by Goose Gansler
To say that the universe is a big place would be an understatement. The variety and diversity that distinguish it could boggle the mortal mind. Still, there were some constants that were true wherever one was in the intergalactic expanses. There were laws, there were those that break the laws, and there were those that enforce the laws.
This conflict between transgressors and enforcers was being played out once again at the edge of a faraway galaxy. There were two ships — one the pursuer, one the pursued. The pursued ship bore no more markings, save those plasma burns that pocked its hull. Those plasma burns were courtesy of the pursuer. Its hull was marked with the famed star-planet-moon symbol, the emblem of the Cosmic Police.
The CosPol cruiser had been in pursuit of the drug-smuggling ship for a few parsecs now, but it had not closed the gap between them. The smugglers were wily pilots, and they had been relatively successful in avoiding the CosPol cruiser’s energy blasts.
Inside the CosPol cruiser, the two Cosmic Police officers were determined to bring these smugglers to justice. The CosPol had made a major statement recently by crushing one of the galaxy’s most powerful drug worlds, Datox. Now that planet served as a CosPol station world. In the wake of Datox’s fall from disgrace, many other drug operations had sprung up to fill the void, and CosPol was committed to squashing them as well.
Officer Jul Iushwartz looked away from his tactical screen for a moment to check the astro-navigational display. He blinked his pupil-less eyes and checked it again. “Hey, Weiz. You know where this chase is leading us?”
Officer Weiz Inger did not take his eyes off of his navigational screen. He didn’t want to take the chance of losing track of the smugglers. “Not a clue, Jul, but I’m a little busy here.”
“Well, I figured you might be able to guess just by looking at your nav screen.”
“What do you mean?” Weiz asked impatiently. “All I see is empty space ahead.”
“That’s what I mean,” Jul replied. “Empty space, as in no stars ahead — no systems, either.”
“Holy grife!” Weiz exclaimed. “We’re coming up on the Phase Zone!”
“Check. Maybe that’s where these smugglers are based.”
“But there’s nothing out there.”
“Not that we can see,” Jul responded, “or that the sensors can pick up now. But you know the stories. Some people say that they’ve seen and scanned whole systems in this area of empty space, but only for a short time, and then it all disappears.”
“I know. I’ve heard of stories where phase worlds appear and disappear, but whole star systems? You must be kidding.”
“Well, that’s what the ones that have seen from afar have said,” Jul said. “Those that have tried to investigate personally haven’t come back. It’s been going on for a while, even before the whole Crisis troubles.”
“Well, to heck with the Phase Zone,” Weiz announced as he changed course to adjust to the smugglers’ new trajectory. “Our job is to bring them in, and that’s what we’re going to do. I don’t care if we have to cross Khund space to do it.”
The two craft continued to hurtle toward the empty area known as the Phase Zone. The smugglers weren’t giving any ground, but they weren’t outdistancing the CosPol cruiser, either.
“Can’t you lock a tractor beam on them?” Weiz asked sharply.
“Not at this range,” Jul responded. “You’ll have to get closer.”
Weiz’s hands moved quickly across the navigational controls. He was making adjustments to the engine controls. Warning lights were beginning to flash, but the craft was beginning to increase its speed.
“What the frak are you doing?” Jul demanded. “The power cells are redlining.”
“They’ll hold.” Weiz was smirking.
“But the chief has strict orders about modifying ship systems!”
“Our esteemed chief isn’t out here in the star fields,” Weiz retorted. “I’m just getting our job done. Now get ready with that tractor beam. We should be in range before the cells degrade.”
Jul worked on his weapons-array controls. He wanted to be ready with the tractor beam the instant they could lock on. Bringing up his overhead tactical view, he studied the smugglers’ ship’s schematics. He had gone over its features earlier in the chase, but he wanted to be sure he did not overlook anything. Suddenly, his tactical screen went blank.
“Grife!” Jul exclaimed. “I’m not scanning them.” He looked over to the astro-nav screen. They were at the edge of the Zone.
“Nothing over here,” Weiz said as he stared at his nav screen. “Where’d they go?”
As they crossed the boundary of the Phase Zone, the CosPol cruiser was buffeted by some tremendous forces. All of the systems went down momentarily. Weiz quickly reset the engine controls back to normal operation. They waited for a few anxious moments until all of the systems commenced re-initialization.
When their respective screens came up, they looked at each other in amazement.
“Are you scanning what I’m scanning?” Weiz asked.
“I’m reading a few star systems that the computer says weren’t here a few seconds ago.”
“No,” Jul said, shrugging. “Sensors would have picked that up.” A light flashed on his tactical display. “Tactical’s online. And the smuggler ship is dead ahead. Plus, there’s something else.”
“What is it?”
“Hold on,” Jul replied. “It’s small, and it’s moving sub-light, but just barely under. Frak, the smugglers are powering up weapons.”
“Blast them before they can,” Weiz ordered.
“Can’t. Weapons systems haven’t finished re-initialization.” He paused. “Frak. They fired.” He looked at the readout. The small object had not been destroyed. Now he was getting some data on the object. “Grife, it’s organic.”
“Dominator tech, maybe?” The technology of the science-ruled Dominion was known for its primary organic content.
“Don’t think so, it’s a humanoid entity.” The weapons array was ready once again. He prepared to fire at the smugglers, but then stood down the plasma blasters. “No need to fire. The humanoid has disabled them… with his bare hands.”
“Bloody grife!” Weiz cursed.
Jul turned toward his comrade with a worried look on his face. “He’s heading for us now.”
“Hail him. Broadcast in Interlac and get the translator running,” Weiz commanded. Anything that could disable a starship warranted being treated very carefully.
The humanoid flew from the disabled smugglers’ ship toward the CosPol cruiser. Jul sent the message and waited anxiously, but there was no response. As the humanoid came closer, the scanners provided more data. The humanoid was not employing any kind of tech, whether to survive in the vacuum of space or to provide propulsion. When the humanoid was in visual range, Jul and Weiz could see that it appeared to be a blond-haired male wearing a lavender cape, tights, and wristbands over a golden outfit emblazoned with a red-and-black V-like shape. The humanoid stopped alongside the cruiser and knocked on the airlock hatch.
“Should we let him in?” Jul asked.
“Well, he’s knocking, and not disabling our ship like he did the smugglers.” Weiz chuckled nervously. “It’s my call. Open the airlock.”
Jul punched in the code, and the airlock opened. Once the airlock had re-pressurized, the interior hatch opened, and the humanoid entered the ship.
“Well, hello there,” the humanoid announced in perfect Interlac. “I take it you were after those drug smugglers out there.”
“Why, er, yes?” Weiz responded. “And you know they’re smugglers how, mister…?”
“My hyper-vision showed me their cargo. That’s some nasty material that they’re carrying.” He extended his hand. “I’m Mighty Man, by the way, from the planet Zumoor.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: Mighty Man is the grown-up version of Mighty Boy, as seen in “The Mystery of Mighty Boy,” Superboy #85 (December, 1960).]
Weiz and Jul looked at each other. Neither of them had ever heard of that planet.
Weiz extended his hand cautiously and then shook Mighty Man’s. He could feel the power within Mighty Man’s hand. “I’m Officer Weiz Inger, and this is Officer Jul Iushwartz.”
“Please to meet you,” Mighty Man said. “I don’t recognize the style of this ship, but the markings are Cosmic Police. Are you new to the force?”
“Er, yes. Just out of the academy,” Jul answered.
“Ah, rookies.” Mighty Man shook his head. “Well, we’re not too far away; I can just push them to Kronis for you.”
“Kronis?” Jul asked.
“Only the most secure prison planet in the known universe,” Mighty Man replied. “Didn’t they tell you about Kronis at the academy?” Mighty Man noticed their heads shaking. “Well, if you’ll open the airlock, I’ll take the smugglers there. You can follow if you want.”
Weiz looked over to Jul. “I guess we’re going to Kronis.”
With his hyper-speed, Mighty Man had towed the damaged smuggler ship across a few light-years of space. The CosPol cruiser was hard-pressed to keep up with the superhuman’s speed.
As they entered this new star-system, Mighty Man began to slow down with his cargo. The CosPol officers were obliged to do the same, since they did not have any coordinates for this prison planet of Kronis. Mighty Man took them to the fourth planet of the system. Jul and Weiz assumed that this must be Kronis.
There were a large number of artificial satellites orbiting the planet. Even without resorting to their sensors, the CosPol officers could see that they were armed spy satellites. Some of them were directed toward the planet’s surface, while others pointed out into space. Mighty Man motioned for them to wait while he approached one of the spy satellites. He submitted to identification verification. While he was undergoing the process, he motioned toward the CosPol craft. The spy satellites that had trained their weapon systems upon the cruiser now rotated around and took off their weapons lock.
Mighty Man motioned toward the CosPol cruiser to tell them to accompany him to the surface. Pushing the smuggler ship, Mighty Man descended into the atmosphere while the CosPol cruiser followed closely.
Landing at a very spartan spaceport, Mighty Man tore off the doors to the smuggler ship and called out for them to exit. The frightened smugglers did as they were told. A contingent of guards sporting blue uniforms, blue caps, and dangerous-looking blasters marched out to the ship to take the smugglers captive. The guards wore the star-planet-moon badge of the Cosmic Police.
“What’s the charge, Mighty Man?” the captain of the guards asked Mighty Man.
“Transporting dangerous substances across space,” the hero of Zumoor answered.
“World of origin for the prisoners?” the captain inquired.
“You’ll have to ask them,” Mighty Man replied. “I only ran across them while they were being pursued by these fellows.” He pointed toward Jul and Weiz, who were now deboarding.
The captain looked over at the CosPol officers. “Your outfits aren’t standard, but those badges say that you’re CosPol. We haven’t heard from Command in a long while, since before the Crisis. I guess some things got updated.”
“So this is a CosPol installation? They didn’t tell us about it at the academy,” Weiz noted.
“Never heard of Kronis?” said the captain, shrugging. “Grife, what’s the force coming to? You’ll have to take it up with the warden if they want to take these prisoners. Until then, we’ll keep them locked up here. I’m not putting anybody in the custody of CosPols who don’t know about Kronis.”
Jul and Weiz joined Mighty Man as the guards led the smugglers away.
“Are you certain this is a prison planet?” Jul asked. “I don’t see any facilities. In fact, I didn’t see anything on the way down except for this spaceport.”
“The actual prison is underground. It’s shielded from sensor beams by a planet-wide array of cloaking generators. If somebody managed to get past the spy satellite network, they really wouldn’t know where to begin to look for the prison. It was all designed by the greatest hero in the known universe to keep the most dangerous intergalactic villains.”
Jul and Weiz looked at each other. They had never heard of this planet, and they figured that they probably had not heard of this greatest hero in the universe. However, they knew that they had to ask.
“Who would this hero be?” Weiz finally asked.
“Are you telling me you’ve never heard of Superman?”