by Starsky Hutch 76
“It’s no use,” Nam-Ek said wearily. “I try to heal them, and as soon as I stop, they begin dying again. I even gave that one fellow there his eyesight back. But they are still dying.”
Don-El, the head of Rokyn’s security agency, turned to his men and said, “Get them into stasis units. Then we might at least be able to keep them alive long enough to question.”
“No!” Nam-Ek bellowed. “If I let go of them, then they’ll die! I won’t have their souls pursuing me in my dreams the way the slain rondor do!”
“If you keep at this, you’ll die,” Flamebird warned.
“Then I guess I’ll just have to die,” Nam-Ek said.
Nightwing looked around at their gilded surroundings and then said, “Keep your hands on them, then, Nam-Ek. But we’ve got to get them out of this room!”
In the air, the battle continued to rage with Superman, the Green Lantern, and Valor leading the charge. As he engaged more and more of the enemy, Superman found himself wishing he’d spent more time behind the controls of the Supermobile in practice exercises. He actually found himself envying the enemy soldiers with the freedom and mobility their armor gave them — that was, until he slammed into them with the full momentum only the Supermobile could give him.
From his window, he watched the youthful Green Lantern, Valura Tur-Thol, as she went after the soldiers of the Madaxite army. Her youthful imagination allowed her to generate all manner of emerald creations to go after them. She conjured up flame beasts, drangs, flame-dragons, winged cats, and snagriffs to combat the armored soldiers. She followed up the attacks with characters from holo-vid cartoons that gave the illusion of having her own army at her command, albeit a very funny-looking one.
Superman viewed her with admiration. Though a novice, she handled herself very well. He thought to himself that he’d like Hal Jordan and the other Green Lanterns back on Earth to meet her. With the proper training, she could become one of the Corps’ best and brightest. It was curious, though, that her ring still worked when all the others had failed.
As soon as that thought passed through his head, the emerald creations began to flicker and then disappear. Valura started to fall from the sky.
“Great Scott!” Superman exclaimed. He slammed the controls forward and began racing to the point in the sky where she plummeted. He pressed a button, and the glass dome of the Supermobile‘s cabin opened, and she fell into the seat behind him.
“Th-thanks for the save,” she said, winded and out of breath from the drop. “What happened?”
“Whatever affected the rings of the other Green Lanterns must have finally caught up with you,” Superman said. “It was likely Rokyn’s existence in a side-dimension that kept the effect from reaching here for as long as it did.”
Nightwing approached the transparent door to the containment cell where the two Madaxite soldiers were held. “I want the frequency code your army uses to communicate.”
“And why would we give you that, you Kryptonian dog?” one of the Madaxites sneered.
“See this?” Nightwing said, holding up a chunk of gold. “It’s the stuff that nearly killed you.” He bounced it off the transparent cell front for emphasis, and the two men jumped back.
“Judging from your reaction, I see that you’re familiar with it,” Nightwing said. “Well, our planet is filthy with the stuff. It may be our most common element.” The two men stared at the rock nervously, as if they thought that at any second he might feed it into their food slot.
“Your ancestors were Daxamite criminals, right?” Nightwing said. “Well, obviously you’ve evolved from your lead weakness, and this has come to take its place. I’d say this puts a crimp in your plans for conquest and colonization.”
The two men sat down with dumbfounded looks on their faces. Both stared at the rock as Nightwing tossed it into the air and caught it. “So, gentlemen? What’ll it be? Will you give me the codes, or do you want to let your brothers and sisters touch down and be poisoned like you were?”
One of them sighed and said, “OK, here are the codes…”
General Vrag and Malevola were about to lead a united charge on the Supermobile when an unexpected transmission filled their helmets. “Army of Madax, you have been misled. This world you seek to conquer is heavy in the one substance that can kill you all!”
They both stared at one another as the transmission continued. “I am now sending you a transmission of what happens when two of your own men are exposed to this substance.” Their internal sensory inputs were filled with the image of the two Madaxite prisoners who had been poisoned. “Witness their death-throes. Can you not see their agony as its poisonous contact wreaks havoc with their nervous systems?”
All of the soldiers of the Madaxite army seemed to come to a halt. They looked at each other as if seeking the answer to what their next move should be.
The voice in their helmets continued. “The data I’m sending you now is from the medical files of your two comrades-in-arms. You’re looking at the effects of gold upon their systems. It’s followed by the projected data of just what full exposure to our world’s supply of gold could do to all of you. Gold, here, is so plentiful that it exists in just about everything we do, from our tallest buildings to our children’s toys. I promise you, you won’t be able to walk five feet without encountering gold. Ask yourselves, how long do you think you’ll last? Even if you manage to enslave or kill every one of us, our very world will avenge us!”
“We’ve been deceived!” General Vrag broadcast to his men. “We’re going home!” Hand in hand with Malevola, he soared up into the sky and away from Rokyn, leaving behind them a sonic boom as they departed.
Superman watched as the other armored men followed suit, taking off into the sky. He had listened to the transmission, followed by General Vrag’s command. Suddenly, the armored men began to fall from the sky one by one as the failsafe Brainiac had implanted into the suits in case of betrayal was activated.
“There are too many of them,” Superman gasped. “The heroes of Rokyn and the security force will never be able to get to them in time.”
He was about to move the Supermobile forward to aid in the rescue effort, when he felt a strange tingling sensation. Suddenly, he and Valura disappeared from the cabin of the Supermobile.
When Superman and Valura reappeared, they were on the floor of the control room of Brainiac’s skull-ship. Superman rose to his feet and helped Valura to hers. When they turned, they saw the control chair was turned with its back facing them.
“I should have known you would turn up here,” a voice said from the other side. “You have an annoying way of turning up where you aren’t wanted.”
“I go where I’m needed,” Superman said.
“Well, you weren’t needed here,” the voice said. Superman noticed that the voice had an older, more familiar sound than the cold, inhuman, metallic voice Brainiac had possessed for the last few years.
“I’m sure the people of Rokyn would disagree with you,” Superman said.
“I’m sure they would,” Brainiac said, turning his chair around. “But in my opinion, they had it coming.”
Superman’s eyes grew wide at the sight of the speaker in the chair. Instead of the skeletal, inhuman Brainiac, he was confronted with the old, green-skinned humanoid version. He even looked more human than in the past because of the addition of a handlebar mustache and goatee.
“I see from your expression that you recognize a familiar face,” Brainiac said with a broad grin. “Now that I have a face again, that is.”
“What do you mean they had it coming?” Superman said.
“Well, since you asked, if there’s anything I hate, it’s ingratitude,” Brainiac said. “The Computer Tyrants knew the value of gratitude. They rewarded those who were loyal to them. That’s why they chose to give a dying scientist a new, cybernetic body. Too bad they chose to block my human memories to make sure I obeyed their directives. I might’ve been able to warn them that my ingrate of a son didn’t feel the same loyalty.”
“You still didn’t answer my question, Brainiac,” Superman said.
Brainiac sighed. “Very well. The people of Kandor may have been the most ungrateful people that I’ve had the misfortune to encounter,” he said, rising from his chair with a flourish of his high-collared purple cape. The light played off of the network of computer sensors on his bare green scalp. “Deny it all you want, but it’s because of me that the people of this world are alive. But did I get any gratitude for saving their worthless lives? No!”
Superman gave a derisive snort. “Are you seriously trying to act like you’re the savior of the Kryptonian race? Because of you, the space ark my father slaved over was shrunk with Kandor. Because of you, he was cut off from everyone on the Science Council who believed in him. He could have saved millions! Believe me, you didn’t save the Kryptonian race. It survived in spite of you.”
Brainiac sat down in his command chair, and his black body-suit made it look as if his body disappeared as it blended in with the recesses of the chair. An odd look crossed his face. “So in a way, it’s as if I struck the first blow.” He threw back his head in laughter. Somehow, a laughing Brainiac was even more chilling than a cold, emotionless one.
“Thank you for that, Superman,” Brainiac said. “That makes me feel so much better. I’ll have to report this failure to my partners in the Alien Alliance, but I’m feeling so good that I won’t destroy this world. I had planned to in such an instance by dropping a nuclear device into the volcanic depths of the recreated Fire-Falls. I’m feeling generous, now, so I’ll let the people of Rokyn continue breathing a while longer.”
A laser gun on a mechanical arm suddenly lowered from the ceiling. “I’ll still kill you, of course,” Brainiac said, shrugging. “I mean, I hate you!”
A deadly beam of light streaked forward toward Superman. “No!” Valura screamed, throwing herself in the path of the laser.
“Valura, no!” Superman exclaimed in horror.
A green shield suddenly formed, blocking the laser. Valura landed on her hands and knees, wide-eyed, and gasped, “I’m not dead… I’m not dead… I’m not dead…”
“The residual charge! Of course. It keeps the ring-bearer from coming to harm even when the ring runs out of power.”
“Well, this is an annoying predicament,” Brainiac said, throwing up his hands. “I suppose the child will just keep throwing herself in front of you if I keep shooting at you. So I guess I’m forced to give you a fighting chance.”
“You will?” Superman said incredulously.
“Certainly,” Brainiac said. “All you have to do is learn how to fly under a red sun.” With that, a hole opened up in the ship’s floor, and Superman and Valura fell through, plummeting toward the ground. As they fell, the skull-ship grew smaller in the distance and then streaked off in a burst of light.
Superman and Valura were suddenly encased in a violet field of energy. “Silly Kal,” Valor said to Superman. “Didn’t anyone tell you that you couldn’t fly on Rokyn?”
“Yes,” Superman said. “But no one told Brainiac.”