herself in the direction she had come from, and then suddenly she was crossing the metal strip again, and the base reappeared as if by magic.
She looked down at the strip, realizing what it was: a cloaking field generator. The base is cloaked. It never vanished. I just crossed the threshold and couldn’t see it anymore.
But if this base was cloaked, then even if there were other bases, perhaps they were cloaked, too. In which case, how could she ever hope to locate them?
She stared for long moments at the shining white dome. In that base was air, food, and water — perhaps even a way to find a way home. Out here, in the vacuum of space, even in phantom form she could not survive for very long. Sooner or later, she would become tired, her concentration would slip, and she would revert to solid form.
Well, she thought. I may not know who I am, but I do know that I’m not yet ready to die. She made her way back to the base and slipped once more through the wall.
Garryn Bek stared out at the expanding cloud of debris and whistled to himself. “They did it!” he said softly. “They actually blew up Warworld!” (*)
[(*) Editors note: See DC Universe: Invasion, Book 3, Chapter 7: Nova.]
“These humans are nothing, if not resourceful,” commented the green-skinned young man standing at a bank of controls to his left. “And it certainly saves us some trouble. We will have to de-cloak to disembark, and now there will be no one to see us and investigate.”
Bek snorted. “No one except half of Earth’s meta-human heroes and a few dozen smaller Alliance ships still buzzing around.”
There was a grunt from the pilot’s chair. “They will be too concerned with each other to bother with us, even if they see us,” said Amon Hakk. “And besides, the ship’s skin is treated with a Durlan compound which lets us blend in with the background of wherever it lands. Even without our cloaking field, we will be hard to spot from space.”
“Enough talk!” growled a voice from the rear of the cabin. “When do we see some action? I could have been with my brother Green Lanterns helping to liberate Oa, but here I am wasting time hovering above a dead rock. How much longer, Dox?”
Vril Dox turned to face the irascible warrior woman. He smiled. “Patience, Boodikka. You had no means to reach your ring-wielding comrades. When I rescued you from your wrecked vessel, I said you would get a chance to contribute toward defeating the Alien Alliance, and I am a man of my word.”
“I see precious little sign of that. You should have given me a shuttle and let me go.”
“This ship’s shuttles have no multi-light capability, Boodikka, as I explained to you before. Besides,” he added, his smile broadening, “I thought it was the code of your people to trade a life for a life. I saved your life, so I own yours until you repay the debt. Is that not so?”
“It is,” Boodikka scowled. “But this still does not feel right.” She fell silent.
Dox turned to a quiet robed figure in the observer’s chair. “Zen? Anything?”
The object of his attention swiveled to face him, revealing an orange-skinned bald head, with two round-tipped antennae just visible beneath the hood of his maroon cloak. “Nothing, Mr. President. I have scanned at every frequency the ship’s sensors are capable of, but I detect nothing.”
“We don’t have to avoid Warworld’s scanners now,” Dox pointed out. “You can try the scan-beams we couldn’t use before.”
“Already done, sir. Nothing.”
“So what does it mean?” asked Bek.
Dox shrugged. “A humanoid girl, seemingly naked to space, appears from nowhere, walks a short distance, then turns and walks back, only to vanish again in roughly the same place. If she’s hiding, our instruments can’t detect her. That suggests one of two possibilities to me, and I feel we can discount one of them. Teleportation would leave a residual energy trace.”
The sixth person on the bridge spoke for the first time. A hulking, roughly humanoid creature with ridged, brick-red skin and a wide gash for a mouth said, “She wasn’t naked, sir. She had clothes on.”
Dox narrowed his eyes in amusement. “I didn’t mean it literally, Garv. I mean, she was not wearing a space-suit or any other obvious means of protection. Now, where was I?”
“You were about to say that the only other explanation is that there’s something cloaked down there, and the girl must have exited the cloaking field and then walked back into it,” said Bek.
“Precisely. In other words, precisely what we’ve been looking for all this time — a cloaked base or grounded ship. Probably the former.”
“Then this is finally it?” said Boodikka. “We finally get to see some action?”
“It is,” said Dox. “Zen, find us a spot to land where we’ll be out of view from that base — but not too far away, of course. Mr. Hakk, take your coordinates from Zen and take us down.”
Other eyes were also scanning the wreckage of Warworld and the activity still going on in the space around it. The fingers of the bald man flew across the console as he zoomed in on different locations, seeking a specific target.
“Come away from those controls, Luthor, and have something to eat. Or amuse yourself with the girl. You’ll ruin your eyes staring into that screen.”
Lex Luthor offered no answer, but continued to scrutinize the battle scene. Garguax sighed. “The conflict will be over by and by, and then we can do what you wanted to do — we can go to Earth. With the planet’s defenders exhausted, we’ll have rich pickings… Oh, Talskek! What are you trying to find, anyway?”
“Superman,” growled Luthor. “He was there. I saw him. But now I don’t see him. By all that’s holy, if those alien scum have killed him–!”
“I thought that was what you wanted.”
Luthor at last turned away from the view-screen, one fist clenched in barely contained rage. “Superman is mine, Garguax. Taking his life is a privilege that belongs to me, and to me only, do you understand? Nobody kills Superman but me!”
Garguax’s pudgy, yellow-tinged green eyes were wide in alarm. “Calm down, my friend, calm down! Superman is invulnerable, yes? Therefore even the explosion of something as vast as Warworld could not have killed him. That would require kryptonite, would it not?”
Luthor glowered at him. “Or magic. Or he could be weakened by red-sun rays, in which case he’d be as vulnerable as anyone else.”
“And do you detect any trace of such things?”
“Then, ergo, Superman is still alive, and you can still have the pleasure of exterminating him yourself. Now come and sit down and eat something. We can do nothing until the chaos out there subsides.”
Luthor took a deep breath. Much as he hated it, he could not argue with the green-skinned monster’s logic. He took a step toward the dining area and scowled. “Must you do that?”
Garguax followed his partner’s gaze. “Oh, the girl, you mean?” He ran his bloated fingers over her smooth, golden skin. “I like to fondle pretty things, Luthor. Don’t you?”
Luthor’s frown deepened. He said nothing as he sat down on another couch and helped himself to some nibbles from the table. Garguax snickered at his obvious discomfort. “My, my, Luthor. You humans never cease to surprise me. I would never have believed that you would be offended by the sight of a member of one species showing affection to another. Or is it that you’d like to play with her yourself? Here — take her!” He pushed the half-naked girl onto the floor. She struggled, trying to move, but flopped around like a grounded fish.
“Come — take her,” the gross alien chuckled. “She’s shot full of so much tranquilizer that she can’t resist at all.” Noting that Luthor still disdained to respond, he added, “Of course, if you prefer them more frisky, I can administer an antidote. However, she might prove a bit of a handful, even for you.” He kicked the girl, who was trying to bite his ankle. “I believe she is very, very angry with us, you know.”
“Oh, for–” Luthor checked himself. Garguax was only doing this to see how far he would go; he knew that. He could not lose control. He would deal with Garguax when the time was ripe, but it was not ripe right now. “Just leave it, will you?”
He motioned to two of Garguax’s plastic servants, who glided smoothly to his side. “Pick the girl up and take her back to her cell,” he ordered. “Give her the antidote to those tranqs, but make sure she’s securely chained first.”
The androids bowed and moved to comply. “I really am disappointed in you, Luthor,” said Garguax, stuffing something slimy and dripping into his mouth and speaking between bites. “The girl was good for hours of fun yet. I also had a mind to take some steaks off her. Her meat is very tasty, you know…”
Luthor jumped to his feet. “What?! Eat her?”
Garguax belched and grinned. “She regenerates, remember? I cut off a few of her larger muscles a few days ago and had my chef prepare a suitable dish from them — but they’ve grown back, as you see! And it was quite, quite delicious! You should have tried some for yourself.”
Luthor’s knuckles were white, his nails digging sharply into his palms as he fought to keep control. “Damn it, Garguax, I’m a lot of things, but I’m not a goddamn barbarian or a cannibal. Kill the girl, yes, but she’s done nothing to deserve this!”
“So? Your point is…?”
Before Luthor could reply, a sharp wail cut the air. Garguax, with an agility that belied his bulk, leaped to his feet and scuttled toward the control console. “What the hell is that?” Luthor demanded.
Garguax signaled to his plastic bodyguards, who clustered more closely around him. He pointed to several bulky figures moving on the view-screen. “That’s airlock number nine, Luthor,” he said, a note of mingled anger and fear rising in his voice. “We have visitors, it seems!”