Elsewhere, Luornu Durgo Taine herself found her nightmare growing even darker as she struggled helplessly against a pair of restraints that bound her to a lab table. A narrow device the size of a comb had been attached to her forehead, and she glanced around the room in which she had been imprisoned in search of any way out.
That thing called Karrion knocked me out with one punch! thought Duo Damsel. He clearly has super-strength! He can also turn invisible, and he fights like no one I’ve seen since poor Val died. Ghul is a planet outside U.P. space. The culture there is rumored to be dedicated entirely to death. They worship it in some bizarre manner! Still, Karrion is unlike most natives of that world, if my reading has been correct! They lack his fantastic powers. Why would he take me from Zef, only to imprison me here?
She thought of her husband Chuck, and she ached with pain. He had brightened her life immeasurably. After her brief romance with the heroic Nam’Lor ended when she learned that his hyper-aura energy had the unwanted effect of making one of her bodies develop a criminal persona all her own, she had returned to Chuck with a new ardor.
Chuck Taine was gentle, good natured, and cheerful. As Bouncing Boy, he lacked the colorful flair of a Superboy or a Nam’Lor, but then he was hers for the taking. He was loyal and caring, and she realized as she matured a bit that he was right for her. He made her laugh, and that was a rare and precious thing, since she was struggling with the alienation from her homeworld and her altered status since the death of one of her bodies.
Could it be Starfinger? This Karrion obviously has some ally. He mentioned a friend or partner. Starfinger!
That enigmatic genius had kidnapped her once before in order to duplicate her native powers in order to create his own army. Still, that act of malice had brought her so much pleasure. When Starfinger took Lu’s second body away, he managed to blanket her memory so that she did not realize that she had lost her other self. She only thought that she had lost her powers. That mutual loss of power enabled her to more readily accept Chuck’s proposal, since they knew that Legion bylaws prevented married couples from retaining membership. Of course, their lavish ceremony had been beautiful, and her reunion with her other body had changed little. Oh, Starfinger had been defeated, and she had regained her powers, but she gladly decided to choose married life with Chuck in place of her Legion membership. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Legionnaire Bride of Starfinger,” Superboy #200 (January-February, 1974).]
We left the team and only helped out once or twice during the Earthwar or other major crisis situations, even though the team dropped the law against married members, she thought. I wonder if we were wrong to take our positions as teachers at the academy. We had settled so briefly on Wondil IX as colonists, and Chuck was really getting a chance to shine as a hero, if not as a super-hero. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Once a Legionnaire,” Superboy and the Legion of Super-Heroes #257 (November, 1979).]
“Starfinger must be behind this!” she said softly. “Who else would want me so badly?”
“I would! I am not Dr. Lars Hanscombe. His motives were petty and driven purely by the greed of a small-minded man! I have loftier goals. I would see a dream fulfilled. I would bring about something that would liberate humanity from the scourge of death!”
Duo Damsel glanced up to see a large alien being with light pinkish skin and an expression of rapture or madness on his expressive face. He wore a long white robe.
“My name matters little,” he said. “My purpose and my reason for being are better expressed by the title I have claimed during years of ceaseless research. I am the Reanimage!”
“Why have you brought me here?” she demanded.
“I hired Farnum Zef to secure you,” he said. “He betrayed me. My reason for hiring him to do my own work for me was a simple and compelling one. I can never lose the precious lab time that is so vital to my very life. This conversation robs me of time that I could spend striving to conquer death itself, for that is my goal.”
Karrion entered and rubbed his moist hands together eagerly as he said, “I served you in bringing her here, because you assured me that her friends would come after her. You said they would bring their powerful and nourishing essences to me!”
“Karrion, you love death. I hate it,” said the Reanimage. “You view the living as nothing more than potential sources of nourishment. I see the dead as a personal and painful mockery of all I value. Still, we work well together. I say once more that you may rest assured that her Legionnaire friends will come here and die at our hands. That is what you crave so desperately.”
“And what of her?” asked Karrion.
“She will enjoy a different fate,” said the Reanimage. “She will serve as my masterpiece. She will help me achieve the goal to which I have dedicated my life. Luornu Taine, you will usher in an era in which death itself shall die!
“Let me offer you an explanation,” he continued. “I owe that much to you, since you may offer me so much in return. Death has been my most dire enemy since my birth. My mother died in giving life to me. My father soon followed her into the oblivion of the grave. I vowed that I would give my life to finding a way to killing death itself, if you will! I studied on Karrion’s world of Ghul. I learned much, and later, as my quest took me across the universe, I found love — love! That was denied me as well, since my hated foe Death tried to claim my beloved as well! He struck her with a disease beyond cure. I managed to stop his cold touch in time. She sleeps in frozen slumber aboard my ship. Thus, in her cryogenic slumber, she neither lives nor dies. I must find a way to defy death’s power. I seek nothing less than a means to restore the dead. In doing so, I win save my wife and validate my life’s work!”
Duo Damsel stared at him in disbelief. “You’re mad. We’ve all lost loved ones. You can’t wage war against a force of nature! Why do you see me as someone who could possibly help you? Don’t think I would have restored my lost body if I could have done so? I can’t explain why I alone of the people of Cargg have survived such a loss! You’ve taken me for nothing!”
The Reanimage shook his head and flipped a switch with one slender hand. A wall slid aside to reveal a crystalline table upon which rested a perfectly preserved double for Luornu, even down to the minidress.
“What is that thing? A clone?” she whispered in horror.
Karrion leaned closer and smiled broadly. “No! My friend here has not found a way yet to conquer death, but he has managed to learn how to restore and preserve any corpse! He had me steal your ashes from Shanghalla, and with his own unique powers, he has turned them back into their original form! Your lost body is before you, as if it only died moments ago!”
Luornu shook her head in disbelief. The whole thing was beyond her comprehension. After suffering such a mental and emotion torture at the hands of Farnum Zef, this new madness was simply too powerful to deal with easily.
The Reanimage said, “Karrion spoke a bit too rashly, but in summation he was correct. I have restored your lost body, and I mean to bring it back to life by forcing you to merge with it again! If doing so restores it to true life, then your Carggian metabolism may hold the key to defying death forever more!”
Luornu gasped in horror and struggled more fiercely as the Reanimage began his work.
Meanwhile, on Cargg, the Legion Academy pupils watched in relief as the freed captives departed eagerly from the holo-theater. “Zef was a monster!” said Nightwind. “He had enslaved some of those poor people for years!”
“He’s a creep, and you’re lucky you didn’t end up as part of his show!” said a newcomer as a red-and-orange-costumed figure appeared from above.
“Wildfire!” cried Lamprey.
The Legionnaire named Wildfire landed and stood before the pupils with the body language of defiance. “Yeah, that’s my name,” he said. “Glad you remember it. You sure as grife didn’t remember it or the names of any other Legionnaires when you set out on this little joyride. You know none of you can leave Earth without prior permission. I know you tried to help, and I’ll admit you did a pretty good job, but you’d better learn to follow orders and rules if you want to make it into the big leagues!”
“Did Comet Queen tell you what happened?” asked Nightwind.
“Yeah,” said Wildfire. “Dream Girl led us to the academy after she had a vision of trouble there. I set out to find you kids via your rings, while the others tried to help Chuck and find Lu. She’s not on this world anymore. Dreamy is tracing her via a mind-pattern scanner Brainy whipped up after Lu was abducted by Starfinger a while back. Back then we had to have Imra do the tracking from the mind-scan record, but Brainy fixed a synthetic tracker after that. Nura’s using it to find your teacher. That much we do know!”
“We wanted to save her,” said Power Boy. “Can we help you?”
“I think we deserve that much!” added Laurel Kent.
“For once, I agree with the exhibitionist of steel!” said Mentalla. “Surely we’ve proven our prowess?”
“Lady, your attitude doesn’t impress me,” said Wildfire. “I originated the whole Legionnaire-with-attitude image! What you can do is follow up on this whole mess by seeing that the captives get help and a way back home. That’s dull, but it’s part of the game. The Legion will find Lu. Come on — let’s get these folks home!” They followed him slowly and in silence.
“By the way, you did a good job here,” he said casually. “I think you may all make it someday after all!”
Nightwind and Lamprey exchanged smiles as they heard their hero’s words. If Luornu was all right, then perhaps their mission could be viewed as a success.
Luornu Taine was not all right. She was in a terrible situation out of a nightmare. She gasped in pain and shock as the small device attached to her forehead began to hum as bio-electrical energies surged through her body and compelled her to begin the seemingly impossible process of reuniting with her long-dead double.
She convulsed once, then lay still even as a group of colorful figures crashed into the ship. The automatic repair functions resealed the damaged hull as the Reanimage’s ship was invaded by a group of fighting-mad Legionnaires.
Dream Girl, Star Boy, Sun Boy, and Ultra Boy entered the ship, along with a grim Bouncing Boy. “What have you done with my wife?” cried a passionate Chuck Taine.
“Chuck, she’s over there in that next chamber!” said Ultra Boy. “My penetra-vision sees her. She’s so still! But I think she’s OK!”
“Leave the diagnosis to someone better qualified, Jo,” said Dream Girl. “It was my skills with the medi-computer that enabled me to revive Chuck far more quickly than poor Comet Queen believed possible!”
“Nura does have a more experienced hand,” said Star Boy.
Sun Boy smirked as he said, “You should know, Thom!”
Dream Girl fluffed her platinum blonde hair and sniffed in disgust.
Sun Boy had noticed a decided chill between the lovers, and he wondered just what Thom Kallor had done to deserve Nura Nal’s ire this time. He flew closer to the odd pair of Karrion and the Reanimage. He had no idea what type of creature Karrion was, but he could sense how terribly worried Chuck was, and he sympathized with his friend completely. I sure hope we’re in time! he thought. We tracked Lu here via a scan of her mental patterns Brainy once made. It enabled us to come directly here. He confronted Karrion as the Reanimage worked his devices with a silent and desperate speed. “Look, pal, you are badly outnumbered. I’d give up now!” said Dirk Morgna.
“I have my resources, as does my friend the Reanimage!” scowled Karrion.
Sun Boy generated a surge of heat, only to see his efforts shrugged off as Karrion transformed himself into a metallic form. Grife! He’s resisting my heat! mused Dirk.
Bouncing Boy flew over to his wife’s side, even as a wave of Karrion’s hand caused his powers of expansion to suddenly activate and send him reeling across the deck. “I can’t control my own powers!” he gasped as he fought to reach Luornu.
Dream Girl dodged Karrion and reached Lu’s still form. Only one body rested on the table, and while she breathed shallowly, her eyes were staring vacantly into space. She’s catatonic! thought the lovely Nura Nal. Poor girl has suffered a terrible shock! Well, we’ll have to try to cure her when we get her back home! Dream Girl usually appeared to be totally self-absorbed, but the beauty from Naltor cared more than she admitted. It had been her own prophetic vision that had led her to lead her friends to the Legion Academy in the first place. Once she had learned what had occurred from Comet Queen, she had labored to revive Chuck Taine and find a means to track his missing bride.
“Iron or steel won’t stop a little of my ultra-energy strength!” said Ultra Boy. Passing by Dirk Morgna, he swung at Karrion, who blocked his punch with an unseen force-field. “Can’t hit that creep!” gasped Jo Nah.
Bouncing Boy managed to return to their side, and he shook his head. “Nura? Is Lu OK?” he asked.
“She’s hurt but alive,” said Nura.
Chuck rushed to her side and grasped her hands in his own. “Lu, can you hear me?” he pleaded.
“Guard her,” said Dream Girl. “We’ll handle her abductors.”
Bouncing Boy nodded. “Thank goodness the kids are OK. They were pretty brave to take off on their own like that. Pretty reckless, too. Wildfire found them just before we found Lu. He’ll give them more of a lecture than they deserve!”
The large Reanimage fell down to the ground as Star Boy used his power to increase mass on him. “You can do nothing to hurt me more than my own failures have done!” raved the devastated alien. “She did not revive! She is in a coma that serves me in no way. I have failed! Death reigns supreme!”
Star Boy stood over the alien and shrugged. “He’s not putting up a fight. It’s like he has no will to go on!”
“Spare us your insightful psychoanalysis, Thom,” said Dream Girl. “Just keep him from acting in any way. We don’t know what he did to Lu!”
Star Boy nodded and continued to watch the grieving Reanimage.
Karrion spun around and connected with a precise jab that left Ultra Boy’s arm numb. I should have maintained my invulnerability, mused Jo Nah. He used some type of alien nerve jab on me!
A moment after Karrion vanished, Thom Kallor felt a sharp blow to the head. He fell forward and gasped as a Thanagarian tigracat appeared before them and guarded the Reanimage. “He turned invisible and then turned into that animal!” said Thom as the others rushed to his side.
“I can do more than that!” vowed the transformed Karrion.
“I know what he’s doing!” said Dream Girl. “He’s from Ghul, a world that worships death. He somehow is using the powers of the dead from Shanghalla! He used Chemical King’s power to speed up chemical reactions to activate Chuck’s powers. He turned invisible like Lyle Norg. He fights like Karate Kid, and he turned to iron like Ferro Lad!”
Karrion laughed and said, “Indeed! I have the mutant power of duplicating any ability possessed by a dead being. I drained these powers when I took the body of Luornu Taine from Shanghalla!”
Chuck gasped as he held his silent and still wife. “What kind of perverse monster are you?” he said slowly.
“The Reanimage and I are leaving now!” said Karrion. “He has his work to do, and I have my own!”
“You’re not going anywhere!” vowed Sun Boy. “I don’t care if you have the powers of all the honored dead of Shanghalla!” He flew forward, but he fell back in a groan as Karrion struck him with superhuman might. “I forgot Ferro Lad was that tough!”
“All of you focus your powers on him now!” instructed Dream Girl. “Use your highest intensities!”
The men obeyed, and Karrion was bathed in solar fire, penetra-heat-vision, and mass-increasing power. He shrugged off all their might as Dream Girl insisted they continue the assault. “You can’t touch me! I can protect myself so your beams do not reach me!” He gasped and clutched his head suddenly, moments after resisting their powerful attack.
“Jo, hit him with super-strength now!” shouted Dream Girl.
Ultra Boy obeyed, and Karrion fell stunned to the floor. The Reanimage watched it all but took no action. “How’d you know we could beat him? For that matter, how did we beat him?” asked a puzzled Ultra Boy.
“He boasted that he took his stolen power from our dead friends on Shanghalla,” said Dream Girl. “That transformation into an animal came from Beast Boy of Lallor. His invisible shields that protected him from your powers came from Kid Psycho. I assumed that if he literally absorbed their powers, then he also possessed the Kid’s weakness. Each prolonged use of his powers shortened his lifespan. I figured if you all kept him using that power for long enough, he’d suffered a mental collapse much like the poor Kid Psycho used to do.”
Star Boy smiled and reached for her. “Great job, Nura!”
Dream Girl shrugged away from him and said, “If I was you, I’d start working on thinking for myself!”
Sun Boy placed his own hand on Chuck’s shoulder. “She’ll pull out of it,” he assured him. “Brainy, Mon, and Dr. Gym’ll will bring her out of the coma. Maybe Imra could help, too!”
Chuck wept as he faced his pal. “Dirk, this is more than a coma. That thing merged Lu with… with her dead body. She’s in some type of deathlike state.”
The Legionnaires looked at one another helplessly. There were no easy answers or fast solutions to this tragedy. They had triumphed once again, but this time their victory felt more like a defeat as Luornu Taine remained still and unseeing.