by Brian K. Asbury
His name was Querl Dox, but to the universe at large he was now known as — and would forever be known as — Brainiac 5.
His name was Querl Dox, and less than a year ago he had applied for, and successfully gained, membership of the increasingly celebrated Legion of Super-Heroes.
His name was Querl Dox, and although his super-power of a twelfth-level effector computer mind lacked the spectacular qualities of rival candidates like the flamboyant Dirk Morgna, AKA Sun Boy, the Legion had nevertheless recognized his heroic qualities and the usefulness that his super-genius could offer to the growing team.
His name was Querl Dox, and his joining the Legion had coincided with his meeting the girl of his dreams.
His name was Querl Dox, and he was a liar.
He looked up from his workbench and stared at the photograph of Kara Zor-El and himself accepting the accolades of the assembled crowd at Metro Stadium. (*) The tri-vid media, having gotten wind of the Legion’s invitation for a second time to the great historical heroine Supergirl to join their team, had turned the event into a crowd-pleasing spectacular. To the relatively shy green-skinned youth from Colu, the noise and razzle-dazzle had been his idea of hell, but the closeness of the lovely Kryptonian girl had made it bearable.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Supergirl’s Three Super Girl-Friends,” Action Comics #276 (May, 1961).]
He had completely lost his head afterward, though. He knew it was impossible to change history, but he had to try. He had pleaded with Kara to stay with him in the thirtieth century, although he knew it was impossible. He had given her one of his force-shield belts supposedly to protect her against kryptonite, but he knew that she had never been seen with it in her later career and must therefore have lost it, or it had been damaged soon after her return to her own time. Though the historical records were woefully incomplete, and he did not know exactly how it would happen, he knew she was fated to die young, and there was nothing anyone could do to prevent that.
Worst of all, though, he had lied to her.
He set down the picture again. Well, at least there would be no more media circuses at future Legion induction ceremonies. Their then-leader, Cosmic Boy, had found the whole thing downright embarrassing and had suggested to the membership that future ceremonies should be quiet, dignified affairs conducted at the Legion Clubhouse away from the glare of such overbearing publicity. No one had argued, and thus there had been no media hysteria when, a few days later, they brought Superboy to the thirtieth century to bestow upon him the privileges of honorary membership in the Legion. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Legion of Super-Heroes,” Adventure Comics #247 (April, 1958).]
By the time Superboy joined, the membership of the Legion consisted of Cosmic Boy, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lad, Triplicate Girl, Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Invisible Kid, Colossal Boy, Supergirl (who was rarely able to visit), himself, Brainiac 5, and Shrinking Violet. Superboy was the twelfth member. Shortly after that joined Star Boy (who went on a top-secret mission shortly after), Sun Boy and Bouncing Boy — who had along with Shrinking Violet tried out at the same time as he and Kara — and more recently Ultra Boy, Mon-El (who was still trapped in the Phantom Zone), and Matter-Eater Lad. None of them had to endure the same ordeal.
Nor had any of them had to lie to someone they loved.
Time. Time was the villain of the piece. He knew its dangers, of course — had known them ever since he had joined the Time Institute on Earth and helped them to develop the time bubbles — the devices that had brought the cousins of steel to the thirtieth century. He had suggested to the Legionnaires after their first visit to the institute that they could use a time bubble to travel back and invite Supergirl and even the legendary Superman — as a teenager, naturally, since their newly drafted constitution barred membership to anyone over eighteen — to join. He had not really expected them to take the suggestion seriously, but they had, albeit cautiously.
The Legion decided to recruit Supergirl first, which somehow seemed less daunting, and during that visit they received unwitting confirmation from Supergirl that Superboy was destined to join their ranks. Perhaps that was why Lightning Lad and Saturn Girl had improvised on the spot by claiming that they were the children of the Legion that Superboy had joined — a claim Supergirl later learned was false. And Cosmic Boy asked her to come back to the future with them to join the team. The first time she tried out, however, an accidental exposure to red kryptonite had turned her into an adult, forcing the Legion — or so they said — to reject her. (*) In actual fact, Querl had always suspected that they had merely gotten cold feet.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Three Super-Heroes,” Action Comics #267 (August, 1960).]
Having already had a dry run, of sorts, with Supergirl, the three original Legionnaires soon traveled to an even earlier time to visit Superboy. Now knowing he would become one of their ranks, they offered him membership. But by some quirk of fate, Superboy also failed his initiation test, and Saturn Girl regretfully erased his memory of the incident. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Legionnaire Nobody Remembered,” Superboy #204 (September-October, 1974).]
Having tried to recruit both Supergirl and Superboy once each, it was only natural that the Legion should make a second offer to them both, even though exposing two twentieth-century heroes to that risk seemed almost too much. Nevertheless, the three original Legionnaires went back for Supergirl first, and then — while wearing their original costumes to keep Superboy from remembering their first meeting — went on a second trip to recruit Superboy, which ended with Superboy joining the team. Not wishing to take the risk of either Supergirl or Superboy learning prematurely of events from his future, they made them strictly honorary members at first and mostly visited them in the past rather than bringing them forward.
Later, Saturn Girl would work with Supergirl to devise a hypnotic technique that would cause either of the Kryptonian cousins to forget anything they learned of their own futures on returning to their own time, and this made it safer for both of them to visit this era.
But it was only after both Supergirl and Superboy joined that Saturn Girl had her idea of a posthypnotic block to prevent such contamination. If only that posthypnotic suggestion had been in place during his first meeting with the Girl of Steel. Then he would not have had to lie.
When they invited Supergirl to try again, this time Brainiac 5 was there, too, partially to meet the girl he had fallen for in the time-viewer, and partly to make sure nothing went wrong during this time — the third such attempt to recruit a twentieth-century Kryptonian hero. He had not really expected to be accepted for membership himself.
And what was the first thing he had said to her? The big lie — that he was the great-great-great-great-grandson of the original Brainiac. Ludicrous, of course, especially as he had been so flustered in the heat of the moment that he had added two greats too many. Fortunately, Kara had either been too polite to point out that this would have made him Brainiac Seven, or it had been such a surprise to her that she hadn’t really taken it in.
In fact, he was really only the fourth in the line that had begun with the great Vril Dox of Colu in the twentieth century. The original Brainiac had been a machine — a robotic computer disguised as a living humanoid. But Supergirl, at the time when the Legion recruited her, had not known that — nor would she know it for a few years yet. Had he told her the truth, she would undoubtedly have passed the information on to Superman, and that might have severely damaged history. Both heroes would have several more encounters with Brainiac before they discovered the truth.
He sighed. It was ridiculous, really. Now that the hypnotic block was in place, there was nothing to stop him telling Kara the truth. He desperately wanted her to know that he was descended not from a homicidal machine but from a genuine hero, who had liberated his world from the Computer Tyrants that had dominated it. At the same time, though, to admit the truth would also be to admit that he had been dishonest with her, even if it had been in a good cause. How could he own up to the girl he loved that he had lied to her?
What would Vril Dox have done? He admitted to himself that he didn’t really know. The turbulent events of the intervening one thousand years had obscured many of the details of Vril’s career from the records. He had been given to Brainiac as an adopted son to help enhance the megabyte marauder’s humanoid disguise. The name Brainiac Two had even been tattooed indelibly onto the palm of Vril’s right hand. However, he had run away at some juncture and had returned to Colu, where he had used science developed by the creators of the Computer Tyrants to boost his intelligence to the level of the Tyrants themselves. Thus empowered, he had destroyed the Tyrants. History had again shaded out the details of how, but it was popularly believed that he had introduced a deadly virus into their programming.
Later, Vril had forced another foe of Superman’s, Lex Luthor, to enhance his intelligence further — to twelfth-level effector, the same as Brainiac himself. Shortly afterward, he had founded a famous peacekeeping force that had become renowned throughout the galaxy. And later still he had married and fathered a son. Somehow, the combination of the two procedures that had boosted his intelligence had also altered his genes. Vril’s son very quickly demonstrated remarkable intelligence, and tests showed that he had inherited his father’s twelfth-level computer mind.
Coluans are exceptionally long-lived, and subsequently are slow to breed. So it was that, a millennium later, Querl Dox was only three generations removed from his illustrious ancestor and only the fifth to bear the title Brainiac, which he had earned the right to just two years ago on passing tests designed to confirm that the Dox descendants indeed possessed full twelfth-level effector intelligence.
Querl was proud of being able to call himself Brainiac, not because it had been the name of that malevolent creation of the Computer Tyrants, but because it had been a title which Vril Dox had kept out of sheer defiance, and which had been carried on with distinction by his descendants.