by Brian K. Asbury
Going around one of the many corners in the labyrinthine base, Lex Luthor pulled up sharply as he came across two inert blue plastic androids lying slumped on the floor. Looking around to make sure no one was lying in wait to ambush him, he reached down to examine them, the servos in his armor whining as it augmented his strength.
One of the androids had had its head bashed in, possibly by the other one, judging by the size and shape of the indentation. The second plastic man’s inoperable state was a mystery, as there wasn’t a mark on it.
He turned on the scanners built into his battle-suit, which showed him that several of the artificial organs that both powered and animated the android had been crushed, effectively killing it. Weird, he thought. What could do this kind of damage from the inside?
Straightening up, he considered the situation. The cell where the girl Stealth had been confined was accessed via this corridor, and two of the super-strong blue androids, just like these two, had been charged with conveying her back to the cell. Could she somehow have escaped and done this damage? It was hard to see how. True, the girl’s alien metabolism was remarkable, and able to regenerate anything less than fatal damage within a day or two. And she was stronger and more agile than a human being. There was also evidence that she had some sort of sonic powers that she had not actually manifested during her captivity.
However, she had been drugged into helplessness, and even fully fit was no match for two androids holding her securely. She could not have broken free of their grip, and they were practically mindless, so tricking them into letting go of her was unlikely. Besides, how could she have damaged this one internally? It was as if someone or something had simply reached inside its body and squeezed — yet without breaking its skin.
He began to power up the blasters built into his gauntlets. There was only one possible explanation, and that was that there was someone else involved. Garguax’s security systems had picked up only four intruders, but suppose there were others, using some sort of stealth technology to sneak around the base? In that case, they could be anywhere.
Luthor glanced around nervously. Well, if they did try to waylay him, they’d find out pretty damn quickly that messing with Lex Luthor was very different from taking out a couple of plastic toasters.
Setting all his scanning equipment to maximum sensitivity, he stalked down the corridor toward the cells. Stealth’s cell was empty, but his armor’s motion detectors suddenly started to scream at him, indicating a presence in another cell a short way down the block, which was supposed to be empty. Someone was waiting for him.
A smirk crossed his lips. Think you’re smart, do you? he thought. Moving toward the cell in question, he instead sidestepped before the door into an adjoining cell. Setting his built-in weaponry, he fired at the wall, blasting a hole big enough for him to charge through.
“Hi, honey, I’m home!” he quipped as he emerged into the other cell, where Stealth lay on the floor, still seemingly rendered helpless by the drugs in her system. She had been hit by shards of plastic from the exploding wall, but did not look badly hurt.
However, there was no one else in the cell. “What the–?!” he began. Was Stealth faking, or was…?
A blur of black and white suddenly flew right out of the opposite wall and kicked him in the chest, knocking him back and off his feet. As he tried to get up, another kick to the shoulder knocked him off-balance again.
As he rolled back away from the assault, he barely had time to take in the fact that his attacker was a woman, fair-skinned and black-haired, clad in a white tunic over a black jumpsuit. She was evidently skilled in martial arts of some sort, although the style was unfamiliar. Still, Luthor’s battle-suit was protecting him from serious harm, and the initial shock was over. Coolly, he took aim and fired one of his blasters pointblank at her.
The blast passed harmlessly through her, instead gouging a hole in the opposite wall. As Luthor reeled from the surprise, she laughed and landed another blow on him, knocking him over once again.
Luthor fired again, and a third time. Both blasts passed through her without affecting her in the slightest.
Another kick slammed him back through the hole he had made and into the neighboring cell. What the hell am I fighting? he thought. She’s solid enough when she hits me, but she seems to dematerialize between attacks. Something about her seems vaguely familiar, though. She reminds me of someone I once met…
As he thought the words, the girl came straight through the undamaged part of the wall and kicked him again from the side. This is ridiculous, he thought. My suit’s protecting me so far, but how much of this can it take before something gives way? It isn’t my Lexorian suit — I hadn’t even completely finished it!
The woman paused momentarily, shouting something in an unfamiliar language. Obviously calling upon me to surrender, he thought. Well, screw that! He fired again, with the same lack of results, but this time rolled back well out of her reach. So you can talk while you’re intangible, can you? he thought. In that case, maybe I can borrow a trick from your friends back at airlock number nine.
As the girl came at him again, he slammed one gauntleted hand down on a control on his breastplate, and a sonic scream sliced the air into pieces. The woman stopped in her tracks and clapped her hands to her ears. Then her eyes glazed over, and she collapsed.
Luthor got up off the floor. He turned off the screamer and walked up to the girl, giving her a sound kick in the ribs with his metal-booted foot. She was out cold, no doubt about it. Well, it looks as if we’ll be taking two prisoners with us, not just one, he thought. I’m going to enjoy taking you apart to see what makes you tick!
He studied her face thoughtfully. You really do remind me of someone, he thought. Older… dressed differently… much shorter hair… but you look a hell of a lot like one of those so-called Legion of Super-Heroes from the future — and with the same powers, too!
Did that mean that there were others about? Possibly, but then again, the intruders in Airlock Nine sure as hell weren’t any thirtieth-century Legionnaires he’d ever seen before. Come to think of it, although there was a strong resemblance, he couldn’t be sure this was the Phantom Girl he had once met. Maybe she was just someone from the same planet who resembled her. Maybe… he thought with a smirk, …maybe this woman is her twentieth-century ancestor — in which case…
Luthor raised his blaster. I wonder what would happen if I were to kill her now. Would that wipe out the future in which the Legion of Super-Heroes existed, if only in part?
He lowered the weapon again. The trouble with messing about with time was that it might have unpredictable consequences. Best to leave this until he was away from here and could experiment safely. Acting rashly now might have unfortunate repercussions later, especially if this was a grown-up Phantom Girl. The last thing he wanted was for her teammates to come after him to avenge her death.
Leaving the strange woman for a moment, he stepped back through the hole to retrieve Stealth, only to stop dead as he saw two identical, golden-skinned, white-haired girls on the floor. “What in blazes?!” he exclaimed. He stepped forward cautiously, his gauntlet blasters at the ready. “OK, what the hell’s going on here?” he demanded. “Tell me, or I’ll blow your damn head off!”
He took another step toward the nearest of the two, and then suddenly, the second Stealth morphed into a shape out of a nightmare. Something that was all fangs and teeth wrapped around Luthor’s battle-suit, then seemed to seep into it and expand. The suit was literally torn asunder from the inside, hurling the renegade scientific genius back in a shower of shards of metal and plastic. Luthor slammed against the back wall, pieces of his shattered armor cutting into his back.
Then, stunned from the impact, he felt himself being lifted to his feet. A grinning face, orange-skinned and sporting pointy ears and antennae, hovered in front of him. “Lex Luthor?” said the Durlan. “My employer would like a word with you…”
Carried on a litter by four of his super-swift silver-gray androids, Garguax reached his ship in about a tenth of the time it would have taken him to walk there with his huge bulk. Various other plastic androids were already busy around the ship, refueling it and prepping it for takeoff.
Garguax motioned for the androids to let him down as they reached the top of the boarding ramp. He paused, looking back. He had invested a great deal of effort over the years in first building this base and then making it secure. It pained him to be contemplating abandoning it like this, just because a handful of unknown aliens had invaded. But Luthor was right — their possessing weapons designed to neutralize his androids did strongly suggest that they were no mere opportunists, but were here deliberately to get him.
Who had sent them, though? He wondered if it was Zarox-13, his former master, against whom Garguax had rebelled some years before. Zarox was supposedly dead, along with their entire planet, but suppose he had somehow survived to come after his sometime-underling, whom he probably blamed for the disaster (and not without cause)?
He sighed. He had become lazy over the last few years, content to dwell here in luxury after his schemes to conquer Earth had been thwarted by the Doom Patrol, and his alliance with the Brotherhood of Evil had disintegrated. Oh, yes, he’d had other schemes, but he had somehow never gotten around to implementing them. Much of his weaponry, based largely on technology stolen from other civilizations, had fallen into disrepair, and he had not bothered to fix any of it until Luthor had happened along. Luthor had stirred him at least partially from his lethargy, and had been a promising ally — but fate had dealt a cruel blow. What a catastrophic coincidence that Warworld should appear to spearhead an invasion of Earth by the Dominion and others, just when things had been looking up?
Well, at least this would spur him into getting his career back on track, he mused. Without the base, he would have to rebuild, which meant raiding worlds for resources and maybe gaining some new technology in the process.
If Luthor didn’t get a move on, however, then he would not get to share in this new campaign. Damn the human! he thought. Since he was only supposed to be collecting the girl Stealth from her cell, what could be taking him so long?
Well, to the nine hells with him, he thought, stalking toward the control room of the ship. It would take him about three Earth minutes to set the base self-destruct from here and start the ship’s engines. If Luthor didn’t get here by then, he’d leave him behind to be blown to the next life along with the intruders.
He reached the door to the control room. Two plastic men — one blue, one red — stood sentry. “Move aside and open the door,” he commanded.
Neither android moved.
“Obey me!” Garguax growled. He prodded the blue android.
It toppled over, inert, colliding with the red android as it fell and knocking that over, too. “What in Talskek’s name?” gasped Garguax.
He nervously pressed the door control. It slid open to give him a view of the circular chamber that served as the ship’s control center. There were no visible occupants. No! he thought. This is wrong! There should be at least a dozen androids in here, prepping the ship’s systems for launch. Where are they?
Garguax reached inside his purple robe for a handheld disrupter pistol concealed among its folds, and stepped across the threshold, cursing himself for having dismissed the androids that had carried him to the launch bay. Still, the communications controls were only a few paces away. One touch of the alarm button would bring a hundred androids to his aid if he required them.
He quickly closed the short distance, half-expecting to be attacked as he crossed the chamber, and waving his disrupter in what he hoped was a threatening manner. He touched the control panel…
…and a violent electric shock coursed through him, dropping him to his pudgy knees. The disrupter flew across the room as he convulsed and screamed.
Behind him, the master control chair swiveled. There was a flickering of light as a personal cloaking field deactivated, and a green-skinned, blond-haired youth appeared in the chair. He held a gun trained expertly on the gross pirate.
“Good morning, Garguax,” said Vril Dox. “I do hope you weren’t intending to leave without allowing me to sample your famous hospitality!”