Super-Stars of Space: The Universe and Mr. Leiber, Chapter 10: Prison Planet

by Libbylawrence

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Kronis, the prison planet:

A handsome man with brown hair, intelligent dark eyes, and a muscular build stood alone on the observation platform that extended beyond the high walls of the compound that housed some of the galaxy’s strangest prisoners. He wore a blue and white uniform with a golden star emblazoned on the shirt. He looked upward through the sheerite dome and studied the stars above with a sad expression on his face.

A deep, guttural voice interrupted his meditations as an odd figure made his way toward him. “And what omens do you find in the heavens this night, my friend?” he grunted.

Commander Praydar turned to face the gorilla who approached him, and smiled slightly as he recognized his closest friend. “Garrock, you know what the stars mean to my people,” he replied. “You know that from our births to our deaths, the Hakawee are governed by their celestial patterns.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Bride of the Stars,” Superman Family #177 (July, 1976).]

Garrock, the gorilla from the planet Calor, shook his head and said, “And yet you have successfully shaped your own destiny. You are a hero! Everyone here looks up to you. Even the harshest of our inmates respects your courage and integrity. You earned such admiration. It was not a stellar birthright!”

“You know that I am the only one of my people who would not brand your words as heresy,” said Praydar, “but then again, that isn’t the only thing that has made me the exile from Hakawee that I am!”

Garrock knew that while his heroic leader dismissed the details of his troubled past with his characteristic good humor, he truly carried a great deal of emotional pain regarding his exile from the barbaric world of the Hakawees. “Praydar, you know that you rejected your people merely by choosing a path of mercy, scholarship, and service to others long before they branded you as an outcast,” he said. “You simply rose above the savage society in which you were born.”

Praydar nodded and said, “You are a good friend. Every one of our security team has been welcoming to me since I first became commander years ago. I’m a lucky man. I suppose, had I not rejected the warlike ways of my planet, I might have ended up here as inmate and not as officer!”

A beautiful young woman with long, white-blonde hair and a tunic of blue and gold that matched Praydar’s uniform approached hesitantly, then said, “Commander, I’m sorry to intrude, but Psyche is very upset. She says she needs to see you immediately!”

Praydar nodded and said, “Thank you, Astra. I’ll come now. We can’t ignore the warnings of our resident empath. She has been our living early warning system for a while now, and I’ve learned to trust her judgment.”

The odd trio rushed down from the observation platform and made their way through the hallways of the maximum security prison.

Praydar glanced left and right as he proceeded deeper into the holding cells, routinely checking the bio-status readings that were displayed for each inmate whose cell they passed.

He noticed one cell in particular. Within the pulsing white energy-field that contained the inmate, he could see a tall man with long, shaggy red hair, a bristling red beard, and eyes that were deathly opaque. The inmate wore a purple and green costume and sat motionless except for an occasional involuntary twitch. Allowing the inmates to keep their clothing of choice had been the warden’s decision, and Astra knew Praydar had not agreed with it.

Amalak gives me the chills! thought Astra as she looked at the feared space-pirate known as the Kryptonian-Killer. (*) She knew he had killed many times in his infamous career, and his nom du crime was merely the most obvious sign of his madness.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Four Element Enemies,” Superman #190 (October, 1966) and “The Fury of the Kryptonian-Killer,” Superman #195 (April, 1967).]

How could any sane person hate Superman? Astra wondered. He has saved the whole universe again and again! Still, this space-pirate proudly calls himself the Kryptonian-Killer simply because he has devoted his bloody career to trying to murder the Man of Steel and everything and everyone associated with Krypton!

Next to the silent Amalak’s cell, they saw an inhumanly gaunt being with a narrow ridge of raised skin running along the top of his skull. His large luminous eyes were set deeply within his odd face. Elastic Crook is registering normally, too, thought Praydar. His powers of elongation have been suppressed by the null-field, as is proper.

Noticing a dwarf with a huge head and waving antennae in the adjoining cell, Praydar thought, Well, we can see the Invisible Rogue, so clearly he’s under control as well. Perhaps Psyche is merely overly nervous today. Considering what she’s told me of her past, she is entitled to have an off-day now and then.

“Garrock, will you check the other levels and summon the warden?” Praydar said. The gorilla nodded and bounded off down the hallway.

“What should I do?” inquired Astra.

“Stay here near Psyche’s door,” said Praydar. “She may need you if there is trouble. She is not a warrior and can’t be expected to deal with anything physical.” Astra nodded and positioned herself near the access to the next passageway.

Commander Praydar hurried down the aisle until he reached a small room at the end of the long hallway. He had just started to knock when the door swung open to reveal a lovely young woman with white-blonde hair and a pale pink minidress with matching high-heeled boots. She was the most mysterious woman he’d ever met, but she’d also become invaluable to him since she suddenly appeared on Kronis months ago.

“Praydar, I am glad you came so swiftly,” said the empathic girl. “I think we are in jeopardy. I feel something that causes me to fear for the worst!”

Entering the room as she stepped aside, Praydar listened intently before he said, “Psyche, you never have to justify yourself to me. I trust your abilities. If you feel something is wrong, I want to know about it!”

Smiling briefly, she said, “There is what I’d call a sense of anticipation resonating among the inmates. They are aware of an impending event. They all sense or know that something is about to happen, but I can’t tell what it is. I feel so useless, so helpless!”

“All of my people believe that the stars determine our destinies,” said Praydar. “When I was born on Hakawee, the Star Seer read the heavens and then gave my parents a cryptic message. I would become a great man… and I would be greatly hated by my own people. My parents felt helpless, too. How could they raise a child with such a singularly strange destiny? They decided to just do the best they could under the circumstances. They loved me, they taught me, and they accepted my choice to reject the aggressive ways of our world. I have not become a great man, but I have become an outcast from my homeworld. The process has taught me that we can’t always choose our circumstances, but we can always choose how we react to them. In your case, I’d say don’t be so hard on yourself. You’ve alerted us to the possibility of peril, and that is more than enough!”

Psyche smiled warmly and took his hand in her own. “Thank you!” she said. “If I detect something more certain, I will tell you at once!”

Praydar thanked her, then hurried back to the central passageway where he was met by an odd figure. Warden Sargoes was an elderly alien with large, bulbous eyes and a very long, shaggy mane of hair that extended around to his lower face. Once, when Superman had visited Kronis, he had thought the warden resembled a mutated Mark Twain. The allusion was lost on most of the alien staffers of the prison, who merely thought of their employer as a good man with a slightly distracted manner.

The warden looked expectantly at Praydar and said, “Commander, you wanted to see me. Is something wrong? Has there been an incident? Has a prisoner escaped?”

At that moment, every light blinked into momentary darkness before flashing back on, and a siren screamed warnings across the compound.

A balding guardsman rushed into view and shouted, “It’s not one escapee — they’re all loose!”

Commander Praydar leaped into action immediately, giving an order to the approaching guard. “Officer Yan, take Warden Sargoes to safety down the hallway behind me,” he commanded. “Join up with Astra and Psyche, and stand by for additional orders!”

Hurrying down the passage, he began directing other guards into action. “Secure the facility. Fire to stun. Sedate as many prisoners as possible. We can’t rely on the holding cells until we find out what cut off the power to their doors!”

Even as he took command of the chaos, Praydar’s keen mind was racing. What could have damaged the central power core enough to create that brief loss of power to the facility? We have multiple levels of generators to deal with exactly that kind of glitch. I know there have been no security breaches from deep space!

As he passed, the commander saw a guard grappling with a massive alien powerhouse from the heavy-gravity world of Xenon. The Xenonian was an ursine type with powerful teeth and claws, and a thick coat of fur.

Diving forward to assist the guard, Praydar ducked under the brute’s swinging arms and connected with three swift punches of his own. He nodded with approval as the convict collapsed at his feet. “Sedate him. Use a strong dosage. He recovers all too quickly.”

The commander managed to subdue several other escapees before reaching the shaft that led down to the central power core. Everything is working again, and that’s largely due to the fail-safes built in to the system, but what could have caused even a momentary breach? he thought, then frowned as he spotted the surprising answer. Seven small charred metal objects were against the power core’s severed cables.

Robotic bugs? Broken and fried by the surge of returning power, but capable of severing the main power cables! This has to be the work of the Insect Master! He used such metallic insects to rob more than one spacecraft before he was caught, thought Praydar as he handled one of the broken robotic bugs. But how could a small-time mad scientist type like him create something that could shut down our prison, even for moments? I know he hasn’t been given any access to the raw materials required to make even one of those bugs!

Checking the power core one final time, he spotted the small opening through which the robotic bugs had entered the chamber. Anything larger than a bug would have triggered alarms or motion detectors upon entrance, he realized. Someone clever came up with exactly what would get around our security system. It almost makes me think it was an inside job, but I trust all the staff completely!

After sealing the opening, he emerged from the lower chamber to see that his staffers had made impressive progress at subduing the escapees.

“The training you’ve provided us with really paid off,” said Garrock as he met his commander. “Almost all of the inmates are accounted for, except for around a dozen or so. Staffers have sustained several injuries, but nothing critical.”

Praydar nodded and said, “Thank the stars! Let’s round them up. They certainly aren’t going anywhere. There are no ships docked here, since we’re between transfers.”

Garrock nodded and said, “We’ve located them. They are at the sub-basement!”

Praydar and Garrock descended to the lowest level of the prison, where the staff had traced the remaining escapees. They knew that other guards had already reached the lower level.

“This level extends the whole length of the compound,” explained Garrock. “The other guards have taken the left side. We better head right. The monitors indicated that our remaining free prisoners headed down to this level. That’s when we lost sight of them. They shattered the cameras!”

“Any superhumans among them?” asked Praydar.

“Amalak led them down here!” said Garrock. “Though I don’t know what that maniac hoped to gain by moving deeper inside the compound!”

Praydar frowned as he thought about the possibilities. “This level only holds the most dangerous inmate: Prisoner Z!”

“Galaxies!” cried Garrock. “If they should free it–!”

Praydar interrupted, “We can’t let that happen!”

As the duo reached a wide room lined with heavy doors leading to various side passages, they were attacked by several inmates.

A blazing bolt of electrical energy illuminated the room with a sickly green glow as the blue-skinned alien called Electric Man generated his deadly power bolts. “Fry!” he screamed in his weirdly high-pitched voice.

Praydar shoved Garrock aside and took the brunt of the bolt, knowing that, in addition to his insulated uniform, his superhuman Hakawee metabolism could withstand that energy bolt — for a time.

“Stand down! You can’t escape!” he said as he fired his blaster at the roof above the glowing criminal, and watched as rubble rained down on him, cutting off his lethal energy bolts. Praydar leaped forward and took advantage of the distraction to flatten the alien dynamo with one punch.

Garrock growled as an unseen assassin began to choke him. “I can smell you, Invisible Rogue! That means I don’t need to see you!” he said as his powerful hands closed around the invisible killer.

The Invisible Rogue screamed as the much stronger Calorian brought his might against him, and as the Rogue passed out, he became visible once more.

Laughter rang out as Amalak himself stepped forward in front of several other colorful criminals. The Kryptonian-Killer, as mad as ever, greeted the guards by saying, “Welcome to your deaths! May they be truly painful!”

The red-haired murderer stood before the gaunt Elastic Crook, the scaled Serpent Man Beriak, a Quazar space Amazon named Margaxe, the purple-cloaked Insect Master, Kralik the Conqueror, and two other sinister figures. The man, who had red hair and wore a flowing yellow cape and a gaudy yellow and green costume emblazoned with an insignia resembling the letter K, stood defiantly to one side and acted as if he had nothing to fear from the guards.

“Odd to see a Kryptonian with Amalak, but that’s Klax-Ar!” said Praydar. “I recognize him from his file!”

“If you think Klax-Ar and Amalak are an odd team, just look at the woman to the right!” said Garrock.

She was a beautiful woman in a purple jumpsuit with thigh-high black boots. She had long blonde hair, a lovely face, and green skin.

Genia of Colu! thought Praydar. (*) Just great! A madman and a team of thugs combined with a super-genius! Could this get any worse?

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Brainiac’s Super Brain-Child,” World’s Finest Comics #164 (February, 1967).]

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