by Brian K. Asbury
Grand Warlord Wharyak stood before the viewport, bristling with pride. “Well done, Admiral,” he said to the grizzled old Khund warrior behind him. “The fleet of Colu and its allies is on the run before us.”
“Yes, Grand Warlord,” said the admiral. “But I am suspicious. Instead of standing to fight, they made a break and are now heading directly for Colu itself.”
“Do you counsel caution?” Wharyak said, his one natural eye narrowing. Such an attitude was suspicious in a Khund.
“I suspect a trap,” the admiral replied. “We know that Vril Dox has strengthened the planetary defenses. If the enemy makes a stand at Colu, it will be a more formidable opponent.”
Wharyak beat his breast. “We are Khunds!” he growled. “We have no fear of battle, and we are still stronger than they, even augmented by Dox’s planetary defense grid. Also, this gives our own allies a chance to catch up with us and make us stronger still. We will prevail. We will crush the enemy!”
It was almost a litany. The admiral repeated it. “We will crush the enemy!”
“Good,” said Wharyak. “Now we will…” An alarm sounded. “What is it?” he asked the lookout.
“The enemy is turning about, Grand Warlord,” was the reply. “They appear to have been joined by a few additional vessels out of Colu itself.”
“No, Grand Warlord, troop ships by their configuration. Not even heavily armed.”
“Curious,” said the admiral, who had not survived to become an admiral by being stupid. “Perhaps we should…”
“Sound the attack. Now!” barked Wharyak. “Whatever they are up to, we can put an end to it in one decisive blow.”
“But, Grand Warlord…”
The admiral moved to obey. Then the lookout officer spoke again. “Sirs, something is happening. The troop ships are opening their bay doors. They seem to be disgorging their personnel into space.”
“In powered battle-suits?” asked the admiral.
“No, sir. I’m detecting no power sources from them at all. They’re effectively naked to space.”
The ship suddenly shuddered violently. Wharyak turned to the viewport to see a nearby vessel explode into a crimson flower of flame and debris. “What? What is happening?”
As he watched, several more of the fleet erupted. “Great Warlord,” the lookout said. “It’s the troops from those new ships. Somehow they closed the distance between us, and they’re… they’re ramming us, sir!”
“With their bare hands? Are you mad?”
“N-no, Grand Warlord. They’re flying straight at our ships at incredible speed and just… well, just going straight through them!”
The admiral was by now at a scanning console. “Grand Warlord, they’re creating havoc among us. We’ve already lost nearly ten percent of the fleet!”
“Well, don’t just stand there talking about it! We have weapons — use them! Fire at them!”
“We are firing at them, Grand Warlord. They seem to be invulnerable. Even our most formidable weapons slow them up only momentarily.”
The admiral strode up to his leader. “Grand Warlord, we lost another five ships while we just had that exchange. Whatever these creatures are, we have no answer to them. If we don’t retreat immediately, we’ll lose the entire fleet!”
“Retreat?” screamed Wharyak. “Retreat? What kind of Khund are you?”
“One who knows when it is impossible to win, Grand Warlord. It is not dishonorable to run in circumstances such as these. Retreat now, and we can regroup, study what our scanners are telling us about these creatures, and perhaps devise weapons that will be effective against them. Stay here, and we lose everything — and what honor can we bring to Khundia by that?”
Wharyak struck him across the face. “How dare you speak to me of duty and honor, you sniveling coward? We are Khunds. We fight to the death!”
There was a sudden shrill whistling. Wharyak felt himself being sucked away from his subordinate. “Hull breach!” someone screamed.
“Seal it!” shouted the admiral. “Seal it with a force-field, or…”
The ceiling of the control room caved in, and someone came crashing through to land on the deck. Khund warriors rushed to engage the newcomer, a handsome dark-haired man wearing a black uniform with gold trim. He shrugged them off effortlessly and stared upward. The rushing of air suddenly stopped.
“That’s better,” said the invader. “Now — which of you is Warlord Wharyak?”
“I am Wharyak! Die, dog!” Wharyak whipped out his blaster and fired at the stranger pointblank. It had no effect. The stranger grinned and stared at the blaster, which melted into slag. Wharyak dropped it and staggered back.
The stranger strode forward and grabbed Wharyak by the breastplate of his armor, his fingers digging into it as though it were thin cloth. “I am Ral Savond of Daxam,” he said. “And I am here in the name of the alliance between my world and the planet Colu to demand the immediate surrender of you and your fleet.”
He pulled the hapless Wharyak closer, so that they were almost nose to nose. “I strongly recommend that you comply,” he said. “You really wouldn’t like to see what my people could do to you if you don’t!”
The handsome face of Ral Savond stared out of the view-screen. “…and so it’s over, Mr. President. Some of the Khund ships refused to surrender, but my men easily dealt with them. We’re now conveying them back to Colu.”
“Thank you, Commander Savond,” said Vril Dox. “How do you feel now?”
“Wonderful,” replied Savond. “It’s amazing, Mr. President. Just a few hours ago I felt like I was dying. Now I feel like I’m the strongest man in the universe. I could achieve anything!”
Dox smiled. “Well, don’t get too carried away, Commander. As I told you, the serum isn’t a permanent cure for your sensitivity to lead. It’s purged what was in your system, but it will wear off in a few hours, so further exposure to lead could make you ill once again.”
“But the serum will work again, won’t it?”
“Yes, but it will be less effective with each use. I recommend that you use it sparingly.”
“I understand, Mr. President,” said Savond with a grin. “We’re heading back to Daxam after we’ve delivered our captors to Colu, anyway. These powers were a wonderful way of dealing with the threat of invasion, but to be honest, many of my men are uncomfortable with having them. It’s not really the Daxamite way to be heroes. We’d rather live quiet lives as farmers or scholars on our own world.”
“A worthy ambition, Commander,” said Dox. “I thank you again.”
“Thank you, Mr. President,” said Savond with a salute. The screen went blank.
“So-o-o-o…” said Stealth. “That was what this was all about. You weren’t really interested in rescuing me — you only cared about saving your damn planet.”
Dox turned to face her. “You have a problem with that?”
Stealth sighed. “No, I guess not. It would have been nice to think you’d come all this way for me, but I suppose it would have been out of character.”
Dox smiled. “I would have come to rescue you, anyway, Stealth. But I do admit that the threat of invasion from the Alien Alliance moved up my schedule somewhat. I rather annoyed the Dominion not long ago, so it was only natural that they and their allies should see Colu as a target. (*) I thought I had the ideal solution to that problem in forging an alliance of my own with Daxam. Unfortunately, however, the Daxamite troops which I expected to become supermen under Colu’s yellow sun instead sickened as soon as they were exposed to our atmosphere. The Computer Tyrants which used to rule Colu were not kind to the environment, and there is a great deal of lead pollution in the air. Its effect on the Daxamites was to make them weak, powerless, and severely ill.
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Paladins: Albion’s Call, Book 1, Chapter 4: Strange Days.]
“I tried, of course, to find an antidote, but all I could manage to do was slow the symptoms so that the Daxamites didn’t actually die. I knew I could work out where I was going wrong with the formula, but for that I needed to be more intelligent.”
“And so that’s when you remembered me and my mission to find Luthor for you,” said Stealth.
Dox shrugged. “Let’s just say it assumed a new urgency. Now, shall we join the others on board the ship? I’m anxious to get back to Colu.”
“Not so fast, green boy,” said Stealth. “I still have a couple bones to pick over with you.”
“I had an agreement with Luthor,” said Dox. “I could hardly renege on it. Of course, if you want to go after him, I won’t stop you.”
“Maybe later,” said Stealth. “But there’s also the matter of Garguax. He’s mine, Dox. Why have you locked him up in the hold with Garv on guard?”
“What would you do to him if I let you have him?”
“You don’t want to know. You really don’t.”
Dox sighed. “Unfortunately, I can’t let you do that. Garguax is wanted for crimes on a number of different planets, some of whom are potential allies of Colu. He’d be a useful bargaining chip to get them on board, but only if he’s in one piece.”
Stealth’s beautiful face contorted with rage. “So you’re denying me my revenge due to politics?”
“That’s life, unfortunately. If they don’t want him, he’s yours to do whatever you want with him, however brutal.”
“Thanks a whole bunch,” said Stealth, thumping the wall in frustration.
“In the meantime,” said Dox, “your pay for your part in this mission, with a very generous bonus, awaits you back on Colu. And I’d like you to stay on, if you would. I’m thinking of putting together an organization to keep the peace in our quadrant of space. It’s obvious from recent events that the Green Lantern Corps can no longer be relied upon to do the job, so I want to recruit a band of specialists, with support staff and troops, to act as troubleshooters, peace officers, and law enforcers, and I intend to invite worlds to sign on to subscribe to our services.”
“You’ll need a lot of people for that,” said Stealth.
“I’m already working on it,” Dox replied. “I have a number of people in mind as potential recruits, starting with the team I used here. I also intend to offer a place to in the organization to Phase, if she’s interested — and to you.”
Stealth looked pensive. “I’ll think about it. What do you intend to call this organization of yours?”
“It hasn’t got a name yet. Garryn Bek suggested ‘The Legion of Super-Heroes.'”
“That’s a stupid name,” said Stealth.
“I agree,” Dox said. “But I’m sure we can come up with something better. Hmmm… How about Licensed Extra-Governmental Interstellar Operatives Network, or LEGION?”
“That’s even worse,” Stealth replied.
“Touché,” said Dox.