Superman: The Unkindest Cut, Chapter 8: Scrubbs Unleashed

by Starsky Hutch 76

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Valura Tur-Thol, Rokyn’s Green Lantern, walked with Primus, Starfire, Artin, Shlagen, Doc, and Broot of the Omega Men. The streets they strolled down were nearly empty, since most pedestrians had gathered upon areas they knew to have holo-emitters playing the day’s bout.

“Do we have to check on Brainiac’s ship again?” Shlagen wined, visibly agitated at the prospect of stepping back into the android villain’s lair. “It’s not like anyone could steal it.”

“It’s only a matter of time before he comes for it,” Primus said. “For him, it’s like losing a limb.”

“More like losing all limbs,” Doc said. “Brainiac is a unique cybernetic life-form composed of living circuitry, and his ship is literally a part of him.”

“Not that unique,” Artin said with irritation.

“No offense,” said Doc. After working with Artin for so long, it had become easy to forget he was an artificial intelligence, even if the current android shell he was housed in didn’t look particularly human. At one time, Artin had shared a body with Primus. Perhaps that was why he behaved so humanlike now. According to Primus, Artin had been like this long before he had agreed to play host to the sentient program to help him escape his masters. Artin had long ago exceeded his original parameters in ways the Psions had never dreamed.

“What I would not give to explore that ship from the inside,” Artin said.

“We’ve already been over the ship with a fine-toothed comb,” Broot said.

“No, I mean from the inside,” Artin said.

“Oh,” Broot said, nodding knowingly. His attention was suddenly diverted by the sight of specks rising upon the horizon. “X’hal… what is that?

Valura Tur-Thol looked in the direction the enormous gray-skinned minstrel pointed, and her telescopic vision suddenly kicked in as the sun above finished changing from red to yellow. She gasped with alarm, startled as the specks grew larger and took on shape. “Those are people!” she exclaimed. Images of Scrubb citizens suddenly gifted with flight filled her line of vision. Some were delighted, others terrified. “The Scrubbs are airborne!”

“What? They suddenly know how to fly now?!” Starfire exclaimed.

“Able to? Yes. Know how? No,” Valura said. “I know from personal experience it took me a lot of practice after I got this ring.”

“Same here,” Starfire said.

“Utter chaos,” Primus said, grimacing. Cries of alarm could be heard off in the distance

“Oh, this is not good at all,” Doc said.

***

Lobo felt his feet rising off the floor as Hun’ya lifted him up by the death-grip he had on his neck. Even in such a dire situation, his expression was one of defiance.

It had been said that a Velorpian could regenerate from even one drop of blood. Lobo had never expected to have to test that theory, though. Facing an enhanced Hun’ya was causing him to consider the possibility.

Hun’ya could not be felled, and Lobo could not be hurt, at least not permanently. Both men were bracing themselves for a fight that could not end.

“Well, what are ya waiting for?” Lobo choked out.

“Bravado will not help you, little man,” Hun’ya said. From the side of the ring, the sound of someone clearing his throat briefly distracted him. A look of irritation crossed his face. “The fight ends now,” he continued, but he was interrupted by the person at the side of the ring clearing his throat even louder.

What?” Hun’ya bellowed. Both Hun’ya and Lobo turned in the direction to see a well-dressed messenger staring anxiously.

“It’s the fancy lad,” Lobo said.

“I… I have a message for you, Your Majesty… and Lobo.”

Hun’ya dropped Lobo and stepped forward with annoyance. “As you can see, we are a little busy.”

“I… I was told it was quite urgent,” the messenger said, holding up the sealed envelope.

“Who would have the audacity to do such a thing?!” Hun’ya exclaimed.

The messenger gestured to a robed figure several rows back. The mysterious figure brought up his hands to his hood and pulled it back, revealing his identity. Hun’ya’s eyes grew wide to see that it was Rat’lar. He shouldn’t have been free, let alone attending the match.

“This should be interesting,” Hun’ya said. He broke the seal and opened the message, read it, and then turned to a curious Lobo, who was trying to peer around his massive arm. “It would appear our match is at an end,” he said, handing the message to Lobo. He peered back to Rat’lar, who gave him a gracious nod before rising from his seat to leave.

“Those sneaky, lyin’ bastiches,” Lobo said, reading the message. “This mean the fight is over?”

“Oh, I still wish you to fight,” Hun’ya said, gesturing to the spoiled aristocracy filling the nearest rows to the ring. “But I will no longer be your opponent.”

Now yer talkin’,” Lobo said.

Hun’ya raised his arms over his head and bellowed, “Hun’ya!” Then he leaped from the ring at the men who had plotted his death, much to their dismay.

Not wanting to be left without a battle-cry of his own, Lobo yelled, “It’s fraggering time!” before leaping after him.

***

A woman attempted to step over a fallen tree limb and launched herself into the sky. A man talking animatedly with his hands turned to answer a friend standing behind him and knocked him through a wall. A small boy, concentrating to make out an object far away, sets his lawn ablaze. All across the globe, the inhabitants of Bodace found themselves the recipients of powers they were ill-prepared for and ill-equipped to handle.

“Utter chaos,” Primus found himself repeating to himself for the umpteenth time as he peered down upon the city on his floating platform with Artin at his side.

“We heard you the first time,” Starfire said over the shared psychic link Primus had created. With a controlled burst, she nudged a hover-car out of the way of a screaming, frantic Scrubb woman soaring through the air with her arms flailing wildly about.

“Sorry,” Primus said. “My own thoughts sometimes slip through when I create these links.

“You aren’t thinking anything the rest of us aren’t,” Doc said, dodging debris as a Scrubb soared down from the sky and crashed into a wall. “X’hal!”

“You can say that again,” Blue Devil said, flying far above with the aid of his trident, while Tigorr flew next to him on a rocket cycle. “I haven’t seen this kind of panic since the Crisis.”

“Except then everyone felt powerless in the face of disaster,” Superwoman said, flying with Superman and his newly recovered parents. “In this case, the disaster is that everyone has too much power.”

Superman glanced from his mother to his father. To look at them, you would never have known that they had been on their death-beds only a short while ago. He had wanted them to remain at the hospital with their doctors, but they had insisted on accompanying him to assist in any way they could. They had accumulated some small level of experience with their powers during the course of Jor-El’s study of yellow solar radiation in the years before Krypton’s destruction, so they were at least better off than the panicking Scrubbs.

“How does the frackin’ sun just suddenly change color?” Tigorr growled from the back of his rocket cycle.

“I don’t think that’s what happened here,” Primus said.

“That’s correct,” Jor-El said. “It’s not.”

“I don’t follow,” Blue Devil said.

“This world is surrounded by an impenetrable force-field they use to keep out intruders,” Jor-El continued. “Fortunately for us, they opened it when they recognized the symbol on my son’s Supermobile. Someone has altered the makeup of that shield to filter the wavelength of light reaching this planet. So to us, the sun appears yellow. To accomplish something like this, the perpetrator must have an amazingly keen scientific mind.”

“Brainiac,” Superman said through gritted teeth.

“It might have been designed to keep strange ships out, but I’m sure that has changed as well,” Jor-El continued. “I would be highly surprised if any Scrubb ships were able to get through that shield.”

“He did it again,” Valura Tur-Thol said miserably. “He bottled us. This time, he didn’t even need to shrink us to do it.”

“But how?” Starfire said. “We know he’s not in his ship.”

“H-he wouldn’t h-have to be,” Shlagen said nervously. “I-if he gained access to a main data port from somewhere on Bodace, he could still take it over if he somehow managed to bypass their security.”

“That’s right,” Jor-El said to the neurotic, bird-like mechanic from Slagg. “So we need to find him and sever that connection.”

“Easier said than done,” Superman said. “Half these buildings are lined with lead. That will make the search take a whole lot longer.”

Artin, who had been following the conversation through Primus, placed a hand on the shoulder of the Omega Men’s leader and said, “If I might make a suggestion, it might be possible to take the fight to him directly.”

“How are we supposed to do that if we can’t find him?” Primus said.

You might not be able to,” Artin said. “But I can.”

***

As the Green Man created yet another portal to make a Scrubb reappear on the other side of a building instead of crashing into it, he began to feel the toll of overtaxing his race’s natural abilities. For the first time, he found himself doubting his decision to resign from the Green Lantern Corps. (*)

[(*) Editor’s note: See “Hero,” Green Lantern #164 (May, 1983).]

At the time he had been frustrated at being restricted from acting in his home sector in the Vegan system, because of the Guardians of the Universe’s pact with the Psions. (*) If he was hampered from helping the people of his home sector when they were clearly being oppressed, then what good was having the power of the ring?

[(*) Editor’s note: See “The Unquiet Void,” The Omega Men #26 (May, 1985).]

He found himself doubting that decision now, though. As long as they were recharged, power rings would not lose each charge for twenty-four hours, and they certainly didn’t tire out from overexerting themselves. He didn’t know how much longer he would be able to hold out. If his power cut out on him while he was portalling someone, he didn’t know if he would be able to live with the consequences.

Staring down at the inert power ring he still wore, the Green Man wished it would suddenly spring to life. Suddenly, a green glow enveloped it, and an automated voice said, “Power ring activated. Current duration of energy remaining: twelve hours.”

The Green Man looked up to see Valura Tur-Thol floating above. “You looked like you could use a recharge, so I thought I’d share,” she said.

“I don’t think the Guardians would approve,” he said, smiling.

“Another Green Lantern I know once told me that it’s sometimes easier to act first and then apologize later.”

“That it is,” he said. “I bet I know which Lantern that was. Tell me, have you ever been to Earth?”

***

Lobo’s delight at being ordered to jump into a crowd of spoiled, over-pampered aristocrats and wreak havoc was short-lived once he realized that Scrubbs were nearly as powerful as Kryptonians when you exposed them to a yellow sun. The only thing saving him was that none of them knew how to fight worth a damn. And if there was one thing Lobo did know how to do, it was fight. After being sent flying more than once by girly slaps from sissified lords, he quickly realized he needed to take a more defensive approach to his fighting and turn their strengths against them. His best bet was to watch Hun’ya’s back for anyone trying to charge him from behind. Once they turned their attention on him, he could yell “Heads up!” as he sent them hurtling toward Hun’ya for the killing blow.

Before too long, they had dispatched the conspirators who had come to watch Hun’ya die. Despite their immediate fight being over, the room was still in a state of riot. The panicked Scrubbs, trying to shove their way out, sent each other bouncing about the stadium like ping-pong balls in a lottery bin.

“This place is a complete nuthouse,” Lobo said to Hun’ya over the roar of the crowd. His eyes continued up past the gigantic Scrubb emperor to the sight of Scrubbs crawling across the interior of the glass dome of the auditorium. For some reason, the sight made him think of his childhood on Velorpia, when he used to catch nova bugs and place them in a glass jar. “These fraggers are gonna kill each other.”

“Not while I draw breath,” Hun’ya said. Taking on a majestic posture, he called out in a booming voice, “Good people of Bodace, your fight is not with each other! Focus your energies upon those who would make you a slave! They hated Hun’ya because he would not be their puppet — for being emperor in more than just name. They tried to kill him for being his own master… for daring to be free… for daring to declare that all men should be free, from the highest born to the most humble. They will learn the error of their ways. You must show them as well. Follow me. Follow Hun’ya — to freedom!”

A roar issued from the crowd. They all began to fall in place behind Hun’ya and Lobo as they moved to the double doors of the auditorium. Hun’ya ripped the doors from the hinges, and they raced outside.

“Aw, feetal’s gizz!” Lobo exclaimed. Before them stood the amassed private armies of the conspirators who had chosen to attend the match.

“It would appear that our battle has only just begun, my friend,” Hun’ya said calmly as the two of them stared out at row after row of enemy troops. Lobo smiled in agreement, cracking his knuckles.

***

As Superman flew over the capital city with Superwoman on one side of him and his mother on the other, he marveled once more over the fact that he really had his parents back. It wasn’t a simulation. They weren’t robot copies. He hadn’t traveled through time. They were really here.

Equally interesting was the fact that Lara had chosen to stay with him, in the thick of things, rather than go with Jor-El as he went about his task.

A few years earlier, Superman had run a simulation to see what would have happened if Krypton had exploded a generation earlier, and Jor-El and Lara had rocketed to Earth as infants instead. While Jor-El had hidden his powers and focused on science, Lara had chosen the path of super-heroics and become a Supergirl in the 1930s. It was fascinating to see that the computer had been right about her. Would she want to continue a life of adventure once this was over?

[(*) Editor’s note: See “My Mother, Supergirl,” Superman Family #193 (January-February, 1979).]

“You seem a million miles away, my son,” Lara said.

“Oh, uh… I was just thinking of father’s mission. I hope he, Artin, and Shlagen are successful.”

“I have no doubt he will be,” Lara said. “He is rarely wrong.” Her expression grew sad. “Even when, at times, he might have wished he was.”

An explosion snapped them out of their glum contemplation, and the three of them soared in the direction of the noise.

“It’s going to be a long day,” Superman said to himself.

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