by Martin Maenza
In a hidden retreat across the cold, silent expanse of stars, two figures dressed in black spoke in an ornate dining chamber. The large muscular man with no hair stood at attention as he addressed the stunning woman with long crimson hair who was partaking in a bountiful meal. “All is ready, per your command,” he said in a deep voice.
“Excellent, Ubu,” the woman replied after sipping her wine from a metal chalice. “It has been a long and busy few months since the training began. It fills my heart to see this day come.”
“Yes, mistress,” the man said with a nod.
Alita frowned slightly. “You do not sound convinced, my servant,” she said. “Why?”
“I meant no disrespect,” Ubu said defensively.
“Speak your mind,” she said. “I want to hear your opinion on this.”
“It is just…” the man began. He hesitated, forming the right words. His mistress looked on with great anticipation. “It is just that this mission… is he up to the task?”
“You have seen him during the training,” she reminded him. “He is one of the best fighters in the galaxy, if not beyond — a true master in every sense of the word.”
Ubu nodded. “His skill is indeed unmatched, and everything you had hoped for.”
“Then why are you concerned?”
Ubu fought for the right words again. “Will he… will his ‘conditioning’ be undone, being exposed to such familiar factors that could come into play?”
Alita smiled. “It will be a true test, indeed, Ubu,” she said, “and there is a chance of exposure undoing our many months of work. However…” She raised a finger. “…always remember that, without risk, one cannot reap the greatest of rewards.”
Ubu bowed. She was so confident, so determined in all her plans and actions. How could he, her humble servant, doubt that? “I understand,” he said. “I will oversee the departure.” He bowed again and began to back out of the room.
Alita watched him go, then turned back to her meal. She plucked a piece of ripe red fruit from a golden bowl and carefully turned it in her hands. Yes, she thought to herself, the risk will be worth it in the end, if all goes as I hope! With great zest and hunger, she bit into the juicy orb.
Sometime later, on the planet Earth along the Eastern Seaboard of the continent of North America and just outside the expansive populated area known as Metropolis, there was a buzz of activity. On the shores of old Montauk Point, rising above where the sandy beaches met the surf of the ocean, two modern buildings stood. And, given the various construction machines parked nearby, another structure would soon be joining those that made up the special academy.
A number of the students had gathered, watching as the final touches were put on a makeshift platform with podium. One was a young man with dark, spiky hair and blue skin. About his shoulders flapped a purple cape that matched the tunic and shorts he wore underneath. “What’s all this ruckus about?” asked Shadow Kid, youthful champion of the planet Talok VIII and cousin to Legion of Super-Heroes member Shadow Lass.
A light-skinned young man with silvery hair dressed in a white tunic with a high collar and black pants slapped his hand about the inquisitive one’s shoulders. “You know, Grev, you really shouldn’t stay away so long,” Crystal Kid replied. “Things move quickly about here. If you blink, you’ll be behind.”
“Don’t listen to Bobb, Grev,” a young woman with pale green skin and a large mane of flowing green hair replied. “He knows you’ve got responsibilities on your homeworld that keep you away from the academy for long stretches of time.” Lamprey gave him a little wink.
Shadow Kid nodded. In Grev Mallor’s mind, he briefly recalled how his cousin Tasmia Mallor and the other members of the Legion had come to the rescue after some difficult times back at home. (*) After that, he felt like he could use a breather, and it was for that reason he was back at the academy once more. “I know, Tayla,” he said. “It seems like every time I go away for a bit, when I come back, things have changed. Last time the academy moved out here. Now it looks like there are going to be more additions to the campus.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Super-Heroes: Shadows and Substance.]
“Yeah,” Crystal Kid said, “though I heard a rumor that this was a forced-upon change.”
“Forced?” Shadow Kid asked.
“Some off-world bigwig insisted on donating some new construction to the facility,” the Earth-born lad named Bobb Kohan continued to explain. “I hear tell the guy’s loaded, though not anywhere in the same league as R.J. Brande.”
Lamprey nodded. “Very few are in Mr. Brande’s league.”
Suddenly, a figure streaked across the horizon, heading straight for the walking trio. It was a young woman with short black hair with only the minimalist bit of black clothing covering her fit and trim body. “Hey, gang!” Laurel Kent called out as she landed next to them. “Anyone seen our teachers?”
“Not since that training session earlier,” Crystal Kid said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m still a bit sore from it.”
“What’s the problem, Laurel?” Lamprey asked. “Something wrong?”
“No,” said the young woman, a descendant of the twentieth-century hero Superman. “I just got word that they want to start the ceremony just before sundown. Figured the setting sun off the Point would make a good photo-op for our most recent benefactor.”
“Want us to help you locate them?” asked Shadow Kid.
“Sure,” Laurel said. “It’ll go faster if we each take a direction!” And with that, the four took flight with the help of their Legion flight rings, each taking a different search path.
A young couple, both with dark hair, strolled among the indoor gardens of the school. The woman wore a dark costume with a similarly dark cape. She seemed a bit sad. “Rokk, I do hope that poor man is going to be all right,” Night Girl said.
The young man dressed in a pink body suit with a black tunic put his black-gloved hand about the woman’s waist. “You mean that guy we found frozen on Pluto, Lydda?” Cosmic Boy replied. (*) “He’ll be fine once he adjusts to the thirtieth century. I’m sure the whole experience is what drove him over the edge more than anything else.”
[(*) Editor’s note: See Legion of Substitute Heroes: Future Shock.]
“I suppose. It’s just a shame that we can’t take him back home again.”
“True. But you have to remember that there is a lot about the twentieth century we really don’t know about. Even with all the holo-vids I’ve studied, there is plenty more I’d like to know. Now that Superboy doesn’t visit as frequently, it makes it harder to get more details.”
Night Girl nodded. “Still, it might help that poor man if he could learn something, anything, about what happened. Even if he can’t go home again, maybe filling in some of those details would help him.”
Cosmic Boy gave her a peck on the cheek. “That’s what I love about you, Lydda,” he said. “You’re so compassionate.” He took her hand. “Tell you what. I’ve been thinking about taking a little vacation for a while now. Maybe we can borrow a time bubble and spend a little time in the twentieth century. It could be a lot of fun.”
“Really?” Night Girl asked. “That could be fun.”
“Maybe we could even turn it into a little hon–” Cosmic Boy started to say.
He was interrupted by the call of a young woman’s voice. “Cosmic Boy! Night Girl!” Lamprey called out, emerging from the flora that her body blended in with quite well. She saw that the two heroes were taken aback. “Oh, I’m sorry to have startled you.”
“Not a problem, Tayla,” Cosmic Boy said. “With all the activity, we wanted to sneak away for a little quiet couple time.”
“Oh,” the young girl named Tayla Skott said with a slight blush of dark green to her cheeks. “Anyway, I’m glad I found you.”
“What is it?” Night Girl asked.
“The ceremony is about to start,” Lamprey said. “Laurel had us out looking for you guys. With Bouncing Boy away at Duo Damsel’s side, you two are the current instructors. It seemed only right for you two to be there for the ceremony.”
Cosmic Boy nodded. “Of course,” he said. Having been in the Legion for so many years, he understood that part of his duties were diplomatic and ceremonial. It wasn’t all saving the universe and stopping arch-criminals, though action seemed to suit him better than the ceremony parts. Still, he knew his duty, and as one of the Legion founders, it was expected of him. “We should be on our way, then.”
The three flew up to the open skylights of the gardens and out to where a small gathering was taking place.
As the hover-cams positioned themselves facing the podium, a large, slug-like being with gray-yellow skin made his way up the ramp. Around his shoulders was a purple cloak that ran down and trailed behind him. The trim of the material was inlaid with gold, as was the chain the held it about his neck, attached to two large, ornate gemstone clasps.
The alien turned, faced the assemblage before him, and smiled a gummy, toothless grin. Those gathered consisted of reporters, some local officials, and dignitaries, noted Metropolis business types, and, of course, the Legion Academy staff and some of the students. It was a small crowd of under fifty, but that didn’t seem to bother the speaker. With a gurgle, he cleared his throat and began to make guttural sounds.
Immediately, a thin figure with light brown flesh and large, multifaceted eyes, dressed in simple robes, began to interpret the man’s speech to Interlac, the accepted language used by most of the galaxy.
“Lifegivers and lifebearers,” the interpreter said as the man grunted on. “I am Slrvnta the Third, premier of the planet Krltos and overseer of the Galactic Trade Commission of the Delta-9-2 quadrant. I am very pleased to be speaking with you today at your humble facility.”
In the crowd, Crystal Kid leaned close to Shadow Kid and whispered, “who does this guy think he is?”
“Obviously he is very important in his part of space,” the Talok VIII native replied.
“Both of you shush!” Lamprey scolded in a whisper. “I’m trying to hear.”
Slrvnta continued to talk and his interpreter continued to translate for those who did not speak Krltoan. “…exploits known far and wide. It is only fitting that those of us with means give back to the Legion, even in such a simple way. So, it is with great honor that I would like to dedicate a new wing to the Legion Academy.”
Slrvnta gestured, and another pair of servants rushed forward. With them, they carried a ceremonial laser-shovel to allow their leader to break the new ground. The interpreter stepped aside, allowing Slrvnta to slither toward the ramp again.
Suddenly, there was the sound of metal piercing. All turned quickly to the source of the sound, just as the metal arm to the top of a crane snapped. The two workers standing beneath it were frozen in fear as the dirt carriage started to fall toward them.
Cosmic Boy absorbed the entire situation in a second and went into action. “Laurel! The men!”
“On it!” the part-Kryptonian cried as her flight ring propelled her through the air with great speed. Though she did not possess super-strength, she was ready to place her invulnerable body between the men and certain doom.
Night Girl cursed the setting sun that was barely kissing the horizon. “Not dark enough yet,” she said, noting the difference in her body starting to adjust. She derived her super-strength from the lack of light and thus was powerless during the daytime. Still, she wasn’t worried. Her boyfriend was already in action, too.
Cosmic Boy moved forward, extending both his arms as he flew. Unseen forces of magnetic energy shot from his fists, reaching out to engulf the falling equipment. His powers sought the metal portions of the machine, to grab them and take hold. In a moment, he had the situation under control. The machine stopped its deadly fall, held frozen in the air and then moved away to a portion of the grounds where it could be placed down safely. “There,” the Braalian native said.
“Way to go, teach!” Laurel cheered.
“Oh no!” The interpreter cried out. All turned as Slrvnta fell forward, face first, and tumbled down the ramp. His massive body rolled, sending the crowd to a scatter.
“What happened?” Lamprey cried out.
“Later for that!” Crystal Kid replied. Using his powers, he transformed objects nearby into smooth, curved crystal barriers. By bring them up gently, he was able to stop the death-roll of the fallen alien. The slug body came to a rest and rolled onto the back.
“The master! The master!” the servants cried out. “Someone has attacked the master!”
“Did anyone see anything?” Night Girl inquired, taking charge of the situation until Cosmic Boy rejoined them.
“He clutched his chest, then slumped over!” the interpreter said.
“Heart attack?” Crystal Kid asked.
“I don’t think so,” Cosmic Boy said. “Look!” He pointed to the alien’s chest. A small puncture could be seen with an area of slight reddening about it. “He’s been shot with something! We need to get him to the medical lab, fast!” There was a flurry of activity as the crowd was moved away while a hover-stretcher was brought in.