by Martin Maenza and Libbylawrence
The reborn Karate Kid himself was unaware of the scheming his erstwhile mistress was engaged in within the complex. He was fingering the ring he had reclaimed from the stealthy Kern as he tried to remember exactly what it meant to him.
He could see a woman’s face, and he almost imagined that a rich perfume filled his senses as if he was near her and she was dear to him. He felt the connection, but all he could pull out of his damaged memories was the name Jeckie.
“Jeckie?” he muttered. “Something tells me she is the woman I keep seeing. She gave me this ring. She is or was special to me. If I was or am bound to another, then she must be out there. I can’t feel any trace of sorrow associated with her face. I have to find her, and I have to make sense of my life!”
As he returned to a calming meditation, images flashed across his mind. Val saw himself again on Earth as he had been earlier. He saw the target he had been sent to kill. He clenched his fists as pain washed over his mind, and he saw the scene fade away like a broken holo.
“I have come to ask you to help me kill the one who murdered your father!”
The words came from a sinister warrior whose sharp tone echoed in Val’s mind as he saw himself years before.
“No chance, pal! We’re the good guys. We don’t kill!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Lair of the Black Dragon,” Superboy #210 (August, 1975).]
Although he knew somehow that these words were not said in exactly this same way, he still winced slightly as he whispered them. ‘Good guys’? he thought. Did I ever think in terms of such absolute certainty? What does that make me now? What have I become? What would she think of me now?
The young man paced restlessly as he struggled to make sense of the words and images in his head. My father was killed, but I did not avenge his death. He was a murderer who deserved to die. His allies killed my mother. He was not a hero. He was like Alita. Am I my father’s son?
Seeing an old man in his mind, he said, “Sensei?”
This wizened man was his true teacher. He raised his hands in a practice drill that came naturally to his body and reflex action, if not to his mind.
“You gave me ideals and moral values. You made me a force for good,” he whispered as he recalled the words he had once said to the wise mentor who had raised him.
What would he think of me now? he thought. Could my teacher or Jeckie stand to look at me now? What pain have I caused her?
Lashing out with smashing force, he shattered a small table. “If I could, I’d gladly take all her pain,” he said.
He felt a wave of pain that came more from memory than from physical ailment.
“The pain plague! I was one of the ones who took turns absorbing Jeckie’s pain when she was suffering from the pain plague!” he said slowly. “I told her I’d take all her pain if I could!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “Who Can Save the Princess?” Superboy #209 (May-June, 1975).]
He saw her face again, a delicate, heart-shaped face crowned by platinum blonde hair. She was regal and beautiful like some storybook princess. He also saw a weird carved image and felt her kiss anew.
“The Spirit King. The sign means love to her people!” he said.
Sitting down, he buried his face in his hands as he tried to make some sense of his life and his clouded memories once more.
Timber Wolf gazed up at the mission monitor board in Legion Headquarters and turned to the hulking hero from Dryad called Blok. “Blok, you know the history of this team better than those of us who were here before you. You’ve become the unofficial team archivist. So tell me what you think about this business at the Legion Academy dedication.”
“Rokk told me that the academy kids think the killer was Val. He told me, because he knew I was close to him. We still have not said anything to Jeckie or the majority of the team, because we don’t want to stir up painful memories for nothing. It is certain that, unlike many more durable forms, you humans are frail and may indeed die rather easily. Karate Kid did die as he saved Orando from the Legion of Super-Villains. It was a noble and selfless sacrifice, and it was witnessed by his wife and his fellow Legionnaires.”
“Look, Rocky, I know the details,” said Brin Londo. “I was the guy who carried out Val’s last request from his will. His old Sensei and I risked life and limb on Lythyl to plant a seed there in order to pay back that terrible world for turning his old man bad!”
“It helps me to think to retrace the events that form a given historical pattern,” said Blok. “What is it ancient Earth Biblical texts said? We are born of yesterday.”
“I’m not much for deep reasoning,” said Brin, waving his hand dismissively. “I just know that Val was my pal. We worked out together. He taught me some of my fighting skills. I mean, I had the power and the agility but didn’t have the technique. He was kind of proud about passing on what he’d been taught by the old Sensei, and that sure didn’t include murdering a helpless dignitary in cold blood! Val was a Legionnaire. He’d been team leader. He was no killer.”
“And yet, my friend, our history shows that Legionnaires have indeed taken lives,” said Blok.
Timber Wolf ran a hand through his slightly shaggy hair and said, “I guess you have a point. Still, Val was more than some fighting machine. When I was suffering from my addiction to Oomar lotus fruit, he sat with me and taught me meditation that helped me fight the need for the stuff. (*) I can’t stand the idea that some punk is trying to make him out to be a killer!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Forbidden Fruit,” Action Comics #378 (July, 1969).]
“As you say, it could well be a shape-shifter or even a common thug using an image projector to alter his appearance,” noted Blok. “Still, that would explain the man’s physical manner, but not his impressive array of skills!”
Timber Wolf slammed his hand down on the control, and the image of Karate Kid faded from view. “Yeah, I know, I know!” he said sadly.
Lydda Jath was very familiar with men who neglected their own welfare in a tireless pursuit of knowledge. The lovely dark-haired girl from Kathoon owed the nocturnal superhuman strength she used as Night Girl to the research of her brilliant father. He had often forgotten basic routines like taking meals when his work preoccupied his mind. Still, that type of dedication to scholarship was the norm for the elder Jath. Lydda found such behavior troubling in her romantic interest, Rokk Krin of Braal.
She had always known from the earliest days of her crush on Cosmic Boy, the heroic founding member of the Legion, that he was dedicated and resolute. He would endure much to see a just cause achieved. He would not give up or neglect any duty, be it to his family, his planet, his team, or his religion. A strict adherence to one religious custom had almost cost him his life when he once dared to face the Emerald Empress herself without using his powers of magnetism, which had been prohibited on that sacred annual day.
Still, Lydda was worried that Cosmic Boy was going to damage his health out of an obsessive desire to find the answers behind the mystery of the assassin, who looked so much like the late and lamented Karate Kid.
Rokk Krinn sighed as he looked over data on a computer screen. “Computo, correlate the data on the Zandian blow-gun with the measurement of the wound that killed the victim,” he said.
The computer obeyed his command and presented a holographic display of information.
“Nope,” he said. “Not a match! I can’t figure it out!”
Lydda gently eased his chair back from the console and sat on his lap. “Rokk, you can’t push yourself so hard,” she said. “I thought you and I were going to gain some real time together since you accepted the status of advisor to the team.”
“I know,” said Rokk. “I have been promising you a vacation for far too long. Still, I can’t drop this. You and I were responsible for all Legion Academy matters when the school site became the location for a cold and calculated assassination. Until Lu and Chuck come back from medical leave, I feel like the whole academy and everything connected to it is my burden. To make matters worse, the killer looked exactly like our late partner, Val. We’ve dismissed theories ranging from a Durlan impostor to a time-displaced Val, and nothing else is coming to my mind to solve the riddle.”
Sighing, he added, “I’m not the sleuth that Salu is, nor do I have Brainy or Cham’s talents for solving mysteries, but I always did just fine back in the days when Garth and Imra and I were the whole team. Maybe I’ve become obsolete!”
Lydda kissed him and said, “Not from where I sit! Rokk, have you considered letting the problem alone for a time? Maybe some answer will come to you when your mind is refreshed.”
“You could be right,” said Rokk. “Let me do one more check. That odd-looking symbol we took from the contract stamped or sealed by the thug could unlock a lot of doors. If there is one subject I know, it is twentieth-century history. It’s my hobby. Well, I keep hoping that that emblem meant something in the far past. The real Val lived back then for a time. We don’t fully know all that happened to him during his stay there in Superman’s time, and this whole mystery may relate to some event from that era.”
Lydda sighed and stood up. “I’ll bring you some kono juice,” she said. “You could use an energy boost.”
Rokk knew that weeks of effort had yielded very little in terms of results, but he also had no desire to admit failure. Thus, he searched through Science Police databanks that came from sources as exotic or ancient in nature as the case files of the twentieth-century Thanagarian lawman known as Hawkman.
As the data filled his screen, he smiled broadly. He reread everything and stood up.
“I’ve got it!” he said. “This is what I’ve been searching for all along. It seems odd that I missed it before when I checked the same sources! I guess I was trying too hard or was just too fatigued to make the connection! The League of Assassins! Ra’s Al Ghul! I thought that whole story was a myth, but this makes me reconsider all I thought I knew.”
He turned as Lydda returned with the juice and said, “Honey, that drink can wait. We’ve got a mission to go on immediately!”