Whether it was in the All-Consuming Flames of Bergren IX, the Deep Embrace of Awkwiss III, or a simple patch of damp ground on the planet Earth, ever since the first sentient being drew its last breath, the final resting place had been a sacred and solemn site. On occasion, an even more sacred locale was set aside, reserved for those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. Shanghalla was one such place.
There was no record as to who set the first monument to a hero on this lonely asteroid. Since that time, however, many — too many — more memorials have joined the first, all for great heroes from many different worlds. From the vastness of space, when first approaching this hallowed rock, one couldn’t help but compare it to a field covered not in grass, but stone.
People visited such places for a variety of reasons. Some came to relive happier times with the fallen, while others returned to pay tribute on the anniversary of the hero’s death. For some, these were places of solitude where they could find fleeting moments of peace amidst hectic lifetimes. And then, there were those who came simply to talk, knowing a reply would not be given, but still speaking thoughts meant for no one else’s ears.
One such visitor was Ulu Vakk of the planet Lupra. A member of the Legion of Substitute Heroes, Ulu had gone by the name Color Kid for many years. Like the other members of the group, Ulu’s goal had been to become a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, but his powers were determined to be of little use to the Legion. Joining the Subs willingly, Ulu never gave up hope that he would one day display his usefulness. Through cooperation over the years, the Subs were beginning to gain the respect of some of the Legion. Unfortunately, this respect rarely translated into an offer of membership.
Over the years, Ulu had paid many visits to Shanghalla to visit the monuments of the Legion’s fallen members. He told them of his aspirations, of his missions, and of his life in general.
Even though he admired all of the heroes memorialized here, for reasons he couldn’t explain, it was at the statue of Ferro Lad that he seemed to feel the most comfortable when speaking. Today was no different.
“We’ve recently gained a few new members in the Subs,” he said, shoving his hands into the pockets of his light jacket. “They’re pretty nice, and they’ve got heart.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Substitute Heroes: The Old Order Changeth, Kinda.]
An explosion rocked the asteroid, throwing Ulu off balance. He managed to twist his body enough so that his shoulder took the brunt of his collision with Ferro Lad’s monument.
Ignoring his pain, the young Lupran climbed to his feet. The only thing on Shanghalla that could explode was the shuttle that had brought him here. Keeping to the shadows of the memorials, he headed back toward the location where both the shuttle and its pilot had been waiting for him. Based on what he felt from the explosion’s force, he held little hope of finding the pilot alive.
He stopped at the edge of the monuments in the shadow of a statue of a Thanagarian female. Her outstretched wings reminded him of angels that many Terrans once placed on the graves of their deceased loved ones.
From the shadows, Ulu saw a sight that shook him to his very core — one of the universe’s most notorious groups was gathered near the smoking hull of the shuttle. The first and most dominating figure of the group that he noticed was the Emerald Empress. Bathed in the green light of the Emerald Eye of Ekron, she was still among the universe’s most beautiful females. She stood beside a large man wielding an axe; it was the man known to law enforcers as the Persuader. As he watched from his hiding place, he saw two others join them: the half-man, half-robot Tharok, and Mano, whose features were obscured by a protective globe worn on his head. The final member of the group caught Ulu by surprise; it was the twenty-five-foot-tall creature known only as Validus.
His first thought was how could this creature even be here. Most of the Legion’s closest allies knew the circumstances behind the disappearance of the first Validus. (*) It had even been rumored that the second Validus and its duplicates, who recently appeared, were products of a similar situation. (*) But this third Validus was a complete mystery to the young man. He hoped that some enemy hadn’t found a way to revisit the tragedy upon the Legionnaires again.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: Monsters of the Heart and Mind and Legion of Super-Heroes: Wedding on Winath.]
As he joined the others, the light of the burning shuttle cast an eerie, yellow glow over the monster.
The young man couldn’t begin to guess their reasons for coming here, but based on the actions shortly after their arrival, he knew they couldn’t be good.
Ulu also knew that any of them, with the possible exception of Validus, would soon realize that a lone shuttle occupied by a waiting pilot meant that someone else was here. His heart felt like it dropped into his boot when he realized that they would soon begin to hunt him down. Sticking to the shadows, the Lupran began to put as much distance between the Fatal Five and himself as possible.
“This doesn’t make sense to me,” Mano said. “We escape from those sciencells on Oa at the same time Tharok escapes from Labyrinth, and our first stop is the place where those infernal heroes intern their dead. It appears we’re just asking for trouble.” Beneath his helmet, the villain’s shadowy head was glancing around.
“It was part of the deal,” Tharok replied.
“About this so-called ‘deal’ we agreed to…” Mano began.
“Are you planning on reneging on the deal?” the Emerald Empress asked.
“No,” Mano said defensively. “Gods, no. He supplied everything we would need after setting us free. He restored Validus. Despite the odd tint to his skin, I have no doubts that this Validus is every bit as dangerous as the first two. Our benefactor is not the kind of alien you renege on a deal with.”
“Then what’s the problem?” growled the Persuader. “Let’s just recover whatever it is that he wants and destroy this place so we can get out of here.”
“That’s the problem,” Mano said. “If we destroy this place, not only are we going to have the Legion on our tails to the end of the universe, but every other world that has stuck a monument on this rock is going to be after us as well.”
“And you’re scared,” the Persuader said. “We probably became universal enemy number one the moment our jailers discovered we were gone.”
“That doesn’t worry me,” Mano replied. “Have you ever seen what happens when you purposely destroy a memorial? It unites people. Sure, the known is universe is probably looking for us as we speak, but they’re doing it at their leisure. We go through with this, and we become their reason for existence.”
“So you are reneging on the deal,” Tharok said, slowly becoming annoyed at the whole conversation.
“No. I just want to know what kind of support we’re going to get once we do this. How do we know that this alien isn’t just using us?”
Tharok put his hand on Mano’s shoulder. “I spoke with the alien. The minute this place is destroyed, the universe is going to be too busy to worry about us. He’s got others in place, ready to act the moment we give the signal.”
“And just what is this signal?” Mano asked.
The Persuader grinned. “We light up the sky.”
“So,” Mano asked, “what exactly are we looking for?”
“The grave of the first hero buried on this asteroid,” the Emerald Empress said.
“And that would be…?”
The Emerald Eye suddenly turned. The Empress followed the Eye’s unblinking gaze. “We’re not alone on this asteroid,” she said.
“Spread out and find whoever it is,” Tharok said.
“And watch for that grave,” the Empress said.
“Whose grave is it we’re looking for?” Mano asked again.
“It is the grave of someone called Captain Comet.”