by Martin Maenza
On the far edge of the solar system, a small planet about four thousand miles in diameter slowly rotated about the sun nearly three-thousand, six-hundred, and sixty-six-million miles away. It would take the planet nearly two-hundred and forty-eight years to complete a single orbital cycle. Without any natural satellites to call its own, the cold and icy planet seemed like a lonely and desolate place.
All that was about to change in the very near future.
A spacecraft landed on the planet’s surface, and the crew inside began to unload equipment and supplies. Two workers in particular floated out a portable hover-drill and started toward their pre-assigned work zone.
“Reminds me a lot of home,” said one of the men with red hair and a beard, who was named Krebbs. The communicator in his helmet allowed him to converse with his partner, who wore a similar suit.
“Definitely,” replied Werld, a blonde-haired man. “I suppose that’s why they recruited us from Wondil IX for this project, anyway.”
“True,” Krebbs agreed. “Work is work, though, even if it’s just digging.”
The two made their way into a large cavern that was already being excavated. They nodded to the other team who was on their way out with their drill, which no doubt needed recharging. The crews had been working around the clock in three shifts in order to hurry along the project. Their employer was very insistent on the deadline being maintained.
When they reached the end of the long, down-sloping tunnel, the two men positioned the drill in the open area, facing it toward one of the walls. “Are we all set to go?” Werld asked after checking some schematics on a small pad that projected a three-dimensional image.
“All set,” Krebbs replied. The two men flipped down the special shields over their helmets, then one of them turned on the equipment.
The machine began to vibrate and hum, building up in power. When it reached a certain point, the long protruding cannon on front began to glow brilliantly. A moment later, a focused beam of energy began to carve into the rocky, frozen wall before them. One of the men watched the cannon’s progress while the other used a small handheld device to scan the wall for any anomalies.
After a while, Krebbs said, “So, what do you think of this whole idea, anyway?”
“You mean about them building a resort here?” Werld replied.
Werld cocked his head. “I don’t know. I’m not sure who’s crazier: the Terrans who might want to vacation here, or that billionaire McCauley who wants to build a resort here to begin with.”
Krebbs laughed. “Don’t they have a saying on Earth — if you build it, they will come?”
“I guess,” Werld replied. “You know how the Terrans ar–” He paused for a second as a blip appeared on the handheld scanner. “Krebbs, hold up a second!” His voice was now more agitated.
“Why?” his partner asked.
“Just do it! Pull back the drill!”
Krebbs wasn’t about to question his friend’s judgment call any further. They had been in this business together for a good decade and had grown to trust one another’s instincts. He entered the sequence to cause the drill to stand down in power and then moved it back. “You picked up something, didn’t you?”
“Yeah!” Werld replied. “Let’s use the hand tools to see what it is.”
The two removed smaller drill-like devices from their belts and began to chip away at the wall. Unlike the larger device, the smaller ones could not totally atomize the rocky material. These junks chipped away and fell off to the ground beside them. It was slow work, but after about twenty minutes they reached a certain point in the wall.
As a last piece fell away and revealed an icy block underneath, both men stepped back and gasped at what they saw.
“Well, I’ll be…” Krebbs said in shock.
“We better call someone in on this!” Werld said.
In the orbiting hospital station known as Multivac, high above the blue-green planet known as Earth, two figures entered a break room while in mid-discussion. “I’m really, really sorry, Gigi,” the brown-haired man in the modified blue uniform said. Unlike the rest of those on the security team, his uniform allowed his arms and legs to be exposed. The four appendages were covered, as were the cheeks of his face, with thin, spiky brown protrusions.
“I’m sure you are, Pete,” the Science Police officer sighed. In her hand, Gigi Cusimano held a holo pad that was sparking near the end where two spikes had embedded into one of the ports.
“Maybe I can fix it,” offered Porcupine Pete. He reached for the device.
“No!” Gigi said firmly. Then she relaxed. “No, it’s OK. We’ll send it down to maintenance first. They’re more skilled at this.” Besides, she figured this way there still might be a chance that her report — the one she had been working on for days — could still be salvaged from the system. That would teach her to uplink her portable more often.
Watching from a table in the corner were two others, both colorfully dressed. One was a rather plump figure dressed all in green, while his companion was thinner with black hair shaped in a wedge, who was dressed in a black and white outfit with a rainbow band across the chest. While Gigi got some coffee from the dispenser near the wall, Pete noticed the two and smiled. “Hey, guys!” he waved his arm and called to them.
“Hi, Pete,” the two said almost in unison, carefully watching just in case there were any stray quills accidentally thrown. The two had known the other for a number of years, but they still exercised a cautious eye around him.
Porcupine Pete came over to the table where the two were eating. “Hey, Ral,” he asked of one of them. “You’re looking good. Have you lost any weight?”
Chlorophyll Kid frowned as he looked down at the half-eaten salad before him. “I wish,” he sighed as he dropped his fork. “I so hate dieting. If I have to eat one more of these for lunch, I’ll lose it. The lunch, that is.”
“Spare us the colorful imagery,” Color Kid joked. “You’ve already got a green thumb. We don’t need you green in the gills, too.”
“Ha-ha, very funny,” Chlorophyll Kid said.
“Well, I’ve got some news that might cheer you up,” Pete said. “Guess who I saw coming from the docking pads earlier?”
“Who?” The two Kids asked in unison. Then they glared at one another. “Stop doing that!” they both said at the same time.
“Same old guys,” a female voice called from the doorway. “How I miss that!”
Both turned and looked to where those words had come from, knowing the voice very well. “Night Girl!” they both said in surprise at the same time. They glared at one another again.
Indeed, a beauty dressed entirely in black with long, raven-colored hair had stepped into the room. A midnight-blue cape flowed about behind the young woman as she entered. Behind her came a dark-haired young man dressed in a costume of pink with white circles about the torso. “Hey, guys,” Cosmic Boy added.
The others were already up from their seats and giving the young woman hugs of welcome.
“Lydda, you look absolutely fabulous,” Color Kid complimented her.
“Thanks,” she said, smiling.
Cosmic Boy put his arm about her. “Working together at the Legion Academy with me certainly agrees with her,” he said, giving her shoulder a slight squeeze. She started to blush a bit.
“Oh, yeah,” Chlorophyll Kid said with a slight sarcastic tone. “Definitely the working part. That’s got to be it.”
“What brings you two here?” Pete asked curiously.
“We needed to deliver some virus samples we recently came across,” Cosmic Boy explained. “Thought that delivering them in person was the best thing to do to ensure they stayed contained.”
“Besides,” Night Girl said, “it was a perfect excuse to visit you guys. I miss you all.”
“We miss you, too,” said Porcupine Pete.
“Speaking of missing, Pete,” Gigi said as she tapped him on the shoulder, “we need to take care of this.” She waved the damaged holo pad.
“Oh, right.” Pete frowned. “Gotta get back to work.” He turned to Night Girl. “Don’t go leaving without saying goodbye.”
“I won’t,” the young woman promised.
Porcupine Pete and Gigi Cusimano moved past the group and headed out the door. Cosmic Boy gave the Science Police officer a respectful nod when she passed. She sort of gave him a sad smirk and moved on. He turned back to the others. “So, how are things with you guys?” asked Cosmic Boy. “I heard you had some excitement recently.”
“We recruited a few new members now that we’ve been stationed here,” Chlorophyll Kid explained. “A couple you might remember: Storm Boy, Calamity King, and Polecat.” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Substitute Heroes: The Old Order Changeth, Kinda.]
Cosmic Boy wrinkled his nose but held his tongue. He remembered when those three had gotten rejected from joining the Legion of Super-Heroes; thus he was rather surprised to hear they had gained admission to the Substitute Heroes. Then again, the Subs were all initially rejected candidates who eventually managed to prove their worth in times of need. Perhaps, in time, this trio could do the same. “Interesting,” he said.
“Oh, and don’t forget Bizarro!” Color Kid added.
“Bizarro?” Cosmic Boy asked.
“A Bizarro-Superboy actually,” Chlorophyll Kid said. “While he’s a bit misguided, he’s certainly powerful. With Lydda gone, we were a bit low in the strength department.”
“But… Bizarro?” Cosmic Boy wondered. “I seem to recall he had his own bizarre version of the Legion back on his world. (*) I wonder what brought him away from there. I really thought we’d managed to convince them all to stay there once and for all.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Bizarro-Legion,” Adventure Comics #329 (February, 1964).]
“No clue,” Chlorophyll Kid replied. “Though he is back there visiting right now, lucky for us.”
“And the other three are off on a training exercise with Infectious Lass and Double-Header,” Color Kid added.
“Sounds good,” Night Girl said. “You’ll have to say hello…” Her words were cut off as three more figures burst into the room.
One was a young man, tall and thin with brown hair, dressed in orange and brown. The second had a narrow face with flames for hair and was dressed in yellow and orange. The third young man was dressed in blue and white with a round pink face and a pair of rather large ears.
“Guys, guys,” Fire Lad said rather excitedly, “you’ve got to hear this!”
“Hey, Lydda,” Stone Boy said, distracted. “How are you?”
“What is it?” Cosmic Boy asked, taking charge.
“Just this,” Antennae Boy replied. “My special ears just picked up this distress broadcast… from Pluto!” The group gathered around the weird-looking alien, perking their ears toward his to take in the message.
A short time later, Cosmic Boy landed a Legion craft on the surface of Pluto and prepared to disembark. After much discussion and a bit of begging, he reluctantly agreed to allow the members of the Substitute Heroes to accompany him and Lydda on the investigation. Her own special persuasion on the matter had been very difficult for Cosmic Boy to resist.
They exited the craft and eventually made their way down the cavern to join three men. The foreman of the project smiled as he recognized the approaching hero. “Cosmic Boy, good to see you!” he said. “I really wasn’t sure if this matter required…” He looked at the others and shrugged his shoulders. “…so many Legionnaires, but we’re glad you’re here.”
“These aren’t…” the Braalian started to say but caught himself. “What appears to be the problem, sir?”
“Two of my workers here,” the foreman said, gesturing to Krebbs and Werld, “they ran across something unusual during the excavation process. They reported it to me, and I sent out a distress call.” He gestured to the icy wall near the back. “I figured we’d better stop everything until someone took a look at this.”
“I see,” Cosmic Boy said. He started for the back, and the others heroes started to follow. The three men stepped aside to let them pass. The group made their way through the rubble of rock and debris on the ground before them, only to stop crowded around about five feet from the icy surface. Seven pairs of eyes stared.
“Wow!” Color Kid said in surprise.
“Polar Boy would have found this interesting,” Chlorophyll Kid remarked.
“I can’t believe it!” Night Girl exclaimed.
“Poor devils!” Antennae Boy said.
“I don’t know,” Stone Boy countered.
“If you want, I can…” Fire Lad offered.
“Guys!” Cosmic Boy said. “Quiet a second and let me think.” He stroked his chin beneath his transsuit and considered the sight before them.
It appeared to be, trapped in solid block of ice, two rather large figures. Both were humanoid in appearance, both muscularly built. One, by appearance, looked as he could be of some Asian descent, very possibly from Earth origin. He was dressed in some hanging sort of shorts, and the rest of his body was exposed. The only thing that didn’t look quite right was the purplish hue to his skin. If he were from Earth, Rokk Krinn would have expected a more yellowish tint to his skin.
The other man had a metallic gleam to his skin. Could he even have been human? He wore a dark-colored costume about his torso with boots.
From the looks on their unmoving faces, the two men appeared to have been caught in some anguish at the time they had been frozen. The large Asian man’s eyes were closed, his head thrown back. The other man seemed to be holding him up in his arms, perhaps trying to lift him or something. The look on the latter’s face was one of extreme anger or sorrow.
“Rokk,” Night Girl said, leaning in, “do you think they’re dead?”
“I don’t know,” Cosmic Boy said. “Hard to tell where they’re from or how long they’ve been in there.”
“I could thaw them out,” said Fire Lad, alias Staq Mavlen. The young man possessed flame-projection breath.
“I know you could, Staq,” Cosmic Boy said. “I just don’t know if we should do that here. If — if they’re somehow still alive, they might be in need of some serious medical attention. While we could get them back to Multivac quick enough, I half-wonder if we should hold off thawing them out until we get back there to begin with.”
“I agree,” said Chlorophyll Kid.
“Is there room in the ship to get them back while still in ice?” Antennae Boy asked.
“I think we can,” Cosmic Boy said. “Let’s work out a plan.” And the group set to task figuring out how to transport a huge block of ice back to the medical facility.