Shvaughn Erin leaned forward and gently placed both hands on Jan Arrah’s shoulders. She could tell the blond hero from Trom was tense, and she hoped to help him come to terms with what was bothering him. She was the United Planets Science Police liaison to the Legion of Super-Heroes but more to the point, she was romantically involved with the shy Legionnaire called Element Lad.
She glanced down at the sensitive man and felt admiration as well as affection. She knew that he had survived and triumphed over things most people could not even conceive. Jan was literally the last survivor of the planet Trom. As a boy he had escaped when the space pirate Roxxas slaughtered every other native of the strange world. Jan had escaped, and in time he had helped the Legion bring the ruthless killer to justice. He had even joined the team, because as a Tromian he possessed the ability to transmute one element to another. This potent power, combined with his own resourcefulness, courage, and compassion, made him a formidable hero and a fine leader.
Element Lad had served the team several times over the years in the role of deputy leader, and he thrived in the team setting in spite of his natural reserve, because he truly lived for the Legion. The Legionnaires had become his family, and aside from an annual pilgrimage to the now-silent and lifeless Trom, Element Lad had no other home to go to.
Jan had been thrilled to win the Legion leader election, and he had served with a commendable level of success. However, his term was coming to an end, and he had no regrets except for the fact that he was facing a mystery that had separated some members from the rest by a veil of secrecy.
Now the pretty blonde tried to soothe Jan’s worries as she gently rubbed his neck and shoulders and said, “You know, this kind of service really goes above and beyond my job description!”
Jan smiled and said, “You mean you wouldn’t do the same thing for Dream Girl if she was still leader?”
Shvaughn frowned and replied, “Nura Nal prefers to do the placing of hands herself. I still get irked when I recall the time she was campaigning against you for leader and deliberately planted a kiss on you! She really gets to me!”
“She takes some getting used to,” said Jan. “I think she likes to shock us. It’s just her way. I do appreciate what you are doing right now, too. I know you’re just trying to get my mind off the problem with Saturn Girl and the others.”
Shvaughn pulled up a chair and said, “Call it my police officer mentality, but I can think more clearly when I review the facts of any given situation. Start at the beginning, and tell me what you know.”
Element Lad nodded and swiveled around in the chair to face her. “Validus was sighted on Titan. We later learned that he was brought to that world by a mysterious blonde named Ryssa. She claimed that she came from the future, and that she wanted to use Validus to get revenge upon the elders of Titan’s Mind Institute for rejecting her in our future and her past. Saturn Girl told me that Ryssa explained her motive to the others while I was knocked out. Anyway, when I did come to, Ryssa had vanished. She had been returned to her own era, apparently against her will. ”
Shvaughn rested her chin on her fist and said, “And what of Validus? Did she take him with her?”
Jan shook his head. “That’s where the mystery begins. Validus vanished, too, but something happened to him before I awoke. In fact, the way Saturn Girl, Lighting Lad, Lightning Lass, Timber Wolf, Blok, and the White Witch were acting even before I joined them made me suspect something odd had occurred during their initial encounter with Validus. First, I can understand that Garth wanted to help out, even though he had selected senior advisor status in his Lightning Lad role, but he and Imra were really tense about something. She was especially concerned that Validus met no harm during our efforts to subdue him.”
Shvaughn crossed her legs and said, “Imra is known as something of an ice maiden, but that’s just the reserve someone from a planet of mentalists would naturally cultivate. She does care deeply, even for a foe.”
Jan nodded. “I know. Remember that I have experienced her softer side personally. She was the one who enabled me to join the team under a fake identity when we originally deemed it wise to conceal the origin and nature of my powers. She managed to persuade the rest of the team to accept me without asking any questions. That’s why I haven’t pressed her too hard about what secret she and the rest are keeping. Something is up, though. She and Garth were really upset by whatever occurred while I was knocked out. This Ryssa may have told them something about their futures or the team’s future that they feel would be dangerous for many of us to know. We always had to be careful regarding what Superboy saw of his own future during his times with us. I can respect that.”
“But something tells me that you suspect another motive beyond mere concern for time paradox enigmas,” prompted Shvaughn.
“I do,” said Jan. “I thought I saw a boy vanishing just as I was stirring. I know it sounds crazy, but I think that child was a transformed Validus.”
“Hmm… well, Validus has been known to be more of a violent child with super-powers than a calculating menace,” she noted. “His evil is more the result of his lack of understanding than any deliberate malice. I know this from reviewing Fatal Five medical holos at the police academy. Maybe he has been a child in the form of a creature all along. Imra’s a mother. I could see that kind of thing really upsetting her.”
“True,” said Jan. “Still, Ayla is much more of the maternal type, and she was not as upset as Imra. Don’t get me wrong. All of the others except for Dawnstar seemed to be hiding something. Timber Wolf was restless, and he acted with a typical lack of social skills when he picked that moment to pop the question, as they used to say. He asked Ayla to marry him!”
Shvaughn sat up and shook her head. “That’s news to me! She stalked off in a temper tantrum. He brooded. Am I right?”
Jan smiled. “Score one for the pretty S.P. officer. That’s exactly how they acted.”
“Some things never change,” she said.
Jan nodded. “Still, I want to know what’s going on. I trust them all, but I want to help. I am willing to give them time, since Imra and Garth were founders. Still, they’ve all been really busy with private projects since that case ended. I think it has to do with the missing boy and his connection to Validus and Ryssa.”
In a room that combined luxury with a stark aesthetic sense, a lovely girl with pale white skin and long platinum-blonde hair sat with her legs crossed as she studied a heavy tome. It was a real book and not a compu-disk. That meant two things. It was extremely old, and it was rather rare. Mysa Nal, the White Witch, studied the magic book and rubbed her eyes as she stifled a yawn. Candles smoldered nearby, although the room was naturally equipped with more modern lighting as well.
By Zerox! I cannot find a spell to free our tongues, she thought. We are still helpless under Ryssa’s spell. We cannot reveal to anyone what occurred on Titan. We learned Validus was, in fact, a stolen and transformed previously unknown child of Garth’s and Imra’s. We learned the Ryssa knew this and came from the future to use him as her weapon. She used her magic to prevent any of us from speaking or otherwise telling anyone the secret. She also wanted to make sure we suffered in silence, since she hates us for reasons unknown. She did say that Mordru was her teacher, or will be so in the future. That means her magic is dark and powerful, and that makes me feel rather inadequate.
A knock echoed, and she said, “Come in, Blok!” The automatic door slid open at the sound of her voice to reveal the hulking rocky Legionnaire from the world called Dryad. He entered by stooping forward, and his craggy features expressed surprise and pleasure at the fact that the enchantress knew he was the one at her door. She rose to her feet and gave a welcoming smile. “Dear Blok, you are welcome indeed. I have been trying to locate a spell to do what we desire. It has been fruitless thus far.”
“Mysa, you must not tire yourself,” said Blok. “We all know how diligently you strive for ever greater levels of knowledge and skill.”
She ran one slender hand across his arm and said, “And you, my friend? You have been spending all of your own time searching the archives you love so dearly. You should heed your own advice. You are equally admired for your own tireless pursuit of data. Ryssa said she had removed all memory of her past meeting with us, and that is surely so.”
“I fear it is so,” said Blok. “I have also been studying the records regarding past encounters with Validus. He killed a Legionnaire. You know this, as do we all, but it still remains a fact that gives one pause. Shanghalla honors the late Lyle Norg, the Invisible Kid, with a statue and a monument. He fell to the raw power of Validus, and that must torment Garth and Imra with a new potency.”
“They have been ceaseless in their efforts to find the missing child,” agreed the White Witch. “Imra’s cool mind has waged war with her maternal instincts. She has forced herself to wait and seek as much data as possible before venturing wildly forth in search of the child.”
“On Dryad, I found pleasure in interacting with and observing the human colonists with their children. I feel sorrow for our friends. I also have experienced what it is like to move among humans and possess an inhuman form. I pity Validus by any name.”
Mysa nodded silently. She had been trapped in the form of an ancient Hag through the spite of the wizard Mordru, and she also knew what it was like to be stared at, shunned, or rejected because of her looks. Her sister Nura Nal, alias Dream Girl, had rescued her from her own physical prison, and Mysa hoped she herself would be able to find the missing child and help reunite him with his parents as well.
In the Legion gym, a shattered battle-bot sparked, smoked, and fell apart as a grim young man lashed out at it with fury and precision. His name was Brin Londo, and he was taking out his frustrations on the droids. He was fast, strong, and agile, and he also fought with a purpose beyond merely perfecting his moves. He wanted to forget his recent blunder by losing himself in sheer physical activity.
Stupid, Londo! he thought. All I had to do was wait until the whole mess with Validus was over. All I had to do was get Ayla to some nice spot like the Pleasuredome before I asked her to marry me. But like a dumb animal, I just acted on instinct and spoke at the worst possible time and place!
“You know, beating that droid to scrap won’t fix things with Ayla,” said a petite girl in a red and black leotard. “You need to just go to her and apologize. Tell her you’re sorry. Explain that your feelings took over, and you lost your head. She’ll understand, now that she’s had some time to get used to the whole thing.”
“Vi? Didn’t hear you come in,” he grunted.
Shrinking Violet, alias Salu Digby, wiped her face with a towel and smiled at her teammate. “Someone was able to sneak up on the ever-alert Timber Wolf! Will wonders never cease? Look, I’ve learned from experience that, in romance, we often get the right person, and yet their methods of doing things may fall short of ideal. Take Duplicate Boy. He and I are at a good place right now, but it came after a period in which I thought he was a real jerk, and he became so desperate to win me back that he almost lost his very sense of self. Ayla will come around. She knows, even now, that you meant well.”
Timber Wolf grinned and said, “Thanks, Vi! I appreciate it. Funny, I never thought you even liked me.”
She headed for the steam chamber and smiled slightly. “Never said I did.”
Meanwhile, Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl conferred in their private rooms away from Legion Headquarters. “Graym is safe,” said Garth Ranzz. “I feel better knowing he is back on Earth, where so many of our friends are close by to guard him. Plus, I know Reeta would give Mordru himself pause if he tried to come between our caregiver and her charge!”
Imra Ranzz sighed as she ran one hand through her long blonde hair. “I know our first son is safe, but what about Garridan?” she said, referring to the name that they had chosen for his missing twin. “We’ve barely even touched him! He was… we’ve got to find him!” She felt the frustration as her efforts to speak about the child’s transformation were blocked by Ryssa the Mind Witch’s lingering spell.
“Garth, I can’t wait a second longer,” she said. “We’ve gathered all the data we can. We know from the scan we did on that planetoid where we last saw him that a chronal energy residue remained in his wake. Our son was stolen through time itself. It was not magic that took him away this time. We can follow him with a time bubble. We even know the year Ryssa claimed to have come from herself: 3005.”
“I agree,” said Garth. “We’ve made sure Graym was safe. We’ve asked those Legionnaires who know our problem to help in their own ways, and you even did a check via the elders of the Mind Institute to see if they knew of any rejected pupil named Ryssa. I think all we can do is go to that era and try to find her and our son!”
“The elders were very cooperative, but they knew nothing of such a girl,” said Imra. “Of course, she did claim that she would not even be born until later this year.”
“Hopefully we should not meet any trouble in trying to go to the future, especially since our encounter with the Time Trapper!” said Garth, thinking of their encounter last year with one of their most dangerous and unpredictable foes. Then, as now, an enemy had taken their child, and the three original Legionnaires — Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, and Cosmic Boy — had gone to the ends of time to get Graym back from the Time Trapper. (*) “I hate dealing with the nuances of time travel. I wish we could somehow alert Brainy to what’s going on. This is his kind of riddle.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Future Shock,” Legionnaires Three #1 (February, 1986), “From Hell to Eternity,” Legionnaires Three #2 (March, 1986), “And Then There Were Two,” Legionnaires Three #3 (April, 1986), and “Countdown,” Legionnaires Three #4 (May, 1986).]
“We can’t tell him,” said Imra. “I’ve tried every kind of mental conditioning, but the spell keeps me silent.”
Garth took her hand and raised it to his lips. “Honey, we’ll rescue him. We’ll be a family again! I promise.” He felt the need for family keenly, since he came from Winath, a world in which twins were the norm. He and his twin sister Ayla were very close, and after their parents died in a space accident, they had become even closer.
Another aspect of his past family life also drove Garth to vow to save his lost child at any cost. Garth’s older sibling Mekt had been an outcast as a non-twin on a world of duality. Thus Mekt had turned against Garth in a madness that had driven him to crime and to a career as the evil Lightning Lord. He had almost killed Ayla when last they fought, but the spunky girl had triumphed in the end.
“I won’t let Garridan end up like Mekt,” he said. “He’s lost so many years because Darkseid sent him back in time and made him into a monster. If this Ryssa had not brought us together and enabled us to see the truth, we’d never have known one of our worst foes was truly our helpless and frightened child. The poor boy has spent around ten years as a monster. His mind must be like that of an infant still!”
Imra touched his arm and leaned in to kiss him. “I know what you’re feeling, my love. I feel it, too. The dark future Mekt faces will not be our child’s!”
She referred to the fact that she and her friends in the Legion had encountered an adult version of Mekt Ranzz on more than one occasion. While Brainiac 5 had always insisted that the adult Legion of Super-Villains, including an older Lightning Lord, could only be possible future versions of the members and not necessarily their definite future selves, it troubled Imra and Garth to believe that Mekt Ranzz would only grow more bitter and evil as he aged. They would not let their son suffer such a fate.