Even as Saturn Girl took a Bismollian cruiser into orbit and headed for deep space, the other Legionnaires were approaching a scene of battle and madness on an artificial planetoid known as Brande’s Asteroid.
Their brilliant benefactor’s chosen home was a testament to his genius, but the industrialist and star-maker had given up his former life in order to seek new challenges, and he had left both the heroic team he had sponsored and his incredible business holdings to look after themselves.
Now Element Lad frowned as he saw the destruction below their cruiser. “Those blasts the aliens are emitting are shattering everything in their range of fire! That’s almost total matter decomposition!”
“Don’t worry, Jan!” said Sun Boy. “We’ll take those creeps apart! This is personal! They look like the same beings who hit Bismoll! Getting them might just clear my father!”
As Shrinking Violet studied the red beings, she added, “I’ve been thinking that they have to have some connection to the Starburst Bandits, too. They were reddish as well and humanoid in appearance. Those bolts they give off from their own metabolisms certainly match the energy beams being used below!”
“I concur, except for the fact that these beams appear to be far more destructive,” said Brainiac 5. “Also, these invaders do not appear to be after natural resources. They are trying to steal some of Brande’s technology!”
Timber Wolf shrugged and said, “Brainy, you do the math, I’ll break some heads!” The agile Zoonian dived down into the midst of the red-hued invaders and started punching them with his usual combination of skill and savagery.
Mon-El and Ultra Boy acted in unison and separated in flight as Lar Gand veered to the left and Jo Nah moved right. They caught a rapidly crumbling communications tower and used their super-strength to ease it away from other buildings or frightening staffers below. “Those raiders play rough!” said Mon-El. “This tower could have crushed dozens of Brande’s staffers!”
Ultra Boy nodded and suddenly switched his metabolism’s ultra-energy from super-strength to invulnerability as a red beam rocketed skyward and bounced off his chest. “Tell me about it!” he said. “If I hadn’t switched energy functions in time, I might have been driven right through the remains of the tower!”
Andromeda used her own Rokynian super-speed and flight to create a whirlwind that brought several of the invaders together in a tightly compressed bunch. “My, but you fellows are a colorful lot!” she said in a mocking tone as the invaders fought helplessly against the wind power that knocked them around. Element Lad smiled as the teen girl gestured playfully in the direction of the aliens. “All yours, Jan!” she said.
The blond sole survivor of Trom used his transmutation power to turn the air around the aliens into a sphere of inertron. He deftly added a few holes for oxygen and said, “That should hold them!”
Sun Boy was using his own control over heat to melt through one of the tank-like vehicles the aliens were using. “How’s it feel to be back in harness, Tenzil?” he said.
Matter-Eater Lad mumbled a reply as he chomped down on a tank and used his hyper-acidic digestive juices to break through the shielding.
Shrinking Violet smiled as she shrank beneath a ray beam and then grew back to normal size in time to connect with a spinning kick to an alien’s face. “I’d say he’s too polite to talk with his mouth full, Dirk!” she said.
Sun Boy nodded and said, “Yeah, what would the voters think if he displayed bad manners in public?” He joked to keep his own spirits up and out of a customary optimism. Still, inside Dirk was worried about his father and what these odd aliens had to do with the charges the elder Morgna faced on Bismoll.
Brainiac 5 activated his force-shield belt, and a protective barrier rapidly surrounded two agitated figures. The man was older with graying hair and a worried if stolid demeanor. The girl was young and very beautiful in a spirited way. She had long black hair and flashing eyes of an equally dark shade. A short, iridescent blue tunic and boots completed her outfit.
“Marla, don’t worry!” said the Coluan genius. “We have the situation under control!”
Marla Latham, Brande’s senior aide, nodded in appreciation. “I never doubted that you would!” he said. “After all, I used to be in charge of your new recruits. I know how capable you Legionnaires are!”
Timber Wolf slammed his palm into an alien’s chin as the being released a red energy ray. The stray beam struck one of his allies, and the silent alien literally melted into dust.
The girl with Marla gasped and said, “Total molecular breakdown! That’s impossible, unless those things are humanoid constructs of artificial nature!”
Brainiac 5 raised one eyebrow as he nodded approvingly. “I agree,” he said. “The beings may resemble an alien species we’ve encountered before, but their true composition appears to be of some energy of an artificial nature. They are nothing more than automatons, although their composition fascinates me!”
“Not too many sentients can keep up with you in the brains department,” said Marla. “However, my granddaughter, here, might just give you a run for your money!”
The black-haired girl smiled and said, “I’m Marlo Latham! Grandpa is too kind, but I do love science. I’ve been a student on Naltor. I just returned after graduation, and we barely had time to chat when the attackers showed up!”
Brainiac 5 nodded and held up a small device that he had removed from his belt. “The remains of that alien failed to provide me with any energy signature! As strange as it sounds, I suspect the aliens are formed out of magical energy!”
“Magic?” said Marlo. “I knew a few who dabbled in the arts on Naltor.”
“Look!” yelled Marla. “The devils are running away! You proved to be more than they could handle!”
Marlo winked at him and said, “You scared them off, Gramps!”
“They failed to get any of the techno gear, either!” said Element Lad. “We got here just in time!”
“Well, I’d still like to bring them in!” said Mon-El. He flew in pursuit of the fleeing raiders and managed to catch the edge of one of the strange flying platforms they each rode. He shattered it into scrap metal and caught the falling rider in a grip that could crush steel.
Then a bright flash of light illuminated the sky as the other raiders vanished.
“There’s no doubt about it!” said Mon-El. “That was magic, not science at work! The teleportation almost knocked me out of the sky. I’m vulnerable to magic, and I recognize the feeling!”
“You were wonderful!” said Andromeda. “You always are!”
Ultra Boy grinned and said, “He’s not bad for an old man!”
“Can we question the captive?” asked Sun Boy.
Brainiac 5 nodded and said, “I expect to do so now. We may also have Imra run a mind-scan on him. If my speculations about these beings are correct, he won’t reveal much, since he’s nothing more than a magically formed puppet!”
Timber Wolf scratched his chin as he thought and said, “Uh, guys, a bigger problem here. Vi’s missing!”
Matter-Eater Lad gulped and said, “Salu could be hurt! Maybe she’s trapped under some of the wreckage in a diminutive form!”
Andromeda’s blonde locks bounced as she shook her head. “No sign of her! I just did a scan using super-senses!”
“I tried my own penetra-vision, but I don’t see her, either!” said Ultra Boy.
“Do you think the aliens took her?” asked Matter-Eater Lad.
“Nah, she would have put up a real fight!” said Timber Wolf. “Have you ever watched her work out in the gym? She spends nearly as much time there as I do!”
Matter-Eater Lad frowned as he said, “Are we talking about the same Vi?”
“Salu can take care of herself,” said Element Lad with a grin. “She’s changed a lot from the ‘Shy Vi’ you once dated, Tenzil!” (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Hapless Hero,” Action Comics #381 (October, 1969).]
“I suspect she concealed herself aboard one of their vehicles,” said Brainiac 5. “She may have decided to ride with them and allow herself to be taken to their point of origin! That was a rather clever tactic, although rife with peril.”
“Since we can’t track their magical teleportation path without Mysa or perhaps Dawny,” said Element Lad, “we’d better get some answers from our prisoner!”
The red alien remained impassive as Mon-El held him. “He’s sure a silent one!” he said. “Can they talk? I never overheard even a cry of pain from them during the battle!”
A restless Matter-Eater Lad started to eat his way through some debris as Element Lad turned other sections of charred metal to oxygen.
“OK, pal, just where do you come from?” said Sun Boy. “Who is your master? We know Mordru is entombed on Orando, so it can’t be him!”
Saturn Girl swooped into view and said, “Dirk, let me try the direct approach!” She approached the alien with her customary mixture of confidence and icy professionalism.
Placing her palms against its head, she concentrated for a moment before reeling backward on her high-heeled boots and falling into Sun Boy’s arms. “So powerful!” she gasped. “The mind directing the aliens is incredible! It overwhelmed me!”
Sun Boy lowered her gently to the ground and held her hand. “Just rest, Imra. Anything that can throw you for a loop like that is nothing to take lightly!”
As he tended to Saturn Girl, Sun Boy also noticed the shocking sight of the alien’s almost instant decomposition.
Element Lad concentrated and said, “Magical decay! It rivals anything Condo or I could have done!” He referred to Condo Arlik, the late Legionnaire known as Chemical King, whose powers had the capability for creating that kind of reaction.
“Obviously, the mastermind behind these raiders doesn’t want his pawns to reveal too much about him!” said Mon-El.
Saturn Girl nodded and rubbed her eyes wearily. “Dirk, I did sense that the same force that controls them is the same one that forced your father and Nolan to create the tools and machines they use!” she said. “I think, with testimony from me and a couple of the Mind Institute’s experts, we can at least clear him of the charges!”
Tenzil Kem smiled and said, “Wonderful! I’ve hated to have to work against my friends like this!”
“And I’ve managed to pick up a signal from Violet,” said Brainiac 5. “She activated her flight ring’s link to Computo for a moment before it suddenly died out. That brief contact was enough for me to pinpoint her location!”
“Then let’s quit jawing and start moving!” said Timber Wolf.
“I agree!” said Brainiac 5. “We’ve got a long way to travel!”
Shrinking Violet had managed to do exactly what her teammates had deduced. The brave girl from Imsk had reduced herself to a size at which she could slip within an opening in one of the alien flying sleds.
I guess you just can’t take the Espionage Squad out of the girl! Salu Digby thought with a wry smile as she settled down for what would prove to be a bumpy ride.
She thought about her father Arn and his new budding romance with Flavia Morgna. In spite of a taste in clothes that would make Dreamy blush, assuming Nura Nal actually possesses the capacity to show embarrassment, Flavia is really sweet, and I’m beginning to think she may be just what Dad needs! she thought.
Finally, she noticed the sled had stopped moving, and she peered through a grillwork to see a startling sight. “It’s some kind of crude factory in the midst of a jungle!” she gasped. “The temperature here is stifling!” She wiped a bead of perspiration from her brow and flew out of the sled.
The red aliens were all busy as they silently went about the performance of certain routine duties. “They have to be near-mindless, or at least they show no signs of individuality!” she noted with the keen eye for detail that had made her one of the team’s finest detectives.
Shrinking Violet watched for a moment as the aliens labored over the machinery, and she realized that she understood their method of operation. “Their master forced industrialists like Mr. Morgna and A.D. Nolan to manufacture the equipment they’ve been using to raid other worlds for the materials they need to run this factory complex. However, I can’t determine what it is exactly that they are trying to make!”
She never got a chance to find out, since a tendril of metal suddenly snaked up her legs and around her hips to hold her in a constricting grip. “I can’t shrink my way free! Pressure’s already too tight!” she cried.
In seconds, the heroic girl had activated her flight ring’s link to Computo and then passed out. Her prone form hung limply over the coils of the tendril, which seemed to lead directly into the soil.