Shadow Lass placed her hands on Mon-El’s shoulders and said, “You’ve scanned those poor people with every sensor you could round up. Have you found out anything at all?”
Mon-El smiled ruefully and took her hand before leading her around his side and into his arms. “Actually, I think I have a theory that might explain this outbreak of monsters. I mean that literally! It’s a disease. A Validus plague, if you’ll excuse the expression. I think Dynamo Boy or the Time Trapper, or whatever we want to call him, did bring Mekt’s son back here to this time, and he may even have suggested the transformation tactic to a certain ally, but he didn’t turn Riyance and the others into the creatures. They were transformed into Validus duplicates through a very clever genetic alteration caused by exposure to a virus of sorts! I found one common element in blood work taken from several of the slumbering giants!”
“So this scientist infected Mekt’s boy and the others and turned them into the creatures we fought,” said Shadow Lass. “I can think of one particular genius with that kind of talent and criminal background — Dr. Mantis Morlo!”
Superboy swooped inside the lab and said, “I managed to sedate them all again, but their sheer size makes it difficult for drugs to work on them. We’re running out of narcotics.”
“I returned Graym and Garridan to their nanny, and Brin and Ayla are with them,” said Blok. “Ayla shows no change, but Brin’s encouraged that we have Saturn Queen’s word that she will restore Ayla.”
“Good work, pal,” said Superboy. “You look as if you have something else to add.”
“I took the liberty of studying the holo-files of all recent arrivals and departures from Winath,” said Blok. “Dr. Morlo was here recently and only departed a few days ago. He used an assumed name, but I was able to recognize him from my extensive study of the archives!”
“That pretty much confirms Lar’s theory!” said Shadow Lass. “Can you create an antivirus to restore the victims?”
“We should be able to do so together,” said Superboy, “but even at super-speed I don’t think we’re going to have results in time to prevent them from waking up and trying to escape again!”
“I’ll have Computo put out a general U.P. alert for Morlo,” said Shadow Lass. “Perhaps the Science Police will be able to find him.”
A crash shook their lab, and Superboy said, “They’re up and loose! Apparently the same virus that made them all into duplicates of Validus also burns right through the sedatives. It’s like one dose worked, but now they’re becoming tolerant to the drugs. The virus is almost sentient. It learns from what interacts with it.”
“We’re all that stand between them and helpless natives,” said Shadow Lass. “We have to stop them, even if it means resorting to force against otherwise innocent victims!”
Mon-El nodded. He recognized the demands of leadership were already making Tasmia Mallor make decisions that she wouldn’t necessarily consider under less dire circumstances. He admired her strength, even as he feared for the effect her choices would have on her sense of self. She would not forgive herself if anyone was hurt because of her decisions.
The Legionnaires rushed out to intercept the monsters. Superboy led the way and reluctantly shoved one of them into a second Validus. “I don’t want them to get hurt, but with their strength roughly equal thanks to the virus, they stand less chance of hurting someone else if they are occupied with one another!” he said.
Shadow Lass danced aside as a mental bolt shattered the ground beneath her high-heeled boots. She executed an agile flip through the air and narrowly avoided a crushing blow from one of the monsters. The beautiful girl concentrated, and two dots of darkness precisely covered the creature’s eyes. He can’t see, so maybe I can steer him away from the community! she thought. Flying upward, she used the edge of her cape to touch his face and draw him blindly in her direction.
Mon-El ducked one punch and caught the giant hand of his attacker. “Going up!” he said as he lifted the struggling brute skyward.
Blok’s own sturdy frame served him well, as his blocked the path of another Validus and held his position while some Winathians fled in the other direction.
Superboy grunted as he was hit by two of them at once. Even my invulnerable body can’t stand up to this level of punishment! he thought.
Mon-El was realizing the same lesson as a mental bolt struck him directly in the face, and he plunged to the ground with stunning impact. Shadow Lass cried out in concern and hurried to his side, even as Blok was hurled into her by another giant. She gasped in pain and fought to shake free of the massive Legionnaire.
As she crawled to freedom, and Superboy and Mon-El each began to rise again, a newcomer appeared in the sky above them. He wore an armored suit of purple and green, and his gloved hands gestured as the monsters closed in on the fallen heroes.
Suddenly, two of the huge creatures sank into the ground as it collapsed beneath their weight, while another Validus floated skyward helplessly, as if gravity had no hold upon him.
Superboy shook his head as his x-ray vision failed to penetrate the armored man’s helmet. Lead-lined! he thought. I can’t see who is in that battle-suit!
Flying up, he greeted the newcomer. “Thanks for the assist, friend!” he said. “We could use the help!”
The armored man turned to face him, and with the click of a button, his helmet’s visor slid aside to reveal features that were all too familiar to Superboy.
“Lex Luthor!” he gasped.
Meanwhile, Lightning Lad, Saturn Girl, Lightning Lord, and Saturn Queen had managed to reach the main processing center on Winath, where all the communes sent their surplus produce for an equitable planet-wide distribution.
“See, each commune specializes in a particular crop,” said Garth Ranzz. “Then they share their surplus yields with one another. It makes for the most effective use of the planet’s resources. Some areas are suited for one crop, while another area may be better for a different one. No one starves on Winath!”
“You always were overly enthusiastic, Garth,” said the older Mekt Ranzz. “How ultra-patriotic you still are, even after seeing the cosmos as a Legionnaire!”
“And how cynical you still are in spite of being a husband and father!” retorted Garth. And less insane than the Mekt I know! he added inwardly.
Mekt held his wife for a moment as she rubbed her temples. “I’ve been broadcasting my thoughts to the other me,” said Saturn Queen. “Imra’s been helping me. We’ve finally broken through. I can now sense Mekt’s mind below us!”
“The younger Mekt is down there!” said Saturn Girl. “I see him!”
“And as we deduced, that’s clearly a younger version of me with him!” said Saturn Queen. “She allowed us to find them after we showed her what her own future might be!” The beauty in red and blue pointed to a much younger girl with her same lovely features, but wearing a costume of a gold and purple tunic over lilac hosiery and slippers.
They faced each other warily, and Garth shook his own head as he wondered what such a strange eventuality would be like — to meet one’s own past or future self as a separate being.
“She gave up!” said Saturn Girl. “She didn’t even try to shield his mind like she did at the wedding.”
“She didn’t even try to stop us!” said Saturn Queen. “Look at how upset the young Mekt is about it!”
Indeed, Mekt was shouting at the girl as energy crackled from his hands and eyes. “How could you betray me like this? You turned on me, and you’ll regret it!”
The younger Saturn Queen looked at him with a mixture of horror and scorn on her pretty face. “You should not act so indignantly! You lied to me!” she screamed. “You told me a pretty story when you seduced me and led me to leave Titan. I see that you never cared for me at all. Your warped mind opened to my own, and I realized for the first time how sick you are! I won’t be used by you, or anyone else!”
As Mekt raised his hand to attack her, Garth darted between them and deflected the bolt. “She came to her senses, thanks to the help of Imra and the older Saturn Queen,” said Garth. “They broke through to her and transmitted the truth of your deceptions. You told her you loved her and only wanted to hold the food supply for ransom. Imra and Eve let the younger Eve see your true plans!”
“Always the hero, eh, Garth?” said Mekt. “Well, heroes die young!” He roared with anger and blasted away at Garth, even as the older Mekt watched and waited.
How do I fight myself? he thought. I could help him slay Garth, and then we could settle our own differences!
Saturn Girl moved closer. She had picked up his mental conflict, and she was not going to let her husband suffer. Saturn Queen shook her head, and her thoughts reached Saturn Girl’s mind; Imra nodded slowly. I’ll trust her for now, she thought. She says to let Mekt make his own decision.
Garth struggled with his brother and said, “You only attacked Ayla’s wedding to distract us from your true goal here. You wanted to poison the food supply!”
Mekt laughed and said, “True enough! You do-gooders think everything revolves around you. I wanted to spoil the wedding, but only so I could keep you occupied and prevent you from learning that my ally, Dr. Mantis Morlo, had introduced a precious germ into the food. You see, when it reaches the consumer and is digested, it recognizes DNA. Each germ is linked to another. It’s a group mind, and it’s a sentient plague. What it does is scan the host’s body and kill one victim while sparing his or her twin. It’s perfect! In one single act, I could make everyone here know how I’ve felt all my life! It would leave them all without twins, and they would know my pain!”
“You really are insane!” said Garth. “These so-called ‘smart germs’ that Morolo created couldn’t work! They would really wipe out the whole planet! Morlo played on your madness. Creating a plague would be an intellectual game for him. He was using you!”
“You’re wrong!” said Mekt. “Morlo used a variant to make his Validus herd. I found the first such subject to be oddly docile and subject to my will. It was as if he was linked to my mind!”
“That’s because, in another timeline, he was your son!” said Saturn Girl. She projected the truth in the minds of all the combatants, and as Mekt staggered beneath the sudden revelation, Garth knocked him flat.
Saturn Queen faced her younger self and said, “It took much for me to look into your mind and see myself as I might have been long ago. Still, I had to make you see that your Mekt was using you.”
The younger Saturn Queen nodded and said, “That was why I allowed you to track us by his mind as well as by my own. I saw the truth.”
“What about you, Mekt?” asked Lightning Lord, turning to the older Lightning Lord.
“I could not fight myself,” said the older villain. “I also resisted the urge to fight you. That may not mean I’m not as reformed as I thought, but perhaps it means I’m changing from what I once was! I never wish to be like that version of myself!” He gestured to where the younger Lightning Lord was standing once more.
“Don’t you see?” cried the young Lightning Lord. “The storm told me that this would make me free! I would never feel my old pain again! I would not be different any longer! All of Winath would be like me!”
“I’ve already alerted the food bank staff,” said Saturn Girl. “They will screen the products and remove any type of virus.”
“Not necessary!” said a short man in a purple derby and an orange costume. “I’ve already done it! I’ve used my magic to cleanse the whole supply!”
“Mr. Mxyzptlk?” said Saturn Girl as she recognized the fifth-dimensional imp.
“I’m actually the descendant of the infamous one,” said the short man. “You all fought my criminal brother once as well. (*) I’m the white sheep of the family. In my future era, I’m a Legionnaire! (*) Using certain time-travel devices from our lab, I came back here when the fluctuations in time caused by the removal of the adult Lightning Lord, Saturn Queen, and Cosmic King from our era showed up on certain monitors in the lab used by one of my teammates!”
[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Doom of the Super-Heroes,” Adventure Comics #310 (July, 1963) and “The War of the Legion,” Adventure Comics #355 (April, 1967).]
“It’s all true,” the older Mekt confirmed. “He is a Legionnaire. I’ve fought him more than once!”
The imp shrugged and said, “Water under the astro-bridge. You’ve reformed. I’m willing to return you and your family to our era. You can go on with your life there, as far as I’m concerned.”
“What of my son?” said Lightning Lord.
Saturn Girl pointed skyward, to where several costumed figures were approaching. “Our friends are here!” she said. “I think they have your child!”
“He’s fine!” said Superboy. “Lex Luthor, here, cured all the victims with a formula he’d created in your era!”
He nodded toward the armored genius, who waved to his ally Mxyzptlk and said, “I was able to use a chemical spray that cured all of them, including little Riyance!” He held a baby in his arms and handed him over to the older Saturn Queen.
“Thank goodness!” she whispered as she and Lightning Lord examined their restored child.
Superboy turned to Lex and said, “It took me a minute or two to accept that you aren’t really the Lex I know, but his reformed thirtieth-century descendant. Thanks for your help. I’m glad to know you are a Legionnaire in that divergent future timeline. I like to think a Luthor’s brilliance has been turned to positive uses!”
Luthor nodded sadly. He would not say too much about the destiny of the Lex that was his ancestor and who would continue to plague Superboy when he became Superman. “The victims have been cured,” he said. “The germs in the food are no more. I’d say our work is done. Join us, and we’ll take you back to our proper timeline after we pick up one of our other pals!”
Lightning Lord nodded and said, “Give us a moment!” He approached Garth and said, “I don’t know what will happen between you and the Mekt of this timeline, but you and I may at least part as family, if not as friends!”
They shook hands slowly, and as Garth looked into his brother’s eyes and then glanced over to where Mon-El held the now-power-dampened Mekt of his timeline, he nodded briefly.
“I’ve revived Ayla as well,” said Saturn Queen. “I actually did so earlier, but she will sleep for a few more hours before awaking as good as new!”
The family and the two Legionnaires vanished, and the remaining heroes faced one another.
“The young Saturn Queen’s gone!” said Shadow Lass. “She ran away, too. I think she clouded our minds long enough to escape!”
“I don’t think we’ll have to worry about her again,” said Saturn Girl. “She was shocked by the madness within Mekt and how he used her. She also saw into the mind of her older self, and I think she knows that almost any action that moves her along the path her criminal older self took or might take in that other timeline could place her on the same path to heartache!”
“As for Dr. Morlo, we will find him in time,” said Blok. “He can’t hide for long!”
Garth merely watched as the insane Mekt continued to rant and rave within his restraints. Seeing a future Mekt reform only makes the plight of the one I know even more painful! he thought.
But his joy at seeing the blissful reunion between the newly married couple of Brin and Ayla Londo eased his pain, and he and the others offered their loving congratulations as the happy couple prepared to depart for the honeymoon.
Ayla held Brin’s hand and said, “I can’t believe I delayed our trip by fainting like that.” They had decided not to tell the young woman about the exact cause of her faint until after her return from her honeymoon.
“Let her have a good time,” Imra Ranzz had told the others earlier. “Telling her about all the madness with Mekt and his future self can wait until she is back.”
Brin grinned and said, “You were the perfect bride. Now, don’t worry about that past, Mrs. Londo. We’ve got a marriage to celebrate.”
Ayla smiled warmly and said, “We’ll call you later, Garth!”
Garth hugged her and said, “Enjoy Rann! I’ve heard it’s a great vacation spot!”
Mon-El turned to Superboy and said, “Say, pal, what’s troubling you?”
“When the future Legionnaires were about to leave, they mentioned having to pick up another one of their friends,” whispered Superboy. “I wondered what they meant by that.”