Later, Star Boy blinked and sat up painfully amidst the rubble and a deep level of water in the Xanthu Medi-Center. Hospital staffers and Science Police officers surrounded him, and he shook off helping hands to stand on his own. He could see dimly, but his vision had still not fully recovered.
“Where’s Cosmic King?” asked Thom Kallor. “I didn’t kill him, did I? I had to try something drastic in order to prevent him from harming others!”
Officer Cherid’n shook her head and said, “No! Part of the Medi-Center collapsed on you both. He emerged within some kind of glowing crackling energy bubble. He looked shaken but unhurt.”
Star Boy nodded and said, “He must have used his power to blanket himself with something that altered the matter I brought down by making it water or something harmless.”
“He’s still at large!” said Officer Cherid’n. “But you aren’t hurt, either, are you? How’d you survive being buried under all that rubble?”
“I channeled my mass-increasing power internally,” explained Star Boy. “That made my bodily structure far more durable than the norm. I could not sustain that kind of pressure for long, but it worked long enough for me to survive the impact of the falling rubble before passing out!”
A very tall, striking woman with flaming red hair and a costume of gleaming silver and gray stood over him and said, “Well done, Legionnaire! I dug you out as fast as I could, but I feared the worst!”
Star Boy blinked as he saw the glowing but clearly beautiful woman towering over him. He also realized that her red mane of hair truly was made of crackling fire. “You’re Atma, the Xanthuian planetary champion!” he said to the woman. “I’ve heard all about you!”
Atma smiled and said, “Nice to meet you. You could say you gave birth to me, since it was your departure from Xanthu that led the government to try to recreate your original super-powers in a new champion. The process failed but gave me unique powers of my own. I’m honored to meet you.”
“Thank you,” said Star Boy. “I’ve heard nothing but good things about you as well. Now, let’s find Cosmic King!”
Atma smiled and said, “You are a real man of action, aren’t you? Very well, follow me!” She rocketed into the sky, and Star Boy followed in her wake.
She can really move! he thought. I guess the nuclear power she possesses gives her amazing speed. He rubbed at his eyes, but his vision was still not back to normal. I can make her out easily enough, though. When she glows like that, she’s like a shapely human star!
Atma yelled back to him. “You seem unsteady back there. Are you sure you are up to this?” she asked with a look of concern on her lovely face.
Star Boy nodded and said, “I’m a Legionnaire. We don’t give up easily!”
Atma smiled knowingly and said, “Since you were willing to bring a roof down on your own head to stop a killer, I’d say that’s no exaggeration!” She added, “Cosmic King is leaving a real trail. His body seems to be transmuting things in his wake!”
They found the villain and landed in his path.
“Bolto, give up now!” said Star Boy. “We don’t wish to harm you!”
Cosmic King’s eyes gleamed as the air around Star Boy become solid metal.
The Legionnaire gasped and increased his own mass so that his heavier body broke through the pavement, enabling him to crawl out from under the metallic shell above.
Atma pulled him to his feet and said, “You are a tricky one! I half-expected that you’d need me to melt you an opening!”
Then Cosmic King dived forward and touched Atma. She cried out and fell backward as her silvery costume partially dissolved, and energy surged out to engulf Cosmic King. The super-villain screamed, and his body shifted again from one element to another until finally, with a final terrible shriek, he dissolved completely.
Star Boy raced to Atma’s side and held a piece of the metallic shell Cosmic King had created before to the woman’s hip. “This will contain your energy until we can repair your costume!” he said. “I didn’t know something so sleek, so tight could be armor. Your costume is all that keeps your power intact!”
Atma nodded and said, “The experiment that gave me power also left me as a being whose humanity consists more of intellect and heart and a lot of cosmetic and technological deception than it does of physicality!”
“You should meet a pal of mine,” said Star Boy. “Wildfire could really relate to your problem!”
“You’re the Legionnaire I want to know better!” replied Atma unabashedly.
Star Boy smiled ruefully and carried the heroine back to the Medi-Center, where the undamaged wings were already being used to again house the evacuated patients. Lab technos there were soon able to patch Atma’s containment costume, and a couple of hours later, she gratefully thanked Star Boy again.
“You know I don’t kill,” she said. “That is, I never meant to destroy Cosmic King. When he broke open my containment costume, all that energy reacted with his unstable metabolism, and there was nothing I could do!”
Star Boy nodded and said, “I understand. I’d like to think he’s at peace now.”
“Who knows?” said Atma. “Perhaps he may even re-form physically in the future!”
At that moment, a uniformed official approached them and said, “Star Boy? The High Tribune awaits you. You have much to discuss with him!”
“I almost forgot why I came back here to begin with,” said Star Boy. “Atma, thanks again for your help! If you weren’t already needed here, you’d sure make a fine Legionnaire!”
Star Boy found himself facing the austere but oddly personable High Tribune of Xanthu in what seemed to be record time.
“Thom, I am pleased to see you,” he said. “My reason for summoning you is very urgent. I know as a Legionnaire you have become accustomed to saving the universe. Well, I think saving one child’s personal universe is equally vital. Son, I’ve summoned you here because of the final wishes of one of our citizens.”
Star Boy frowned in concern. Mom and Dad aren’t living on Xanthu currently, he thought. Their work is pretty much based off the Science Asteroid these days. I never really had that many friends growing up, either, due to the time I spent in government labs and hospitals!
“I am speaking of Zynthia Lokeer,” said the High Tribune. “I’m afraid she passed away recently. She was in a skidder accident.”
Star Boy turned pale as memories of the lovely and vivacious Zynthia flooded his mind. She had been his first girlfriend, and her support during his initial time with the Legion had been of great value to him. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Lana Lang and the Legion of Super-Heroes,” Adventure Comics #282 (March, 1961).]
“Zyn…” he said slowly. “Poor Zyn. I can hardly believe it. I lost touch with her after… we separated.”
“I know this must be a shock to you,” the High Tribune said with an understanding tone of voice. “Thom, Zynthia and her husband died in the same accident. Their only child, Aric, survived the accident.”
Star Boy gasped and said, “I knew Zynthia was an orphan herself. She practically lived at our place when we were teens. I didn’t know she had any kids, though I’d heard about her marriage from Mom.”
“Thom, Aric has no family,” continued the High Tribune. “Zynthia and Rymond were both alone in the world. Zynthia has named you as Aric’s guardian.”
Star Boy shook his head in surprise. “You’re joking!” he said. “I mean, I lost touch with her. Why would she want me to raise her son?”
“All final wishes are honored on Xanthu,” said the High Tribune. “She wanted you to take care of the boy. Thus I summoned you here. Surely you will not decline to perform your duty. Being away from Xanthu has not changed you that much, has it?”
“No,” said Star Boy. “I’ll do it. I don’t even know how I’ll manage. I’m not even that good with children. Still, I won’t turn my back on Zynthia. I won’t violate Xanthuian custom.”
The High Tribune smiled and said, “Excellent. Aric is here as well. We’ve prepared him for this meeting. I rather think he’ll be more composed than you are at the moment!”
Star Boy nodded slowly and said, “Yes. I can’t grasp this news. I need time. However, I won’t shirk this duty. It’s an honor, really. Forgive me for being so incoherent!”
“Thom, you’re a hero in more ways than one,” said the High Tribune. “You’ll come through for the child. I know that.”
Star Boy smiled as he nervously clenched and unclenched his hands.
A blond boy of around six years of age entered the room and said, “Star Boy! It really is you! I used to look at the holos Ma had of you two together, but I didn’t expect to ever really meet a real Legionnaire!”
Star Boy hesitated, then bent down to face the boy, thinking to himself, I’ve heard talking to children at their own level is the right approach. “Aric, your mother was a dear friend of mine,” he said gently. “I am so sorry about your loss. I want you to know that you’re going to be fine now. I’m going to look after you. You can trust me. I want to be your friend, too!”
Aric Lokeer nodded with the odd stolid but searching gaze of a little boy and extended one hand.
Thom took it and said, “Why don’t we talk a little? I’d like to know more about you. Tell me what you like to do. Do you ever play moopsball?”
As the odd pair exited the office, the High Tribune watched in approval. Yes, Thom Kallor, you are a real hero! he thought.
“Thom Kallor, you’re crazy if you think for a minute that I’m ready to be a mother!” shrieked Dream Girl. The Naltorian heroine had listened with ever-growing concern as Thom explained what had happened and how their lives had changed.
“Nura, I can’t desert Aric,” pleaded Thom. “He’s a sweet and bright boy. You’ll like him. I know this is a shock, but I’m going to need you to help me deal with this. He’s going to need you, too. I know he’ll love you!”
Nura Nal wiped away tears and said, “No. No. I won’t say a word against the boy. I can feel for his loss. I raised Mysa after our mother died when we were small. But you have to understand that I am not ready to be a mother. Thom, we’re young, and I still want to live a little. Being a Legionnaire is what I want most.”
Thom took her hand and said, “Nura, you started acting so cold after the Mordru case. (*) Did you know this was going to happen?”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: The Bride of Mordru.]
“I had a dream in which we were apart,” said Nura. “I also felt that it was true, and that the cause of our split was going to be my own doing!”
“You can’t mean that you’d break up with me over this!” said Star Boy incredulously. “I know it is a shock. I’m still reeling from it myself, but together we can work through this.”
“Thom, the others think I’m spoiled and vain, but you know the real me,” said Dream Girl. “You know that I actually have a clearer self-image than most people do. I love you dearly, but I can’t raise a child. You can’t, either! How can you be a father and a team leader?”
“I’m not going to run for re-election,” Star Boy said, finalizing that decision in that moment. “I’m going to stay on active duty, but I’ll not be leader again. I figured, with your help, we could always be there for Aric. I mean, look at Garth and Imra!”
“Garth is happy being at home with their kids,” said Nura. “Can you honestly say that you’d be as content if you were not a Legionnaire?”
Star Boy shook his head and said, “No. I can do both. We can do both!”
“Thom, I won’t ask you to choose between Aric and me,” said Dream Girl. “I’m not that cold. I know you too well. However, I can’t be with you under these circumstances. It would be wrong for all of us!”
“Nura, think this over!” said Thom. “Don’t rush into making a decision!”
“I’ve had time,” said Nura. “I saw it all before you ever left Earth. I’ve wrestled with it for so long. I’m sorry, but I know better than to argue. Thom, I can’t be a mother to that boy, or any child, and I can’t ask you to turn away from him.”
Star Boy started to speak, but he stopped when he realized how serious Nura was. She did know her weakness and her needs, and he felt he could not argue. “I guess this is goodbye, then.” He walked out of the room and left her to her tears.
Thom felt numb. For all of his brave effort with Aric and since, he was still fighting to come to terms with the changes in his life. He knew he would eventually do so. He had to do so for Aric’s sake, but it looked like he was going to have to do it alone.