by Brian K. Asbury
“So… are we all met?” Vril Dox said with a smile.
“No thanks to you,” grumbled Garryn Bek. “You set us up as a decoy. Why didn’t you tell us that you and Zen were going to sneak in under cover of a personal cloaking device? Come to think of it, why didn’t you equip all of us with those things? You nearly got us killed!”
“Firstly,” replied Dox, who seemed to have one eye on the mysterious woman in black and white, who was enthusiastically tucking into some of the food they had found, “you’re not a terribly good actor, Bek. You were much more convincing not knowing there was a second front to our attack. And secondly, I only have one personal cloaking field generator, and it’s of limited use, as it consumes a frightful amount of energy. It was lucky I had a spare power pack for it, or it would have faded out long before I had a chance to waylay Garguax.”
“That doesn’t excuse it,” growled Boodikka. “A good leader shouldn’t deceive his troops.”
“I apologize,” said Dox in a slightly distracted tone that seemed also to say, I don’t want to hear any more of this argument. He stared at the young woman. “Who is she and where did she come from, I wonder.”
“She doesn’t speak any language any of us understand,” said the robed Durlan called Zen. “But she did rescue Stealth, and she possesses remarkable abilities.”
Dox looked at Stealth with a quizzical expression. The golden-skinned beauty, slumped on Garguax’s couch, stirred weakly. She had been administered with a counteragent against the drugs used to keep her docile, but she was still far below her normal vitality and strength. “Don’t ask me,” she said, sensing Dox’s next question. “I’ve never seen her before, either. I tried to get her to tell me her name, but I didn’t even manage to get that out of her.”
“Well, we’ve got to call her something,” Bek said, looking her over. “How about ‘Phase’? That at least describes her abilities.”
“Oh?” Boodikka said sarcastically. “You believe in naming people after what they can do, do you? Then should we call you ‘Weakling with stupid haircut’?”
“Enough, children,” said Dox, stepping between them. “Don’t bicker in front of the prisoners. Phase will do for now. We can find out who she really is when Amon Hakk gets back from the ship with the universal translator, and we’ve programmed it to decipher her speech.” He looked across to the other side of the room, where Garv’s bulk hovered over a disconsolate-looking Garguax and a glowering Lex Luthor. “But enough of our mystery-woman for now. Time to get back to business.”
Stealth had followed his eye. “I’ll ‘get to business’ on them when I’m feeling stronger,” she said. “I’ll make them regret the day they–”
“Hush,” Dox said. “Conserve your strength, Stealth. Leave this to me.”
“You aren’t the one who’s been poked at, tortured, and half-eaten by those sons of Denebian Slime Devils,” she hissed.
Dox, however, was already on his way toward the prisoners. “Hello again, gentlemen,” he said. Neither offered a reply.
“How rude,” he said. “Oh, well… I’ll deal with you shortly,” he said in a dismissive way to Garguax. Turning to Lex Luthor, he said, “I’ve been wanting to meet up with you for some time, Mr. Luthor.”
Luthor’s eyes narrowed. “Why? What am I to you?”
“You don’t recognize me, Mr. Luthor?”
“Look carefully. Do you know who I am?”
Luthor glared into his eyes. “No. I’ve only ever met three green kids in my life. One of them is from the future, and although you’re running around with a Durlan and a Phantom Girl lookalike, you sure as hell aren’t him. Neither are you the Changeling or the Kryptonite Kid.”
Dox cocked his head on one side. “I’m afraid I don’t know any of those names. Someone from the future? Who might that be?”
“Stop playing games, kid. No way are you Brainiac…” His eyes widened. “… 5…”
“Brainiac 5? Intriguing,” said Dox. “But I see enlightenment dawning, I think.”
Luthor’s face was white with shock. “You’re… him… aren’t you? That was why Stealth mentioned Brainiac. You’re the boy. You’re Brainiac’s kid!”
Dox smiled. “Brainiac is a machine, Luthor. He’s capable of much, but fathering a flesh-and-blood son is definitely not within his capabilities.”
“Damn it, don’t patronize me. I know the story!” snapped Luthor. “I know those megalomaniac computers that created Brainiac gave him a living boy to pose as his son and make his humanoid disguise more believable.”
“That’s right. And that boy ran away, returned to Colu, and led the Great Revolution which overturned the rule of the Computer Tyrants,” said Dox. He straightened. “I am, indeed, that boy, Mr. Luthor. And now that we have established that you do recognize me, I have a proposal for you.”
“What makes you think I’d be interested in any proposal you have to make?”
Dox leaned closer. “Because, Mr. Luthor, if you agree to what I’m about to say, I’ll let you go free. If you don’t, I’ll turn you over to Stealth. And believe me, the results of that would not likely be pretty!”
Luthor visibly paled. Dox continued. “Let me take you back eleven years, by the way you humans calculate time — July, 1976, by your reckoning, I believe. You used a modified form of a machine you found on the planet Lexor to investigate Brainiac’s origins, as a prelude to rescuing him from the planet where Superman had imprisoned him and offering an alliance against the Man of Steel.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Team of Luthor and Brainiac,” Superman #167 (February, 1964).]
“You seem to know a lot about it,” observed Luthor flatly.
“I have my sources,” Dox said. “What I don’t have is the device you used — nor can I ever acquire it, since the planet Lexor was destroyed three years ago.”
Luthor’s face reddened in anger, but he made no reply. Dox went on. “The machine revealed to you that Brainiac was not a living humanoid, as everyone had believed up to that point, but an android computer, sent out into the universe by the Computer Tyrants who once ruled my world to gather samples of sentient life, prior to a campaign of conquest that was never actually undertaken.”
“Thanks to you, apparently,” said Luthor. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Dox. “Do you concur so far?”
“Whatever,” Luthor said. “If you say so.”
Dox’s eyes narrowed slightly. “Mr. Luthor, I am aware that Brainiac hypnotized you after the failure of your alliance into forgetting his computerized nature, but I am also aware that said nature became public knowledge a little over a year later, and that your subsequent actions suggest that this had caused the effect of Brainiac’s hypnotism to wear off. So you do remember all of this, don’t you?”
“Apparently. So what?”
At this juncture, the Khund warrior Amon Hakk reentered the room. “I’ve got the universal translator, Mr. President. What do you want me to do?”
Dox, slightly annoyed at the interruption, waved vaguely toward Phase. “You and Bek take her into another room. Talk to her and get her to talk. The U.T. should be able to pick up the sense of what she’s saying and build a language database. See if you can find out who she is and how she got here.”
“Yes, sir,” said Hakk. He and Bek approached Phase and indicated that they wanted her to follow them. She seemed uncertain at first, but picked up a handful of fruit and, still chewing, went along with them.
Dox turned back to Luthor. “Now, where were we? Oh, yes. The time-viewer you used enabled you to actually see Brainiac being constructed, did it not?”
“Just what are you getting at?” sighed Luthor.
“Mr. Luthor, I’d advise you to cooperate. Stealth isn’t the only dangerous lady in my little group, and Boodikka is feeling a little itchy because she hasn’t had a chance to kill anyone. I’m sure she could persuade you if you won’t talk to me, but I’d not recommend her methods. Not unless you want to go through the rest of your life without any arms, anyway.”
“All right, all right,” said Luthor. “So I saw Brainiac being built. So what?”
“You also saw one of the Computer Tyrants suggest a technique which could have advanced Brainiac from being a tenth-level effector intelligence to a twelfth-level one. The technique was rejected by the other Tyrants, as it would have made Brainiac more intelligent than themselves, which would have constituted a threat. You, however, were later able to use that technique on Brainiac during the period of your alliance, boosting his intelligence by two levels.”
“For the seventh time, so what? When are you going to get to the point of this?”
“Do you think you could carry out the procedure a second time?”
“Yes — but on what? Brainiac, wherever and whatever he is these days, is already twelfth level, and I don’t see another like him.” Something suddenly occurred to Luthor. “Unless you…” He stared at Dox as if trying to see behind the young Coluan’s eyes. “Unless you’re not what you seem. I thought you were humanoid, but come to think of it, if you were Brainiac’s kid, you’d be older than me — considerably older! Jesus, you’re not alive at all, are you? You’re an android, just like your ersatz ‘old man’!”
Dox threw back his head and laughed. “Luthor, Luthor, Luthor! How wrong you are! I am as much flesh and blood as you are! I am, I admit, over fifty of your years old, but we of Colu are a very long-lived race. Our lifespan can be as much as five hundred of your Earth years, which makes me a mere boy by the standards of our species. However, while you have the details wrong, you are roughly on the right track about what I want from you.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I want you to use the techniques you used on Brainiac on me. I want you to modify my brain, Mr. Luthor, to give me twelfth-level effector intelligence, just like my robot ‘father’!”
“Are you out of your mind?” spluttered Luthor. “In case you’ve forgotten, pal, the procedure you want me to carry out on you was devised for a computer brain, not a living one! Unless you’ve just been lying to me, and you are a walking computer like ‘daddy’?”
A condescending smile flickered on Dox’s lips. “Oh, dear,” he said. “Either you weren’t watching closely enough when you peeked at Brainiac’s origins, or you missed an important scene.” He rolled his eyes upward. “The Computer Tyrants didn’t want Brainiac to be just a mobile version of themselves — they wanted something that could pass for a real, living, breathing humanoid, something that could understand other humanoids and relate to them, something that understood emotions well enough to mimic them perfectly.
“For that, they needed something based on a living brain, and that’s what they manufactured. Brainiac was given a central processing unit which was modeled very closely on the actual structure of the Coluan brain — which, I have to say, is quite different from your Earthling brain. That way they could implant into it an almost-exact copy of the personality of a living Coluan, and it could therefore pass among living beings without anyone ever suspecting it was a machine. Even your enemy Superman, with his enhanced Kryptonian senses, had numerous encounters with Brainiac for years before he discovered the truth.”
He paused, as if gathering his memories. “They tried several subjects before they found a real Coluan with the intellect and cerebral fortitude to survive being transplanted into Brainiac without developing severe mental disorders. One such subject even ran away with one of the prototype Brainiac bodies. But I digress. They eventually chose my father as the ideal subject. He was dying, but he was the genius who helped them design the Brainiac android in the first place, and he willingly volunteered, knowing that it would achieve a kind of immortality for him. They wiped his memories, so that even Brainiac never knew that he had once ‘been’ a real flesh and blood person, but his personality remained basically my father’s.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Superman: Rokyn Attacked, Chapter 2: Successor,]
Dox looked in Luthor’s eyes once more. “The technique to give Brainiac twelfth-level intelligence was designed for a machine, yes, but a machine which was only an electronic copy of my father’s brain. And my brain is close enough in structure to his that it would work on me. Of this I am certain.”
Luthor considered this. “You’d better be,” he said. “If I agree to this — if, mind you — then you could end up a vegetable if you’re wrong.”
“I’m willing to take the risk. There’s a lot at stake here.”
Dox waved his hand in a dismissive way. “My motives need not concern you. Well, Mr. Luthor? You’ve heard what I want. Will you agree to do it?”
“I’m not a brain surgeon, kid,” said Luthor, forgetting in the heat of the moment that the ‘kid’ was maybe two decades older than he was. “Modifying a piece of electronic equipment is one thing — modifying a living brain is another thing entirely. Do you really want to be operated on by someone who doesn’t even know if his hands are steady enough to do that kind of surgery?”
Dox nodded in the direction of the Durlan, Zen. “My Durlan colleague is a qualified surgeon. He doesn’t even use instruments — he can create whatever he needs by molding his own fingers. Zen will carry out the surgery — all you have to do is guide him.”
“And if I screw up, or it doesn’t work?”
Dox’s reply consisted of one word: “Don’t.” His eyes, moving in the direction of Stealth, who was visibly seething at all this, said the rest.
“I really don’t have much choice, do I?” sighed Luthor.