by Brian K. Asbury
And yet… and yet, in some ways Querl Dox felt that he had not yet proved himself worthy of the title of Brainiac 5, nor of his place in the Legion. True, one of his first acts as a member had been to devise antigravity belts for the members, to replace the jetpacks that they had previously used to fly. However, the early, slim, unobtrusive models had been notoriously unreliable, and he had been forced to recall them and instead revert to an earlier design that he had perfected before joining — a much bulkier, expandable belt that at least had the virtue of not fusing into uselessness if used by someone employing super-magnetism, lightning, or heat, or by someone changing shape or size or triplicating.
That was a minor failure. Far greater was his failure to anticipate recent events and prevent a terrible tragedy. He was supposed to be a genius; so why could that genius have not enabled him to realize what their newly elected leader, Saturn Girl, had been doing when, after her surprise election, she had suddenly started acting like a tyrant and had used medallions of the unique metal spectrum to duplicate her teammates’ powers in herself and then suspend them all on the flimsiest of pretexts? (*) Some had questioned her actions, but he — Brainiac 5, supposed super-genius, preoccupied at the time by trying to find a new solution to Fermat’s last theorem — had not been among them.
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Stolen Super-Powers,” Adventure Comics #304 (January, 1963).]
It had, of course, all been a ploy to defeat the invading Zaryan the Conqueror. Saturn Girl had learned that a Legionnaire would die in repelling Zaryan, and had determined that it should be her. Last-minute intervention by Lightning Lad had foiled her intended sacrifice, but Garth Ranzz had himself been killed by a freeze-ray shot from Zaryan’s ship.
Querl let his head droop. Lightning Lad was dead, and all because the twelfth-level genius from Colu had not used his mighty brain to deduce what was really happening.
So how could he even face Supergirl again, much less admit that he had lied to her?
Was there any way he could make amends? How is it possible to make amends for the death of a friend?
It wasn’t possible. But there were other ways in which he could try to atone for his inaction. He could try to become the best Legionnaire he could ever hope to be. His design for a third-generation flying-belt was still in the computer, and he was certain that he could make the antigravity engine even smaller — perhaps even small enough to incorporate in a bracelet or ring rather than a belt. All he needed was to find a suitable power source. None had come to light yet, but he was confident that he would make the breakthrough sooner or later.
Also in the computer were the first tentative sketches of what he believed would be his finest creation. Computo, when built, would manage all the administrative tasks of a growing Legion and make the whole organization super-efficient. But there was a great deal of preliminary work to do before he could proceed with actually building the great machine, so it might be two or three years yet before the Legion began to experience its benefits.
He turned away from the computer and picked up a bottle sitting on the workbench nearby.
Perhaps this was how he might redeem himself. Had he the courage to test it? The Legion was planning to hold open auditions for prospective new members very soon — not to replace Lightning Lad as such, as no one could really replace him. But there was no doubt that the death of the red-haired Winathian had left a serious power gap that needed to be filled. Wouldn’t it be a surprise for the others? Wouldn’t it be such a surprise if he turned up to try out for membership — this time as a permanent member?
Querl smiled, perhaps for the first time since Lightning Lad’s death. He had been working on this for months. All of the Legionnaires with any scientific expertise had been working on it, ever since they had first learned from Superboy about what had happened so long ago to the friend whom he had briefly believed to be his older brother, and the tragic circumstances that had resulted in a thousand years of exile. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Superboy’s Big Brother,” Superboy #89 (June, 1961).]
When Saturn Girl and Superboy released Mon-El from the Phantom Zone a short while ago to save them from Urthlo, a robot built by Luthor a millennia ago on a mission of vengeance, he had received membership in the Legion. But Mon-El was unable to enjoy membership thanks to severe lead poisoning and had to return to the Phantom Zone. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Face Behind the Lead Mask,” Adventure Comics #300 (September, 1962).]
Saturn Girl had been the first to come up with a solution for lead poisoning, and ironically one from Brainiac 5’s own heritage. Back in the twentieth century, Vril Dox had enlisted help from his Daxamite neighbors to help repel an impending invasion of Colu by the Khunds. However, the Daxamites had sickened in Colu’s lead-polluted atmosphere and had almost died. It was only after Vril’s rise to twelfth-level intelligence that he had been able to concoct a cure, and only a temporary one at that, although it had been enough to see off the Khunds. Imra Ardeen’s serum, which she had called XY-4, had been a variant on Vril Dox’s original formula, but Lar Gand’s lead poisoning had been so acute that XY-4 had had only a fleeting effect, and had only nullified the symptoms without flushing the poison from his system.
Querl had always suspected that something had been missing from the formula — some essential element that would do more than send their friend’s condition into temporary remission. But what was it? He now believed he knew. Talking with Superboy, he learned of how the Boy of Steel, suspecting that his visitor was not really his brother, had exposed him to kryptonite, which had had no effect.
The kryptonite, however, had been in a lead box, which should have caused a violent toxic reaction in a Daxamite. Why had it not done so? To Querl’s logical mind, there was only one explanation. Could the kryptonite have nullified the effects of the lead?
There was really only one way to find out. He felt the weight of the bottle in his hand. What it contained was a new, revised formula, part Vril Dox’s formula, part Saturn Girl’s, with an extra ingredient — an organic compound of kryptonite dissolved in it.
He stood up. This was no time to be faint-hearted or overcautious. He had a lot to prove. This would not make up for Lightning Lad’s loss, but it would be a start.
He made his way to an adjoining lab, in which rested the Phantom Zone viewer and transfer ray that they had used on previous occasions.
He switched it on. “Very well, Mon-El,” he said. “I’m ready to try this, if you are. But we’ll need to give it a very thorough test to make sure that it really is the answer this time.” In the viewer, a ghostly white face smiled approval and nodded.
His thumb pressed down on the white button, and he prepared to greet the young man who had suffered exile in the zone since the mid-twentieth century.
This would be a success. It was not his twelfth-level effector brain telling him this, but something more basic — simple faith. Mon-El deserved a turn in his luck. The Legion most certainly did. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: This story continues in “The Secret of the Mystery Legionnaire,” Adventure Comics #305 (February, 1963).]
And himself? Querl Dox? Brainiac 5? Perhaps, if this worked, it would vindicate him in his own eyes. Perhaps even enough to find the courage to tell Kara the truth.
Who could tell?