Legion of Super-Heroes: Time Won’t Let Me, Chapter 1: A Hero Through and Through

by Libbylawrence

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The Time Institute was designed in such a way that the potentially dangerous chronal energies employed in the various research projects conducted within its confines could not possibly penetrate the heavy shielding within the building. This safety feature was designed to protect the city in which the facility was located from the perils of science gone wrong. On one particular evening, the staff members of the facility found themselves on the outside, so to speak, due to the fact that one visitor had locked himself within the main laboratory of the Institute after programming the hover-droids with strict instructions to admit no one else.

Thus, a young man named Rond Vidar waited uneasily outside the locked doors and worried about his friend who had been shut up inside the lab for hours. “I respect Brainiac 5 too much to interrupt his solitary work, even if I could subvert the droid’s programming,” explained the brilliant young man. “I also feel too much sorrow and empathy for his pain to willingly intrude upon him on such a painful anniversary.”

An insectoid being nodded in agreement. Circadia Senius was also a close friend and colleague to the Legion’s inventive genius. He had witnessed the miracles Brainiac’s twelfth-level intellect could produce, and he was aware of the damage the scientist could also do when circumstances or emotional stress overburdened his reasoning process. “Wwwe should not do else than wait and pray that he comes through this crisis of the soul as well as he has weathered many another storm of more physical danger!” said Senius.

Rond shrugged. “The others lack our understanding of just what this day means to Brainiac 5. They even mock him for his folly in grieving for a legend from ten centuries ago!”

“They do not know the depths of his feelings for Supergirl,” said Senius. “If they knew how a passion for her has relentlessly driven him in so many ways, they would understand that the anniversary of her death during the Crisis is as fresh a wound to him as if he had just buried a beloved wife or sister!”

Inside the sealed lab, Brainiac 5 sat in front of a large time-viewer and dictated his thoughts via a tiny remote link to another of his creations, namely the auto-computer called Computo. He gazed unblinkingly at the screen through tearful eyes. The screen could display any moment in time from the remote past, alternate realms, or the previous moment. For hours on end, the sorrowful genius had indulged a terrible grief by watching the life and death of his greatest love unfold.

A beautiful blonde woman in a solid blue dress and red cape stood beside three of his Legionnaire friends in a scene plucked from years before. She nodded sadly as Saturn Girl, Cosmic Boy, and Lightning Lad explained that she was no longer eligible for membership in their teen group of heroes and heroines due to the fact that red kryptonite had transformed her temporarily from Supergirl to Superwoman. Kara Zor-El smiled her winningly demure smile, and Brainiac 5 smiled back ruefully.

“Kara wasn’t able to join the Legion when she was first asked to do so,” he said aloud. “That was for the best. Even though my technology had been the means by which the original Legionnaires had been able to travel back to the twentieth century and invite Superman’s cousin to follow his example and join the team in our own twentieth century, I had not yet perfected other devices with which I could safely join their number.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Three Super-Heroes,” Action Comics #267 (August, 1960).]

He adjusted the dials on the machine and displayed the planet Colu years before the previous scene had occurred. He saw a solitary child who excelled at every scholarly pursuit while still being isolated from and rejected by his peers who simply could not compete with nor understand one whose mind carried the bio-engineered twelfth-level genius of his famous ancestor Vril Dox. Vril had defied and triumphed over the computer tyrants and their humanoid construct the infamous Brainiac generations before. Now, his descendant Querl Dox would grow up to bear his honorific title of Brainiac with a mixture of pride and regret. He knew he was smarter than his peers or his teachers, but an advanced intellect could not remove his feelings of loneliness and alienation.

The time-viewer also had sound, although Brainiac 5 did not need to hear the audio from that past image to know exactly what he had said to himself years before in a painful moment of bewilderment. “I know why the other students feel insecure around me and why they compensate for said insecurity by mocking me or abusing me in a physical manner,” said the boy who was young Querl Dox. “Still, having the answers to why they behave as they do offers me little comfort while suffering from their conduct.”

That boy on the screen adjusted a device that played holo tapes, and he saw a caped figure dart out of the past to champion the cause of justice on a planet called Earth. The dark-clad hero wore a cowl and cape with a bat emblem on his chest. He stood next to a young boy in red and green as they guarded the city called Gotham. Gotham City was now nothing more than a neighborhood within the larger Metropolis. However, the tape the boy Querl had viewed revealed the city long ago when it had been home to the heroic Batman and Robin.

“While their physical prowess was flawless, it is their keen deductive minds that interest me,” said the boy on the screen. “The original Batman and the first Robin tower above all other detectives, even those of note such as Earth’s Nik Noir or Thanagar’s Shymantha Hol.”

Brainiac 5 did not need the screen to recall that day when his hobby of studying the career of the Batman of the twentieth century had led him to recordings of Supergirl. The lovely girl had been aiding her cousin Superman and the Dynamic Duo against the plots of an actor posing as two different aliens. (*) This case was less remarkable to the young Dox for the detective work his hero displayed than for the introduction to his eager eyes of the girl he would ever call his only love.

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Superman-Batman Split,” World’s Finest Comics #176 (June, 1968).]

“Kara… so vibrant, even on holo tape!” he said. “It was tapes like that one that led me to fall in love with her. It was a mere schoolboy passion, with one notable difference. My sensibilities were such that I came to realize an abiding passion for her that would not allow me to let it die or remain a thing of image and sound alone. I had to achieve the goal of meeting her. From that moment on, my resolve was set. Time studies would become my other passion. I had to first master time in order to bring my Kara to me and win her love.

“Irony: I fell in love with a woman who had lived and died a thousand years before I ever drew my first breath. Still, awareness that she would die did nothing to cool my love for her. I knew from earliest youth that time cannot be changed without creating potentially disastrous repercussions. I also knew that certain events around that era could not be fully recorded nor understood due to various chronal storms and ebbs. I had no way to know her death would occur during the Crisis. History is almost completely distorted after that point.

“Still, I vowed to master time itself and possibly save her from a fate that history declared could not be altered,” he said in a broken voice. He adjusted the time-viewer and replaced the image from his own childhood with one of a slightly older Querl Dox, now called Brainiac 5, watching the newly formed Legion of Super-Heroes battle a renegade Green Lantern in front of another time-viewer within the same Time Institute of years before. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Origin of the Universe File,” Legion of Super-Heroes v2 #295 (January, 1983).]

“It was that chance encounter with the Legion that gave me the notion that I could do more than merely save Kara from her fate,” he said to Computo’s link. “I could be with her as a partner, friend, and lover by actually encouraging the new team of young heroes to use such a time machine to actively recruit Kara, as well as her famed cousin. I handled that situation well. I merely suggested, through mutual friends the Legionnaires had met that day at the Institute, that they should try to bring the boy who had inspired their creation to their era to join the team. I encouraged them to use the time machine I had perfected with the aid of others at the Institute, where I was one of many pupils.

“I hadn’t known at the time that R.J. Brande, the Legion’s financier, had already made such a suggestion when he first presented the time bubble to the Legion a few weeks earlier, following the Lucifer Seven case. (*) Brande’s suggestion put the idea in their minds, and my suggestion only confirmed it. Within a few months, they would go on time-trips to recruit both Supergirl and Superboy — Superman as a teen — to join their ranks. I had merely to offer myself to them as more than a friend — as a scientific advisor — and then put the process in place to bring Kara from her time to our own.”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Past, Seen Darkly,” Secrets of the Legion of Super-Heroes #1 (January, 1980).]

He changed the scene again to show himself achieving membership alongside Supergirl during her second attempt to join the team, after she’d been recruited by the three female members of the team, Saturn Girl, Phantom Girl, and Triplicate Girl. She was excited and pleased to be a part of the team of colorful heroes who did the same kind of noble deeds she’d also performed thus far only in secret. She had been acting as Superman’s secret weapon in her early years on Earth. She was thus doubly pleased to have friends of her own age with whom she could share experiences and truly be herself.

“Note: Shrinking Violet, Sun Boy, and Bouncing Boy failed to achieve membership that day, although later they were each granted said honor. That day was Kara’s… and mine! I earned membership when she did. I could not have wanted it any other way! We formed an almost instant bond. We were the new members, even though hers would be an honorary membership at first, as would Superboy’s. She wasn’t exactly how I had envisioned her. She was more exciting. She could do what no image on a time-viewer could ever do! She could surprise me! She could defy my most carefully calculated scenarios. She could make me feel the need to win her love. She could reduce me to a stammering shyness I had never experienced before.” He smiled a rueful smile.

Fingering the golden belt on his costume, he said, “My first force-field belt impressed the Legion members, as did my natural gifts of intellect. However, what none of them realized was that I had designed it not to safeguard myself so much as to possibly keep Kara safe from any perils she might face. She thought I meant it as protection against kryptonite, and she took it thankfully like some girls would receive flowers from their suitors. Still, she did not know I had hoped it would defy some unknown cruel fate that eclipsed mere kryptonite as a threat to her life. The belt failed due to chronal energies she absorbed during her passage to her own era. I never stopped trying to perfect a better method to keep her safe. I never worked with a greater desire to succeed!”

Rubbing his eyes, Brainiac 5 left the viewer as he paced slowly back and forth. “My talents did assist her in achieving her first public triumph. That fact cannot be denied or erased by a fickle fate. It was my use of the first Brainiac’s shrinking ray that allowed Supergirl to capture the so-called Infinite Monster upon her revelation to the adoring public. She asked me for the use of such a device, and I gladly supplied her with one. She defeated the Infinite Monster and won the hearts of the world, just as she had already won my heart.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Infinite Monster,” Action Comics #285 (February, 1962).]

He spoke louder as his emotion increased. “What good did it do me?” he shouted. “I brought her into my life. I came to know and love her as more than just an image from history. Still, even so, I could only gain a few precious times with her. I could not prevent her death. The Crisis itself was so unstable a temporal event that no one could safely determine that it would bring about her death. Some reports from that era claim Supergirl was still active as a heroine after it ended. So little about its true origin survived to our era, that we could not even be certain what cosmic event was the Crisis in question!”

Altering the settings on the time-viewer, Brainiac 5 said, “I have little choice but to focus once more on the events leading up to her death. Perhaps, in some manner, seeing the train of events will bring me peace.”

He watched the time-viewer as it displayed two costumed women talking on the top of a tall building. One of the women was clearly Supergirl herself, while the other wore a costume much like that of the Batman. He listened and sighed as their words echoed with an ominous hint of the tragedy to come.

***

Barbara Gordon, alias Batgirl, spoke of her concerns about the strange weather and red skies that seemed to warn of an even more dreadful crisis to come. “Supergirl… Linda — I’ve faced death so often because I never truly believed I would die. But now — now I feel so useless, so helpless, so worthless — and so very, very scared.”

Supergirl tried to reassure her friend, but it was an uphill battle.

Batgirl averted her eyes as she said, “I-I don’t think I was ever cut out for playing hero.”

Kara stopped herself from sighing in frustration at her friend, instead replying calmly and compassionately, as was her habit. “Do you remember when we first met? We had been abducted by Bat-Mite and Mr. Mxyzptlk. They were impersonating us as part of some crazy bet involving Superman and Batman. (*) That first case together made us friends. As a friend, I can tell you that while the threats we face these days each time we put on these costumes are far more deadly than the pranks of two imps, you are still one of the most capable women I know! I would trust you with my life, and that’s because I know deep inside, no matter what fears or doubts you may be having, you are a true heroine!”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Supergirl-Batgirl Plot,” World’s Finest Comics #169 (September, 1967).]

Batgirl shook her head. “I know I’ve done OK in the past, but this time we’re not facing Lilibet Windsor as a fake Cleopatra or even the Annihilator! (*) The whole world seems at risk and I’m a smart woman who can fight well. What good can those skills do in a crisis like this?”

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Cleopatra, Queen of America,” Superman Family #171 (June-July, 1975) and “The Attack of the Annihilator,” Detective Comics #508 (November, 1981).]

“Barbara, there are thousands of people out there — without powers like mine… the police, firemen, soldiers — they’re all ordinary people trying their best to keep this world from falling apart before its time.”

Suddenly, Supergirl’s super-vision enabled her to spot a pilot in danger. She explained the situation to Batgirl and rushed off to rescue him. Batgirl watched from afar with bat-binoculars as she watched Supergirl move into action.

“She doesn’t give a moment’s thought to herself or her safety… yet I know she cares if she lives or dies,” said Batgirl. “She’s a hero through and through… while all I can think about is what will happen to me. My God — what have I become?”

Supergirl snatch the pilot to safety in seconds. “S-Supergirl? You saved me,” said the startled man as she flew him to safety. “But why? We’re all going to die anyway.”

“We fight to live as long as we can live,” said Supergirl. “That’s the only way to live… and to be able to live with yourself.” (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “And Thus Shall the World Die,” Crisis on Infinite Earths #4 (July, 1985).]

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